Frankfurt: Harmonious mingling of old and new

 OLD AND NEW: Frankfurt is where old and new rest comfortably side to side.

For many Kiwis, Frankfurt is more likely to be a gateway into Europe, rather than a banner destination.

But it absolutely warrants an exploratory for a couple of nights, while you shake off the jet lag.

In spite of being almost completely decimated during World War 2, somehow the Dom, the cathedral, avoided being bombed. And it’s unquestionably the most historically significant landmark in this regal city of old.

The Dom’s official name is St Bartholomew’s Cathedral, a heaving pink sandstone Gothic behemoth, which is where 52 Holy Roman Emperors were crowned from 1356 onwards.

What I particularly like about Frankfurt is the harmonious mingling of old and new, the ultra-contemporary and the venerable, co-existing as happy bed pals.

Medieval structures line the riverbanks of the Main, backdropped by glinting skyscrapers reaching ever higher to the heavens, giving rise to Frankfurt’s nickname, “Mainhattan.” (The city has the biggest concentration of skyscrapers in continental Western Europe.)

It was Deutsche Bank that kicked off the skyscraper craze, challenging other banks to reach for the sky.

The twin towers of Deutsche Bank were built in 1984, attracting the endearing local nickname of “Credit and Debit.”

Adjacent to the to the business district, the high-end residential district of the Westend is lovely to stroll through, ogling the palatial 19th-century villas.

Much of Frankfurt’s medieval texture in the Aldstadt (Old Town) was painfully reconstructed post-World War 2.

Such meticulous attention to detail will leave you scratching your head as to whether the gabled roofs and timbered facades are merely reproductions or the medieval originals.

The headline attraction is Romerberg, the quintessential town centre, where the timeless ambience and cluster of medieval timbered buildings gets the cameras clicking.

Following a coronation at the Dom, the celebration banquets were all held in the imperial hall (Kaisersaal). In 1405, the city purchased the complex and declared it the town hall.

Ever since, this gorgeous three-gabled architectural landmark has maintained its civic heritage, and the city council continues to hold its meetings here.

Frankfurt’s legacy as a trading mecca is also steeped in centuries of tradition. Exhibit A: The Frankfurt Book Fair. If you happen to be visiting in mid-October, take a stroll through this world-beating extravaganza, which has been held annually here ever since the printing press was designed.

It is quite simply the publication industry’s biggest event in the world. The city’s first fairs and markets were staged over 1000 years ago inside the town hall and across the cobblestones of the plaza.

Right now, the Romerberg will be twinkling with the magic of fairy lights and wooden chalets, as the annual Christmas Market sends spirits soaring.

Like many European cities, Frankfurt’s downtown shopping district is heavily pedestrianised.

The Zeil is a 2km-long vehicle-free promenade that snakes its way through the heart of city.

I first visited Frankfurt in 2009, and My Zeil, a futuristic shopping mall had just opened. Seven years on, it still looks ultra-modern and currently undergoing an expansion. Not only does it have Europe’s longest escalator, transporting you up five floors non-stop, but the edgy interior design is enthralling.

The glass bubble-like ceiling and wall features have to be seen to be believed, created to resemble a huge curved glass vortex starting on the ground floor and reaching the roof. It’s absolutely stunning.

Draping the banks of the Main River, a veritable feast of museums and art galleries await your exploration.

Museum Row was developed in the 1980s, largely financed by private philanthropy.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is Frankfurt’s most famous son, born in the city in 1749. The philosopher and writer is regarded as Germany’s Shakespeare, and not far from Romerberg you can visit his family home, a splendidly period furnished Baroque mansion which is now the Goethe Museum.

He once write: “Offer plenty and you will surely please some.” His hometown seems to have taken that to heart.

The Frankfurt Tourism Office offers a variety of guided city tours. Being flat and compact, it’s a wonderful city to explore on foot. Buy a Frankfurt Card, which bundles a wealth of attractions and museums together, giving you heavily discounted admission. www.frankfurt-tourismus.de

FAST FACTS

Frankfurt is one of the major hubs for Lufthansa. The award-winning, full-service German carrier allows you to reserve the flight you want for 48 hours on current terms. Amongst the in-flight frills, enjoy the Flynet Wi-Fi service and outstanding on-demand entertainment including 250 eJournals packed with great reads. For special fare deals to Europe and within the continent, head to www.lufthansa.com

German trains continue to raise the bar on fast, efficient public transport. Sort your rail plans in advance, by booking tickets or a rail pass to suit with the Kiwi experts at Rail Plus. www.railplus.co.nz

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