A Lovely, Clean and Friendly City
Visiting the city of Frankfurt-am-Main while recovering from jet lag is a perfect way to start a trip to Germany. We arrived at about noon on Saturday, August 20, 2022, checked into our hotel, and had plenty of time to walk the approximately 2k to the north side of the Eiserner Steg (Iron Footbridge) for the 4 p.m. river cruise I had booked for us while still in Canada. In fact, they let us onto the 3:30 cruise as we were a bit early. So on a clear and lovely afternoon we had the best possible introduction to the city of Frankfurt – a view of its lovely skyline from the Main River, accompanied by some identification of buildings and a bit of history over the loudspeakers, in English as well as German. We were accompanied by people from all over the world, it seemed, including a few of course who were there only to arrange their beautiful selves against the skyline in a dozen different ways for the purpose of posting photos on Instagram.
We concluded our first day in Germany appropriately – eating schnitzel with Frankfurt’s famous grüne soße (green sauce) on the square in the old city (Altstadt).
On our second day in Frankfurt we began to figure out the transportation system, which is excellent but also confusing if you don’t speak German too well. I think because the whole system of underground and surface trains and buses runs so smoothly, they don’t need too many information people standing around to help those (literally) misguided tourists like us. So a few times, we had to get off a train, go back the way we came, and then set out again. Fortunately, we weren’t in any rush.
We had similar problems trying to use Google maps to walk to our destinations from the subway stops so we did lots and lots and lots of unnecessary steps. At some point, I am going to take the time to watch a YouTube video on the subject of how to go the way you WANT to go when using Google maps, rather than in the opposite or some other unrelated direction. I was glad I had bought a SIM card, given all the times I had to recheck where we were going. At times it seemed that the street signs in Frankfurt and the street names on Frankfurt maps were totally unrelated.
Our first destination was the original home of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the poet/playwright/scientist etc. whose Faust (parts One and Two) many years ago permanently expanded my appreciation for the role of literature and drama in the understanding good and evil, not to mention magic and dark thoughts, and gave me an insight into one powerfully creative visionary. (I can still see and feel Goethe’s rendering of Walpurgis Night in my mind’s eye.)
Goethe’s childhood home was large, and the rooms inside it were large, as befitted the social status of his family. The museum into which the building has now been turned is as interesting in its depiction of the era it evokes as it is for what it tells us about Goethe, who lived there for about twenty years. One of the most interesting artifacts to my mind was a puppet theatre he was given as a child that was of great interest to him well into adulthood. It reminds me that what we offer children to stimulate their imaginations can have a lifelong impact. The puppet theatre isn’t much to look at, but that is probably the point of it; drawings hung nearby illustrate what can be done by a child with some ideas who has been given a glass case with a wooden floor.
Goethe’s house was lovely – one of those places that makes you think “If I just had a desk like this in a room like this and was born into a wealthy family that offered me time and space, I could have produced Great Works.” It’s not true, but it is part of the appeal of visiting the homes of creative masters.
After the Goethe Museum we wandered down toward the river, past Willy Brandt Plaza, and found lunch at a place on the waterfront named “MainNizzo” that had been recommended in my Lonely Planet guidebook. When you eat outside, as we did there and have done several times now, you quickly learn that there are as many wasps in Germany as there are in Canada.
Frankfurt’s “new” Jewish Museum is located in a massively renovated former Rothschild Palace (not much to see of the original interior) and it features three floors of multimedia exhibits that focus on Jewish life in Frankfurt “from the Enlightenment to the present” with a focus on such topics as everyday objects, tradition and ritual, and history and present. One cool thing that is probably common in other museums but that I hadn’t seen before is a digital card that is given to you on admission that you can then hold up near signs next to various displays in order to access additional relevant information online after you get home. Thanks to this feature, I am bringing home a recipe for apple cake (Apfelkuchen) from Anne Frank’s family (there is a whole room of information in the museum about Anne Frank and her relatives, who were from Frankfurt), a recipe for Challah for the grandkids to try out if they are interested, and several other interesting digital artifacts. I was very taken with the “Untitled” tree sculpture by Ariel Schlesinger.
There is also an “old” Jewish museum in Frankfurt. We were unable to see that one as it was closed on Monday, when we could have made time for it. But we were able walk around the very old cemetery behind it. It was badly damaged by the Nazis, but “the oldest extant tombstone dates back to 1272 – the oldest material evidence of Jewish life in Frankfurt.” Its walls are embedded with markers with the names of the many, many Frankfurt Jews whose lives were extinguished during the Holocaust. So many names.
The Film Museum
Foot-weary, we decided to cross the river and see one final museum that day. We chose the Deutsches FilmInstitut Filmmuseum partly out of the hope that it might offer us an opportunity to sit down and watch a bit of film footage. Which it did. We were short on time as well as energy by then, so we didn’t see the feature exhibition, “Rapture of the Deep: Film under Water,” which sounded intriguing. But we did see the permanent exhibitions: one on “filmic vision” and one on “filmic narration.” Both were truly interesting and contained lots of fascinating exhibits.
On our final day in Frankfurt, since the museums were closed and our batteries needed recharging, we thought we’d take it easy. We ended up walking over 12,000 steps anyway: that’s the way it goes when you are travelling.
We started at the wonderful city market, Kleinmarkthalle, which offers all the wares of any big city market and was busy with patrons buying fresh produce, meat and fish for consumption at home, and others enjoying food that looked and smelled fabulous right on the premises. Since it was late on a Monday morning, it wasn’t too busy, but I’m sure this place is packed later in the day and week. It was early enough that I was tempted but didn’t make purchases from the vast arrays of hand-made chocolates and magnificent looking baked goods. There were also lots of fresh flowers and plants for sale.
From the market we wandered over to the old Jewish cemetery (see photos above) then down to the central visible attraction of Frankfurt in the old town – the Dom Römer aka St. Bartholemew’s Church aka Kaiserdom. This church contains a lot of religious art and sculpture and even a van Dyck. Wikipedia points out that “It is the largest religious building in the city [but] despite its common English name, it has never been a true cathedral… ” and that “The present church building is the third church on the same site. Since the late 19th century, excavations have revealed buildings that can be traced back to the 7th century.”
After lunch we strolled all the way back to the Nizzo and bought a bottle of water there, then walked back through the park by the riverbank to have dinner in the same restaurant we’d eaten at the first night. We liked it because it was outside, on the square, and the food was very tasty. My pork loin was fantastiche and Arnie enjoyed his goulash.
Before dinner, we had a lovely chat with a young German woman with her cute one-and-a-half-year old in the town square in Frankfurt. (The little boy had toddled right up to me, very eager to tell me where his mama was and to practice climbing some shallow steps.) She was so happy to see Arnie and me travelling around the world at our age (“when you’re older, I mean,” she said, politely). She was at that time of life (mid-thirties, I would guess) where she felt that much as she loved her little one, she was pretty tied down and feared she’d never be able to see and do all the things she’d once dreamed of seeing and doing. She was really lovely and we had a good conversation about life and parenthood. I told her about my solo trip to India when I was 60 and that cheered her up even more.
I guess we’re just a couple of travelling inspirations with sore feet.
I noticed last weekend that our prime minister had “thrown cold water” on appeals from the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who had been visiting Canada to appeal for help in regard to Germany’s energy crisis. I began to wonder if I should stop wearing my little Canadian pin as I travelled around Germany, which I like to do to distinguish myself from our southern neighbours. But then the next day I read that “with a grateful German leader at his side, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood firmly behind the controversial decision to export at least one natural gas turbine for a Russian-owned pipeline that is a crucial source of natural gas for Germany and other European states.” So even if he did piss off everyone except Germany, at least I felt it safe to continue to wear my pin.
Otherwise, it’s been nice to be able to ignore politics for a while.
Thanks, Frankfurt for the opportunity to visit your truly lovely city.