Wednesday, May 23, 2007

You Can't Go Back Again - Or Can You?

Thomas Wolfe once wrote a story about an author who returned home only to find that everyone was angry with him for writing about them. Sometimes, I have a similar issue with my family who can also resent my using them as props for my stories. For example, my daughter once told the head of the English department of a prospective secondary school that I shamelessly exploited her on my website. Needless to say, even though we clarified what was meant by “exploited”, she’s not going to that school.

Like Thomas Wolfe, Jeff and I recently had the opportunity to return to our old stomping grounds of Frankfurt, Germany, where we lived in both the late 70’s and early 90’s. Thinking about both Thomas Wolfe and my daughter, I have asked myself whether it is a good idea to write about Frankfurt. I still have many friends there and I like going back.

The problem is fundamentally this; Frankfurt is not a town for tourists or exciting travel writing. Having lived there twice, I feel entitled to say this. Plenty of people do go to Frankfurt, mind you, for trade shows and exhibitions, for finance and commerce and to use the excellent airport. But from the perspective of travel destinations, Frankfurt is nowhere. No one goes to Frankfurt, as they do to London, Paris or Venice, because they have always dreamed of seeing it. People go to Frankfurt to do something else. But, hey, that’s not necessarily bad.

When a city is not a travel destination, then it is not overrun with people who don’t know where they are going, clog up the sidewalks staring at maps, don’t have the right change for the bus, aren’t in a hurry and generally get in the way of the people who live there. When a city is a commercial destination but not a travel destination, then the amenities such as museums, parks, historic houses and shops tend to be less crowded, at least during the working week. And when a city is not a travel destination, the people who live there are happy to see you when you visit. They know you are not going for the sights and hope to sleep for free. In short, they know your interest in visiting them is genuine.

When we lived in Frankfurt, I thought it was the most boring city in the world but after wandering around Frankfurt for a day during our recent visit, I have developed new respect for places that are not popular travel destinations. I was struck by what a pleasant and unproblematic time we had. To begin with, driving was easy and parking was plentiful. Shops on the short but chic Goethestrasse were elegant and inviting and I was happy to restock my Gmundner Austrian tableware at Lorey on the Schillerstrasse which has been selling wonderful dining room and kitchen accessories and equipment since 1796. The museums along the Main River, particularly the Stadel, are impressive and both the Jewish Museum and Goethe House and Museum offer authentic glimpses into Frankfurt’s rich historic past.

As for eating and sleeping, the options are also more interesting than you might expect. Popping into the Kleine Markt Halle (Frankfurt’s indoor market for foodies) or snacking on the Fressgass ( roughly translated as “Munching Street” but formally known as the Grosse Bockenheimer Strasse) with its luxurious delicatessens and fashionable cafes is good fun. If you are looking for a blow-out meal, I would head for Erno’s Bistro on the Liebigstrasse which was the first restaurant in Frankfurt to be awarded a Michelin star. It is a cramped but lively place with really outstanding food at really outstanding prices. For a taste of traditional Frankfurt that won’t break the bank, try Wagners or Zum Gmalten Haus in Sachsenhausen, boths typical “apple wine taverns” with communal tables and huge portions. If I were you, I’d skip the apple wine. If you want to stay at a fine old European hotel, try the Frankfurter Hof built by the hotel tycoon Cesar Ritz, or the Hessischer Hof with its fabulous collection of Sevres porcelain which was a wedding present from Napoleon to Princess Alix when she married the Russian Tsar.

After spending a day in Frankfurt, I am all for the concept of visiting non touristy destinations. Of course, the Frankfurt Tourist Board will disagree with my assessment and try to sell you on the fact that “Mainhattan”, as they rather ridiculously call it, is an unmissable metropolis. That may be true if you are a banker, a chemist or a bookseller but if you are a tourist, rest assured that you can miss Frankfurt. Still, if you would like to see a pleasant and efficient German city which punches above its weight culturally, with good hotels, restaurants and shopping and with one of the best airports in Europe, Frankfurt has a lot to offer. If you have a long layover at the airport, head into town for a few hours and you won’t regret it. Thomas Wolfe be damned, in the case of Frankfurt, you can (and should) go back.

Useful Addresses


Stadel Museum
Durer Str. 2
Tel: 069 605098 200
Closed Mondays

Jewish Museum
Untermainkai 14/15
Tel: 069 21235000
Closed Mondays

Goethe House and Museum
Grosser Hirschgraben 23-25
Tel: 069 138 800
Open daily


Erno’s Bistro
Liebigstrasse 15
Tel: 069 72 1997
Closed Saturday & Sunday

Schwiezerstrasse 71
Tel: 069 61 25 65

Zum Gmalten Haus
Schweizerstrasse 67
Tel: 069 614559
Closed Monday


Franfurter Hof
Am Kaiserplatz
Tel: 069 21502
Fax: 069 215900

Hessicher Hof
Friedrich-Ebert-Anlage 4-
Tel: 069 75 400
Fax: 069 75 402924

1 comment:

  1. You might have mentioned that those who wanted to stay at a fine old European hotel (Frankfurter Hof) had better bring a full wallet.