There’s a huge smile on the face of Birgit, my tour guide. We’ve just arrived in the DomRömer Quarter in the very heart of Frankfurt’s old town. “There you are,” she says, “isn’t it magnificent!”
She has a point. A €200 million construction project has brought Frankfurt’s historic centre back to life. In front of us is what appears to be the original ‘Altstadt’, the ‘New Frankfurt Old Town’. It’s hard to believe that the buildings are new, but then again, that has been the point of the entire project.
Over the past few years, this section of Frankfurt’s old town has been reconstructed according to historical blueprints, the builders using traditional craftsmanship and applying original construction materials. “We’re all very excited about this,” says Birgit. “Look at the detail and the finish.”
She points to the corner of a nearby house. “Can you see the stone? That’s one of the original decorative elements that survived the air raids of 1944. It was found in the garden of a house across the other side of the city. When the owner of the house heard about the project he got in touch to see if we could use the stone in the building. And there are more.”
Birgit tells me that 15 of the townhouses are exact replicas of the buildings that were on this very spot prior to being destroyed in the Second World War. “In former times, Frankfurt was widely regarded as one of Germany’s largest and most beautiful medieval timber-framed old towns,” she explains. “After the war, the need to rebuild the area quickly meant we didn’t have time to do a proper restoration of the area. But now, we have our old town back again. It’s really rather special.”
Crosshead: In with the new
The ‘new’ quarter features another 20 buildings that are completely new, but designed to be in keeping with the typical style of Frankfurt’s old town. All are fitted out to be eco-friendly.
Birgit explains that that the quarter was designed to be much more than just a tourist attraction. “It was always planned that the quarter would be a living community,” she says. “Eventually there will be around 200 people living here. There are approximately 80 apartments and some 30 shops and restaurants. Most of the shops will be local suppliers, a bakers, a butchers, much as they would have been in the past. The city owns all the buildings and is subsidising the shop rents to make sure the people who live here can afford to run their businesses.”
Relics from the past
Birgit has another tour to take, so we say our goodbyes and I head for Margarete, a group-friendly restaurant in nearby Braubachstrasse. I’m meeting Anke Haub from Frankfurt Tourism.
“Over the last few years the city has been working to restore the traditional elements of the old town,” says Anke. “We had some modern buildings that often hid our classic older buildings. One example is the Historical Museum where we demolished a building in front of it and opened up the square in front. It really reinforces the contrasts now between old Frankfurt and the very modern skyscrapers of the business district.”
Anke explains that interest in the new Quarter has prompted the tourism office to develop two new walking tours for groups that follow in the footsteps of German kings and emperors, while telling the story of the ‘new’ old town.
“The city is home to a museum landscape that’s unique in Europe,” she adds. “Many of our museums are just a stone’s throw from each other along the embankment of the Main River with others, such as the Goethe House and Museum, and the Historical Museum are just a few steps from the Römer.”
(Car) park life
I say goodbye to Anke and head to the river to join a river cruise operated by Primus-Linie. Boats depart every hour from Eiserner Steg pier on a 50 or 100-minute round trip. My tour gives me the opportunity to admire Frankfurt’s spectacular skyline of skyscrapers.
After the cruise it’s time to head for what has to be one of Frankfurt’s most unusual attractions. At the Bourse multi-storey car park I take the lift to the sixth floor where signs direct me up a ramp to the roof. Once full of cars, this is now the Long Island Summer Lounge, a quirky space full of deck chairs, a pool, and a bar that proudly displays sponsorship by Moet et Chandon. There’s a €5 per person admission charge, and the drinks are enthusiastically priced, but on a sunny day, the lounge offers a little touch of Mediterranean relaxation in the heart of the city.
Walk the walk
Back at street level and it’s a short walk to Apfelwein Klaus, a 100-year-old wine cellar that’s now a 200-seat restaurant serving traditional Frankfurt cuisine. Lunch seems but a distant memory as I enjoy traditional Schnitzel Frankfurter-style, complete with Frankfurt’s famous ‘Green Sauce’, and all washed down with a glass of apple wine.
At weekends, with the business guests gone, the city’s four and five-star hotels can offer some excellent group rates. Frankfurt Tourism has suggested itineraries to help you plan a visit. But let’s give the final word to my tour guide Birgit. “The centre of Frankfurt is small. You can walk everywhere. Whether it’s great sightseeing, great food, great culture or even great shopping, we have it all. Come and discover it for yourself.”