Germany’s fifth-largest city is better known for its business credentials than the tourist attractions – but a visit this Christmas could change that view
On a chilly December morning in Frankfurt the tops of the skyscrapers seem to touch the dark clouds as, below, sharp-suited workers scurry towards the mighty banks that form the beating heart of Germany’s finance industry. In the distance yet another Lufthansa flight approaches the airport – Europe’s third busiest after Heathrow and Paris-Charles de Gaulle, handling some 58 million passengers in 2013 alone.
And it is this image – of the thriving business centre and transport hub – for which the city is best known. Think tourism in Germany and you’re more likely to imagine losing yourself in the culture and history of Berlin or raising a stein of Bavarian beer at Munich’s Oktoberfest than a break in a metropolis more associated with work than play.
But explore beyond the towering glass frontages – nicknamed ‘Mainhattan’ locally, due to the location on the river Main – and you’ll find a city steeped in history and character. Roman settlements were established here in 1AD and, from the ninth century, this was where German kings and emperors were elected and, later, crowned. The seat of the first democratically elected German parliament in the 19th century, Frankfurt was also expected to become West Germany’s capital in the aftermath of the Second World War, but was eventually overlooked in favour of Bonn.
The city has a cultural legacy too: statues and references abound to Frankfurt’s favourite son, the writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. And though the Faust creator was forced to leave his hometown to seek out a sponsor for his works, there was one thing, apparently, he dearly missed about home: treats from the Frankfurt Christmas market, sent to him in a parcel every winter by his mum.
Grab a warming mug of glühwein and head into the warren of streets and stalls that make up the market and you’ll soon see why Goethe was so keen for the post to arrive. One of the biggest in Germany, Frankfurt’s Christmas market – which this year runs from 26 November to 22 December – dates back to 1393. Convened to allow the finest local artisans to sell toys, sweets and handicrafts, it was very much a local affair until the mid-20th century. Today, it’s big business, as Frankfurters squeeze in shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists to see what’s on offer.
Beneath the gothic-style frontages of the Altstadt’s buildings (mostly post-war reconstructions) a dazzling assault on the senses plays out: the smell of roasted sausages wafts on the biting winter breeze as you pass hundreds of stalls loaded with oversized teacakes, chocolate-dipped fruits, beautifully made wooden toys, intricate Christmas tree decorations and, of course, seasonal ales and an array of sweet-smelling warm alcoholic beverages to keep the cold at bay.
There are a wealth of dinner options too: on our first night, Director visited Dauth-Schneider (www.dauth-schneider.de), a classic German beer hall-style restaurant where we squashed in alongside the locals on long benches and enjoyed pickled pork in aspic with Frankfurt vinaigrette and fried potatoes.
And, after a second day of sightseeing and bargain-hunting, we dined at the Jumeirah hotel’s Max on One restaurant which takes regional German cuisine and gives it a modern twist; we chose the suckling pig, followed by marshmallow with blood orange and popcorn for dessert.
They’re the perfect places to finish the day, warm up and reassess opinions on a city that has so much more to offer than its towering business reputation.
Getting there Lufthansa flies direct to Frankfurt from Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester, London City, Aberdeen and Edinburgh with fares starting from £109 return (economy) and £529 (business).
Or book through WEXAS Travel (www.iod.com/traveloffers or call 020 7838 5976).
Accommodation Jumeirah Frankfurt’s Festive Season experience costs from €329 (£260) per night for two people in a double room. It includes a daily buffet breakfast and a three-course menu at signature restaurant Max on One.