Frankfurt is unlike any other Germany city. It is a finance and business hub, home to one of the world’s largest stock exchanges as well as the new headquarters for the European Central Bank. Its airport is the third largest in Europe. Due to its soaring skyline and the Main River that runs through it, Frankfurt refers to itself as “Main-hatten”.
Mentioned in historical documents as far back as 794 AD, Frankfurt was an important center for the Holy Roman Empire. With the election of Frederick I in 1152, the city became the customary site of the selection of Emperors and German Kings. A stock exchange began operating in Frankfurt in 1585.
About 80% of the medieval city center was destroyed by allied bombing raids in March 1944. Today as you look around the Römerberg (historic central plaza), you can easily pick out the first buildings of the reconstruction, which adopted a “modern” look of the time, versus the ornately gabled, half-timbered buildings that reflect the original look. Near the center of the plaza is a brass plaque set in the cobblestones memorializing the book burning that took place there in 1933 at the hands of Hitler’s Nazi regime.
The Main River is the focus of an inviting promenade with parkland on both banks. The most popular section is between the two pedestrian bridges: Holbeinsteg and Eiserner Steg.
It was interesting to hear that since 2002 prostitution is legal in the city of Frankfurt. The city has established certain “tolerance areas” where you can find five-story brothels in original late-19th century apartment flats. Our guide pointed out one such brothel named “Crazy Sexy” with mannequins posed on the balconies.
Our guide introduced us to two of Frankfurt’s local favorites to eat and drink: Apple wine and Frankfurter Grüne Sosse (green sauce). Apple wine has been a favorite for hundreds of years. It is an alcoholic cider that has a tart, sour taste. Sometimes it is mixed with lemonade or sparkling water. Frankfurter Grüne Sosse is a herbed green sauce that is served cold with boiled potatoes and sliced boiled eggs. It has a very fresh taste and we could see that it would pair well with fish as well.
On a rainy day we made a day trip to the nearby town of Mainz primarily to visit the Gutenberg Museum. Johannes Gutenberg was born in Mainz in the late 1300’s. By 1448 it was known that he was working on some top-secret printing project and eventually he perfected several interdependent technologies: metal type that could be arranged into pages, precision molds to produce such type, a metal alloy from which type could be cast, a type of oil-based ink suitable for printing with metal and press technology derived from existing wine, paper and bookbinding presses. By 1455, Gutenberg had produced his masterpiece, the now legendary Forty-Two-Line Bible, so named because each page has two columns of 42 lines. I don’t think it is hyperbole to say that Gutenberg’s inventions changed the course of human history profoundly.
The Gutenberg Museum in Mainz is one of the oldest museums of printing in the world. The collection includes printing equipment and examples of printed materials from many cultures. A vault in the interior of the museum holds the most coveted items: two examples of Gutenberg’s Forty-Two-Line Bibles. These were printed in the mid-15th century on Gutenberg’s original printing presses. (Photos are not allowed in the museum. I borrowed the above photo from a source on the internet.)
Next stop: Cologne, Germany