I admit it. My travel stamina is not what it used to be. As I’ve aged, long-haul flights have become more difficult. I can tolerate eight or nine hours but anything longer than that and I’m in misery. These days I break up my itinerary whenever possible. On a recent trip home to Thailand, I stopped for a day in Frankfurt, Germany, before continuing on to Bangkok.
Though I usually dislike visiting a city for just a day or two, in this case it was the perfect amount of time to discover the highlights of Frankfurt. I walked across the pedestrian bridge over the River Main to the historic Old Town. The love-lock strewn bridge provided a lovely view of the ornate Gothic spire of Frankfurt Cathedral, as well as Saalhof, the historic customs house and the oldest building in town.
I began my self-guided tour in Römerberg square, site of the Altstadt (Old Town). One side of the square is dominated by the Römer, a complex of nine houses that today form the Frankfurt city hall (Rathaus). One of Frankfurt’s most important landmarks, it was built by a wealthy merchant family, which sold it to the city in 1405. In addition to housing municipal offices, community halls in the Römer are popular venues for weddings. But the best known room, located on the second floor, is the Kaisersaal (Emperor Hall), where emperors were crowned and feted during the days of the Holy Roman Empire.
Across the square stands the Ostzeile, a row of six classic half-timbered houses. Though they appear to be medieval, they are not. Römerberg Square was virtually destroyed during World War Two. The existing houses were meticulously rebuilt between 1981 and 1984. Today they are home to cafes, bars, and gift shops, and are one of the most popular tourist destinations in Frankfurt. The Fountain of Justice rises from the center of Römerberg Square. The bronze statue, which dates back to 1543, depicts the Roman goddess of justice, Justitia, holding her sword and scales.
Frankfurt has been an important trading center since the Middle Ages and Römerberg Square has always been the epicenter for the city’s markets and fairs. Merchants and customers from across Europe spread tales of Römerberg far and wide. By the 16th century, it was considered the most beautiful square in the Germanic part of the Holy Roman Empire. That tradition continues today. Not only are markets and performances regularly held here, Römerberg hosts Frankfurt’s beautiful Christmas market, one of the oldest and largest in Germany.
Across the street I strolled through Paulsplatz, named for the historic St. Paul’s Church that graces one corner of the square. Originally consecrated in 1833 as a Protestant church, it has seen many uses. It was home to the Frankfurt Parliament during the German revolutions of 1848 and a year later the National Assembly met there to draft the first constitution for a united Germany. The Allied bombing of Frankfurt in 1944 destroyed St. Paul’s, but it was the first structure in Frankfurt to be reconstructed. Today it is used as a venue for special events.
On the opposite side of Paulsplatz, I climbed aboard a Hop-on/Hop-off bus to sample what the rest of the city had to offer. With only a few hours remaining before I needed to return to the airport, I didn’t have time to “hop off,” but one thing became abundantly clear. Frankfurt has much more to offer than I could see in a day. Next time, I will schedule more time to explore this intriguing German city.
Author’s note: If you are planning extended travels around Germany, the best way to get around is by train. This detailed guide to German train travel at Travel on the Brain blog, is the perfect primer. And speaking of other destinations in Germany, you may be interested in reading about my visit to Munich and Cologne, Germany.