Chasing Rabbits & New York Nostalgia in FRANKFURT

Frankfurt 5 European Central BankFrankfurt was exactly what I thought it would be — except I didn’t expect it to remind me of New York so much. Taken as two wholes, the cities aren’t particularly similar visually, they aren’t comparable in terms of size or population (NYC has x5 of one and x11 of the other), and Frankfurt is noticeably lacking the frenetic pace and a sea of yellow cabs. And yet, there was that strikingly familiar vibe… that I will try to get to the root of, now. 

Like New York City, Frankfurt is a major international financial center. It is home to the European Central Bank, Deutsche Bundesbank (the central bank of Germany), the Frankfurt Stock Exchange (one of the top-10 exchanges in the world, 500 years old), headquarters of Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, and offices of 300 more.  This means shiny sky-scrapers and sharp-looking bankers all over the place. Yes, I was swooning a little 😉  (Ok, “a little” might have been an understatement; that was the one day The German let me out of his sight — he didn’t know any better). Frankfurt’s Financial District was crackling with the same ambitious energy that I love about NYC.

Frankfurt 4

Frankfurt SkyscrapersConstruction is booming all around Frankfurt. Cranes are towering over the city. Jackhammers are jackhammering away. Frankfurt already has experienced several major construction waves: first with post-war rebuilding of the city, including of the destroyed old town, then with high-rise building booms of the 1970’s and the 1990’s. It looks like there’s a new wave under way right now with no end in sight — and if it ever does wrap up, by then it will be time to renovate. Like New York, Frankfurt might be A City of Perpetual Construction.

Frankfurt construction Frankfurt is incredibly diverse — a true global city. I wandered through several distinct, non-touristy neighborhoods and heard at least a dozen languages. The cafes lining the streets like Kaiserstraße offer Japanese, Italian, Turkish, African, German and Thai cuisine all within steps from one another; when it turned out that the places where I wanted to have lunch didn’t open till dinner, I was faced with the biggest challenge yet — picking a replacement from the over-abundance of options. Even though it was my first time in the city and I was on my own, I could relax in utter comfort of not feeling like a foreigner nor a tourist because Frankfurt came across like a place where you don’t need to live all your life to be a local.

Frankfurt 1 Frankfurt 2Here are some mind-blowing facts about Frankfurt that might explain why, despite its relatively modest size, it is such an international city: it houses the airport with the most international destinations in the world, the largest railway station in Germany and the busiest highway junction in Europe; it is home to migrants from over 170 countries and nearly 40% of Frankfurt residents have a migration background; it hosts the world’s largest fairs for cars, books, consumer goods, engineering and music; the city has implemented several comprehensive projects aimed at harmonious migrant integration that would benefit all social groups, economic sectors, and the city as a whole. The world comes to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt welcomes the world with open arms.

Aside from the Financial District, three other areas stood out for me as being particularly New York-eque:
Zeil is the crowded shopping mecca  that is actually manageable for a shopping-averse person. There you’ll find affordable retailers like H&M, Esprit and Primark, plus several shopping arcades — similar to the stretch of the 34th Street between Penn Station and Madison Square Park in Manhattan, except Zeil is a tree-lined pedestrian zone, which helps tone down the madness a little.
Sachsenhausen on the southern bank of the Main river is a lively upscale residential area that has many good restaurants — and an air of the Upper East Side or Brooklyn’s Park Slope about it.
Narrow side streets adjacent to Romerberg, the reconstructed Old Town, reminded me of the few blocks between William and Pearl Streets in lower Manhattan’s Financial District, where 19th-century brick watering holes huddle together in the shadow of modern high-rises. Frankfurt Romerberg 2 Frankfurt Romerberg 1 Frankfurt 7 Sachsenhausen
Frankfurt Zeil 1 Frankfurt Zeil 3And finally, the rabbits. They are Frankfurt’s answer to the ubiquitous New York squirrel. They were frolicking all over the parks, squares and flower beds, much to my delight and The German’s dismay. Just because I got within a couple of feet of one to take a picture, didn’t mean that I was going to try and pet it, ok? Well, maybe a little bit — the little buggers were just so darn cute!a Frankfurt Bunnies* * *

All in all, I really liked Frankfurt — Big Apple or no Big Apple. As a matter of fact, I could have used at least a couple more days in the city proper, so that I could visit some of its 30 museums, walk around the gardens, seek out more of its sometimes-bizarre street art, stuff myself with all the foods I can’t get in Moscow, and do some proper shopping. I think that would be a great way to really experience German life through my ultimate urban comfort zone.

Frankfurt 6 Opera House v Frankfurt 7-horzFrankfurt 3 Frankfurt Detail 1 Frankfurt Detail 3Frankfurt 8Frankfurt Detail 2 Frankfurt Detail 4 v Frankfurt 8Frankfurt Zeil 2

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13 thoughts on “Chasing Rabbits & New York Nostalgia in FRANKFURT

  1. I’ve never wanted to go to Frankfurt… in my mind, it’s a rather aseptic, soulless place dominated by Big Money and the sort of expats I don’t really appreciate – those with no real interest in Germany or the culture or the language, they’ve just been posted there by some multinational and they sit it out, raking in the dosh, until they move onto the next location. A bit like locusts.

    But… you mentioned great international food… now THAT I could get into 🙂

  2. I think it’s kind of funny you called it a “migration background.” I think this would be a fun place to visit, though I’d rather go to Manhattan, any day. Especially Madison Square Park.

  3. First of all….you changed your background?! I liked the old one a lot! Secondly, Frankfurt looks very lovely, although it may not be my first choice of a city to visit in Germany. Would you recommend it over Munich?

    • Re: the background – I loved it in principle but as my posts have gotten so photo-heavy, I’ve found the ever-present towers to be distracting and wanted something cleaner. The current wallpaper is a bit of a placeholder tho… I want to take the site to a .com and do a full redesign anyway (shhhhh….)
      I still recommend Munich over Frankfurt esp for someone who’s only starting to explore Germany. Munich is a lot more quintessentially German for an outsider (not for the Germans though because… actually, that will be in my next post ;-). So yeah, Munich is coming up next as I try to wrap up Germany over the course of September.

  4. I can’t believe that you have found a Frankfurt that is full of life. I’ve been there a few times and I never liked it. I found it dull and bland but maybe I ought to go again and take another more “open” look. Very nice my dear!

    • I guess as a New Yorker, particularly one who worked in finance and lived a very “midtown” life, I’m very comfortable in that busy-business Frankfurt environment. Plus really, the food and shopping scenes were great!

  5. Pingback: BEST THINGS I ATE IN GERMANY | Home & Away

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