Frankfurt 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.
Construction 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 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.
Here 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.
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.