Frankfurt is a city shrouded in stereotypes that don't always hold up. It's probably a rare person who dreams of it as a desirable destination for a holiday or imagines it as an inspiring metropolis. Often dubbed "Bankfurt" (and it does have 228 banks), it's Germany's business hub and boasts some skyscrapers with Manhattan-sized egos, from Sir Norman Foster's 259-metre Commerzbank Headquarters (built in 1997) to the aluminium-clad Silver Tower of Dresdner Bank by ABB Architekten. The city is a major venue for various global corporate events, the two that draw the most attention being the Book Fair and the Motor Show. Though its first mention in the annals of history was in 795, Frankfurt is not known for historic architecture. The Old Town and central district were almost entirely destroyed in the Second World War, leaving few original old buildings for a tourist to explore. Most of the historic structures one can visit are actually replicas. That includes the house of its nearly legendary resident Johann Wolfgang Goethe.
Another association inseparable from Frankfurt is that of a crossroads. The international airport is one of the busiest in Europe, handling 54.2 million passengers last year alone. The airport offers flights to over 300 destinations. Statistics will also tell you that Frankfurt is not a city many visit unless they need to. The average visitor stays for less than 2 nights - 1.8 to be exact. This is why Villa Kennedy, a prestigious hotel in the Rocco Forte chain, offers closets that can accommodate a sizable piece of luggage; some may choose not to unpack.
Despite these stereotypes, the city's creative potential shouldn't be underrated. The masses of business suits mask many a live current. Frankfurt has long been home to influential art collectors, and a vibrant cultural life is still a priority in the city today. Ambitious efforts to transform Frankfurt's image began in the late 1980s. The goal is making the city not only a business hub but also a centre for culture. One of the fruits of this plan is the Museumsufer - the Museum Embankment - which stretches along the Schaumankai along the south bank of the River Main. Eight of the city's 40 museums are found here.
Frankfurt, despite its less known assets, definitely isn't anybody's idea of an ideal holiday destination - but many don't know that it's a perfect base for explorations of the more enticing country surrounding it. Darmstadt, one of the most distinctive stars in the epoch of Jugendstil as Art Nouveau is known in German, is a mere 35 kilometres from the skyscrapers and banks. Its renowned Mathildenhöhe Art Colony was the brainchild of Ernest Ludwig, the Grand Duke of Hesse, in 1899. He was the patron of well-known artists working in the style. Mathildenhöhe was created as a place for living, working, and studying. The first exhibition opened in 1901, the buildings then unveiled giving rise to what would be called "the Darmstadt style." A little further from Frankfurt, but still only an hour's drive away, lies Heidelberg. It's a town straight out of a fairy tale. Though it's likely an apocryphal story, locals will explain that the town escaped the destruction visited upon most German cities during the war because the American general who spared it was enthralled by its beauty. The spectacular survival of its picturesque and historic architecture is not a myth; host to Germany's oldest university, founded in 1386, the romantic town is well worth a visit for a look at what elsewhere is mostly lost. Pfalzerwald, about an hour from Heidelberg, is one of the most famous grape-growing regions, with over 50 medieval castles and ruins to take in between sips of the local wines. The Rhine region noted for Riesling is also near Frankfurt. At Eberbach abbey, Cistercian monks have made wine since the 12th century. The abbey is so iconic that it was the setting for the motion picture palimpsest of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. The first known mention of Riesling was in 1435. The Rheingau Riesling Route runs from Lorch to Hochheim along the right bank of the Rhine. If you begin in Bingen, you can make a terrific day trip to Koblenz along one bank, returning along the other. More than 40 medieval castles form the greatest such concentration on the planet. The trip's centrepiece is the legendary Lorelei of Heine's poem. Even if you don't hear the lovely siren song, you will at least see the fabled rock.
Keywords: Germany, Frankfurt, essence