Our first impressions of Frankfurt and Germany as a whole were great: all the cities we were in felt pleasant, peaceful, and quiet. We came with Artem (10 y/o), Erika (5 y/o), Andrew (2 y/o), and our parents in summer 2019.
After a long and tedious flight from Seattle, we had no energy or time for Frankfurt. Nevertheless, we saw a lot. Something shocked, something surprised us a lot. First of all (who would have known) – cycling culture!
1. Cycling culture in Germany
Germany has unusually well-developed cycling infrastructure. From tiny villages in Bavaria to metropolitan regions in the North, there are separate from the main road lanes, separate traffic lights, even mandatory cycling proficiency tests for kids at school.
But we have never ever heard about it. I guess because its neighbor, Holland, stole all the fame :). Seattle, Portland is famous for its biking culture, but they are not even close to what we discovered in Germany.
Many germans use their bikes on an everyday basis: to get to work, transport kids to daycare, etc. Businesswoman in pencil skirts and on the heels, postal workers, dads with cargo-bikes – the first time we saw it real in Frankfurt.
2. First impressions of Frankfurt: cultural diversity
Germany is a multicultural country. We have heard about people with Turkish migrant backgrounds but it turned out there are many more nationalities, especially in big cities. (The same way we were imagining Alaska: Natives and fishermen. :))
More than half of the population in Frankfurt – residents who have a non-German background.
Chinese fast food, African cafes, Thay massage, East-European grocery stores – except for the local language and architecture it felt like you are in the US :). And we liked it.
3. Germany has “dachas” too!
I used to think about dacha or “seasonal home with garden” as a typical thing in the post-soviet countries. How wrong I was! We saw dachas or Kleingarten/Schrebergarten everywhere in Germany, but mostly in “undesirable” areas: near railroad tracks, on the outskirts of the city.
Kleingarten is close to a North American “allotment” or “community garden”, but much more than that. It is a long-time German tradition.
Once it was all about growing food but now dedicated to recreational purpose/time with a family. Plots often passing from generation to generation, and there are long waiting lists to get one.
4. First impressions of Frankfurt: CBD skyscrapers
Frankfurt is often referred to as a European financial center with Central Business District as its calling card. No surprise – it is the first thing you’ll spot when you step out of the train:
What we liked about CBD: it isn’t big or crowded as we used to see in big US cities, has plenty of air around it and occasional… wildlife:
We were very surprised to see lots of wild rabbits in the park in the middle of the city. Besides signs about biking paths there also were signs about wildlife: “Please keep your dog on the leash and make sure it doesn’t disturb wildlife, we want to keep their presence in the city”.
On the picture below one of the most popular signs of Frankfurt: Euro sculpture by Ottmar Hörl at Willy-Brandt-Platz:
A couple of guys were peeing not far from the sculpture. I bet it was because of beer and no public restrooms nearby, but still, it was quite confusing to watch in the middle of the day.
Through the heart of the city flows Main, a tributary of the Rhine. There are many bridges over the river with a picturesque of the city and CBD; great to ride a bike or just to take a walk:
The river is very wide and… very dirty. Unlike the Rhine or Isar in the South region, nobody was swimming in it.
5. First impressions of Frankfurt: The beer garden
Did you know the story besides authentic German experience or “beer garden”? It is simple but sweet :). Once upon a time, a bavarian brewer decided to plant trees above the cellar to keep it cool during hot months. The area looked nice, beer was nearby… He brought some chairs, tables, and invited customers. Voila! – the first beer garden was created :D.
On the picture below: MainNizza, restaurant/beer garden near a Mediterranean garden and promenade in Frankfurt:
Often, beer gardens have a play area for kids, so everybody can enjoy the time. And usually, you are welcome to bring your own food.
6. Iron Bridge and iconic Frankfurt’s Roemerberg square
Iron Bridge or “Eiserner Steg” is a footbridge over the river Main. It has countless love locks and can connect you with Roemerberg square within a couple of minutes:
Römerberg is the famous medieval square in the historical Old Town center of Frankfurt. It is the most popular and equally beautiful place in Frankfurt. Römerberg was partially restored after WW2:
Römerberg isn’t big, but a pleasant place to be at. We have spent nearly 3 hours there, wandering along narrow streets. Kids loved it!
7. Don’t you go to Germany if you want to be slim!
Joking :). With all walking we did in Germany, it was hard to gain weight. But, yes, it is not easy to resist before consuming lots of local food: it is cheap and super tasty. Especially bread, meat, dairy products, fresh produce, and beer. I miss their taste!
In Germany we remembered how to be a student again: often we had buns/pastry with kefir for dinner.
8. First impressions of Frankfurt: typical German playground
Big, challenging, risk-taking, and never the same – that is a typical German playground. Although the one we visited in Frankfurt wasn’t great for 10 y.o., but still, it has a lot: rope ladder, hand-pump, huge water play area, and lots of space. In the middle of the city. What a dream!
Usually, there are wood, sand, and metal used at German playgrounds. Plastic is very rare. You can’t bring a dog to the playground, and the area is surrounded by a fence – toddlers will have a hard time running away :).
Where did we stay while visiting Frankfurt
We made a separate post about where did we stay and how different it was from the US: European vs American Hotels: Traveling With a Family.
Frankfurt. Movies and books
We love watching movies and read books before seeing new places. Although there are not so many about Frankfurt, some you may enjoy watching:
“Bye Bye Germany” (2017) is a movie about postwar Frankfurt. David Bermann and his friends, all Holocaust survivors, trying to earn money and move to the USA. Comedy, drama, war. IMDb 6.5, 1 h. 40 min.
There are also two girls you know for sure. One left Frankfurt very young and her life was cut short just because of her origin. Another was swiss and served as a companion to the disabled girl in Frankfurt. Here they are:
In the evenings, Frankfurt’s streets were filled with people: walking, talking, drinking beer, and holding hands. Very romantic and “European”, we miss it in the States.
The language was not a barrier at all. Although it is great to know at least some German, in Frankfurt we could communicate in English in most places.
The city surprised us a lot: we didn’t have any plans or time for it, but it turned out to be a great place to spend a day or two.
Thanks for visiting, we enjoy your company!
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