The etymology of the city’s name traces back to the Germanic tribe of the Franks, where the word “furt”, meaning “ford” (the part where the river is shallow enough to be crossed on foot), suggests that Frankfurt am Main originates as “the ford of the Franks on the Main”. A label that nowadays might not entirely suit the profile of the largest financial center in continental Europe. In fact, home to the European Central Bank and one of the world’s largest stock exchanges by market capitalization, Frankfurt is considered a global city (alpha world city) and hosts 14 out of Germany’s 15 skyscrapers. Its skyline, rare in Europe and unique in Germany, has earned it the nickname of “Mainhattan”, a portmanteau of the local Main river and Manhattan.
But in the city with the largest American consulate in the world, the tendency to draw parallels with the US flair goes beyond the architectural profile. Also in the culinary tradition – in which the typical Frankfurter Würstchen, small sausages made of smoked pork, reminds us of Hot Dogs – the regional specialty, the Äpfelwein (apple wine with a tart, sour taste), has procured Frankfurt the name of “Big Ebbel” (from Ebbelwoi the local name of apple wine), again an homage to the Big Apple.
Even the Taunus– and Gallusanlage are locally known as “Central Park” because of the skyscrapers standing on both their sides and contribute to shape Frankfurt’s identity as a green city. In fact, with a large forest, many parks, two botanical gardens and the Main riverbank, more than 50% of the areas within the city limits are protected green areas.
The coexistence of glas and metal giants and massive green resources provides a first glimpse into Frankfurt’s nature as a city of contrasts on the spatial level, but an even more intriguing contradiction is the one playing with the temporal spectrum. In fact, just a step away from the modern imposant buildings and their mirror-like facades, lies an ancient medieval world in the streets of the old town. The most emblematic example of this timeless district is provided by the Römer (German word for “Roman”), Frankfurt’s city hall, a complex of 9 houses in three-peaked facade medieval design.
Also the Eschenheimer Tower – part of a gate in the medieval fortifications -, which was erected at the beginning of the 15th century and now stands as the oldest and most unaltered building in the city centre, shares the landscape with a futuristic skyscraper majestically emerging at its back.
In the city hosting the world’s largest book fair and what has been estimated as the most expensive place in Germany, the contrast is after all perfectly summarized in one single visual hint. Walking through Goethe square, the observer would be confronted with an imposing statue of the German author and philosopher par excellence, who was born and spent his early life exactly in Frankfurt. But just behind the vigorous figure of Goethe and the prolific intellectual and artistic past he stands for, the Commerzbank tower, the tallest building in the city, claims equal attention from the observer and functions as a temporal reminder of Germany’s glorious financial present and future.
p.s. I couldn’t resist doing this in front of baffled suit-wearing businessmen, not far away form the Frankfurter stock exchange seat!