36 Hours in Frankfurt

Deputy Features editor Catriona Aitken shines a light on her experiences during a winter trip to the German city of Frankfurt.

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Photo: Catriona Aitken

There’s no better way to get into the festive spirit than to take a trip to one of Germany’s many Christmas markets. Or so the fashion seems to be.

When the grind of exam revision was over, I decided that, rather than immediately wallow in the inevitable exhaustion and relief that the end of a long semester brings, I would hop on a flight and celebrate by paying a visit to one of my fellow St Andreans, who is currently on a year abroad in Germany.

We decided to spend the weekend in Frankfurt. My flight was early on the Saturday morning, and the trip over from Glasgow was smooth and inexpensive. The only hurdle emerged upon arrival, as I flew into Terminal 2 of the airport while my friend’s train arrived into Terminal 1. What we didn’t realise – and stupidly took an hour to figure out – was that it is not possible to walk through one terminal to the other. We finally discovered that a short shuttle bus ride was required, and were soon reunited. First stop was lunch, and so we found a classic German bakery, where the bread and cheese were absolutely delicious!

A short train ride into the city centre later, we checked into our hostel, which was right across the street from the station. Youth hostels are perfect for weekend breaks in a new city because they are central, affordable, often provide free food and, best of all, a hub to meet other interesting youths. When I’m not planning to spend very long in my accommodation, I tend to opt for cheap and cheerful. As long as it is clean and fit for purpose, it usually suits me. Frankfurt Hostel was perfect for our needs, and we did indeed meet some lovely people throughout the weekend.

As soon as we had dropped off our things, it was time to wander into town and have a wander around the Christmas markets. We found one major cluster of stalls in the centre of town, and I was immediately struck by the beauty of all the twinkling light, aesthetically pleasing, charming wooden huts, and wonderfully inviting smells of the various foods and drinks on offer.

Photo: Catriona Aitken

This area of Frankfurt was very modern, and majorly dominated by numerous skyscrapers towering above us. It reminded me of London’s financial sector, which makes sense due to the number of major offices of commercial banks and financial headquarters of large businesses situated there. In fact, Frankfurt is nicknamed the ‘smallest metropolis in the world’. This economic role was exceptionally evident, regardless of our relative lack of regional historical knowledge prior to our visit.

As the sun set, more tourists flocked to the Christmas market, and we queued for the warming comforts of Bratwürst and Glühwein (mulled wine). The number of different flavours of mulled wine and hot chocolate was astonishing. Very inventive!

Some of the craft stands were unbelievably intricate too. My friend decided to buy a couple of unusual, handcrafted pieces of silver jewellery from a lovely German craftsman, who chatted away to us, and then gifted us each a piece when we said goodbye. As we left, I could not help but notice how stunning every Christmas tree decoration in sight was.

We moved from the markets to the main shopping area of the town centre, browsed in standard German shopping centres, and walked along a street of very expensive designer stores in awe. I treated myself to a couple of nice souvenirs, before we grabbed some drinks and headed back to the hostel to freshen up.

The nice thing about going out at night in a particularly tourist-populated city, especially in Germany according to my friend, is that there’s no expectation to get very dressed up. It was all very relaxed and therefore, for me, an ideal night out, considering it was a bitterly cold December evening and I was keen to wear my comfortable knit jumper.

We got on very well with everyone in our shared dorm. Sitting in the hostel common room, I couldn’t help but imagine what some of the other guests’ stories might be; where they came from, and what had brought them to Frankfurt.

One of our dorm mates was a Venetian actor and director, another a German man who lived on a farm, another a student searching for a flat to rent. We made two particularly good friends: a girl from Brazil, who studied in Canada but had been away from home for over a year, and a boy from Los Angeles who had been travelling alone for nine weeks, but who would shortly be flying home for Christmas. These two new acquaintances joined us as we enjoyed our night in a seemingly popular Frankfurt club, Velvet.

After a slightly longer lie in on the Sunday morning, we were keen to get up and out and make the most of our remaining hours. One important thing to note about Germany is that nearly everything is closed on a Sunday, even on the lead-up to Christmas. However, I highly recommend taking this opportunity to check out one of Frankfurt’s numerous museums, many of which are open.

We opted for the GoetheHaus, which is the museum on the site of the family home of the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Although the original building was destroyed in a fire, the home was rebuilt to be an accurate replica and is now open to the public, along with a gallery that is unique in its depiction of the Goethe era. As a literature enthusiast with a keen interest in history too, this museum was right up my street, and I left determined to read some of Goethe’s work in the future. At just three euros a ticket for students, this was an ideal way to spend our last day in Frankfurt.

In the evening, we ventured out for one last glimpse of the Christmas markets, but this time made our way along the river Main, towards the Altstadt, or old town. Here, we achieved our goal of finding the cathedral, and were additionally greeted by a whole other cluster of Christmas market stalls. Surrounded by some of the city’s oldest, most traditional looking buildings I felt, for the first time, truly festive.

On the way home, we stopped to admire the grand exterior of the Frankfurt Opera House, which sported a stunning renaissance facade, and the magical lights that adorned the nearby cascading fountain, which I later discovered is known as The Fairytale Fountain.

Photo: Catriona Aitken

We ended our weekend with an extremely tasty burger at a restaurant directly opposite our hostel called Der Fette Bulle. The quality of food was outstanding, and the service likewise. Highly recommended.

It had been a flying visit to a city of utter extremes. In the space of a half hour walk you can be transported from a bustling, commercial, commuters’ city centre filled with high rise buildings and swanky, modern offices, to a quarter that looked as though it had been lifted straight out of 19th Century Europe. Most importantly, I had sampled more food and drink in 36 hours than I had ever believed possible. Although perhaps not a city I could envisage myself living in, that wonderful weekend gave me a real taste for a country I can’t wait to return to soon, perhaps for Oktoberfest!

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