Exploring History and Rieslings in the Frankfurt Area
Many travelers think that Frankfurt am Main is just a commercial hub—but a recent trip to the Frankfurt Rhine-Main area revealed a wealth of history and culture, making it an ideal place for family vacations. The skyline bears such a resemblance to New York's that the city has been called "Main-iihattan." Our guide said that Frankfurt is considered the most American city in Germany, which is perhaps why I felt so at home there.
Frankfurt is the birthplace of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, so naturally there is a statue of him. It is also the city where Anne Frank was born and where Oskar Schindler lived, and the Jewish Holocaust Remembrance Wall contains the names of Holocaust victims from the area; there are similar memorials in other cities. Germans are justifiably proud of their cultural contributions, but also admit their dark past. Significantly, in the current refugee crisis, Germany is in the forefront of nations welcoming those seeking asylum.
Our first hotel stay in the area was in the centrally-located Fleming's Deluxe Hotel. The name comes from the fact that the hotel chain was started by Ian Fleming's chauffeur. One unusual feature is an original working Paternoster—an elevator that is in constant motion; you hop on and hop off. Needless to say, I took the elevator with the buttons.
After settling in, we enjoyed a walking tour through the Town Hall Square. The Helaba Bank Tower offers panoramic views of the city. We had dinner at Frohsein restaurant (a delicious Wiener Schnitzel: Breaded and fried veal cutlet). I had my first taste of a Hugo cocktail, a popular drink in Germany that I liked so much that our guide suggested I open a Hugo bar in New York. (It is made with Prosecco, fresh mint, and elderflower syrup). Afterward, we took a boat trip on the River Main, past Frankfurt's seven bridges.
We started the next day with an excursion to Lohrberg, the only remaining vineyard within the city borders of Frankfurt, where we tasted the local Apple Wine. All around us were activities for groups of schoolchildren. Lunch was served at an outdoor table at the scenic Lohrberg Schänke.
Frankfurt has more than 60 museums and galleries; 16 are located near the river (Museumsufer). With time for only one, we chose the Städel Museum. It is Germany's oldest museum foundation with a collection covering 700 years of European art. There is a room of Max Beckmann's paintings, including one of a synagogue in Frankfurt. A temporary exhibition of Hogarth's prints was of particular interest, since I had just seen Stravinsky's opera, "The Rake's Progress," which was based on some of these prints.
On our third day, we drove to the capital city of Hesse region and a well-known spa town, Wiesbaden. From there, we took a picturesque cruise on the Rhine River, passing by a number of vineyards that produce Riesling wines before we reached Rüdesheim.
One of our most interesting side-trips was to the Eberbach Abbey, a former Cistercian monastery which was founded in the 12th century. At its height, the Abbey had 100 monks and more than 200 lay brothers living and working there. The picturesque Abbey (where In the Name of the Rose was filmed) still produces fine wines. We tasted several with our lunch at the Klosterschänke restaurant. I was sorry we didn't have time to visit the nearby convent where Hildegarde von Bingen had been the Mother Superior during the 12th century. Although I know her as a composer, she was remarkably knowledgeable and influential in a number of fields, from medicine to philosophy.
In Wiesbaden, we stayed at the luxurious Hotel Oranien. Then, we dined overlooking the town at the Opelbad Restaurant.
The Romans had conquered the area and the former Roman outpost, Saalburg, conveys what life was like there about 2,000 years ago. The fort is part of the Limes, a UNESCO World Heritage site. A lesson in archery made clear that if I had lived during that era, I would have gone hungry. I didn't that day because we had lunch at the Landgasthof restaurant, where German Emperor William I used to dine.
Our timing was perfect for our visit to the delightful town of Seligenstadt. Once every four years, there is a traditional "Geleitsfest," during which townspeople of all ages dress up and parade in the costumes of their ancestors, with horses and donkeys. At the end of the procession, there is a ceremony at which a city official recites a script and then drinks wine from a massive spoon called a "Löffeltrunk." We were assured that there were no special effects; he was really imbibing all that alcohol.
The open-air museum of the state of Hesse, Hessenpark, offers another trip into history, perfect for families with children. Visitors can learn about more than 400 years of rural life by stepping into houses with their original furnishings or attend craft and farming technique presentations. There are also craftspeople working and selling their wares.
Bad Homburg boasts of its "champagne air," and its mineral waters attracted royalty, including the German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II. You are still treated like royalty at the Steigenberger Hotel. A visit to the elegant casino (built in the 19th century) confirmed that I had no more aptitude for gambling than archery. However, I did not lose at dinner. The on-site restaurant Le Blanc features a high quality fusion menu. There is a glass partition, so you can see the gamblers on the other side.
Of particular interest to me was the free outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream in German that was going on right outside the casino. During our stay in the region, there were arts events all over. While our tight schedule didn't give us time for a concert, we did manage to sneak into a classical pianist's rehearsal.
As a reminder that Germans love their beer, we visited Glaabs Brauerei, the oldest brewery in the region. Founded in 1744, it still utilizes the traditional method of open fermentation.
Since our departure time was approaching, we traveled to the very modern Hilton Frankfurt Airport. We had our farewell dinner (and my last Hugo) at Käfer's Bistro Restaurant in Departure Hall B. Then, we spent the night in style at the luxurious Hilton Frankfurt Airport Hotel. I had previously stayed at the Hilton Airport Hotel in Copenhagen, and these are great places to stay when you're getting on or off a flight. You just roll off your plane or out of bed and the terminal is nearby.
From New York, flights are direct to Frankfurt on Lufthansa. Think of it: In about the same time it takes to sit through a Wagner opera, you can be in Germany.
For more information:
Frankfurt Rhine Main Tourism: frankfurt-rhein-main.de
Lufthansa Airline (non-stop flights from NYC to Frankfurt): lufthansa.com
Fleming's Deluxe Hotel (Frankfurt) – flemings-hotels.com/en
Oranien (Wiesbaden) – hotel-oranien.de
Steigenberger (Bad Homburg) – steigenberger.com
Landgasthof Neubauer (Seligenstadt) – landgasthof-neubauer.de
Hilton Frankfurt Airport – hilton.reservationscounter.com
Frohsein (Frankfurt) – frohsein-in-franfurt.de
Lohrberg (Frankfurt) – lohrberg-schaenke.de
Opelbad (Wiesbaden) – wagner-gastronomie.de
Landgasthof (Bad Homburg) – landgasthof-saalburg.de
Frankfurt Cruise – primus-linie.de
Rhine Cruise (Wiesbaden) – k-d.com
Hessenpark (Neu Anspach) – hessenpark.de
Casino (Bad Homburg) – casinoseurope.com/germany/casino-bad-homburg/
Glaabs Brauerei (Seligenstadt Brewery) – glaabsbraeu.de