While Frankfurt suffers from a very “clean” reputation as Germanys center of finance (and generally being a typical orderly German city), there’s at least one district that has been excluded from this notion. The Bahnhofsviertel — roughly translated into “scary red light district full of drunk men, junkies, dealers and women turning tricks’ — is usually avoided by everyone who’s in their right mind.
I used to live near Frankfurt before I moved to Berlin 5 years ago. The city never seemed remarkable or interesting to me, but I would always remember the Bahnhofsviertel as an obnoxious place. It’s not like in Berlin, where the “bad stuff” just spreads all over the city. This here in Frankfurt is serious, gritty shit, and it’s all centered in a realm of 3 or 4 streets. But time has passed, and the district I used to avoid has become a culturally evolving hub for artists, students and — ahem — “the scene”.
I visited a couple of times in the last few months and decided to take a few shots of the surroundings. It turned out to be more difficult than I thought, considering that it’s basically strictly forbidden to even remember what you saw. The privacy of the prostitutes has to be ensured as well as that of the johns. They congregate openly on the streets. Not to forget the addicts who stand in line at the methadone clinic. I wouldn’t care if it was forbidden — I’m a rebel like that — but get caught and you’ll face the pavement. There is enough security to ensure you can’t take a proper picture, especially at night.
Naturally people are prepared for the influx of interested young people: already they are throwing around with big words like “gentrification”, because with every new bar that opens, and with every gallery that moves closer, the already super-high rent prices (Berlin rents are a big joke compared to what you’d have to pay in Frankfurts hotspots) will rise and throw out the last of those who had tried to stay in the city center.
The atmosphere of the Bahnhofsviertel is mesmerizing. At night the streets are lit in neon pink colors to advertise the sex shops, brothels, strip clubs and bars. The backdrop is a fantastic skyline of Frankfurt. During the Bahnhofsviertelnacht — an annual festival for the district — the streets are packed with people having a good time, as if the red light belongs to the scenery. That’s like throwing a party down at the worst cut of Potsdamer Straße, but it works out here. Mosques, ethnic restaurants, churches, brothels — everything is open and on display. One gets the feeling that even with all the gentrification conflicts, somehow it all comes together here.
Remarkable places of interest are Plank, a bar in affiliation with the Robert Johnson Club, the Yok Yok Kiosk (basically the only Späti in Frankfurt that I can think of; and like in Berlin, people love to hang out at the Späti!), and the 25 Hours Levis Hotel, where I got to spent a wonderful wild night. In relations to Berlin, the Bahnhofsviertel has more in common with Oranienstraße than Simon-Dach, but it’s still weird to see men and women — bankers — in suits mixed with the cool crowd. Also, Frankfurt is so overwhelmingly German that you have to be prepared for it.