Read the full guide to Frankfurt 2017 here-
Frankfurt is the city I almost grew up in. My family lived a few kilometers down the highway, in a spacious and deathly boring suburb within the densely populated Rhein-Main-Gebiet. Frankfurt became my first urban love, but it was like a teen’s infatuation with a cheesy Hollywood heartthrob, based merely on the occasional escape fantasy it provided.
Ten years ago, Frankfurt was only interesting to package tourists and bankers and people who were traveling through the massive international airport. Only recently, in light of being the European financial capital and becoming a more and more important creative hub for the region, media such as The New York Times or ZeitMagazine “called” the city’s rise from the shadows of other metropoles.
But you really have to know where to look to see the differences.
As a kid, I thought the tall buildings and the vast selection of franchise clothing stores was my entrance ticket to a cooler, unpredictable life. Urban, like NYC urban, although I had a feeling back then that NYC was going to be a bit of a stretch.
I didn’t know back then that the Zeil, Frankfurts high shopping street, literally looks like any other German mid-town city high street; with the same shops and the same people buying the same crap.
Fortunately, there are other places in the city that changed during my absence.
Before 2012, the junkie territory and red light district of the Bahnhofsviertel was deemed as ‘ghetto-ish’, to be absolutely avoided by anyone with a sane mind. My mother pleaded with me and my brothers to never leave the station when we were traveling. I remember how uncomfortable I always felt while waiting for the train.
Today, it’s a highly recommended area in any tourist guide: multiculturalism, drugs, sex, music, art school kids and poverty are not as threatening anymore as they used to be. A mix of bankers in suits and junkies with syringes makes for an interesting picture on the street. Plank is overcrowded as always, so we move on towards the newest enterprise of Ata Macias (owner and founder of Techno club Robert Johnson), the bar AMP. Fortunately, AMP is more spacious than Plank, airy, with perfected drinks and perfect music.
Joining these names in the ranks of cool locations are the 25hours by Levis, their rooftop bar and everything that belongs to the IMA Clique: pastrami sandwich shop Maxie Eisen, restaurant Stanley Diamond and pop-up bar Showmanship (which is a joint venture with Lindenberg, who also belong to the few makers of the scene).
Frankfurt is quite a small town.
Yet despite the gentrification and the cool kids and their cool bars, I’d still not cross Elbestraße alone at night.
However, because of the so called “Frankfurter Weg” – addicts are allowed to consume drugs in institutionalized safe spaces – the area will probably not suffer as much from hyper-gentrification as other neighborhoods.
I really don’t see a lot of families moving their offspring here because it’s cool. The red light district is one thing, but defecating and vomiting junkies are probably too much, even for the hardliners. You can’t art direct the uncomfortable truth, even if the neon light aesthetic makes you feel like you’re part of a high crime thriller series.
Heroin used to be a very big issue in Frankfurt, however apparently Crack and Meth are the much bigger problems nowadays. They are a lot quicker in their effect and also a lot more stimulating than heroin, resulting in a rise of crime and violence.
But the Bahnhofsviertel isn’t the only neighborhood that has made a few steps forward while I lived in Kreuzberg.
I was especially surprised to see little transformations taking place south of the Main. In my days, Alt-Sachsenhausen was an absolute shit show – think Simon-Dach-Straße meets Oranienburger Tor, back when Tacheles was still there. Bottomless sausage fest stag night tourist trap. It’s everything you do not want as a resident.
Alt-Sachsenhausen is famous among tourists for its medieval buildings (and the bars that have settled in them). It’s also famous for its culinary traditions and the local signature drink, the Apfelwein (also known as Äppler).
It seems unlikely that a hotel like the Libertine Lindenberg would place itself in such an atmosphere, and yet they did. The hotel is a testimonial to design, lifestyle and an affluent culture. With it comes its own magazine about Sachsenhausen, called 1/4 and produced by the advertising agency Bembel (who are also behind Libertine Lindenberg and their other franchise, Libertine Rückertstraße).
They are also closely affiliated to the high end restaurant Seven Swans and the new (and extraordinary) concept bar next door, Bonechina. At Libertine and Bonechina, guests are treated like intimate friends. At Bonechina, you even get to mix your own drinks (with a little guidance, of course).
I felt quite a strong current towards the Eastern parts of town. That was completely new to me – the Ostend was formerly a no man’s land, with the exception of the occasional rave.
New condo complexes, the European Central Bank, and plenty of car dealerships don’t really attract young and energized crowds. But the addition of a few new clubs (such as the Schwedeler See – a swimming club by day and a private location for parties and functions by night) and a new park, as well as a completely re-structuring of traffic and neighborhoods, has drawn attention to this part of Frankfurt.
The chatter in the bars and hotels confirmed what I thought – new hotels and restaurants are already lining up to grab prime cut real estate.
What really puts Frankfurt on the map for most people – being Europe’s financial center – is nothing of importance to me. But I like how people seem ready for the challenge, how natural it feels to have a skyline in a German city. To be important and gracefully accept it.
In Berlin, people seem to constantly struggle with change. I don’t get the same vibe in Frankfurt. People are just as much traditional, with all their Ebbelwoi and Handkäs’, as moving forward.
But all things considered, what really changed about Frankfurt is me.
It’s difficult to come back here as a tourist. Only a few years ago, my mother would still come to pick me up from the main station – as her visitor.
I didn’t need to know where the cool places were, because she would take me out to her campus and buy me lunch, and she would introduce me to her friends and take me shopping. These weekends with her would almost exclusively take place in Frankfurt. We would both still love to escape our shitty hometown.
And after every time, she would drive me back to the main station, and I would board yet another train to Berlin. And she would cry and tell me to stay, and find a job here, and that there’s nothing I can do in Berlin that I can’t do in Frankfurt. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if hadn’t left.
She always wanted to move to the Westend so she could take walks in the Palmengarten, and be close to her university. She loved the air of class and wealth. Tomorrow would have been her 53rd birthday.
I guess Frankfurt will never be the same again.