Patrick Jenkins’ guide to the Nordend of Frankfurt
This article is part of a Frankfurt guide by FT Globetrotter
I have returned to Frankfurt several times over the past 15 years since completing my assignment as a Foreign Correspondent there. Recent jobs in banking and finance, before the pandemic, involved frequent trips – short flights, taxis to the city center, meetings in the Deutsche Bank Twin Towers or at the headquarters of the European Central Bank – often without needing to spend the night.
This is the Frankfurt that millions of business travelers discover. Germany’s financial center is a short walk from London and other European hubs. But other than a few swanky offices, half-decent restaurants, and the beautifully embellished Main River, there’s little obvious merit.
It appears to be a city of often characterless downtown skyscrapers and a red light district, near the main rail terminus, as early as the 1980s. At the airport, slow security and boarding can leave a bitter aftertaste. Even the historic Römer part of the Old Town – largely rebuilt since WWII in a mix of architectural replicas and modern pastiche – divides opinion.
But emergency travel doesn’t have to be without charm. After living here, I know that at its best, Frankfurt, like many German cities, is engaging and friendly, as well as practical and tidy. On a visit just before the pandemic, I took a break from my bankers meeting schedule to savor the city and remember. With the occasional nod as more than a decade has passed, I have found things remarkably unchanged.
While you are unlikely to stumble upon any of the gems in the Nordend district, where I have lived, without being warned, many of them can be enjoyed even on a short business trip. . It’s part of the real Frankfurt, much more vibrant and authentic than the Financial District.
Just north of the bank skyscrapers is a low-key community where my wife, baby and I quickly felt at home when we arrived in 2003. It was helpful that we were German speaking, but our network of friends – who almost all lived within a few streets of our apartment – were a mix of locals born and raised, Germans from elsewhere in the country and other expats from Europe, USA and even Sri Lanka.
Nordend (literally, north end) spans a large area including the area around Holzhausenpark where we used to live, but also stretches east towards the more lively Bornheim district with its food court. and partly pedestrianized shopping, Bergerstrasse, and its own large park, the Günthersburgpark – both highly recommended. (The tips below focus on the Holzhausen district, which is a 15-20 minute walk from the northern edge of the financial district or five to 10 minutes by metro or tram.)
Although we had traveled extensively across Germany during our nearly four years in Frankfurt, we also spent days, sometimes weeks at a time, squatting in our local community. We would buy basic items from the little supermarket down the street, stock up on fruit and veg at the Turkish stall around the corner, have Saturday morning pastries and bread rolls from the bakery 20 yards down the road and buy the rest of our supplies. at the dated and endearing health food store across the street.
On weekends, we could visit the local theater 50 yards down our street, or the arts cinema two streets down. The weekend breakfasts at the local cafe – with platters of fruit and cheese and baskets of every bread imaginable – were a joy. A five-minute walk from the leafy Holzhausenpark, a toddler dreams of having fun on a playground, as well as playing outdoor table tennis (long before it became all the rage in London) .
So close to downtown but to another world, the park is a great place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of business. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants in the area that make ideal alternative venues for business meetings for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but with much more character (and discretion) than most downtown hotels. city.
On this last visit, I met Domenic, the FT photographer, outside my old building. I could almost taste the memories, including the unpleasantness of my initial arrival in Glauburgstrasse, where my efforts to park my right-hand drive car against the flow of traffic – fine in the UK, but an offense here, apparently – earned me a dry welcome from the local police: “In Germany, we drive on the right.
This part of Frankfurt, unlike some of the smart but soulless centers, was not razed by the bombs of WWII. While the turn of the 20th century building that has been our home for over three years is not exactly charming, the surroundings are.
I drove us around the corner and noticed with a pang in my heart that our old Turkish-run fruit stall has become an off-license, our bakery is now a fancy cafe and the U-Bahn station ( metro) – which is open to the sky at this point – has a suitable platform in place of the old creepy roadside access.
Our favorite Italian restaurant is still there, but under new management. Papanova, run by Pasquale Terranova of Calabrian origin, is now a modern and comfortable bistro offering top-notch cuisine. The menu – from wood-fired pizza (the house specialty) to pasta, steak and fish – is simple, but it’s as much a place to dine solo or with friends as it is for casual business meetings. .
Unfortunately the basement bowling alley, where we used to go for a bit of postprandial sport, is no longer in use. “Fire regulations would make the upgrade too expensive,” Terranova told me, although he was happy to show me the makeshift dry warehouse that the two-lane aisle has become. “Maybe someday,” he added, perhaps sensing the addition of bowling might win me back as a regular.
Domenic and I continued our walk, heading south on Eckenheimer Landstrasse, to another old favorite: the glacier, Eis Christina. If you visit Frankfurt between early spring and late fall, don’t miss it. The creamy acidity of Himbeer-Joghurt Ice Cream (Raspberry Yogurt) is a personal favorite.
Next to the glacier, I spotted a favorite place to drink wine: the Weinstube im Nordend. Its sleek yet comfortable interior, full of dark wood and unchanged velvet, still rings with the range of European reds and fine German Rieslings – many at a bargain price of € 2.40 to € 5 a glass – as well as delicious snacks. and evening meal. It is only open at night, so I made a mental note to come back.
We continued west to the idyllic Holzhausenpark (Adolph-von-Holzhausen-Park, to give it its full name). At least half of my free time was spent here during our years in Frankfurt: from outings to the playground at 7 a.m. on weekends to coffee-cake outings with friends and ping-pong games with kids. colleagues. This little park had it all.
My father, a retired music teacher, even had a concert or two here in the idyllic Schlösschen, lakeside, 18th-century mansion (entrance via Justinianstrasse). The program (mainly afternoons and some evenings) is always a reassuring mix of string quartets, choral work and jazz, with some school concerts. If you are looking for a relaxing morning, have a coffee and read the newspaper, try the cafe outside on the other side of the park.
With time running out, we made a loop back to our starting point. We walked past the Stalburg Theater, a local art venue with an attached bar where we went with friends at least twice to see the play Wer kocht, schiesst nicht (People who cook do not shoot). Written by the theater’s founder, Michael Herl, it’s a satire on life, death and sustainability, via the allegory of fast food. Poignantly, it was visible again that day – and continues to function. German speakers with an appetite for real Frankfurt culture, perhaps with an Apfelwein (apple wine) from the theater bar, shouldn’t miss it.
Our last stop was my local bank. It is still there, at the corner of Glauburgstrasse and Oeder Weg, although the fascia is now yellow rather than green, following the takeover of Dresdner Bank in 2009 by Commerzbank. From his perch, Domenic photographed me in front of the building, then turned 90 degrees to photograph Frankfurt’s famous skyline – with its towering Commerzbank tower, once the tallest in Europe.
Today, the struggles of the country’s barely profitable banks collide grotesquely against their proud skyscrapers. The city had placed its hopes in a Brexit leading to the transfer of thousands of jobs from London to bring new energy to the lackluster financial scene. This flood has been more of a dribble, but at least a few lucky expats, as well as short-term visitors, will be able to take advantage of this underrated city.
Nordend address book
Having dinner: Papanova, Eckenheimer Landstrasse 130
Having dinner: Strandcafe, Koselstrasse 46
Nibble: Eis Christine, Eckenheimer Landstrasse 78
Walk: Holzhausenpark, Holzhausenstrasse
Drink: Weinstube im Nordend, Eckenheimer Landstrasse 84
Look: Stalburg Theater, Glauburgstrasse 80
Listen: Holzhausenschlösschen, Justinianstrae 5
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