Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
I recently visited the Frankfurt Rhine-Main region of Germany where an insightful quote of one of that country’s favored sons – Goethe – made music in my mind. Yes, I’d thought often about this region of Germany, read enough about it till I felt I almost knew it; but it was only through looking, genuinely seeing, that its singular importance, both historical and visual, came through loud and clear. For lack of a better word, may I just say that I was gobsmacked by my visit (sorry, this rather un-pretty word seems to say it all).
The great city of Frankfurt on the Main River is the birthplace of Goethe. It’s a lively destination in the heart of Europe – and a major financial hub, the largest on the continent. The city’s liberal and democratic tradition is one of the reasons that people from very diverse cultures have settled here over time. This ethnicity has contributed to making Frankfurt shine exclusively from every angle, kind of like a jewel that shines differently when observed from unique viewpoints.
The architecture here is captivating: the very old that survived the war, along with reconstructed and restored structures of the city’s past, blends smoothly with bold high-rises. The Museum Embankment consists of 13 world-renown museums that house prized collections ranging from classic art to history. Taking the liberty of quoting the great poet Goethe once again: “I call architecture frozen music.” Indeed. On my first evening, a group of us had the chance to experience an unparalleled view of Frankfurt’s skyline via a night cruise on the Main. We sailed under all seven city bridges and viewed sizzling neighborhood streetscapes, while above the sky turned mauve and pink, and below lights cast orange and gold reflections on the water. Enchantment.
And the enchantment continued. Our next stops were Wiesbaden and Rudesheim. We had a leisurely and picturesque cruise along the Rhine in Wiesbaden, the capital of the Hesse region and a traditional spa city. The banks of the river were punctuated by the occasional lone bicyclist or strolling couple, as well as appealing homes nestled amid verdant woodlands and rows of well-tended vineyards. This city has a long history as a spa town and is home to the celebrated Kurhaus, an unprecedented center for exhibitions, conventions and cultural events. Once inside, our guide explained that if we were quiet as mice, we would be allowed to tiptoe to the uppermost balcony of the concert hall to hear a pianist rehearsing for an upcoming performance. We sat high amid ornate splendor as notes of a Chopin etude drifted heavenward and enveloped us. At the opening ceremony of Kurhaus in 1907, Kaiser Wilhelm II called it “the most beautiful spa building in the world.”
On to Rudesheim, a city whose reputation preceded it as the famous wine region of Reingau and its well-known Riesling wines. A medieval atmosphere pervades the city due in part to its architecture of quaint, half-timbered houses. We took a cable car to a high plateau to view the impressive Germania monument and panoramic views over the old town, over the shimmering waters of the Rhine dotted with green isles, and over vineyards – vineyards, vineyards everywhere.
Champagne air anyone?
Bad Homburg is the former summer residence of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II and an internationally known spa town. A stroll around its environs was not unlike a trip back to royal times with its 19th century buildings and ornate casino. Residents are proud of this fashionable heart of the Taunus region and its fresh, brisk air they like to call “champagne air.” There may be something to this because, as I boarded the bus to visit Saalburg, I could swear I felt invigorated. Was it the Riesling tasting or merely air like champagne? Whatever. I was eager to visit this Roman fort which delineates the border fortification of the German provinces. Here we saw a completely reconstructed Roman fort – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We returned to Bad Homburg for an evening at its celebrated casino and dinner in the sophisticated surroundings of the Crystal restaurant.
Our visit to Seligenstadt was timed just right for the Seligenstadter Geleit – “Seligenstadt Escort,” a celebration held once every four years. This unique ceremony in Germany refers to a kind of safe passage ritual and has been a tradition since the early Middle Ages. During ancient times, traveling merchants were often set upon by thieves and, thus, used Seligenstadt as a rest stop to obtain an escort for safe passage. Today, the entire town becomes one huge festive event of more than 100 elaborately built attractions and a grand carnival parade that wanders through crowds as large as 40,000. This is an attraction you may see only once in a lifetime, and I felt fortunate to be there at this wildly happy moment.
Everything Old Is New Again
Under an hour’s drive to our next destination was Hessenpark, an open-air museum that showcases half-timbered buildings of the Hesse region. Here a hundred houses are on display, each distinctive, each conjuring a fascinating world of more than 400 years of rural life. There are clock towers, windmills, a bakery, a village school and even an ancient post office. I entered a goldsmith’s workshop – Goldschmiede by name – where graduates in the art of jewelry-making were busy crafting precious pieces. Sara Pukall stopped work long enough to show me around the room and explained that if I felt so inclined I could take a course on-site and make a piece of jewelry for myself – a tempting offer, one I’ll keep in mind. Hessenpark is a popular family destination and a cool learning experience for kids.
Come Fly Away
A spectacular end to my German holiday was spending the last night at the striking Hilton Frankfurt Airport Hotel. The airport itself has the busiest passenger traffic in the country and is the third busiest in Europe. Serving 264 destinations in 113 countries makes it the airport with the most international destinations in the world. Before dining at its Kafer’s Bistro with members of the airport’s press office, we were told that a “Sunset Surprise” awaited us. We handed over our passports, had our hand baggage screened, and then boarded a small van where we donned reflective vests. After a short ride, we left the van to find ourselves airside. That, in lay terms, means we were smack-dab on the tarmac and up close and personal with an A380, the world’s largest passenger airliner! I walked around this behemoth and felt very, very small – insignificant in fact. I stood under the fuselage of the plane gazing at gargantuan wheels (how many? More than I could count) and became giddy being photographed next to one of its colossal jet engines. Airside – a one-off experience – and one never to be forgotten.
An old German legend tells us that after God named all of the plants, a tiny unnamed one cried out, “Forget-me-not, O Lord!” God replied “That shall be your name;” thus, this flower became the sentimental favorite of the country. Leaving Germany, I now have countless cherished experiences tucked firmly in my memory. Forget-Me-Not? Not a chance!
If You Go:
Frankfurt Rhine Main Tourism Lufthansa Airline (travel directly in comfort/great food)