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When bombs rained down on Frankfurt in 1944, nearly all the old half-timbered buildings were leveled. In what seemed like record time, residents of Frankfurt rebuilt their city into a fine mélange of modern and traditional architecture and faithfully restored some of their most prized old buildings as well.

Although Frankfurt doesn't have the monuments or museums to equal Munich or Berlin, its museums and exhibition halls still lure some two million visitors annually. As the cultural director of the city of Frankfurt, Dr. Hans Bernhard Nordhoff, said, "We offer you everything from Goethe to Andy Warhol, from Tyrannosaurus Rex to the female ideal of Botticelli."

Museums on Museumsufer

Several of Frankfurt’s best and most-visited museums are found across the river from the Altstadt along the Main embankment on a street called Schaumainkai. The Eisener Steg, an old iron bridge, spans the river, connecting the Altstadt to Museumsufer. Many of the grandest museums lie along the Main on the south bank -- often called "Museum Embankment," in itself a dazzling array of contemporary architecture even before you go inside to look at the exhibits.

The easiest way to sightsee in Frankfurt is to take a cruise on the Main River aboard one of the vessels operated by Primus-Linie, Mainkai 36 (tel. 069/1338370; www.primus-linie.de). From March to October, boats leave from the North Bank of the Main at Mainkai during the day, offering a 50-minute excursion for 9€ or a 100-minute excursion for 11€. The trip gives you a preview of the skyline of Frankfurt.

Struwwelpeter: A Very Naughty Boy

He’s a memory now, but up until World War II, the image of Struwwelpeter, with his enormous shock of hair and Edward Scissorhands-length fingernails, was ingrained in the nightmares of every German child and many children throughout the world. (Struwwelpeter’s grotesque hair and fingernails were the result of his bad-boy behavior.) Published in 1844, Struwwelpeter was the creation of Heinrich Hoffman (1809–94), a Frankfurt physician who wrote gruesomely moralistic children’s stories. The illustrated story became one of the most popular “children’s books” in Germany and was translated into 14 languages (in England, Struwwelpeter became “Shockheaded Peter”). The entertaining Struwwelpeter-Museum, Schirn, Römerberg, Bendergass 1 (tel. 069/281-333), displays original sketches and illustrations with copies of the book (and its classic image of Struwwelpeter) from many different countries. Admission is free; the museum, located alongside the Schirn Gallery, is open Tuesday to Sunday 11am to 5pm.

Altstadt

You can take in the sights of the old town in about a half a day, beginning at the historic core of the Römerberg. This pleasant and often lively square is bordered on one side by a trio of medieval patricians' houses known as the Römer, home to the city hall since 1405. Opposite stands a row of half-timbered houses reconstructed in 1986 to original plans. They recall they way the historic and cramped inner city looked before the fire bombs of World War II reduced it to dust.

Among the more intriguing sights is the Kaiserdom, which was consecrated in 1239 and hosted ten imperial coronations between 1562 and 1792. The Archeological Gardens in the square to the west of the Kaiserdom presents scant foundations of the Roman military outpost and Carolingian royal palace.

The nearby Paulskirche has historical significance as site of the first German National Assembly in 1848. A short walk west you'll find the Goethe Haus, birthplace of Germany's greatest writer in 1749.

Nearing the northern edge of the old town, the squat Hauptwache greets you. This old guardhouse from 1730 used to mark the exact center of town, until it was moved 6m (18ft.) during post-war rebuilding. A short stroll down Eschenheimerstrasse brings you to the only remaining gate of the former ramparts, the Eschenheimer Tor, dating from around 1400.

Although not technically in the Altstadt, the row of museums on the opposite bank of the Main are another main attraction, including the not-to-be-missed Städel and Liebieghaus.

Römerberg

The Altstadt (U-Bahn: Dom/Römer) centers on three Gothic buildings with stepped gables, known collectively as the Römer, Römerberg (tel. 069/21234814). These houses were originally built between 1288 and 1305 and bought by the city a century later for use as the Rathaus. The second floor of the center house is the Kaisersaal (Imperial Hall), lined with the romanticized 19th-century portraits of 52 emperors; 13 of them celebrated their coronation banquets here. You can visit this hall daily 10am to 1pm and 2 to 5pm. An hourly tour costing 2€ is obligatory. Tours are conducted in English and German and tickets can be purchased at the entrance to the Römer.

The elaborate facade of the Römer, with its ornate balcony and statues of four emperors, overlooks Römerplatz (Römerberg Square). On festive occasions in days gone by, the square was the scene of oxen roasts that featured flowing wine. Today, unfortunately, the Fountain of Justitia pours forth only water, but oxen are still roasted on special occasions.

Kaiserdom

The dominant feature of the Altstadt is the 15th-century, red-sandstone tower of the Kaiserdom St. Bartholomäus, in whose chapels the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire were elected and crowned for nearly 300 years. The church was constructed between the 13th and 15th centuries on the site of a Carolingian building. It is most noted for its west tower or Westturm, which is greatly ornamented and crowned by a polygonal gable. It's topped by both a lantern and a dome. Surprisingly, the cathedral was not completed until 1877, but it was based on plans created by the Dom's original architect, Madern Gerthener. Destroyed by Allied bombs in 1944, it was rebuilt in 1953. One of its chief treasures is its choir stalls, which represent brilliant Upper Rhine craftsmanship, dating from around the mid-14th century. In the north chancel, look for Maria Schlafaltar (Altar of Mary Sleeping), dating from 1434. It is the only altar remaining from the church's original interior. The Dom is open daily, at no charge, from 9am to noon and 2 to 6pm.

In the cloister is the Dom Museum (tel. 069/13376186; www.dommuseum-frankfurt.de) which, among other things, exhibits robes of the imperial electors. Dating back as far as the 1400s, these robes, which are still quite sumptuous, were worn at coronation ceremonies. Walk west of the cathedral to an "archaeological garden" called Archäologischer Garten, with ruins of both Roman and Carolingian fortifications. The site is open and free to the public at all times.

 

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.