Frankfurt is Europe’s second-busiest transport hub and with direct flights from there to Kerry, my local airport, it was only a matter of time that I would visit. Ever since the “Frankfurt’s Way or Labour’s Way” pre-election declaration in 2011 by the then Irish Labour Party leader I’ve taken an interest in visiting the German city which is home to the European Central Bank (ECB), the Irish taxpayer’s nemesis. In an affront to the basic fabric of commerce, Frankfurt got its way by bullying Ireland’s terminally-ill Finance Minister into unfairly burdening Ireland with private bondholder debt1. In an affront to democracy, the ECB failed to co-operate with the Irish Banking Inquiry despite contributing to Ireland’s financial crisis2. Even the IMF has criticised the ECB’s actions towards my home country3.
Frankfurt is synonymous with finance as skyscraper office blocks dominate the horizon, none more so architecturally-nauseating than that of the old ECB HQ building near Willy Brandt Platz. The new ECB main building on Sonnemannstrasse isn’t much of an improvement despite its €1.4 billion cost with EU taxpayers footing that bill. However, the walk along the River Main into the city centre from the new ECB comes recommended.
What Frankfurt bankers lack in style, humility and democracy, the locals more than make up for in terms of friendliness, helpfulness and cultural endeavour. Given Frankfurt’s reputation as a travel hub I expected a city frantically coping with masses of commuters and travellers. The reality is actually the opposite and I was pleasantly surprised with its laid-back organised vibe.
Commuting will not be the only reason I’ll to return to Frankfurt. In fact, the plentiful supply of shops on Biebergasse, Keiserstrasse, and on the streets leading from Goethe Platz are a big draw as is the most famous of the shopping streets, the Zeil.
Frankfurt is relatively cheap with hotels and restaurants giving excellent value for money. I stayed in Hotel Europa Life near the Hauptbahnhof for €49 per night which was an absolute steal for the quality I experienced.
Frankfurt city centre experienced massive damage during World War II but small sections have been carefully and lovingly restored, none more so than the Romerberg, a square whose original dated back centuries.
I was particularly taken by Bethmannstrasse and the Eschenheimer Turm structure:
Culturally, Frankfurt is the birthplace of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the colossus of German literature. His play, Faust, is based on the German legend of a frustrated scholar with whom the Devil makes a pact to deliver happiness in return for Faust’s soul, hence the term “Faustian Pact”. Given Goethe’s cultural significance the Goethe-Haus is a must-see attraction and also incorporates the Frankfurt Goethe Museum. I used a Goethe quote in my postgraduate thesis introduction many years ago and so had a personal interest in visiting.
Helmut Kohl championed peace, unity and equality in our continent and it was he who canvassed for Frankfurt as the location of the ECB during his tenure as German Chancellor. He may have done the city a disservice considering the vested-interest elite the seemingly unaccountable ECB now harbours, and we need to separate the friendly city reality from the negative reputation the ECB thrust upon it. Despite this conundrum, my love for Germany remains intact.
I’m not a Europhobe. In fact, I strongly identify with being European and deeply care about my home continent. My comments here reflect the reservations I have about the democratic deficit which has developed in some EU institutions giving rise to a profound inequality in Europe. Irish journalist and writer Fintan O’Toole says the EU “is turning itself from a community of equal nations into a fiscal penal colony with creditor guards and debtor prisoners. It is inequality – mostly but not exclusively economic inequality – that is making the western world increasingly anarchic”4.
Widespread unease exists regarding matters in Sonnemannstrasse. But I have no complaints about the rest of Frankfurt. In fact, I’m looking forward to a return.
© Hazel Joy 2016