A great city overshadowed by the notoriety of its busy airport, Frankfurt, Germany, is known for having one of the largest and busiest airports in the world. But the city has much to offer beyond the parameters of its international hub.
Dating back to around the first century CE, Frankfurt is a city of ancient wonders and modern marvels. Its architecture is a brilliant blend of new and old; for instance, it is one of the only European cities that has a significant number of skyscrapers.
Frankfurt’s phenomenal cultural scene has earned it status as an “alpha city,” among the likes of Madrid, Milan, Beijing and Mumbai, and with good reason. The city is home to 28 museums, 11 theatres, three historic churches and two botanical gardens. However, if you’re in a pinch and can see only one thing in Frankfurt, I recommend St Bartholomew’s Cathedral. This gothic church was built in the 14th century, when it served as the site where the kings of the Holy Roman Empire were elected. The cathedral is 95 metres high and has a public viewing platform at 68 metres that provides a brilliant panoramic view of the city.
The vast majority of residents speak English fluently; however, there is a dividing line between those who grew up in East versus West Germany. Particularly before the wall came down in 1989, students in East Germany were forced to learn Russian rather than English as their second language. That being said, if you encounter someone who doesn’t speak English, he or she will likely direct you to someone nearby who can.
In Europe, Frankfurt is known for one thing: money! And lots of it. Not only is it one of the most expensive cities to live on Earth, it is also the largest financial centre in Continental Europe and thus attracts many world bankers. Adjacent to the financial district in the downtown core is the city’s second distinguishing feature: it is home to a red-light district comparable to the infamous De Wallen in Amsterdam. This area is extremely easy to wander into by accident, as it is situated directly outside Frankfurt Central Station, very close to the popular downtown pedestrian area. The establishments in the red-light district are anything but gay, but it is worth a stroll through if only for the oh-so-German way barkers attempt to get you into their clubs: “You want sexy time with beautiful woman, yes?”
Despite the heavy concentration of buttoned-down business types and their “associates” in the red-light district, Frankfurt has a vibrant queer scene. The community is located in the area of Konstablerwache, Bleichstrasse and Eschenheimer Turm in the northeast corner of the city. Here you can find a healthy supply of bars, clubs, restaurants, businesses, accommodations and spas to fit every appetite. The nightlife scene is very happening on the weekends, but because Frankfurt doesn’t have as large a concentration of queer people as some European cities, most clubs remain closed during the week. Nevertheless, bars and restaurants in the gay district are open all week long, and there are plenty of locals and tourists out and about to meet.
As in other progressive cities, the local queer bookstore is an amazing resource for information on events, parties and the ongoing gay history of the area. Oscar Wilde Bookstore is situated in the main gay district on Alte Gasse and is a very friendly establishment to visit.
Bars and clubs
Although there’s a concentration of bars in the queer district near Konstablerwache, Bleichstrasse and Eschenheimer Turm, there are many other gay-friendly bars across the city. For a detailed map of queer establishments, pick up the free monthly German scene magazine, called gab, for up-to-date listings on parties and directions on how to get there.
Pulse and CK Studio are the locals’ top choices for a good night of dancing on the weekend. Both are pretty middle-of-the-road, but they are a great way to cut your teeth on Frankfurt’s gay scene without getting in over your head, and both are located right in the gay district. Halo and Switchboard have more easygoing environments, where you can sit down, have a few drinks and make some new friends. Since it is Germany, there are also, of course, the fetish bars. The most popular is Stall, located a few minutes west of the gay district. It’s open only on weekends but is a great place for adventurous travellers.
Christopher Street Day, Frankfurt’s Pride celebration, takes place annually on the last weekend of July. It is not anywhere near the largest Pride festival in Europe, or even Germany for that matter. But if you happen to be in the area during the festival, it is definitely worth a look. The celebrations last for three days and include a number of parties, events and, of course, the Pride parade.
In general, Frankfurt is a phenomenal city with a very accepting attitude. You can see same-sex couples walking hand in hand throughout the city without any trouble, and virtually all businesses are gay-friendly at the very least. That being said, the best advice I have for experiencing Frankfurt is to wander. Although it is separated by the Main River and is quite sprawling for its population, it is incredibly easy to get around. Dozens of pedestrian bridges make crossing the Main seamless, while the intricate system of tram, bus and rail lines make most North American cities pale in comparison. This combined with its friendly residents and well-organized city plan makes getting lost a difficult task. Around every corner and down every side street you will discover another architectural or historical wonder. These are finds you won’t see marked on any map because to the people of Frankfurt, it is just another building, just another park or just another street. So next time you have to fly through the international hub that is Frankfurt Airport, book yourself a few extra days to experience the ancient-modern, fast-paced, laid-back city to the northeast.