When you hear the name Frankfurt numerous affiliations may spring to mind—sausages for one, or Frankfurt International Airport, perhaps the German Stock Exchange, or the International Automotive Exhibition.
Yet, few travelers to Frankfurt get to look beyond the international airport and the glitzy trade shows. In contrast to the bustling inner-city life with its internationally renowned shopping opportunities, there lies the colorful historical quarter of Sachsenhausen.
Strolling through Frankfurt’s city center confuses one’s senses. There is no division between historic buildings and state-of-the-art architecture—they share the same block. This city is home to the German Stock Exchange, the European Central Bank, the Deutsche Bundesbank and over three-hundred financial institutions, yet, despite this staid environment, Frankfurt produces some of the most revolutionary creative minds in Europe and promotes the arts like no other European city, providing more than forty museums and exhibition venues and over sixty theaters. While Frankfurt is a proud German city, more than a quarter of its population is foreign. It is one of the world’s most significant trade fair locations, attracting more than two million people annually, yet take to the streets for its traditional folk festivals.
How do you like them apples?
No sojourn in Frankfurt is complete without a quick visit to the serene Sachsenhausen district for a glass of the renowned Ebbelwei, an aromatic apple wine, which has been the city’s most popular beverage since the time of Charlemagne, 1200 years ago. Locals traditionally enjoy it in rustic apple wine pubs, where it is served in an earthenware jug, commonly referred to as the “bembel,” and drunk from a special ribbed glass, known as the “gerippte.” Over the years, the grey jug with its blue design has become the premier symbol of Frankfurt’s time-honored apple wine culture.
True apple wine aficionados enjoy their apple wine pure; only in special circumstances will they take it mixed with sparkling mineral water. This watered down version, known as the “sauergespritzer,” is particularly popular among first-timers. A sweet version, called the “süßgespritzer,” also exists. This variation of the locals’ beverage of choice is however frowned upon by the majority of apple wine enthusiasts. In the winter months, Ebbelwei takes on a delicious dimension and is served piping hot, infused with sugar, cinnamon, cloves and lemon.
A buxom barmaid made a concerted effort to convert me to Ebbelwei: “It’s made from fresh regional apples that contain minerals known to strengthen the immune system while also helping to prevent heart and cardiovascular disease. And it’s said to improve blood flow to the brain, promoting mental vitality.” Also important, its alcohol content is at a mere five percent, and no more than 36 calories per 100 milliliters, making it safe for diabetics or those watching their weight.
An appetite for more
Ebbelwei is best accompanied by traditional cheese dishes like Handkäs mit Musik, small round regional cheeses marinated in oil, vinegar and chopped onions, served with bread and butter; Schneegestoeber which is a Camembert mixed with cream cheese, pepper and paprika, served with an accompaniment of either dark farmhouse bread or potato salad and sauerkraut. Then there are the traditional German sausages like the bratwurst; or an authentic Frankfurter Würstchen—thin lightly smoked, flavorful pork sausages that are almost always eaten in pairs, served alongside an obligatory splat of cold green sauce made from borage, chervil, cress, parsley, salad burnet, sorrel, chives and sour cream. Alternatively, a plate of pork cutlets slow cooked in sauerkraut and traditionally served with mashed potatoes and yellow mustard.
With your appetite now sated, head back to the city glinting with glass, steel and concrete skyscrapers. At its heart, Frankfurt is an unexpectedly traditional and pleasant city, with half-timbered buildings, huddled in its quaint medieval old city quarter and cozy apple wine taverns serving hearty regional food. There are village-like neighborhoods filled with outdoor cafes, boutiques and street art, and beautiful parks and riverside paths. The city’s cache of museums is second only to Berlin and its nightlife and entertainment scenes are bolstered by a spirited student population.