Although many consider Frankfurt more or less a gateway to their European travels, the city’s rich culture and history, dining, and amusement options might just surprise you.
Standing in the center of the Römerberg (medieval town square), you'll see the city's striking contrasts at once. Re-creations of neo-Gothic houses and government buildings enfold the square, while just beyond them modern skyscrapers pierce the sky. The city cheekily nicknamed itself "Mainhattan," using the name of the Main River that flows through it to suggest that other famous metropolis across the Atlantic. Although only fifth in size among German cities, with a population of nearly 700,000, Frankfurt is Germany's financial powerhouse. The German Central Bank (Bundesbank) is here, as is the European Central Bank (ECB), which manages the euro. Some 300 credit institutions (more than half of them foreign banks) have offices in Frankfurt, including the headquarters of five of Germany's largest banks. You can see how the city acquired its other nickname, "Bankfurt am Main." It's no wonder that Frankfurt is Europe's financial center. The city's stock exchange, one of the most important in the world, was established in 1585, and the Rothschild family opened their first bank here in 1798.
The long history of trade might help explain the temperament of many Frankfurters—competitive but open-minded. It's also one of the reasons Frankfurt has become Germany's most international city. Close to a quarter of its residents are foreign, with a growing number from Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Because of its commercialism, Frankfurt has a reputation for being cold and boring, but people who know the city think this characterization is unfair. The district of Sachsenhausen is as gemütlich (fun, friendly, and cozy) as you will find anywhere. The city has world-class ballet, opera, theater, and art exhibitions; an important piece of Germany's publishing industry (and the world’s largest annual book fair); a large university (43,000 students); and two of the three most important daily newspapers in Germany. Despite the skyscrapers, especially in the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) area and adjoining Westend district, there’s much here to remind you of the Old World, along with much that explains the success of postwar Germany.