It is more than 20 years since some marketing whizz confected the nickname ‘Mainhattan’ for Germany’s premier financial centre, a play on the River Main that bisects the city and on the skyscrapers that were beginning to shoot up, redolent of the Big Apple itself.
Frankfurt was dreaming of superceding London as Europe’s financial capital. Germany, newly enlarged following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and reunification, was challenging an obviously- declining Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy.
Meanwhile, the EU was on course for monetary union, a union that would be underpinned by the creation of a European Central Bank (ECB) based in Frankfurt and by Germany’s mighty economy at the heart of the single currency.
Well, part of that vision came to pass. The ECB was duly installed in Frankfurt – it arrived in 1998 and has since constructed a 185-metre high headquarters in the east of the city – and Germany did indeed become the motor of economic growth in the euro.
Now two more significant events are propelling Frankfurt into a key position in an expanding Europe.
In 2014 the ECB took over regulatory responsibility for all of Europe’s major banks, expanding its staff by at least 800 people.
The second major boost was when China’s central bank awarded Frankfurt the first licence on the Continent to conduct transactions directly with its mainland in its national currency, the renminbi (RMB).
In its latest report, the Globalisation and World Cities Research Network has classified Frankfurt as an Alpha World City — in the same group as Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo. But even though it is a thriving big city, Frankfurt is in many ways like a cozy small town.
Frankfurt am Main is the largest city in the German state of Hesse and, with a population of around 700,000, the country’s fifth-largest city. It lies at the heart of Germany’s second-largest metropolitan region, Frankfurt Rhine-Main, with a population of 5.8 million.
As Hubertus Vaeth, managing director of Frankfurt Main Finance, said in an address last year: “The ‘Made in Germany’ hallmark stands for quality workmanship, reliability and stability — and this applies to the services of the German financial sector just as much as to machines and cars.’’
The Frankfurt Main region boasts 365,000 companies and a workforce of 2.88 million people who produce an annual GDP of €200.5 billion.
Of all Frankfurt’s skyscrapers, the biggest and most eyecatching are the twin 155-metre high towers that form the global headquarters of the mighty Deutsche Bank, completed in 2011, and nicknamed ‘debit’ and ‘credit’ by the locals. Mainhattan now has barely 100 skyscrapers fewer than its US near-namesake but every view of this city, seen on the approach to it from an aircraft, shouts out big business.
Yet the city still has culture at its heart. Every year in October the world-famous Frankfurt Book Fair is held. Despite the difficulties in publishing triggered by the rise of the e-book, Frankfurt is still the place for publishers, agents, authors and illustrators to meet to sign the world’s biggest book deals.
Messe Frankfurt, covering an area of 578,000 square metres, is one of the world’s largest trade fair locations with 10 exhibition halls and its own logistics and convention centres. The city hosts almost 80 trade shows a year, attracting about 1.5 million visitors to the city.
The International Motor Show, the world’s largest automotive fair, takes place in Frankfurt in September. Frankfurt is also the internet traffic hub of Europe and home to DE-CIX, the world’s largest internet node for data exchange in terms of throughput.
The highlight of the city’s cultural scene is undoubtedly the Museumsufer, where 11 well- known museums are lined up like a string of pearls on both sides of the Main. Around 50 other museums and exhibition halls, including, for example, the Schirn Kunsthalle, are situated in the immediate vicinity or in a central location. Meanwhile, the Frankfurt opera house has been named Opera House of the Year for its overall artistic performance.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany’s most influential writer, was born nearby in 1749, and his house is now a museum.
Most things are within walking distance; there are plenty of places for picnics along the Main, as well as lots of beer halls, cider houses and frankfurter stalls to distract you from the most compelling trade show.
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Charles Muller from Hilton Garden Inn Frankfurt Airport unveils the metropolis' secret gems