In search of... Faust in Frankfurt

A child murder in the city where Goethe was born inspired his most famous work. Ian McCurrach hunts for other devilish connections

I thought Frankfurt was a cutting-edge city all full of space-age towers. What's it got to do with pacts with the devil?

Well, dumbo, like me, you might be surprised to find out that Goethe, aka the Prince of German Poets and author, of course, of Faust, was born here in 1749 and spent his young adult life in the city.

Oh really? Goethe was more than just a poet, though, wasn't he?

Yes. He was also a noted lawyer, scholar, philosopher, playwright and natural scientist. Most Frankfurters pride themselves on being able to come up with a couple of quotes from the master, such as "On the 28th August 1749, as the midday bell struck twelve, I was born into Frankfurt by the Main", which is how he described his birth in Poetry and Truth.

Did the city provide much inspiration for Faust then?

You bet. As a young man he experienced the court case of the infant murderer Susanna Brandt, whose fate moved him deeply. Years later he paid tribute to Brandt with the figure of Gretchen in Faust (Marguerite in the operatic version), in which a disillusioned academic sells his soul to the devil in return for love. In fact, Goethe's memory lives long here, as the city is littered with statues and buildings associated with him.

So where should I start?

Prime destination is the poet's birthplace, The Goethe House, Grosser Hirschgraben 23-25 (00 49 69 13 88 00; www.goethehaus-frankfurt.de), which is a wonderful example of how the well-to-do lived in the 18th century. See where little Goethe got to be such a brainbox. Goethe senior wanted the best-educated children in town and there are rooms dedicated to each of the arts. The library was dubbed the torture room by young Goethe, because it was here that he and his sister Cornelia were made to read and write in five languages. Goethe's study on the third floor is where he wrote the works that were first claim to fame: Goetz of Berlichingen and The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Any more devilishly clever connections?

Right next door, in fact, to The Goethe Museum, which has a fascinating collection of art and artefacts connected to Goethe, along with a vast library of his works. For example, in the Arcadian Room is a painting of Maddalena Riggi, from Milan, the girl to whom Goethe is thought to have lost his virginity when he was 35 years old. The master was terrified of contracting syphilis, which might explain why he left it quite late in life to begin sexual relationships. What this does indicate is that his early love poems may have been the manifestation of his unconsummated physical desires.

I'm getting quite interested - where can I find out more?

Just a hop, skip and a jump away. Cross the road to the excellent local bookshop. At Büchergilde, Grosser Hirschgraben 20-26, you can stock up on loads of works by Goethe, translated into English.

Anything else I should see?

No visit is complete without taking in the Gerbermühle, Deutschherrnufer 105. This former mill on the banks of the Main was once the summer residence of the banker, Johann Jakob von Willemer, whom Goethe visited for a month in 1815. It was here that the poet, aged 65, met young Marianne von Willemer and fell in love with her. Their love letters were immortalised in Goethe's West-Eastern Divan. Today, it houses a small hotel with large gardens overlooking the river where you can contemplate the master's work.

I'm getting hungry?

There's nowhere finer than the terrace of the Alte Oper, Am Opernplatz, which comes complete with a statue of Goethe. Tuck into a delicious salad and a refreshing glass of apple wine in this beautifully renovated space in the old opera house.

Where else should I visit?

Goethe frequently sailed to the nearby town of Hochst, which is now a suburb of Frankfurt. The old town hasn't changed much, so expect tradition-steeped inns around the main square, a 16th-century castle and the famous porcelain factory. Goethe was a great admirer of the Hochst work, and was so close to Melchior, the modelling master, that he became the godfather of Melchior's son. You can tour the factory, which still produces the Goethe portrait first made by Melchior. Höchster Porzellan-Manufaktur, Bolongarostrasse 186 (00 49 69 30 09 02 0).

At the risk of sounding a bit shallow , are there any Goethe connections that are a little less worthy?

Sure. After such heady stuff, why not indulge in retail therapy. Goethestrasse is the city's most exclusive shopping street where you will find names like Prada, Hermès, Armani and Jil Sander.

OK, I'm convinced. How do I get there?

There really is only one way to go. BA (0870 850 9 850, www.ba.com) flies from London City to Frankfurt with return fares from £81. The best place to stay is The Hotel Hessischer Hof (00 49-69 7540-0, 00800 2888 8882; www.lhw.com), from £229 per night. A one-day Frankfurt Card from tourist information offices costs €7.50 (£5.20) and covers travel on S-Bahn and U-Bahn train, trams and night buses, along gives half-price admission to 17 museums. German National Tourist Office (020-7317 0908; www.germany-tourism.co.uk).

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'