When people think of Frankfurt, one word usually comes to mind first: layover. It is home to Lufthansa headquarters, and many airlines in the same Star Alliance that services Europe have a stopover in Frankfurt. But when was the last time you heard a tourist say that Frankfurt was his/her final destination? Probably never. And that’s a crying shame, because not only is Frankfurt beautiful and lively and cultured and interesting. The German city is also one of the most wheelchair accessible in Europe, and more than worthy of being considered a tourism destination in its own right.
Frankfurt is considered the most international city in Germany, the largest financial center on the continent, a historical city of coronations, and the city of Goethe. It is home to the headquarters of dozens of global banks, the world’s largest Internet exchange point and world fair, and one of the world’s busiest transportation hubs. Almost one in three of the people living in Frankfurt do not hold a German passport. The view of Frankfurt’s bold high-rise architecture is just as attractive as its historic Römerberg main square, and yet very different. Directly opposite the high-rise buildings, on the other side of the Main River, a unique collection of 13 museums has been developed and these are devoted to different works of art, from classical paintings to modern media.
But Frankfurt’s appeal goes much deeper than glass and steel skyscrapers. The city’s history goes back to Roman times, and was likely established in the first century. It was one of the most important cities of the Holy Roman Empire, and was later occupied by the Prussians and the French. It was heavily damaged by allied bombings during World War II, and most of the medieval city center was destroyed. Postwar reconstruction took place in a modern style, thus changing Frankfurt’s architectural face. A few landmark buildings were reconstructed historically, but in a simplified manner. This was in contrast to other cities heavily damaged in the war, like Vienna and Warsaw, which chose to rebuild with great care paid to historical details.
And the best part of Frankfurt? How incredibly wheelchair accessible it is! The City of Frankfurt has a program called Barrier-Free Frankfurt, and they provide a free 97-page brochure that lists in great detail the accessibility of city sights, museums, tours, skyscrapers, parks, restaurants, and festivals. This brochure was invaluable during my visit to help me figure out where the accessible entrances were to various buildings. I absolutely loved that there were so many pedestrian-only open areas in the city and dropped curbs everywhere. In the main thoroughfares, roughly half of the stores and restaurants have flat entry, which is a very high ratio for Europe; trust me, I check in every city I visit, and Frankfurt businesses were impressive.
The best way to start exploring Frankfurt is through one of their one-hour guided city tours, which are offered by the tourism board. They offer discounted tickets for wheelchair users and companions, and will modify the tour to ensure it is 100% step-free. Our absolutely awesome guide David (ask for him!) started us in the main square in front of City Hall, where we learned a lot of Frankfurt history. We then walked/rolled over to the Main (pronounced “mine”) River where we saw the Iron Bridge, then headed over to the imposing Imperial Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew (more commonly known as the Frankfurt Cathedral). Soon we started navigating the pedestrian area past the Liebfrauen Capuchin monastery and towards the Goetheplatz, then saw the Frankfurt Stock Exchange (from the outside). The highlight of the tour was our ride up to the roof of the 56-story Main Tower, where we had breathtaking views of Frankfurt and the mountains beyond. We finished up in front of the European Currency Building, and afterwards I enjoy a lovely German dinner before heading to the Alte Opera for the orchestra’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 6.
The next day was my birthday, and I was very lucky to be joined for the day by a friend of mine who had been living in Germany for about a year. We had agreed to make it a cathedral and museum day, so we started by circling around the Frankfurt Cathedral a few times before finally finding the accessible entrance (well worth the effort). We were also able to enter the much smaller but very charming St. Nicholas church in the Römerberg, then have a great lunch nearby. We couldn’t cross the Main River over the Iron Bridge because the elevator had been broken for some time. Instead, we used the next bridge over, which was easy to cross in the wide pedestrian and bicycle path over to the museum embankment. There are over a dozen museums in this area, and many of them are lined up like pearls along the river. Most of them are also wheelchair accessible, and my friend and I very much enjoyed the Architecture Museum, Modern Art Museum, and Stædel Museum with the time we had.
On my way home from Frankfurt after a four-day stay in Ljubljana, Slovenia, people continued to react with surprise when I told them Frankfurt was one of my intended destinations during that trip – including crew members on my Lufthansa flight! After experiencing both Frankfurt’s modern side and fascinating history, combined with the ease of navigating the city in my scooter, I just couldn’t understand why Frankfurt wasn’t considered by more people to be a destination rather than just a waypoint for other places. Well, I’m here to tell you that Frankfurt is an amazing place that more people – especially wheelchair users – need to make their journey’s end point rather than just a layover!