Frankfurt has ditched the darkness of glass high rises in favour of traditional Christmas spirit
Home to the European Central Bank and pretender to London’s financial crown, the German city on the River Main suffers from a somewhat stuffy and sober reputation.
But every year it sees a magical transformation into one of Germany’s largest Christmas markets.
At the heart of festivities is the Römerberg – a cobbled square a short walk from the cathedral, which is surrounded by timbered houses with gabled roofs and dominated by a 60ft tree. Most are stunning restorations as the originals were destroyed during the war.
Towering above those in the near distance are the glassy skyscrapers that represent modern-day Frankfurt.
But the people of this city enjoyed Christmas markets long before these gleaming high-rises came along.
The first official documentation of such an event can be traced back to 1393.
In the centuries that followed, the Frankfurt Christmas market was very much a local affair with outsiders not particularly welcome.
Thankfully that approach is no longer the norm and dozens of different languages can be heard over cups of mulled wine – around 3.5 million visit every year.
There is another market at the Hauptwache next to the Galeria Kaufhof.
Take a lift to the top floor and enjoy a glühwein on its restaurant balcony while taking in wonderful views of the bright lights of the market.
Just a short walk away, the Pink Market seems to attract more youngsters.
At the Feuerzangenbowle stall we watched a woman turn alcohol into fire as she poured vast quantities into a witch’s cauldron of glühwein.
With a normally somber atmosphere, Frunkfurt really dresses up for Christmas
My favourite was a huge bratwurst, £3.50, from Drexel’s Schwenk Grill in the Hauptwache, cooked on a giant grill suspended by chains over a log fire.
At the Römerberg we sat down at Condit Couture for warm Apfelstrüdel with cream, £4.60, and coffee, £2.20, and bought homemade stollen cake, £13, to savour over Christmas.
There were pretzels, waffle-lollies, roasted chestnuts and chocolates the size of snowballs for £2.
At Liebling, chocolates in flavours of ginger and apple were too tempting to resist.
Bratwurst cooked over a log fire is a German delicacy
Events include concerts, art displays and bell-ringing.
There are arts and crafts, steam train rides and an ice rink.
Guided tours, from £12, include the opportunity to ride the vintage merry-goround and go to the rooftop gallery at St Nicholas Church for magical views.
Following in the footsteps of the Rolling Stones, we stayed at the Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof, within easy reach of all three markets.
The 300-room hotel was flattened byAllied bombing and rebuilt in Central European style.
Our room, with a balcony, had a cosy décor, the spa has steam baths and a sauna.
Follow in the footsteps of the Rolling Stones and do Frankfurt in style
We strolled to Zum Gemalten Haus (zumgemaltenhaus.de), a cosy restaurant resembling a hunting lodge and polished off frankurter schnitzel, made with potatoes and a green sauce of herbs, eggs and mayonnaise.
I knocked back a pint of büble wheat beer, my wife opted for calvados with an apricot in it, around £40 for two.
In the Römerberg – the rebuilt medieval square – head to Haus Wertheym, said to be Frankfurt’s oldest pub.
Try schnitzel, £12.50, and five different sausages, £16.50.
SEE THE SIGHTS
Frankfurt is Germany’s Stratfordupon-Avon, the birthplace of its Shakespeare, Goethe.
The house where he grew up gives you a glimpse of his privileged life there between 1749 and 1775.
Largely rebuilt after the war, its furniture and artwork were saved.
The city’s impressive cathedral is where Holy Roman Emperors were crowned and where you can still see beautiful medieval coats of arms.
Take a boat trip along the river and marvel at the modern architecture, notably the Commerzbank with the tallest tower (985ft) in Germany.