Originally reported in Travel Agent News…By Noah Lederman | October 26, 2016
It’s generally understood that a city’s main train station attracts a seedy crowd. This is certainly true of the neighborhood surrounding Frankfurt’s Bahnhof. The area, known as Bahnhofsviertel, once home to the city’s affluent class, downward spiraled after World War II. Swept up in its sixteen square blocks are all the things a city hopes to hide in the outskirts. But right in the center of things are drug addicts who visit the distribution center for free needles, soccer hooligans who are happy to spill their rage or celebration from pub to street, and johns who walk the few blocks of the red-light district.
But the Bahnhofsviertel, on account of low real estate prices, is also attracting Frankfurt’s young entrepreneurs, budding artists, and social mavens, making this the city’s most culturally intriguing and gastronomically diverse section of Frankfurt.
Visitors to Bahnhofsviertel should begin on Munchenstrasse, where the street is a bazaar of culinary delights the world over, cheap barbershops, and even the quintessential soccer hooligan pub–Gastatte Moseleck–which is where film crews shoot whenever they need to record a scene that connotes something dubious or shady.
Should you arrive to the Bahnhofsviertel during the day, sit down on the corner of Munchen and Elbestrasse to enjoy a coffee or tea at the Plank. The cafe has outdoor seating, perfect for watching the commotion of the neighborhood, (though you can head indoors, too). By evening, the Plank converts into a bar, and the hip, young crowd spills out onto the street. In Germany, drinking on the street is permissible, so to save a euro or two, many locals wander onto the scene with their own beers or purchase them just next door at the kiosk, Yok Yok City. While the man at the counter is about as pleasant as bratwurst left to rot on the counter, the small shop reports to have a selection of three hundred beers.
When hunger hits, Munchenstrasse has a bevy of great choices from Hamsilos, a quality fish restaurant, to Maxie Eisen, the restaurant that helped popularize pastrami in the city. What has always been a sausage town, the Jewish brothers who co-own Maxie Eisen–as well as own or co-own other restaurants in or just outside the Bahnhofsviertel: Ima(which means Mother in Hebrew), Chez Ima, and Stanley Diamond–have returned part of a culture nearly erased in Frankfurt (and most of Europe) to the city. While the pastrami here is heavier on the smoke, salt, and pepper than Jewish delis in the States, and the meat is a bit firmer, too, Maxie Eisen makes a quality lunch. Rounding off a sandwich with a lemonade (or Brooklyn Lager) and fries sets you on your way for the afternoon. (At night, even Maxie Eisen transforms into a lounge.)
While Munchenstrasse in the Bahnhofsviertel is only four blocks long, it’s packed with great finds. The block after Maxie Eisen, through doorway number twelve, visitors can relax at a courtyard table at Bella and Rosa. The little organic shop provides coffee and peace. Upstairs from the courtyard is the restaurant Clubmichel. Communal tables and an open kitchen encourage guests to mingle outside of their parties. While Clubmichel likes to pretend that guests need to join their online mailing list in order to gain access, this is not the case, though it does pay to have reservations, especially on Thursdays when the restaurant hosts guest chefs. On Fridays Clubmichel does a pasta and pizza night, while Saturdays feature a vegetarian menu.
If ever-changing menus appeal, one block south, at Gutleutstrasse 17, is Aber. They have a strong wine list, and one local man raved to me about the goose lasagne the restaurant had served up this Christmas past. Two doors down, the East African restaurant Im Herzen Afrikas, which translates to ‘in the heart of Africa,’ is one of the best culinary finds in the city. The menu has a number of options, but for ten euros, you can enjoy five different curries and stews with traditional bread. Dining is a mix between modern and traditional. While there are seats outside and at Western-style tables, you can also sit in a treehouse, under tents, or on sand. They brew a great unfiltered beer, too.
Though incredible restaurants and bars are giving a second definition to this neighborhood, shopping has yet to take off. However, one of the most unique collaborations between a fashion brand and a hotel takes place on one of the northern streets of the district. On Niddastrasse, there’s very little company for the one huge, eccentric mural and the web of graffiti on the street. But you will find 25 Hours Hotel by Levi’s. The Levi’s brand is sold in one door, but through 25 Hours, 501 is part of the theme, too. Denim is central to the design concept of the hotel: room numbers are painted on jean pockets outside of doors and a pair of jeans hangs like artwork in each room. But even without the jeans, 25 Hours has another unique theme. Each floor, set in a different generation of the 1900s, is filled with musical and pop culture references that are both fun and gaudy. While it’s possible to walk everywhere in the center of Frankfurt, the hotel also has bicycles and longboard skateboards perfect for cruising the Main River, which flows just a few blocks south of the hotel and the Bahnhofsviertel.
While it’s not technically in the Bahnhofsviertel, if you happen to be in town on a Friday night, one restaurant that’s worth a visit for anyone with a great recipe or intrigued by the idea of pop-up chefs is Freitagaskueche. Every Friday, this restaurant on Mainzer Landstrasse, just across from the derelict police headquarters, teams up individuals with great recipes and cooks eager to bring a stranger’s vision to the table. The night attracts an artsy crowd that gathers in the courtyard among the tall bamboo and climbing ivy, and then, after dinner, heads down to the basement for a party.
While the Bahnhofsviertel might not be for the faint of heart, it is the heart of the city. And it’s also quite easy to avoid most of the seedy areas of the district. Skip the two northern blocks of Moselstrasse, which is where the addicts, brothels, and design hotels are located. Avoid the crescent road that arcs around the station. And skip the main thoroughfare that leads from the station to old town. While it might look appealing, as it’s a broad avenue with endless sidewalk seating and myriad restaurants, these are not the establishments elevating the cuisine in the neighborhood.
At the rate things are going, the delinquents of the Bahnhofsviertel might be swept to the edge of the city quicker than we know it. But along with this inevitable gentrification, the district will be flushed of some of its soul, too.
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