3 Days in Frankfurt, Germany

A 3-day trip to Frankfurt, Germany, that included art museums, an auction house, the boyhood home of Goethe, and a detailed look at the bombings of WWII and the continued reconstruction efforts.

Photos by the author

Day 1: The Stadel Museum and the Museum of Modern Art

The Stadel is generally accepted as the best art museum in Frankfurt. It categorizes its art as old masters (1300 to 1800), modern art (1800 to 1945) and contemporary art (1945 to the present). With 3,000 paintings, 600 sculptures and more than 100,000 prints and drawings plus 1,600 photographs, there is something for everyone.

To my delight, there were many paintings that I had not seen previously, for example “Jealousy” by Edvard Munch and a still life by Cornelis DeHeem. The latter featured a porcelain ewer from 1640 that I own, a special perk. Also, there is an innovative garden that incorporates skylights that penetrate through the roof of the lowest extended level of the museum.

Jealously. Edvard Munch, 1913

Taken from Still Life with Vegetables and Fruit before a Garden Balustrade. Cornelis DeHeem, 1658

The Museum of Modern Art, like so many similar museums, is composed of cutting edge exhibits. Though the museum would be a must for contemporary art enthusiasts, it is not necessarily required for those who are lukewarm about the subject. The day we attended there was a special exhibit, “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory revisited,” by contemporary African artists.

An advertisement for "The Divine Comedy" outside the Museum of Modern Art, Frankfurt.

Day 2: A walk, a lunch and Goethehaus

Across from the Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art, there is an auction house, Doebritz, which is fun to take a few moments to explore if it is open to viewing.

Also, there is a very good restaurant, Fisch Franke. For my money, it is a must for anyone who even remotely likes fish. They offer among their appetizers, herring prepared in 5 different sauces. Both my husband and I thought it was delicious as were our entrees: seasoned boiled shrimp and a breaded cod fillet with German potato salad.

Most of the rest of our second day was spend in Goethehaus, the boyhood home of the famous German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), the author of Faust plus many other works. Frankfurt was his birthplace and until the age of 16 he lived in the house we toured. It is early 19th century in feel and well worth the time for those interested in Goethe and the decorative arts. The home shows how comfortable those with money were in this period of German history. Goethe’s mother was Katherine Elisabeth Textor, daughter of the mayor of Frankfurt. His father was Johann Caspar Goethe, a lawyer.

The front of Goethe House. Its entrance is to the right in more modern facade.

Attached to Goethe House is the Goethe Museum, which completes the overall impression of Goethe and helps the visitor understand why he is, indeed, so important.

Goethe in Der Campagna Di Roma by Karl Bennert, 1848, after an earlier painting by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein. It is one of the exhibits in the Goethe Museum.

Our last stop of the day was the old Opera House, rebuilt after World War II. The square in front is known as Opera Square. The old opera is said to have an excellent restaurant with seating on the second floor with a view. We were unable to experience it, though not for lack of trying—guard at the door prevented us from even entering the building.

The old opera house at dusk with Opera Square in front.

Day 3: A substitute for the Roemer and the Historical Museum

The Historical Museum and the Roemer (old town hall) were on our agenda, but the Roemer was closed for the week. But, this was no problem. There is so much to do in central Frankfurt that we were able to regroup immediately. Just off the square was a special exhibit about Montmartre in the Schirn Kunsthalle.

(Left) The Esprit Montmartre exhibit in the Schirn Kunsthalle. (Right) The lobby of the Schirn Kunsthalle with its seductive lounging area.

Montmartre was known as a home to outsiders and a hotbed of social unrest. The exhibit included paintings and drawings executed by artists in Montmartre, Paris, in the late 19th and early 20th century. Featured were Pablo Picasso, Maurice Utrillo, Vincent van Gogh, and many others. Of special interest was the 2-year period Van Gogh spent there when he changed from traditional landscapes to the beginning of his signature works.

Van Gogh work executed while in the Montmartre: 1886 (top) and 1887 (bottom).

The accommodations for these budding artists were anything but blush and they basically lived in shacks. Picasso’s companion, Fernande Olivier, wrote: “The studio was an oven in the summer. Picasso and his friends greeted visitors half naked, wearing only a shawl around their waist…it was so cold during the winter that tea in cups was frozen the next morning.”

The museum has a café on the ground floor called Table. It has fresh, interesting, and well-prepared food. Our meal was a ham and asparagus salad with a flavorful dressing plus berries with yogurt. No tea was going to freeze overnight in this pleasant restaurant.

The Historical Museum in Frankfurt. Notice the crane above the museum—re-construction is still booming in Frankfurt. A hearth reconstructed from the Staufer period (1138 to 1254).

The Historical Museum advertises itself as “800 Years of Frankfurt’s History in 60 Minutes.” We found that seeing Frankfurt from the ground up at the historical museum was a real treat. Though there is no audio guide in English, there are labels and even a video that a guard can start in English in the section devoted to models.

The basement provided the historical underpinnings of Frankfurt, which was an important road for trade in the 1200s. In some places the Main River was only 3 feet deep, thereby allowing merchants and their carts to cross relatively easily.

The museum then progressed to an area introducing important collectors in Frankfurt and, later, a showcase of their collections. For example, Johann Georg Christian Daems, a merchant, collected paintings.

Paintings collected by Johann Georg Christian Daems.

The model room, about midway through the museum, was riveting and it showed Frankfurt in rubble after Allied bombings between October 1943 and March 1944. Only the Haus Wertheim remained standing. The cathedral, the Roemer, Goethehaus, and the Church of Saint Paul were all burned to the ground. Sadly, some of the little that was left ended up being destroyed in the reconstruction. Today, survivors can be identified while taking a walking tour of old Frankfurt.

Old Frankfurt in ruins after Allied bombing in 1943 and 1944.

The last part of the Historical Museum was the newly opened Toll Tower. Since it was located at the main harbor, the Toll Tower was the most important part of Frankfurt’s medieval city wall. The tower is reported to have been built between 1454 and 1456. Composed of 4 stories sturdily build, it was meant for defending the buildings on all sides.

A view of Frankfurt from one of the upper floors of the Toll Tower. The brick dual steps in the foreground is one side of the iron pedestrian bridge in Frankfurt. (Right) Re-construction is still taking place in Frankfurt, as mentioned previously. We saw it everywhere we went, nearly 70 years after WWII.

A Travel Tip

A more complete agenda for Frankfurt is included on TripAdvisor. It also provides a map that is useful in determining which sights to see in one time period.