Frankfurt am Main ("Frankfurt on the Main," the city's full name) is Germany's banking and financial powerhouse. It's home to banks from around the world, as well as the European Central Bank. Many are housed in the sleek, modern skyscrapers that define Frankfurt's skyline. (These buildings have even spawned nicknames for the city, including "Main-hattan" and "Bankfurt.") As an international business center, Frankfurt attracts expats from around the world, so it's a very cosmopolitan place. It ranks as Germany's fifth-largest city, with a population of 717,000.
Behind the modern gloss, Frankfurt's roots run deep. Charlemagne is celebrated as the city's founder, although the ancient Romans were here, too. Unfortunately, much of the city was destroyed in World War II, by fires that resulted from Allied bombing. Some historic buildings and monuments have been rebuilt or restored, but most of Frankfurt's old half-timbered houses were lost. The city is still in the process of restoring some districts with a mix of modern and old-style architecture.
Frankfurt straddles the Main (pronounced "mine") River, with the Old Town and performing arts venues located on the north side, and many museums lining the south bank. Museum buffs are definitely in for a treat, and can enjoy several art museums, plus others focused on history, film, architecture, Jewish culture, porcelain, applied arts, archaeology and more. You'll also find parks and botanical gardens, a wide variety of restaurants, and plenty of shopping.
If you've flown to Europe much, you've no doubt passed through Frankfurt's airport -- one of the busiest in the world. Its huge train station is also a major European hub, with more than 350,000 passengers using it every day. As a transportation center, Frankfurt provides easy access to and from the rest of Germany and beyond.
Ships usually dock on the north side of the Main River, around the Untermainbrucke bridge, right in the heart of the city. There's no terminal of any sort, but many of Frankfurt's attractions are within a 15-minute walk.
Public restrooms (those not located inside a business establishment) usually charge you to use them; cost is typically 50 euro-cents. In many cases they only take coins, but will usually return change.
Jaywalking is against the law here, so resist the temptation -- the police take it seriously.
Frankfurt is generally very safe, but as in any big city, be aware of your surroundings and stay alert for pickpockets or scams.
Germany's currency is the euro. For current currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. A Euronet ATM (geldautomat) and a currency exchange can both be found in Romerberg Square, a major tourist destination in Frankfurt's Old Town. Other ATMs are available at banks around the city. Credit cards are generally accepted, but there may be a minimum purchase to use one so it's best to ask in advance. If you are given a choice of charging your card in euros or your home currency, always choose euros; otherwise, you may be socked with a fee and a poor exchange rate.
The local language is German, but in this very international city you'll likely hear numerous languages on the street. Many Germans speak at least some English, so you shouldn't find it difficult to communicate.
A classic Frankfurt souvenir would be a bembel, one of the painted pitchers used for apple wine. Stores selling them typically also feature other ceramics painted in the typical blue-on-gray motifs. Carved wooden items -- particularly toys -- make excellent gifts, too. Or you could pick up a messenger bag decorated with a city map, or a pair of slippers that say "Frank" and "Furt."
Aha! You thought we were going to suggest you quaff the local beer, right? Well, there are definitely breweries in Frankfurt, but the iconic local drink is actually apple wine (apfelwein). It's typically poured from a blue-painted earthenware jug into small glasses decorated with a diamond-shaped pattern. Don't expect it to be sweet like cider; the taste is tart and a bit sour, and some locals like to mix it with sparkling water. You'll find pubs specializing in apple wine in the riverside Sachsenhausen district, where less-traditional spots may even shake it up in cocktails.