Business trip: Frankfurt
Frankfurt, Germany at sunset. The twin towers of the Deutsche Bank, right. (Michael Probst/Associated Press
Business travel has been big business in Frankfurt since the Middle Ages due to its geographic position at the crossroads of Europe. Commercial nomads who once arrived on foot, by riverboat or carriage now buzz in and out on Airbus A380s, high-speed trains or the autobahn.
There is no escaping the many descriptions and euphemisms about Frankfurt that focus on business. “Frankfurt, a city that means business!” “The business of Frankfurt is business.” “Bankfurt.” “Mainhattan.” Take your pick; they all make sense.
Whether it is a quick stopover at Lufthansa’s giant airport hub or a full-blown business trip, nearly every frequent business traveller will eventually come to this German city. Visits from foreign travellers to Frankfurt were up 15.2% in 2010 from 2009.
To enjoy old-world elegance, or to rub elbows with the likes of German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, diplomats, socialites and C-level executives, consider the grandest grande dame in town, the Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof. For friskier new-world elegance, check out Rocco Forte’s 163-room Villa Kennedy across the Main River. Built in 2006 around an existing villa, it offers guests new-school elegance in modern surroundings. If frills are not your thing, but you still want one of the best hotels in town, consider the 5-star Hilton Frankfurt. Surrounded by gardens, adjacent to the Stock Exchange and a five-minute walk from the banking district, this 342-room business traveller favourite is often sold out as regulars return for its large, bright modern rooms, expansive gym and pool and consistently excellent service.
Out on the western edge of town, near Messe Frankfurt (the city’s mammoth exposition halls) sits the 428-room Radisson Blu Hotel , which bills itself as “the only round, all-glass hotel in Europe”. Respecting the latest trends in personalization, guests can choose from four different room themes: home, chic, fashion or fresh, which range from warm and classic to daring or unconventional. Rates are less than at hotels in the pricey CBD, and internet access is free. Two other design-forward hotel choices are the 116-room, 5-star Roomers, housed in a smartly re-purposed office building in the city’s banking district near the Main River. And if Roomers’ brown and mauve palette runs too dark for your tastes, consider its nearby 4-star sister property The Pure, where everything is clean, crisp and very white.
Celebratory business meals in Frankfurt frequently take place at fine steakhouse-style restaurants, and there are many from which to choose. While the uber-popular, American-style M-Steakhouse sounds like it might be part of a famous chain, it is not, insist executives at Morton’s of Chicago. Another favourite for great steak is Surf ‘n Turf. If steak is not your thing, enjoy fine German/Mediterranean cuisine and live piano music at Holbein’s, located in the Stadel Museum on the river. The Ivory Club offers fine dining with hints from India in a colonial-style club atmosphere. Local celebrity chef Mario Lohninger recently earned a Michelin star at his eponymous restaurant in the Frankfurt’s traditional Sachsenhausen neighbourhood.
Off the clock
Based on its reputation to some as “the most American city in Europe”, you would expect Frankfurt to be large and sprawling. In fact, it is a relatively small, compact city that is easily navigated by foot or public transportation. First-timers can get their bearings quickly by spending an hour or so on the touristic Ebbelwei Express, a special historic tram that that winds past all the key city sites. The more culturally minded can take in several museums in a single outing since they are mostly concentrated in “The Museum Embankment” along the Main River. How is that for efficient design?
Forget about the Frankfurter. The dish that warms the cockles of the hearts of locals is the zwiebelkuchen, bready tart topped with onions, bacon, cream and caraway seeds. Grab yours or one of hundreds of other German specialties along the Fressgass, a short stretch of Grosse Bockenheimer Strasse lined with delicatessens, restaurants and cafes packed with locals in suits noshing and people watching. (Make sure you visit the Fressgass Festival if you are in town in May or June.)
Do not do this!
English is widely spoken in Frankfurt, but do not let the familiar language lure you into an overly casual attitude when it comes to business. Germans appreciate and expect punctuality and formal business attire at meetings. You will rarely be instructed to go “business casual”. You will also probably be addressed by your last name (Herr or Frau McGinnis, not “Chris”), and you should address your German counterparts similarly. Small talk rarely includes personal topics, so stick to weather, work and world events.
Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel