Best known as Germany’s financial hub and the stopover site of one of Europe’s largest airports, the birthplace of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is a cultural gem on the banks of the Rhine.
Goethe’s volumes of books, essays and letters on culture, biology and linguistics made him one of the most influential intellectual figures of the 19th century. His poetry was set to music by major composers from Mozart to Mahler, and his name is forever associated with the worldwide furthering of German culture through the Goethe Institute. The author’s birthplace of Frankfurt is still the best place to get close to his life and works – check out our favorite hotspots for following Goethe’s footsteps.
Start from the beginning: Goethehaus
The former family home, now housing the Goethe museum, is a natural starting point for exploring the author’s life. The house was destroyed during the Second World War, but its interiors were quickly restored to resemble the originals. Wander through the chambers, passing the desk where the maestro gnawed his pencil while conjuring his masterpieces. On your way to the next destination, stop by Katharinenkirche near the Hauptwache. Built in 1681, it’s where Goethe’s family attended church.
A stroll along the River Main
The city panorama has changed significantly since Goethe’s time, as best seen from a corner room in the strikingly modern all-glass Radisson Blu Hotel, Frankfurt. But the atmosphere around Alt-Sachsenhausen will still take you back in time – perhaps to the Osterspaziergang scene from Faust, Goethe’s depiction of an encounter with the devil during a Sunday afternoon stroll. Cross the River Main to reach the cobbled neighborhood and sit with a glass of cider or Apfelwein, a Frankfurt speciality, at Wagners. While you’re in the area, stop by the Städel museum to see the famous Tischbein portrayal of Goethe in the Campagna di Roma.
Detour to Goethestraße and Petersfriedhof
Although not strictly associated with the author it’s named for, Goethestrasse is the best place in Frankfurt for designer shopping. Boutiques like Kenzo and Jil Sander stand alongside Cartier, Tiffany and Louis Vuitton. After indulging in some retail therapy, continue your Goethe tour at nearby Petersfriedhof, the cemetery where his father Johann Caspar (1710-1782) is buried.
A romantic break at Gerbermühle
This former mill is where 65-year-old Goethe met Marianne von Willemer, 35 years his junior. A passionate romance developed between Hatem and Suleika, as they called each other in their love letters. Today the Gerbermühle hosts a beer garden, where you can sit under old chestnut trees during the summer and munch on traditional German bratwurst with splendid views of the Frankfurt skyline.
Goethe and his friends frequented the old town to visit the bars around Schlossplatz. While the hotspots have changed, the city’s defensive walls remain the same, as does the ninth-century Carolingian Justinuskirche. Take in the surroundings once so well-known to the author – it’s like turning back the clock to an earlier time.