By Rhea Wessel
For decades — and perhaps unfairly — Frankfurt has suffered a bad rap among foreigners who buy into stereotypes that it’s boring.
The city’s staid, respectable reputation as Europe’s most important financial centre means it’s rarely the first choice for visitors, expats or students. Instead, they usually prefer other German cities, such as cosmopolitan and political Berlin, beautiful, Alpine Munich, or the party city of Cologne.
But there’s much more to Frankfurt than meets the eye. This is a city with a multicultural population and thriving cultural scene. Indeed, every third person in Frankfurt is a foreigner, and more than two million people visit roughly 60 exhibition centres each year, according to the city.
And now, with Brexit on the horizon, Frankfurt’s star is on the rise. It stands to benefit from an influx of up to 20,000 additional bankers who may be moved here by employers who want to secure access to the European Union if London loses access to the single market. And with these highly paid workers, there’s likely to be an increased demand for services. Right after the “yes” vote for Brexit, Frankfurt and cities like Amsterdam and Paris began courting London-based banks.
If given the chance, Frankfurt will grow on you
But, Frankfurt — as the financial capital of Europe’s economy — has an edge over the competition. It’s already the home of the European Central Bank and some of Germany’s largest banks, including Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, KfW, and HypoVereinsbank.
In addition, the city hosts Europe’s third-largest airport, after London and Paris.
Other bonuses include Frankfurt’s relatively low cost of living compared to London, burgeoning museum row, temperate weather, and hiking, mountain biking and vineyards nearby. All in all, it offers big-city flair with small-city distances and an expat community feel.
If given a chance, Frankfurt will grow on you, says Jason Peterson, an American who has been in Germany more than 25 years. “The practical points will win you over,” said Peterson, who works as a real-estate agent for Remax near Frankfurt.
The German way
Most natives will tell you that Germans have a strong need for peace and quiet, which explains the high frequency of laws to ban noise and the lack of Sunday shopping, prevalent in many European countries. But the upside of these rules is that it’s easy to switch off outside of work hours.
Instead, Frankfurters frequent the cafes on Sunday, stroll or skate along the Main river, or head to the Taunus mountains for a bike ride followed by a cool beer at a beer garden.
The Sunday pace leaves time to take in museum row, with gems like the Staedel Museum, which offers a near complete survey of seven hundred years of European art from the early fourteenth century to the present through some 3,000 paintings, 600 sculptures, more than 4,000 photographs and more than 100,000 drawings and prints by artists such as Dürer, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso and more. In summer, catch an outdoor film in the museum garden.
For those new to the city, internet resources such as expat groups on Facebook and an online newcomer’s guide that provides helpful information in English. But, if you prefer a more face-to-face approach, the city hosts a newcomer’s festivaleach September. There you can learn about companies, non-profits and government institutions with services targeting the international community. These may include language and driving schools, tax advisors, international clubs and theatres, schools, and museums.
Getting set up in Frankfurt is a chicken-and-egg scenario
Getting set up in Frankfurt is a chicken-and-egg scenario, according to Justin Crane, an American who relocated here recently from outside Detroit, Michigan, to take a job at automaker Opel. If you want to get an apartment, you usually need a bank account to do so. And if you want a bank account, you’ll need an address for that. Also, getting an internet connection at your new place can take a while. “If you can swing it, use a relocation agent,” he says. Crane’s agent helped by providing a temporary address, and his internet connection was in the works well before he arrived with his wife, Meghan. If you don’t use an agent, you’ll probably have to be patient and wing it for a while, but other expats at social clubs or on forums will help show you the way.
Finding the right flat
When it comes time to finding an apartment, don’t expect to do a tour with a real-estate agent who will show you multiple properties, Peterson says. That would be the job of a relocation agent or something you do on your own. The reason: agents typically don’t work together and they usually show only those properties in their own portfolio. Many work for small agencies and may have only one suitable property available.
Rents are expected to rise with Brexit
Complicating matters further, a new law requires the landlord to pay the agent fee for rentals. This means more and more individual property owners are doing the letting themselves, and these people may not speak English well or may be inflexible with viewing hours. Try Immobilienscout24, Immonet, eBay Kleinanzeigen and Craig’s List Frankfurt, Peterson says.
Many people choose their apartments for their proximity to the office, which is quite doable in Frankfurt. City neighbourhoods like Bornheim (lively), Bockenheim (a big student presence), West End (for the serious types) and Ostend (up-and-coming due to the new ECB headquarters) are popular and have good transit links.
Families looking for single-family homes tend to gravitate toward the Taunus villages of Kronberg, Oberursel or Bad Soden.
Rent prices within the city average 13-18 euros ($14.40-$20) a square meter, which means a three bedroom ranges from 1,700 to 2,000 euros ($1,887 to $2,220) a month, including most of your utilities.
Rents, however, are expected to rise with Brexit. “The market is very tight and fast moving,” says Frankfurt-based relocation consultant Cristina Conesa Carbonell.
Expats with children can choose from a wide range of smaller bi- and tri-lingual schools, or one of the largest international schools, Frankfurt International School. According to the Frankfurt marketing agency, German private-school tuitionranges from 100-300 euros ($111-$133) per child per month. Schools with a strong bilingual program may charge up to 900 euros ($1,000) per month. Often, extra-curricular activities and services like busing cost more on top.
Carbonell says, “FIS would be my first choice. It is the oldest international school in Germany and offers a wide range in all areas. It is very family-oriented.” You can put your children in German school, of course. Carbonell says those older than elementary school age will need to spend a year in a so-called integration class which are in high demand. The classes are quite big, mixed in age and nationalities, she says.
Ease of living
Many people bike or walk to work. If you use the commuter trains on a daily basis, you’re best off with a monthly, all-you-can-ride pass, which can cost less than 100 euros ($110) for travel within the city. As you include more zones further out, the price goes up, for instance, to roughly 130 euros ($144) a month to include Taunus villages.
The practical points in Frankfurt, says Peterson, will win you over: international flair, more bang for your buck for apartments, restaurants and groceries; and surrounding castles, quaint villages and vineyards. It’s a fine package waiting to be explored, Peterson adds.
Carbonell, who hails from Barcelona, says, “I think Frankfurt is great. It’s international. It’s multicultural and it has lots of lifestyle offerings. I have clients from London, or Paris, or Madrid, and they love it because going from A to B in London takes three or five times as much time as here.”
But if all this still doesn’t convince you and fondness takes some time to grow, don’t worry: Paris and Amsterdam are only about four hours away by train.
And you can jet away for a long weekend on a wide choice of direct flights from a large airport, which — unlike in London — is only 20 minutes from the city centre.