By Olga Karnas
Consultant Olga Karnas moved to Frankfurt from near Krakow in southern Poland in 2017. She lived there for a year before relocating to London in spring 2018 to work at McChrystal Group.
The Brexit-driven influx of expats continues into the hard-to-define city of Frankfurt am Main — the only German city with a North American-style, densely clustered high-rise skyline. Less posh than Munich but nothing like hipster Berlin, leafy Frankfurt is well connected and has a vibe of its own.
To make the most of the experience, learn about the city’s history and find a way to live in the centre, where you will be a mere 14-minute underground train ride from a major European airport.
While Frankfurt boasts big-city luxuries, from Chanel boutiques to Michelin-starred restaurants, it combines the allure of a medieval town with its status as a growing and ever more important financial centre. It is the only city in the world with two central banks — the European Central Bank (ECB) and the German Bundesbank.
Metropolitan Frankfurt is one of the most densely populated areas of Germany, but the Taunus mountains and the Rhine valley are within an hour by train.
Walk round Frankfurt in the morning and you will see parents with fashionable wooden bicycle trailers, businesswomen cycling over cobblestones in heels or middle-aged men in barely fitting suits sitting in tiny Porsches.
By late afternoon in summer, people might go out to a street festival for beer and Flammkuchen (a thin, pizza-like flatbread from Alsace — tarte flambée in French — with Speck, or cubes of fatty bacon). In December, street food might be mulled wine and roast goose at a Christmas market.
Apfelwein (apple wine, a sparkling cider that comes in dry and sweet varieties) and grüne Soße (a green cold herb sauce served with boiled eggs and potatoes) only taste good in Frankfurt. Apfelwein Wagner in Old Sachsenhausen serves by far the best regional Apfelwein and good Schnitzel. It has a jovial atmosphere but can get very crowded with tourists and locals.
Frankfurt is one of the most expensive places to live in Germany (though is cheaper than Munich), but I found restaurant prices to be 10-20 per cent lower than in London. A monthly public transport pass, at €90, is less than half the cost of an equivalent one in the UK capital — and when I lived in the German city I spent much less time commuting.
Grocery prices are comparable to London, but — the best part — every supermarket stocks delicious, affordable Riesling.
Rents are up to 40 per cent lower than in London, but I advise negotiating your lease wisely, as there is usually a substantial notice period. If you are a student or young professional, a WG (Wohngemeinschaft, or flatshare; literally a commune), with Germans or other expats can be a fun option. A room will usually set you back €500-€800 a month, while studios start from around €1,200, and family apartments from €2,000.
Bockenheim in the west of the city, and Sachsenhausen, south of the Main river, are young, hip areas, while Ostend around the ECB is the up-and-coming but still rather industrial and rugged part of town.
For some European townhouse glamour, choose Westend, which is within walking distance of Goethe University and the city centre, and get lost in the charming alleys and many parks.
Frankfurt offers plenty of places for walks and picnics by the river. Among its notable sights are the red-stone Imperial Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew; a city square (Römerberg) that looks like the Brothers Grimm just passed by; two opera houses, the Oper Frankfurt and the Alte Oper; and a vibrant main pedestrian area (Zeil).
When I lived in Frankfurt, I enjoyed rollerblading at the ECB skatepark — yes, the bank has a skatepark — and meeting other expats for tapas or kayaking on the nearby river Lahn. There are many social media groups organising expat events.
Frankfurt might be short on world-famous museums but not on big events and festivals, so keep an eye on the calendar. I went to the annual Frankfurt Book Fair, which is held each October at the Messe Frankfurt trade fair halls.
Frankfurt made headlines when Goldman Sachs’ chief executive Lloyd Blankfein tweeted how he liked the city. Frankfurt can surely deliver the ultimate expat experience: urban, but not a megacity; relaxed, but not quaint.
What do you wish you had known before moving?
Germany has a different debit card system (Girocard) to the UK, for example. The banks issue debit cards that are directly linked to a current account (the IBAN is printed on them). These cards do not have a CVC code, so you cannot use them for most online payments. Instead, people link a PayPal account to a current account.
Some retailers say they accept cards but in fact only take Girokarten and not international Visa or Mastercard.
Germany is very cash-based: street vendors and many shops and cafés will only accept cash, or stipulate a hefty debit card minimum spend. Not many people use credit cards — according to research, there were only 0.06 credit cards per capita in 2016 — hence not many places accept them. Not coincidentally perhaps, the word Schuld in German means both debt and guilt.
Photographs: Nikolay N Antonov; Leonid Andronov; Getty Images/iStockphoto; Dreamstime; Alamy