Frankfurt, the fifth-largest city in Germany, is home to the Zeil (below right), one of the busiest shopping streets in the country.
Frankfurt, the fifth-largest city in Germany, is home to the Zeil (below right), one of the busiest shopping streets in the country. MissPassionPhotography

Zeil’s the real deal when it comes to world-class shopping

SOME travel writers like to do extensive research before they embark on a trip. They like to know as many details as possible about their destination before they go. Others would rather take the capricious "let-me-see-when-I-get-there'' approach. I fall in between. I like to know a little about where I am going, but too much could spoil it for me.

So it was that I found myself enchanted to stumble across Germany's premier shopping street in Frankfurt.

The Zeil just happened to be around the corner from my hotel (I was beautifully ignorant of this) and when I casually asked the concierge if there was any decent shopping nearby, he just pointed me around the corner. He didn't make mention of the Zeil being a wide and lovely pedestrianised street with graceful sycamore trees and wondrous shops.

See? Nice surprises await the unenlightened traveller. When you stumble on something great, you feel proprietorial towards it. The Zeil was my discovery alone.

It was very early spring, a Saturday afternoon. Although the day was warm, almost balmy, the thousands of people strolling the Zeil were dressed in thick padded coats, woolly scarves, protective boots, knitted beanies.

"You have just been through a cold winter and left the house in your normal gear without realising it was going to turn out a warm spring day," I thought to myself as I passed all the luxury shops, itching to go into Louis Vuitton but refraining for fear of upsetting myself by looking at all those gorgeous products I couldn't afford.

As is the case in most European countries, the shops were overheated, so all those people were entering the large department stores and pulling off hats, removing scarves and turning rosy with the heat.

After I'd done the length of the Zeil I stumbled across a peaceful demonstration at the top end of the street where the policemen watching on quietly all looked like supermodels dressed in police uniforms. Every one of them had Hollywood looks, but that's another story for another time.

 

Saturday shoping in Frankfurt is very festive.
Saturday shoping in Frankfurt is very festive.

I wandered happily back down the length of the Zeil to find dozens of pop-up stands selling big fat sausages in bread rolls for two euros with unlimited lashings of mustard and sauce from giant containers nearby. Well, happiness doesn't come any better than when you have a giant German sausage in your hand. But wait…it does. All the pop-up places were selling wine and champagne and beer from barrels and the shoppers were indulging, standing around in the street drinking, chatting, eating, as though they were at a festival.

"This is my kind of shopping expedition," I said to no one in particular for I was by myself. The atmosphere was so festive, so jolly, so convivial I felt privileged to be part of it, and very happy that I'd had no idea it was there and had discovered it by chance.

 

 

The Germans know who to enjoy a shopping trip.
The Germans know who to enjoy a shopping trip.

But listen to this. The next day, Sunday, it was as though I had dreamt the whole Zeil/German sausage/beer scenario.

There is no Sunday shopping in Germany and this vibrant street that had been packed with happy shoppers and drinkers and sausage-eaters the day before, was deserted, desolate, as empty as a ghost town. I half expected tumbleweed to go blowing by.

I had dragged my husband there telling him what a flamboyant street it was only to find not a soul out, all doors firmly closed, the pop-ups popped down, and the entire place eerily empty. So, Saturday is your go in Frankfurt.



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