When you enter Frankfurts’ Römerberg square, the red and white church with the green copper spire can’t help but catch your attention. This is the Alte Nikolai, one of the oldest churches in the city. Archaeological digs done in 1988 have proven that it first existed as a small, almost square hall-church built sometime around 1140 and which would have been used by the royal court living in the Staufen palace next door, though its’ first official mention is in 1270. When you go inside, look for the metal inserts in the flooring that outlines the original foundations of this 1st church. The structure that exists today was built in 1290.
The steeple was once occupied by a watchman who was tasked with not only playing a tune on a horn every time a ship came and went on the Main River but also had to watch for fires and sound the first alarms. Today it houses 3 bells that are part of the “Pealing of the Bells” and a carillon of 47 bells that sound every day at 09:05, 12:05, and 17:05. Almost every Wednesday around 12:10, Frau Yuko Tajima will come and play the carillon for about 40 minutes, which is an absolute treat to listen to while strolling around the Roemerberg. The gallery around the edge was once the prime viewing spot for VIP’S to watch the passion plays taking place on the Römerberg, the Emperor coronations, and in the 1920s and 30’s the Fest Spiele. If you are in Frankfurt during the Christmas Market, you may want to be on the Römerberg at 18:00 on Wed. and Sat. to hear the brass band play from the gallery. During the Christmas Market, the church often offers the chance to climb the spiral stairway to the gallery, which provides a unique view of the Römerberg and Christmas Market for only a small donation that goes to local charities.
Once you enter the church, you will be struck by the beautiful simplicity of it. The acoustics in this church are marvelous, so if you get the chance, go to the Lutheran services held on Sunday mornings at 09:30. It will be in German, but it is a chance to hear the organ and the organist is fantastic. Throughout the year, the church offers various concerts, everything from hand-bells, flute, chamber music, choirs, brass bands and of course organ concerts.
Alte Nikolai is open 365 days a year, and the hours in the summer are from 10:00 to 20:00. We often come in here on our daily Frankfurt on Foot walking tour and will be happy to include it on your private tour too. This is one of my favorite spots in the city, so I hope you too can come in, sit for a while and enjoy the peacefulness there.
During the Summer months, on Friday evenings, the Alte Nikolai presents a variety of concerts, so visit their website to see what will be offered while you are here in Frankfurt.