Rhine-Main by S-Bahn

By Jay Brunhouse

There is a myth that travelers cannot visit small European villages and towns by train. It gratifies me that my e-mail shows that more and more readers are discovering the large number of less-well-known cities and villages that they easily reach by train. A case in point is Germany’s Rhine-Main S-Bahn, the rapid-transit system that takes them through the state of Hessen and beyond.

The S-Bahn (Schnellbahn, for fast train) network connects Frankfurt/Main and especially its airport, one of Europe’s busiest, with Wiesbaden, the capital of Hessen, and Mainz, the capital of Rhineland Palatinate, together with 106 smaller towns and cities that I had never heard of before, where friends meet visitors at the train station.

When the German National Tourist Office invited me to attend the 2005 German Travel Mart (GTM) in Wiesbaden, I had the opportunity to ride Rhine-Main S-Bahn trains.


The German Travel Mart is the most important annual event for Germany’s tourism industry. “City Breaks/Events” and “Health & Fitness Holidays” were two of the themes of the GTM 2005, together with the 2006 FIFA World (soccer) Cup, about which Germany was already excited.

The 2-day workshop provided a venue for about 380 German exhibitors meeting with more that 630 tour operators, travel agents and buyers plus journalists from 45 countries from China and Japan to Scotland and Italy.

The three cities of the Rhine-Main region that hosted GTM events showcased numerous visitor attractions of their own. Each city has its own characteristic atmosphere.

Wiesbaden has picturesque narrow streets and an architectural gem around every corner. Its almost Mediterranean feel blends with the elegance and splendor of Wilhelmstrasse and the Wellness quarter. Amenities for visitors range from the state theater to cabaret and street cafés.

Opposite Wiesbaden, on the other side of the Rhine River, Mainz beckons with a wealth of cultural attractions, including Roman ships and the largest Roman theater north of the Alps, the imposing Romanesque St. Martin’s Cathedral and a Gothic hall church of St. Stephen’s with stained-glass windows crafted by Marc Chagall as well as the world-famous Gutenberg bible and press.

Last, but not least, Frankfurt am Main has a number of different faces. The city on the River Main is a modern financial center, offering a highrise skyline unlike any other in Germany, and a cultural capital with a wide range of museums, galleries and traditional pubs serving cider, the local tipple and the revered Frankfurter Würste sausages.

Our program began with bus transfers from our home base, the 1486 Radisson SAS Schwarzer Bock (black ram) Hotel (www.wiesbaden. radissonsas.com), the most traditional hostelry in Germany, to a preopening event at the Restaurant Schloss Biebricher on Wiesbaden’s Rhine River shoreline.


The next day, we took a sightseeing bus tour of Wiesbaden (www. wiesbaden.de), passing through the elegant villa districts, seeing the historic buildings in the Quellengebeit (fountain area) and admiring one of the most beautiful casinos in Europe as well as the magnificent State Theater. The extensive green parks and tree-lined avenues impressed me. It is no wonder that during its heyday Wiesbaden was known as the “Nice of the North.”

The 1888 Nerobergbahn, a water-powered cable railway up Wiesbaden’s city mountain, was especially interesting. The technical marvel takes you to a spectacular lookout over the city.

The GTM official opening ceremony and dinner was held in Wiesbaden’s neoclassical Kurhaus in the heart of the city. Although fitted with high-tech amenities, the Kurhaus has the style of the Wilhelminian era and the charm of Belle Époque. The press conference and symposia of the GTM took place in Wiesbaden’s striking Rhine-Main Hallen, an ultramodern, 215,278-square-foot convention center with 12 halls.


I have always been partial to Mainz (www.mainz.de), at the confluence of the Main and Rhine rivers, because of its terminus of much of the KD German Rhine Line fleet, which carries railpass holders free past the Rhine River castles as far as Cologne, plus the university-city ambiance compared to the bustle of nearby Frankfurt am Main. Frequent S-Bahn connections from both cities take travelers to the Frankfurt Airport.

The sightseeing bus took us to the heart of Mainz, where we visited the impressive St. Martin’s Cathedral, Mainz’s famous landmark and the most significant of three Romaneque imperial cathedrals on the Rhine.

In St. Stephen’s, the nine leaded-glass Chagall windows are a magnet for fans of the artist’s works. They are the only ones of their kind in Germany. The atmospheric, late-Gothic cloisters are also well worth visiting.

Our stroll through the Old Town included Augustinerstrasse, a bustling shopping street and heart of the Old Town, and the picturesque Kirschgarten Square. At the Gutenberg Museum, an animated docent enlivened the history of the printed word and showed us the printing workshop as well as two copies of the Gutenberg bible, the world’s oldest printed book.

In Frankfurt am Main (www. frankfurt-tourismus.de), one look at the city’s silhouette revealed what most people already know: Frankfurt am Main exudes cosmopolitan flair and style. The impressive skyline, characterized by the unmistakable Messturm and numerous banking skyscrapers, has become “Manhattan’s” unofficial city symbol.

Frankfurt’s number-one landmark is the 3-gabled façade of the 1405 Römer patrician house. The large marketplace in front of the Römer represents the heart and soul of Frankfurt’s historical town and is perhaps the city’s most popular sightseeing destination. Not far from the Römer, we visited St. Paul’s Church, known as the birthplace of German democracy.

Before heading for the closing ceremony and dinner in Frankfurt’s Festhalle, we passed the Goethe-House, the birthplace of Germany’s most celebrated author and poet, and the 1880 Old Opera House.

Many thanks

I thank Rail Europe (www.rail europe.com) for providing a 4-day German Railpass, valid on all of Germany’s S-Bahn networks (including Munich and Berlin) as well as 186-mph ICE, Intercity and Regional trains. A Eurail product valid in Germany offers the same privileges.

The German National Tourist Office (www.cometogermany.com) arranged my stay in Wiesbaden and all the GTM activities. After the GTM, I traveled with a small part of the group to Berlin, where I was able to wrap up the final update of my Berlin guide to be published by Pelican this winter.

In Berlin, I enjoyed my one-night stay at the 4-star Mövenpick Hotel (www.moevenpick-hotels.com/hotels/HKBERHH) domiciled in the landmarked 1910 Siemens building, which was renovated and reopened in 2004 with startling bathtubs by zany designer Philippe Starck.