If you stop off at the Hoppenworth & Ploch coffee shop and roaster on Friedberger Landstrasse, you may well see Horst Friedrichs there. The Frankfurt-born, currently London-based documentary photographer is working on a new book about coffee – though less the caffeine than the culture. ‘Going to a coffee festival, with all the shiny machines and hipster baristas, is to make a journey into a very specific world,’ he says.
Capturing the crowds
Doing just that is Friedrich’s calling. Celebrated for his book-length photographic studies of various subcultures – from Sufis in Pakistan to mods in Margate, desert communities in Venezuela to denim fanatics – Friedrichs has always been drawn to underground but influential groups. ‘I've always had this anthropologist’s eye,’ he says. ‘Growing up in Frankfurt for me was always about punk from the UK, or reggae from Jamaica. I’ve always found investigating subcultures to be worthwhile: so little tends to be known about them and yet so much comes from them. It all starts on the street and then becomes the commercial mainstream. Everything gets stolen from subcultures.’
Look under the surface of his home town and you’ll see evidence of this theory at work. The Frankfurt of his youth was a pioneer city for techno music and style, for example (‘I was never really into the look, though – all those big platform boots,’ he notes). But now, having undergone rapid gentrification in part thanks to its place as a financial hub, the city’s strongest subculture might be considered its community of bankers, who have their own distinctive style and habits. Goethestrasse, with its swathes of luxury purveyors, is testament to this.
City of culture
But Frankfurt still has its more progressive tribal elements as well. Friedrichs cites, for example, the city’s Stilblüten Festival für Mode und Design, an annual exhibition of young designers’ work founded in 2005 by his sister, Stella Friedrichs, and the number of small, independent clothing stores selling ‘heritage menswear’, for which Germany has an enduring affection. ‘This look – rugged workwear, selvedge denim, boots, Americana – is especially strong here because Germans like quality in the stuff they wear, and among menswear this is particularly wearable whatever your age. It has a utility and a timelessness to it.’
Those looking to investigate should head to stores such as The Listener on Stephanstrasse, Red Wing Shoes on Kornmarkt, Sør on Kaiserstrasse and – not just for clothes but also many other quality-oriented products – Manufactum on Bockenheimer Anlage. Whenever he is in town Friedrichs also makes time to get a suitably rugged haircut as well at the Torreto Barbershop on Alte Gasse.
Go to the source
‘Germany’s central location means it’s good at absorbing ideas from all over but, like Japan, it’s better at copying and refining than it is at coming up with anything original,’ he continues. ‘You can find perfect examples of certain subcultures which are great to look at, but perhaps lack real soul. You have to go to the source for that.’
In other words, as ever, to get to the real undercurrent of the city, you need to get off the beaten track, and to its less glossy and more avant-garde quarters. Friedrichs recommends Frankfurt’s gallery area, its bustling railway station, and especially the once no-go area around it, the Bahnhofsviertel. Along the way you may discover gems such as B74 Selected Goods on Berliner Strasse, the 60-plus stalls of the Kleinmarkthalle indoor market, and, to recuperate, Phoenix Tea on Friedberger Landstrasse or the Walon & Rosetti bar on Moselstrasse.
‘I go back to Frankfurt regularly to see my family and to look around … Although it’s largely a very wealthy city now, explore it and you find that it’s still full of the unexpected,’ he says. ‘I always take my camera.’