Part Four: Frankfurt
1. Medieval Jewish quarter
The first Jews of Frankfurt lived between the Cathedral (then the Saviour’s Church), the Main, and the Fahrgasse. Their cemetery was located around the Garküchenplatz. This area was not a ghetto, though, and Jews were allowed to move freely around the city, which was an unusual freedom in the Holy Roman Empire at the time. Significant integration between Jews and Gentiles also existed, as many of the latter latter lived in the Jewish quarter of the city.
2. Old Jewish Cemetery
First mention – 1180; closure – 1828
By 1180 Jews were using a bigger cemetery, located east of the Stafenmauer, the old city walls, and north of the Braubach, a now-extinct branch of the Main. In 1333 it was enclosed by the new city fortifications, and the area came to be known as the Judeneck. Since 1462 the Jewish ghetto of Frankfurt developed next to the cemetery. It served the Jewish communities of Frankfurt and the neighbouring settlements until 1828.
The cemetery is one of the oldest Jewish burial grounds in Germany. The oldest gravestone is of Hanna, daughter of Alexander, from 1272 (today in the cemetery wall). The area that the cemetery covers today is more or less the same as it was in the Middle Ages. As it could not expand beyond its walls, we see a very dense placement of gravestones.
The design of the gravestones follows the predominant artistic trends of their time. Most are within a raised frame and with a horizontal or an arched ending. Some are decorated with volutes. Since the middle of the 17th century many gravestones were decorated with a house mark (e.g., a shoe, a shield, a rabbit, a fish trap, etc.), referring to a house on the Judengasse where the deceased lived. The large amount of house marks on the gravestones makes this cemetery unique. Most inscriptions are in Hebrew.
The most famous grave at the cemetery is that of Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812), founder of the Rothschild banking dynasty.
At the beginning of the 20th century up to 7,000 gravestones survived. The Nazis destroyed around two thirds, which they planned to use as construction material, and also cut down around 50 trees. 175 gravestones were rescued and brought to the Jewish cemetery on Rat-Beil-Straße Jewish. These were returned in the 1950s, although their original location in the cemetery is unknown. Today the surviving stones can be seen in the eastern part of the cemetery. Many have been reconstructed out of fragments, either digitally or physically.
The main entrance to the cemetery was originally in the southwestern part, from the Judenmarkt. Since 1780 the cemetery was accessible only through a Jewish hospital located here. In 1881, the entrance was brought to the east, as the Börneplatz Synagogue was built on the site of the demolished hospital. Today the entrance is where it originally was.
From Konstablerwache to Neuer Börneplatz
In 1462, following a decree by Emperor Frederick III, the Jews of Frankfurt were forcibly removed from the city and settled in the ghetto. The ghetto, one of the earliest in Germany, was located east of the Staufenmauer, on a street that came to be known as the Judengasse. It ran from today’s Konstablerwache southeast to the Neuer Börneplatz, forming a visible curve. It was 330 m long, 3-4 m wide and had three gates.
Originally the ghetto was home to 15 families (c. 110 people). Its population, however, increased fast, reaching 3,000 in the 16th century. It was soon one of the most densely populated areas in Europe, with oppressive and unsanitary living conditions. The municipal authorities did not allow the ghetto to expand, except in the second half of the 16th century, which is why it retained its medieval look until its demolition in the 19th century.
Due to of the fast population increase and the limited space, new dwellings were created by dividing the existing houses. Backrows of houses emerged, creating a total of four rows of houses along the Judengasse. Additional stories were added to the existing houses, with the corbelled upper stories nearly touching each other. The attic spaces were heavily used as well.
Despite the strict rules set on the Jews and the hard living conditions, the Frankfurt ghetto soon came to be one of the most important Jewish cultural centres in German lands. It had an influential yeshiva, a printing house for Kabbalahic works operated here, it hosted a rabbinical conference in 1603, and it was a point of collection of donations by German Jews to be sent to the poor Jews in Palestine. All the wealthy Jews of Frankfurt, including the Rothschilds, also lived here.
In 1711, the Judengasse suffered greatly from what was one of the biggest fires in the history of Frankfurt. The timber-framed houses which lacked firewalls allowed fire to race through. Ten years later another fire caused a lot of damage.
The French Revolutionary Wars, during which Frankfurt was besieged and heavily bombarded in 1796, marked the beginning of the end of the ghetto. The requirement for Jews to live on the Judengasse was abolished in 1811. Most subsequently settled in Ostend and the eastern parts of the inner city. In 1874 and 1884 most of the buildings were razed as part of the city development. A notable exception was the House of the Green Shield on Judengasse 148, which had been owned by the Rothschild family and used as a museum.
3.1. Main Synagogue
Kurt-Schumacher-Straße / Allerheiligenstraße
Old Synagogue – 1462, 1711; Main Synagogue – Johann Georg Kayser, 1855-1860; destruction – 1938
The first synagogue on Judengasse (the Old Synagogue, or the Altschul) was established right after the foundation of the ghetto in 1462. It burned down in the fire of 1711 and was rebuilt right after. The new structure was in Gothic style and seemed backward compared to the synagogues of the Baroque era, showing the isolation of the ghetto. The complex also contained a three-story women’s synagogue and a new synagogue (the Neuschul).
The old synagogue was torn down in 1854, in the aftermath of the split between the representatives of Reform Judaism, led by Leopold Stein, and the Orthodox Jews. Amschel Mayer Rothschild, who had promised to finance the construction of the new synagogue, refused to do it because of the arguments with Stein. The construction of the new synagogue nevertheless took place soon. It came to be the centre of liberal Jews in Frankfurt, equipped the liturgical necessities of Reform Judaism, such as an organ and a pulpit.
The new synagogue was made of the local red Main sandstone. It had a slightly skewed ground plan, because of its location between the two streets that did not run parallel. Surviving drawings show a beautiful mixture of Gothic and Moorish Revival styles. The tracery window and the stepped gable in the central part of the west façade shows the influence of the former, while the low domed towers, the windows and the horseshoe arches on the inside are examples of the latter. The synagogue had 514 seats in the main prayer area and 506 seats on the galleries above.
The synagogue was set on fure during the November Pogroms of 1938. Its ruins were subsequently pulled down and used to build a wall in the Frankfurt Main Cemetery.
The synagogue was located at the junction of today’s Kurt-Schumacher-Straße and Allerheiligenstraße.
3.2. Börneplatz Synagogue / Horovitz Synagogue
Siegfried Kusnitzky, 1881-1882; enlargement – 1901; destruction – 1938
This Orthodox synagogue was built on the site of the hospital for foreign Jews, which formerly stood on the Judenplatz at the entrance to the Old Jewish Cemetery. It was also called the Horovitz Synagogue, after rabbi Márkus Horovitz, who tried to unify the various factions of Orthodox Jews, including the followers of Samson Raphael Hirsch, who worshipped at a synagogue on Schützenstraße.
The synagogue was built in the Renaissance Revival style and had a huge corner dome. It had 520 seats for men on the ground floor and 360 seats for women in the upper galleries. In 1901 the synagogue was endowed with further 400 seats.
During the November Pogroms of 1938 the synagogue was burned down by the members of the SA. Its remains were used to build a wall in the Main Cemetery of Frankfurt. Today its ground plan is marked by metal rails as part of the Neuer Börneplatz Memorial.
3.3. Museum Judengasse
In the 1980s the authorities of Frankfurt planned to build the customer centre of municipal services (Stadtwerke) on a section of the former Judengasse. During the excavation work in 1987 foundations of 19 houses and 2 ritual baths of the Judengasse were discovered, constituting the largest archaeological discovery of remains of a Jewish settlement from the early modern period in Europe. The authorities documented the findings and removed them to proceed with their plan. A wave of protests ensued, affecting the entire counry.
Eventually a compromise was reached: the customer centre was to be built, while the foundations of five houses, two ritual baths and other archaeological remains from the Judengasse were to be reconstructed in its cellar. The latter are the centrepiece of the Museum Judengasse, which opened in 1992.
The Stadtwerke building, with its sweepingly curved roof line, was designed by Ernst Gisel.
3.4. Neuer Börneplatz Memorial
Nikolaus Hirsch, Wolfgang Lorch & Andrea Wandel, 1996
The memorial is located south of the Old Jewish Cemetery on Neuer Börneplatz. The square had multiple names in the history, as shown by the five street signs, which are part of the memorial: Judenmarkt (from the 16th century until 1885), Börneplatz (1885-1935, 1978-1987), Dominikanerplatz (1935-1978), and Neuer Börneplatz (since 1996). The Judengasse itself was renamed Börnestraße, after Ludwig Börne, German-Jewish writer and satirist, on the occasion of his 100th birthday in 1886.
In the middle of the square there is a big stone cube made up of the remains of the buildings of the former ghetto. It is surrounded by a grove of plane trees. The ground of the square is covered with grey gravel stones.
The most important part of the memorial is the frieze on the outer wall of the Old Jewish Cemetery, commemorating the Jews of Frankfurt that perished in the Holocaust. It contains 11,957 small blocks with the names of Holocaust victims and their biographical data, including the concentration camp in which they died. Most of the blocks are from 1996, a small part was added in 2010. More information of the victims can be found in the Neuer Börneplatz Memorial Database in the Museum Judengasse.
4. Rothschild Palace / Jewish Museum Frankfurt
Johann Friedrich Christian Hess, 1820-1821; enlargement (Untermainkai 15) – Friedrich Rumpf, 1845-1846; Jewish Museum Frankfurt – 1988
The Neoclassical villas on Untermainkai 14 and 15 were built in 1820-1821 for bankers Simon Moritz von Bethmann and Joseph Isaak Speyer, respectively. In 1846 the latter building was acquired by Mayer Carl von Rothschild, who had it enlarged and furnisched in a stately opulent fashion. In 1895, the Baron Carl von Rothschild Public Library moved in, and in 1905 it was enlarged to encompass the neighbouring palace.
Today the buildings are the seat of the Jewish Museum of Frankfurt. It is the oldest independent Jewish museum in Germany, opened on November 9, 1988, on the 50th anniversary of the Kristallnacht. It focuses on Jewish history and culture since the beginning of the Jewish emancipation in around 1800. It also has extensive collections related to the Rothschild, Frank and Senger families.
5. Old Jewish Cemetery
Friedrich Rumpf & Sebastian Rinz, 1826-1828; closure – 1929
This cemetery opened in 1828, together with the Frankfurt Main Cemetery, by which it is enclosed. It is the largest of the city’s twelve Jewish cemeteries.
The entrance to the cemetery was originally through a white Neoclassical portal, designed by Friedrich Rumpf. It does not serve as the entrance today.
The original graves were simple, but during the 19th century, along with the growing power of Reform Judaism, they became more monumental.
The cemetery contains a number of graves of famous personalities. Many members of the Rothschild family are buried here, such as Gutle (1753-1849), the wife of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, and Amschel Mayer von Rothschild (1773-1855), their eldest son.
Gravestones of Mayer Carl von Rothschild (1886), Louise von Rothschild (1894) and their daughter Hannah Louise von Rothschild (1892)
Gravestone of Adelheid von Rothschild (1853)
Gravestone of banker Isaac Löw Königswarter (1877)
Gravestone of Alexander Cohn (1917)
The physician who found the first effective treatment for syphilis – Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915) – is also buried at this cemetery.
In 1876 Orthodox Jews established their own area in the cemetery. This area later merged with the rest of the cemetery but is still clearly recognisable due to the simpler design of the gravestones. Today it stands in the middle of the cemetery. Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) and Márkus Horovitz (1844-1910), leaders of the Orthodox Jews of Frankfurt, are buried in this section.
Gravestone of Rabbi Israel Perlow of Stolin (1921)
By 1928 the cemetery was full (40,000 burials). Since then interment has only been possible in the already established family graves.
6. Schützenstraße Synagogue
Schützenstraße / Rechneigrabenstraße
Original building – 1852-1853; enlargement – 1872-1873; last service – 1907; destruction – 1938
Since the liberal reforms that were carried out in the 1840s also affected the Main Synagogue of Frankfurt, Orthodox Jews, led by Samson Raphael Hirsch, needed a new house of prayer. The synagogue was built near the Judenmarkt with the financial help of the Rothschild family. It had 250 seats for men and 200 for women.
Two decades later it was enlarged to nearly 1,000 seats, but at the beginning of the 20th century that was still not enough. The last service took place in 1907, during which the Torah scroll was brought to the new synagogue on Friedberger Anlage. The Schützenstraße Synagogue was destroyed during the Kristallnacht.
7. Friedberger Anlage Synagogue
Friedberger Anlage 6
Peter Jürgensen & Jürgen Bachmann, 1905-1907; destruction – 1938; memorial – Jeannette Garnhartner, 1988
This synagogue was built by the growing Orthodox Jewish community of Frankfurt, for whom the synagogue on Schützenstraße had become too small. It was located in Ostend, which was then the preferred living area for Orthodox Jews. Its architects were Peter Jürgensen and Jürgen Bachmann from Berlin, who designed a number of churches and secular structures at the beginning of the 20th century, among which the most famous is probably Rathaus Schöneberg.
The Friedberger Anlage Synagogue was the biggest Jewish prayer house in Frankfurt and one of the biggest in Europe. It contained 1,000 seats for men, 600 for women and 60 for the cantors. It was an interesting mixture of Romanesque, Moorish Revival and Art Nouveau styles. The façade was dominated by a huge pediment flanked by two domed towers. In front of it was a yard accessed by a two-arched portal. The interior was covered by a huge barrel vault.
The synagogue was destroyed during the 1938 November Pogroms. On its site, in 1942-1943, a five-storey civil defense bunker was built, which survived the later air raids.
In 1988 a memorial site of the synagogue was established in front of the bunker. There are two pairs of black granite plates with spaces inbetween, forming a narrow gateway in the direction of the missing façade. There is also a reconstructed column with a capital and a column fragment from the entrance portal. A memorial stone reminds the visitor of the destruction of the synagogue. The bunker now hosts an exhinition about Jewish life in Ostend.
8. Westend Synagogue
Franz Roeckle, 1906-1910
In around 1860s Westend became an attractive area for Frankfurt’s wealthy. This included many liberal Jews, who soon needed their own synagogue. The competition took place in 1906, and the winner was Franz Roeckle, a Liechtensteiner who later became a member of the NSDAP.
The synagogue is a huge domed structure in Art Nouveau style with Assyrian and Egyptian influences. The entryway is formed by a low domed portal which leads into a courtyard with a fountain. The gable on the front side of the building has a round niche with a lion holding a shield with the Star of David.
The synagogue comprises around 1,600 seats, which, at the time of construction, made it the second largest in Frankfurt, after the synagogue on Friedberger Anlage. Unlike in the Orthodox synagogues, the ground-floor prayer area was accessible for both men and women, although men used the right and women the left half of the seating. The dominant colours are golden and blue.
During the Kristallnacht the synagogue was set on fire, but firemen extinguished it to avoid it spreading to the neighbouring houses. The building also suffered in the bombings of 1944. Unlike the other three great pre-war synagoges of Frankfurt it survives until today. It is now the largest synagogue in the city. It holds Orthodox services, while welcoming all other Jewish denominations.
Foundation – 1804; current building – Georg Matzdorff, 1907-1908; closure – 1942; I. E. Lichtigfeld School – since 2006
The Philanthropin was a famous Jewish elementary school and gymnasium in Frankfurt. It was founded in 1804 by Siegmund Geisenheimer, the chief accountant of Mayer Amschel Rothschild. It became a major centre of Reform Judaism in the city, with many teachers being active in the movement.
In 1908 it moved to the Neorenaissance building on Hebelstraße 15-19. It enjoyed the new golden era during the Weimar Republic. The school was closed down in 1942. Since 2006 the building houses the I. E. Lichtigfeld School.
10. Baumweg Synagogue
Kindergarten – 1906-1938; synagogue – since 1947
This beautiful Art Nouveau building was, until 1938, a Jewish kindergarten. After World War II it became a focal point in the reestablishment of the Jewish community in Frankfurt. The first services took place in 1947, and the ground floor was rebuilt as a synagogue. There are apartments on the upper floors.
11. New Jewish Cemetery
Eckenheimer Landstraße 238
Fritz Nathan, 1928-1929
The New Jewish Cemetery is located north and west of the Main Cemetery of Frankfurt. The architectural structures, such as the ceremonial hall and the porticoes, were designed by Fritz Nathan in the New Objectivity Style. The wall running along the Eckenheimer Landstraße from the Main Cemetery until the New Jewish cemetery was made of the remains of the destroyed Main Synagogue and Börneplatz Synaogue in 1939.
12. Großmarkthalle memorial site
Großmarkthalle – Martin Elsaesser, 1926-1928; memorial site – Tobias Katz & Marcus Kaiser, 2011-2015
The Großmarkthalle was Frankfurt’s main wholesale market. Especially known for fruit and vegetables, it was called Gemieskersch (‘vegetable church’) in Frankfurt Hessian. It was the largest structure in the city at the time of construction, providing 13,000 m² of space for a total of 130 stalls, with additional offices and storage rooms. Its roof was the widest monocoque structure in the world, made up of 15 barrel vaults, each with the support span of 36.9 m and the vault span of 14.1 m. The concrete barrels were only 7 cm thick. It is a notable example of Expressionist architecture.
In 1941 Nazis chose the cellar in the eastern part of the Großmarkthalle to be used as a point of collection of Jewish men, women and children from Frankfurt and the surrounding areas. The choice was facilitated by the market’s location near the city centre and by it having a freight station connected to the municipal railway system. Between 1941 and 1945 more than 11,000 people were deported from here to concentration camps in the east.
The Großmarkthalle was shut down in 2004 and transferred to the European Central Bank, who was planning to construct its seat here. The restored market building connects to a new twin skyscraper designed by Coop Himmelb(l)au. The complex opened in 2015.
At the same time a Holocaust memorial was opened as part of the ECB complex. It is an intimate landscape that combines the surviving architectural elements of the Großmarkthalle and its train station with quotes by the victims of the Holocaust from Frankfurt. One part of the memorial is public, another can only be visited in a guided tour.
13.-15. Anne Frank memorial sites
Anne Frank’s house of birth, Marbachweg 307
Anne Frank’s childhood house, Ganghoferstraße 24
Anne Frank Educational Centre, Hansaallee 150
Anne Frank was born to a liberal Jewish family in 1929. At that time the Franks lived on Marbachweg 307 in the Dornbusch district of Frankfurt. When Anne was two years old, the family moved to Ganghoferstraße 24. After the rise of the Nazis, the Franks moved to Amsterdam. It was here that she wrote her diary in hiding between 1942 and 1944. The family was apprehended and deported in 1944, and Anne died of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945.
The Anne Frank Educational Centre, located in her childhood neighbourhood, uses her biography and diary to educate people about the consequences of Nazism, racism and discrimination.