Walking in Frankfurt From Bornheim to Sachsenhausen
I lived nearby Frankfurt for quite a while, several years ago, so my visit at the end of June 2012 was more a come back than a new discovery. The opportunity to upload and comment the pictures on this blog (although my ugly pictures and very personal comments aren’t relevant for anybody but me) and the changes happened to me rather than to Frankfurt over the years have made it a fully new experience.
As a first impression the city has not changed that much. Some more skyscrapers are there, some facades have been renewed and some buildings replaced even in very prominent places, but the smell of curry-wurst is always the same, light grey sky, dark water of the Main river and people rather unfriendly as usual. It is no coincidence that the city has been under conservative administration (Petra Roth CDU) for some 18 years (1995-2012) and people say that the new SPD Mayor will not bring major changes.
From the airport a quick train brings me to the lower level of the Hauptbahnhof, a new layer of infrastructure which has not modified the existing one. Emerging into the great hall I am glad how travelling in Germany is quick and easy as usual, even if the place and the weather are not always the most welcoming.
Looking from the square in front of central station to the city and the main pedestrian area, the so-called Zeil. The area in between used to be some kind of red light district, if I remember well. I wonder if today it is still so, but unfortunately I have no time to investigate.
In Bornheim, typical housing estates built in the 60es and recently renovated for energy saving. Walls have grown thicker and thicker and windows have become double or triple glazing to comply the energy regulations. I will deal with it in more depth in the next months.
These traditional Fachwerkhäuser do not really look very original, but nevertheless witnesses of the agricultural village at the edge of town that Bornheim used to be. The legacy is still there, well preserved in the private homes, in public buildings as well as in the mind and heart of people.
Various kind of wall cladding, for insulation and decoration. The composition is not really nice, but at least clearly understandable.
The inscription is about Certainty, pretending to be wise and funny at the same time, inviting people to spend time and money in the local biergarten. I dare to translate: “I am not certain whether tomorrow I will be alive or not, but in case I will, I am certain that I will drink!” Lessing (1729-1781) wrote it.
Trees are very serious in this city: they are there not for fashionable environmental issues, but an integral part of public realm.
This is how German hotels look like, and you have to like it so much as I do, otherwise you won’t accept so much unfriendliness and go to the next Best Western.
Walking around I see how people here are conservative in the best sense of the word. They are sensitive to the environment because they are sensitive to resources, materials and handcrafts. They are used to care for what is important to them (e.g. home and cars, more than shoes and hairstyles) so they do and they stick to the same things for decades. I remember when I was in Darmstadt that some of my fellow students used to buy beautiful old cars for little money, also in other countries (Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Volvo, Morgan etc), restore them, enjoy them for a while and eventually sell them for much more money.
The day I spent in Frankfurt was not a normal day, but that of another historical soccer game between Germany and Italy, semifinal of the European championship. It is renown how Germany, and Frankfurt in particular, feature a great number of substantial foreign communities, so no matter who wins, there are always a lot of people celebrating in the streets. It is also renown how Germany VS Italy is a classical game in the history of Soccer, one of those that counts, no matter what’s at stake. In those days expectations for the game were even further reaching, up to the empyrean circles of political economy and global finance, but at the end, as usual, Italy won the game.
In dense cities space is the real luxury. Pavements like the one above may not be aesthetically remarkable, but they gorgeous to me. They usual in Gründerzeit (more or less the industrialisation period in German speaking countries, around 1850) neighbourhoods and yet well preserved.
There is plenty of urban contradictions, town planning mistakes from the time as car was dominating urban space. Thanks to the damages following WWII in the 60es and 70es it was easy to destroy the historic fabric pretending to create a brand new one, where cars had no obstacles and pedestrian did not belong to the picture. Recovering from that choices takes time, it is a process that in German cities has begun already several years ago and is doing well. A process that begins in the mind of people, reflecting first in their everyday choices and only later in political visions and urban plans. As all truly bottom-up approaches, it takes longer, but is much more sustainable.
Even in retail you can be conservative and attractive at the same time, at least in my view. Below a picture of Merianplatz, not really a beautiful place, but full of a variety of bars, cars, shops, playgrounds and above all… people!
First big surprise on my walk: the Chinese Garden am Bethmannpark! Far from tourists and city consumers routes, a peaceful garden full of authentic and solid kitsch. According to the tourist infos it has been built very recently, in 1989.
The garden is right in the middle of the dense urban fabric and when you exit its imaginative doors you are confronted with the everyday’s Frankfurt straightaway. From the idyllic chinese dream island you are immediately thrown out into the american style car city.
Also modern office buildings like this have to get a new facade to comply with tight thermal regulations. I am arriving into the commercial pedestrian zone, the Zeil, so energy retrofitting might also become a chance for some cosmetics.
I like these vintage signages, they show a positive relationship with recent past, the hard decades of reconstruction after WWII and the stormy 70es.
The Kleinmarkthalle (little covered market) is by far not as picturesque and exotic as the one in Barcelona, but again, this is Frankfurt: rough and pragmatic, with just a cosy aftertaste, for real amateurs.
Modern art museum MMK opened in 1991 as a late postmodern architectural work designed by Hans Hollein. It closed the postmodern season in the city and is also called ‘the piece of cake’ due to its triangular shape. The outdated exterior design and the lack of outdoor space make it less lively than other museums in the city, but the surprising interiors and exhibition program, as far as I know, would make a visit worthwhile, if I only had time.
Fully rebuilt (fake) traditional houses are the scenography of the square in which the Municipality has its main seat: the so-called ‘Römer‘. Right a few steps towards the river an old museum building is giving place to a new one, just under construction. I don’t remember exactly what this new museum will be about, but it confirms the fact that Frankfurter definitely love museums. They are regularly building or refurbishing museums since the 80es and they still don’t like to stop. Of course investing in Museum Miles can be very rewarding for touristic cities (Wien is a great example of it and economic return has been precisely measured). Yet, what moves Frankfurt to build always new museums puzzles me.
This is another famous building site in Frankfurt: the new HQ of the European Central Bank, designed by Coop Himmelblau who won the international competition a couple of years ago. I will come back on this in the next post.
I enjoy a nice 360° view of the city getting across the river on the Eisernen Steg, the pedestrian iron bridge built at the end of the 20th Century to connect the two quarters of Römerberg and Sachsenhausen. Apart from the highrise skyline and Museumsufer, a great work has been done on both river sides to make it accessible and livable for all. I wonder if next time there will be some bateaux mouches as well, like in Berlin. Actually I prefer to see the huge transport barges, amazing fast and numerous.
A pleasent feature of Frankfurt’s skyline is the variety of the highrise buildings in shape, size, colours, materials and use. They share an unspectacular image which makes them more easily acceptable.
It was almost raining as I arrived to the German Museum of Architecture DAM, shortly before the conference of Maurizio Carones in the famous auditorium designed by Oswald Mathias Ungers. The conference introduced the guided tours of Milan’s modern architecture curated by Carones on behalf of the Architect’s Chamber of Milan. I had the easy task to translate it and moderate the discussion, together with Emanuela Parma.
At the end of the conference, heading to Sachsenhausen for a couple of glasses of Apfelwein, Leberwurst und Bratkartoffeln. What else can you wish for?