Institut für Stadtgeschichte 
Karmeliterkloster, Frankfurt am Main

Chronology: Emergence of a Modern City 1866-1945 (2)

Emergence of a Modern City 1866-1945 (2)

During the civil unrest in November 1918 a Workers' and Soldiers' Council was formed which significantly influenced the political arena for over a year. However, its privileges were confined to the appointment of observers at city council meetings, so that it functioned as some kind of contingency administration. After the unrest, which even caused several deaths in March 1919, the Workers' Council was stripped of its military and political power by government troops in September 1919.

Cartoon by Lino Salini

Cartoon by Lino Salini, 1928

From April 6 to May 17, 1920, during a revolt on the Ruhr, Frankfurt was occupied by French troops in order to gain a military advantage. The insecure political and economic situation as well as the rapid acceleration of inflation gave rise to increasing political radicalism. As a counter movement against left-wing extremism, Frankfurt, too, saw the formation of far-right and nationalist groups. Whereas, in 1919, the Social Democrat Party (SPD) together with the Independent Social Democrats (USPD) still had about 50% of the votes, this contingent gradually dwindled from one election to the next. In the 1920s there was no longer any majority to the left of the conservative parties in Frankfurt.

The introduction of a temporary currency, the Rentenmark, and the end of inflation in early 1924, led to a phase of economic stabilization. The election of Louis Landmann as mayor of Frankfurt on October 2, 1924, heralded a new, albeit short, era. In 1925 Ernst May, a Frankfurt native, was appointed to the position of city architect. He set up a general development plan and initiated a wide-ranging housing construction program. This was also when the stadium was built. Situated in the woods, it was called Waldstadion (Woods Stadium) and was Germany's biggest sports compound at the time. The first Workers' Olympics took place here from July 24 to 28. Germany's first large-scale housing estate, Römerstadt, was built from 1927 to 1929 and entered the history of architecture as the „Frankfurt Model“. From 1926 a magazine was published, called Das Neue Frankfurt (The New Frankfurt).

The Römerstadt housing estate
The Römerstadt housing estate. Aerial photograph, 1929.

Radio Frankfurt, owned by the Südwestdeutscher Rundfunkdienst AG (South-West German Broadcasting Service) started its programmes as early as 1924. In the same year an Institute for Social Research was founded by Carl Grünberg and Max Horkheimer. The Institute was also joined by Friedrich Pollock and Theodor W. Adorno, members of the Frankfurt School of social critics.

In 1926, under the chairmanship of Louis Landmann, a society was founded to promote the construction of a motorway from Hamburg via Frankfurt to Basle. In 1927 Frankfurt became a centre of democratic culture and organized the Summer of Music with an international exhibition entitled Music in the Life of the Nations. For the first time the city awarded the Goethe Prize, intended for personalities whose creative activities are worthy of being associated with Goethe. Max Beckmann was professor at the Städelschule from 1925 to 1933.

In 1928, with the incorporation of Höchst and its suburbs as well as other small towns and villages, Frankfurt became Germany's largest city in terms of square mileage. At the same time it was expanding its position as a centre of the chemical industry. Following a merger of various German chemical companies in 1925, the management of the new company, IG Farbenindustrie, moved into its new administrative building in 1930.

From 1929 onwards the world economic crisis began to make itself felt in Frankfurt as well, starting with the collapse of the renowned insurance company Frankfurter Allgemeine Versicherungs AG. Further companies soon followed. In early 1933 unemployment in Frankfurt reached 70,179, out of a population of 556,000 that year.

The disastrous economic situation largely benefited political parties on the far right. Within a matter of years the Nazis (NSDAP, National Socialist German Workers' Party) emerged as the strongest party in Frankfurt. Their share of the votes in local and national elections rose from just under 5% in 1929 to 47.9% in 1933.

The hoisting of the swastika on the Römer The hoisting of the swastika on the Römer (Frankfurt´s city hall) in March 1933.
Photograph by Reeck.

After local elections on March 12, 1933, the city council was dominated by the Nazis. On April 1, Hitler's SA troops began to enforce the boycotting of Jewish shops. Frankfurt University and its departments were occupied by Nazi students and members of the SA. Threatened by Fascist mob violence, Frankfurt's Jewish mayor, Landmann, fled to Berlin and then to Holland, where he died in March 1945. The new mayor of Frankfurt was Dr. Friedrich Krebs, Associate Judge of the Regional Court, an "old hand" in Germany's nationalist movement and a member of the NSDAP since 1929. During the next few months numerous members of the civil service were given notice, including all Jewish employees. One of the people who were made redundant was Georg Swarzenski, Director of the Städel since 1905. In 1938 the Contemporary Division of the Städtische Galerie (the City Gallery) in the Städel was closed. All works of supposedly "degenerate" artists were confiscated and auctioned abroad.

In September 1933 Frankfurt was visited by Hitler, who dug the first turf for the motorway between Hamburg, Frankfurt and Basle. The project had been planned for many years. In 1935 Frankfurt was declared the "City of German Trade". The original Frankfurt airport at Rebstock no longer had any potential for expansion and was therefore replaced by the Rhine Main Airport in 1936. Despite the frantic large-scale economic activities of the Nazis, the Frankfurt area was rather slow to recover from the damage of the world economic crisis.

The burning of the Synagogue
The burning of the Synagogue on November 9, 1938

The persecution of Jews entered a new stage in 1938. During the Night of the Pogrom Frankfurt's synagogues, too, were set on fire. At the beginning of the war repressive measures against Jews increased even further. On October 19, 1941, the first 1,200 Jews were deported to the ghetto in Lódz. Further deportations soon followed. By 1944, nearly 10,000 persons had been deported and murdered in concentration camps. More than 700 Frankfurt Jews avoided deportation through suicide.

Ruinen Altstadt
View of the destroyed Römer, looking west from the Cathedral
 Photograph: Essinger, 1944

Frankfurt survived the first few years of the Second World War largely unscathed, and the city did not become a target of major attacks until October 1943. The worst air raids took place in early 1944. On March 18, 22 and 24 the historic Altstadt (Old Town) with its half-timbered houses and the centre of Frankfurt were reduced to rubble. 90,000 homes were destroyed, 1,870 people died and 180,000 were made homeless.

The entry of American troops in Frankfurt on March 26, 1945 marked the end of both Nazi dictatorship and the Second World War.

© Helmut Nordmeyer, Translation: Hugh Beyer

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