In the early 1990s Frankfurt was increasingly shaken by a financial crisis. A relatively large share of the population was living on supplementary benefits, so that the city was faced with a rising burden in benefit payments, while at the same time losing in taxes. By 1995 the city had an annual budget of DM 6bn and debts totalling DM 8bn. Large parts of the city's budget therefore had to be earmarked for debt repayment. It was only at the turn of the century that the situation began to a relax a little, with a downturn in interest rates on the capital market and a gradual increase in tax revenue.
The necessity to save money affected all areas of public life, particularly the cultural scene. A number of major plans had to be put on ice, such as the reconstruction and extension of the Museum of Ethnology. Linda Reisch, who had succeeded Hilmar Hoffmann as head of the cultural department in 1990, was unable to continue Hofmann's cultury policy, which he had started in a time of plenty. The municipal theatres of Frankfurt began to hit the headlines with internal squabbles and clashes between artistic directors and the city council. Linda Reisch had only just been elected for a second term of office when, in 1996, her responsibility for the municipal theatres was withdrawn again. A short time later Sylvain Cambreling, who had been appointed by Reisch as manager of the Frankfurt Opera House, announced his resignation for the 1996/97 season. Lack of support within the SPD finally led to Reisch being voted out of office in 1998. She was succeeded by Hans-Bernhard Nordhoff, until then head of the cultural department in Aachen.
Yet despite the tense financial situation, culture continued to play an important part in Frankfurt's public life throughout the 1990s. Having been destroyed by a fire in 1987, the Frankfurt Opera House was reopened in April 1991. In the same year Johannes Grützke completed his pictorial cycle at the Paulskirche. In 1992, during excavations for the renovation of the Cathedral, the grave of a five-year-old girl from the Merovingian period was unearthed. The grave showed that a stone church must have been in existence on this site as early as the year 700. The renovation of the cathedral was concluded in 1994. In the same year Frankfurt set up a large-scale historical exhibition at the Bockenheimer Depot, to celebrate the 1200th anniversary of the year when it was first mentioned in public records. In 1997 Frankfurt completed the reconstruction of the Deutsche Bibliothek (German Library) in Adickesallee and the structural alterations of the Goethe Museum in Grosser Hirschgraben. In 1998, at Kunsthalle Schirn, there was an exhibition entitled Aufbruch zur Freiheit (Revolutionary Beginnings of Freedom), for the 150th anniversary of the first German National Assembly at the Paulskirche. In 1999 numerous festivities were organized to celebrate the 200th birthday of Johann Wolfgang Goethe. In spring 2000 the rebuilt and renovated Städel was reopened.
Since the late 20th century the Frankfurt skyline has been increasingly dominated by skyscrapers, of which the largest number can be found on the western rim of the centre. The completion of the Messeturm (Trade Fair Tower) in 1991 marked the largest office building in Europe at the time, rising to a height of 256 metres (840 ft.). Further skyscrapers were to follow. 1997 saw the opening of the twin blocks Castor and Pollux on Friedrich-Ebert-Anlage and the Commerzbank building on Kaiserplatz. If we include its aerial, the Commerzbank Tower is nearly 300 metres (984 ft.) high. The Japan Centre and the Helaba Tower were built in Neue Mainzer Gasse.
The Fall of the Wall and the reunification of Germany in 1989/90 marked the end of the Cold War. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, from 1991, were followed by the partial withdrawal of US forces stationed in Europe. Over the next five years this included most of the 28,000 Americans stationed in Frankfurt. Gradually, the various barracks and army offices were vacated. In 1995 the first new tenants moved into the former US housing areas, and a year later the State of Hesse bought the IG Farben House which had become vacant after the withdrawal of US troops. It now houses part of the university.
Throughout the 1990s Frankfurt hit the headlines several times in the areas of commerce and industry. In early 1993 several accidents occurred at Hoechst AG. On one occasion the suburb of Schwanheim was engulfed by a chemical cloud. The contaminated area had to undergo expensive treatment. In subsequent years Hoechst AG was restructured until eventually, in 1999, it merged with the French chemical group Rhône-Poulenc. The new company, called Aventis, is based in Strasbourg. The original premises in Höchst were used for an industrial park, housing several subsidiaries of Aventis, the former Hoechst AG and a number of other enterprises.
In late 1993 Metallgesellschaft (The Metal Company) was driven to the brink of bankruptcy through a number of forward deals. The subsequent restructuring of the company led to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs. Several months later the German property market was shaken by the collapse of the corporate empire of the building tycoon Jürgen Schneider. Schneider had become known through a large number of new business buildings and expensive redevelopment projects of historic buildings. All these projects had been financed through loans. This biggest bankruptcy in post-war history led to the loss of billions of deutschmark among lenders, particularly Deutsche Bank. In 1999 the collapse of the construction company Philipp Holzmann could only be averted through the intervention of the German federal government.
In October 1993, after lengthy negotiations, the decision was finally taken in Brussels that the future European Central Bank should have its head office in Frankfurt. In 1994 the European Currency Institute opened in the former building of the Bank für Gemeinwirtschaft (trade union bank), and, in June 1998, the ECI gave rise to the European Central Bank. The ECB has been working on the launch of the common European currency, the euro, and will be controlling European monetary policy in the future. The first president of the ECB is the Dutchman Wim Duisenberg.
© Helmut Nordmeyer, Translation: Hugh Beyer