Frankfurt’s 1200 years of history include highlights such as royal and imperial coronations, the first freely elected German Parliament and the city’s extremely rich tradition of foundations. Frankfurt is inextricably associated with many celebrities, such as Goethe, Börne, Schopenhauer and Adorno.
For many centuries one major vibrant force in the city’s economic, academic and cultural life was its Jewish community, which had a population of over 30,000 in 1933. Many Jews managed to leave Germany in time, yet over 12,000 citizens of Jewish descent were deported and murdered. As a result, Frankfurt lost a significant part of its identity.
The history of Frankfurt is extremely diverse and full of inconsistencies – light and darkness, daily life and exceptional occurrences, glory and sorrow, merit and guilt. This is also reflected in a highly diverse culture of commemoration and reminiscence that can be encountered again and again in Frankfurt. This culture is nurtured by two motives: firstly, the desire to confirm the city’s history as a contributory factor and part of one’s own cultural identity, and, secondly, the intention to deal with the dark past of our own community and to turn it into a warning sign for the present and the future.
Memories are preserved in public space through the names of streets and schools, honorary graves, monuments, commemorative stones and installations, as well as through memorial plaques on buildings and “stumbling blocks” that remind us of significant individuals and events. Quite often initiatives are started to rededicate certain graves as places to be preserved, to find suitable names for new streets or to rename existing ones, to erect memorials and to set up installations and memorial plaques. Such initiatives usually come from the City Council, from local advisory councils and indeed from individual citizens or groups of citizens. This is followed by a clearly defined procedure: Frankfurt’s Cultural Affairs Department asks the Institute for the History of Frankfurt to comment on the proposals and suggestions that have been received. Working together with the initiators and, where appropriate, with experts from other departments and institutions, the Department of Contemporary History and Remembrance then sets up a brief dossier which serves as a decision-making basis. It involves using the vast stocks of the Institute as well as contemporary historical sources of other Hessian archives and also the German Federal Archives. In addition, the Institute provides free support for projects and initiatives such as Stolpersteine (Stumbling Blocks) and Jewish Life in Frankfurt, a project promoting visitors’ programmes for former Jewish residents of Frankfurt.