Population: 700,000. Frankfurt is the largest city in West Germany (not counting Berlin), after Munich, Cologne, and Dusseldorf. It is the political capital and cultural center of the West German state of Hesse.
Hesse A distinct region of Germany, going back to earliest times. The land is a scenic mixture of woods, hills, farmlands, and valleys. Some of Germany's oldest towns and castles mix with modern industrial cities. There are many hot springs which have been popular as health resorts ever since Roman times. (Many towns have "Bad" (bath) in their names: e.g. Wiesbaden, the largest; Bad Schwalbach, Bad Soden, Schlangenbad, meaning "snake bath," Bad Hersfeld, etc.) In the southern part of Hesse, vine growing is some of the best in Germany producing famous white wines. Also, fruits thrive in the warm climate: apricots, figs, cherries, and plums. Farming is abundant in the rich soil; the favorite local dishes are: salt pork, cheeses, breaded veal and pork mixed, and "Beulches" (potato dumplings).
A Distinct People The earliest settlers in Hesse were the Chatti tribes, who lived here in Roman times and remained; they were not "pushed around" by tribal migrations, but stayed stationary. They formed a strong attachment to the land, which continues; and had their own dialect, customs and crafts, which also continue in smaller towns. Grimm's fairytales come from northern Hesse. Hesse played an important role in the conversion of Germanic tribes to Christianity: St. Boniface, an early missionary from England (8th century), converted tribesmen, anointed King Pipin the Short, ruler of the Franks (751). He was murdered by savage tribes in Friesland (Holland), and is buried in the Hessian city of Fulda. St. Boniface remains the "patron saint" of Hesse.
American Connection During the American Revolution, Prince-Elector of Hesse "lent" several thousand Hessian young men to the British. It was a way of raising revenue, but was particularly hard on the men, who like their forebears, were deeply attached to their land. They fought lackadaisically in America, but earned the hatred of American revolutionaries who took the presence of Hessians to be a sign of British contempt for the caliber of the revolutionaries. The term "The Hessians" came to mean: the worst of British abuses, roughnecks, etc. After the war, the Hessians settled down permanently, mainly in Pennsylvania ("Pennsylvania Dutch" are not Hollanders but Hessian-Germans), their traditional "love of soil" keeping them there, where many are prosperous farmers.
Frankfurt, City of Empire Frankfurt, the major city of Hesse, was important from the earliest times. The reason was the ideal location on the River Main, near the Rhine — the crossroads of traffic and trade. Another factor was the warm climate (winter winds from the north are blocked by the Taunus Mountains just north of the city; these same mountains reflect heat from the southern sun back into the city. The result is that the average temperature is 50° F. However, the same factor produces high humidity and frequent rainfall.)
City of the Franks: The name "Frankfurt" means "ford of the Franks." The settlement began on the River Main at a place where the river was easiest to ford. In the time of Charlemagne, Frankfurt became the leading city of trade; Charlemagne's royal successors lived in Frankfurt. From 1356, the German Emperors were elected and crowned in Frankfurt, which became a "free Imperial city" (i.e. a city-state subject to the emperor directly, and not to any prince under the emperor).
Medieval Prosperity: The main road from southern to northern Europe passed through Frankfurt. Customs houses collected duties from passing goods, and the city had its own mint as early as 1194. The great trade fairs in Frankfurt involved the exchange of goods and the formation of a credit system. Some of Germany's oldest banks were established. Some of them still exist: Lauteren, Hauck, Bethmann (1748). In 1798, the first Rothschild bank was established in Frankfurt. The first German stock exchange (Bourse) was established in 1585.
Another "American Connection": During the Civil War, stock exchanges in London and Paris were financing the South; Frankfurt Bourse was the largest European stock exchange financing the North. Irony: a century later, U. S. planes bombed the original Frankfurt Bourse which had financed the U.S.
Arts and Sciences With prosperity came invention, learning, and the arts. Some of this is due to the influx of religious refugees, who brought skills with them. The English, Dutch, and especially the French Protestants (Huguenots) found refuge here. Other foreign influences were less peaceful: Frankfurt was occupied by the French over a dozen times; Napoleon's forces came and went six times.
Gutenberg: Johannes Gutenberg invented moveable type here in 1454; his successor, Egenolff, made Frankfurt Europe's leading printing center: the first permanent print shop was established in 1530. Frankfurt published the first newspaper in 1584, and began the annual book fair which continues to be the largest in the world.
Goethe, Germany's greatest poet, was born in Frankfurt in 1749. Max Beckmann, a famous painter, was a professor at the Art Academy (1917-30). Otto Hahn, an atomic scientist, won the 1944 Nobel Prize in physics. Klara Schumann, a great pianist, and Englebert Humperdinck (composer of Hanzel and Gretel, not the pop singer) taught at the Conservatory of Music.
The Liberal Tradition In medieval and modern times, Frankfurt was the center of Germany's middle class, and still is. The middle class fiercely guarded their freedom from central control: at first, freedom from emperors; later, from the Prussian state. During the 19th century, scattered German states were gradually unified, and dominated by the largest of them, Prussia (capital: Berlin). During this time, Frankfurt presented itself as an alternate political/cultural center to Berlin. Frankfurt was politically liberal, commerce-oriented (vs. Prussia: militarism and autocracy). But Prussian troops entered Frankfurt in 1866; and the city was incorporated into Greater Prussia, and then (1871) into the new German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm I.
The liberal tradition continued. The city became a haven of democratic, liberal middle class. During the Nazi era, Frankfurt was the center of dissent. The Nazis retaliated by closing down the local newspaper, Frankfurter Zeitung (one of the great newspapers in Europe).
World War II Frankfurt remained the center of anti-Nazi resistance. Being the commercial center, the city was badly bombed. The worst air raid was the night of March 22, 1944, when fire bombs destroyed the center of the Old Town, the largest surviving medieval city in Germany. Thousands of centuries-old wooden buildings quickly caught fire. Twelve million tons of rubble is left.
Frankfurt Today Frankfurt continues to be Germany's commercial/banking center. After World War II, it almost became the West German capital. When Bonn was given the honor, many federal offices were located in Frankfurt — Bonn, the "federal village," was too small to accommodate them. Frankfurt remains the city of science: scientific institutes, labs, and university.
Frankfurt is Germany's greatest traffic and transport center: Rhein-Main Airport is the largest in Europe (30 million passengers a year). The old Zeppelin dirigibles took off from Frankfurt airport. During the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49, relief flights bringing supplies to Berlin were flown in from Frankfurt. They have a large subway system, bringing suburban commuters into the city. The city is the major junction of the autobahns; Germany's first autobahn was started at Frankfurt. Frankfurt was one of Germany's first cities to have railroad service: four main lines, running east, west, north, and south, were in operation by 1855. Its five railroad stations today connect it with all parts of Europe. Frankfurt is an inland port (the third largest port in Germany), thanks to the River Main, which flows to the nearby Rhine.
Industry: Heavy industry (steel mills, etc.) are concentrated farther north: the Ruhr. Frankfurt has lighter industry: electrical equipment, leather goods (most suitcases made in Germany are manufactured here), chemicals, and machinery. Opel automobile are manufactured in nearby Rüsselsheim (a suburb of Frankfurt).
Although Bonn is the political capital of West Germany, Frankfurt is for all practical purposes the capital.
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