With 126,000 residents, the young but big city of Offenbach is the fifth-largest municipality in Hessen. Together with its larger neighbour Frankfurt, it is part of the core of the Rhine-Main metropolitan region. Both centrally-situated major cities are not only linked by the Main, Frankfurt and Offenbach now form a contiguous settlement area and Offenbach’s central city is closer to the centre of Frankfurt than many suburbs of its neighbouring municipalities. At their common interfaces such as Offenbach’s western suburb Kaiserlei, both cities are involved in similar urban development projects.
Hessen’s youngest city by resident structure can look back over a long history as an industrial location and was known worldwide as the centre of the leather goods industry. Today, the city is undergoing change, it is re-inventing itself from its core and, in the process, it is honing its profile in the Rhine-Main region as an attractive place to live and do business. Regionally-based yet simultaneously internationally oriented, Offenbach has become an economically prosperous city with a strong services sector and lively creative sector as a major urban centre.
This still-manageable, major urban centre, surrounded by many green areas, with short decision-making processes and a good infrastructure, offers a high quality of life especially for young families. Besides extensive child-care facilities, ideal shopping opportunities and attractive cultural, sports and leisure facilities can also be found. Offenbach has recently made major investments in its central city and in the area on the banks of the Main, introducing a long-term change of image.
Offenbach is home to people from many nations and is Hessen’s model region for integration. Cosmopolitanism and cultural diversity are a tradition here: even the French Huguenot religious refugees of the 18th century found a new home in Offenbach. They found not only a climate of religious tolerance but also favourable business conditions. Offenbach’s economic freedom enabled them to build textile factories and even tobacco factories. The Isenburg residential city – in those days still small – brought an undreamed-of economic upturn.
In 1775 Goethe described Offenbach as a “pile of substantial country seats with many gardens”. But that quickly changed. At the beginning of the 19th century, Offenbach, designated by Hessen’s Grand Duke as a “rural factory city”, changed with increasing speed into a dynamic industrial location, with small handicrafts enterprises becoming factories. New industrial sectors with chemical and metal-processing enterprises, large printing and publishing companies came into being. Offenbach became a city of trade fairs and home to the leather industry.
Early on, Offenbach was attractive both to entrepreneurs wanting to form new companies and migrants seeking work. While in the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century immigrants came from elsewhere within Germany, the years of the economic wonder after the end of the Second World War were characterised by the arrival of foreign workers. From the 1960s and the 1970s onwards, however, many electrical and metal processing enterprises and the leather industry started emigrating to the Far East. The International Leather Trade Fair still recalls the leatherworking tradition. Only a few decades later, the chemicals industry underwent its downfalland Offenbach is still feeling the consequences of this structural change today.
But as painful as this economic upheaval was, Offenbach used the crisis to start again and successfully set course to become a services centre and a creative sector. Benefiting from the S-Bahn connection in 1995, increasing numbers of service providers in the financial and automotive sectors settled in Offenbach. The Kaiserlei commercial zone, directly next to the 661 autobahn, progressed to become a leading office location in the region with branches of such companies as the energy group Areva, Siemens or the European and German headquarters of the Korean automobile manufacturer Hyundai. After the re-naturation of the Kaiserlei roundabout, this area will be developed even more.
Today, over 3,000 service companies benefit from Offenbach’s outstanding excellent transport location, its direct links to several autobahns, its proximity to the Rhine-Main Airport, Frankfurt Central railway station and the dense commuter transport network.
The cultural and creative sectors have developed a special dynamism. Through the internationally renowned Offenbach College of Design (HfG) and the customised assistance from the city’s business development company, it has gained crucial momentum. The start-up campus Ostpol, an outstanding nationwide model project, provides start-up assistance to self-employment in the form of low-cost workshops and offices and a comprehensive network of advice and financial support.
Thus, much cultural and creative life dominates the historic central city suburbs in particular. Offenbach’s international flair and open atmosphere, the many old houses and factory buildings from Germany’s 19th century era of industrial expansion with their exciting backyards and lofts inspire numerous artists and young innovative entrepreneurs. Today, Offenbach offers one of Germany’s most important design clusters. And for years it has not been Germany’s undisputed no. 1 start-up city for no reason. Some 900 companies from all kinds of creative fields are a location factor with a future and employment trends show high growth-rates.
But Offenbach is still an industrial location and, besides large commercial parks, has attractive development land such as the former Allessa industrial park (Clariant). It can also score points with comparably low-cost land-prices, equally low-cost property and business tax rates, rapid building-approval procedures and comprehensive service for project planning and searching for land.
Offenbach also offers affordable living space. Many investors have discovered Frankfurt’s neighbouring city as a place to live. Offenbach also knows how to exploit the potential of its inner city suburbs but is also developing completely new areas for housing such as An den Eichen. The city’s industrial history is opening up interesting prospects in urban renewal. Accordingly, it is developing the old factory of the printing machinery manufacturer MAN Roland in the southern inner city into a suburban centre with residential, shopping and leisure facilities. And the former industrial port is home to what is probably the most exciting building site in the region. A completely new urban suburb is being created here beside the Main River in sight of the European Central Bank with residential, office, shopping and green areas.
The author studied education and qualified as a teacher between 1970 and 1975. From 1976 to 1997 he taught in Hanau and Offenbach. In 1997 he moved to the Offenbach Regional Education Board as a curriculum inspector. In 1998, he was appointed as a school inspector and as a Regional Education Board Director in 2000. He has been an SPD city councillor since 1989 and party chairman since 1991. In February 2004 he was nominated as a candidate for the mayoral election by the SPD Subdistrict Party Conference and was elected as Deputy Mayor on 6 May 2004. He has been Lord Mayor of Offenbach am Main since January 2006 and was re-elected as Lord Mayor in September 2011.