Horst Schneider: Youthful, lively, tolerant – Offenbach is a creative city with international flair

Offenbach am Main is one of the five largest cities within the metropolitan and economic Rhine-Main region. In particular, Offenbach is an important location for helping creative industries stand on one leg within the metropolitan region with its short transit routes.

With 126,000 inhabitants, the young city of Offenbach is the fifth largest municipality in Hesse and is at the core of the metropolitan region, together with its towering neighbour Frankfurt. These two centrally located cities are not only linked by the Main – Frankfurt and Offenbach now form a connected residential area. The city centre of Offenbach is situated closer to the centre of Frankfurt as various city districts of the neighbouring municipality. Both municipalities are cooperating in the urban development of their common interfaces such as the Kaiserlei district in the western part of Offenbach.

Offenbach is the youngest city in Hesse on the basis of resident structures and looks back on a long history as an industrial location. The city used to be known all over the world as a key location of the leather goods industry. Today, the city is undergoing change, is reinventing itself from within and beyond as well as sharpening up its profile as an attractive residential and business location in the Rhine-Main region. Long established within the region yet at the same time internationally orientated, Offenbach, a regional centre for half a million people, has evolved into an economically prosperous city with a strong service sector and dynamic creative industry.

This city located in a leafy suburb is still accessible with its short routes and sound infrastructure, providing an excellent standard of living, particularly for young families. In addition to comprehensive childcare facilities, the city is also a great spot for shopping and also boasts some tempting cultural, sport and leisure activities. In recent years, Offen­­bach has not only invested a great deal into its city centre, but also into the Main riverbank, thus triggering a life-long change in its image.

Offenbach is home to people of all kinds of nationalities – the city is Hesse’s model region for integration. Cosmopolitanism and cultural diversity enjoy a long tradition here. Offenbach has already provided a new home to religious refugees of Huguenot origin in the 18th century. The French not only en­­count­­ered a climate of religious tolerance, but they were also confronted with reasonable economic conditions. Offenbach’s freedom of trade allowed them to establish textile factories as well as tobacco plants. This brought about an unexpected boom for the residence city of Isenburg which was then still small.

In 1775, Goethe described Offenbach as a “gärten­­reiche Häufung großzügiger Landsitze” (a verdurous cluster of lavish country homes). However, things quickly changed. At the beginning of the 19th century, Offenbach was identified as the state’s “factory city” by the Grand Duke of Hesse and underwent increasing development, evolving into a dynamic industrial location. Small handicraft businesses emerged into factories. New industrial sectors began to spring up including chemical and metal industries, large-scale printing houses and publishing companies. Offenbach became a trade fair city and evolved into a hot spot for leather.

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Offenbach was an appealing location for company founders such as migrant workers at an early date. In the 19th century as well as at the beginning of the 20th century, there had still been immigrants from the inland areas, while the influx of foreign workers was a key characteristic of the economic boom in the period after the Second World War. From the 1960s and 1970s, many electric and metal companies and the leather goods industry relocated to­­wards the Far East. Today, the International Leather Goods Fair is still reminiscent of the traditions of leather production. It was only a few decades later when Of­­fen­bach also witnessed a downfall in the chem­­i­­cal industry. The city is still con­­tending with the social impacts of this structural change today.

Despite the economic turmoil being a gruelling period: Offenbach used the crisis to make a fresh start and successfully set the scene for a service centre and creative city. Reaping the benefits of the S-Bahn connection (1995), there was a surge in the number of service companies establishing bases in Offenbach, primarily from the finance and automotive sector. The Kaiserlei industrial area, situated directly on motorway 661, advanced to become a leading office location in the region with subsidiaries including the energy companies Areva and Siemens as well as the European and German headquarters of the Korean car manufacturer, Hyun­­dai. After the deconstruction of the Kaiser­kreisel, this location is still expanding further. Today, more than 3000 service companies benefit from Offenbach’s location with its excellent transport connections, direct access to several motorways, close proximity to the Rhine-Main airport and Frankfurt’s central train station as well as its tightly woven public transport network (ÖPNV).

The cultural and creative industries have developed a very special dynamism: they receive vital stimuli from Offenbach’s internationally renowned University of Art and Design (HfG) as well as from tailored support provided by the city’s business development insitution (Wirtschaftsförderung). “Gründercampus Ostpol”, an outstanding pilot project launched across Germany, provides assistance to help start-ups become independent by means of convenient workshops and offices as well as a comprehensive net­work of consulting services and financial support.

This is why a fervent cultural and creative lifestyle prevails within the confines of the historical inner-city urban quarters. The city’s international flair and open atmosphere, the numerous buildings constructed during the “Gründerzeit” era as well as the historical factories with their fascinating backyards and lofts inspire a wide variety of artists and young innovative entrepreneurs. Today, the city is identified as being one of the most important design clusters in Germany. And it is not without good reason that Offenbach remains unchallenged and has claimed the title as the leading city for start-ups for many years. With approximately 900 companies from a diverse range of creative sectors, this location presents future potential and exhibits high growth rates in employment development.

However, Offenbach still remains an industrial location and offers attractive development sites, such as the former Allessa industrial park (Clariant), alongside large-scale industrial estates. And it has the potential to gain a competitive advantage due to its comparably low property prices, in addition to reasonable real estate and trade tax rates, as well as a swift process for planning permission and a comprehensive service for project planning and property and site searches.

Offenbach also offers affordable living space and many investors have set up home in Frankfurt’s neighbouring city. Offenbach therefore knows to make use of the potential that emanates from the inner-city urban quarter, but also develops all new building sites such as “An den Eichen”. Thanks to the city’s industrial past, interesting perspectives in relation to urban renewal are emerging. For in­­stance, Offenbach is developing the old factory, which belonged to the printing press manufacturer MAN Roland in the southern part of the inner city into a local centre for living, shopping and recreational purposes. Additionally, the most exciting construction within the region is located in the former industrial port. In this area, a completely new urban quarter in viewing distance of the European Cen­­tral Bank is set to arise on the water’s edge, filled with living, office, shopping and green areas.

The qualified teacher was appointed as Head of the Education Authority (Schulamt) in 2000. As of 1989, Schneider was a member of the city council of Offenbach and selected to take up the role as Mayor in 2004. He has served as the Lord Mayor of Offenbach since January 2006.