Peter Feldmann – Centre of a region – From river crossing to metropolis

Long before the first settlements of Fran­­conian tribes, in the Neolithic period, there were already settlements at the Furt (ford) across the Main river, most likely located where the Eiserne Steg bridge stands today. The settlements were of minor importance during the Celtic and Roman times. However, the discovery of a magnificent tomb during excavations at the Dom (cathedral) several years ago documents the rise during Merovingian times. The Carolingians considered Frankfurt to be an important imperial stronghold, which was visited 75 times by the former rulers between 794 and 911 as documents show. Otto­nians and Salians had their focus on other geographic regions, but under the Staufers, the city once again became an important meeting place around the middle of the 12th century and the city’s regional fair developed into a transregional trade fair venue. At the latest as of the 14th century, Frankfurt had Eu­­rope-wide significance as a trade fair venue, boasting the exclusive additional imperial privilege for exhibitions during Lent. The discovery of the “New World” beyond the Atlantic Ocean brought with it an increased shift of trading flows to the north. Frankfurt was now located at the intersection of important trading routes. The city, thanks to its many traders and lively exchange of goods, be­­came an important trading place for coins and bills of exchange.

By the end of the 16th century, Frankfurt was one of the leading financial centres in the Holy Roman Empire. While Frank­­furt Messe (trade fair) lost some of its im­portance to Leipzig in the 17th centu­­ry, it became the home – initiated by wealthy immigrants – to prominent banks. With the rise of the Rothschilds to become bankers operating across Europe, the business by the family from Frankfurt expanded all the way to North America. However, the Frankfurt banking institutions pursued a rather conser­vative busi­­ness philosophy based on bonds and mort­­gages and for a long time left the modern industry financing to competitors from out of town. The city on the Main river, which developed a distinct culture of civic involvement and foun­da­tions promoted by wealthy bank­ing families such as Bethmann, Roth­schild, Städel, Metzler, Gontard, Sulz­bach or Erlanger, seemed to be losing some of its dynamics and importance as a finan­cial centre by the end of the 19th century. Indeed, the focus of business activities was shifting. Now the industrial age began in Frankfurt. For example, the Ad­­ler­werke (bicycles and typewriters), the abrasives company Naxos-Union and chemical companies emerging from for­­mer metals trading companies (like Me­­tallgesellschaft, Lurgi and Degussa) were established within the boundaries of Frank­furt. The chemical, electrotech­­­­ni­cal and galvanic industries, which were es­­­tablished in the second half of the 19th century just outside the city, were slowly integrated into the city through the ex­­pansion of the city limits. Frankfurt be­­came a modern industrial city within a very short period of time and continued to grow steadily. While Frankfurt had just exceeded 100,000 inhabitants in 1875, their number totalled more than 400,000 by 1910. During the age of the railway, Frankfurt, at the junction of im­­portant transregional railway lines, de­­vel­­oped into a traffic hub of European significance. The central train station opened in 1888 after a construction time of just five years and was Europe’s largest train station until the opening of the Leipzig train station in 1912.

autor_35During his career, the author has been in­­volved in work focussing on teen­agers and unemployed people as well as on se­­curing a dignified living dur­­ing old age. From 1989 to 2012, he was city coun­­cillor in Frankfurt am Main. In the So­­cial Dem­­ocratic Party, he served as deputy chair­­man of the parliamentary group from 2004 to 2012. On July 1, 2012, he took office as the Lord Mayor of the city of Frankfurt am Main.


The Frankfurt Messe experienced a re­­birth with the patent and copyright exhi­b­­ition in 1881. The electrotechnical trade fair in 1891, which drew worldwide atten­tion due to the first long-distance three-phase power transmission, contributed significantly to promoting Frankfurt and to the publicity of its companies. In 1909, the world’s first aerospace exhibition, the Internationale Luftschiffahrt-Ausstel­lung (international aviation exhibition, ILA), took place in Frankfurt. The 100-day trade fair marked the beginning of the successful history of the still-existing fairgrounds.

This success was rejuvenated after World War II by the biannual International Frank­­furt Fair, which for the first time took place in the autumn of 1948. It was joined by other trade fairs, such as the Interna­tional Book Fair, the International Motor Show (IAA) and the ACHEMA, just to name the most im­­por­tant ones, all of which are still held today.

As a result of the division of Germany and the relocation of the Bank deutscher Länder, which later became the Bundes­­bank (German central bank), Frankfurt once again be­­came the most important financial centre in Germany after World War II. The relatively central location with­­in the bound­­aries of the new Federal Re­­public of Germany promoted the further expan­­sion and focus of transport routes to­­wards Frankfurt via road, rail and air. The American occupation forces and their headquarters in Frankfurt and Heidel­berg may have represented a not-to-be-underestimated guarantee for safety and stability for the many foreign business people who settled in Frankfurt. Today, the finance cluster consisting of banks, insurance companies, stock exchange and related financial services as well as the logistics sector, with a workforce1 of 74,825 and 72,747 respectively (as of June 2012), are the business sectors with the largest number of employees within the city limits.



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Thanks to its favourable location and live­­ly business transactions by well-travelled people, Frankfurt developed early on into an important news hub, long associated with the Thurn and Taxis family, which managed the imperial postal sys­­tem from Frankfurt. Electricity-based com­­munication was launched by the tele­­graph lines. In 1849, on the occasion of the National Assembly in the St. Paul’s Church, the then longest telegraph line in Europe was completed between Berlin and Frankfurt. And by 1881, Frankfurt was one of the first six cities in which a public switched telephone network was in operation.
Even today, there is no way around Frank­­furt in terms of telecommunication. The telecommunications hubs in Frankfurt – primarily Internet data transmission lines – have the highest capacity density in Europe. The information technology and telecommunication sectors employ over 27,155 people subject to social se­­curity contributions within the city limits alone; in the surrounding region, there are an additional 20,000 employees, and in the administrative district of Darm­stadt in southern Hessen, there is a total of nearly 80,000 employees. What began with a postal station is to­­day the founda­tion for one of the most important business clusters in Frank­furt and the region.

Even though only eleven per cent of the entire labour force2 (including self-em­­ployed and civil servants/as of 2010) work in the industrial sector in Frank­furt, this number nonetheless represents 69,000 people. When considering that Frankfurt has the highest workplace density among Germany’s 30 largest cities (939 employees per 1,000 inhabitants), it becomes clear why the share of the manufacturing sector in relation to the highly concentrated “stackable” office jobs in Frankfurt is so small. Bear­­­ing in mind the competition for surface area in Frankfurt, it is no surprise that the manufacturing sector is characterised by its above-average value creation and thus competitiveness.

Lastly, a significant concentration of highly specialised, transregionally and glob­­ally operating consulting services, whose highly diversified sector offers a broad consulting spectrum, is typical for a lo­­cation with extensive connections to other economic and political control cen­­tres as well as with high innovation and competitive pressure. In Frankfurt alone, this sector has 49,515 employees subject to social security contributions and many more in the surrounding areas.


Thanks to the geographic location as a starting point, thanks to political decisions, but above all, thanks to the creative force and initiative of Frankfurt’s middle class – often reinforced by spirit, enthusiasm and capital from the outside –, Frankfurt has to this day developed into an international, economic­ally dynamic and diverse city. It is par­­ti­cularly the involvement by Frankfurt’s cit­­izens that has created the cultural, social and educational infrastructure that pro­­vides the city, with its often differentiated and widely networked business sector, with the corresponding sta­­bilising backbone.