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.
During 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.
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.
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.