Altstadt (Frankfurt am Main)

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Template:Infobox German location The Altstadt (old town) is a city district of Frankfurt am Main, Germany. It is part of the Ortsbezirk Innenstadt I.

The Altstadt is located on the northern Main river bank. It is completely surrounded by the Innenstadt district, Frankfurt's present-day city centre. On the opposite side of the Main is the district of Sachsenhausen.

As the historical center of Frankfurt, the Altstadt has existed from Frankfurt's beginnings, dating back to 794 (first mentioning of Frankfurt). It used to be part of the original Innenstadt area, which lay inside of the city walls, the Staufenmauer. Only very small sections of the Altstadt were rebuilt after World War II and so only a few old buildings are actually preserved. The Altstadt contains many of Frankfurt's most important sights, including the Römerberg plaza with the famed Römer city hall and many other middle-age style buildings which are mostly actually reconstructions. Nearby is the St. Bartholomäus Cathedral and the Paulskirche, the short-lived seat of the German National Assembly in 1848-49.

General information

File:Frankfurt Römerberg 095+97v-fh.jpg
Römerberg Ostzeile with Alte Nikolaikirche (Old Saint Nicholas Church)

Surface and Population

Covering less than half a square kilometre the Altstadt is the smallest district of Frankfurt. The area is completely built-up with the only open spaces being accounted for by the Main and the river bank, the streets, squares and backyards. The construction descends predominantly from the reconstruction phase of the post war era, aside from which there are numerous historical buildings partly reconstructed after their destruction in the war.

Approximately 3,400 people reside in the Altstadt of which an estimated 32% are of foreign origin. This is above the ratio of the entire town, but far under that of the other town quarters. The adjacent Neustadt, for example, is home to 44% non-German inhabitants.

Museums and theatres dominate the western part of Altstadt and service jobs are a major part of the economy, especially along Weissfrauen Strasse and Berliner Strasse. The centre of Altstadt is a hot spot for the city's tourism industry, with tours around the most meaningful sights such as Paulskirche, Römer, and the Cathedral, as well as being the seat of the city's administrative branch. In the north of the district the retail industry is well represented, particularly in Neue Kräme Strasse and Töngesgasse. Residential flats are found in the east in an area which also contains most of Frankfurt's art trade. (Braubachstrasse and Fahrgasse).


By far the largest employer in the old part of the city is the city's administration. Even today the Altstadt is the political centre of the city. The city council, magistrates and a considerable part of the city departments are located in Römer square, either in the town hall itself or in the surrounding properties.

In the past years, two other important facilities abandoned the Altstadt and the city as a whole: the German Federal Court of Auditors of Berliner Strasse which relocated itself to Bonn and the headquarters of Degussa from Weissfrauenstrasse which moved to Düsseldorf. While the monument-listed building of the German Federal Court of Auditors still stands empty the former Degussa building had been adopted by the city administration.

Other important factors of the economy are the retail and tourist industries. Although there were still numerous small industrial businesses in the narrow lanes up until the second world war the retail sector now outweighs all other types of business. Particularly in Neuen Kräme strasse and töngesgasse as well as along Berliner strasse many old, niche eateries can be found. The Fahrgasse and the quarter around the Weckmarkt at the cathedral form the traditional centre for antique dealers in Frankfurt.


The Altstadt is remarkably open because of its attachment to the suburban traffic network. The underground station "Dom/Römer", opened in 1974, connected the historical core of the city to the Underground lines 4 and 5. The building of the track and the station in the years 1968-74 represented a special technical challenge. The underground junction of Willy-Brandt-Platz connects parts of the Altstadt, the rapid-transit system of Hauptwache and Konstablerwache to the north.

Tram lines 11 and 12 operate along the central thoroughfare of Bethmannstrasse-Braubachstrasse-Battonnstrasse. At the start of the 20th century, two tram lines were laid through Altstadt, the first - the so-called Dienstmädchenlinie (Handmaid's line) - from the Zeil past the Trierischen Hof (hotel) in the direction of the cathedral, the other along the newly laid Brauchbachstrasse in an east to west direction. While the Dienstmädchen line was never successful and had been shut down after the first world war, the east-west line remained and is now known as the Altstadtstrecke. In 1986 its redundant status was brought to an end due to the intervention of the district president in Darmstadt. In the meantime the Altstadtstrecke gained a firm place in local public passenger transport, especially with the Ebbelwei-express, which serves an exclusive tourist route.

For private traffic, after the second world war Berliner Strasse and Kurt-Schumacher-Strasse as well as the Mainkai became the most important axles. Numerous multi-storey car parks can be found in the northern part of Altstadt, and an underground car park lies between the cathedral and the town hall.

Three bridges lead out of the Altstadt over the Main; Alte Brücke, Eiserne Steg and Untermainbrücke.

The Mainkai (Main quay), as the name suggests, stands on the oldest harbour in the city. Even today ships are still moored there, however these only serve tourists along the Main and the Rhein. Goods transport ships can instead be found, as since the city's early days, in the main harbours of Frankfurt.


The emergence of the Altstadt in the Middle Ages

thumb The Altstadt is on the right bank of the Main on the outer edge of a soft bend in the river. Here was the ford which gave the city its name. In the place of today's cathedral was a raised, floodproof plateau, the so-called Dominsel (cathedral island). At the time it was protected in the north by a branch of the main, the Brauchbach. This island represents the historic origin of the city and was presumably settled in the neolithic era. Archaeological excavations in the 1950s and 1990s brought to light the remainders of a Roman military camp, an Alamanni property yard and a Merovingian king's court. Legends of the city founding name Karl the Great as the city's founder, which corresponds to the oldest known documents (Frankfurt council, 794), but contradicts the archaeological findings.

The area of the city initially grew out west around the start of the 2nd millennium (around the area west of today's Römerberg). One of the oldest city walls, the Staufenmauer, was erected connecting the area of these two expansions and equated to today's Altstadt. The adjacent district of the Innenstadt equated to the historic Neustadt, an expansion in 1333. On the border between the two was where the Jewish ghetto of the Judengasse was established.

The Altstadt in the Early Modern Times

thumb Over the course of the centuries, the population of the city always continued to increase, whereby the population density of the Altstadt continuously increased. The buildings finally had up to five full storeys and (due to the usual, very steep roofs) several attics. Each floor protruded outwards in excess of the one beneath it so the inhabitants of the highest floors could reach out and touch the hand of the person living on the other side of the alley.

The old town began to display a clear structure with three north-south axis identifiable: in the west the Kornmarkt ran between Bockenheimer gate (to the church later erected and named Katharinenpforte) and Leonhardstor (tower) next to Leonhardskirche (church) on the Main. In the middle of the district Neue Kräme connected the two largest squares of the Altstadt, Liebfrauenberg to Römerberg and further towards the south lying Fahrtor on the bank of the Main and the harbour there. The Fahrgasse ran east of the cathedral from Bornheimer Gate near today's Konstablerwache to the Main bridge. It was one of the most busy streets for Frankfurt traffic in the 20th century.

The six east-west axis were less clear amongst the general cityscape. Situated next to the Main was the important thoroughfare of Weckmarkt-Saalgasse-Alte Mainzer Gasse and north of that the connecting streets of Bendergasse-Limpurgergasse-Münzgasse as well as Kannengiessergasse-Markt-Wedelgasse-Barfüssergasse. Aside from these important east-west roads was Schnurgasse which ran approximately along today's Berlinerstrasse, as well as the connecting fairway of Töngesgasse-Bleidenstrasse-Grosser Hirschgraben. The wood ditch marked the northern edge of the Altstadt.

thumb The majority of Frankfurt's inhabitants lived in the densely populated Altstadt, while the Neustadt remained characteristically suburban until far into the 18th century with loose land development and agriculture featuring prominently in contrast with Altstadt. The city in general was divided into fourteen parts after the Fettmilch protest of 1614. Seven of these formed the relatively small Altstadt, five belonged to the Neustadt (which made it three times bigger than the Altstadt) and two for Sachsenhausen. Each area placed a militarily organised citizen's resistance under the command of a civilian captain, which the only democratically elected department in the otherwise corporate composed imperial city.

Substantial changes to the cityscape only occurred after the Grossen Christenbrand (a large fire) of 1719. About 430 houses were burned down in the north east Altstadt. In order to prevent such disasters in the future the council intensified construction specifications in 1720. Between 1740 and 1800 around 3000 houses were either adapted or built anew. The number and width of overhangs was drastically limited. As well as that houses had to be built in future with the eaves side facing the road. Only small attics were certified as opposed to gabled dormers.

In 1785 Johann Georg Christian Hess began his office as the city's architect-general. He wrote a construction statute (1809) (the principles of which continued with great strength until 1880) for the city of Frankfurt on behalf of the Grand Duke Carl Theodor of Dalberg. In this statute classicism was announced as an obligatory architectural style. Hess initiated the radical architecture of classicism in the spirit of a general clean out. He disliked the conservation efforts of numerous buildings from the Middle Ages because they did not conform to his image of hygiene and aesthetics. In the Neustadt and outside the city walls (reinforced between 1804 and 1808) new districts developed where he was easily able to accomplish his architectural goals. However, in the Altstadt he encountered tough resistance from the conservative citizenry. Only newly developing public buildings, for example, Paulskirche (1833) or the Alte Börse (1843) at Paulsplatz conformed with his classic idealism.

The fall of the Altstadt in the 19th century

The Alstadt in the early 20th century

Comeback and reorganisation

Destruction in the second world war

Post-war: reconstruction and later destruction

Areas and note-worthy monuments of the Altstadt

Römerberg and its Surroundings

Greek inscription - what does it stand for?

Cathedral hill

Western Altstadt

Northern Altstadt

Eastern Altstadt

Former Buildings


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