New Town (Neustadt in German) was a previously common name for an inner-city area of Frankfurt. The identity of the Frankfurt New Town was completely destroyed after the Second World War. The former New Town is present today particularly north and east of the Old Town within the former city fortification. Today, the area of the New Town is congruent with the Innenstadt district (lit. “city center district”).
What Was the New Town of Frankfurt?
The New Town was officially approved in 1333 when the Free Imperial City of Frankfurt was approved by Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian to triple its area. Until the 14th century the area of the new town was outside the Old Town city walls. Despite the unprotected location, construction was carried out in the new town. So a row of houses was built north of the walled city on an area used as a cattle market, which gave the street that emerged from this market its name: Zeil. To the east and west of it, at the Bockenheim Gate and the Bornheim Gate, country roads ran from the city gates to the surrounding area, where houses and gardens were already being built.
The city then built new fortifications with five land-side city gates: the Gallus Gate at today’s Willy-Brandt-Platz, the Bockenheim Gate at today’s Opernplatz square, the Eschenheim Tower, the Friedberg Gate and the Allerheiligen Gate. In the course of the following years, the new urban area was filled with streets and buildings, with rich cloth merchants in particular taking the opportunity to build representative domiciles outside the confines of the old town. In 1428 the Eschenheim Tower, the most magnificent city gate of the new fortification, was completed.
In the 15th century there were still numerous undeveloped areas and many gardens in the new town. At that time, the old town was still the preferred part of the city; the new town was mainly populated by immigrants pouring into the growing town from the countryside.
Time of Prestigious Buildings
In the period that followed, the balance between the old town and the new town gradually shifted, and new townhouses for wealthy citizens were now being built mainly in the new town. They often served as quarters for the electoral delegations during the imperial coronations taking place in Frankfurt. The most famous city palace was the Palais Thurn und Taxis in the Grosse Eschenheimer Strasse in 1737. A few years earlier, in 1730, the Hauptwache building, which is still preserved today, was built in the heart of the New Town.
Even after that, there was brisk construction activity in the New Town, the most famous town house was the Goethe House. In 1825 the city library opened on the banks of the Main river (of which only the portal remained after war damage).
New Town as Center of the Big City
After being incorporated into Prussia in 1866 as a result of the German War, Frankfurt quickly developed into a modern, Wilhelminian-style city. The previously quite wide-meshed road network of the New Town was condensed by road openings, wide boulevards were created. From 1870 onwards, based on the Parisian city model, Kaiserstrasse and Kaiserplatz were built as a connection between the Hauptwache and the western train stations, and the Hotel Frankfurter Hof opened in 1876.
Further breakthroughs result in the Neue Zeil, Schillerstrasse, and Goethestrasse, among others. In 1874, the built in extension of Neue Mainzer Strasse the Untermain Bridge was completed in 1878 followed by the Upper Main Bridge in the direction of the long road. The Neue Stock Exchange (Neue Börse) opened near the Hauptwache in 1879. Only a year later the Opera House was inaugurated and in 1902 the Theater Complex in the Untermainanlage.
New districts emerged around the New Town, such as the Bahnhofsviertel (lit. “station district”). At the time, Frankfurt was known for its beauty and was a significant place for many tourists who came to Germany.
The rapid growth processes in the New Town led to the creation of a city: the previous residential quarters developed into a metropolitan commercial and business center, the previous residents were pushed into the emerging suburbs. The central traffic junction of the horse-drawn tram (later tram) was at the Hauptwache: numerous lines crossed the Zeil, which developed into the street of the large department stores. In the years after the First World War (1914-1918), the focus of urban development shifted more to the outer districts.
Frankfurt am Mayn in 1845: the Old Town was in the center and the New Town was surrounding it, but both were within the city fortifications.
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An interesting number: While London (UK) had 1.8 million inhabitants in 1845, Frankfurt had a population of just 58,500 at that time.
Second World War and Rebuilding
The New Town, which was shaped by the Wilhelminian era, fell victim to numerous Allied air raids in the Second World War, as did the Gothic Old Town. After the almost complete destruction, however, the city was not rebuilt true to the original, because the idea was to move more into the modern age by creating a city suitable for cars.
The urban identity of the New Town was then entirely lost through a completely different design of the city. New traffic axes, such as the street Konrad-Adenauer-Strasse, were laid through the rubble field. Other streets, such as today’s Zeil shopping street, were considerably widened and thus created the cityscape of today’s downtown district (Innenstadt).
After the Second World War, mostly simple post-war style buildings emerged that were mainly used for commercial reasons. Due to the lack of historical buildings, there were no concerns about the construction of high-rise buildings in the city center in the following decades, which also includes large parts of the Financial District.
With every new building built today, a piece of ugly and outdated post-war architecture disappears that is usually perceived as an eyesore. This is why projects such as the New Old Town, which was inaugurated in 2018, are so much celebrated in Frankfurt.
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