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Frankfurt House Fights - Gentrification in Frankfurt Germany Europe

What Were the Frankfurt House Fights?

The Frankfurt House Fights (in German: “Frankfurter Häuserkampf“) took place in the 1970s and included protest movements, rallies and demonstrations, especially by left-wing political activists. The protests were primarily directed against the speculation of land in Frankfurt’s Westend district. The Frankfurt House Fights mark the beginning of the German squatter movement and the beginning of the end of urban planning that is remote from the citizens. The development of urban planning models with participation by the population received decisive impulses from the Frankfurt House Fights .

With the sometimes violent protests during the Frankfurt House Fights, the activists wanted to demonstrate against the massive displacement of the resident population (gentrification) that was prevalent at the time. In the Westend district itself, however, the movement was only able to achieve partial success: While many of the Wilhelminian style villas threatened with demolition were rescued and the construction of additional high-rise office buildings was halted, the eviction of residents by office tenants continued for a long time.

In the time of the Frankfurt House Fights, numerous abusive names for the anger towards investors were created for Frankfurt.

Frankfurt Becomes an Economic Powerhouse

After the Second World War, Frankfurt was given several capital functions for the newly founded Federal Republic of Germany instead of Berlin. As a result, the German metropolis gained in particular economic importance, which was accompanied by a boost for urban development. The companies settling in Frankfurt triggered an immense need for space that went beyond the amount of the pre-war times.

Focus on Westend and Bahnhofsviertel

After much war damage had been repaired towards the end of the 1950s and most of the open spaces within the actual city center had disappeared, the question of developing expansion areas for the city arose. As Frankfurt’s city center was oriented more to the west since the mid-19th century with the construction of the western train stations, the two Wilhelminian-style inner-city districts Bahnhofsviertel and the Westend bordered the Neustadt (New Town) and were ideal for further developments. Like the Bahnhofsviertel, the Westend also suffered comparatively little bomb damage. These two districts were also considered to be well developed due to their proximity to the main train station, wide roads and a fast connection to the airport.

The Bahnhofsviertel is a Wilhelminian style district with block development and was also densely built up at the time. The population in this area declined, but the number of jobs rose. The corporate headquarters of Dresdner Bank and Philipp Holzmann were built in the well-developed Bahnhofsviertel. These two companies were the only ones to build high-rise buildings in the station district in the 1960s and 1970s. However, the original high-rise buildings have not been standing for a long time. The Zinserturm of Dresdner Bank was meanwhile replaced by the Gallileo tower and the headquarters of Philipp Holzmann gave way to the Skyper high-rise.

The adjacent Westend district was more interesting for trade, banks and insurance companies than the Bahnhofsviertel, which was already largely used for business purposes. In the 19th century, however, the Westend did not emerge as an inner-city business district, but as a purely residential area for the upper class. Planned for a much smaller city, it was now in the middle of the big city due to the rapid urban development of Frankfurt. Due to the inflationary period, the murder of Frankfurt’s Jews in the Third Reich, the turmoil of the war and post-war and the incipient suburbanization of the bourgeoisie, the original social structure had largely been lost. Around 1960 the Westend was largely a “simple” residential area.

In the Westend at that time there were mainly two to three-story classicist, Wilhelminian and Art Nouveau villas with large gardens. Many of the buildings were largely preserved, but in a poor structural condition. This fact made the Westend on the one hand one of the most beautiful and historically valuable districts of Frankfurt, on the other hand – in view of the central location and the low usage density – in the eyes of urban planning and politics the ideal expansion area for the growing city.

Prelude to Speculation

During the National Socialist era, the City of Frankfurt acquired a large piece of land on Opernplatz that previously belonged to the Rothschild banking family. After persistent resistance, the property was finally returned in 1960. Two thirds of the property, today’s Rothschildpark, was kept by the city and the other third went to the heirs. To compensate for the value, however, the heirs were granted a high level of property utilization. The Rothschild heirs finally sold the site to the Zurich insurance company and Berliner Handels-Gesellschaft, both of which built high-rise office buildings there.

Frankfurt was looking for modernity and progress, and already existing high-rise buildings met with approval from the general public. The construction of the Zuerich High-Rise in 1962 (now replaced by the OpernTurm) marked the beginning of the rush of builders and investors to the Westend. In 1966 the skyscraper of the Berliner Handels-Gesellschaft (today Oddo BHF Bank) was opened. A wave of land speculation was the result.

High-Rise Planning in the Westend

In 1968 the SPD-led city administration presented the Fingerplan, an informal plan to expand the city into the Westend. The Fingerplan, also known as the Five Fingers Plan, was created by Building Department Head Hans Kampffmeyer and the Head of Town Planning Hans-Reiner Müller-Raemisch. The master plan envisaged not redesigning the Westend across the board, but instead concentrating office uses in new high-rise buildings along several development axes. Starting from the Opernplatz as a “palm of the hand”, the plan was supposed to affect (clockwise) the Taunusanlage or Mainzer Landstrasse, Kettenhofweg, Bockenheimer Landstrasse, Oberlindau, and Reuterweg.

Above all, however, the “index finger” and “ring finger”, ie Kettenhofweg and Oberlindau, were narrow residential streets that were previously unaffected by inner-city uses. Thanks to numerous elegant villas, Bockenheimer Landstrasse was also one of the most beautiful and elegant streets in the city. All three streets were therefore extremely unsuitable for massive densification through high-rise development at the time. It quickly became apparent that the plan could only be implemented at the cost of considerable city destruction.

This endangerment of the architectural and urban heritage of the city, which was already badly reduced by the war destruction, was given far less importance in the city administration than in the public. With reference to the successful urban development program Neues Frankfurt of the 1920s by Kampffmeyer’s predecessor Ernst May, a functionalist-oriented planning policy was pursued that paid little respect to the structural evidence of the city’s rich history. Since the 1950s, the supreme and expressly named principle of Frankfurt city planning has also been the car-friendly city.

Misjudgment of Politics

Unexpectedly, one passage of the Fingerplan had a devastating effect: a minimum size of 2,000 square meters (21,527 square feet) was specified as a prerequisite for high utilization of a property for building an office high-rise. Private owners of residential buildings then tried to acquire neighboring plots and to combine them into a large area in order to then earn money by selling them to a builder on the increase in the price of the land. In the first year after the Fingerplan was passed, the most intensive land acquisitions occurred in the Westend.

Gentrification and Depopulation

Property speculation in the Westend took on worrying forms during the late 1960s. The number of apartments fell rapidly, in 1968 alone the number of living spaces fell by more than 4,000. At that time the apartments were mostly converted into offices or replaced by office buildings. Rooms for office purposes can be rented for significantly higher rents than for residential purposes. In addition, there was the speculative prospect of obtaining approval from the city authorities for a new building with a much larger area.

In many houses tenants were put under pressure and literally evicted. The methods of evicting tenants were drastic. Necessary repairs were deliberately omitted, apartments that had already been rented out were occupied with so-called foreign “guest workers”. The catastrophic overcrowding, with many people crammed into each room, led to the neglect of the houses. The sanitary facilities were insufficient, and plagues of rats developed. Homeowners deliberately made their apartments uninhabitable: heating suddenly failed, pipes broke and massive, sometimes nocturnal construction noise annoyed the tenants.

When the residents finally gave in to this pressure, numerous historically valuable old buildings were demolished and replaced by office buildings in the style of the time. The Bockenheimer Landstrasse in particular changed its image radically, with practically nothing of the former upper-class boulevard remaining. Building speculation, tenant eviction and demolition also reached unimagined proportions in many side streets. Within four years, the number of residents of the Westend halved to just 20,000.

Resistance to Speculation

Because of these dramatic developments, resistance developed in the Westend. The events in the Westend coincided with the general mood of optimism and protest of the 1968 student movement and triggered a resistance movement that is to have consequences that have continued to the present, not only for Frankfurt’s Westend, but also for the general self-image of urban planning in Germany.

As one of the first citizens’ initiatives, around 700 citizens founded the Aktiongemeinschaft Westend (AGW) in 1969, which still exists today. The AGW declared its goal to be “committed to maintaining a functional, social and architectural mixed structure in the west end of the city of Frankfurt.

Frankfurt House Fights - House Warfare Frankfurt - Gentrification Protests in 1974

First Squatting in Germany

In view of the large number of empty houses despite the housing shortage, the first squatting in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany took place in the autumn of 1970. Numerous other squats followed and later spilled over to other major West German cities. In the autumn of 1971 the city administration decided, under pressure from the property owners, not to tolerate any further squatting. When the police cleared the occupied house at Grüneburgweg 113, the first of numerous street battles between activists and the police in Westend took place.

A change block issued on January 5, 1971 following a request by the city council to prepare a development plan, as well as the 1972 Hessian ordinance against misappropriation of living space initially led to an end to the unlimited property speculation in Westend.

The biggest German newspaper titles: "Bloody street battle in the City Center of Frankfurt"

End of the Protest

The last occupied house in Frankfurt’s Westend, Siesmayerstraße 6, which has been occupied since 1971, was handed over to the new owner, Deutsche Bank, in 1986. The squatters had prevented the planned demolition and achieved that the three-storey Wilhelminian style villa was placed under a preservation order.

In urban planning, in the course of the late 1970s and early 1980s, models with citizen participation replaced the failed technocratic understanding of planning based on the infallibility of the planner. The growing appreciation of historical building fabric was also expressed from the mid-1970s through the legally strengthened monument protection.

The high-rise construction in Frankfurt shifted from the Westend to the major axes of the western city like Mainzer Landstrasse and the Friedrich-Ebert-Anlage. Since the presentation of the framework plan for the Banking District in 1990, high-rise buildings have been built especially in the Financial District on both sides of Neue Mainzer Strasse. As a result, the city silhouette of Frankfurt became increasingly dense due to the formation of a crowd. From the 1990s, more emphasis was placed on more sophisticated architecture.

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