As I have said yesterday, I wanted to have a look at Paulskirche (St. Paul’s Church), while strolling Frankfurt/Main’s city center last Saturday with my brother. He himself has never been in the building but he had a vague idea, that it was located right behind the Römer (the Roman), that’s how the City Hall is called. So we headed from Kleinmarkthalle toward the center proper, located right on river Main. My brother pointed out “Fressgass” (guzzle-lane) to me, as we crossed a street with many restaurants in it. I thought this a funny, but fitting local name and was in no way surprised, my brother was at least familiar with this part of the town (here the gene pool strikes: we both like food a lot and over the years, this unfortunately became visible, too).
(The Römer, behind at the left, a part of Mainhattan, at the right, the tower of Paulskirche is visible. Image from frankfurt-tourism.de)
Before Berlin became the navel of Germany, the German Soccer Team would present itself to the public on the balcony of the Römer, whenever an important victory was achieved. Thus, for most Germans this building is familiar, football being the Nr. 1 sport in the country. At the other end of the Römer square, right on the river bank, stands the one and only old townhouse not destroyed by Allied bombing in WW2, still held in high regard by the locals. Everything else was severely damaged or flattened and has been restored since. To this day, some building sites can be viewed nearby, with the fassade of old supported, behind of which, a new structure is erected. To sell for the highest prices imaginable. The town is the money center, after all.
From the square, a pedestrian bridge crosses the river to the museum quarter of the town. Unfortunately, this would have been too much for just one afternoon, as I really wanted to see Paulskirche first. So we left that for another time. And – trara – here it is:
I was just eager to see this building, because I have seen it on TV with events, one wouldn’t expect to take place in a church. Important official ceremonies commemorating the end of Hitler’s regime with survivors of the Holocause speaking to the public, the laudations and acceptance speeches at the Peace Price awards of the German Book Trade during the annual Frankfurt Book Fair and other such events are held there. I distinctively recalled the TV images of a massive, yet simple brown stone console, backed by a plain stone wall of the same material. Nothing to ever guess, the location were a church. Alas, when the building came into view, it looked like a church, made of red stone. A protestant looking, rather plain architecture, without the filigree adornments often found on catholic churches, but it looked the part, nevertheless.
And the surprise continued. The front door via the tower end being a plain, huge glass door opening into a just as plain, white washed, rather narrow corridor with some steps leading to another glass door. The ceiling high above, modern white metal lamps on the walls on either side suggesting to be the overture to a German architect’s grand dream come true. Behind the second glass door, one steps into a low ceilinged (in fact it is four metres high, but seems very low by comparison), big, circular foyer, which has two main features: it is crepuscular with the few light sources highlighting a circle of also plain, marble pillars smack in the middle of the rotunda, circumferrencing a bigger, circular structure displaying a wrap-around frieze of enourmous dimension. It is very colourful and at first glance crude. It took Berlin painter Grützke three years to paint this panel, measuring 32 x 3 meters, depicting single townfolk, with their black-suited representatives in the background, heading to nowhere in particular.
From this foyer, we took one of the two swung staircases, lit by natural light floating throug the beautifull glass windows, featuring glass tubes instead of cross bars, reflecting the daylight as if neon tubes had been inserted, up to the main floor. It consists of the main hall and nothing else and took my breath away.
The oval hall is 28 metres high and maybe 40 meters across. The frugality of its interior only broken by the flags of the 16 German provinces and the city flag of Frankfurt, being the only adornment to be seen. Black, wooden rows of chairs with steel details reminding one of forms at university. Or a parliament. Which is exactly the purpose, this room used to serve and was built for. To the front is the famous, brownstone (I took it to be the same marble, the pillars downstairs are made of) speakers console, the wall behind it actually being the front to a row of raised seats for the members of government facing the forum of public representatives. Above it is the only thing reminiscent of the original function of the building as a church: a white organ of massive dimensions (although experts rate it as middle class organ, but I don’t have the first clue about organs and it looked pretty impressive to me), which was only installed 1988 to replace the worn down instrument originally in use since 1833.
The hall is of such grandeur and so very beautiful, with daylight streaming in from all sides and from high above through a massive oval glass skylight, I just wanted to stay there for much longer than we had time for.
Reading up about the history of the building, my confusion with this church-versus-state use of it was clarified. Originally it was a catholic cloister (around 1270), in the course of the reformation it was handed over by the last 8 remaining monks to the city of Frankfurt (1529), who handed it to the protestants. They in turn used it as their main cathedral, until it had to be taken down due to deterioration in 1786. The city asked architect Hess, whose draft they liked, to erect the new building. But due to war, lack of funding and other difficulties, it took until 1833 (that’s 47 years) until the new Paulskirche was inaugurated. As early as 1830, the church was given usufruct (now, here’s a new word, I learned: ownership and upkeep remains with the city, use and income are granted to the congregation) of the building, but when asked by the city in 1848, to hand it back for the use as the first German Parliament after the German Revolution taking place the same year, the consistory agreed “with pleasure”.
And this is, how it became a political, rather than a religious arena for the first time. A year later, the Prussian military pressure forced the new parliament to move to Stuttgart, and the building turned back to a church. After the Weimar Republic and the destructive reign of Hitler, being the national symbol of freedom and “Cradle of Democracy” in Germany, Paulskirche was the first building to be restored after WW2. It reopened in May 1948. Since then, although the right of use is still with the Protestant Church, it is rarely used by the church (who got another, smaller church for it’s use from the city), but more by city and state for important official events. The only concession the city had to make, was to promise to never remove the big, golden cross topping the tower.
(again, all images from the internet, Römer from frankfurt-tourism.de, Paulskisrche from de.wikipedia.org)
3 thoughts on “Paulskirche”
Thank you for your report on the visit of Frankfurt. You may have noticed the Peace price of the German Book Trade, which was given at the Paulskirche: Navid Kermani gave a very interesting speech on Syria, religion and refugees – in German, with English translation :
These are lovely pictures and it is a beautiful light-filled space. Thank you for the very interesting history of the building as well – it sounds like a very unusual situation
LikeLiked by 1 person
You are absolutely right. It is very a very unusal histroy.
Comments are closed.