Thursday, 27 January 2011

Stumbling on history

Frankfurt (and Germany in general, it seems) has a way of keeping you in touch with the history of wherever you happen to be. Whether this is through the many and varied musuems - such as on the Museumufer - or the architecture (more on this to come), or the memorials and plaques which can be found in unexpected places.

As well as memorials to Schiller, Goethe and Guthenberg, others are commemorated. Off Grüneburgweg is Simon-Bolivar-Anlage, in honour of the great South American liberator (though his link to Frankfurt is unknown to me). The inventor of the telephone (Phillip Reis! Who on earth is Alexander Graham-Bell?!) has a memorial on the Escherheimer Anlage, opposite the cinema. And the writer of Struwwelpeter and the composer Schopenhauer are also remembered with a plaque showing their profiles affixed to the house they both lived in, but not at the same time. The house is now a steakhouse. 

All the schools are named after greats. Nearby is Engelbert Humperdinck Schule, commemorating the original opera composer rather than the 70s pop singer. Authors, art historians and former mayors are similary honoured. 

Many of the streets are also dedicated to the memories of noted persons. All within a few minutes' walk from me are Beethoverstraße, Mendelssohnstraße and Freiherr-vom-Steinstraße. 

Frankfurt is also very considerate of its less historically clued-up residents and visitors. Even if you have no idea who the street has been named after, a little appendix to the street sign will tell you their full name, when they lived and why they are of note. Rathenauplatz? Rathenau? Oh, Walther Rathenau (1867-1922), famous politician and writer!? He definitely deserves a street! These are at their best when giving details of how a local person improved the neighbourhood, but sadly I do not have any pictures of those ones.

However, perhaps the most easily missed but most poignant memorials are the Stolpersteine (stumbling blocks). These are slighly uneven stones set into the pavement which bear a brass plaque. These small brass squares are installed outside the homes of (mostly) Jews who were deported during National Socialism. Names, dates of birth and fates of the victims are given. Outside some houses whole families are remembered.

Here lived OTTO ISIDOR WOLF, born 1881. Left home town in 1939. Deported 1942. Murdered Sobibor. 

These little reminders of horrors which took place are dotted all around the city. Every so often a peaceful walk or rush into town is interrupted by a misstep and looking down you realise what has caused it. Looking up you see the house where such horrors took place and are happy you can't imagine what that was like.

All over Frankfurt there is no getting away from the history around the corner, up above, and under your feet.