Frankfurt is best known as Europe’s banking centre and the seat of the European Central Bank and, of course, the Euro. It has the best of the old, with centuries-old heritage buildings and modern-day skyscrapers. Beyond its appeal as a business hub, Frankfurt still shows remnants of its industrial past and is so much more in terms of culture and ecology.
Set on the River Main, Frankfurt offers natural beauty along the waterway and stunning views at any time of the year. In the warmer months, boating, jogging and walks along the banks and riverside gardens make for a wonderful afternoon. The term “New Frankfurt Old Town” is not a semantic mistake but the local name for a major urban development project also called the Dom-Römer Project. Between 2012 and 2018, the project redesigned and developed a 7,000 square-meter plot of land in the historic centre between the old Römer, Frankfurt’s town hall, the cathedral and St. Paul’s Church. While these three landmarks in parts survived WW 2 bombing, most other buildings in the town centre were destroyed. Civic engagement – so typical for this city – led to the overall decision to go for a historical appeal but not a complete replicate. Eventually, the 35 designs of the new buildings were chosen in 2010–11 in several architectural competitions with more than 170 participants.
Probably less known but much appreciated by its inhabitants, Frankfurt is also home to one of the world’s largest urban forests and the largest inner-city forest in Germany: the Stadtwald or ‚city forest’. Also, Frankfurt’s position on the Main River, not far from the Main’s confluence with the Rhine, made the city an important trading post. By the 12th century, the Frankfurt Fair attracted traders from the Mediterranean to the Baltic. By 1356 it was the official site for the coronation of German kings and emperors; the last German emperor was crowned there in 1792. With a loss of status and no longer seen as a centre for military defence, Frankfurt lost any need for fortifications. In 1804 work began to demolish them and transform the resulting empty land into a half-moon-like ring around the inner city, both ends meeting the river Main, which was turned into lush parkland for the city’s inhabitants.
Thanks to the Green Space Office Frankfurt am Main, flower and grass meadows have been planted on verges and traffic islands to combat insect poverty, attracting bees, butterflies and insects. Bienenretter, which began as a non-profit educational project to rescue the dying bee industry in town and won multiple sustainability awards, some years back developed into a social enterprise called Bienenretter Manufaktur, which sells bee-friendly seed mixtures that encourage biological diversity. Its motto of “not only talking but also acting” has since enticed more than 100 new bee-holders to care for hives in the city, some of them in rather unexpected places. For instance, several bee hives found their home in the church tower of Wartburggemeinde near FRA-UAS and guests at the Jumeirah Frankfurt hotel can enjoy homemade honey from the 60,000 busy bees on the hotel’s rooftop. Meanwhile, a new Museum of Bees opened at the Museum Angewandte Kunst (Museum of Applied Art) in September 2019. In the museum’s gardens, visitors can admire and learn about the ten bee colonies installed there, which roam freely through the artist-designed exhibition spaces focussed on social and ecological themes. Urban gardeners help bees too. The Neuer Frankfurter Garten (New Frankfurt Garden) aims to protect natural habitats in urban areas, promotes neighbourly interaction, self-sufficiency, climate protection and bee protection, and offers educational workshops and guided tours.
There’s also support for socially and environmentally responsible lifestyles. Lust auf besser Leben (‘desire for a better life’) is a non-profit company that wants to make global sustainability targets an everyday reality by 2030. It promotes local, sustainable action in business and society through a web guide for sustainable living and shopping, campaigns in the areas of the neighbourhood and regional development, and developing projects on topics such as inclusion, climate protection, ‘plastic-free” and ‘Good Growth’, building a consulting and education portfolio with a special focus on participatory processes. Frankfurt’s weekly markets, such as fruit and vegetables, dairy products, vegan products, juices, wine, beer, meat, poultry, bread, and almost 200 types of cheese, started several food-related social enterprises in Frankfurt, such as Querbeet or Die Kooperative.
The Shoutoutloud initiative also promotes local sustainability through small projects committed to having long-term effects on society, the economy, politics and the fundamental issues facing the wider world. Their vision is a world in which we fundamentally change how we use our available resources and begin to use them in a socially inclusive and ecologically sustainable way. Their particular focus is on food waste and resource waste via their projects No Food for the Bin and No Plastic for the Bin. They also help refugees settle into society and find their feet more quickly through their social contact programme, Get Together. Frankfurt also has a Transition Town Group.
In the end, Frankfurt has been the mother town of several dozen work integration social enterprises (WISEs); the best known might be the Dialogue Social Enterprise with its Dialog-Museum gGmbH, the Struwwelpeter Museum, Cook Company gGmbH Frankfurt, Haus der Volksarbeit – Volksküche gGmbH, Berami and others. Many successful WISEs are in Frankfurt, such as Einzigware (care team), the Villa Leonhardi im Palmengarten, Auticon GmbH, Hofmannshöfe – kombinat gGmbH, among others.
Interested in finding out more about this year’s EMES Conference venue? Have a look at the practical information document here.