A great guy. Stands there, straight as a ramrod. Medium height, solidly built without being beefy, arms muscular, hands casually on hips, eyes staring into the distance from under his hoodie. Behind him, high-rise Frankfurt looms against a blue sky. This is Belgian sculptor Constantin Meunier’s "Dockworker", whose workplace is a six-foot-high plinth at the south end of the Friedensbrücke. The people of Frankfurt love the fellow. Especially the women. More than anything, they love dressing him. It started with scarves – and of course it had to be a soccer scarf in the colors of the local team Eintracht. On Labor Day, someone gave him a shovel. Not long after that, he was to be seen in a T-shirt; later, when the first frost came, he even had a pair of leg-warmers. "The poor boy", his girlfriends will have said to themselves, "needs some clothes so he doesn’t catch cold." Nothing like a bit of TLC.
But the story of Frankfurt and its outdoor monuments is a mixed one. They’re not all as lucky as the cool docker. Sure, the swanky statues of Goethe (not far from Hauptwache) and Schiller (in the Taunusanlage) are left in peace. They’ve been there so long that no one ever really looks at them. But other enduring heroes have a tough time of it.
Open-minded and tolerant – that’s what the people of Frankfurt are famous for. They’re proud of it, and rightly so. But here and there, a less magnanimous side emerges. Look at what poor Adorno had to go through. Yes, that’s right, Theodor W. Adorno, philosopher and leading intellect of the Frankfurt School. In 2003, a public monument was erected in his honor: a glassed-in workplace in the form of a heavy dark-oak Wilhelmine desk, leather-covered chair, metronome, desk lamp, and loose manuscript pages – possibly in the hand of the professor himself. No love lost here. The locals didn’t know what to think of the thing, but they didn’t take to it. "My grandma might as well stick her desk there and tell everyone she wrote her love letters at it." That was the general tone. Vadim Zakharov’s installation provoked an overwhelmingly negative response. Paint bombs flew, rude words were sprayed on the glass. Was it the protective glazing that got to people? Or the abstract nature of the statement? Who knows. Only one thing was clear: There was to be no right life in the wrong one for this monument. The city council was forced to intervene. Adorno’s writing sanctum had to move. It is now in the center of the beautiful Westend Campus where, in the shade of lindens and locusts, Adorno can write once more. For the time being, all is quiet again – minima moralia, so to speak.
Right at the other end of the spectrum from the intellectual Adorno installation is a monument that never fails to delight visitors to the city: the Euro sculpture on Willy-Brandt-Platz. An immense E for Euro in EU blue, surrounded by yellow stars. That’s it; it could hardly be more banal. But it’s a huge hit. Day in day out, tourists from all over the world line up at it to take selfies. It doesn’t matter whether the Euro’s at $1.08 or $1.20 – here, on Willy-Brandt-Platz, it’s always doing great. The locals come here, too, but only to show their guests. They themselves keep their distance. Down on the Main Bank, near the legendary Gerbermühle, the situation is different again. No one knows when Hans Traxler, the caricaturist from the German satirical magazine Titanic, came up with the idea for his "Me Monument", but it seems to have touched a nerve. An empty pedestal of red sandstone, lightly weathered, as if someone had poured a bottle of red wine over it. At the back, four steps provide a way up to the plinth. On the front face in gold, only three letters: ICH, the German word for "I". Here everyone can be his or her own hero – standing leg, free leg, posing, gesticulating. Some give cries of pleasure, others sing. And the passers-by never fail to be amused. Being a monument in Frankfurt is an emotional mix. It’s a little like Frankfurt’s famous green sauce: You need a bit of something sour to finish it off.