Walking around Frankfurt these days, you might come across people wearing red hats. Red top hats, to be precise.
If you aren’t entirely familiar with our customs, you could be forgiven for thinking they’re dressed up for Mardi Gras. This would be the point to lecture you on German carnival traditions, but frankly, it’s a bit complicated. Anyway, these people blocking your path with their red hats and their collection boxes ("Hey, you, can’t you spare a few euros for Long Franz’s lid?") – these are people on a mission. Even as a newcomer to Frankfurt, you may know that the row over the reconstructed Old Town is a thing of the past; these days, its alleys are full of tourists armed with suitcases-on-wheels and selfie sticks, marveling at pilasters and balustrades, gold-leaf inscriptions and quaint little windows. And because this Old Town is such a hit, the people of Frankfurt want to take their reconstruction project a bit further, behind the townhall, or "Römer", where things have a slightly postwar feel to them. More precisely, they want to tackle "Long Franz." (Who is not, in case you’re wondering, a particularly lanky mayor, but a tower – the highest of eleven buildings that together make up the "Römer.")
Most newcomers to Frankfurt think the "Römer" are those three buildings with the balcony under the stepped pediment where the local Bundesliga team likes to celebrate. No. Frankfurt’s townhall is made up of eleven buildings altogether. Try asking around a bit on the Zeil why this collection of buildings is called the "Römer." Those who claim to know invariably offer unconvincing explanations.
So we are talking about the tower on the southwest corner of the "Römer." On March 22, 1944, this tower had its top bombed off, and for almost seventy years it’s had a makeshift roof. Now, all of a sudden, everyone is saying that the old roof was the most beautiful roof of all times and is so terribly missed … Four corner towers, a steep roof with a ridge turret, and the eagle of Frankfurt peering over the cornice on the east and west sides. In Frankfurt, anything with Gothic pretensions is a winner.
And so this missing piece is supposed to complete the city’s skyline.
Celebrities are donning the red hat to campaign for reconstruction. Frankfurt being Frankfurt, no one is above begging. Everyone is joining in: Peter Fischer, the chairman of the football club Eintracht, entrepreneur Friederike Satvary (head of sausage manufacturer Gref-Völsing), Tamo Echt of the music bar "Feinstaub". Ilse Schreiber, who runs a sausage stall in the covered market, didn’t take much persuading either.
Imagine a similar project in Berlin. People would complain about it until everyone is sick of the idea. Hamburg would do no better – no more crazy plans there after the Elbphilharmonie debacle. As for Cologne – well, the city still hasn’t scraped together a few euros to replace its collapsed archive.
But Frankfurt has the star architect Christoph Maeckler, who is passionate about historical reconstructions. Point a microphone at him and he’ll jut out his chin and tell you: Frankfurt needs more than just vertical boxes; it needs something resembling a soul; it needs squares and landmarks to give it atmosphere. (It’s true, Maeckler designed some of those vertical boxes himself, but nothing less than premium boxes, of course.)
So far, more than 200 residents have donated approximately 160.000 euros for the roof. And you? Are you donating? The red-hats don’t give up easily, that’s for sure: "You won’t be on your own, even Maeckler’s doing his bit."
And Maeckler knows which screws to twist. "So far we haven’t approached any banks", he says, meaning presumably: "Don’t think you’re off the hook, you needy banks; go and look in your slush funds." So, if by any chance you’re one of Frankfurt’s several hundred Brexit refugees – now you know.