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There are few other cities where urbanity is so successfully and naturally combined with the rural as in Frankfurt. Modernity meets history. At almost every corner. And there are few other streets that so unmistakably stand for the development of the urban landscape as the world-famous shopping street in Frankfurt’s city centre – the Zeil.
It has its origins in the 12th century. At the time it was just a row of minor tenements and ran parallel to the Staufian city wall. It wasn’t until the 18th century when the Main metropolis became a thriving economic and trade centre and needed a boulevard, that prestigious and stately buildings were erected to replace the tenements.
In the 19th century it temporarily lost its glamour and eventually suffered a decline as a result of the two world wars and the resulting destruction of the historic façades. The quite pragmatically oriented reconstruction work did not restore the former beauty of the boulevard and, partly also because of the subsequent traffic developments in the district, lost some of its charm.
Finally, in the 1970s the local public transport gave way to underground trains and the street became the pedestrian area it is today. Several architectural projects and park areas are responsible for the new popular image of Frankfurt’s modern shopping boulevard. The Palais Quartier was built, as was a 130-metre high office tower, a luxury hotel and the two shopping centres MyZeil and Zeilgalerie.
The Italian star architect Massimiliano Fuksas was responsible for the planning and construction of MyZeil; he designed the internationally renowned building on eight floors, which also features the longest unsupported indoor escalator in Europe. Until recently, the Zeilgalerie shopping centre with viewing platform and the popular Astor Film Lounge was next door. But reconstruction works are already underway. By the end of 2018, the 24-year-old Zeilgalerie will be converted and modernised and turned into the exclusive new “UpperZeil”.
While generally there has been a decline in the number of people visiting the classic shopping streets, die Zeil recorded record numbers; what’s more, it is not just high up in the ranking of the European shopping streets with the highest sales, it is also one of the most important city-centre projects of the continent.
As a result of major recent as well as future modernisation projects, the area is becoming increasingly expensive and exclusive, which is why streetscape investments have attracted criticism.
Frankfurt is a cosmopolitan city with a contemplative side. It comes as no surprise then that the Zeil, located on the northern side of the river Main, is a comparably short shopping arcade. Around 500 metres of the 1.2-kilometre-long street, by far the widest in the Hessian metropolis, are pedestrianised. There, you can find a few food stalls, fast food restaurants, lots of international shops, offices, hotels, flats, shopping centres and lots more … But we’ll start at the beginning,
at the Hauptwache and gradually move eastwards towards Frankfurt Zoo.
The Hauptwache square measures 19,000 square metres and is one of the most important hubs in Frankfurt. Not just overground, located at the very beginning of the Zeil, but also underground. Every day, more than 180,000 people pass through the station, which serves several S-Bahn and U-Bahn routes, making it one of the most important transport hubs in the Rhine-Main region.
It gets its name from a baroque building from the 18th century, which used to be an important administrative office and prison and today accommodates the popular Café Hauptwache.
Next to the café you find St. Catherine’s Church, which was built in 1681 and is the city’s main Protestant church. The church is a safe haven for many people in the fast-paced metropolis, not just because of its central location. It also does important work with the homeless. Goethe’s family owned part of the church, and he was probably baptised there.
The square also features the flagship store of Galeria Kaufhof, quite obviously one of the company’s largest department stores.
As you move eastwards you will first pass a few international fashion chains before you see an impressive glass façade on your left. Visually, you are almost sucked into this work of art made from glass. It is the façade of MyZeil. And right in front of it, the façade of the Zeilgalerie, which is also made of glass and is currently being renovated. By the end of 2018, the quite poorly attended shopping centre will be turned into the UpperZeil – an opulent shopping centre designed to attract more visitors.
On the right side of the street you find the Nobel-Haus, which was built in 1993. Until a few years ago, Europe’s first and largest Disney Store was accommodated there, at Zeil 77-79. The building has now been let to a third party.
As you continue along the street you will soon notice a large building from the 50s, which looks like it was modelled on Lever House in New York’s Park Avenue. Bienenkorbhaus (beehive house) is named after the building’s main tenant, Frankfurter Sparkasse. The bank’s former logo, a beehive, was given pride of place on the roof in the form of a giant neon sign. The building has been called Bienenkorbhaus ever since. It now also contains many offices, the largest Sparkasse branch in the district and the flagship store of Görtz.
The building borders Konstablerwache square, also called “Konsti”. It forms the eastern end of the pedestrian zone and is thus the counterpart to Hauptwache square. But the two squares look very different; Konstablerwache square is often described as one of the ugliest squares in the Mainhattan district. During previous conversion works, an 80-cm-high platform was erected on the square, and as a result it is hardly used by pedestrians at all any more. Pedestrians now tend to walk around it. The steps prevent many passers-by from using the middle of the square, which is why the platform may be removed. There are many night bus stops and some nightlife spots all around the square.
If you continue eastwards, the Zeil changes from a pedestrian zone into a connecting road that takes you all the way to Friedberger Anlage. On the way there you pass number 42, the seat of the higher regional court of Frankfurt am Main. It is the highest court in the federal state of Hesse and as such responsible for more than 1200 judges.
A little further on you find the city’s central municipal office, and number 33 accommodates the 1st police station, which is responsible for the entire city centre.
Frankfurt is a cosmopolitan city with a contemplative side. Old timbered houses are as typical for the city as the skyline of the financial district. There are many rustic eateries that serve apple wine and the traditional Green Sauce dish after a hectic day. The city is full of contrasts. One of the main and most distinctive streets, the Zeil, in the centre of the city illustrates the history of Frankfurt and is always worth a visit, not just because of the many international fashion labels you can find here.