If you are looking for Germany's big city of Frankfurt, click here for Frankfurt am Main.
Germany had a number of cities and towns that repeat names, and they typically resolved them by adding an identifier such as state name, nearby river or other monument. For example, there was more than one Rothenburg -- the famous Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Bavaria and the much lesser known town of Rothenburg in Saxony (not listed in any of my tour guides). The name of Frankfurt was bestowed on two very important cities, identified by the rivers they sit upon. Frankfurt am Main was very well known as the central air and commerce hub of the European continent. But its namesake, Frankfurt an der Oder, was equally important as a border city with Poland. Nowadays, with a reunified Germany and the European Union's expansion eastward, Frankfurt an der Oder's star was rising as rapidly as its infrastructure was being rebuilt.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Frankfurt an der Oder was part of Prussia, the expansive German empire that reached through much of western Poland and followed the East Sea to the Baltics. Frankfurt straddled both banks of the river. But after World War II, the Oder River was used to establish the border between Germany and Poland. Once Germany was divided between West and East (the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or DDR), Frankfurt itself was divided, and its east bank territory would become Slubice (sloo-BEET-suh), Poland.
Communism would treat Frankfurt an der Oder and western Poland a little differently. While the Soviets stamped out the Prussian influences east of the Oder (see Sulecin), Frankfurt on the west bank stayed German in culture but simply fell to decay, and its downtown was built up with a number of cookie-cutter utilitarian buildings. Many of these could be seen in the first photo, taking from the top of the Oderturm. The large buildings below the church were once a common gray but have since been repainted.
Traveling around Frankfurt, I was reminded of another former East German city -- Jena in the central state of Thueringen. Both cities had much in common. They both had some of their old towns preserved on a limited basis from the War, but the reunification of Germany brought a building spree of new modernized steel and glass structures. The Oderturm and its associated shopping mall (second photo) was Frankfurt's -- an ultramodern facility with a beautiful interior and all the modern brands available from across Europe. As Frankfurt still did not have its original marketplace intact as other former Eastern cities did (see Schwerin), the Oderturm was Frankfurt's primary new attraction.
Also, both Jena and Frankfurt were trying very hard to establish their own identities in the new face of Europe. In this regard, Frankfurt an der Oder had a particular advantage due to its location. With Poland set to join the European Union in 2004, Frankfurt happened to be on the major stop on the twice-daily express trains running between Berlin and Warsaw, therefore its future as a commercial center between the respective countries looked quite promising.
Indeed, promise was what I saw a lot of in Frankfurt. Reconstruction and renovation efforts were underway all across the west bank, especially near the city's university where boardwalks and riverside gardens are being built. Many of Frankfurt's remaining landmarks already got facelifts. The city's major museum, die Kleist, looked pristine with its new coat of white and gray paint, though the entire lawn around it was completely dug up. Frankfurt's "Freedom Bell" (a bell tower that was a gift from the Soviets... haw haw) had been polished. And Frankfurt's Town Hall (third photo) and Art Museum has been cleaned up.
Another very impressive structure that I was able to tour at length was the Viadrina University main building, whose entrance stood across the street from the Oderturm. The Viadrina was a major international university that partnered with universities from thirty different countries (including four in the US, Texas A&M being the most prominent). The building, with its new library facilities and other obvious signs of modernization, was very impressive.
I also had the chance to tour Frankfurt's main church, the Marienkirche, whose interior is shown in the fifth photo. Unfortunately, the Marienkirche was no longer quite herself, having been destroyed during the War and never fully rebuilt. Though the Marienkirche was made of red brick, the tower was renovated, in a way, by the Soviets. These renovations included the use of white concrete as patching material and removing all the stained glass windows shipping them to museums across Russia (some were being prepared to be returned from St. Petersburg, so I was told). As the fifth photo shows, the original bell was mounted on a brick pedestal for viewing, and a number of the concrete placards still remained. The elaborate decor on the side entrance was all that remained of the exterior. Nowadays, a makeshift wooden roof protected the interior until a full restoration could be done. When that would occur was unknown to me at the time.
I paid a brief visit to the small town of Slubice, Poland across the Oder River. This was partly to get the across-the-river views of Frankfurt, and partly just to see how the Poland side contrasted. As it turned out, Slubice was undergoing a similar facelift as Frankfurt, but there was little that suggested the two cities were once one. The surrounding area had a number of open areas and parks, and several islands were connected by bridge to the Frankfurt side near the University, allowing students a nice quiet place to relax and study.
Indeed, quiet was a good word to describe Frankfurt an der Oder. It certainly distinguished it from its namesake cousin on the Main River in the west. I wouldn't describe it as an absolute must-see for those traveling between Germany and Poland, but for university students it seemed like a rather nice place to attend school.
Trip taken 3 May 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin