Situated on a slight rise - formerly known as Affenstein Hill - in Frankfurt's desirable WestEnd district is a remarkable building - notable for its historical significance throughout the 1900's and also for its simple, yet intriguing, architecture. Late afternoon shadows formed by the six wings of the building contrast with the building's light façade and green landscape to form a striking view of symmetry, efficiency and grandeur.
To me, stationed with the U.S. Army in Frankfurt, Germany, in l963-1965, the building was known as the I.G. Farben Building and later, as the General Creighton W. Abrams Building. Today, this is the Poelzig-Bau, part of Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität's Poelzig Ensemble in Frankfurt.
The Building was constructed in l928 through l931 for I. G. Farben industrie (full name = Interessen Gemeinschaft Farbenindustrie Aktiengesellschaft), a chemical cartel which, prior to conviction and disbandment for war crimes during the Nüremburg Trials after World War II, was the fourth largest company in the world. Although the Farben conglomerate occupied the Building for only approximately 15 years of its over 70-year lifetime, the name "Farben Building" has non-officially remained until now when it is hoped it will be more-readily recognized as Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität's Poelzig-Bau housing the Universität's Department for the Study of Humanities.
The architect was Hans Poelzig (1869-1936) a leading expressionalist Bauhaus architect and prolific designer of commercial buildings, banks, individual homes and churches as well as other buildings of varied uses. A few of his many famous buildings include Hochhaus Bahnhof Friedrichstraße, Evangelische Kirche, Türmhaus in Berlin, the Water Storage Tower in Posen, the Haus des Rundfunks in Berlin and many more.
Unique in the Building's Bauhaus design is the fact that virtually no decoration, except perhaps the round portico at the main entrance, was used. Yet, the Building does not appear sterile or industrial utilitarian. In fact, ornamentation would only serve as distraction to the grace and majesty of the Building. Although completed in l931, the Building was listed as "one of the most modern office buildings in Europe" more than 25 years later in Frankfurt: Portrait of a City (Umschau Verlag) inspite of (or more likely because of) its clean, uncluttered façade.
The landscaped grounds surrounding the Building, the reflecting pool and terraced courtyard areas, as well as the impressive U-shaped drive at the entrance, provide a pleasing contrast and fitting setting for the massive structure.
History: Immediately after World War II, the Building was occupied by the United States Army and served as General Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarters in Germany, and was often referred to as the "Pentagon of Europe". It was from this Building that the hugely successful Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe was first implemented. And it was in this Building that the present Federal German Government was formulated. After the War, the Building served as Headquarters for the Supreme Allied Command, and later, as Headquarters for the U.S. Army's V Corps and for the Northern Area Command (NACOM) until 1994.
In 1975, the U. S. designated the Building as the "General Creighton W. Abrams Building". General Abrams served as V Corps Commanding General and later led the U. S. Forces in Viet Nam.
By the end of 1994, the U.S. Army had moved nearly all of its facilities out of the Abrams Building to Heidelberg, leaving the formerly busy hallways in ghostly silence.
In May, l995, after nearly 50 years of residence in the General Creighton W. Abrams Building, the U. S. Army turned the Building back to the German Federal Government without ceremony or fanfare.
In negotiating for location of the European Central Bank, the German Federal Government offered the Building as the perfect location. The imposing structure, central location, numerous offices, large windows and easy accessibility made it a prime candidate for the Bank's headquarters. The British, however, at the time still contemplating joining the European Common Market, sought to have the European Central Bank located in London and successfully defeated the proposal, largely because of the taint of the Building's original owners. (As it turned out, Frankfurt won the bid anyway, but with another building closer to the city center).
The Building was thereafter sold to the State of Hessen, which purchased it on behalf of Frankfurt University. The Hessen State has committed DM 50 million (at today's exchange rates over US $26 million) for the restoration of the 77 year-old building. The University has named the Building the "Poelzig-Bau" and its surroundings the "Poelzig Ensemble" (English = "Poelzig Complex") after its architect, and the restoration work commenced in late March, l998, and the formal reopening as the "Poelzig-Bau" was celebrated on 26 October 2001.
The Poelzig-Bau houses the following departments for the Universität:
About the Building: The Building has six wings, which allow nearly all office rooms in the entire building to have access to a window or windows. The façade of the building is a light cream/beige color with slight marbleizing. All seven floors have high ceilings and wide hallways that run the width of the building. The building is famous for its paternoster elevators (lifts) which are similar to dumbwaiters or vertical cable cars which have no doors and which run continuously. The University will keep the paternosters in operation.
Behind the Building are steps and terraces leading to what was called at various times the "Casino" and the "Terrace" Officers Club for the U.S. Army. The non-commissioned officers' club was called the "Topper Club". In May, l972, the Terrace fell victim to a terrorist bombing by the infamous Baader-Meinhof Gang. One Army officer was killed and 13 others were injured. The main entrance and the ceiling of the Terrace caved in as a consequence of the blast. Thereafter, security for the entire complex was severely heightened.
The main "lobby" of the Building was called the Eisenhower Rotunda by the U.S. Army and the impressive entrance housed a MARS (Military Affiliate Radio System) short-wave radio station. Towards the rear of the Building past the rotunda was a small PX (post-exchange store) and a snack bar. The Army later converted the snack bar back to a conference-waiting room and refurnished it in period furniture to blend with the Building's architectural period. A complete gym was also constructed in the Building for Army personnel.
Throughout the Building there were also several other small German- style coffee or snack facilities and a barbershop primarily for the German civilian employees who worked in the Building, as well as a little-known tiny restaurant ("Kanteen") on the 7th floor serving full meals such as Bratwurst and Wiener Schnitzel.
Lore and Myths about the Building: Certain of the following statements about the Building may be true, but thusfar, unproven:
It is said that General Eisenhower gave specific instructions at the time of the Allied bombing of Frankfurt to avoid damage to the Farben Building, which he wanted to use as his headquarters after the War. Though it is true that the Building did become Eisenhower's headquarters, it may have the Building's location in a residential area and proximity to a displaced person's camp in nearby Grüneburgpark that saved it from destruction.
It is claimed that there are 2-3 sub-basements in the Building, below the main basement that have long been sealed and perhaps flooded. One report states that there is an underground tunnel running from the Building all the way to Frankfurt's Hauptbanhof (main train station).
A source claims that the architect, Hans Poelzig, was not allowed by the I. G. Farben Company to enter the Building after its completion in l931.
At the time of the US occupation of the Building, a statue of a naked waternymph titled "Am Wasser" was located near the reflecting pool behind the Building. It was later moved to the Hoechst Chemical concern in Frankfurt/ Hoechst purportedly at the request of Mamie Eisenhower who deemed it innappropriate for a military installation. Am Wasser has subsequently been returned to her original location at the reflecting pool behind the Building.
Directions to Get There: From Frankfurt's Stadtmitte or Hauptwache, one can walk, if desired, on Biebergasse, continuing on where it becomes Grosse Bockenheimerstraße. Turn right, after the Alte Operahaus, and continue up Reuterweg, passing Rothschildpark on your left. Continue until you reach Grüneburgplatz. From there you will be able to view the Poelzig Ensemble from one of its best vantagepoints. Take time to observe the terraces, fountains and reflecting pool behind the Building.
If the day is warm and sunny, take a walk past the Building on Grüneburgplatz to the beautiful Grüneburgpark. If time still permits, continue on to the Palmengarten botanical garden across Siesmayerstraße.
United States Army V Corps
An alumnus of Frankfurt American High School takes us on a tour of Grüneburgpark
The U.S. Army leaves the Abrams Building, Soldiers Magazine
A poignant report of the closing of Frankfurt American High School, Soldiers Magazine
Use "People Search" for "Poelzig, Hans (in German)
Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität
Page with thumbnail photos of the current Poelzig-Bau