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Travelogue H5

March 7, 2016

The next day found me back at my task, distributing bank statements torn and scattered in all the city’s bins. That morning, I stuck rather more closely to the city center. My initial approach led me past a U-Bahn exit made to resemble a caboose erupting from the pavement. The designers had even thought to lay loose slabs of stone over the buried end. Not far from caboose stood a lonely tower, at one time a part of the old city wall. The tower broke evenly into thirds: a smooth, circular base, from which rose a narrower but equally smooth section, with tall windows, topped by an enclosed octagonal lookout, half-timber in grey and white. The location had since become a student café for the nearby university.

My way to a city park took me before an Empire-era opera, like others elsewhere. Rounding the opera’s back side, I came upon the Grüneburgpark’s eastern entrance. The park itself represented the largest green space within old Frankfurt and took its name from a manor house and court, Schloss Grüneberg, built by a local banker in the 18th century’s waning years. The house and court had welcomed poet dignitaries of the time, among their number Goethe, who remarked on the eye’s interplay between inner green, outer urban and outermost unspoilt.

Once inside, I could but follow the occasional pram towards the playground equipment at its north. There, in the 1850s, the Rothschild family had erected Neues Palais an der Grünen Burg, complete with orangery and pavillion, after having bought the land around, along with the Schloss Grüneberg, which went to a younger member. In the 1870’s, the park underwent considerable work to emerge therefrom as a garden in the English Landscape style. By contrast, the house belonged to another tradition entirely, dubbed French neo-Renaissance ou Neo-baroque Louis XII, in that manner art historians, like architects themselves, have of melding the most disparate elements into some new unseemly whole.

Although the park welcomed to that day visitors and picnickers, the palace and family had all but disappeared during the war’s later years, to bombs, suicide and emigration. The Palais’ ruins remained for a time after the war but later gave way to the grassy span and bright playgrounds metal which I found that day. The orangery had experienced a similar metamorphosis, from ruins passing into a Greek Orthodox church. Of the original complex only a lone pavilion still stood; at present, it offered refreshments to the park’s visitors.

Unable to bear the children much longer, I bent my path from north to south and came by the western alleys to a small hill at the park’s center. At its top rose a small, neo-Gothic tower, too clean for a rare war survivor, its square outline, peaked windows and stone too antiquated for recent construction. So it entered my mind under the category of restored folly, a structure recalling the classical era or early medieval and typically found in English Landscape parks such as this. I passed through the arch incorporated into the tower’s base and turned on the path up and about until I reached shadow.

From there, the sun streamed about the folly, and the surrounding trees’ leaves became oversaturated membranes. Though backlit for examination, the leaves resisted the eye and the sought-for transparency and clumped in places, the resulting layers nearly as dark as the limbs framing them. Turning back to the tower, I judged its stone considerably greyer, with more black and tan, than that I had found in the surviving city walls. My eyes found some three meters off the ground a bright red, peaked door broken into three divisions: left half, right half, peaked top, all in slatted wood. All but the last were capable of movement, though the person seeking entry would need a ladder to reach the place.

The way out led past several benches on one of which I paused for a moment to question my city map. On that neat surface, I was surprised to find not “Grüneburgpark” but “Rothschildpark” marking the green expanse where I found myself. Later perusal of different publications and internet sights confirmed this doubling, and I was doubtful as to what I might best attribute it. As I was soon to conclude, Frankfurt’s post-war history constituted a citywide experiment, of which the citizens were perhaps vaguely aware, to find the most ethical or appropriate fashion in which to memorialize the disappeared: recalling older history or more recent victims or privileging instead new development. The park itself was but one piece in a mixed strategy, and its doubled name spoke lengths of the ethical faultlines cityplanners then probed.

Curious as to what else I might find in this way of thinking, I made for the exit but could not fail to notice that the alley on which I walked was blotted out by the shadow of a nearby skyscraper, the Operturm’s length overlying the green.

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