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European Central Bank

Conversion of the site of the former wholesale market

District: Completed:

Project description

Reason for planning
The decision of the
European Central Bank (ECB) to relocate its new premises to the site of the former wholesale market further stimulated urban development in Frankfurt’s Ostend (east end).

Planning district
The grounds of the former wholesale market are situated south of Sonnemannstraße in Frankfurt’s Ostend district, extending as far as the north bank of the Main. In the west, they border on the Ostend redevelopment zone, and in the east on the railroad embankment that is a continuation of Deutschherrnbrücke bridge.

Planning objective
With the relocation of the European Central Bank to these premises, the listed building that used to house Frankfurt’s wholesale market and is a landmark of “New Frankfurt” architecture is given a new function and use. The expansion of the Mainuferpark as far as the Deutschherrnbrücke (Ruhrorter docks) along with the augmentation of Frankfurt’s greenbelt between Sonnemannstraße and Mainufer will create valuable green spaces and recreational zones not only for the residents of the Ostend but indeed for the entire city.

Project progress
The City Council passed the resolution to establish development plan no. 830 “South of Sonnemannstraße – European Central Bank” on October 4, 2007.
On February 8, 2008, the European Central Bank obtained partial planning permission to undertake preparatory measures – in particular excavating and securing the pit – and on May 6, 2008 secured full planning permission for the erection of the new building. Construction work proper commenced in spring 2010. Commissioning is expected for 2014, with ECB employees envisaged to relocate to the new premises in the same year.


Les gratte-ciel” – the skyscraper
On January 8, 2011, as part of its series “Avenue de l’Europe” French TV channel “France 3” broadcast a documentary on the theme of “Skyscrapers, symbolism and usage” – a comparison between Germany, France and Spain. Part of the documentary focused on the European Central Bank’s relocation within Frankfurt/Main. With the new ECB building a truly spectacular edifice will embellish the city’s skyline and boost Frankfurt’s prominent position as a city of high-rises in comparison with other European cities. Why not take a look at the documentary on the ECB in French? Voilà!

More information

International competition

In 2002 the European Central Bank purchased the site of the former wholesale market. The intention was to construct a new building that would integrate the original wholesale market hall into the new premises. In order to find the optimum solution for its new location the ECB tendered for proposals by means of an international urban planning and architectural competition, which was organized in close collaboration with the City of Frankfurt.

From among the 300 entries 80 architectural studios proceeded to the second stage. The jury then recommended 12 proposals for further refinement. In 2004 the international competition jury awarded the top three prizes to the following architects:

Coop Himmelb(l)au, 1st prize, © Stefan Laub

1st prize: Coop Himmelb(l)au (Vienna) for their design of two connected intertwining high-rises that
                straddle a flat structure situated south of the wholesale market hall.

2nd prize: ASP Schweger Assoziierte (Berlin) for their proposal of a sky bridge composed of thin
                 high-rises that seems to hover above a podium with a pond in front of it.

3rd prize:  54f Architekten + Ingenieure with T.R. Hamzah & Yeang (Darmstadt and Malaysia) for their
                 design of a high-rise cluster composed of a maximum of four slabs with “suspended
                 gardens” above a podium.

Planning phases of the new building project

The three award-winning entries in the international competition were refined during a revision phase in 2004 with the close involvement of the municipal authorities. On January 13, 2005 the ECB´s Governing Council decided to continue planning its new premises with the architects from the Vienna-based studio Coop Himmelb(l)au.
This decision was followed by an intensive optimization phase that came to an end on December 15, 2005 when the ECB´s Governing Council formally adopted the results. The reason for introducing the optimization phase was to give the winning architects the opportunity to hone their proposal on the basis of revised functional, spatial and technical requirements and budget specifications.

Development on the ECB site seen from the north, © RTT

The optimized design by the architects at Coop Himmelb(l)au is made up of three elements: the wholesale market hall proper, the double office towers and their connecting cross structure.

The proposal originally included a “groundscraper”, a flat structure to the south of the wholesale market hall, but this was omitted from the final plans in order to concur with the City of Frankfurt’s request that the view of the wholesale market hall from the Main embankment remain unobstructed.

Development on the ECB site seen from the east, © ESKQ

The cross structure, which penetrates the wholesale market hall, connects the two office towers to the latter and doubles up as entrance hall and “window to the city”.

The shape of the double towers, which are joined by an atrium, has not significantly changed compared to the initial competition entry. Attention should be drawn to the redefined landscape design, which has been further developed to integrate the ECB’s security requirements. In the north-east, the greenbelt link that will in future close the existing gap between the ECB´s property boundary and the railway embankment from Sonnemannstrasse to the banks of the Main, will be visually extended on the ECB site.

The planning phase extended from March 2006 until the point when planning application was submitted at the end of October 2007. In spring 2008 the preparatory measures commenced, which predominantly involved the excavation and securing of the pit. The positive outcome of a pan-European call for tender for the construction work held in 2009 led to the ECB Governing Council’s decision on December 17, 2009 to commence with the main construction work for the European Central Bank’s new premises in spring.The 1,400 ECB employees relocated to their new offices at the end of 2014.

For further information on the ECB´s new head office, please consult the ECB website ECB´s (German, English).

Development plan procedure

The City of Frankfurt passed the resolution to establish development plan no. 830 “Südlich Sonnemannstraße - Europäische Zentralbank” on November 8, 2001.
The urban planning masterplan was devised in connection with the competition held by the ECB for the redevelopment of the former wholesale market site for its new premises.

The key planning objectives are:

  • Preserving the listed building that used to house Frankfurt’s wholesale market as well as key visual references;
  • Maintaining a maximum building height of no more than 200 m and a maximum gross surface area of approx. 200,000 sq.m. for the redevelopment including extensions;
  • Improving traffic flow on Hanauer Landstraße by creating a second entrance to the premises on Eyssenstraße in addition to that on Sonnemannstraße – the City’s proposal hinges on there being a new bridge over the Main that is an extension of the existing Honsellbrücke bridge; in addition to linking up the ECB this will ensure sufficient transport links, too;
  • Continuing the greenbelt connection between Sonnemannstraße and Ruhrorter Werft that extends parallel to Deutschherrnbrücke bridge as a wide public green band complete with pedestrian and cycle paths;
  • Extending the public Mainuferpark on the upper wharf of Ruhrorter Werft, including the listed cranes and a café on the top of the embankment as part of the makeover;
  • Creating visual and design references between public and private open spaces.
Panorama shot, © Stadtplanungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main

The city administration and authorities were involved early on in the planning parallel to the ECB´s optimization phase in fall 2005. At a meeting held on May 30, 2006 the development plan proposal was made available at an early point to the public for review and discussion. The development plan proposal has since been adopted on the basis of the planning established during the optimization phase. After the City Council at a meeting held on February 1, 2007 passed the resolution to publish the plans, the development plan proposal was made accessible to the public from February 21 to March 21 at the Technisches Rathaus in accordance with section 3 (2) Baugesetzbuch, the German Town and Country Planning Code. Comments and opinions were invited during this period. Administrations and authorities were involved in the planning parallel to the citizens’ participation. The City Council reviewed and decided on the comments and proposals received and adopted the resolution in a public meeting on October 4, 2007. The legally binding development plan (Project B830) can be viewed using the planAS information system.

Area covered, © Stadtplanungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main

ECB coordination office

The ECB´s relocation to the site of the former wholesale market will necessitate comprehensive measures in the vicinity of the new location, too. In view of the complexity of these measures, the considerable number of people involved, and the tight deadlines leading up to the ECB´s planned relocation, an “ECB Coordination Office” was set up and attached to the City’s Planning, Building, Housing and Real Estate Department.

The Coordination Office was established in July 2005. In addition to the existing Urban Planning project team, the Green, Road Construction and Access and Memorial project teams started work in conjunction with the Coordination Office. With the participation of the municipal departments involved the project teams under the management of the relevant department responsible are themselves exclusively responsible for the implementation for a series of measures until the ECB´s relocation.

Site of the Ruhrorter Werft, © Stadtplanungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main
Perspectival view of Neue Mainbrücke Ost, plan: Ferdinand Heide, Architekt BDA, © Stadtplanungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main
Commemorative plaque on the wholesale market hall, Foto:  W. Kamberg,  © Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt am Main

In particular

  • The Greenbelt project team is responsible for linking up Frankfurt’s greenbelt between Sonnemannstrasse, the Main embankment and Hafenpark, and designing the Main embankment at Ruhrorter Werft.
  • The Road Construction and Access project team will ensure that external infrastructural development interlocks with improving the traffic situation for the entire southern Ostend district and envisages a new bridge over the Main.
  • The Memorial project team is in charge of the creation of a memorial commemorating the Jewish citizens who were deported from the wholesale market during the Third Reich. An international competition was held in the period 2009-2011.
  • The Public Relations project team communicates the above major projects in the context of the dynamic urban development of the southern Ostend district by means of a comprehensive media and PR campaign.

History of the wholesale market hall

Aerial view of the wholesale market hall site, 1978 , © Aero Lux Oberursel

Aerial view of the wholesale market site taken in 1978

Designed by Martin Elsässer (1884-1957), the wholesale market hall was built between 1926 and 1928 under the aegis of Frankfurt’s then Lord Mayor, Ludwig Landmann, and the Head of the Frankfurt City Building Department, Ernst May.

After more than 75 years in use, the market hall, which was inaugurated on October 25, 1928, closed its doors to fresh fruit and vegetable trading in summer 2004.

As part of the “New Frankfurt” building movement’s urban development masterplan, the modern monumental edifice was an architectural icon of expressive Modernism. While the citizens of Frankfurt only slowly warmed to what some referred to as a “veggie church”, those from outside the city commended the hall for its functionalism and Modern style and even went so far as to erect similar market halls that took their cue from the Frankfurt example.

The hall, which is today listed as part of the city's cultural heritage, is 220 m long; the two wing buildings framing the structure on either end extend the total length to 250 m. The western wing building housed the market administration offices, while the one in the east was built as a cold storage house complete with its own ice-making facility.
In addition to the actual hall with office building and cold storage facility the wholesale market construction project also included two annex buildings with apartments for the employees, the goods import hall (which included rooms for the City’s School Dinner Service), a sorting hall, railroad tracks along with small neighboring buildings such as the weigh house and control tower. Construction costs exceeded 15 million German reichsmarks.

Construction of the wholesale market hall, 1928, © Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt am Main

Construction of the wholesale market hall in 1928

What makes this structure so amazing apart is the use of 15 barrel vaults which, at just 7.5 cm thick, freely span the roof of the 50-meter wide market hall.
The thin reinforced-steel construction technique, named after the Zeis-Dywidag company which produced the semi-ellipse barrels, was used here for the first time. It is one of the reasons why the hall is listed as a cultural heritage building today.

From 1941 to 1945 the Nazi authorities used part of the wholesale market hall’s basement as a mustering point for people of Jewish origin, who were subsequently deported from here. A memorial will commemorate this dark chapter in Germany’s history in the future.

Business at the wholesale market in 1952, Foto: Reinbacher, Frankfurt, © Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt am Main

Business at the wholesale market in 1952

Between 1943 and 1944 the wholesale market hall and in particular the western part of the building was severely damaged in air raids. Yet despite the serious damage done and the fact that the Americans claimed wide parts of the structure for their own use, business resumed immediately after the War, albeit on a lesser scale than before. Between 1947 and 1953 the complex was gradually restored. Especially in the 1950s and ‘60s business in the wholesale market hall experienced a boom. However, fruit and vegetable sales dropped in subsequent years.

Today, the listed complex that is the wholesale market hall is in bad need of repair. As early as the 1980s, functional faults, inadequate access roads and structural changes spurred debate as to whether the wholesale market should be relocated. The City of Frankfurt opted for a suitable location in a site that was part of the “Am Martinszehnten” urban development scheme. The opening of the new fresh food center in Frankfurt’s Kalbach district marked the completion of the relocation in June 2004. The City of Frankfurt transferred ownership of the wholesale market site to the ECB on January 1, 2005.

Memorial at Frankfurt’s wholesale market
- two-phase competition

Reason for and objective of the competition

Competition area, Kartengrundlage: Stadtvermessungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main

The City of Frankfurt intends to erect a memorial in close collaboration with the European Central Bank (ECB) and Frankfurt’s Jewish Community. Situated directly adjacent to the site of the former wholesale market hall, the memorial will keep alive the memory of the more than 10,000 Frankfurt Jewish citizens, who were assembled in this place before being deported to the concentration camps.
The objective of the memorial will be to remind us of the historical events, provide information on them and thus keep the memory of the systematic genocide of the Jews as attempted by Nazi extermination policy alive.
The historical facts of the deportations will be researched and the findings presented in detail at the City of Frankfurt’s Jewish Museum, where they will be made available to the public.

Competition procedure

The international competition was held in the form of an “open competition” in two phases. Architects, landscape architects, urban planners, urban designers, artists and students from these disciplines were invited to participate. For the second competition phase, a total of 100,000 was offered for prizes and commendations.

Competition area

Mustering room, Foto: Rüdiger Voerste, © Stadtplanungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main

The site in question, which covers an approx. 450m-wide green area that runs north to south between Hanauer Landstraße and the Main, and in the south curves to join the Main embankment for some 150 m, forms part of Frankfurt’s greenbelt and Mainuferpark.
Included in the competition but situated outside of the specified competition area and thus not freely accessible are two additional features on the ECB new premises. These are the deportation mustering room in the basement of the former wholesale market hall and a ramp leading down to it.

Control tower, © Stadtplanungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main

Somewhat further south are the railway tracks to the loading bay; they converge in a track ramp. It is here, from the small control tower on the opposite side, that the switches were set for the journey to the extermination camps.
The memorial is intended to explain and illustrate what happened in this place. At the Jewish Museum, the historical facts of the deportations are being carefully researched and the findings made available to the public by way of a permanent exhibition.

Competition results and next steps

Competition result

Exhibtion poster, © Stadtplanungsamt Stadt Frankfurt am Main

In its decision on the contributions submitted for the first competition phase the jury selected 20 works from the total of 139 entries and requested their further refinement in the second competition phase. In this context the participants of the competition were given some general advice on perfecting their works. The jury received the results of the reworked proposals during the second competition phase on May 28, 2010. In the end, the jury decided to award three works of equal quality with second place. Two commendations were also given.

The following designs were awarded second prizes:

  • Work 019 bbzl, böhm benfer zahiri landschaften städtebau, Berlin
  • Work 070 KATZKAISER GbR, Cologne
  • Work 128 LOOC/M Architekten GbR, Frankfurt/Main

The following proposals received commendations

  • Work 048 OP Architecture, Niels Petersen, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Work 059 Martin Ott, Matthias Marbes, Weimar

Next steps

The jury recommended to the awarding authority that the planners of the three designs which won second prizes be asked to further refine their designs. This involves improving the shortcomings pointed out by the jury. It likewise suggested that it be highly beneficial if the ECB and the awarding authority engage in a close mutual collaboration in order to ensure that the project is feasible. The memorial is expected to be completed in time for the inauguration of the new ECB building in 2014, if not before. Prof Hirsch, President of the Jury, explained the jury’s decision for three entries as joint prize-winners over one winning design by pointing out that each of the proposals had “minor shortcomings”. The jury recommended finalizing the memorial’s future shape by way of a public debate, which could itself form an integral part of the memorial.

  • An exhibition of all entries, held in the Atrium of the City Planning Department and the neighboring Museum Judengasse on Börneplatz from September 3 through 28, 2010, afforded ample opportunity for the public to consider the proposals and become involved in the planning. The opening day of the exhibition on September 3, 2010 provided the first opportunity for public debate. After the three studios had presented their designs, citizens were invited to ask questions and make suggestions.
  • An online survey was set up to accompany the exhibition. Moreover, visitors were invited to make use of the questionnaires available in the exhibition rooms, the results of which were immediately uploaded by exhibition staff. The fact that more than 300 people participated in the survey overall testifies to the success of the PR campaign in the media. In addition, the high online participation of over 60 percent is very representative of the population. One key result of the survey is that participants expect the memorial to provide information in a predominantly factual and natural manner. Another important item is that the situation as it was back then can be experienced through historic elements that have been replicated or preserved.
  • Guided tours with two Frankfurt schools also took place. The tour guide was Jürgen Steinmetz who has closely collaborated with the Jewish Museum in the past and held several guided tours in this context. The pupils of the European School and Bettinaschule were very interested and involved during the tours. The preferences of the younger audience deviate only slightly from the overall result of the survey.
  • The participation results were presented to the public on the final day of the exhibition on September 28, 2010, with those attending expressly invited to debate the results and give their opinions.
  • The results of the public involvement process were edited and included in a suitable way in the specifications for the revision phase. The revised winning designs were submitted on January 14, 2011. On March 11, 2011 the decision-making committee co-chaired by Frankfurt’s Mayor Petra Roth and the then President of the European Central Bank, Dr. Jean-Claude Trichet endorsed the recommendation made by the Advising Committee to realize the design by the Cologne-based studio KatzKaiser.
  • Planning and construction work for the implementation of the winning design was concluded with the official opening of the memorial on November 22, 2015.

Winning design proposals

A suggestion that won second prize (work 019)

A work awarded 2nd prize (no. 019), Entwurf: bbzl, böhm benfer zahiri landschaften städtebau, Berlin

Planner: bbzl, böhm benfer zahiri landschaften städtebau, Berlin

The planner’s design concept
“The memorial at the wholesale market shows that during the Third Reich prosecution and deportation were practically a part of everyday life. In spatial terms the structure will be limited to the authentic locations where the deportations took place, including the building’s wings, access ramp, harp switch stand and railroad bridge of the wholesale market complex.”

Verdict of the jury (excerpt)
“The central theme of the piece is the mundaneness of the location that witnessed the deportations. Consequently, the design almost exclusively emphasizes the authentic sites. Not overly symbolic or by grand gesture, the isolated structure of the harp switch stand as a relic of the crimes committed causes alienation and attracts attention. (…) The simplicity of the means deployed is likewise considered appropriate. (…) The work can be grasped and realized as a whole. Overall the contribution is decidedly terse and down to earth, which given its central theme is but a logical and convincing consequence.”

A suggestion that won second prize (work 070)

A work awarded 2nd prize (no. 070), Entwurf: KATZKAISER GbR, Köln

Planner: KATZKAISER GbR, Cologne

The planner’s design concept
“The idea is to visualize the commemoration of those deported between 1941 and 1945 at several different levels. Traces will be preserved, paths and references highlighted and the location superimposed with memories.”

Verdict of the jury (excerpt)
“The authentic deportation sites affiliated with the wholesale market are visualized in a very simple manner: the harp switch stand with the control tower and the ramp leading to the mustering basement beneath the wing of the wholesale market (…). Using a straightforward ramp designed to grab the beholder’s attention, the planners make this non-visible place visible to all passers-by on the greenbelt. The steep sidewalls turn the entrance into a long hollow abyss into which, beginning on the public path that runs through the park, you can look. A glass partition featuring the memories of a deportee seals off the entrance for security reasons. Likewise, other sentences illustrating the unspeakable ordeals suffered by Jews at the hands of the Nazis are engraved in the paths. (…) The simple structure of the clearly formulated ramp, the unobtrusive presence of the tracks and the (…) control tower that the death trains had to pass deliberately avoid any focus on the spectacular and instead make us aware of the banality of evil.”

A suggestion that won second prize (work 128)

A work awarded 2nd prize (no. 128), Entwurf: LOOC/M Architekten GbR, Frankfurt am Main

Planners: LOOC/M Architekten GbR, Frankfurt/Main

The planner’s design concept
“Between 1941 and 1945 German Nazis deported more than 10,000 Frankfurt Jews through the wholesale market, where they were herded into rail wagons and sent to their almost certain death. (…) The intention of this work is therefore to keep the memory of each individual victim alive, to give them a voice and a face.”

Verdict of the jury (excerpt)
“The jury appreciates the central theme of the design. The idea is to interweave authentic relics that are open to the public with those that are not. The result is a large cuboid structure, a space sculpture, which corresponds to the dimensions of the basement beneath the wholesale market and obstructs the path of walkers. The cube is made up of some 10,000 steel plates into which the names of the deportees have been engraved. However, the jury feels the reliance of the victims’ names is an inappropriate doubling as the concept already exists on the memorial on Börneplatz and should therefore be avoided. In general, the jury was not impressed with the overabundance of individual ideas and design elements that have been crammed into a single concept. (…) However, the jury commends in particular the temporary access to the cube via the converted control tower.”


Commendation (work 048)

Commendation (work no. 048), Entwurf: OP Architecture, Niels Petersen, Copenhagen, Denmark

Planners: OP Architecture, Niels Petersen, Copenhagen, Denmark

The planners’ design concept
“‘Absent Monument’ – the idea of the absent monument interprets the notion of deportation. By removing a section of the river the water’s steady flow is interrupted precisely at this point. The visitor will experience emptiness and thus comprehend the exclusion and deportation of the Jews from Frankfurt society in a predominantly visual manner.”

Verdict of the jury (excerpt)
“What catches the eye about this work is the idea of creating a void in space in the form of an ‘Absent Monument’. (…) The result is a very powerful and metaphorical installation that is unique in its kind. At first glance this approach is fascinating; however an in-depth examination also reveals some weaknesses. The idea is to implant a place of silence and reflection – but we can safely assume the original intention will soon be thwarted and the site will be perceived and received as something spectacular. The sweeping gesture that presents itself in a decidedly poetic and artistic way is wide open to interpretation and for this reason cannot do justice to the events we seek to bring to mind. Moreover, the distance to the authentic location is also felt to be a disadvantage, even if it were overcome by installing a hotspot on the Main providing information on the history of the location and of Frankfurt’s Jewish population. The fact that the wholesale market hall and railway complex have not been integrated into the concept is viewed negatively. (…) A brave and captivating proposal overall that would indeed be suitable for many places and themes, but is in itself a paradox – as the envisaged emptiness will no doubt transform into an inappropriate attraction for lookers-on.”

Commendation (work 059)

Commendation (work no. 059), Entwurf: Martin Ott, Matthias Marbes, Weimar

Planners: Martin Ott, Matthias Marbes, Weimar

The planners’ design concept
“‘Gazing back in memory – The proposal works by relying on the directions to the concentration and extermination camps to which the Frankfurt Jews were deported. The concept is visualized by a tower that has nine openings: one for the direction of each camp.

Verdict of the jury (excerpt)
“‘Gazing back in memory’, the design’s central theme, culminates in a truly impressive ensemble that has remarkable urban planning qualities and visualizes the key stages of deportation: the harp switch stand, the control tower, ramp and walk-in basement in the wholesale market hall. (…) Nonetheless the jury is doubtful as to whether the ‘ascent’ in the tower, arranged by distance from the place of deportation, will be accepted and used, indeed if it is even necessary. It is also questionable whether the tower should not be filled with content, given that the symbolic meaning of the gaze will hardly be inferred from the geographical alignment of the windows alone. Here the planner was not able to expand on his basic idea.”