A tour of the lofty heights - atop Frankfurt's skyscrapers
By Bernd F. Meier Feb 28, 2012, 3:05 GMT
Frankfurt - At the Kaiserplatz square in Frankfurt, Christian Setzepfandt holds his group up for a moment.
'From this point the development of the high-rise buildings becomes particularly clear,' the city tour guide tells his guests. 'Look over to the left - the Degussahaus from the early 1950s is barely 50 metres tall. Off at an angle to the right, ahead of us in the Kaiserstrasse, we have the European Central Bank tower. Built in 1977, it soars 148 metres upwards.'
At the next high-rise building, the visitors must tilt their necks far backwards. 'The Commerzbank tower holds the record for all of Germany's tall buildings,' Setzepfand says. The triangular giant towers 300 metres above the city. The skyscraper, designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster, was built between 1994 and 1997.
Behind the dry statistics about the building's height, though, insiders knowledgeable about Frankfurt's buildings know there is a bit of trickery involved about the Commerzbank tower.
'Because of fire department regulations, the bankers may only use offices up to 200 metres,' Setzepfand notes. 'The remaining 100 metres are the floors for technical equipment, and it is actually the red-and-white signal antenna on top which brings the total height to 300 metres.'
For many years now the city guide has been taking visitors on tours of the skyscrapers of his home city. These tours also lead to the inside of the Commerzbank tower or the Main Tower, from where, via elevators, guests are taken to the upper floors.
A dozen tall buildings, most of them the headquarters of banks, are grouped together in the narrowest of spaces in downtown Frankfurt in a triangle between the Hauptwache square, the main train station, and the Frankfurt fairground's Messeturm (257 metres) skyscraper. Most of them were built in the 1980s and 1990s.
The number of skyscrapers is modest compared to other cities. But Frankfurt's skyline is unique because it is the only city in Germany which has permitted high-rise construction directly in the city centre area. As a result, the city on the Main River has been nicknamed 'Mainhattan' for its skyline, and the buildings are attracting a rising number of visitors.
'Besides tourists, Frankfurt has 300,000 commuters every day, people who come in from the Taunus or Odenwald areas (outside the city),' Setzepfand notes. 'And everyone has a wish to see Frankfurt from above at least once.'
Visitors come from everywhere to have a look at the Commerzbank headquarters. As the only bank in the city, Commerzbank allows groups in for one-hour tours, free of charge, on the last Saturday of each month.
'The interest is huge,' says Katrin Stempel, on the staff of the bank's events management department. 'Since we limit each group going through the building to 18 persons, we can let in a maximum of around 300 visitors.' She recommends making reservations well ahead of time. The waiting period can be up to four months.
Those who finally manage to pay a visit and then initially go up to the 19th floor of the building will be surprised to find themselves in a green garden between the office levels.
'The offices are not equipped with air conditioning. But nine tower gardens and a double-layered outer facade with ventilation assures there is a good climate inside,' says guide Saskia Witan.
Each garden presents flora different from the others. The east side has plants from Asia and the west side plants from North America, while the Mediterranean gardens on the south side are resplendent with olive trees, cork oaks, rosemary and sweet-smelling lavender.
Without a tour guide, visitors may go up to the rooftop of the Main Tower of the Hessen-Thueringen State Bank (HeLaBa), located near the Commerzbank building. The viewing platform, 200 metres up, is open daily from 10 am, except for days when the weather is poor.
And couples in love who want to feel close to 'Seventh heaven' can do this here as well. Every Friday morning the Hessen broadcasting network lets the Frankfurt civil registry office use its TV studio on the 53rd floor, so that couples can declare their wedding vows from a lofty height.
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