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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.