Outside the Römer, where a beautiful sandstone pedestrian bridge connects over the street, sits a church that’s not a church, that most Germans know very well. Paulskirche, or in English the Church of St. Paul. As an American, I had never heard of it, and without doing any research about it beforehand, went inside.
When I walk in, I’m in the outer ring of a round marblesque room that instantly feels more like a contemporary art museum because I’m confronted by a larger than life mural depicting an incredibly stylized procession of people hugging the entire inner core of the building. Displays and exhibit cases line the outer core of the building.
As I wind my way around the mural, I discover it really does continue around, and I find stairs. Ah! Now I’ll find the church!
No, not really. I climb the stairs and discover a very modern-looking, non-church arrangement of chairs, a lovely organ, and various German state flags hanging from a soaring ceiling. No one else was around, just me and a bleary-eyed security guard.
I was really confused. What was this place?
This is a prime example of how important it is to read up on the history of monuments before visiting, a tourist’s mistake I still make from time to time. However, my curiosity was piqued. So I resolved to figure this out at home and pass along the highlights.
In 1833, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Paul was a beacon of modernity in its classical architecture style while surrounded by ‘old’ gothic architecture, and it was the largest hall in Frankfurt. For these two reasons, in 1848 it was an appropriate place for the first all-German Parliament. The first democratic constitution for a united Germany was born here, and this is why Paulskirche is often called the Cradle of German democracy.
The German democracy was short-lived, and the Prussian king was unimpressed, but the building’s symbolism continues. After the building’s complete destruction during World War II, this was the first building to be reconstructed and it was consecrated in 1948, on the 100-year anniversary of the German National Assembly.
The mural, The Path of the Representatives by Johannes Grützke, was installed as part of a larger renovation effort in 1991. Along with the mural, there is a really helpful permanent exhibit along the outer walls called "Symbol of Democratic Freedom and National Unity," that you should spend time reading. Speaking from experience, it is really difficult to find information on this topic in English, and the exhibit is bilingual and illustrated with diagrams, drawings and photos. Otherwise you can 'see' everything within 10 minutes, but to get more value out of your visit defintily soak up the details in the exhibit cases.
Now, Paulskirche, the Church of St. Paul, is a space for public events and awards, the most famous being the annual awarding of The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, as part of the larger annual Frankfurt Book Fair.
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