39 MUSEUMS, ENDLESS DISCOVERIES
The ensemble of buildings of nationally and internationally important museums and art galleries that forms the Museumsufer or Museum Riverbank, is something that is unique in Europe. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for contemporary art or Old Masters, Goethe or his literary heirs, cultures of the world or the world of money, caricatures or sculptures, design or local history: Our 39 museums and exhibition venues offer a wide and unique variety of much that is quaint and spectacular, loud and quiet, ranging from small and precious finds to broad overviews. Prepare to be amazed by the Museumsufer, one of the most notable museum worlds globally, boasting exceptional institutions scattered along both sides of the River Main — not to mention the entire city. The cultural ensemble offers much in terms of architecture and programming, as well as a great many opportunities for exploration and cultural experiences all year round. And into the bargain the Museumsufer also offers you islands of calm and tranquility where you can relax in the heart of the City of Frankfurt. Dive into Frankfurt’s world of museums! Welcome to the Museumsufer!
Frankfurt’s museum scene is one of the largest and most varied in Germany. When Frankfurt was still a free imperial city and therefore possessed no royal collections, it was the responsibility of committed citizens and the city council alone to start a collection, make endowments and found a museum. Today, Frankfurt has many larger and smaller museums and exhibition halls of different sizes, from general art museums to small specialist collections. Twenty-six museums conveniently located in close proximity to each other and within walking-distance of the city centre form the heart of Frankfurt’s museum scene. Since the end of 2007, these institutions have presented themselves under the joint Museumsufer Frankfurt. More than 2m visitors annually enjoy the great variety of art on offer.
The History of the Museumsufer Frankfurt
The concept of this ensemble of culture in the heart of Frankfurt was first devised in 1978 by Deputy Mayor Hilmar Hoffmann, head of the Frankfurt department of culture and sciences at that time, in cooperation with the First Mayor Walter Wallmann. The idea was to provide "culture for everyone" on both sides of the Main, as later formulated by Hoffmann in his book in 1979. Following plans by the Frankfurt architects Albert Speer and Partners, the Wilhelminian period stately houses with their large grounds and gardens on the Schaumainkai would be essentially preserved and re-dedicated for use by museum institutes in Frankfurt, thus creating a "museum park" of national significance. In the years following, between 1980 and 1990, the many museums and trusts already existing in the area were developed and extended, such as the Städel Museum and the Liebieghaus. In addition, new museums found homes in the impressive, former residences of wealthy burghers of Frankfurt, flanked by the plane trees of the river promenade, and renowned architects competed to set up new buildings that suited the concept. Today, this ensemble forms a complementary cultural and spatial urban development programme that is entirely in harmony with the Frankfurt skyline. The Museumsufer is currently undergoing an extensive renovation and expansion agenda, as the remarkable amenities deserve to be preserved and developed to the best of the Cities abilities.
The Early Days on the Southern Riverbank (Schaumainkai)
Based on a decision of the municipal authorities in 1979, the conversion of a historic villa into the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (German Museum of Architecture) constituted the start of the project. The art historian and expert on architectural history Heinrich Klotz was consulted on the planning, and the architect Oswald Mathias Ungers was commissioned to design the new museum in the form of a “House-within-a-House”, as a symbol of architecture. Not long after it opened, the museum was placed on the register of listed buildings. Simultaneously, the neighbouring building, also a historic villa, was converted into another museum, the Deutsches Filmmuseum (German Film Museum). Both were completed in 1984. The new building for the Museum Angewandte Kunst (Museum of Applied Art) designed by Richard Meier, followed in 1985. As a result, the original premises of the museum in the adjacent historic building, the Villa Metzler, originally built as a summer residence for the Metzler banking family in the classicist style in 1802-6, gained an additional 5,000 sqm of exhibition space. The Bundespostmuseum, housed in a late 19th-century villa, was also one of the first museums on the Schaumainkai. In 1990, the museum, which by then had been renamed Museum für Kommunikation (Museum of Communication), was augmented by the multiple-award-winning new structure by Günter Behnisch. Also that year, the Ikonenmuseum (Icon Museum) was opened in rooms newly redesigned by Oswald Maria Ungers in the former Deutschordenshaus (House of the Teutonic Order), constituting the easternmost end of the Museum Riverbank.
The Expansion of the Museum Riverbank Continues
In the later stages, the southern riverbank was further enhanced by the addition of the Museum Giersch der Goethe-Universität in 2000, funded by the trust of the same name set up by the Giersch family and now the Goethe-University, and the Bibelhaus ErlebnisMuseum in 2003. The exhibition centre Portikus, which shows contemporary art, had originally been housed in a container annex behind the portico of the old municipal library on the Schöne Aussicht on the city side in 1987. In 2006, the Portikus was moved to its current location on the idyllic island in the river by the Alte Brücke bridge, to a house designed by Christoph Mäckler to resemble a historic bridge building (with direct access from the bridge). The Hindemith Museum (Hindemith-Kabinett) in the Cowherd’s Tower (Kuhhirtenturm), the addition to the Museum Riverbank, opened in early 2010. The Gothic fortified tower, built in the last quarter of the 14th century, houses an exhibition on the life and work of the composer Paul Hindemith who lived there during a part of the 1920s, and where he composed his first full-length opera "Cardillac".
The Museums on the Northern Riverbank
The northern riverbank opposite the Schaumainkai, called the Untermainkai, and the historic city centre had also been the location of a number of cultural institutions even before Hilmar Hoffmann initiated the Museum Riverbank project. These included the Frankfurt Museum of History, which opened in 1972 and opened an extension in October 2017, and its branches, the Junges Museum Frankfurt (Children’s Museum), and the Porzellan Museum at Kronberger Haus in Frankfurt’s Höchst district. Furthermore, the Art Association (Kunstverein), founded in 1829, and the Goethe-Haus, with its fascinating history, have always been situated in the immediate vicinity of the river. In 1978, following an initiative by the Frankfurter Sparkasse foundation, the above were joined by the Stoltze-Museum. In the context of the Frankfurt Museum Riverbank expansion, the SCHIRN KUNSTHALLE FRANKFURT was built near the cathedral in 1986. The institution’s name derives from the name of the original building that stood on the site, the “Schern”: members of Frankfurt’s butchers’ guild sold their wares there until well into the 19th century. The Schirn is exclusively an exhibition centre and does not have a collection of its own. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the pogroms of November 1938, the Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt (Jewish Museum), situated in the former Rothschild Palais, a listed building, opened its headquarters to the public in 1988. It was the first Jewish Museum to open in the Federal Republic of Germany. Since 1992, it has been supplemented by its sister institution, the Museum Judengasse on the Börneplatz. In 1989, the Archaeological Museum, founded as early as 1937, moved into the gothic former Carmelite Church and its new annex, reconstructed and built by Josef Paul Kleihues. The MUSEUM MMK FÜR MODERNE KUNST, plans for which were agreed by the municipal authorities in 1979, opened in 1991. The spectacular building by architect Hans Hollein is also known as the “Tortenstück” (slice of cake), which it resembles. In addition, the Museum für Moderne Kunst has been using the premises of the former Main Customs Office (ZOLLAMT MMK) as an extramural exhibition space since 2007. The Museum of Comic Art (caricatura museum – Museum für Komische Kunst) opened in 2008.
Expansion Projects on Frankfurt’s Museumufer of the last years
For some years now, the umbrella brand Museum Riverbank, originally comprising museums on either side of the river Main and in immediately adjacent parts of the city, has also explicitly included institutions in other parts of Frankfurt, such as the Museum of Natural History (Senckenberg Naturmuseum), the Money Museum, and smaller exhibition spaces, such as the Shockheaded Peter Museum (Struwwelpeter Museum), formerly situated in Frankfurt's Westend that has now found a new domicile at Frankfurt's new Old Town like the Stoltze-Museum and the Eintracht Frankfurt Museum at the stadium.
No other city is currently putting so much effort into renovating and expanding its museums as Frankfurt in its Museum Riverbank project, as a place of aesthetic importance for the public. Several new buildings and extensions have already been realised. Thus, in 2011, after a complete renovation and reconstruction of its interior, the German Film Museum reopened with a new permanent exhibition on Perception and Story-Telling in Films, many interactive stations, and a modernized in-house cinema. The Städel Museum received a spectacular annex, the so-called Gartenhalle (Garden Hall), situated underneath the museum grounds, to house its collection of contemporary art. At the same time, the existing, historic museum building was completely renovated. The opening of the exhibition space underneath the Städel garden, designed by Frankfurt architects schneider+schumacher, took place in early 2012. 2014, the Fotografie Forum Frankfurt, founded in 1984, moved to new premises in the city centre. Also in 2014, the MUSEUM MMK FÜR MODERNE KUNST got a long-term annex with 2,000 square meters additional exhibition space in the TaunusTurm situated in in the heart of Frankfurt’s famous Bankenviertel, TOWER MMK. The Money Museum was renovated from 2014 through the end of 2016 and reopened with a new permanent exhibtion.
The Stuttgart-based architects Lederer Ragnarsdóttir Oei realised their concept for the new Museum of History building. The opening of the renovated historic buildings, a complex of buildings from five different centuries, took place in the summer of 2012, the completion of the new building on a central, key site at the Römer, the square in the historic city centre, in 2017. The museum complex as a whole opened October 2017, following the installation and furbishing of the new building. And 2018 the branch Junges Museum was relocated to the main house. The Historical Museum has also furnished the two upper floors of the front building of the House of the Golden Scales in the old city center with furniture, paintings and everyday objects from the 17th and 18th century and opened it to the public in December 2019.
In the summer of 2018, the former Archaeological Garden was reopened to the public with a new presentation as a branch of the Archaeological Museum now under the name Kaiserpfalz franconofurd. Furthermore, an extension of the premises of the Jüdisches Museum (Jewish Museum) at the Untermainkai is completed, along with a renovation of the Museum Judengasse, which reopened in spring 2016. After the reopening the two locations now show new permanent exhibitions, the Rotschildpalais with a focus on the history after 1800, the Museum Judengasse on the history before that. The Jewish Museum with the new annex reopened in fall 2020.
A further addition is since 2021 a museum devoted to the period of Romanticism, as an innovative museum of literature, located in the immediate vicinity of Goethe’s birthplace and linked to the Goethe-Museum. The concept for this new institution the Deutsches Romantik-Museum focuses on Goethe’s ties to the Romantic Movement and on European Romanticism.
As a private initiative the association "The Friends of MOMEM e.V." introduced a new culture and music project: right in the heart of Frankfurt the MOMEM – Museum of Modern Electronic Music opened its doors to the public in 2022.
Extensions and Planning
The Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2017. A fitting juncture at which to extend the historic flagship building in Frankfurt, the Senckenberg Naturmuseum, which focuses on bioscience and geoscience, is planned for the coming years. A museum offshoot for the Weltkulturen Museum is also planned. It will be realized on the second floor of the historical old building that is part of the “Neue Mainzer Strasse” high-rise project and will occupy a space of some 500 square meters. The Porcelain Museum that for 25 years has been located in Kronberger Haus in Höchst will be integrated into the planned Bürgermuseum in the Bolongaro Palace. In combining the Porcelain Museum with the upcoming Bürgermuseum in Höchst, around 1,000 square meters of exhibition space will become available in high-end premises. The Historical Museum Frankfurt will be responsible for the planned Bolongaro Museum.