Paulskirche: Location-Specific Protest Events

View Fullscreen

Category: Location

Author: Shelley E. Rose, Cleveland State University


This Frankfurt Paulskirche case study demonstrates the power of location-specific protest events. Walter Kolb, Social Democratic mayor of Frankfurt, called for the iconic site of the 1848 National Assembly to be the first major building reconstructed after World War II. This exhibit visualizes the repeated use of that space, providing both narrative and analysis through materials collected from a range of archives. 

Ganz Deutschland muß die Paulskirche wieder aufbauen, von außen und von innen, im Stein wie im Geiste.

All of Germany must rebuild the Paulskirche, from outside and inside, in stone as in spirit (Kolb).

As demonstrated by this map, activists after World War II frequently occupied the space of the Paulskirche, explicitly drawing on the place memory of the church. Analysis of the repeated use of this space, however, reveals that activists not only referred to the 1848 place memory, but to other protest events that occurred at this location over time as well.

Importantly, the case of the Paulskirche reveals the systematic efforts of government officials to control the space of the church and, by extension, its symbolism in German history. French Sociologist Olivier Fillieule and historian Danielle Tartakowsky argue "in the arena of social conflicts, institutions and procedures are more unstable and less solidly established than in most other political spheres" (19). The Paulskirche site illustrates this dilemma well, as government officials often scrambled to control the occupation of the church in accordance with its status as an anchor in the historical landscape. Likewise, activists manipulated the language of their rental requests (frequently citing individual organizers instead of organizations), and carefully shaped event planning committees to comply with rental regulations.

In 1966 one of the many revisions of the rental contract for the church states 

Today, both in Germany and abroad, the Paulskirche is widely considered a symbol of past German democratic will and therefore has become one of our most meaningful political memorials... in recognition of  this meaning, it can only be made available for events which have the proper basic character (Bestimmungen für die Überlassung der Paulskirche).

If Frankfurt city officials intended the place memory of the Paulskirche to showcase German unity, the repeated use of the space as a protest site significantly undermined this identity, not least during the Hessian Easter Marches in the 1960s and 1980s. Indeed, officials tried to prevent Easter Marchers from utilizing church space. Marchers simply stood outside the iconic building, proving that from both inside and outside, the physical presence of the Paulskirche anchors a German sense of history.

Selected Bibliography

“Bestimmungen für die Überlassung der Paulskirche zu Frankfurt am Main,” September 5, 1966. Blatt 222, Band 1, Akten 1540/b2, Signatur 976, Magistratskten III/2-1979, ISG, Frankfurt am Main.

Fillieule, Olivier and Danielle Tartakowsky. Demonstrations. trans. Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott. Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing, 2013.

Kolb, Walter. “Aufruf der Stadt Frankfurt am Main zum Wiederaufbau der Paulskirche,” January 20,1947. Signatur: Ffm Kq 6/746, Goetheuniversitätsbibliothek, Frankfurt am Main.

Archives: AdsD, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung; Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Frankfurt am Main 

Further reading: Shelley E. Rose, "Place and Politics at the Frankfurt Paulskirche after 1945," Journal of Urban History 42, no. 1 (January 2016):145-161.