History

History of the Palmengarten 1868 to 1931: Siesmayer's “Actiengesellschaft”

Without the Prussians, Frankfurt most likely would never have had its Palmengarten. Its foundation in 1868 ows itself to a predicament – and a daring citizens initiative. The Duke Adolph of Nassau was in a financial tie. His castle gardens in Wiesbaden-Biebrich comprised 200 exotic plants. In the course of annexation of the duchy along with the city of Frankfurt by Prussia in 1866, the botanically inclined duke was forced to sell his famous “Biebricher Winter Gardens” and asked Heinrich Siesmayer (1817–1900) for assistance.

Siesmayer was a renowned horticulturist who had, among others, conceptionalized the Bad Nauheim Kurpark. The duke’s collection seemed to allow him to implement a long-held dream: similar to Brussels and London, Siesmayer intended to create a “Southern Palace” in Frankfurt – an exotic garden with social events. What he needed was supporters and money. Both were eventually supplied by a handful of honorable citizens and businessmen, among them Leopold Sonnemann, banker and founder of the former “Frankfurter Zeitung”. In May of 1868 a committee was formed to purchase the “Biebricher Wintergärten”. The issued stock shares were so popular that very shortly after their emission the valuable plant collection could be acquired from Adolph of Nassau for 60,000 Rhein-Gulders.

The City of Frankfurt made available a slot of some 18 acres along the rural Bockenheimer Straße to the joint-stock company as an hereditary tenancy. The greenhouses were erected in 1869 and the first flower show took place in 1870. The official inauguration of the magnificent gardens with Palmenhaus and adjoining building for socio-cultural events was celebrated on March 16, 1871 in the presence of the Prussian Crown Prince. And three years later it was the Emperor Wilhelm I himself to honor the splendid Frankfurt Palmengarten by a personal visit. Its exotic plants as well as concerts and balls soon made the Palmengarten a highly attractive center of social life in the city.

The era of initiation ended in 1886 with the retirement of Heinrich Siesmayer as honorary director. His successor August Siebert (1854–1923), a renowned horticultural expert in respected social standing, was able to expand and improve the gardens considerabley within the four decades of his leadership. Among others he established new greenhouses and a rosary, introduced electricity, and published a first printed guidebook. In times of distress during World War I, the greenhouses and grounds served as vegetable plots to supply military hospitals. As part of the meanwhile highly prestigious Westend, the gardens managed to be maintained during the war, while the following economic crisis required major readjustments.

History of the Palmengarten 1931 to 1968: The Palmengarten under the auspices of the City

Expenses began to exceeded the joint-stock company's capacity and thus the City of Frankfurt, having previously already invested greatly, now stepped in an assumed responsibility for the Palmengarten in 1931. The joint-stock company was transformed into the charitable society „Friends of the Palmengarten“ , which continues to support the communal garden in many respects to the present day.

Following Otto Krauss (1865–1935), who had assumed the position of Director upon Siebert's death, the City appointed Max Bromme (1878–1974) as Head of the Hortus Palmarum. Having served as the community’s Director of Horticultural Services he had previously doubled the number of public parks and playgrounds. Bromme modernized the garden and reshaped Blütengalerie and Heather Garden, and also initiated the “Roses and Illumination” festival, which remains popular to the present day. His plan to fuse the Palmengarten with the Grüneburgpark into a monumental arboretum was halted, among others, by the outbreak of World War II. Again, the splendid flower gardens were rededicated to growing potatoes and cabbage for survival. In 1944, Frankfurt was largely destroyed, and the Palmengarten was not spared: the western section of the “Gesellschaftshaus” (building for socio-cultural events) and the music pavillion were consumed by flames, and all glasshouses were shattered from detonations.

Fortunately, reconstruction assumed quickly. The occupying American forces used the “Gesellschaftshaus” and park as a military „Recreation Center“ , and in the process rebuilt and repaired all structural damage to the park’s and city’s advantage. Only in 1953 did the Americans return the gardens to the City of Frankfurt. From 1945, Fritz Encke (1904–2000) had served as Director. Enke was an experienced and passionate administrator and had previously served as the City’s Garden Inspector. The Palmengarten was reopened and flourished. In 1963, one million visitors were counted in one single year alone, reflecting its enormous and growing popularity among Frankfurt’s citizens.

Besides being involved with the reconstruction of the greenhouses and other facilities, Encke also implemented various technical and horticultural innovations. Together with the famous German trombone player Albert Mangelsdorff, he and Werner Wunderlich initiated the popular „Jazz im Palmengarten“, program in 1959 in order to also attract young people to the Westend park with its long musical tradition. In fact, this is the oldest ongoing Open-Air-series in Germany and possibly even world-wide. Encke’s continuous efforts were able to elevate the public park to become veritable botanical gardens, among others by expanding the plant collection and by participating in a lively seed exchange with other gardens in the world. Upon his retirement in 1968, Encke had transformed the Palmengarten into one of the most renowned international botanical institutions.

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History of the Palmengarten 1968 to 1996: Thorough Renovations before Budget Restrictions

At the time of the Palmengarten's centennial celebration in 1969, the directory had already been transferred to the renowned professional botanist Gustav Schoser who began a major reshaping of the Palmengarten. One major advantage for Schoser was the ready availability of communal funds for this purpose at this time, so that ambitious projects could be planned and realized. Frankfurt was vigorously attempting to improve it’s global appearance as a leading metropolitan center of commerce and culture. During this period, Schoser implemented the construction of the modern lobby with greenhouse at Siesmayerstraße, which now became the home of the newly founded Grüne Schule, Germany’s first educational facility of the sort in a botanical garden.Two additional botanists were employed as scientific curators of the plant collection. Further important innovations included the construction of the Subantarctic House, the reconstruction of the concert stage, as well as new facilities for technical operations and nursery. The rose garden rose garden.

The modern Tropicarium with its ten different tropical climatic-vegetational zones is the culminating achievement of Gustav Schoser. In order to attain the property it was necessary to relocate an established tennis club – thus expanding the total area of the Palmengarten to nearly 55 acres. Major highly acclaimed events during his time were the 8th World Orchid Conference, a World Cactus Show, and several international conferences for rose and succulent specialists.

At the time when Isolde Hagemann assumed office as Director in 1993 the Palmengarten’s budget had already started to become restricted and it became necessary to look for support beyond. For greater visibility the Hortus Palmarum launched a campaign with temporary exhibits and presentations outside of Germany, at Frankfurt Airport, and in hotels and department stores. Various supportive institutions and sponsors provided funds in order to help organize exciting exhibitions. Hagemann also successfully acquired funds from sponsors for the initiative “Rettet das Palmenhaus” (Rescue the Palmenhaus). The distinguished members of the committee were able to establish a solid foundation for this project. Isolde Hagemann resigned from her position in 1996.

History of the Palmengarten 1997 to present: challenges for the 21. Century

Matthias Jenny, Deputy Director and Head of the Scientific Department at the time of Isolde Hagemann’s Directory, initially assumed the official responsibility on an interim basis. He then was assigned Director in January 1998. His initiation of a major public support campaign for the renovation of the Palmenhauses in 1999 was a great success and symbolizes his capacity to help guarantee the future of the Palmengarten: current limits of communal budgets require an efficient cooperation with the public sector and the establishment of reliable networks.

The latest example of Jenny's intensive efforts is the Foundation Palmengarten and Botanical Garden. This will guarantee the long-term survival of both gardens, and will also allow to finance new projects through the foundation. Two projects are the “Merian” butterfly house and the „Mur végétal“ of the tropical botanist Patrick Blanc. Attempts are made to finance the longest plant mural in the World along the Miquelallee on the westside of the Palmengarten.

Attempts are made to finance the longest plant mural in the World along the Miquelallee on the westside of the Palmengarten. „Papageno“ has become successfully established since 2003. Playgrounds have been upgraded to current security standards with the help of sponsors. Since early in 2011 there is even a water playground for young children. The new project „Children in the Garden“ was able to move into Haus Leonhardsbrunn in 2009, a project in conjunction with Franikfurt's Childcare Centers. The first three years of operations are secured through these participating institutions and sponsors. At the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the city partnership, the City of Lyon (France) donated the art illumination 2010 at the Octagon fountain to the Palmengarten of Frankfurt in 2010. Kiosk and dining facilities at the Palmengarten now include the children's kiosk, the Caféhaus Siesmayer with it’s open patio, and the distinguished Villa Leonhardi.

The utmost challenge in the dynamic system of a botanical garden is permanent maintenance, periodic restoration, as well as adding innovative facilities where possible. The new Rose Garden, built in 2007, was largely financed by donations. The current reconstruction of the “Gesellschaftshaus” according to blueprints by David Chipperfield is the most prestigious undertaking since Gustav Schoser. The restored building’s exterior will greatly retain the historic design, while the west facade will take on a new appearance. The Main Hall, with its historic, ornamental stucco work and skylight dome, has been entirely refurbished. New banquet and business lounges are added, all staircases and technical installations renewed and improved. The grand opening is scheduled for 2012.

Regular events include plant exhibits, lectures, presentations, and slide shows, festivities and concerts, and our events program has been continuously extended within the past years. Exhibits on cultural-historic and botanical themes take place once or twice per year, recently China’s World of Plants, Dye Plants, and Plant Oils. Art exhibits, lectures, book presentations and adventure tours are a part of our regular program. Besides jazz and classical music we now also have “World Music” and “Blues im Palmengarten”. The Palmengarten now offers a broad array of educational programs and entertainment along with the opportunity of enjoying a unique botanical collection in a metropolitan oasis.

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