The Hammering Man is a 21-meter metal statue by the American sculptor Jonathan Borofsky, located in front of the city entrance to the Frankfurt Trade Fair.
When the statue was commissioned in 1990 it was intended as a symbol of Frankfurt’s industrious economy. But at some point in the early 21st century — during a slight recession, as it happened — the Hammering Man stopped hammering. His motor was broken, and remained broken for several months because nobody could agree on who was responsible for fixing it. At the time, this was widely regarded as a symbol of the city’s faltering economy.
But then somebody gave in and fixed the motor, so the Hammering Man started hammering again, just as the economy started to recover.
Jonathan Borofsky has made numerous indoor and outdoor Hammering Men since 1979. He says his original concept was to have “many Hammering Men, all hammering at different locations around the world — all at the same time.”
The one in Frankfurt was the world’s largest for over a decade, but then a larger one was put up in Seoul, South Korea. There are other outdoor Hammering Men in Los Angeles, Dallas, Basel, Seattle and many other places.
Borofsky says the Hammering Man “is a symbol for the worker in all of us.” The motorized arm “continuously swings its hammer back and forth — from the mind to the hand and back again. We all use our minds and our hands to create our world.” And he adds “between the mind and the hand, there is the heart.”
Not that I’m superstitious or anything, but I was just a slight bit relieved (just this much, no more) when I rode by in July 2020 and saw that the thirty-year-old Hammering Man was still stolidly hammering away, as though to reassure us that the economy would recover from the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic.
The only disconcerting thing is that he hammers very slowly, as though he were in some kind of slow-down strike, which in German would be a Bummelstreik (literally a dawdle-strike). Perhaps he’s trying to tell us not to be too impatient about that economic recovery.
My photos in this post are from 2004. 2012 and 2020. I revised the text in 2020.