Frankfurt’s old Amerika Haus has changed languages and is now the home of the Instituto Cervantes, which is the official cultural institution of the Spanish government and is intended “to promote and teach Spanish and to spread the culture of Spain and Spanish-speaking countries.”
I once tried to attend a concert at the Instituto Cervantes (with soprano Juanita Lascarro and guitarist Heike Matthiesen), but it was sold out so I learned my lesson and will book well in advance in the future.
The old Amerika Haus was founded right after the Second World War in 1945, and moved into this building at Staufenstraße 1 in 1957. It was basically a public library such as might be found in any small town in America, with a typical selection of American books shelved in accordance with the Dewey Decimal System. But they also had an auditorium where visiting American writers, scholars and folk-singers used to appear, and for decades they had a full-time staff member who advised German students on how to get into American universities.
As recently as the 1980s I used to come and borrow books here, and on several occasions I also brought my English classes for a tour of the library.
This was an immensely popular institution in Frankfurt for nearly a quarter century, but during the Vietnam War it gradually became a target for protest demonstrations. I was present at some of these, but usually disguised as a journalist. You young folks wouldn’t believe the huge reel-to-reel tape recorders we used to lug around in those days (see my Cutting-edge technology post for a photo), but I shouldn’t complain because my Uher saved me from getting a mighty bash on the head at one of the demonstrations. The club-wielding policeman noticed my tape recorder and microphone just in time, and decided I was a reporter, not a demonstrator. I did get soaked by the water cannon, though, and a friend of mine got badly clubbed on the head that day.
At some point they closed the Amerika Haus library, not only for security reasons but also because of budget cuts and a decline in public interest. The British Council also closed their library in Frankfurt years ago for similar reasons, and the once-profitable British Bookshop has long since gone out of business.
But the Instituto Cervantes still seems to be going strong, despite the limitations imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. For several months their Spanish courses and other events could only be held online, but they have now announced that in-person courses will gradually be resumed starting August 3, 2020 — with proper distancing and hygiene measures, of course.
My photos in this post are from 2004 and 2020. I revised the text in 2020.
See more posts on the city of Frankfurt am Main, Germany.