As recently as the 1960s, the old U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt was a completely open building. People used to walk in just to get a drink of water, since the consulate had an American-style electrically-cooled drinking fountain, which was otherwise unknown in Germany. People with cars could simply drive into the parking lot and park next to the building. There was a sign saying they shouldn’t park backwards because the exhaust fumes were getting into people’s offices.
With the Vietnam war came the need for increased security. First they built a tall metal fence, then installed a guard house, then a second guard house at the corner to make sure no suspicious people got through to the first guard house. Finally the entire street (Siesmeyerstraße) was blocked off for three blocks, with barbed wire, tank traps and permanent police presence.
As I wrote in 2004: “Of course there is no denying that security is a necessity. I know some nice people who work in there, and wouldn’t want them to get blown up since they are certainly not responsible for the things the American government does to incur the wrath of the rest of the world. In fact, I wouldn’t want to get blown up myself when I go there every ten years to get a new passport.”
Later that same year I wrote: “The people who do security checks of course have to keep their guard up, and it is doubtless better to have them err on the side of caution than the other way around. On my last visit it was my bicycle helmet that stymied them. They acted as though they had never seen such a thing before and put it through the machine three times before calling their supervisor, who made a swift executive decision on the matter. Fortunately the really important things like voter registration can be taken care of on the phone or by mail.”
In 2006 the consulate moved to a much larger building, or complex of buildings, on the Gießener Straße. This complex dates from 1941, when it was built by the German air force for use as a hospital. When the American army occupied Frankfurt at the end of the Second World War in 1945, it found that the hospital and its equipment had not been damaged in the war, so the army’s 97th General Hospital could move right in and begin operations.
The complex remained in use as an American Army hospital until the end of the 20th century, when all American military installations in Frankfurt were disbanded or moved elsewhere. The buildings were then renovated and remodeled for use as the largest American consulate worldwide. The entire site was fenced in with a double row of tall fences, in such a way that anyone managing to scale the outer fence would only be in the parking lot, and would have to get over another equally tall fence to reach the consulate itself.
Although the consulate has been here since 2006, I have never been inside, since now even passport renewals can be done by mail.
When I rode past the consulate in July 2020, I was surprised to see that several dozen people were waiting in the line for visa applications. Why anyone would want to go to the United States, of all places, in the middle of a pandemic, is something of a mystery, but I suppose they have their reasons. In my former role as a radio reporter I would have gone over and asked them, but now that I have shed that role I decided it was none of my business.
In the other line, for U.S. citizens, only two people were waiting.
My photos in this post are from 2004 and 2020. I revised the text in 2020.
See also: The I.G. Farben building in Frankfurt.