The I. G. Farben building — seen here from the top of the Main Tower in 2004 — is one of the few large buildings in Frankfurt that was not bombed during the Second World War. Legend has it that General Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the building spared so he could use it as his post-war headquarters.
It was built 1928-1931 for a huge German chemical trust called I.G. Farben. From the name, it sounds like a paint company, and if they had only stuck to making paint the world would perhaps be a better place, but they also made noxious chemicals including the poison gas that murdered millions at Auschwitz and elsewhere. The company was dishonorably disbanded after the war.
My first visit to this building was when it was the headquarters of the US Army’s V Corps. I was in my early twenties and had to report there for a medical examination to see if I was healthy enough to be drafted into the US Army. At this point I had been cycling around Europe for a year and a half, so I was nothing if not healthy. The examining doctor did his best to find some obscure ailment, but in the end shrugged and said: “I’m afraid you’ll do.”
(I can’t find a photo of myself from this period, but I can assure you that my appearance was decidedly non-military.)
In 1975 the Americans renamed the building, calling it the General Creighton W. Abrams Building after one of the losing generals of the Vietnam war — a name that never caught on locally.
After the American military pulled out of Frankfurt in 1995, ownership of the building reverted to the German government. They decided to rename it the Poelzig Building, after the architect who originally designed and built it, but that name didn’t catch on, either.
The building is now the centerpiece of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University’s new Westend Campus — the first real campus they have ever had in the North American sense of the word. After several years of indecision, they have gone back to calling it the I.G. Farben Building, since that’s what most people call it anyway. (They also sometimes refer to it simply as their Hauptgebäude = main building.)
A statue of a naked water nymph, entitled Am Wasser (at the water), has now been returned to its original position by a reflecting pool behind the I.G. Farben building. The statue was removed after the war, supposedly at the request of Mamie Eisenhower, the general’s wife, who considered it inappropriate for a military installation. It was on display in Frankfurt-Höchst for several decades, and returned to its original position after the Americans left.
My photos in this post are from 2004 and 2020. I revised the text in 2020.
See also: Body of Knowledge on the Westend Campus of the Goethe University.