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Bankrupt but not forgotten

Located in the North-Eastern part of Frankfurt am Main, the Günthersburgpark is one of the main spots for families and youngsters to spend a relaxed Sunday afternoon. Furthermore, it often is the setting for various sportive activities such as yoga, meditation and running. It has spacious lawns, fountains and even a spray park for the kids, making it a lovely place for young and old. Beautiful as it is, it comes to no surprise that the estate once belonged to the Rotschild family: Carl Mayer von Rothschild acquired the Günthersburg in 1837. In 1910 it was sold to the city of Frankfurt, under the condition that the house be teared down, and the estate be turned into a park.

The park is, however, named after a previous owner, whose rapid economic rise and decline serves appeal to one’s imagination: Johann Jakob Günther. Herr Günther had originally started out in life as an innkeeper and army supplier. However, next to these activities, he was also a speculator, with which he managed to make significant sums of money.[1] In 1680 he bought the Rothen Haus, an inn located on the prestigious Zeil (currently one of the most important shopping streets of Frankfurt) The 17.250 gulden he paid for it would later prove to be a bargain. In fact, business was so good for Günther, that in 1700 he acquired a large estate named the Glauburger Hof for the total sum of fl. 5700 (compared to the sum of fl. 300 in which the Glauburger Hof had been pledged in the Middle Ages).[2] He would name this the Günthersburg.

However, perhaps not quite unsurprisingly, Günther soon after suffered great losses due to unfortunate speculations, leaving him to die in 1722 with large debts. In order to satisfy his many creditors, his belongings were publicly sold, a complicated process that took several years. In 1728, the city council organized its first public auction of Günthers property: it proved difficult to find buyers. Two years later, in 1730, the city council organized another auction due the ‘lack of enthusiasts and buyers’.[3] The Günthersburg, which was sold together with its ‘buildings, ponds, estates on the Weinberg, gardens and lawns’, was stated to be 145 ‘morgens’ large and worth fl. 34.407. A ‘morgen’ was a measurement frequently used in Germany, used to describe a portion of land that could be tilled by one man behind and an ox in the morning hours of the day.

Seven years later, in 1737, another communication by the Frankfurt city council revealed that the Rothen Haus had not been sold yet, since another auction was organized.[4] Whereas the Günthersburg was not mentioned anymore and had apparently found a new owner, the Rothen Haus was still for sale. A valuation of fl. 44.581 was mentioned, which was over 2.5 times as much as what Günther had paid for the house himself. Perhaps due to this consistent, high valuation of the property, no buyers had been found yet.

The way that Günthers debts were handled post-mortem through the sale of his estate is interesting. The consistent valuation of the Rothen Haus at over two-and-a-half times the price that Günther paid for it himself, seems to have hurt the process. 15 years after Günthers death, the Rothen Haus still had not been sold. However, despite Günthers rapid downfall and the long-lasting problems he caused for his many creditors, his name is up until now attached to one of the most popular parks of Frankfurt am Main.

[1] Juliane Brandsch, and Roswitha Jacobsen, Friedrich I. von Sachsen-Gotha und Altenburg: Tagebücher 1667/1669 – 1677 (Weimar 1988) 508.

[2] Frank Blecken, Historische Parks in Frankfurt am Main – Günthersburgpark in: Tom Koenigs, Stadt-Parks – Urbane Natur in Frankfurt am Main (New York 1993) 89.

[3] Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Frankfurt am Main. Edikten: Ordinance from 26-07-1730.

[4] ISG Ffm. Edikten: Ordinance from 13-05-1737.

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