Exhibit Review: Die Kaisermacher. Frankfurt am Main und die Goldene Bulle 1356–1806 (January 2007)

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"Die Kaisermacher. Frankfurt am Main und die Goldene Bulle 1356–1806." Combined exhibition of the Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Historisches Museum, Dommuseum and Museum Judengasse, Frankfurt, 30. September 2006--14. Januar 2007.

Reviewed for H-German by Susan R. Boettcher, Department of History, University of Texas at Austin

Four museums in one day? No way!

The trend for a single German city to sponsor a large exhibit spread out over a number of museums or cultural institutions seems to be well-established and growing, exploited this year not only in Frankfurt but in Paderborn and Halle as well. The advantages of this strategy as a way to draw tourists are clear: a single museum may not be worthy a long trip, but three or four can be, and visitors spend more time and money in the community. It also allows a number of institutions to raise their public profile simultaneously. Whether they should do so is the question: in every city there's at least one museum or historical site that probably shouldn't be viewed under direct lighting. While that was not the case here, all of the multi-museum exhibits I saw this year suggested that, despite serious efforts at coordination, results do vary. Newspapers reported that the four museums involved in "Der Kaisermacher" spent two years coordinating. [1] The result is four strongly contrasting exhibits of varied effectiveness, all of which are worth the visit for people interested in the history of the local encounter with the Holy Roman Emperor and the ways in which imperial events played out in a particular context. In order to limit a hopelessly unbounded theme, all of the exhibits focus very closely on Frankfurt without limiting the value of a visit for those with more general interests in the history of the Holy Roman Empire. The incredibly detailed presentation of the city's history will, however, make it difficult for the average viewer to put the objects in the context of the larger themes in Reichsgeschichte that have been so predominant in the scholarship of the last few years.

The exhibition is a cooperation between the Institut für Stadtgeschichte, the Historisches Museum, the Dommuseum, and the Jüdisches Museum - Museum Judengasse. The brochure makes no suggestions about which museum to visit first, so the course of my trip was naturally determined by the least meaningful factor: the proximity of the different museums to Frankfurt main station.

Institut für Stadtgeschichte: "Das Frankfurter Exemplar der 'Goldenen Bulle'"

Of all the museums, the first stop left me with the most mixed impression. First, some tourist grumbling: the entrance to the museum--indeed to each museum--was augmented with a large portal that left no doubt that I was in the right place, but entry proved difficult, beginning with staff unfamiliar with how to make my EC card work and my discovery that the audio guide only cost €2, but would require a e €10 deposit, which seemed excessive. I was going to get it back--as the staff kept telling me--but in several of the venues I encountered difficulties with not being able to change a €20 bill and in one case I had to surrender my driver's license. I repeatedly had the feeling that the museum staff were simply not prepared for the stream of visitors they encountered. Once equipped with admission ticket and audio guide, I listened to the introductory media presentation at the door--which explains the political circumstances that led to the creation of the Golden Bull--and entered the exhibit. I know from a decade of flipping through museum guest books that captioning is one of the most frequent visitor complaints. But in Frankfurt it was particularly bad, in almost every respect. The captions were often too small; for some reason the adhesive letters were not sticking to their surfaces, so that letters or parts of letters were often missing; and the English translations were so literal, down to reproducing the length of the German sentences, that they were always hard to read, even when there were no errors. While as an expert I loved the detail of many descriptions, I often had difficulties reading them--and given the sparse quantity of audioguide entries, it seems they could have been used more effectively in this regard.

On to historical critique: This portion of the exhibit was devoted to the Golden Bull itself, and the entire exhibit in this location was put into one large room divided with banks of cabinets and other furniture. The first two banks of cabinets with an opening in the middle introduced the viewer to the diplomacy that led up to it, relating to the difficult succession after Ludwig of Bavarian (1314-47) and the city's attempt to maintain parity between the anti-kings Günther von Schwarzburg and Karl IV. One of the diplomats involved was Siegfried von Marburg zum Paradies (d. 1386) whose activities in the city are illustrated in one of the banks with a series of Urkunde and his impressive holy cross reliquary. Another important object here is a seventeenth-century transcription of a record of the city's preparation of its own translation of the Bull into German--something that my own epic struggles with the Latin language made immensely sympathetic--but there are also no clear indications as to the relationship of this material to the central object of this museum's exhibit. The connection becomes a bit clearer in the left-hand bank, which provides information about the historical factors that influenced the selection of the electors.

One then walks between the banks and as a historian is immediately drawn into a strong professional conflict. The late medievalist Hartmut Boockmann was wont to remark that museum exhibits live from the objects, so replicas should not be displayed. But one is sorely tempted when one sees the Frankfurt exhibitors' choice of a replica: a computer animation of the Golden Bull, first on an accessible computer screen with a mouse, which is then projected in a huge surface on the adjoining wall, programmed with QuickTime, so the visitor can page in the  text with the mouse and view the results on the wall. This is spectacular, no doubt, and you can also buy it when you leave the exhibit, either singly or in a discount package with a limited edition reproduction of the Bull itself. [2] I got one, I had a lot of fun playing with it at home, and I'll no doubt use it as a visual element in a lecture (the CD includes a critical edition of the text in Latin, the original German translation of 1371, and a modern Hig h German translation). It was especially neat to get a close look at the seal. In the exhibit, the computer animation was surrounded with a series of signs with terms on them that related to medieval constitutionalism, probably intended for visiting school classes. But two problems nag here: first, despite the increased visibility of the text, I did not see anyone actually reading it. Is it that something about the stability of a manuscript demands attention, but a visual display allows us to relax our concentration? Second, animations are inherently more interesting than old books, and although the actual document was also exhibited--a truly precious object set off to the side under special lighting, the pages of which had to be turned every two weeks throughout the exhibit in order to preserve them--no one other than me was looking at it when I was there. The seal is gorgeous, although in the next wall of the exhibit, which treats the history and significance of the seals typically attached to medieval Urkunden, we learn that these items are not solid gold, but rather thin layers of gold impressed with the emperor's seal (which typically did not survive, as the seals were intentionally destroyed upon the sovereign's death) and then filled with wax or other materials and threaded together with a cord.

A final portion of the exhibit here was devoted to the afterlife of the Bull. Only seven copies survive, and keeping track of this copy, long assumed to be the "imperial" copy (in fact it was only the city of Frankfurt's version), created a number of problems over the years. It was exhibited to visitors at least as early as the seventeenth century, at least to those willing to pay to see it; when the French occupied the city in the 1790s it was transported to France "for safekeeping," though eventually returned. In 1938 the Oberbürgermeister gave a second, fifteenth-century translation of the bull to Adolf Hitler as a representative gift that has completely disappeared, but the first, fourteenth-century translation was displayed in the Römer, where it burned during the bombing of 1944 along with numerous other early city documents. Possessing a copy of the Bull--the most precious one possible--was seen as a symbol of prestige by medieval and early modern rulers, and, as the exhibition documents in impressive detail, the transfer of the text into the new medium of print in 1485 on the occasion of Maximilian I's election to the imperial throne was the first of many editions printed to legitimate particular rulers and elections. It became the object of legal commentaries and tourism, first among prominent members of European noble houses, then among more ordinary intellectuals and travel writers. Goethe saw it. And writers began to refer to it--the exhibitors offer a quasi-living room where visitors can sit down comfortably and listen to narrated excerpts from different commentators on head-phones. I liked this idea, but was too impatient to listen for more than a minute. I was worried that I had three more museums to visit, and the question was gnawing in the back of my mind: "what was the real significance of the Golden Bull?"

Luckily, the exhibitors did try to answer this question, though I stumbled over their attempt to do so rather accidentally. The Institut für Stadtgeschichte is housed in a former Carmelite cloister, and in the cloister courtyard a series of stations were set up around the margins of the garden where one could read rather lengthy statements about different phases in the process of constitution-building in German regions and Europe. I was the only person in the garden the entire time I was there, and no sign indicated that visitors should walk into it--I went there because I have a fondness for religious architecture and saw some murals on the walls. And I confess, although I wanted to know about the significance of the bull as a constitutional event, I didn't read any of the written descriptions at the stations. They were too long, it was chilly, I didn't want to go to the Garderobe to get my jacket just to read them, and I wondered why they couldn't find a way to make a computer animation of this material.

Historisches Museum: "Macht-Spiele: Das weltliche Zeremoniell"

The exhibition publicity and a number of the translations throughout emphasized that during an imperial election, the city of Frankfurt found itself in a "state of emergency," a translation of Ausnahmezustand that grated on me at first but became more convincing as the day wore on. I was there on the third weekend in Advent and the Weihnachtsmarkt took on an increasingly frightening quality as the day wore on. Luckily, I only had to knock over a few innocent children with well-placed elbow checks to get myself into the second museum in the exhibition, which was devoted to conditions in the city of Frankfurt during an imperial election. I had it a lot easier than the electors, whose travels to Frankfurt were covered in the first part of this exhibit: the Prince-Bishop of Trier was forced to bring his yacht, and although the Prince-Bishop of Mainz managed the trip overland, he succeeded only with the help of over 600 servants including 33 cooks, 7 pastry chefs and his own painter, paper-hanger, carpenter and furniture-maker. All of the parties who entered the city undergirded their social and political positions with lavish display. I used my audio-guide here to listen to some additional material: narrated descriptions from the texts of people who had witnessed the spectacle of an imperial, electoral or episcopal entry into the city. (In general I am a big fan of the audioguide as a way to pass additional information on to the visitor, although this technique was used to mixed results in this exhibition. Sometimes I found myself wishing for more information, sometimes eager to hear what the exhibitors thought I might want to know; and other times I clicked it off in frustration over the hopelessly general information). It's amazing what imperial archives and storage facilities will save, including a "Spanish livery" worn by imperial footmen in the eighteenth-century and even a great deal of original equipment for the horses. ("Ah," you say, "but they did not save the horses." Keep reading).

Visitors then proceed through a door that symbolically mimics the gate to the city, into the second part of the exhibit, a fascinating section in a long hallway on the logistical organization of the event, which included assigning local quarters to the various participants and their entourages according to rank and size of the party. Particularly successful hosts might come away with the largely symbolic title of Reichshofrat for their labors, but such titles could also be bought, as the father of Frankfurt's favorite son did in 1742. It wasn't easy to host, as the remainder of this well-organized hallway suggests: hangers-on came not only with clothing and bedding but also with all of their own cooking utensils and the necessary tableware, transported in special cases for this purpose. The events generated civic ordinances on food prices and fire safety; everyone tried to profit from prices driven high by the temporary doubling of the local population; and the guilds protested against attempts by the city council to keep prices down by allowing the importation of foreign food-stuffs. Museum enthusiasts will see nothing really surprising in this section and the mass of the materials comes from the eighteenth century, but this section attains a high level of the exhibitor's art by presenting the items in a narrative context. Here, these pots, pans, buckets, documents and lists become items used in a particular activity whose context is effectively described. Learning who used them and how brings the items to life.

Now the visitor steps through a break in the hallway into a much larger room--disorientation is the result; one doesn't know where to go. One sees a shadowed space with nine chairs, intended to simulate the negotiation room in the Römer, but first I withdrew into a niche concerning an election (1740-42) that was actually contested. The niche explains the controversy (and so does the catalog)[3], but it was too much information; I got much more involved in looking at the fashion statements made by the various electors: not just elaborate china services, goblets and portable rococo-style altars, but even personal wardrobes. Particularly intriguing here was an exchangeable ring set that would have done Britney Spears proud, used by the Elector of Mainz, as imperial chancellor a major player. Philip Karl Graf zu Eltz-Kampenich had two basic golden settings for his rings, but he also possessed 49 different precious stones he could pop in and out of them to coordinate with his clothing choice of the moment.

From this diversion, I turned again to the larger, confusing room. Numerous fascinating objects confront the viewer here and those who are interested in what exactly was chosen should consult the catalog. The makers were clearly trying to follow the process of an imperial election, with its different elements. If I had one complaint about this part, it is that exhibit makers combined objects from several different elections to try to simulate one. It's not that it's not a legitimate strategy--it certainly shows the huge variety of surviving objects to their best advantage--but it would have been easier to follow if one election had been followed all the way through, not least because the negotiations before the elections were so complicated. These occasions were used to make concrete political relationships and deals between the electors and their clients; additionally, numerous matters had to be clarified as conditions for the selection of a particular candidate. The disposition of these matters was recorded in relevant documentation, most importantly the Wahlkapitulation, which enumerated the items to which the candidate agreed. In particular, sticking to one election would have made the materials in the section on the "campaigns" less impenetrable.

But I admit that by this point I was experiencing the first signs of museum fatigue. Luckily the objects here really pepped me up: one can step under a portable  canopy used during the festival procession to the cathedral, for instance. Votes were cast ceremonially in the Wahlkapelle of the cathedral, whereupon the parties held a formal banquet in the Römer that emphasized the reproduction of the electoral hierarchy. Afterwards, they proceeded outside to the Römerberg, where the ritual acts prescribed in the Golden Bull were dutifully carried out. The secular electors were to bring oats, wine, roasted ox-flesh and water on horseback, which were ritually given to the new emperor, who in turn threw gold and silver coins into the crowd before putting the ritual gifts at the crowd's disposal as well. This was only one of many points where violence could break out, as crowd members struggled to put their hands on the gifts. The head of the roasted ox--roasted whole on a spit in its skin and stuffed with other animals, a sort of early modern turducken--was particularly desired. In 1742, in the course of a long-running rivalry, the journeymen of the butcher's guild succeeded in wresting the ox-head from the hands of their competitors of the Weinschröter guild. [4] The butcher journeymen kept it in their guild room, and then passed it on to the Historisches Museum, which kept it until today. The Fly-Lady would probably have a field day with the curators of the Historisches Museum: 27-Fling Boogie, anyone? My own museum intertextual moment: Ever since I saw the loaf of bread given to Ludwig II of Bavaria and now exhibited in Hohenschwangau, I've been doubtful that perishable food items should be exhibited in museums.

The male citizens of Frankfurt then swore their loyalty to the new emperor in the Römer and the entire crowd paid its homage at the Römerberg . Afterwards they held a variety of celebrations to celebrate their hard work; related objects take up a big portion of this section.  Local citizens illuminated their houses, a particular treat in an age before gas or electric street lights. This section would not have been complete without the requisite display of the Reichskleinodien--although the originals no longer are allowed to leave Vienna, so these are historic reproductions--and modern historiography demands a section on the empresses, which is housed in an alcove slightly away from the center of events, not least because few wives of emperors were actually crowned empress. It seems, frankly, that the major challenge of the contemporary German exhibit planner is what to leave out, and this "gender history" section seemed superfluous, although the display of the beautifully-crafted "discipline" or scourge of Empress Anna (1585-1618), is a shocking touch that effectively illustrates the role of private piety in the seventeenth century. To the extent that this entire second section of the exhibit worked, it was again because objects like a festive gown typical of that worn during the festivities were brought into context with their users; on the other hand, the sheer number of specific contexts viewers were asked to process was a bit wearing. The exhibitors had a neat idea that motivated me to look at everything in the room: each separate phase had an associated postcard that related it to a modern event. I found it hard to make the connections the exhibitors had in mind (such as associating the coronation procession with John F. Kennedy's parade through Berlin), but as a postcard freak I had to make sure I picked them all up!

The first two parts of the exhibit appeared to have received the most intensive staging. Section 3, on the imperial elections as media events, was equally interesting, but almost everything displayed in this large room was printed matter. The maxim, "Nichts ist älter als die Zeitung von gestern," really applied here, unfortunately. A few neat objects were presented, like a seventeenth-century pendant with the imperial eagle worn by official messengers of the period and a model of the eighteenth-century Thurn und Taxis palace. I am a newspaper addict, but more would have been required here, especially half-way through this long exhibit, to focus my attention on the process of newsgathering, reporting and dissemination during an imperial election. It needed (dare I say it?) computer animation. Most visitors seemed to walk right through this room. A final section of the exhibit dealt with Frankfurt's role in Germany after the end of the Holy Roman Empire, treating the renovation of the Kaisersaal, the city's role in the Nationalversammlung of 1848 and as the site of theFürstentag through 1863, and the city's struggle with its diminishing role as a national symbol after national unification in 1871. Key in all of these events was the re-imagination and artistic and symbolic re-appropriation of the medieval past. The exhibit ends with perfunctory reference to the destruction of the Römer in 1944 and the growth of the Paulskirche as a location for important cultural and political occasions. These last two sections were fine, but much less effort seemed to have been put into placing diverse and attention-getting objects into their most effective mise-en-scene.

Dommuseum: "Reiches Heil: Das geistliche Zeremoniell"

Upon exiting the Historisches Museum, I was reminded again of the Ausnahmezustand of the imperial lections. My encounter with the Weihnachtsmarkt was beginning to take on the status of a state of emergency--after five hours of museum visit, I needed a sit-down meal, fluids and a bathroom --not easy needs to fulfill in an ever-more bustling and at times aggressive crowd. The growing twilight and increasingly frantic holiday spirit made me feel like an extra in the movie "The Weihnachtsmarkt of Dr Caligari" and for this reason I decided to skip the Römer (the Combi-ticket for all four museums included free admission) as (a) it is a postwar reconstruction (b) I'd been there before and (c) the entryway revealed itself as filled with a special "art" Weihnachtsmarkt. So after Tafelspitz mit grüner Sosse and two fortifying glasses of Ebbelwoi I made myself numb to the charms of Reibekuchen even though Chanukkah had started on the previous evening, and gleefully knocked down a few more Glühweinsäuferand Schmalzgebäckfresser on my way toward the cathedral and the Dommuseum.

It was the high point of the exhibition for me, probably because this exhibit involved the least reading (good, because here the translator misunderstood the German text at least twice) and the most unmediated access to the objects. Additionally, in comparison to the Historisches Museum, the exhibit in the Dommuseum more successfully managed to combine a combination of the sense of the general process of crowning an emperor with the chronological span of the different coronations. The exhibit begins with a section on this cathedral's place in medieval society, beginning with grave gifts from a Merovingian grave in a previous church on the site and an Urkunde of Charles the Fat confirming Charlemagne's establishment of the Reichsstift. Until the coronation of Maximilian I, Frankfurt held the election while the coronation was held elsewhere, often in Rome or (as specified in the Golden Bull) Aachen; afterwards, imperial candidates continued to assure Aachen of its right to host the coronation although it never did so again. At this point, documents and stunning manuscripts are used to illustrate the steps in constituting the ritual, from the announcement of the election to the mass books used in conducting the liturgical investiture of the emperor. The viewer's attention is focused via the portrayal of a landmark individual, Latomus, who was responsible for encoding the ritual in the sixteenth century.

Just when one gets tired of looking at books, the eye is drawn to the first of a series of amazing liturgical garments, and then a group of chalices and reliquaries draw the eye. The Dommuseum's display space is cramped (and overheated), but the twisty path the exhibit follows means that one never sees too much at once, and yet is drawn  forward along the path. On my firs t visit, I had to stop at this point as the exhibit was getting ready to close and I still wanted to look at the Dom--so I ended up paying a second admission the next afternoon to finish up. But it was worth it, because exquisite items, one after another, illustrated the energy with which the spiritual electors cultivated their visual charisma and the attention paid to the details involved in the correct consummation of the ritual. The entire event took on an increasing resemblance to a papal election: the electors referred to themselves as assembling in a "conclave," and in a ritual that mimicked ordination, the newly-crowned emperor was given wine from the sacrament in a special cup called a "purification chalice." These twin themes are illustrated with an array of amazing liturgical accoutrements, including both jewel-encrusted mitres and amusing scraps that survive from the event, such as the written and sealed ticket granting admission to the event. The real treasures here are the different garments, which can absorb hours of the visitor's attention--down to the embroidered dalmatics for the ministrants. But what keeps the exhibit from being simply an overweening display of ecclesiastical eye-candy for textile fans was the constant integration of the objects in a narrative about their uses.

Unfortunately, this narrative breaks down at the end, for a stupid reason: the same spatial intimacy that keeps the viewer moving through the exhibit interferes destructively in the reproduction of the feeling of the coronation ritual. The last portion of the exhibit is intended to give the viewer an idea of the performance of the actual ritual: it involves a reconstruction of the coronation altar setup, a display of several of the special ornate chairs assigned to different participants, and music from the coronation of Leopold I playing in the room. [5] Great music--again, I bought the CD, but not because I was overwhelmed by the recreation. A video-installation with original film of the coronations of Elizabeth II of England and Karl IV of Hungary in the twentieth century attempts to offer the viewer a guide for visualizing the ritual, but the space prevents this intriguing attempt from being very successful. The necessary aura is too elusive.

Of course, this was room was meant as a prelude to a stroll through the cathedral itself--as the publicity brochure said, "Außerdem bezieht die Ausstellung historische Orte wie die Wahlkapelle im Dom inszenatorisch ein"--but this didn't work too well for me. Maybe I missed it, but the church was full of spectators (real life must go on, and earlier as I passed the Nikolaikirche I noticed someone was actually getting married there!) and the Wahlkapelle itself is a rather sober place these days. After someone approached and offered me a short explanation of what I was seeing in exchange for a small pourboire (is this what happens to historians on Hartz-IV?) I decided to leave the cathedral to the Christmas tourists and the people genuinely expecting to pray there, repeating my mantra in such situations sotto voce: "a cathedral is not a museum. A cathedral is not a..." Shortly after six o'clock I was headed to my hotel. I was so worn out from everything I had seen that I had to take a nap before dinner.

Museum Judengasse: "Kammerknechte: Die Frankfurter Juden und der Kaiser"

A visit to the final museum in the ensemble marked the beginning of the second day of my visit--this time I took public transportation from Frankfurt main station to a stop about two blocks away, and thankfully this exhibit was far enough away from the city center that there was no Weihnachtsmarkt for me to fight my way through anymore, either.

Apart from the exhibit, this is one of the most interesting museum constructions and exhibit spaces I have seen. An outpost of the city's main Jewish museum, [6] the Museum Judengasse is built on an excavation of a portion of Frankfurt's historic Jewish ghetto--controversial because after the destruction of the  nearby synagogue in 1938, the area had been covered with a number of different structures before the city began digging to set the footings for an administrative building in 1987 in an atmosphere that had already been charged with concern about the commemoration of the former use of this space. When initial digging brought an early modern mikvah to light, protests and citizen initiatives eventually led to preservation of parts of the archaeological discoveries. The museum was opened in 1992 and immediately did something very smart: its first special exhibit concerned the controversy itself. [7] Experts would probably place this reconstruction in the context of Vergangenheitsbewältigungand in the wake of the 1985 protests over the premiere of R.W. Fassbinder's "Die Stadt, der Müll, der Tod," but what an uninitiated visitor sees today upon entering the space is a large excavation surrounded by a balcony with numerous observation posts and extensive descriptions of the surviving spaces. Of all the exhibit spaces in Frankfurt, this one was the most suited to its display, insofar as the Frankfurt Jews were tied intimately to the proceedings around the imperial elections from the very beginning; indeed, the Institut für Stadtgeschichte's exhibit includes a document in which Karl IV pledged his rights to collect the Judensteuer to the city of Frankfurt in return for a significant emolument. Hence the placement of the cabinets throughout the excavation area was the perfect way to remind the viewer of the way in which the history of the ghetto was integrated into the history of both the city and its role in the imperial elections.

The entry way was decorated not only with the exhibition portal, but with a series of pillars with questions on them that could be used to orient oneself to what one was about to see and as a kind of evaluation of what one had learned afterward. A bit forced, perhaps, but I found it an effective strategy. After reading the catalog later, however, it became clear to me that I did not view the exhibition as planned; visitors are supposed to descend immediately into the excavation itself to look around, including climbing all the way down into one of twomikvaot eventually uncovered at the site. [8] Because I put my coat in a locker (another overheated exhibit), I ended up instead walking on a bridge across the entire exhibit and then sitting down to look over the balcony and reading the descriptions of the surviving pieces of the house carefully, which eventually led me to additional exhibits in a side hall about the fate of the nearby Börneplatz synagogue. Part of the excavation also has furniture, so that by relaxing for a moment in the space of the houses one can get a sense of how it might have been to live in such a space, and listening stations offer narrations of texts by people who actually did visit it. The actual plan of the exhibit takes one directly down into the excavation to a section on the novel Jewish homage to Karl VI in 1711/12, including a discussion of court Jews, and then to a portion on the illumination of the local synagogue in 1790 in honor of Leopold II, undertaken even as the Jews continued to be largely excluded from the festivities. Thus the exhibit as planned proceeds in precise reverse chronological order. The rationale for this choice was apparently that the museum entrance immediately confronts one with the excavation, and the rooms that are visible stem largely from the eighteenth century, but I was not the only one who was confused: I saw at least two entries in the guest book that suggested other guests had similar perceptions.

At any rate, I started my consumption of the exhibit at a large panel that recounted the many anti-Jewish statements made by early modern German notables, including three quotes from Martin Luther. After a decade I have realized that it's pointless to try to present a more differentiated picture of Martin Luther's sentiments about the Jews, [9] but the next time a German scholar tells me that Americans are either obsessed with the "Luther to Hitler" thesis or are following Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's arguments in Hitler's Willing Executioners(1996) too closely, I am going to remind him of this wall. One proceeds past this pillar to what is intended as part 3, dealing with the expulsion of the Jews in conne ction with the Fettmilch revolt of 1612 and the steps and negotiations with the emperor that allowed their return in 1616. Although this story was largely told with paper and books, the audioguide came in helpfully here with additional information, and this section of the exhibit, more than any of the others, made clear the level of negotiations involved between the city and the emperor when he decided to house "his" Jews somewhere or intervene on their behalf. The Jews thus became a moment of negotiation, or more often a bone of contention, in the urban-imperial relationship. I then proceeded with part 4, which was devoted to the Pfefferkorn affair, a narrative that in this case focused on the efforts of local Jews to regain their confiscated books. Unfortunately it became very hard to concentrate here, because a loudspeaker was repeating ad infinitum some statement of a party to the affair; I saw several visitors trying in vain to listen to their audioguides with this din in the background. Given that the exhibit in general was so effectively focused on Frankfurt affairs, the extension of the presentations into the Reformation with imprints from outside of Frankfurt that focused exclusively on the anti-Jewish moments of the Reformation was less than inspired--precisely what makes the history of Jewish-Christian relations in the Reformation interesting is that the story is not one of monotonous hostility, even if it was the predominating strand. Part 5 of the exhibit stepped back even further, with the establishment of the Frankfurt Ghetto (the first in German lands) under Friedrich III, and the last piece of the exhibit takes us back to where we began in the Institut für Stadtgeschichte: Karl IV's pawning of his rights to collect the Jewish taxes to the city of Frankfurt.

Somewhat puzzled to find the beginning of the story at the end of the exhibition, then, I finally returned to the excavations in order to see the first two parts. The first of these is Karl VI's insistence that Frankfurt's Jews swear fealty and do homage at his coronation, a request opposed by the city, which claimed the Jews as its subjects on the basis of the 1349 pawning of the Judensteuer, even though the Jews retained their special status as subjects of the emperor at the same time. Though Jews were typically forbidden to leave the ghetto during the coronation--a measure that was simultaneously protective and discriminatory--at Karl's election, the city's Jews were included in the legal requirements, if not necessarily given free run of the city. In response, Karl seems to have been honored by a number of different Jewish communities. Again, most of this material is illustrated with paper, although unusually interesting paper: entries in the memorial book of the Vienna community, which Karl re-established, and commemorative prayer leaves for Karl and his wife Elizabeth.

The homage of 1711/12 was to become standard practice, though the Frankfurt city council continued to present pro forma objections to it. By 1790 exclusion of the Jews was embarrassing, though it continued: special passes were printed or produced by hand  for court Jews. As in most situations where Jews were persecuted, they pursued a politics that stressed active support of those who favored them, and a number of eighteenth-century objects stress the special relationship that Jews felt to the emperors, in particular a chanukkiah with the monogram of Maria Theresia and Franz I and Torah-shield with the Habsburg crown. These are interesting and important pieces of evidence, but apparently not native to the Frankfurt community. Here again the exhibitors reach into their multi-media bag of tricks, and there is no other way to describe the result here except as staggering: a 3D computer reconstruction of the eighteenth-century synagogue as it looked during the illumination, based on contemporary historical sources and the results of archaeological excavations. Here, in a situation where the original material basis has been almost entirely destroyed, a replica is not merely the only alternative, it is a true addition to the exhibit, and this particular animation makes the viewer feel as if she is walking through the shul. Of course, I bought my own copy, of course solely for classroom use. [10] The exhibit ends with a few references to the emancipation of Frankfurt's Jews after 1806 in the wake of Napoleon.

This exhibit largely fulfilled or exceeded my expectations; the only theme I felt could have been pursued differently was the repeated reference to the Frankfurt Schandbild, a particularly aggressive execution of the Judensau imagery posted at the city gates, which visitors commented upon frequently, and which the local Jews repeatedly petitioned to have removed. It would have been nice to have a more linear treatment of this theme rather than seeing it repeated in different episodes. I suspect that the city's Jewish museum treats more themes like this related to everyday life in the Frankfurt ghetto, and I wish I had had time to visit it on this trip, not least because the impression left by this exhibit is one of constant negotiation and frequent conflict--precisely because the focus is on the triangle between the city, the emperor and the local Jews. In the end, how the visitor feels about the chronology issue probably depends somewhat on her previous knowledge of the material presented, and a great deal on the matter of which story one thinks should be told. Presumably what one sees last is the impression left in one's mind, and it would be harder to avoid a strongly triumphalist narrative in a strictly chronological presentation. Given that the existence of the museum at all is somewhat a testament to the opposite narrative, in that only 140 of Frankfurt's Jews survived the Holocaust in Frankfurt where as approximately 11,000 of them were deported and murdered, the viewer probably needs a reminder that the story in this exhibit ends around 1800 with the end of the Holy Roman Empire--and that an entirely new phase in local Jewish history and the relationship of local Jews to the authorities began at that point.


Despite the Weihnachtsmarkt and a few other wrinkles (despite asking at three different tourist offices, I couldn't find anyone who had any more information beyond a listing about the sites on the additional walking tour of the city that the exhibitors planned to introduce people to the remains of the urban landscape as it was used during an election) I thoroughly enjoyed my two days in Frankfurt, and I don't see how anyone who wanted to look at this panoply of themes and objects could do it in less time. The exhibitors may have overdone it slightly; given these parameters, the exhibition will be most appropriate for residents of Frankfurt or the immediate area--or visitors will have to decide between museums or spend the night in the city. The exhibit organizers have estimated 35,000 visitors as of the end of December, and this low number in comparison to the combined exhibition in Magdeburg and Berlin may reflect this problem. One suspects that most visitors will choose between museums, and that the exhibit in the Museum Judengasse is the one most likely to be skipped--which would be most unfortunate.

With a few exceptions, it is difficult to read "Die Kaisermacher" in light of current research on the Holy Roman Empire, which has focused primarily on its viability as a state model and its decision-making processes. The approach of looking at the empire from a local perspective is charming and serves as a good limiting perspective, but it requires a different sort of reconstruction--not all that different from the methods I use when trying to write an undergraduate lecture, focusing on creating an image with specific detail and often leaving the overarching themes for summary lectures or essay questions--that made me experience this exhibit more as local and urban than imperial, German or European history. One exception to this general impression was the extensive section in the Historisches Museum on communications, which is really at the height of current research trends on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but which does not really grab the visitor. If we consider the exhibition in light of the multiple exhibits staged in 2005 to deal with various anniversaries in the Reich, the local perspective almost seems appropriate. When observed from the perspective of a single city, even 200 years after its demise the Empire still appears just as it often did to its contemporaries--as an amalgamation of particular interests and conflicting legal claims that required constant negotiation and manipulation. To some extent, the strengths and weaknesses of this exhibit can be summarized as reflections of this circumstance. [11]


[1]. Exhibit website at http://www.kaisermacher.de/ [no longer active]

[2]. Michael Matthäus, ed., Die Goldene Bulle Kaiser Karls IV. Das Frankfurter Exemplar. CD-ROM ( Frankfurt: Institut für Stadtgeschichte, 2006).

[3]. Evelyn Brockhoff, ed., Die Kaisermacher. Frankfurt am Main und die Goldene Bulle, 1356-1806, 2 vols (Frankfurt am Main: Societätsverlag, 2006).

[4]. Weinschröter were responsible for moving wine barrels in and out of wine cellars and transferring wine to its different retailers. No, I didn't know this before I wrote this review. Thanks to the Weinschröter Oberdiebach e.V. for explaining this so well at their website.

[5]. Arno Paduch, conducting the Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble, "Coronatio solemnissima. Die Krönung Kaiser Leopolds I. (1658)," Audio-CD, Christophorus, 2006.

[6]. www.juedischesmuseum.de

[7]. Georg Heuberger, ed., Stationen des Vergessens. Der Börneplatz-Konflikt (Frankfurt am Main: Jüdisches Museum, 1992).

[8]. A clickable picture of part of the interior is available at the museum's website

[9]. The definitive recent statement on the theme is Thomas Kaufmann, "Luther and the Jews," in Stephen Burnett and Dean Bell, eds., Jews, Judaism and the Reformation in Early Modern Germany ( Leiden: Brill, 2006).

[10]. Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt am Main, ed., Die Frankfurter Synagoge von 1711. DVD-video (Frankfurt: Architectura Virtualis, 2006).

[11]. Images from the exhibition have been graciously provided by the exhibitors. © liegt bei den beteiligten Häusern. Veröffentlichung nur mit Genehmigung des Instituts und unter Wahrung des Urheberrechts.