Westend Villa with rich history

The villa at Bockenheimer Landstrasse 102 was built over a century ago. Who designed it? Who lived there? And what traces did the bomb leave behind when it detonated in the villa’s garden during the Second World War? The fascinating century-long history of the house, its residents and the institutions that worked there.

Whether as visitors to inspiring literature house events, as guests at the legendary café or as participants in private events, many residents of Frankfurt and the surrounding area were familiar with Bockenheimer Landstrasse 102 and its status as a “literature house” venue for events. For many years, the building stood vacant, which meant that no cultural events were held. A great deal is being done to revive a cultural institution by establishing the “Villa 102”.

A contemporary witness explains

The building, which was originally constructed in 1912/13, was not always a cultural institution. It reflects not only the bourgeois epoch but also the influence of the wealthy Jewish inhabitants of the city. The Villa is just as inseparably linked to the deprivation of the rights, expulsion and murder of Jews during the Third Reich as it is to the themes of "aryanisation", inclusion in the Nazi’s future plans, the bombing during WWII and restitution. The building is also representative of Frankfurt’s period of occupation as well as the economic power and creativity that shaped the city. Built as a bourgeois residence, the villa eventually evolved into a centre for cultural and civic dialogue beyond the city’s borders. Video: Interview with witness Renate Boerner

The biography of a house

“Buildings also have life stories,” says author Marc Zirlewagen with a view to this eventful history. In the context of the “StadtteilHistoriker” project for city district history, one of these life stories has been included about the building at Bockenheimer Landstrasse 102 in a book compiled by the Polytechnic Foundation of Frankfurt am Main, a book which KfW Bankengruppe promoted. This building and its story represent the many magnificent buildings that have made an impression on Frankfurt’s cityscape and continue to today. “The book broaches the issues of the fascinating century-long history of the building, its residents and the institutions that worked there. The biography of this house reflects the building’s transformation from a stately villa to a significant cultural institution”, says Zirlewagen. Video: Bockenheimer Landstraße 102: From a bourgeois villa to a cultural institution


1912 – Construction work begins
Architect Alfred Engelhard designs the prestigious villa in the Westend district in a “modest neo-baroque” style.

1913 – The Hoffmanns, a married couple, move in
Retired Lieutenant Commander Anton Hoffmann (1872–1934) moves into the villa with his wife Ines (maiden name Meier). According to legend, the balcony on the side facing the street was intended to be reminiscent of a ship’s bridge.

1918 – Purchase by the Jewish Sondheimer family of industrialists
The Doctor of Philosophy Albert Sondheimer (1876–1942), shareholder in the beer company Sondheimer & Co., his wife Margarete and their four daughters Auguste Ellen, Erna, Anna and Eva move into the villa. Albert Sondheimer was considered a book aficionado and established a large Hebrew and international library in the house.

1932 – The Sondheimer family emigrates to The Hague
They continued their emigration to the USA from there in 1939. The villa was maintained by a caretaker.

1937 – “Aryanisation” of the villa by the city of Frankfurt
The city initially leases parts of the villa to private individuals.

1939 – The “Reichsarboretum e. V.” arboretum project association rents the villa
A research facility is created in the villa with a collection of books, plants, wood and photographs with regard to dendrology. The objective is to create a national park.

1944 – Heavy damage
The villa sustained heavy damage after a bomb detonated in the garden. Windows and parts of the interior walls were destroyed. The Imperial Arboretum equipment stored on the ground floor was entirely destroyed.

1945 – Confiscation by United States troops
The villa then serves as an office building for the British occupying power and is home to the “Office of British Administrative Officers”.

1950 – The villa is returned to Sondheimer’s daughters
However, by their own account, the daughters never want to return to Germany, so they sell the villa in 1952 to the purchasing association Ring-Schuh-Einkaufsvereinigung (today known under the name Ariston-Nord-West-Ring eG – ANWR GROUP eG). But they cannot use the building yet as the villa is still listed as “confiscated”.

1953 – The occupying powers release the villa
After years of using it for their own purposes, the Ring-Schuh-Einkaufsvereinigung leases the villa to the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency (today known as JWT) at the end of the 1960s.

1990 – The Literaturhaus, or literature house, moves in
The villa is leased to the city of Frankfurt. After a “construction programme” at the end of 1990, the literature house is opened on 9 January 1991. The intent is to make it the centre of literary discourse in Frankfurt.

1992 – Opening of the Literaturhaus Café
In September, Franz Zlunka moves in with his Literaturhaus Café. The literature house becomes an established institution. At the same time, the archive centre of the Frankfurt City & University Library finds a home in the villa.

2005 – The end of an era
Shortly after a plaque commemorating the Sondheimer family is unveiled, the literature house vacates the villa on 2 October. The institution moves to the Alte Stadtbibliothek municipal library at the “an der Schönen Aussicht” address.

2006 – Concepts to prevent vacancy
The literature house leaves a cultural gap when it moves out of the villa. The city tries to fill it. In January, the “DenkArt” association moves in. The first event takes place on 20 January with the title “Besser scheitern oder Die Suppe lügt” (English translation: “It is better to fail or the soup is lying”). In 2007/08, photography forum “Fotografie Forum International” also finds a home in the villa for a short time.

2009 – The Literaturhaus Café closes
After a number of failed attempts to revive the cultural institution, the Literaturhaus Café closes its doors on 31 May.

2012 – KfW Bankengruppe acquires Villa 102
On 27 March, KfW Bankengruppe purchase becomes effective after the Administrative Board’s decision. The keys are handed over on 18 April, and KfW takes ownership of the building. In August, KfW announces the purchase of the villa and introduces its plans for using the building as a cultural, event and training centre.

2014–2018 – The villa was refurbished in line with protection of historical monuments

2018 – Reopening

The building has been completely refurbished; the villa is again available for use as a dialogue platform and event venue.