The Frankfurt variety theatre whose auditorium looked like a traditional Rhineland village square.
On 3 June 1911 in the German city of Frankfurt, a new variety theatre called the Kristall-Palast opened its doors for the first time. The theatre, at Große Gallusstraße 12, in Frankfurt’s old city, was like no other.
The exterior of the theatre gave no indication of what lay inside. Built in 1746 by the Frankfurt architect Johann Andreas Liebhardt, it boasted an elegant Rococo façade and was originally built for the tobacco manufacturer Karl Behaghel. In time the house became known as the ‘Behaghel’sche Haus’.
Behind the façade of the Behaghel’sche Haus, the Kristall-Palast’s auditorium was designed to look like the traditional square of a Rhineland village. On three sides of the space were house façades, built to scale, complete with roofs, gables, turrets and balconies. A hot-air balloon and basket was suspended above the square. In one corner stood a tavern advertising apple wine (Apfelwein), a local speciality. During winter, the roofs of the houses were covered with thick layers of fake snow.
The theatre proved popular with audiences to begin, but struggled during the interwar years. Attempts at redesigning its interior into a dance hall, and widening its appeal with the inclusion of opera music and cinema films, could not prevent the establishment going bankrupt in 1926.
Although the theatre reopened in 1935, its history during the Nazi era is not entirely clear. Historical records indicate that during the Second World War, the address of Große Gallusstraße 12 was used as a forced labour camp for the Reichspost. Between 1940 and 1945, nearly five-hundred prisoners from Italy, Belgium, Slovakia, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic were interred here.
The Behaghel’sche Haus was damaged beyond repair during the Allied bombing raids towards the end of the Second World War. Today, Große Gallusstraße lies at the heart of Frankfurt’s financial district, and is dominated by modern skyscrapers.
Oliver M Piecha, Roaring Frankfurt (Frankfurt a.M.: Verlag Edition AV, 2005)
Hartwig Beseler, Niels Gutschow, Frauke Kretschmer, Kriegsschicksale deutscher Architektur: Süd (Neumünster: Wachholtz, 1988)
“Frankfurt am Main, Zwangsarbeiterlager, Reichspost”, Topographie des Nationalsozialismus in Hessen [https://www.lagis-hessen.de/en/subjects/idrec/sn/nstopo/id/1244, accessed 24/2/18]
“Stadtchronik”, Institut für Stadtgeschichte [http://www.stadtgeschichte-ffm.de/de/info-und-service/frankfurter-geschichte/stadtchronik, accessed 24/2/18]
“Grosse Gallusstrasse” Alt Frankfurt [http://www.altfrankfurt.com/neuestadt/GrGallusgasse/, accessed 24/2/18]