Paul Wolff as the shaper of old Frankfurt

How Dr. Paul Wolff shaped our image of old Frankfurt am Main. From: Light and Shadow.

exile from Alsace-Lorraine old Germans from Alsace-Lorraine old Frankfurt new Frankfurt of the 1920s

Paul Wolff as the shaper of our image of old Frankfurt and co-builder of vital archives used in the construction of the “new Old Town”, which was officially unveiled in September 2018. Wolff also documented the building of the “New Frankfurt” of the 1920s.

Frankfurt am Main Germany

Dr. Paul Wolff & Tritschler. Light and Shadow – Photographs from 1920 to 1950. © 2019 Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg Berlin, authors, artists and photographers [and translator]. ISBN 978-3-86828-881-0

Published at Kehrer Verlag. Editor Hans-Michael Koetzle. Translator Alexandra Cox. The respective word count in the book is indicated for each essay (for reasons of concision, I omit the endnotes, but they are included in the word count).

From: Photographer of Old and New Frankfurt.

New Frankfurt of the 1920s
Paul Wolff between Convention and Avant-Garde.

by Sabine Hock. Translated from German by Alexandra Cox.

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Paul Wolff was the shaper of our image of old Frankfurt. The city archivist Wolfgang Klötzer (1925–2015) began commemorating Paul Wolff as Frankfurt’s photographer with exhibitions and book publications in the 1980s, and intensively from the date of Wolff’s 100th birthday in 1987. Since then, the latter’s visual views have continued to define imaginings and memories of Frankfurt’s Old Town, which was destroyed in the Second World War. Without Wolff’s photographs, it is likely that construction of the “new Old Town”, which was officially unveiled in September 2018, would have been almost impossible; this urban feature is not least due to the documentary character of the images that we have inherited from Wolff. On the other hand, Paul Wolff also photographed the “New Frankfurt” of the 1920s, thereby steering the gaze onto modernity in the Main river metropolis and making a lasting contribution toward establishing that all-encompassing urban design program. It is all the more astonishing, then, that Paul Wolff himself placed no particular value on his Frankfurt images within his oeuvre, and gives them only a passing mention in his autobiography. We shall scan the sources for clues in order to show what role the city of Frankfurt really played in the life and work of Paul Wolff during the time of the Weimar Republic.

(… …) Dr. Paul Wolff’s exile from Alsace-Lorraine and move to Frankfurt am Main: New Franfkurt of the 1920s

Career Prospects
Dr. Paul Wolff was a physician. He had completed his medical studies in Strasbourg and Munich and had just begun his time as a resident when he voluntarily reported for war duty soon after the outbreak of the First World War. Though he was deployed as a physician on the Front in France and Russia, he “performed only first aid” there, as he himself writes. Following his return to Strasbourg in 1918, Wolff was no longer able to continue practicing as a physician, on account of his German origin. Nevertheless, there is no reason to doubt his continued desire to work in his learned profession. Naturally, on registering in Frankfurt, he had his occupation entered as “Physician” in the residents’ registration index. By his own admission, the now 32-year-old was lacking the financial resources for opening a practice. exile from Alsace-Lorraine old Germans from Alsace-Lorraine
Evidently, though, Wolff believed that he could continue his consultant training, and Frankfurt appeared to offer ideal conditions for this. In his dissertation, with which he had been promoted to Doctor of Medicine in Strasbourg in 1914, he had submitted Experimental Contributions to the Etiology of Accidental Syphilis. A few years prior to that, at the “Georg-Speyer-Haus” chemotherapy institute in Frankfurt, Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915) and his team had developed the first effective medication for combating syphilis, and the institute continued to pursue research in this field after Ehrlich’s death. It is possible that Wolff hoped to gain employment here on the basis of his dissertation. It is even more likely that he was relying on direct personal relationships from Strasbourg, particularly as a network of exiled Alsace-Lorrainians was gradually forming in Frankfurt, with the young, local university “stepping in” for the venerable Strasbourg alma mater. Fond recollection of his early successes, which he had garnered with magazine articles on butterfly breeding for the Senckenbergische Naturforschende Gesellschaft, may also have fanned his hope.exile from Alsace-Lorraine old Germans from Alsace-Lorraine
In the end, however, as Wolff writes in autobiography, he had been solely offered “unpaid internships”, which, given his status as a father, he was not willing to accept: “I declined and went in search of employment.” The only thing remaining to him was the doctor title, which, even as a photographer, he doggedly bore like a trademark.

(… …)

The Wolff family had found themselves well situated at the widow’s home: “Frau Hochschild […] took us in at the request of my later friend, Dr. Fried Lübbecke, and offered to cater for us, free of charge, until such time as I had found work again. This noble, warm-hearted woman had two little rooms furnished for us, and the dumb-waiter bell rang out punctually from the kitchen every morning, noon, and evening. She showed touching kindness toward our little boy. I honor Frau Hochschild’s memory here in grateful recollection of her unparalleled readiness to assist.” It was still not definite whether Paul Wolff would be settling permanently in Frankfurt. During his “search for employment” after relinquishing the doctor’s profession, he journeyed “the length and breadth […] of Germany”. He had been occupied with photography in his spare time since his youth and had progressed autodidactically, and so now he was attempting to “find a buyer for his photographic knowledge”, as he writes: “I visited dozens of studios. I did not even manage to find a position as a laboratory assistant at a chemographic institute.” Finally, “in sheer desperation”, he returned to Frankfurt.

There, Wolff found a job at a “film company”, “the Frankfurt art film company ‘Ideal’ GmbH”, which had its head office on the fourth floor of the house at Kaiserstraße 41. According to Wolff, the company had been founded by a “group of discharged officers […] under the leadership of a somewhat dubious man.” The “Ideal” Film group comprised the actual film production company, a printing laboratory, a company for the lending and distribution of films (Film-Verleih- und Vertriebs-GmbH), and a movie theater company (Lichtspieltheater GmbH). Wolff started out as a “worker in the printing laboratory”. However, as he describes in his autobiography, he was soon wanting to “go higher” and become a “film operative”, that is, make movies himself. Courtesy of a recording device acquired with borrowed money, he rose to “head of the production department” of “Ideal” in 1921. It is likely that Paul Wolff made his first industrial film on behalf of the Griesheim-Elektron Chemical Factory (which, incidentally, had been collaborating since the war years in a consortium for increasing aluminum production with the Metallbank und Metallurgische Gesellschaft AG—once founded by Zachary Hochschild and still associated with his family): the instructional film Griesheim-Elektron und das autogene Schweißen und Schneiden, in 1922. Despite the satisfaction and appreciation of the client, which used this instructional film for so long and showed it so repeatedly that the perforation tore in all three ordered copies, the insolvency of the company “Ideal”—also due to inflation—was unstoppable. Wolff found himself unemployed again in around autumn 1922. exile from Alsace-Lorraine

Click on the poppy below to read how Dr. Paul Wolff came to make picture books on Old Frankfurt after meeting Fried Lübbecke; from:

Dr. Paul Wolff & Tritschler. Light and Shadow. Publisher Kehrer Verlag. Editor Hans-Michael Koetzle. Translator Alexandra Cox