Historical Fragments of the Klapperfeld Prison in Frankfurt/Main

The location, upon which the former police prison Klapperfeld was erected, has a long history of being a site of surveillance and exclusion. In 1492, a house was constructed at »Klapperfeld« to isolate the victims of the pest epidemic. In 1679 the building was turned into an orphanage, a pauper and workhouse. After the erection of the police prison in 1886 different phases of usage are recorded, the saddest highlight being the period during the national socialist regime. Throughout this period the building also served the Gestapo to detain and repress people from all walks of life, who did not fit into the worldview of the German National Socialist ideology. After 1945 Klapperfeld Prison was still used as custody. From the early 1980\\\’s on it was also utilized to detain people before their deportation. The prison was finally closed in 2002/2003.

Today Klapperfeld has been turned into an open and collectively run cultural and political centre and is used by the initiative ›Faites votre jeu!‹ who›s members have attended to research the historical and political past of the building.

Reviewing the history of the former police prison has become one of our central objectives and it was one of the main conditions for the prison›s use as an autonomous self-organizing centre. The chronology below forms part of our attempt to appropriately approach the prison\\\’s past.

Within the process of extension of the permanent exhibition in the basement about History and use during National Socialism (1886-1945), we have mounted a historical time bar along the walls of the ground floor corridor covering 12m length. The scale is an attempt to display the various historical epochs of this place. The chronology offers all visitors the possibility to inform themselves about the history of the location and the building and – especially at the core of the part of the building, which is now used as an self-organizing centre – it is a permanent reminder how long to former police prision Klapperfeld was a place of repression and oppression.

Thus the time bar offers an overview, laying no claim of being complete. Complementary to the permanent exhibitions we plan to enhance this time bar as further historical events are researched and added to the scope of the permanent exhibition. Since the opening of the exhibition »Out of here – Inscriptions of people in police custody and immigration detention in Klapperfeld prison – 1955–2002« on the 2nd floor of the Klapperfeld in January 2015, the timeline also contains all the panels in English.

1492: Erection of a House for Victims of the Black Death Plague

In 1492 a house to isolate victims of the Black Death plague was erected at the same location where the prison stands today. The actual construction of such buildings, marked a distinct change in the social and fundamental elements of the political order within the European communities and cities during this early capitalistic era. During the Middle Ages victims of plagues were banished and detained beyond the city walls. Now they were held in confinement and controlled within the city walls.

1679: Construction of an Orphanage, Pauper and Workhouse

The pest house erected in the 15th century was reconstructed and enlarged in 1679 to house orphans and paupers able to work. The establishment, run by a private foundation, financed itself by exploiting the labour power of the paupers and orphans. The workhouse was also soon used by the city administration bodies as a functional jail. The so called ›beggar reeves‹ (Bettelvögte) – the police of the time – seized people on the street, who did not appear to have a regular occupation, and carted them off to the workhouse where they were detained, threatened with violence and forced to work. The workhouse remained in effect through to the beginning of the 19th century.

19th Century: Erection Plans of First Prison at Klapperfeld

At the beginning of the 19th century the free city of Frankfurt planned the erection of a large prison on the premises at Klapperfeld. However, after the annexation of the city of Frankfurt by the Prussians and the new defined order of the city\\\’s legislative in 1866, also regarding the expansion of the city in general, these plans were not realized immediately.

1866: Frankfurt becomes Prussian

On the 16th of July 1866, during the Austro-Prussian War, Frankfurt was occupied by Prussian troupes without any military conflict. Although Frankfurt took sides with the Austrian position at the beginning of the armed conflict, the city did not partake in military activities and declared itself an ›open‹ city. This neutral stance did not find approval with Prussia. Frankfurt was therefore seen as an ›enemy‹ and placed under martial law, the consequences being that the city\\\’s legislative and governing bodies were placed under military command. On October 3 of the same year the official annexation was declared by the Prussian King and the Prussian constitution incorporated on the 1st of October 1987. Frankfurt was forced to introduce the Prussian municipal order within the governing bodies of the city. This included that a new police president was to be installed, who had the responsibility of establishing a new police force according to the Prussian tradition.

1886: Police Prison Erected at Klapperfeld

20 years after the annexation of the free city of Frankfurt by the Prussians and 15 years after the foundation of the German Reich, the construction of the Prison at Klapperfeld finally began. Prior to the final agreement for the location at Klapperfeld, extensive negotiations had taken place. Up to this date two other buildings, »Konstablerwache« and the »Clesernhof« in »Karpfengasse«, were being used as prison and police headquarters. These buildings however turned out to be too small for the newly constructed and continuously expending Frankfurter police forces. The construction of the prison at Klapperfeld was finally completed in 1886.

1914: Relocation of Police Headquarters

Since the erection of the police headquarters and prison at Klapperfeld, the competences of the police were continuously broadened and the police force itself substantially enlarged. In 1914 the police headquarter moved into a new and bigger building that had been erected to this end at »Hohenzollernplatz« (Today: »Platz der Republik«). The former headquarters at »Zeil« No. 60 was placed under the ownership of the higher regional court. The prison at Klapperfeld however continued to be used as a jail in conjunction with the newly erected prison facilities in the new headquarter.

1916: Police Custody Laws Intensified with regard to the First World War

The formalization and enforcement of the legal foundations upon which citizens could be arrested and taken into custody at Klapperfeld during Wilhelmine Germany were introduced in the ›Law Regarding Arrests and Limitations on Residency on Grounds of the State of War and Siege‹ (Gesetz betreffend die Verhaftung und Aufenthaltsbeschränkung auf Grund des Kriegszustandes und des Belagerungszustandes) from December 4, 1916. This Act regulated the imposition of the so called ›Preventive Detention‹ (Schutzhaft). During the war this law was implemented to violently end demonstrations and strikes. It remained in force throughout the Weimar Republic period. In 1919 it was the basis upon which separatists, Spartacists and communists were persecuted.

1933: NSDAP comes to Power

At the elections on the 31st of July 1932, the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party) received just over 37 % of the votes, making them the largest faction within the Reichstag (German Parliament). A large part of the German population had thus clearly withdrawn their commitment to parliamentary democracy.

The SA (Sturmabteilung / ›Storm Troops‹) immediately began fighting bloody conflicts with Social Democrats (SPD) and Communists (KPD). Parliament and street fighting became the order of the day. Resistance against the National Socialistic Party grew. Regardless thereto, Adolf Hitler was appointed ›Reich Chancellor‹ (Reichskanzler) at the behest of von Papen and Hindenburg on the 30th of January 1933. This sealed the end of the Weimar Republic. In March 1933 Hitler introduced the ›Enabling Act‹ (Ermächtigungsgesetz), which gave him almost full legislative powers. This law was also the basis for the following Gleichschaltung (system of totalitarian control and tight coordination of all areas of life under NS rule). The main target was to annihilate all manner of pluralism within the state and society to be replaced by organisations which were true to the National Socialist ideologies.

1937:  Law on ›Crime Prevention›

On the 14th of December 1937 the ›Reich Ministry of Internal Affairs‹ (Reichsministeriums des Inneren) introduced a new law regarding the ›prevention of crime‹ by the police force (Vorbeugende Verbrechensbekämpfung durch die Polizei). On the basis of this law the police could not only keep persons, who did not fit in with the National Socialist ideology, under constant surveillance but it also enabled the police forces to arrest them on the spot or to deport them immediately to the concentration camps.

1938: Novemberpogrome

The Novemberpogrome (also referred to as Kristallnacht) during the night from the 9th to the 10th of November 1938 were organized by the National Socialists and devoted civilian supporters in all of Germany. Jewish shops, homes and nearly all synagogues were ransacked and destroyed. Many Jews were tortured and mistreated. 91 People were murdered and approximately 30.000 arrested and deported to diverse concentration camps. Klapperfeld too served as a place of imprisonment.

In Frankfurt the synagogues at »Börnestrasse«, on »Börneplatz«, at »Friedberger Anlage« and in the district of Höchst were burnt to the ground. The »Westend« Synagogue was gutted out by fire and was left with only its exterior walls standing, whilst the interior of two other synagogues was completely destroyed.

1939: Merging of ›Security Police‹ (Sicherheitspolizei) and ›Security Service‹ (Sicherheitsdienst)

In 1939 the ›Security Police‹ and the ›Security Service‹ were integrated into the ›Reich Main Security Office‹ (Reichssicherheitshauptamt). Due to the merging of these two different police unites the activities of the Criminal Police were hardly distinguishable from those of the ›Secret Police‹ – Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei).

Each force investigated independently, acting only on instructions given by the ›Police Leaders‹ (Polizeiführung) and handing over to the state›s attorney only such cases, which the ›Police Leaders‹ had approved. This agreement also facilitated the ›work‹ of the Gestapo at Klapperfeld.

1940: The ›Jewish section‹ (Judenabteilung) at Klapperfeld

The top floor of the police prison was reserved and designated for Jewish detainees only. The conditions of detention were particularly miserable. This section was put completely under the control of the Gestapo.

The detained were held in a large room in separate cages, which offered only enough space to house one bunk-bed lengthwise and two in the breadth. The cages were locked with lattice doors, so that the opposite sheds could be overseen from the other side and vice versa. People often stayed here for many months, without any occupation nor being allowed to move around. Short yard walks were an exception. Light was scarce as the windows had been painted over in blue. Two detainees were locked into a cage when maximum capacity had been reached.

1942: Dramatic Escalation of Detention Conditions at Klapperfeld

In the years between 1942 and 1945 different sources indicate a particularly dramatic situation regarding the conditions of imprisonment in Klapperfeld. The prison itself was continuously overcrowded which amongst other reasons can be ascribed to the fact that prisoners from other towns were brought here before being deported elsewhere.

In a report from January 1944 a prison doctor describes the situation as being so dramatic that even his short visit felt like an impertinence to him. Finally he threatened to discontinue his duties there, if no immediate change were to take place.

It is reported that the cells were completely overfilled at this time. The buckets which were used instead of toilets reeked throughout the entire building, vermin had spread all over and many of the detainees were only dressed in rags.

1945: Liberation of Frankfurt am Main

The American troops liberated Frankfurt on the 29th of March 1945, incorporating the city into the American Zone. The city was put under the administration of the ›military government›. Klapperfeld prison was also taken under control and used to detain Nazis and people who had committed general criminal acts.

By April 1945 460 persons were imprisoned at Klapperfeld, 440 being political detainees. By May 1945 the number of prisoners had increased to 615, 533 men and 82 women. The number of political detainees then is not known up to date.

In September 1945, after the completion of the denazification process in various cities, the American military government decided to place the administration of the prisons on a self-governing basis. The detention officers were armed and they received uniforms.

As of 1945: Use of Klapperfeld prison as Juvenile Detention Centre

After Klapperfeld was given back to the German self-governing administrative authority, the complex was also used to detain juvenile runaways (entwichener Fürsorgezöglinge), between the ages of 14 and 18.

Working in close cooperation, the police and the department of ›Homeless Youths‹ (Abteilung Heimatlose Jugend) of the ›Frankfurter Youth Welfare Office‹ (Jugendamt), arrested every male runaway, to be held in custody at Klapperfeld. Female delinquents were only detained when proven to show ›refractory‹ (renitent) behaviour. The ›Youth Welfare Office‹ proclaimed that juveniles were only detained for a maximum of three days, but records prove otherwise. Documents from the ›Frankfurter Youth Welfare Office‹ confirm e.g., in the case of Udo Manfred S., born 26 April 1934, that he was held in custody from March 30, 1950 through to May 15, 1950. The last recorded document confirming detention of children and youths is dated 1961.

1960: Extensive Arrests at Demonstrations

Already from the mid 1940\\\’s on, people were arrested and held in custody at Klapperfeld during or after demonstrations. But over the years the police prison gained considerably more in importance for the repressive apparatus of the German state.

During student demonstrations in the 1960/1970\\\’s hundreds of people were detained at Klapperfeld. This police strategy was also maintained in the following decades, one example being the protests and demonstrations taking place against the construction of the west runway at the Frankfurter Airport (Startbahn West Proteste).

1980: Custody Pending Deportation at Klapperfeld

From the 1980\\\’s on the Klapperfeld prison was partially turned into a detention centre, holding refugees and migrants in custody pending their deportation. The illegalized migrants were not detained for mere hours or a few days, but for considerably longer periods. They were forced to fret away their days in small dark cells. For the migrants and refugees the expulsion usually represents a pathway to poverty, persecution, torture, war or even death.

1985: Protests Regarding the Death of Günter Sare

The death of Günter Sare, who had been run-over by a water cannon during protests against a Neo-Nazi event (here: from the right wing party NPD) in »Gallus«, Frankfurt, on the 28th of September 1985, led to a series of demonstrations. During these protests many hundreds of demonstrators were arrested and kept in custody at Klapperfeld.

One day the police lost control of the many detained, and a group of detainees on the 2nd floor managed to dismantle mounted benches off the walls and knock a hole into an exterior wall with these. Using water cannons, the police, bombarded the outside wall with water and tear gas. Many of the detainees were injured, got sick and suffered from extreme skin irritations.

1993: Maltreatments after Demonstration for Nazi Victims in Solingen

On May 29, 1993, a spontaneous demonstration took place in Frankfurt in memory of the five members of the Turkish family, who had died in an arson attack by Nazis in Solingen the same day. 63 demonstrators were arrested, maltreated and offended, already as the arrests were taking place.

Concordantly the detainees reported that even handcuffed people were brutally beaten by the police while being forced to enter the police vans. Arriving at Klapperfeld, the detained were examined in degrading ways, having to undergo anal and genital examinations, whilst some women are reported to have been naked during the interrogation. The detained were continuously beaten, kicked, strangled, ridiculed and offended. According to the reports of the detainees the migrants amongst them had to suffer particularly from this ›special treatment‹ by the German police.

2001: Arrest of Protesters against a Nazi March

The last extensive arrests in the Klapperfeld prison took place on the 1st of May 2001, when thousands of demonstrators prevented successfully a Nazi March in Frankfurt. On that day 110 Nazi opponents were arrested with the majority being held in custody at Klapperfeld.

2001: Closure of the Police Prison Klapperfeld after more then 115 Years

The first serious discussion regarding the closure of the prison complex Klapperfeld already took place in the late 1950\\\’s, because it had been recognised even from the official side that the institution by no means filled the minimum of standards. At last a report filed by the ›European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment‹ (CPT) in December 2000 criticized the conditions of detention.

Even so, the institution was only finally ›officially‹ closed after the finalisation of the construction of the new police headquarters at »Adickes Allee« in November 2001.

2002: Closure

With the erection of the new facilities at »Adickes Allee«, the official side declared that Klapperfeld had become redundant. The many cells graffiti from inmates that are dated 2002 show that Klapperfeld was intensively used until its closure. The Klapperfeld prison itself visibly proves the miserable and unhygienic conditions which prevailed right through to its definitive closure,  all the more so in the light of the fact that all forms of confinement and detainment remain a degrading and inhumane treatment of people.

2009: ›Faites votre jeu!‹ moves into Klapperfeld

In August 2008 members of the initiative ›Faites votre jeu!‹ occupied a former youth centre at »Varrentrappstrasse« in Bockenheim/ Frankfurt. At the beginning of 2009, the City of Frankfurt threatened to evict the initiative from the building. After extensive negotiations with the City\\\’s authorities an alternative building was proposed to the activists: the former police prison located in the Klapperfeldstrasse No 5. The initiative\\\’s members agreed that a historical and political reflection would be a necessary condition for the use of the building. So, prior to the conclusion of the negotiations with the City, the research for historical documentation and records of Klapperfeld already began. At the end of April 2009 the initiative ›Faites votre jeu!‹ moved into the building, renovations and refurbishment began. The first event addressing the general public took place in July 2009. That day the historical research team, AK History, presented its first and preliminary results.

2009: Presentation of the Permanent Exhibition

In August 2009 the first section of the permanent exhibition was presented to the general public, enjoying much press coverage.

Over the following 12 months, Klapperfeld has become an important centre for many people. The centre is used for critical, political, cultural and art projects. The programme is diverse and has also gained attention amongst the older generations. Based on its self-organizing and collectively run non-commercial structures, events with contemporary witnesses of Klapperfeld, informative discussions and public debates, as well as exhibitions, theatre, public readings, bar evenings and concerts regularly take place at the former police prison.

2010: Scope of Permanent Exhibition Extended

In September 2010, the scope of the exhibition has been extended, still focusing on the role of the police prison under the national socialist regime. The extended exhibition now also includes documentation on the erection of the building during the 19th century, the function of the facility during the Weimar Republic as well as the usage of the institution by the US-Army during the denazification period.

At the same time the Klapperfeld had the opportunity to host a travelling exhibition on the women›s concentration camps »Ravensbrück«, »Moringen« and »Lichtenburg« (conceptualised by: »Studienkreis Deutscher Widerstand«/ »Lagergemeinschaft Ravensbrück«). These concentration camps were also the destination of detained women at Klapperfeld.

2015: Out of here – Inscriptions of People in Immigration Detention

Meanwhile, »Faites votre jeu!« has been at Klapperfeld for six years and the autonomous centre is still used in various ways. The reflection on the history of the prison is continuing, and in January 2015, the exhibition »Out of here – Inscriptions of people in police custody and immigration detention in Klapperfeld prison 1955–2002« was opened.

Since then, the second floor is open to the public on a regular basis. There are 16 single cells and 2 group cells where people, most of them facing deportation, were detained during the last decades until the prison was finally closed in 2002. Inscriptions in more then 30 languages can be discovered on doors, walls, tables and chairs, left by people who were detained here. For visitors‘ orientation there are booklets containing over 1,000 inscriptions that were translated and documented by numerous volunteers since early 2013. An audio installation aims to provide, yet another, acoustic approach to the inscriptions, and one exhibition room is dedicated to present background information on immigration detention at Klapperfeld and in general.


In February 2009, after long and weary debates, the initiative »Faites votre jeu!« finally decided to accept the former police prison »Klapperfeld« as a substitute for the squatted former youth centre at Bockenheim (Frankfurt). When this decision was taken it had already become evident that the building could only be used if simultaneously there would be a critical engagement with the prison’s history of over 115 years.

In order to meet with this requirement, a historical research team – AK History – was founded by some members of the initiative even before we moved into the building. We are continuously working to reconstruct the various eras of the former prison’s past.

Main topic of the exhibition in the basement is the history of the former police prison Klapperfeld and it’s usage during National Socialism – 1886-1945.

On the 2nd floor there is the exhibition »Out of here – Inscriptions of people in police custody and immigration detention in Klapperfeld prison – 1955–2002«.

Opening hours and guided tours

The permanent exhibitions of the Klapperfeld prison are open every Saturday from 3 to 6 pm. Additionally one of the exhibitions can be visited during every public event held in the prison.

Every 1st Saturday of the month at 5 pm we also offer a public tour.

Groups, school classes etc. who wish to visit the exhibition outside of regular opening hours are invited to contact us in order to make an appointment for a guided tour. Please, call us or write an e-mail.

Further information

You may find some general information regarding the history of the former police prison Klapperfeld especially during National Socialism and about Klapperfeld as immigration detention/custody pending deportation here: www.klapperfeld.de/en