A Witch Hunter’s Guide to Frankfurt, Part 1

Imperial Free City of Frankfurt (am Main)

Free City of the Holy Roman Empire
27,500 (9-10k non-citizens, 3,000 jews)
Government: Oligarchy (Town Council)
Religion: Mixed (Catholic/Protestant w/suburban jewish ghetto)
Districts: Alstadt, Gallows Field, Neuestadt, Sachsenhausen.

The town council is composed of three benches.  The first two benches are occupied by lay judges and the “municipality”, composed of an elite, hereditary patrician class, the so-called town council families. These are significant burgher families who has asserted themselves politically over time.  The third bench was originally occupied by a number of influential guilds.  In 1614, these guilds were stripped of their powers.  The representatives of these guilds were charged with treason and publicly beheaded on the Rossmarkt (Horse Market) in 1616.  Their heads were placed on iron spikes next to the bridge tower and left their as a deterrent.

Whenever a councillor dies or resigns, the election of his or her successor is decided by the council itself.  The common citizen has no direct influence in these elections.

Frankfurt is unique among the Holy Roman Empire as being the only city controlled by an effective Matriarchy.  After the Thirty Years’ War, plague ravaged the city once more.  It claimed the lives of enough of the Town Council that the women of the council found themselves with a slim but effective majority.  Since then, they have leveraged their combined power to force out all but a few of the remaining men from their posts.  This has made it something of a curiosity among the nobility of the Empire.

As of 1548, Frankfurt has been a mixed Catholic/Protestant city, a situation endorsed by treaty and law.  It has become a safe haven for religious refugees, particularly Dutch Protestants fleeing oppression in Spanish-controlled Netherlands.  These refugees make up a fifth of the city’s population and are a considerable factor in its economy.

The Catholics of Frankfurt are part of the archbishopric of Mainz. Catholics are excluded from full citizenship and many not hold any government office.

Lutheran citizens and their siblings living within the city walls are part of a uniform Lutheran congregation, while those Lutherans living in neighboring villages in the countryside under city-state rule formed separate entities, administered by the city not by congregational bodies.  The city owns and maintains all Lutheran churches within its walls.

While accepted in the city as refugees, Reformed Protestants from France and the Low Countries were not allowed to legally profess their faith until 1601, when they were permitted to maintain a chapel outside the city walls for their services (but only on the condition that the city council could veto their pastors).  That chapel was burnt to the ground two years later under mysterious circumstances.  Thereafter, Reformers could only attend services abroad in neighboring Bockenheim, in the County of Hanau.

Today, after the Edict of Fontainebleau exiled tens of thousands of Huguenots from France, the city only allows them a brief stay permit before moving on to other states than welcome their immigration.

Jewish residents are excluded from citizenship and many not hold any government office.  They are subject to numerous restrictions within the city, revocable staying permits, and higher rates of taxation than other citizens.


Alstadt (Old Town): Located on the northern Main river bank, it is completely surrounded by the Innenstadt district.  On the opposite side of the Main is the district of Sachsenhausen.  The Alstadt is the preferential quarter of the city and home to many of the wealthiest and influential citizens.

  • Römer: Located in the Rômerberg, this building serves as the city hall and seat of the regional government.  It lies across the plaza from the St. Nicholas Church.
  • Römerberg Plaza: The main public square of Frankfurt hosts all manner of festivities, importantly those celebrating the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperors.  Large trade fairs draw visitors and merchants from as far as Italy and France.  At the center of the square is the “Fountain of Justice”, where a statue of the goddess, Justitia, holds her scales of justice out towards the Römer.  She is uncharacteristically lacking a blindfold.
  • Rententurm (Customs Tower): The seat of the harbor paymaster, where duties are collected for entering the city’s most important port, the Main Quay.  It is guarded by the Fahrtor, a gate vital to the city’s defenses which closes the Röemerberg off from the Main.
  • The Main Quay: The city’s principal port.
  • The Old Bridge: Links the city proper with the Sachsenhausen on the southern bank of the Main.  Ravaged by age, weather, and floods, the original, ancient bridge was rebuilt at the end of the 14th century and is today considered a feature landmark of the city.  The bridge has two towers at each end and a chapel on the Sachsenhausen side.
  • Neue Kraeme (New Market): the marketplace, heavily trafficked during fair times.  All manners of goods can be found here.  It is lined with boarding houses that house the heavy influx of visiting merchants during these fairs.
  • St. Bartholomew Cathedral: The city’s largest Roman Catholic church.
  • Old Nikolai Church: Dating back to the 13th century, this early gothic church welcomes its congregation with the harmonic tolling of its 47 bells.
  • Carmelite Monastery: A Gothic monastery built in the 13th century. Renowned for its interior wall murals,  painted by Jerg Ratgeb from 1514 to 1517.  They depict the history of the order and the Saints and are the largest wall paintings known to the north of the Alps from that period.  The grounds contain a church, cloisters, dormitories, function buildings and a graveyard.
  • St. Catherine’s Church: The largest Lutheran church in Frankfurt am Main, it is dedicated to the martyred early Christian saint, Catherine of Alexandria.
  • Church of Our Lady: This splendid Gothic church serves as a cloister and a meeting centre of the city’s Catholics.
  • Judengasse (Jews’ Alley): Established over a century ago outside the city walls, the Judengasse is home to some 3,000 jews.  By law, all Jewish citizens must reside here and are required to retire here at nightfall.
    • Altschul:  located on the east side of the Judengasse, the synagogue is the social center of Jews’ Alley.  Here, community leaders are selected and community laws and justice meted out.
    • Jewish Cemetery:  The city’s jews are buried here. The oldest graves in this large cemetery date back to 1270.
  • St. Leonhard’s Church: Located near the Main riverbank, this church was built in the early thirteenth century in honor of St. Leonard and hosts a Catholic congregation.  The interior is decorated with several retables, sculptures and paintings, including the Mary Altar, created by Antwerp masters at the end of the fifteenth century.
  • Church of the Magi: This Lutheran parish lies along the Main.

Gallows Field:  The expanse west of the city walls, this rests in the shadow of four watch towers.

Neustadt (New Town): The city walls were expanded to accommodate this new district in the 14th century.  This “New Town” stretches north and east around the Alstadt district.  It is naturally bordered by the Main.  Originally devoted to gardens and agriculture, there are still numerous undeveloped areas and many gardens.  It is home mainly to immigrants and refugees.

Sachsenhausen: Located on the southern bank of the Main River, this district was founded as the city’s bridgehead in the 12th century.  It is linked to the city proper by the “Old Bridge.” The main boulevard is lined with inns, taverns and cider houses.  A sizable portion of this district is set aside for tanneries and slaughterhouses.

St. Justin’s Church: West of Frankfurt, this church stands at the east of the old part of the town Höchst, looking over the Main river.  Dating back to the 9th century, the church is a monastery for the Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony.


Trade fairs are an essential part of life in Frankfurt. With its imperial privileges, the city has become known a bustling market for goods of the world. Unfortunately, the Thirty Years’ War has taken a toll on Frankfurt’s commerce.  And while these trade fairs are still held by the city, they are a pale shadow of their former grandeur.  Today the city competes ferociously with the city of Leipzig for trade.  This rivalry even threatens Frankfurt’s prestigious book fair.

Frankfurt hosts three major annual trade fairs:

  • The Autumn Fair dates back to the 11th Century.  It’s endorsement by Emperor Frederick II in 1240 made it the first recognized trade fair in the world.
  • The Spring Fair received its privilege from Emperor Louis IV in 1330.
  • Frankfurt Book Fair: Frankfurt is the birthplace of movable type and the century of book printing in Europe.  It’s October book fair the largest of its kind.

Shrovetide Karneval: A celebration that marks the beginning of Lent, it is marked by many parades, processions and revelers from all walks of life.  Masquerades and private balls are commonplace as well.  During the night time hours, citizens are not permitted to walk the streets masked.

Thanks in part to the wide Main river, Frankfurt is blessed with mild weather.  Summers are hot and sunny, if humid with seasonal periods of rainfall.  Winters are similarly mild, with light snowfall common in January.  The cold wind blowing off the river gives definite chill to the air.

Main (River): This river flows deep into the states of the Holy Roman Empire, beginning near the city of Kulmbach.  It is navigable from the city of Bamberg all the way to its mouth on the Rhine, at Mainz.  West of Frankfurt, it is joined by the Nidder.  It is widely traveled with all manner of boats and barges, moving trade up and down the river.  Narrow on many of the upper reaches, navigation with larger vessels and push convoys demands a skilled navigator.

Odenwald (Forest): South of the Main, the Odenwald stretches out into the central uplands.  These thinly settled woods are widely believed to be the primordial hunting grounds of some powerful entity, perhaps even Wotan (Odin of Norse mythology) himself.  Folklore says that when Charlemagne came to these parts, he struck a bargain with this entity for the right to rule.  Regardless of the truth, the people of this region give the woods (and those dwelling within it) a healthy amount of respect.

  • Fauna: beavers, boar, deer (fallow and red), foxes, lynxes, martens, otters, and wolves

Taunus (Mountains): Older than the alps, this rolling expanse of low, smooth rounded peaks, covered in forest, lies north of the city walls.  The stone here has a slight greenish hue.  Isolated ruins dating back to Roman times still dot the landscape. Some believe the natural hot springs that bubble up from below these mountains have healing properties.  Others suspect something much more sinister.

  • Bad Schwalbach: Approx. 40 miles from Frankfurt, this small village hosts visiting aristocrats and those desperate to immerse themselves in its fabled healing waters.  A few enterprising merchants have begun selling the stuff by bucket or barrel in the markets of Frankfurt.
  • Grosser Feldberg: Approx. 15 miles from Frankfurt, the highest mountain in the Taunus, rising 2,880 feet above sea level.  The summit is devoid of forestation.

The following Orders of Solomon are active in Frankfurt.

Crusaders Inviolate (Chaperhouse)
Evert Meinhardt (Abbott)
Since the French recalled their forces to Strasbourg in the summer, the Crusaders have been busy reclaiming stockpiles of relics and other artefacts from its safe houses in the western border of the Empire.  A large contingent of crusaders were dispatched to Mainz only a month ago, though Abbott Meinhardt has kept their assignment to himself.
Current Host: 5 Sergeants, 1 Crusader 

Fellowship of the Ashen Cross (Chapterhouse)
Waldemar Sommer (Prior)
Since the invasion of the Palatinate by the forces of the Sun King, the chapter house has hosted a trio of witch hunters known as the Sentinels.  These witch hunters constantly watch the Black Forest for signs of unrest and devilry.  They have been brought from their regular vigil in Worms to the Frankfurt chapter house for their own safety.
Current Host: 4 Fellows, 3 Friars, “the Sentinels”

Lightbringers (Chapterhouse)
The chapter house doubles as a bookstore and cafe.  The stacks hide a number of hidden safe rooms where members can meet in secret to discuss new ideas and concepts.

Stalkers of the Unseen Hunt (Lodge)
A lodge kept by the Stalkers of the Unseen Hunt lies south of Sachsenhausen in the Odenwald.  The Stalkers are very closed mouthed regarding the folklore of these woods.
Current Host: Around 6 members at any given time.

Part Two of this article is available here.
Part Three of this article is available here.

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7 thoughts on “A Witch Hunter’s Guide to Frankfurt, Part 1

  1. blusponge Post author

    Thanks Mark! Glad you liked it. Yeah, combing through those sources took some time. So I couldn’t very well leave them out. One source I didn’t list – and I really should – was the German Wiki. That was extremely helpful with figuring out what districts were part of the city in 1689. The English wiki wasn’t nearly as helpful in that respect. Chrome’s translation feature got a real workout. Otherwise, altfrankfurt.com was probably the best discovery I made. LOTS of good info there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. expatfrankfurt

    Thanks for that! Really good reading about the city. Took me a while to figure out exactly what year it was ‘written’ in 😉


    1. blusponge Post author

      Expat, late 17th century, or more specifically 1689-90, right at the early part of the Nine Years’ War. But I suspect it would serve nicely into the 18th century as well. I toyed with calling it “A Swashbuckler’s Guide…” but that might have made the alt history and supernatural changes more jarring.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: A Witch Hunter’s Guide to Frankfurt, part 2 | …and a Brace of Pistols

  4. Pingback: A Witch Hunter’s Guide to Frankfurt, part 3 | …and a Brace of Pistols

  5. Pingback: 2015: A Retrospective | …and a Brace of Pistols

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