A fairy tale of the emperor and the devil’s pact

Those who wanted to go from “Hibbdebach” to “Dribbdebach” in medieval Frankfurt, i.e. from Sachsenhausen to the city centre, had to rely on the Old Bridge – because there was no other way to cross the Main until 1868. The connection of the banks of the Main had already been an important crossroads between North and South since the 11th century and probably contributed to Frankfurt’s development not only as a coronation site for kings and emperors but also as a trade fair city; so the Old Bridge is by no means an exaggerated starting point for Frankfurt’s urban development.

But the massive bridge made of red Main sandstone is also an important part of the bank scenery from a cityscape point of view. After having been destroyed and rebuilt 18 times over the centuries, today it could almost be called the “New Old Bridge”; its last renovation took place in 2014. The historic background of the bridge was not disregarded during the renovation, taking into account the old forms and the historical style: today, a statue of the mythical founder of the city, Charlemagne, also carved from red sandstone, and a crucifix with the legendary “Brickegickel”, the bridge cock, enthroned on its tip are located on the building.

Into the ford of the Franks

The statue of Charlemagne was donated by the St├Ądelsches Kunstinstitut to the city of Frankfurt on 23 August 1843 and took its place on the bridge. In the meantime, the original created by Karl Eduard Wendelstadt is on display in the Historisches Museum Frankfurt, while only one copy remains on the Main crossing. Charlemagne, King of the Franks, and the first Western Roman ruler to receive the title of emperor since antiquity, played a decisive role in the founding history of the city of Frankfurt: according to legend, the Franks, fleeing from the Saxons, rescued themselves under Charlemagne on the northern side of the Main River. She was led across the Main by a hind, which led the Franks out of divine mercy into the “ford of the Franks” – today’s Frankfurt.

A man from Frankfurt defies the Beelzebub

Further legends claim that the Saxons settled on the other side, which is why this place was called Sachsenhausen. However, there is also the variant that says that Charlemagne subdued the Saxons and forced them to settle on Franconian soil. The myths about the foundation of the city were carried on over the centuries, although they cannot correspond to the historical truth: For the founder of Frankfurt is probably not Emperor Karl, but rather King Karl – Karl Martell, the grandfather of Karl the Great.

In addition to Charlemagne, the Brickegickel is also the landmark of the Old Bridge: It can already be seen in the first picture from 1405. Legend has it that the bridge builder, after having prayed in vain to the saints, entered into a pact with the devil in order to finish the construction in time. But in return, the devil demanded to preserve the soul of the first creature to cross the bridge. The custom demanded that this first crossing be the responsibility of the master builder. The devil kept his promise and completed the bridge within one night. When the master builder was awakened by the crowing of a cock, the idea came to his rescue: he drove the cock over the bridge – and thus escaped the devilish pact, whereby the devil instead received the soul of the cock. Beelzebub is said to have been so angry about this deception that he tore the cock into two pieces and threw it through the bridge.

Executions at the Main

Moving away from the mythical traditions and towards the historical context, one learns that in 1401 the crucifix, at the tip of which the brickegickel sits, was placed in the middle of the bridge to mark the deepest point of the Main. The cross was commissioned to the blacksmith Mersefeldt, who probably made it after a wooden model from 1340. Both Christ figures are now in the Historical Museum.

At this point of the river, executions took place for centuries; death by drowning was the most frequent form of execution in Frankfurt until about 1500. While the crucifix was supposed to comfort the condemned and point to the forgiveness of sins and the grace of God, the rooster on top of it stood for the execution of the condemned.

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