Fair Trade

more than a year ago

Ever since Frankfurt received its market rights in 794, people have gathered here to exchange goods, though t was a yearly autumn fair (first mentioned in 1150), which is thought to have originated as a harvest festival, which looks to be the first real international fair, the precursor of today’s year round trade fairs, which make Frankfurt such a centre of commerce.

By 1240, Frankenfurth, as the town was called, was already well known as a trade centre, carefully manipulated by Emperor Friedrich. In the following centuries the fair town boomed immensely, profiting from developments in agricultural techniques which meant that surpluses could be produced and sold.

From 1330, Frankfurt was also permitted to hold a large annual spring fair for winter products such as wool and wine, which was equally succesful and lead to year-round trading. Soon after the city became an important centre for herring, fur, spice, Flemish lace, and Chinese silk trades.

Frankfurt subsequently became a boom town, and as a result of the traffic, roads were built and innkeepers, artists (sometimes travelling from as far as England) and others cashed in on the needs of the many visitors. Public transport made its appearance in the form of a horse-towed merchant ship that sailed from Mainz every morning. An industry had been born.

In fact, such was the level of commerce that to ease trade, the city had to impose strict laws on measurements, exchange rates and what could and could not be traded. As a result many people began trading goods and services they couldn’t actually see... And Frankfurt therefore became a place for people to gather to do financial business, leading to the growth of the currency and credit business and the banking and stock market trades.

In 1480, the first official book fair, now probably the most famous of all Frankfurt’s fairs, was held. To avoid ‘immoral’ books from being sold, a leaflet was published every year with a list of exactly which book titles could be sold; the first trade fair catalogues had been born. Gutenberg’s 1445 invention of efficient pressing techniques soon lead this fair to become one of the most important in Frankfurt, and indeed Europe.

The 16th century witnessed another business boom, and the fairs became more international in character, attracting large numbers of traders from other countries, mainly from the Netherlands. Locals designed houses and streets specifically to cater to traders and to accommodate stands and stalls, and areas of the city centre became specialised in certain products, a tradition that continues today with streetnames such as Buchgasse (book alley) and Roßmarkt (horse market).
After disastrous wars and epidemics in the 17th century, trade declined and the book fair was moved to Leipzig where it continued to prosper until the beginning of the Cold War, when Leipzig found itself on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. The Book Fair came home in 1948.

Click here for upcoming fairs.


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