• a philanthropic banker

    'I always call my father the most modest millionaire I ever met in my life.'

    Herbert Sulzbach could as easily have been talking about his grandfather, Rudolf, as much as his father, Emil. The family tradition of sharing and passing on their privilege of wealth was strong.

    Rudolf Sulzbach was born in Frankfurt am Main almost two hundred years ago, in April 1827, to Abraham – a merchant and banker – and Sara (born Beyfuss). Thirty years later he and his elder brother, Siegmund, established a private bank which later became known as 'Gebrüder Sulzbach' – 'Sulzbach Brothers'.

    From the beginning, the bank was especially active both in Germany and abroad in its dealings with new and emerging industries, such as electrical engineering, chemicals, railways and other transport. In 1870 it was one of the founders of Deutsche Bank, and the following year moved its premises from Rudolf's own residence to an even grander building on the corner of Bockenheimer Landstrasse in Frankfurt.

    From this vantage point overlooking the new Opernplatz, he could watch the city's opera house being built, and the whole family could view such displays as the Kaiser's birthday parade taking place in the square below.

    When Rudolf died in 1904, aged 77, his funeral procession stretched for a kilometre from this building, and commerce came to a halt. He was honoured and celebrated as a man who had helped to establish Frankfurt as a centre of German trade and industry, who had been an influential member of the chamber of commerce, and who had

    'supported an endless number of associations and undertakings for the benefit of the public and those in need of help. It was typical of the modesty of Rudolf Sulzbach that he had refused the offer of an hereditary title.'

    In memory of their father, Emil and Karl Sulzbach established the 'Rudolf Sulzbach Foundation' of 100,000 Marks for the education and training of young businessmen, for the benefit of those in need of help, and for the relief of poor traders.

    'Gebrüder Sulzbach' was 'Aryanised' in 1938, and the Foundation dissolved in 1941, with its residual assets being transferred to Frankfurt's chamber of commerce.

    (photo: premises of Gebrüder Sulzbach 1871 – 1904, taken in early 20th century, from 'Bestand im Wandel' by Franz Lerner, published by Gerd Ammelburg, 1956. text: © Ainslie Hepburn)


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On my blog I write about biography, Anglo-German reconciliation, and the life of Herbert Sulzbach.


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