Commerzbank AG

Three of the "big boys" in German banking have their head offices in downtown Frankfurt (Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank and Commerzbank) and each occupies a signature building. All three received a visit from me four years ago. I'm back again at Commerzbank to check out their new digs which at 50 stories, is the tallest building in Europe.

During my last visit construction had already begun on the 50-story behemoth with the steel skeleton frame having recently been completed. Matter of fact, my contact person Dennis Phillips, an American from the company's corporate communications department, offered to take me up the construction elevator for a look-see from the top but I declined (actually I chickened out).

After locking the bike outside I make my way up the stairs to one of the entryways in this huge triangle-shaped structure. Walking inside I notice a window-washer cleaning a window near the entrance. Taking a second look I realize he's not real but a life-size sculpture and at the same instant knew I was looking at a J. Seward Johnson Jr. piece. How did I know this? I'm a big fan of Johnson's work and have come across many of his works of art while visiting head offices. His sculptures usually show people in real life situations such as waiting at a bus stop, reading a newspaper or taking a photograph. Looking around the huge atrium lobby I spot two other pieces by Johnson besides the window washer (titled "Nice To See You"), one is "Keeping Up", a businesswoman standing around reading a magazine while the other "Second Hand News", is of a man reading a newspaper with another man peering over his shoulder at the paper.

Going over to the reception counter manned by two women, one can't help but notice the massive piece of art on the 65-foot tall wall behind them. Done by Thomas Emde, it's of clouded sky. According to the brochure I'm handed, at roughly 55 x 40 feet, it's the largest painting ever conceived in the history of art.
A receptionist calls up CEO Martin Kohlhaussen's secretary to find out who's my contact person. Answer: they have no record of having received my advance letter. I ask the receptionist to try contacting corporate communications or public relations to see if someone there might have ended up with the letter. The receptionist tells me to have a seat. A few minutes later two men walk over to where I'm seating and in broken English one says, "what do you want?" Hmm, I've surmised the receptionist has called security. Neither speaks much English and they've sent for someone who does. An English-speaking woman arrives and I explain who I am and what I do. I can't remember his name but I tell her I was here four years ago and met with an American in the corporate communications department. She immediately says, "Dennis Phillips?" and I go, "that's the guy". A call is made and I 'm soon reunited with Phillips.

He hasn't a clue as to why they haven't a record of receiving my advance letter but super nice guy Phillips ends up answering questions and giving me a tour of the place. Over 2,400 employees work in this Sir Norman Foster designed building, which contains over 1.2 million square feet of gross floor area. An unusual feature of the building is the nine separate 4-story sky gardens. The three eastward-facing gardens contain Asian vegetation, southward facing contain Mediterranean and the westward-facing North American vegetation. Phillips and I grab a soda in one of the gardens and I deduce we're in a southward facing garden containing Mediterranean vegetation. Maybe it was the 20-foot tall olive trees scattered about which gave it away.

With such a big building one would expect lots of underground parking right? Wrong, there are only 300 car-parking spaces. Bikers fare better with about 200 bicycle parking spaces. Though there isn't a fitness facility, sweaty bikers have use of showers and changing room. Phillips says food in the two cafeterias is "very good". I can't see the CEO's office or boardroom because they're "in use" but we do walk around the executive floors.

While up on one of the very top floors I excuse myself to use a restroom. Upon exiting I have this smile on my face. Why? Well, when walking into the bathroom you're confronted with several urinals flush up against the wall. In this case the wall is a big picture window and as you're standing there you have the most incredible panoramic view I've ever from a bathroom. But, that's not the funny part. Directly in front of your line of sight while relieving yourself is the head office of archrival Dresdner Bank. I ask Phillips if it was part of the original building plans or is it coincidence. Phillips unconvincingly says it's a coincidence.