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The Great Angel: The Oldest Exchange House in Europe

Transactions are the one activity all human societies have engaged in regardless of location, religion, culture or era.

The basic principle of exchanging one good for another is how we’ve always worked, the very reason why money exists.

However, as nations and civilizations developed their own currencies, the worth assigned to each was not the same. This is true even more so now with inflation and foreign debt.

For this reason, in the city of Frankfurt, Germany, a mint master by the name of Friedrich Nachtrabe opened Europe’s first currency exchange house in 1488, which is today a Ria store.

The history of the Great Angel

The exchange house was established in the Great Angel building of the the Römerberg, Frankfurt’s major square.

The Römer, as locals call it, has seen it all: executions, coronations, Christmas markets and sports tournaments. The Römer’s east wing was even destroyed during a 1944 air raid and had to be reconstructed a couple of decades later.

The square used to be the seat of the government and housed many essential services for Frankfurt’s residents, the first bank opening shop within the walls of the Great Angel in the 17th century.

Nachtabre’s mythical property has been there through thick and thin, remaining a currency exchange establishment since its opening in the 15th century.

Immigration in Frankfurt

In recent years, Frankfurt has become a city of immigrants with 53% of the population being foreigners or the children of foreigners, totaling over 220 thousand registered immigrants.

As they travel back and forth between their native countries and their new home, Frankfurt residents are constantly looking to exchange money from one currency to another. At the same time, migrant workers tend to have family members back home who depend on their income to survive. 

To give you an idea, Germany has been sending over US$20 billion in remittances every year since 2016, according to the World Bank.

Thus, a dependable money transfer service at an emblematic location, such as the Great Angel, is a must for the many migrant workers and families who rely on remittances to make ends meet.

“We’re happy to be keeping the Great Angel tradition alive, especially as it brings us closer to our customers. The Römer is accessible and centric for anyone, even if they’ve only been in the city for a short time and are still learning to navigate it,” shared Reinhard Grübl, Ria’s Managing Director for Austria and Germany.

Maybe next time you’re in Frankfurt, you can stop by the famous Great Angel and take part in the 600-year tradition of currency exchange.

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