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Kassel – An outline of the city’s development

Two documents written down in Kassel in the year 913, are the first written proof for Kassel’s existence and therefore the evidence that the city can look back on a more than thousand year history. Of course in the beginning one cannot speak of a city. On the site of our government headquarter today, once stood a fortress, protecting a settlement that grew over the next couple of centuries. A testimony of the small size of the settlement is the street name GRABEN.

Kassel

After Landgraf (landgrave) Heinrich from Hessen chose Kassel as his government residence in 1277, the size of the city as well as its economic importance grew.

Brüderkirche, Martinskirche, Druselturm and Zwehrenturm date back to this time. Particularly in the second half of the 14th century the city’s council fought, in vain, to obtain more independence. The result was that the landgraves kept a strong hold on the city’s development for more than 500 years.

Friedrich square (Friedrichsplatz) in the middle of the 19th century

In the 16th century, when approximately 5000 people lived in Kassel and landgrave Philipp fought for protestantism, the city was temporarily the political center in the west of Germany. This led Philipp to fortify his capital. The fortification was always updated to the highest level of knowledge. In 1767 the fortification was levelled, after the walls had stopped the city’s expansion for centuries.

Round 1700 landgrave Karl permitted French refugees, fleeing religious persecution, to settle in Kassel in large numbers. So, a new part of town was built outside the city’s former boarders: the Oberneustadt. The name landgrave Karl also is remembered in connection with two constructions which characterize the city’s appearence up to this day: the Orangerie Castle with the spacious Karlsaue, a park located at Fulda River and the fabulous Mountain Park Wilhelmshöhe at the east slope of Habichtswald. There, is the waterfall display, crowned by a fantastic 71 m high monument, the Oktogon, with the statue of Herkules.

Some decades later, round the end of the 18th century, at the foot of Herkules, the Castle of Wilhelmshöhe was built by the landgrave of Hessen, Wilhelm IX; he gave the castle his name and not the emperor Wilhelm II! Today this castle is the home of a world famous picture gallery. The collection was begun by one of the many art connoisseurs and well educated landgraves. They started an astronomy - technical collection, which can be admired these days in the Orangerie. They built the first building housing a theatre in Germany (today Natural History Museum), and the first museum on the European continent (Kunsthalle Fridericianum). They founded a technical university, an art academy and additional cultural and social institutions, which existed for a long time; some even still exist today.

At the beginning of the 19th century Kassel had 18 000 inhabitants.

Since 1805 the Brother Grimm were among those. Here, for the first time, they wrote down the fairy tales that were told to them.

Karl Schomburg presented on the 15th of September in 1830 a petition to the landgrave

At this time the political awareness of the bourgeoisie awakened in Kassel. The municipal constitution put the local governing body on a new footing starting in 1834 and onwards. The parliament’s seat of the electorate of Hessen was the Ständehaus at Ständeplatz, the chamber for political debates between the liberal bourgeoisie and the elector.

In the electoral castle at Friedrich Square the Mayor Karl Schomburg presented on the 15th of September in 1830 a petition to the landgrave with the result that electoral Hessen received a liberal constitution. Ludwig Emil Grimm made a picture drawing of this very important moment.

Wildemannsgasse near Weisser Hof (in the dark) before the 2nd World War (impression of the old town)

During this time, despite some resistance, industrialization began. But only in 1866 when Kassel and the electorate of Hessen became part of the kingdom of Preussia, did considerable development take place. Of special importance was the old established company Henschel, where in 1913 the 12 000th engine was built. Industrial quarters developed in the north and east of the city while in the west at Hohenzollernstrasse (today Friedrich-Ebert-Straße) residental areas arose.

At the end of the century the city expanded beyond its medieval boarders, so that neighbourhood villages had to be incorporated.The city’s population grew to more than 100 000 inhabitants. The city and the state were competing in demonstrating authority, bourgeois culture and wealth through building construction. Of these representive buildings, the picture gallery at the Schöne Aussicht (opened in 1877), City Hall (1909), the State Museum (1923) and the Kongress Palais Kassel-Stadthalle (1914) still exist.

In the 1920‘s, the city constructed buildings for the health care system, sports facilities and residential purposes. The indoor pool (east), the sports arena – Hessenkampfbahn and the residential area – Rothenbergsiedlung reflected a change of social habit. An important cultural event was the opening of the tapestry museum in 1923, the only museum of its kind in Germany.

Kassel’s inner city in 1947

Under the NS regime the people in Kassel were indoctrinated in the cause of National Socialism. Dissidents and single groups of the population were victims of persecution. Many died in concentration camps. The decision-making in town was dominated by the military. War industry expanded, military camps and the general headquarter (Generalkommando), today the federal social court, were built. Kassel was host for the “Reichskriegertage“, the federal veterans day parade.

The gloomiest day in the city’s history was the 22nd of October 1943, when the inner city was reduced to rubble.

Nearly 10 000 people died in the flames and under the wreckage. Earlier and later air raids caused additional destruction so that at the end of the war 70% of all of the city‘s residential buildings and 65% of the industrial sites were destroyed. With only 71 000 inhabitants the population was on its lowest level ever. Twelve years of brutal dictatorship had brought the many centuries old city to an absolute low point.

The city presents itself today less as a reconstruction than a new construction on historic ground because of post war desire to break with the past. But today we can be proud to have i.e. the Treppenstrasse - which, as a construction of the 1950‘s is under monument protection law – and as well as the other numerous examples of very interesting architecture of the 1950‘s in the inner city. In 1948/49 Kassel applied to become the provisional federal capital, but unfortunatelay without success.

Since 250 years the big attraction in Kassel; the waterfall display below Herkules

When in 1955 the federal garden show (Bundesgartenschau) took place in Kassel, impetus was given to the city‘ development. Due to another event in the same year, Kassel was recognized in the art world. „documenta“, an international exhibition of contemporary art, was organized and takes place every 5 years. In 1970 the university was founded in Kassel which had an impact on the city’s development.

The picture gallery of the old masters and the antique collection are uniquely presented in the castle of Wilhelmshöhe, while the art of the last 2 centuries is shown in the Neue Galerie (new gallery) at Schöne Aussicht.

When in 1981 a Bundesgartenschau again took place in Kassel, a new wonderful recreational area close to the city was built: die Fuldaaue. An, over the region well known, attraction is the 1983 opened spa „Kurhessen-Therme“, located in Bad Wilhelmshöhe.

When in 1991 the intercityexpress railroad station, (ICE–Bahnhof Kassel–Wilhelmshöhe) opened, Kassel became an easily accessible location in the middle of Germany. This is important not only for the nationwide known congress and exhibition site.

Today Kassel is a city of traditional and innovative enterprises and institutions of nationwide, even worldwide, reputation, with a lively business world and educational facilities of a high standard as well as a very attractive cultural and entertainment world. If you also take into account the numerous possibilities for recreation in and around Kassel, you see at the beginning at the new millennium a city with charm, life and a promising future.


Author: Frank-Roland Klaube



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