History in Bonn

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According to archaeological evidence, Bonn began as a settlement of the local Germanic tribe (the Ubians) about 30 BC. The name "Bonna" is first mentioned by the Roman writer Florus as the place for a military bridge across the Rhine between 13 and 9 BC. After the failed attempt by the Romans to conquer the land between Rhine and Elbe, Bonn became one of the legionary fortresses ("castra Bonnensia") along the frontier of the province Germania Inferior, the remainders of which have been found in the north of the modern city.

Legend has it that to Christian Roman soldiers, Cassius and Florentius were martyred in Bonn. A church was founded over their supposed graves, which eventually grew into the Münster (Bonn Minster), the nucleus of the mediaeval town. At first, the Frakish "Bonnburg" inside the former Roman castle and the "villa basilika" around the martyrs' church developed side by side, until the Normans devastated the land in the ninth century and the Bonnburg was abandoned. The "villa Basilika" was fortified and a market town sprung up outside the gates on the river front.

Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden, who quarreled with the patricians of Cologne, the cathedral city, ordered Bonn to build a wall around the entire settled area in 1244 and granted it a town charter. In the following three centuries, the archbishop, who was as prince-elector the secular ruler of his territories outside the free imperial city of Cologne, moved his court gradually to Bonn. From 1597 Bonn was officially capital and residence for the electorate of Cologne.

Two attempts to introduce Luther's reformation under archbishops Hermann von Wied (1515-1547) and Gebhard Truchseß von Walburg (1583) in Bonn failed. As a result of the "Truchseß Wars", for the next two centuries, the prince-archbishops came from the House of Wittelsbach (the ruling dynasty in Bavaria).

Bonn survived the Thirty Years War intact, but was almost completely destroyed in 1689 during the War of the League of Augsburg. Habsburg's imperial troups defeated the pro-French Egon von Fürstenberg and imposed their candidate for archbishop, Joseph Clemens von Bayern. Josef Clemens started building the great baroque residence, a work that was taken up by his famous successor Clemens August. Under the popular Clemens August, baroque Bonn reached its peak in a time of peace and prosperity. The Electoral Palace and Poppelsdorf Palace were completed and joined by a grand avenue, today's Poppelsdorfer Allee; the Koblenzer Tor and the Hofgarten park were added. Balthasar Neumann, architect of the residence in Würzburg, built the Heilige Stiege (inspired by the Scala Santa in Rome) on the Kreuzberg. In the market square, a new city hall (today known as Altes Rathaus) was erected. A plan to link the residence in Bonn with the Augustusburg palace in Brühl near Cologne with another long avenue finally overstrained the state's finances and was soon abandoned. With the death of Clemens August came the Wittelsbach era in 1761 to an end.

The last elector, Max Franz von Habsburg, brought the spirit of the Enlightenment to Bonn. He founded the first university and transformed the southern suburb of Godesberg into a fashionable spa town. The young Beethoven gave his first performances in the Redoute, a Godesberg dance and concert hall. With the occupation of the left side of the Rhine by revolutionary armies in 1794 Bonn comes under French rule until 1814. The city lost its fledgling university and all government functions, the church was stripped of its powers and vast property holdings, the monasteries were dissolved, but its citizens gained legal equality and economic freedom through the "Code Napoléon".

The Congress of Vienna awarded the (unenthusiastic) Rhineland to Prussia in 1815. The citizens of Bonn were somewhat placated when the Prussian king founded the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität. The new university soon attracted famous professors like Arndt, Niebuhr, Argelander and Schlegel. Heinrich Heine and Karl Marx were students here. Seven professors from Bonn were sent to the first democratic German parliament at the Paulskirche in Frankfurt during the Revolution of 1848. The Industrialisation passed Bonn by, but the Kulturkampf, the struggle between the (Protestant) Prussian state and the Catholic church vehemently engaged the mostly Catholic citizenry throughout the 19th century. Bonn again became a prosperous city where many rich industrialists took up residence.

From 1904 the city grew by incorporating the surrounding towns and villages. German defeat in World War I and the Treaty of Versailles brought Bonn another period of occupation, first by Anglo-Canadian troups and from 1920 to 1926 by French troups. The era was marked by hyperinflation and political unrest: resistance against the occupation in the Ruhrkampf on the one hand and separatist attempts to unite the occupied Rhineland with France on the other.

Nationalistic tendencies became more pronounced after the occupying forces left and the entry of German troups into the demilitarised Rhineland (1936) in breach of the Versailles Treaty enhanced the standing of the Nazi government. Minorities, especially the Jewish community, and political adversaries are persecuted by the Nazi state in Bonn as in the rest of Germany. In the Reichskristallnacht (1938) the synagogues in Bonn, Poppelsdorf, Beuel, Bad Godesberg and Mehlem were burnt to the ground. In 1942, the over 400 Jewish citizens still remaining in Bonn were deported to the concentration camps, only seven survived. Much of Bonn's inner city was destroyed by aerial bombing during World War II. At the end of the war in 1945, Bonn became part of the British zone of occupation and in 1946 of the newly created state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The still intact Pädagogische Hochschule (teachers academy) houses in 1948 the constitutional convention (Parlamentarischer Rat) for the new federal republic that succeeded the three western zones of occupation in 1949. Bonn became provisional capital of West Germany and the former teachers academy the seat of the two houses of the federal parliament (Bundeshaus), not the least due the advocacy of the first Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, a citizen of Cologne and resident of Rhöndorf, a suburb southeast of Bonn.

After German unification in 1990, parliament decided that Berlin should again be the German capital and seat of government while Bonn retains some government functions as Bundesstadt. The move to the new capital is mostly completed in 1999.

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