First visit to Darmstadt
Darmstadt Travel Blog› entry 38 of 117 › view all entries
It was my first time in Darmstadt and I knew nothing about except knowing the name, and even that I could not say from where I had it. I was attending a conference and I initially thought that it was held in Frankfurt so I had booked my hotel there just to find out of that I was completely wrong place. The driving distance between these cities didn’t take that long so I decided to keep my hotel room in Frankfurt.
The city was a bit larger than what I had imagined and it also looked like it was young in the sense that there were not many old buildings standing in the city. My guess then was that the city was destroyed the WWII and it turned out to be right.
Like many settlements, the City of Darmstadt owes its existence to topographical features. Situated at the extreme right of the Rhine valley, at the foot of a hill group called Odenwald, the gradual rise of terrain offered protection against once-frequent flooding’s of Germany's biggest river. The dry ground facilitated traveling, as did the relatively gentle inclinations of these foothills. Consequently a line of communication known as the Bergstraße (Hillstreet) followed the valley's edge since ancient times.
The first traces of human presence around this favorable location date back to the Neolithic age 5000 to 4000 years BC. The first permanent settlements seem to have developed around 2000 BC. Archeological excavations of burial site resulted in findings like weapons and tools, which prove that today's municipal area was inhabited by Celts, Romans and German tribes.
The first written evidence dates back to the middle of the 11th century, a document mentions a forester's house named Darmundestat, obviously the name giver of present-day Darmstadt. The genuine history of the city of Darmstadt began in 1256, when the area came under the administration and jurisdiction of the counts of `Katzenelnbogen.
The counts started the construction of a castle as military stronghold and administrative center, around which the dwellings of soldiers, office holders and servants developed. This nucleus continued to grow, attracted other professions and reached approximately 1,000 inhabitants in 1330. The same year the settlement was granted Stadtrechte – the legal entitlement to call itself a city, to build a city wall for its protection, to organize markets and to be granted other economic privileges – which encouraged.
In 1479 the counts of Hessen took over and ruled the area till 1918. In the early modern period the Count Philipp of Hessen (1518-67) as the protector of Martin Luther and one of the first protestant noblemen of importance, played a leading role in the reformation and the ensuing war against the catholic German emperor and his allies.
After Philipp of Hessen’s death in 1567 the County of Hessen was divided amongst his four sons. Darmstadt became the Residence (i.e. capital) of a newly created county thus known as Hessen-Darmstadt. Due to this new function, the old military castle was converted into a representative castle in renaissance style. Unfortunately in 1715 a fire partly damaged this structure, which was then rebuild and enlarged in baroque style.
The medieval city itself was entirely surrounded by a city wall, restricting the available space for streets and houses. This limitation produced a conglomeration of narrow winding streets and crowded dwellings, mostly half-timbered houses. Living conditions were inconvenient and unhealthy. A partial remedy was found in planned extensions of the city.
After Darmstadt became Residence in 1567, new houses for government officials and military personnel were build northeast of the castle in a still somewhat unorganized outline. Other small extensions were added about 1680 and again about 1790, stretching westward from the castle and around today's Luisen-Platz. A checker outline was used which became a model for future city enlargements.
With French Emperor Napoleon occupying numerous German states at the beginning of the 19th Century and the resulting political reforms, the County of Hessen-Darmstadt was enlarged in territory and promoted in the feudal hierarchy. The grand duke Ludewig Ist of Hessen-Darmstadt (1790-1830) added glamour to his new status by erecting the court theater and other classicist public buildings. His „grateful subjects“ donated him the monument on the Luisen Square. The city developed steadily, the predecessor of the present-day university was founded in 1836, and it was connected to a growing railroad network as early as 1846, but basically Darmstadt remained an administrative and residential center with only marginal industry.
During the war between Prussia and Austria for supremacy in Germany in 1866, Hessen-Darmstadt allied with the wrong side (Austria) and consequently became a satellite state of Prussia, which emerged as the leading power in the developing German national state.
In the same year an administrative reform linked growing Darmstadt to the adjoining city Bessungen. Large-scale extensions in all directions were taking place, making Darmstadt a city of over 72,000 inhabitants in 1900. Further impulses were gained by the „Künstlerkolonie“ (artist colony`) founded in 1899, which was famed for its works in art nouveau style.
The beginning of the 20th century saw a large-scale modernization of public transportation; the railroads surrounding the city on three sides were shifted further away and thus gave new space for further city expansion.
The Nazi era saw blind enthusiasm and obedience, political and racial persecution and also acts of resistance. Although Darmstadt had no great importance as an industrial city, it became target of several bombing attacks by both the US and the Royal Air Force. The most devastating air strike was launched on September 11th 1944, killing more than 11,000 civilians and destroying 78% of the city core, namely the old medieval city, whose half-timbered medieval houses burned completely to the ground.
When US Forces occupied / liberated Darmstadt on March 25th 1945, less than half of the pre-war population (115,000 inhabitants in 1939) was left.
At present the city of Darmstadt has 138,000 inhabitants and displays itself as a modern, but not too hectic city. It is the seat of various government offices and authorities as well as cultural activities of the state of Hessen, e.g. the Landesmuseum (state museum) or the Staatstheater (state theater). The self-appointed title is „City of Science“ because Darmstadt houses the University of Technology, two colleges, divers research institutions (e.
It has significant industry in the fields of chemistry and pharmacy, mechanical and electrical engineering, publishing companies and printing offices as well as IT enterprises. A pedestrian precinct houses the CBD with lots of shops, boutiques, restaurants and bars and a mall (others are located at the periphery). Some old buildings have been reconstructed after the war, for example the castle and the court theater, which pleasantly stand out against the modern post-war functional buildings.
Today Darmstadt enjoys good public transport, is close to the international airport and one of Europe's busiest railroad station at Frankfurt. It offers several parks within the city as well as the Rhine River and the Odenwald for recreation and sports. Darmstadt's still manageable size, the adequate infrastructure and the social environment make it a nice place to live in and it will certainly be a valuable experience.