This is about a glimpse into the history of the city of Kassel.
The City of Kassel is old, but then most places in Europe are old. Wikipedia’s
page on Kassel says it was first mentioned in 913 CE when city rights were granted
to Chassela. However, we know it existed before that date, perhaps some time during
the Roman occupation of Gaul because the name Kassel is derived from Castellum Cattorum
or Castle of the Chatti Tribe who inhabited the area. The name of what is now known
as Kassel was changed several times over its history. Other names are Cassel, Cassell,
Caßel, Kasel, Kaßel and finally since 1927, Kassel. (The symbol "ß" represents a
double ss in German, called a Scharfes s and is pronounced like an "sz.")
Though I note that in some Internet mapping programs, like Bing Maps, and some other
English language maps, the city is still referred to as Cassel - which is wrong,
just way wrong.
Sometime prior to 1523, the old city of Kassel was fortified (walled) on both
banks of the Fulda River and it protected one of the few bridges over that river.
The Fulda is a medium sized river but there were several other places where one
could easily ford the river with a horse and or wagon. Two of the fords, one near
the Wolfsanger neighborhood and the other near the Niederzwehren neighborhood, had
settlements even before the settlement that became Kassel.
In 1140, the Augustine order of Catholic monks built a monastery on the hill above
the settlement of Kassel called Weissenstein after the outcropping of white
rocks nearby. Kassel has been a power center since the middle of the 13th Century
when it became the seat of landgraviate. It is important today too. However, between
1247 and 1866 it was a real Hauptstadt. The city was the home of the Landgraves
Back in 1247, the landgraviate of Hesse was inherited by the first Landgrave
of Hesse-Kassel, Henry I, the child. Of course, he was known locally as Heinrich
I, das Kind. Now it gets a little complicated because Henry I inherited Hesse from
his father, Henry II Raspe, Duke of Brabant, which is now a big chunk of Belgium
and Holland, but who cares?
Henry II was Landgrave of Thuringia when Thuringia was much larger than it is
today. One would think that Henry the first would father Henry the second but in
this case, Henry the second just named his child "Henry" and that Henry as a young
adult inherited Hesse, a separate political unit and so he became Henry the I of
Hesse-Kassel. See, there is usually a reason for every confusing thing in the world.
This kind of thing happened back then and not just in Germany. I say it stems from
a lack of imagination about how to name one's children. Blue-bloods had to have
monikers to separate them from others of the same first name. Last names were of
little use because many of the blue-bloods had the same last name too. Anyway, Henry
I ruled for 61 years until 1308. You would think that the moniker “das Kind” would
have dropped off sometime toward the end of his life. I guess once a moniker, always
a moniker. I was unsuccessful in finding out why he was nicknamed in such an unkind
way. Perhaps it was to separate him from his father, Henry II. After Henry, followed
a string of folks most of whom were named William (Wilhelm in German). For a long
boring list of names, see the chart below. You can read about most of these characters
in English in Wikipedia.
Hesse was part of Thuringia
Henry I, the child
1247 – 1308
1308 – 1328
1328 – 1376
1376 – 1413
1413 – 1458
Henry III (Upper Hesse)
1458 – 1483
William III (Upper Hesse)
1483 – 1500
William II (recombined
1500 – 1509
1509 – 1567
William IV (Hesse-Kassel)
1567 – 1592
1592 – 1627
1627 – 1637
1637 – 1667
(30 Years War was from
1618 to 1648)
1663 - 1670
Charles ("Carl or Karl"
1670 – 1730
(aka, Frederick I, King of Sweden 1720 – 1751)
1730 – 1751
1751 – 1760
1760 – 1785
William IX (aka, Prince
1803 – 1821
1821 – 1847
Frederick William I
1847 – 1866
Hesse became part of
I found several of these landgraves’ lives interesting. For instance, Phillip
I was acquainted with all of the key personnel associated with the Reformation,
including Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Bucer, Philipp Melanchthon, Holy
Roman Emperor Charles V ("HRE Karl V"), and many others. It was Phillip
who with Frederick the Wise of Saxony arranged to give Martin Luther asylum in the
Wartburg Castle after the Pope excommunicated him. Marty, as his friends probably
did not call him, went on to translate the New Testament of the Bible into German
during his 10-month stay in the Wartburg. (Talk about being excommunicated, I am
probably going to be excommunicated by the Lutherans for my disrespect. Can they
Phillip I founded the oldest Protestant university in the world at Marburg Germany.
It exists to this day and is an impressive institution to see.
Phillip I was nicknamed the Magnanimous but in retrospect, I would have nicknamed
him the Licentious , the Annoyer, the Bigamist, or the Prisoner. But he was magnanimous
in the sense that he divided Hesse among his four sons on his death. He was licentious
in that he, like many other royals, did not remain faithful to his wife (who may
have had leprosy by the way). He sought and sort of received permission from some
of his religious friends like Martin Luther to marry two women at the same time.
Today, as then, it was called bigamy and he got into trouble for it just as he would
have in modern times. In fact, that and a few other transgressions against society
landed him in the pokey (jail). He got out because he was a well-connected dude.
He annoyed the Holy Roman Emperor on several occasions primarily because he was
a Protestant and he was not fond of the Habsburgs and their high handed habit of
trying to control all the German princes. You have to expect your career to suffer
a bit if you go mano e mano with the emperor and his family. That is what
he did to Emperor Charles V (Karl V) who was the protector of the Catholic Church.
Additionally, Phillip I was a founding member of a thing called the Schmalkaldic
League. The Schmalkaldic League was a group of northern German princes, etc. who
banded together in an attempt to promote Protestantism and to bring down the Habsburgs.
Phillip and his confederates did not succeed. However, it was the beginning of
the major dust-up in Europe called the Thirty Years' War (1613 – 1648). Countless
lives were lost and countless villages burned because of it. Kassel itself, although
a Protestant stronghold and did not suffer the damage that many of the surrounding
villages did. This might be because in 1523 Phillip fortified Kassel as shown on
the drawing at the beginning of this page.
Charles I (aka Landgraf Karl) is interesting too. He ruled for 55 years (the
first 5 years of his reign was overseen by his mother as regent and for a short
time by William VII, his older brother, who died tragically the same year he became
of age). Charles married his brother’s widow Hedwig Sophie von Brandenburg, a Prussian.
Why let a good princess go to waste, I always say. Those Prussians were to cause
Hesse major problems in the future, as they did eventually for almost everyone in
Europe, including Prussia in actuality, e.g., WWI and WWII.
I was a thinker and a builder. Shortly after the Thirty Years' War, Landgrave Charles,
a Protestant like his forbearers (now called Lutherans or Evangelicals), invited
the Protestant Huguenots, who were being persecuted in Catholic France, to settle
in northern Hesse. Many did settle in Kassel and the surrounding area but the Huguenot
sect also experienced a diaspora to other nations as well. It was Paul du Ry, a
famous Huguenot architect, who first designed the layout of the modern city of Kassel.
Paul du Ry contributed heavily to the design and construction of many buildings
in and around Kassel. Charles oversaw construction of the Hercules statue atop the
Pyramid atop the Octagon and located atop Karlsberg - "Charles' Mountain" - a high
hill above the city of Kassel.
The Hercules monument is truly an engineering marvel. The 262-foot high Hercules
statue was finally completed in 1717. From that monument, water can cascade down
a beautiful series of steps and through several complicated water features to a
fountain in front of the Wilhelmshöhe Palace. Present-day visitors can watch the
water cascade twice a week during the summer.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), designated
the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe as a World Heritage site in 2013.
Charles was also the impetus of the construction of not only the new upper city
(Oberneustadt), the Hercules Monument and water cascade but also the Orangery Palace.
An orangery is a building used to over-winter orange trees and other non-hearty
plants and shrubs. Many cities in Europe have orangeries. So, what is the big deal?
It is beautiful, that is what. It was also used as a summer residence by later landgraves
and now is the focus of the huge Karlsaue garden park.
Constructed between 1701 and 1710 the Karlsaue is a formal garden with reflective
pools, geometric path designs and statues. A concept popularized by the Palace of
Versailles in France. An ‘aue’ by the way is a geographic feature of flat land where
a river can split into two or more channels.
Another interesting character is Frederick I, King of Sweden and Landgrave Hesse-Kassel.
Frederick was one of Charles's sons. He got to be King of Sweden because he married
a Swedish princess and she abdicated her throne after only two years as Queen. Frederick
took the throne but was never well thought of in Sweden and was almost unheard of
in Kassel even though he was the titular head of government in Kassel. He appointed
his brother, yet another William but unnumbered because he was not a Landgrave,
as Governor so Frederick could focus on his duties in Sweden. According to Wikipedia;
"Carl Gustaf Tessin said about him; 'Under the reign of King Frederick, the science
has developed - he never bothered to read a book. The merchant business has flourished
- he has never encouraged it with a single coin. The castle has been built - he
has never been curious enough to look at it.'" So, it seems to be true that one's
position in life has more to do with who you know or marry than what you know or
To the west of Kassel is the Habichtswald forest. (A Habicht is a type
of hawk and Wald means forest.)
There in the forest since the Twelfth Century was an Augustine cloister called
Weissenstein (white rock) shown to the left. To Phillip I it looked like
the perfect place for a hunting lodge. So, out went the monks and in moved Phillip
and his hunting buddies. I only mention this because once secularized, the various
landgraves continually used it and continually remodeled and improved it until today
it is the site of the Wilhelmshöhe Palace, shown to the right.
Charles did not build the palace his grandson Frederic II did in about 1767.
Simon Louis Du Ry, the grandson of Paul Du Ry mentioned above redesigned the layout
of Kassel and the street named Wilhelmshöhe Allee, which runs exactly east/west
and connects the city center with the palace. Today, the Wilhelmshöhe Palace is
a community treasure (it houses the Old Master’s Picture Gallery and a sculpture
gallery). It is the site of many of the city’s cultural and artistic events. The
Wilhelmshöhe Palace (Schloss Wilhelmshöhe) was completed in 1781. Frederick
also commissioned the Löwenburg, a fake castle ruin in Park Wilhelmshöhe.
Frederick’s son was Prince William I. When he and his wife set up housekeeping
in the Palace, he installed one of his mistresses in the Löwenburg, just 500 meters
to the east. How did he get away with that? Prince William I must have been a man’s
man. In addition to four children with his wife, he sired twenty-two (yes 22) illuminate
children with three different mistresses. He lived to be 78. There is not a shred
of evidence that his cause of death was a gunshot from a jealous husband as he scaled
a backyard fence. Neither do I want to start the rumor.
Prince William’s grandson, Prince Frederick William, backed the wrong combatant
in the seven-week long Austro-Prussian War of 1866. That mistake caused Hesse-Kassel
and several other northern German principalities became part of Prussia. Remember
that I mentioned trouble with the Prussians? Interestingly, this war (and the nine-month-long
Franco-Prussian War of 1870) set many of the borders that would be united into the
German state in 1876. (Of course, those borders were altered again after the first
and second world wars.)
The Austro-Prussian War of 1866 was a dust-up to decide which monarch has the
most power in the German-speaking nations. Prussia won. Prince Frederick William
lost his job. He did get to keep his title though. And the beat goes on. Today,
the head of the House of Hesse-Kassel is a gentleman known by the ungainly name
of Moritz Friedrich Karl Emanuel Humbert Landgraf von Hessen-Kassel. I wonder if
his friends call him Mo. I considered Mosel – the first two and last three letters
of his full name - but thought it might be confused with the river of the same name.
Have you noticed the plethora of the Williams? There are ten Williams in the
21 landgraves. The numbering system can be confusing because there are two William
I’s and two William II’s. The first is William I, Landgrave Hesse-Kassel, the second
and much later William I started out as William IX and received a promotion to Prince
(he gets to help elect the Kaiser). So, William IX, Landgrave Hesse-Kassel became
Prince William I of Hesse-Kassel and he simply rejiggered the numbering system upon
Also, one has to be careful as William (actually Wilhelm to the locals) is a
common name in Germany. There were also a couple of Kaiser Wilhelms. The latter
lost his job after losing World War I. His grandmother, Queen Victoria of England
called him Willie by the way. As an aside, she was also Nikki and Georgie’s grand
mum; that is Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and King George V of England. Georgie won
that confrontation so he kept his job but poor Nikki was severely inconvenienced
by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Willie, Kaiser Wilhelm II, attended high school in Kassel
if you want a connection to the city.
OK, enough about the Williams, etc., let us get back to the city of Kassel. In
1603, construction began on Germany's first public legitimate theater, called Ottoneum
(after Landgrave Maurice’s son Otto), which now houses the Museum of Natural History.
In 1779, Kassel proudly opened Europe’s first public museum, now called the Museum
Fridericianum after Frederick II. It is located right downtown Kassel, next to what
used to be the royal residence. The former palace, now a department store, is next
door to the Museum Fridericianum. Across Frankfurter Strasse, is the new opera house
and the old Ottoneum, now a natural history museum.
Back across Frankfurter Strasse is the Zwehrener Tur, or the former gate in the
town wall toward the community of Zwehren. When in Germany, we live in Neiderzwehren,
a touch lower and closer to the river than Oberzweren. A little bit north of the
Zwehrener Tor is the Martins Church and the Drusel Tower. These were landmarks for
the American and British bomber during October 1943 when Kassel was nearly leveled.
Today, if none of the locals are listening, I refer to that event as the Allied
downtown redevelopment project. But seriously, many people were killed, injured,
and/or suffered great losses of property during the bombing. War is never fun and
it certainly is never pretty.
Kassel was heavily damaged by allied bombing during World War II. The most damaging
of three raids occurred the night of October 23, 1943. In total, over 10,000 civilians
died and countless buildings were destroyed in the firestorm.
In Kassel, the Brothers Grimm lived and studied for 32 years. Sure, they lived
and studied in other places too but Kassel has the museum. One of the most prolific
contributors to their collection of tales and legends was Dorothea Viehmann, who
collected stories from travelers who frequented Knallhütte, the roadhouse
where she worked as a child. Her home was in Niederzwehren, then a separate village
but now a part of the city of Kassel. The house she lived in still exists and bears
a sign indicating her former occupancy. That house is next door to our niece’s family
home. For that matter, our home in Kassel is also nearby in another part of Niederzwehren.
After the war, the old town center was redesigned into a modern city center.
Only a few remnants survived the bombing including most of the bell tower of the
Luther Church and the Zwehrener Gate (from 1767) and Drusel Tower (erected in 1415).
The latter two were a part of the old town wall.
In 1955, Kassel hosted the first internationally recognized modern art exposition
entitled Documenta. Since then, they have hosted fifteen expositions. Documentas
are scheduled every five years; the next Documenta will be in June - September
2020. For the art world, this is one of the most important events and to exhibit
one’s work in the Documenta is probably a crowning lifetime achievement.
Every Documenta leaves something behind in Kassel and an experienced guide,
or walking guidebook will point out the different artworks and their creators.
In 1955 Kassel hosted the German National Garden Show (Bundesgartenschau).
They hosted another National Garden Show in 1981. In preparation for the second
garden Show the area east of Karlsaue was configured into a wonderful park
and bird preserve where people can walk, run, swim, bike, and recreate in 125 hectares
(about 300 acres) of wandering paths, meadows, lakes, playgrounds, etc.
Modern-day Kassel has 23 different museums including the following: City Museum,
Museum Fridericianum, Museum für Sepulkralkultur, Brüder Grimm-Museum Kassel, Gesellschaft
der Freunde des Naturkundemuseums im Ottoneum zu Kassel, Museum f. Astronomie, Museum
Kreuzkirche, Neue Galerie, Hesse’s State Museum (includes a wallpaper museum), and
many others. For bicyclists, Kassel is wonderful. Not only is it served by high-speed
rail (ICE) but also it is located close to the center of Germany making access to
many of the long-distance routes convenient. If you stay in Kassel, you will find
marked cycle paths throughout the city. The public transportation system will get
you almost anywhere you want to go and busses and streetcars accommodate bicycles.
Unfortunately for cyclists, the area surrounding Kassel is called Hessisches
Bergland (Hessian Mountain Land). While I hesitate to call the high hills around
Kassel mountains, I will admit they are steep – in many cases, I would characterize
them as ‘pushers’. Unlike the river valleys we usually ride, excursions around Kassel
will undoubtedly involve hills.
To the northeast are the Hartz Mountains. They are mountains and for mountains,
you need a mountain bike. We do not ride in those mountains because we are wimps
(Over-Fifty-with-Bad-Knees Club members, you know).