Kassel: History of the city
The city's name is derived from the ancient Castellum Cattorum, a castle of the
Chatti, a German tribe that has lived in the area since Roman times.|
Kassel as such is first mentioned in 913 as the place where two deeds were
signed by king Conrad I. The place was called Chasella and was a fortification
at a bridge crossing the Fulda river. A deed from 1189 certifies that Kassel had
city rights, but the date of their conveyance is not known.
In 1567 the landgraviate of Hesse, until then centered in Marburg, was divided
among four sons, with Hesse-Kassel becoming one of its successor states. Kassel
was its capital and became a centre of Calvinist Protestantism in Germany.
Strong fortifications were built to protect the Protestant stronghold against
Catholic enemies. In 1685 Kassel became a refuge for 1700 Huguenots who found
shelter in the newly established borough of Oberneustadt. Landgrave Charles, who
was responsible for this humanitarian act, also ordered the construction of the
Oktogon and of the Orangerie (see sights).
In the late 18th century Hesse-Kassel became infamous for selling mercenaries
(Hessians) to the British crown to help suppress the American Revolution and to
finance the construction of palaces and the landgrave's opulent lifestyle.
In the early 19th century the Brothers Grimm lived in Kassel and collected and
wrote most of their fairy tales. At this time (1803) the landgravate was
elevated to a principality and its ruler to Elector. Shortly after, it was
annexed by Napoleon and, in 1807 became the capital of the short-lived Kingdom
of Westphalia under Napoleon's brother Jérôme. The electorate was restored in
Having sided with Austria in the Austro-Prussian War for supremacy in Germany,
the principality was annexed by Prussia in 1866. The Prussian administration
united Nassau, Frankfurt and Hesse-Kassel into the new Prussian province of
Hesse-Nassau. Kassel ceased to be a princely residence, but soon developed into
a major industrial centre as well as a major railway junction.
In 1870 after the Battle of Sedan, Napoleon III was sent as a prisoner to the
castle of Wilhelmshöhe above the city.
During World War II, during the night of October 22/23, 1943, 569 British
bombers razed Kassel, destroying 90% of the city centre; some 10,000 people died
in the raid and 150,000 were rendered homeless, in a firestorm comparable to the
one in Hamburg in July 1943. The attack had been disguised by a feint attack on
Frankfurt am Main that commenced five minutes before the raid on Kassel.
By far most of the casualties were civilians or wounded soldiers recuperating in
local hospitals, whereas Kassel's heavy weapons factories survived the attack
generally undamaged. The attack included one of the most accurate target
markings since the Hamburg firestorm raid. On the night of the Kassel firestorm
raid RAF Bomber Command introduced Operation Corona to confuse the German
nightfighters, making the raid a complete success.
After the war, most of the ancient buildings were not restored, and large parts
of the city centre were completely rebuilt in the style of the 1950s. A few
historic buildings, however, such as the Museum Fridericianum (see below), were
There is a frequently repeated legend among Kassel citizens alleging that the
city was close to becoming the provisional capital of the Federal Republic of
Germany in 1949. It is true that the interim parliament ("Parlamentarischer
Rat") was at that time considering a new location for the capital, since Berlin
was then a special administrative region controlled directly by the allies and
surrounded by the Soviet zone of occupation. A number of cities were proposed to
host the federal government, but Kassel was eliminated in the first round. Most
of the members of the German constitutional assembly (as well as the U.S.
Supreme Command) favoured Frankfurt am Main where the Hessian administration had
already started the construction of a plenary assembly hall. In the end Bonn won
after Chancellor Adenauer intervened emphatically for Bonn which was only
fifteen kilometers away from his hometown. For more information visit
my German version.