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History of the City
Bonn is one of the cities along the Rhine that is able to boast a rich tradition. It is well worth reading the chronicles and studying the history of the city, which brought both times of hardship and times of joy to its inhabitants.
A French touch
Neanderthal man, camp of a Roman legion, the medieval and early modern chapter church of Saint Cassius and the minster basilica, residence of a Prince Elector, royal university town, democratic centre of the Federal Republic of Germany, United Nations City - Bonn’s journey through the centuries and millennia is a thrilling book. Beethoven’s birthplace, Napoleon’s town, Prussia’s glory, political arena of Konrad Adenauer, first Chancellor of post-war Germany. Besieged, ransacked, pillaged, bombed, risen from destruction. Princely splendour and severe strokes of fate. Events both moving and motive. Colourful episodes and hard facts. In short, a city full of history and stories.
Bonn ranks no doubt in the top level of the cities on the Rhine with a rich tradition. And the ups and downs of the past have left their imprint on its people. Bonners are staunch Rhinelanders, with a slight French touch, open to novelty, and cosmopolitan. They like life carefree and cheerful. ‘Bonna solum felix’, a 16th century saying praised the town, ‘Bonn, you fortunate soil’.
First written sources
Bonn was first mentioned by Roman authors some 2,000 years ago. It was between 13 and 9 BC (a more precise date determination is not possible) that the Roman historiographer Florus puts on record that Commander Drusus, a stepson of Emperor Augustus, has a bridge built between ‘Bonna’ on the left bank of the Rhine and "Gesonia” on the right. Later, in 69 AD, the famous Publius Cornelius Tacitus refers to the fortified camp of a legion, named ‘Castra Bonnensia’, in his account of the succession turmoil following the death of Emperor Nero.
We can safely conclude from archaeological excavations that Bonn was a settlement established by the Ubii between two arms of the Rhine on ground which was relatively safe from the river’s floods. There is evidence , however, of a much earlier human presence in the Bonn area. Traces of settlements have been found in Bad Godesberg’s Marienforst Valley which are up to 70,000 years old: hand tools which are attributed to the Neanderthal type of man. Of outstanding importance has been the find in what is today the borough of Oberkassel of approximately 13.000 year old skeleton parts of a human couple. A dog that was buried together with them is considered one of the oldest proofs of keeping domestic animals. About 6,000 years back, a first fortified settlement is built on the Venusberg hill, not far from today’s "Casselsruhe” Restaurant. Bonn’s name is presumably an age-old legacy of the Celtic language. Its meaning is not known.
400 years of Roman rule
We do know all the more about the Romans who built their first fort at Bonn in 11 BC. The stones tell us about them, above all, their tombstones and their votive stones. We know thus the names of well over 200 soldiers of the Bonn legion, called Flavia Minervia. It was awarded the honorary epithet "pia fidelis”, the pious and faithful, because it did not get involved in a conspiracy against Emperor Domitianus. A settlement of craftspeople (‘canabae legionis’) is soon established in the neighbourhood of the steadily increasing military camp. The settlement extends mainly along today’s Adenauerallee to the northern end of the Rheinauenpark in the borough of Gronau. The matron cult, the worship of the so-called aufanic mother goddesses, thrives and bequeaths us the "matron stones”.
More traces of Roman settlement activities were recently found in the former Government District, among them both residential and commercial buildings, a temple compound and a representative edifice whose specific function has as yet remained unclear. The Romans abandon their garrison on the Rhine around 450 AD. Roman remains continue to be found in the northern part of Bonn and are meticulously mapped.
Restitutus, the bear hunter
Among the legionaries of Bonn we come across, for example, Tarquitius Restitutus, the Bear Hunter. Within six months, he had either killed or captured fifty bears in the hills of the Eifel region nearby, the latter for the martial games of the Romans. Another well-known personality is Legion Commander Q. Venidius Rufus who valued the salutary water of Godesberg so highly in the late second century AD that he had a votive stone erected close to its spring in honour of the divine couple Aesculap and Hygieia - after which lady the term "hygiene” was coined. This stone was later put to different use in the construction of the Godesburg Castle in the Middle Ages.
Cassius and Florentius, the martyrs
An urn burial from the first century AD is evidence of a burial ground that already existed on the site of today’s minster basilica. A ‘cella memoriae’ is built around 300 AD, a place within a necropolis furnished with a U-shaped bench where people gathered for the memorial meal. Later, early Christians are presumed to have commemorated Cassius and Florentius here, Roman legionaries who were executed because they had refused to worship the pagan gods. Legend has it that the two martyrs were members of the ‘Thebaeian Legion’, recruited in Egypt, whose 6,000 soldiers were all of them doomed to sacrifice their lives for their Christian belief. ‘Such draconian collective punishment was no longer imposed towards the end of the 3rd century’, states Stefan Bodemann in his guide of the Bonn Minster (‘Das Bonner Münster’), summing up latest research findings on the subject. Cassius and Florentius are proclaimed Bonn’s patron saints in 1643. The vault underneath the crypt of the Minster holding the (legendary) remains of the martyrs is opened for a week once a year on the high day of the city’s patron saints (10th October). Baroque relic busts of the two saints are to be seen in the chancel of the Minster.
Bonn’s Patron Saint Adelheid of Vilich
Abbess Adelheid of Vilich (around 960 to 1025) is an outstanding female figure of Bonn’s medieval history of faith and church. Her memory was perpetuated through over 1.000 years of veneration. She was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1966. The Vatican agreed to her elevation to Patron Saint of Bonn in 2008.
Endowed with extraordinary intellectual and spiritual boons, the young nun took a great interest in philosophy, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music as well as, in later years, theology. As the abbess of two monasteries of Benedictine observance she demonstrated her organisational and creative abilities and leadership and was a benefactress for the poor and the needy in the Rhineland.
Tradition holds that she visited the village of Vilich at a time of dreadful drought sharing out food to the starving villagers. As people beseeched her to rescue them from their misery she sent prayers to heaven and thrust her crosier into the ground causing water to emerge. The spot where this miracle is said to have happened was provided with a rim and has been known as Adelheidisquelle (Adelheidis Spring) ever since. Believers continue to expect cure from their afflictions down to the present day.
There is no trace at all of the whereabouts of the mortal remains and relics. Around 1640, the historian Johannes Bollandus received information to the effect that the remains, originally buried at Vilich, had been translated to Gaul. When opened, the sarcophagus was indeed found to be empty.
The liturgical calendar lists 5th February as the feast day of Saint Adelheid. Observing an old custom, the Lord Mayor of Bonn lights a candle in honour of the city’s Patron Saint on that day.
Border pact on the Rhine
The Romans leave, and in come the Franks. They first settle in the old legionary camp, renaming it "Bonnburg”. Quite a number of important things occur outside the gates of the Bonnburg in the following centuries. In 753, King Pippin of the Franks crosses the Rhine launching his campaign against the Saxons. In 921, King Henry I meets with Charles III, nicknamed the Simple. The two rulers define the borders of the East Frankish and West Frankish kingdoms on a ship anchoring in the middle of the Rhine. The Bonnburg also accommodates a royal mint.
The town grows around the minster
A roofed hall is built above the presumed graves of Cassius and Florentius in the 6th century, followed by a first church around 780. A new church is erected in 1050. Gerhard von Are, the ingenious Bonn provost (died in 1169) has this church extended into the present basilica with its magnificent cloister. The buildings of the chapter of Saint Cassius, which under Gerhard’s leadership turns into a major factor of power in the Rhineland, are part of it. Gerhard’s ancestral seat was the Castle of Are above the town of Altenahr in the Ahr River Valley. The Minster and the chapter buildings are the core around which the town continues to grow while the Roman heritage in the northern part of Bonn suffers inexorable decay.
On the right bank of the river, the collegiate chapter of Vilich plays an increasingly important role from the late 10th century onwards. There is indeed quite a number of significant monasteries that are founded in and around Bonn in the course of the centuries, for instance on the Kreuzberg, in the Marienforster Tal, at Schwarzrheindorf or at Heisterbach in the Siebengebirge hills.
Freobaldus the Rich
Traders and craftsmen earn their living in the ‘vicus bonnensis’, a settlement along what is now Remigiusstraße which enjoys a robust growth in the neighbourhood of the collegiate church of Saint Cassius. This ‘vicus’ accommodates a chequered community of long-distance traders with a tinge of adventure. We do know one of them. His name was Freobaldus, presumably of Anglo-Saxon descent. He had acquired great wealth. That is at least what Markward, abbot of ‘Prüm, tells in a document.
Building a town wall
There follows a period in which Bonners have a lot to cope with. King Philip of Swabia sets fire to Bonn in 1198. Archbishop Dietrich I (1208 to 1216) initiates the construction of the Godesburg Castle in 1210. Duke Henry of Brabant attacks the town with fire and sword in 1239. Bonn’s inhabitants are happy when in 1244 Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden (1238 to 1261) allows and orders them to build a wall to fortify the hitherto unprotected settlement. ‘Glowing with zeal’, as a Cologne chronicler reports, the Bonners start digging moats and building walls.
The archbishop, though, was not quite unselfish when he had these fortifications built. For Konrad von Hochstaden, by no means a ruler excelling in gentleness, was at loggerheads with the patriciate of Cologne, the city of his cathedral. Historiographers report that he left Cologne on horseback at dead of night, never to return. From then on, he and his successors hold court at Bonn frequently, and it is here that they now have their coins minted with the inscription "Thou, blessed Verona, shall triumph”. Verona is the other historical name of Bonn. A town archive is mentioned as early as 1284. Two years later, in 1286, Bonn is awarded the privilege to have an elected Council of twelve aldermen, which implies its legal recognition as a town.
This is what happened at Bonn
When the Archbishops, who as electors were among the most distinguished and powerful men in the Holy Roman Empire, issue documents here they write: „This ist what happened at Bonn“. Besides their palace in Bonn, the Cologne Electors and Archbishops highly appreciate the Godesburg Castle as one of their favourite abodes while they keep losing support among the self-confident citizenry of their capital Cologne. Consequently, Siegfried of Westerburg is the first archbishop to be elected in Bonn’s Minster instead of Cologne’s Cathedral as early as 1274 (to 1297).
Two kings crowned in Bonn´s minster
The Minster Church figures prominently twice in German history in the 14th century. In 1314, Archbishop Henry of Virneburg crowns Frederick of Austria (nicknamed „the Handsome“) German king. In 1346, it is Charles IV who is enthroned in the same place by Archbishop Walram of Jülich.
Godesburg Castle destroyed by gun powder mine
In 1525, the chancellery of the archbishop is transferred from Brühl to Bonn. The Electors themselves sojourn at Bonn ever more often. This has disastrous consequences: the Cologne - or Truchsessian - War subjects the Bonners once again to the whims of licentious mercenaries. Bavarian troops besiege Bonn and blow up Godesburg Castle by means of 1,500 pounds of gunpowder on the 17th December, 1583. Allegedly they gain access to the castle through its latrine. The Elector’s castle at Poppelsdorf is also laid in ruins. Bonn’s occupation changes three times, and three times it is pillaged. At long last, Gebhard, who has converted to the protestant belief, gives up.
War about a love affair
The origin of the conflict is an affair of the Elector Gebhard Truchsess of Waldburg with a canoness by the name of Agnes of Mansfeld. Legend has it that the magician Hieronimo Scotti had shown the beautiful lady to the Elector in a mirror. It is an open question whether or not he was really willing to marry her. It is certain, however, that her brothers see sufficient reason to firmly admonish him to do so. At any rate, Gebhard is not prepared to relinquish his office as Archbishop-Elector which, due to the prerequisite of celibacy, is the inescapable consequence of marriage. Instead, he is prepared to fight for his territory. On 19 December, 1582, Gebhard declares his conversion to the Protestant faith. He marries Countess Agnes on 2nd February, 1583, in the house named ‘Zum Rosenthal’ (Rose Valley) in today’s Acherstrasse. A hurried wedding banquet takes place the following day in the tavern „Zur Blomen“ (The Flower), today named ‘Em Höttche’, next to the Old Town Hall in the Market Square. Bride and groom leave town, and war breaks out.
First a fort, then a Baroque residence
Ernest of Bavaria initiates the sequence of Electors from the House of Wittelsbach who from now on officially hold court in Bonn. Ferdinand (1612 - 1650) appears to have been the most capable of them. He manages to steer the town clear of trouble throughout the Thirty Years’ War. The year 1689, however, turns out to be a year of horror. Throughout almost three months, troops from Brandenburg, Münster and the Netherlands besiege and shell the capital of the Electorate whose Bishop Coadjutor Egon of Fürstenberg has decided to side with Louis XIV of France against Emperor Leopold I in the War of the Palatine Succession. In the end, the town is almost totally destroyed, with chaos and misery ruling all over. Von Fürstenberg is forced to cede the reign to the legitimate successor Joseph Clemens of Bavaria (1688 - 1723).
Joseph Clemens and his successors upgrade the town into a baroque residence with splendid buildings such as a town palace, the Poppelsdorf Palace, the Town Hall and the church on the Kreuzberg hill with its Sacred Stairs. The most popular Elector is Clemens August, a charming as well as an easy-going gentleman with a propensity to magnificent buildings and the high life, who ultimately dies dancing. He boasts the most pompous court in the entire western part of Germany and receives a host of illustrious guests. The members of the House of Wittelsbach are succeeded by Max Frederick of Königsegg-Rothenfels (1761 - 1784) and Max Franz of Habsburg-Lorraine (1784 - 1794), a son of Empress Maria Theresa. He elevates the academy that was founded by his predecessor to the rank of university, Bonn’s first, and makes Godesberg a spa. The „Redoute“ - building is his outstanding architectural legacy.
Bonn´s most prominent citizen
On 17th December 1770, Johann van Beethoven, musician at the Elector´s court, and his wife Maria Magdalena have their son Ludwig baptised in the church of Saint Remigius. Presumably, Ludwig was born the day before - we do not know for sure - in the rear building of No. 20 Bonngasse.
He has his first public piano performance when he is 7. At the age of 14 he is given a full-time job as an organisat at the court of Elector Max Franz. In 1792, Beethoven departs to Vienna to join the imperial court. Max Franz, of Habsburg descent, has paved the way for him - unfortunately, as the Bonners find. His birthplace is now a museum. His statue adorns the Münsterplatz.
A French interlude
While Queen Marie Antoinette is sent to the block in Paris her brother Max Franz is expelled from Bonn and his Electorate by the troops of that same revolution in 1794. They erect a „Freedom Tree“ in the market square, shut down the university and acquaint Bonn’s citizens with their first paper money, the assignats. Above all, however, they bring them equality before the law as well as freedom of religion and trade. Bonn, as indeed the entire left bank of the Rhine, becomes French territory and adopts - not to its detriment - the „Code civil“ („Code Napoléon“), the progressive civil law of the conquerors. It remains in force in the Rhineland as long as 1900 when it is replaced by the new and nationwide uniform Civil Code („Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch“) of the German Empire.
Napoleon falls off his horse
Napoleon visits Bonn in 1804 for the first time. He lodges in the Belderbuscher Hof where the opera is located today. He is in a rush to inspect the walls and gates of the town to see if they could be once again turned into fortifications. He rides to the Kreuzberg, and then gallops around the town. A bad mishap occurs to him in the Vogtsgasse, a narrow alley sloping steeply down towards the Rhine. His white horse trips, and the Emperor tumbles forward. An accident seems inevitable - had not one of his generals gripped him with a quick hand.
Hardly back in the saddle, Napoleon, still pale, turns to his rescuer, asking him: „Can Bonn be converted into a fortress?“ The general, knowing the superstitious leanings of the Corsican, replies, „No, Sire, it does not seem advisable.“ Napoleon returns in 1811, taking a salute of his troops in the Poppelsdorfer Allee.
Under Prussian rule
The Congress of Vienna assigns the Rhineland to Prussia. Britain has a hand in this as she has a strong interest in keeping France at bay by a strong neighbour. The Rhinelanders are not overly enthusiastic. The Cologne banker Schaffhausen expresses their feelings in his own words, „Jesus and Mary, we are indeed marrying into a poor Family“. At any rate, the (protestant) Prussians lead Bonn and the entire (catholic) Rhineland into an era which by then has become more enlightened. The university is re-founded, the „Royal Museum of National Antiquities“ (now LVR-Landesmuseum - Museum of the Rhineland) and the regional mining authority are established in Bonn, the town is connected to the railway network, virtues like discipline and thriftiness are reinforced - not all was bad that the Prussians brought.
The Lieutenant and the mouse
The Bonners react with the Rhinelanders’ penchant for mockery to what appears to them as too much Prussian rigidity. The following anecdote from 1822 may serve as an example. That year brought a rich harvest of wine and a bad infestation of mice. So when the annual procession to Kevelaer, a traditional place of pilgrimage, sets out from the Church of Saint Remigius a number of dignitaries watch the departure of the pilgrims from the windows of the Hotel ‘Zum Goldenen Stern’ (The Golden Star) situated in the market square. When a young Prussian -and, of course, protestant - lieutenant enters the room he exclaims, flabbergasted by what he sees, „Look at these superstitious people. They carry a silver mouse to Kevelaer hoping thus to get rid of this plague“. Patting him on the shoulder, an elderly Bonner responds calmly in his vernacular: „Dear Lieutenant, if we really believed that, we would have carried a golden Prussian to Kevelaer long time ago“.
Bonn scholars, from Argelander to Welcker
People are very grateful for the foundation in 1818 of the university, named Friedrich-Wilhelm-Universität after the King of Prussia. The Prussians consider it a kind of compensation for Bonn’s loss of the past status as a capital (of the Electorate of Cologne). Soon the university is one of the most prestigious in the entire state.
The list of famous professors who lectured here in the 19th century is impressive. Among them are:
- Friedrich Wilhelm August Argelander (1799 - 1875), astronomer, author of the star catalogue known as the „Bonner Durchmusterung“
- Ernst Moritz Arndt (1769 - 1869), historian, writer, freedom fighter, member of the Frankfurt National Assembly 1848 - 1849
- Moritz August von Bethmann-Hollweg (1795 - 1877), jurist, later Prussian Minister of Education and Culture
- Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann (1785 - 1860), historian and statesman, member of the Frankfurt National Assembly 1848 - 1849
- Georg August Goldfuß (1782 -1848), palaeontologist and zoologist
- Barthold Georg Niebuhr (1776 - 1831), ancient historian
- Johann Jakob Noeggerath (1788 - 1877), geologist and mineralogist
- Julius Plücker (1801 - 1868), mathematician and physicist
- August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767 1845), literary historian and indologist
- Friedrich Gottlieb Welcker (1784 - 1868), classical philologist, builds up the university library
Schlegel and the candles
August Wilhelm von Schlegel is in the habit of opening his lectures with ceremonial solemnity. As a rule, his valet appears first, setting candles on the lectern and a glass of sugar water next to them, disappears, then returns with the scholar´s briefcase and lights the candles. Following a carefully stage-managed interval the lecture eventually begins.
One day, this ceremony completed, Schlegel finds the auditorium empty. Subsequently, he is amazed to see a number of commissionaires enter lighting a candle at the seat of each student and depositing their folders. The last one holds the door open respectfully: enter the gentlemen-students. Icy silence. Schlegel raises his eyebrows almost to his wig - and begins to deliver his lecture in piercing staccato. A famous witness to this story is Heinrich Heine, the German poet, in those days a student in Bonn.
The first Beethoven Festival
The unveiling ceremony in 1845 of the Beethoven statue in the Münsterplatz (Minster Square) and, at the same time, the first Beethoven Festival are both organised by the composer Franz Liszt. The event proceeds not without embarrassment. The bronze Beethoven turns his back on the august guests of honour, King Frederick William of Prussia, and Britain’s Queen Victoria who are seated on the balcony of the Fürstenberg Palace, now the Central Post Office. Alexander von Humboldt’s presence of mind saves the situation: he points out that Beethoven had been known for his bad manners throughout his life. And there is more embarrassment in the offing. Liszt proposes a toast at the festive banquet which snubs the French guests headed by Berlioz fiercely, producing a tumultuous response. And Lola Montez, the famous and notorious Spanish dancer and mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who was the reason of his later abdication, performs an outrageous guest part dancing wildly on the tables.
Robert Schumann, the ingenious pianist and composer, comes to Bonn in 1854, severely ill, and dies here two years later in a mental institution at Endenich. He is buried in the ‘Alter Friedhof’ (Old Cemetery) as is later his wife Clara.
As publishers, Nikolaus Simrock and his son Karl write poems. In 1794, Nikolaus establishes his famous music publishing house. The name of Karl Simrock is inseparably linked to the translation of the Song of the Nibelungs and the redaction and translation of the poems of Walther von der Vogelweide, the most famous Middle High German poet. Simrock’s „German Chapbooks“ („Deutsche Volksbücher“) make legendary 55 editions between 1839 and 1867.
Proud of princes and husars
The 19th century takes a peaceful course in Bonn. The town has ‘its democratic moment’ in 1848 when Gottfried Kinkel waves the black- red-gold-coloured flag on the outside staircase of the Town Hall, and seven professors of the Alma Mater Bonnensis are members of the Constitutional Assembly which meets in the Frankfurt Paulskirche (Saint Paul’s Church). Bonn’s citizens learn to live with Prussian rule and are proud of the Royal Hussars Regiment and of the imperial princes who come here to study. Godesberg develops into a much-frequented health resort and spa. Rhine tourism, initiated by the English and glorified romantically, is in full bloom. Steamship excursions are delights in high demand.
Industry and trade keep growing since industrialisation started also in Bonn in the late 19th century. Some industries and a few exemplary names are: ceramics (Wessel at Mehlem), office supplies (Soennecken), chemicals (Marquart), a spinning mill (jute), wallpaper (Strauven), Bonner Universitätsdruckerei (Bonn University Printing House), Bonner Fahnenfabrik (Bonn Flag Factory), Bonner Zeitungsdruckerei Neusser / General-Anzeiger (Bonn Newspaper Printing House / local newspaper ‘General-Anzeiger’).A considerable number of wealthy families have taken up residence in Bonn and Godesberg. Bonn is Prussia’s fourth richest town in the early 20ieth century. Around 1910, the town counts about 200 millionaires.
Tit for tat
A key event is the construction of Bonn´s first Rhine bridge which is inaugurated in 1898. Annoyed because the location of the bridge disregards their shipyard, the municipality of Beuel on the opposite bank of the river refuses to contribute even a single penny. So, grudgingly, the Bonners alone have to bear the full cost of the largest arc bridge of the time. In revenge, a small stone figure nicknamed ‘Bröckemännche’ (‘Bridge Manikin’) in the eastern pier of the bridge sticks its naked posterior towards the inhabitants of Beuel. It goes down in the floods together with the entire bridge in World War II. Although later recovered it was replaced by a copy - and now its bottom points upriver towards Frankfurt which was defeated by Bonn in the struggle for the position of Federal Capital.
Separatists and the first autobahn
World War I, massive inflation and the Great Depression cause severe hardship also in Bonn. The boom is over. Unemployment and food shortage prevail. In 1920, British occupation is relieved by French troops, staying until 1926. Separatists, under protection by France, undertake an attempt to detach the Rhineland from the German State und occupy the Town Hall in September 1923. The conflict comes to a head in what is known as the ‘Separatist Battle at the Siebengebirge’, after which the spook is over. In May 1926, Bonn celebrates demonstratively the millennium jubilee of the Rhineland being part of the German nation. Germany’s first motorway is inaugurated between Bonn and Cologne in August 1932.
A balance of horror
In 1933, the Nazis seize power also in Bonn, opening the darkest chapter in the town’s history: burning of books, the forced cooptation of institutions and organisations (‘Gleichschaltung’), Pogrom Night, deportations, bombing nights. The worst air-raid occurred on 18th October, 1944, with a death toll of over 300. The final balance of horror is depressing: 1,150 women and men were murdered by the Nazis, among them approximately 770 of Jewish descent and 50 Sinti. The overall figures of war victims are: 1,904 dead civilians, 3,662 disabled persons, 4,020 soldiers killed, 3,686 missing.
One third of Bonn is destroyed. The neighbouring towns of Beuel and Bad Godesberg are less afflicted. Town Hall, Minster Church, the university, Poppelsdorf Palace, the clinical centre, Beethoven Hall, the entire old part of town, are all in ruins. 2,647 dwellings are razed to the ground, 10,414 are damaged, part of them severely. The air raids leave 700,000 cubic metres (almost 2.5 million cubic feet) of debris. The survivors roll up their sleeves and buck up to rebuild their town. Temporary narrow-gauge railways for the removal of rubble, starvation and the black market characterise the first post-war years, first under American, subsequently under British occupation.
Bonn for capital
Yet, when asked on 5 July 1948 if Bonn is able to accommodate the ‘Parliamentary Council’, the constitutional assembly, the Town Council says yes immediately. The demanding task of this body is to draft a constitution, the Basic Law, for the new German state. The inaugural session takes place in the Museum Koenig, a museum of natural history, on 1st September 1948. The proceedings are conducted in the hurriedly renovated teacher training college, later the seat of parliament (‘Bundeshaus’). Its chairman is Konrad Adenauer, the former Lord Mayor of Cologne who had been deposed by the Nazis. He lives nearby, in Rhöndorf at the foot of the Siebengebirge hills. As a Member of Parliament for Bonn he is elected the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. Adenauer signs the Basic Law on 23rd May 1949.
Parliament (‘Deutscher Bundestag’) confirms on 3rd November 1949 the Parliamentary Council’s proposal to make Bonn the provisional capital. The competing candidate, Frankfurt, is defeated by a narrow margin. The Bundeshaus becomes the seat of the two parliamentary chambers, Bundestag (the elected Federal Diet) and Bundesrat (Federal Council), the representation of the Länder (the federated states). The first Federal President, Thedor Heuss, resides in the Villa Hammerschmidt, the first Federal Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, next door in the Palais Schaumburg.
Throughout five decades Bonn proves to be an often-praised host to the Parliament and Government of a country which in this period develops into one of the leading economic powers of the world. Bonn goes through exciting years as federal capital. The visits of nearly all monarchs and statesmen of the world bring much glamour. After long years as provisional capital, Bonn sees a lot of government building activity under Chancellor Willy Brandt in the 1970s.
Moving to Berlin
After the fall of the Wall in 1989, the Bundestag, on 20th June 1991, votes with a narrow majority of 337 against 320 to move to Berlin. Parliament and parts of the Government take up their work in Berlin in 1999. The Berlin - Bonn Act of 1994 determines that Bonn will be the second political centre of Germany with the title of ‘Federal City’. 6 of the 15 ministries remain here. The Federal President and the Federal Chancellor retain a second official seat in Bonn. Over 20 federal institutions and organisations, such as the Federal Cartel Office and the Federal Audit Court, are transferred to Bonn from Berlin and Frankfurt, respectively. Numerous international organisations establish their headquarters here. Bonn becomes the United Nations City. The former office building of the Members of Parliament and some adjacent buildings have been transformed into a UN Campus.It comprises the headquarters of roughly twenty UN agencies of which UN Climate Change (UNFCCC – United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is the largest one.