History of Dusseldorf

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Dusseldorf's development from an insignificant farming settlement on the banks of the Dussel into a lively cosmopolitan metropolis bursting with culture, fashion, media, and shopping is an outstanding success story.

At the time when Roman civilisation was making itself felt through the rapid construction of roads and buildings, only a few Germanic tribes stubbornly clung on to their marshy territory on the other side of the Rhine, where the city was later to spring up. In the Frankish period of the 7th and 8th centuries, the odd farming or fishing settlement could be found at the point where the small river Dussel flows into the Rhine. The first written mention of the town ' Dusseldorp ' dates back to 1135. Under Kaiser Friedrich Barbarossa the little town of Kaiserswerth, lying at the northern edge of Dusseldorf, became a well fortified outpost of the Empire. From the Palace of Barbarossa, a heavily fortified castle built between 1174 and 1184, soldiers kept a watchful eye on every movement over the Rhine. Kaiserswerth was made into an official district of Dusseldorf in 1929.

August 14th, 1288 is an important date in the annals of Dusseldorf. On this day the sovereign, Count Adolf V von Berg, granted the village on the banks of the Dussel the right to call itself a city. Prior to that a bloody power struggle between the powerful Archbishop of Cologne and the Berg nobility had taken place, culminating in the battle of Worringen. Enemy forces wiped out the army of Cologne on 5 June 1288 and dashed the Archbishop's ambitions. The Stadterhebungsmonument (monument celebrating Dusseldorf's elevation to city status) on the Burgplatz serves as a reminder of this epic event.

A market square subsequently sprang up right on the banks of the Rhine over an area of land no larger than four hectares. This square was protected by city walls on each side. In 1380 Dusseldorf was named regional capital of the Duchy of Berg. Building works proceeded at a fast pace. The collegiate church of St. Lambertus dates back to this period of rapid expansion. The pace of development accelerated further when Duke Wilhelm consolidated the status of the youthful capital (which then presided over the Duchies of Julich, Kleve and Berg as well as the Earldoms of Mark and Ravensburg) by building an imposing castle in the 16th century. The excellently preserved town hall was built in 1573 in the style of the Lower Rhine Renaissance.

Dusseldorf's growth was rampant under the new Pfalz-Neuburger Regent. Elector Johann Wilhelm II ' affectionately known to his people as Jan Wellem ' was particularly notable for his services to the city. This old rake and art lover married a Medici daughter and designed a vast gallery with an astonishing selection of paintings and sculptures, even by contemporary standards (including works by Rubens and Rembrandt). This gallery is housed in the Stadtschloss. Jan Wellem also did much for the growth of Dusseldorf's trade and infrastructure.

After the death of the childless Jan Wellem, however, the hitherto flourishing royal capital saw a reversal of its fortunes. Under his successors, who tended to avoid living in the city itself ' Elector Carl Theodor (1742-1799) eventually decided to move his court to Munich for good ' Dusseldorf lost its former dynamism. The Seven-Year War and the Napoleonic Wars (during which the city was occupied and the fort razed to the ground) sowed destruction and poverty. Even Prussia's acquisition of Dusseldorf at the Vienna Congress of 1815 failed to arrest the decline. Nevertheless, Dusseldorf's decay into a provincial backwater was in some ways a blessing in disguise. The razing of the fort had endowed the city with a large amount of unused space. The architect Maximilian Weyhe designed the expansive Hofgarten, a splendid landscaped garden in English style. He also designed the adjacent Königsallee, a magnificent boulevard which runs parallel to the river Dussel. In the early 19th century, at the Kunstakademie, Wilhelm von Schadow presided over the development of the Dusseldorf School, whose paintings soon gained a worldwide reputation. Eminent figures like Goethe and Diderot frequented the Malkasten, which was the seat of this group of artists.

By the mid-19th century the Industrial Revolution had left an indelible mark on the city's infrastructure and propelled its population statistics to new records: in 1882 Dusseldorf had over 100,000 inhabitants, and this figure doubled by 1892. Dusseldorf was becoming a large modern city. Two bridges ' the Hammer and the Oberkasseler Brucke - were key in furthering the city's growth on the left bank of the Rhine. The Grunderjahre (founder years) brought a new dynamism and sense of excitement as the city developed into an industrial and administrative metropolis.

However, the First World War and the Great Depression provided a sobering check to this new-found optimism. The Nazi period plunged Dusseldorf into a catastrophe. During World War 2 the city was transformed into a heap of rubble. Round-the-clock air attacks and a seven week-long bombardment in the spring of 1945 destroyed about half of the residential and industrial areas, claiming many civilian casualties in the process. 370,000 civilians were left in this desert of ruins by the end of the War (as compared with 540,000 in 1939). The Jewish community was decimated through deportation and murder (only 249 survived out of a pre-War population of 5,100). The Mahn- und Gedenkstätte fur die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus (Memorial to the Victims of National Socialism), located on Muhlenstraße, provides a grizzly account of the darkest chapter in Dusseldorf's history.

The British occupation of the Rhineland and Westfalia turned out to be a piece of good luck for the city. In 1946 the British named Dusseldorf capital of the newly created county of Nordrhein-Westfalia. The city's reconstruction proceeded at breakneck pace. The economic miracle transformed Dusseldorf into a metropolis of trade, administration and service industries, thereby giving it a new lease of life which nobody could have dreamed of in 1945. New buildings spring up everywhere, and international companies set up their businesses here. The ongoing success of the Messe (trade fair) and the continuing attraction of Dusseldorf to international companies makes for a high standard of living and a cosmopolitan feel. Although Dusseldorf's population of 570,000 (another 200,000 live in the commuter belt) certainly does not make it a metropolis of the size of, say, Hamburg or Munich, the range of possibilities in terms of culture, shopping, dining and nightlife can match anything offered by bigger cities, without the accompanying drawbacks. Come and see for yourself!