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City Halls in Germany

Updated on August 7, 2012

It is not difficult to see that many German cities, especially those that are dated from medieval time, share the same feature: there is always a market square in centre of the city and on this square the city hall (Rathaus in German) has a prominent presence. As you may already know, in the past Germany was not a united country but a collection of various kingdoms and territories with different lines of development. This characteristic is reflected right in how the city hall looks. Having wandered to several German cities, I find it very interesting to look at the city halls and learn the stories behind them. This hub is intended to be an evolving one, recording my experiences.

Bremen

Bremen has been sort of my second home for several years and I pass by the city hall quite frequently. The Bremer old city hall would be what the Germans call "klein aber fein" (small but good), and one knows it is when it is certified as World Heritage Site by UNESCO together with the Roland statue nearby (the white column on the left of the photo). Nowadays, the hall is no longer in use for daily city senate meetings

The city hall of Bremen was built in the 15th century and the scholars identify its architecture as being typical for Gothic style at the beginning of the Renaissance era. As stated above, it is not really large, but richly decorated both in and outside. There are quite a few references to the the city's status as an important trading center and seaport: several frescoes in the Senate hall depict scenes of the sea, and there are models of ships hung from the ceiling (I heard that they are exactly the same as real ships coming from and to the city in the past, just much smaller. And on special occasions, the tiny cannons on those little ships would be fired, but the city gave up that custom as the noise broke all glasses in the hall).

On the fa├žade of the Bremer city hall, one can see statues of saints and philosophers, but no king. That is because Bremen is a "free Hanseatic" city, meaning that it enjoyed political autonomy (since foundation, the city has had its own governing council with senates elected by citizens. In the beginning, the city was also ruled by an archbishop but gained full autonomy in the 14th century) and was a member of the influential trading alliance Hanseatic League.

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The statue of the famous Bremen musicians :). It is at a corner of the city hall. This image is the unofficial symbol of the city and you'll see them a lot. The Roland statue, symbol of the city's independence and trading right. Legend has it that as long as the Roland statue stands on the market place, Bremen will retain its autonomy.
The statue of the famous Bremen musicians :). It is at a corner of the city hall. This image is the unofficial symbol of the city and you'll see them a lot.
The statue of the famous Bremen musicians :). It is at a corner of the city hall. This image is the unofficial symbol of the city and you'll see them a lot.
The Roland statue, symbol of the city's independence and trading right. Legend has it that as long as the Roland statue stands on the market place, Bremen will retain its autonomy.
The Roland statue, symbol of the city's independence and trading right. Legend has it that as long as the Roland statue stands on the market place, Bremen will retain its autonomy.

A tour through the Rathaus (video not by me)

Hamburg

Like Bremen, Hamburg is a prominent trading city with a long tradition of self-governing, and that shows in the city hall. The building is built in the 19th century in the style of the era to replace the old hall, which was burned down. The city hall overlooks the artificial lake Binnenalster and one can tell that it is intended to impress, citizens and visitors alike. The metal decorations are gilded with gold, and the stone parts are elaborately carved. The inner courtyard features a fountain and statues of important historical figures. As Hamburg is an important seaport up until today, ship motifs can be found here and there, especially on top of the poles in front of the building.

The city hall houses the Parliament of Hamburg as well as part of the city's administrative. Visitors are allowed inside and can freely roam in the lobby and the inner courtyard (visiting the working area is also possible but only at certain time and you must go in group with a guide).

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The city hall as seen from the Binnenalster lake.The lobby, which doubles as information center and exhibition hall.
The city hall as seen from the Binnenalster lake.
The city hall as seen from the Binnenalster lake.
The lobby, which doubles as information center and exhibition hall.
The lobby, which doubles as information center and exhibition hall.
The old city hall of Leipzig
The old city hall of Leipzig

Leipzig

Leipzig was prominent in the German industrialisation ("Grundzeit") and the city underwent major transformations. Thus the old city hall, which was built in the 16th century, was deemed not enough for the growing city's needs and another building was chosen to be city hall. The former city hall overlooking a market square which is just as old becomes the history museum of Leipzig.

I visited Leipzig in Christmas season and the scene of the annual Christmas market outside of this antique city hall was very charming.

This photo was actually taken on New Year's Day, but the Christmas tree was still there.
This photo was actually taken on New Year's Day, but the Christmas tree was still there.

Ratskeller

One noticeable feature of city halls (especially in the old cities) in Germany is the Ratskeller, a pub/guest-house run by the city. The place offers refreshment and the local specialities, representing the hospitality of the city. The Ratskeller of Bremen is quite well known, and a (humorous) book about the city says that the wine there can cure any illness.

The Bacchus statue inside the Bremen Ratskeller.
The Bacchus statue inside the Bremen Ratskeller.
working

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