Bonn (Bonna in Latin; pop. 315,000) was the capital of West Germany from 1949 to 1990 and the official seat of government of reunified Germany until 1999.
Nowadays, Bonn remains a major centre of politics and administration. The city hosts 12 United Nations institutions, and is the seat of some of the largest German corporations, chiefly in the areas of telecommunications and logistics (e.g. Deutsche Post, Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile or Deutsche Welle).
Bonn is also famous for being the birthplace of classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Another famous composer, Robert Schumann (1810-1856) lived the last years of his life and died in Bonn.
Poppelsdorf Palace, Bonn
Old Town Hall on the Markt, Bonn
Founded by the Romans as a military settlement on the Rhine, the first century wooden fort was known as Castra Bonnensis or simply Bonna. It was located at a strategic position on the Roman road (now known as Römerstraße) linking the provincial capitals of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (Cologne) and Moguntiacum (Mainz).
The fort was later rebuilt in stone, and was designed to accommodate a full legion (over 5,000 men), with houses of varying size, barracks, stables and a military jail.. It was the largest ancient fort of its kind, covering an area of 250,000 m2.
Occupied by Roman legions until the last decade of the empire in the 5th century, with allied Frankish tribes supplying most of the troops against other Germanic invadors. After the fall of Rome, the fort was used by Frankish kings, who renamed the place "Bonnburg".
The medieval town grew around the Münster basilica (pictured right), south of the Roman settlement. Many Romanesque edifices were constructed between the 11th and the 13th century.
From 1597 to 1794, Bonn was the residence of the Archbishops and Prince-electors of Cologne. Bonn's characteristic Baroque architecture owes a lot to Clemens August of Bavaria (1700-1761), who during his life accumulated the titles of Archbishop-Elector of Cologne, Prince-Bishop of Regensburg, Paderborn, Münster, Hildesheim, and Osnabrück, and a Grand Master of the Teutonic Order (among others !). In addition to his official palace in Bonn, Clemens August had a private residence built for himself in Brühl (halfway between Bonn and Cologne), the monumental Palace of Augustusburg.
Another memorable ruler was Maximilian Franz of Austria (1756-1801, ruled 1784-1794), who founded the university and the spa quarter of Bad Godesberg, a few kilometres south of the city centre. He is also the one who financed Ludwig van Beethoven's first journey to Vienna.
Taken by the French Revolutionaries in 1794, Bonn remained under French control until 1815. The Congress of Vienna granted it to Prussia, which kept it until the unification of Germany and creation of the Second Reich in 1871.
In the aftermath of World War II, Bonn was in the British zone of occupation. In 1949, it became the provisional capital of West Germany (instead of Frankfurt, that was originally proposed), thanks to the advocacy of Konrad Adenauer, who became the first Chancellor of West Germany (1949-1963). Because of its relatively small size for a capital city, Bonn was sometimes jokingly referred to as the Bundesdorf (Federal Village).
Bonn's sights can be divided into two areas : the historical centre (Altstadt) and the former federal government quarter (Bundesviertel).
The old town is centered around the Market Square (Markt) and the Minster Square (Münsterplatz). Parts of the old city wall have survived to the East, in the Stadtgarten ("city gardens").
Standing on the Market Square, the pink-and-grey Rococo-style Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus, built in 1737) is one of the finest buildings left by Clemens August of Bavaria (=> see History above). It is the office of the mayor and is used for official receptions. Quite a few famous heads of state have come here, such as French president Charles de Gaulle or US president J.F. Kennedy.
Palace of the Prince-Electors, Bonn
Just south of the Old Town Hall is the Palace of the Prince-Electors (Kurfürstliches Schloss), erected in 1705, and used as the main official residence of the Electors of Cologne until 1818. Since then, it has become the main building of the University of Bonn. At the back of the palace spreads the Hofgarten (park) , where is situated the Academic Art Museum (Akademisches Kunstmuseum). A bit further south is another university-owned museum, the Arithmeum.
Take the broad, chestnut tree-lined Poppelsdorfer Allee. At the end you will reach the Poppelsdorf Castle (Poppelsdorfer Schloss) in the Botanical Garden. It was designed in the Baroque style by French architect Robert de Cotte and constructed from 1715 till 1746. It served as the Bonn residence of the Archbishop of Cologne. Heavily damaged by Allied air raids in 1944, the palace was restored in a humbler fashion in 1955.
Münsterplatz owes its name to the Romanesque Bonn Minster (Bonner Münster), one of Germany's oldest churches. Its construction started around 1050, on the assumed site where Cassius and Florentius, two Christian Roman legionaries were beheaded for refusing to fight against fellow Christians (an early Christian belief promptly abandoned in the Middle Ages, once most of the European population had converted to Christianity). The minster, famous for its five spires, was completed in 1239. It was badly damaged by wars in 1583-1589 and 1689, and extensively restored in 1883-1889, 1934 and after WWII. During its long history, it served briefly as the cathedral of the Archbishopric of Cologne. It now has the rank of "Papal basilica".
The western side of Münsterplatz is occupied by the Palais Fürstenberg (now the central post office). Just opposite stands the Beethoven Memorial (Beethovendenkmal), a bronze statue of the composer erected in 1845 in honour of his would-be 75th birthday, and mostly financed by Franz Liszt. Fans of the musical genius won't miss his birthplace, now called Beethoven Haus (pictured right), at 20, Bonngasse, 100m north of the Markt. On display are his last piano, and a brass ear trumpet (used by the composer to combat his gradual deafness), as well as private letters, musical scores and other personal belongings.
1.5km south of the historical centre, the Bundesviertel was the heart of the (West) German politics and administration for 50 years. It has been reconverted into an international district, home to several institutions of the United Nations. In fact, Bonn is the only base of the UN in Germany, and now disposes of a UN campus in the Langer Eugen, the former building for the German members of parliament.
The former Plenary Hall of the parliament is now used as a conference centre. The Deutsche Post has recently built a modern 162m-high tower as its headquarters. The former Chancellery is now home to the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Top German officials have maintained a secondary official residence in Bonn, like the Villa Hammerschmidt (for the German president), and the Palais Schaumburg (for the chancellor).
The Bundesviertel boasts some of the country's most acclaimed museums, forming a clutch of five museums, the so-called Museumsmeile ("Museum Mile"). The five museums are :
Deutsches Museum Bonn (a small branch of the Deutsches Museum in Munich)
Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany)
Kunstmuseum Bonn (Bonn Museum of Modern Art)
Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Museum of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany)
Museum Koenig (Germany's best Natural History Museum)
8 km south of the old town, the suburb of Bad Godesberg is worth visiting for the ruins of its 13th-century castle, the Godesburg Fortress (pictured right).
Until 1999, the majority of foreign embassies to Germany were located in Bad Godesberg. Some buildings are still used as branch offices or consulates.
In the neighbourhood of Schwarzrheindorf in the Beuel district (on the right bank of the Rhine), the St. Maria & St. Clemens Doppelkirche is a double church typical of 11th and 12th century Germany. It may actually be one of the most famous double churches in the world. The church was designed with an upper level for the nobility and a lower level for the commoners. Constructed around 1151 by Count Arnold II of Wied as a family chapel, it became a Benedictine monastery between 1172 and 1806.
Bonn has a series of decentralised museums that do not fit in the above areas. Let's note the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn (Rhenish State Museum Bonn), the �gyptisches Museum (Egyptian Museum), the Frauenmuseum (Women's Museum), the August-Macke-Haus and the Schumannhaus.
Access & Orientation
Bonn is located between Cologne (30km) and Koblenz (60km).
Bonn is easily accessible from these Cologne or Koblenz by a number of motorways and other roads following the Rhine, including the E31 (A61), E35 (A3) or A555.
There are frequent train connections to Cologne (30min), Koblenz (30 to 45min), Düsseldorf (45min to 1 hour) and Mainz (1h30min). Trains to Aachen and Belgium require a change at Cologne.
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