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Paderborn Travel Guide

Town Hall, Paderborn (photo by Efgeka - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
Town Hall of Paderborn.


Paderborn (pop. 145,000) is the capital of the Paderborn district in North Rhine-Westphalia. The name of the city derives from the river Pader, Germany's shortest river (4km only), which originates in more than 200 springs in a park near Paderborn Cathedral. 10% of the population are students of the University of Paderborn.

Paderborn has an important computer and high-tech industry, with such companies as Wincor Nixdorf and Orga Systems headquartered in the city. Siemens AG, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, Secure Computing also have branches there.


Charlemagne subdues Widukind, leader of the Saxons, at Paderborn

The early days of Paderborn are closely associated with Charlemagne (=> see Aachen and History of the Franks). In the Spring of 772, Charlemagne launched its first major campaign against the Saxons and destroyed the Irminsul (see frame below). In 776, he built a powerful base in Paderborn, erected a palace-church aimed at overawing the local population, and even planned for a while to move his capital there under the name of "Karlsburg". In 782, Charles established his first Saxon Capitulary in the city, a religious body designed to back up the Christianisation of the pagan Saxons.

Saxon resistance lasted for decades, until 799, when their leader, Widukind, finally laid down his weapons. In the same year, Charlemagne met Pope Leo III in Paderborn to discuss his coronation as Emperor of Occident the next year. The Saxons defeated, Pope Leo III established the Bishopric of Paderborn to bolster the position of the Roman Catholic Church in the region. The relics of St. Liborius of Le Mans (348-396) were transferred to Paderborn in 836. Liborius has since been the patron saint of the city.

The Bishopric of Paderborn became a state of the Holy Roman Empire in 1281. In the early 1500's, the Reformation swept the region, and a big chunk of the diocese (notably the Counties of Lippe, Waldeck, Pyrmont and Ravensberg) turned to Protestantism. In 1580, the Jesuits were called to the rescue by the bishop. Prince-Bishop Theodor von Fürstenberg (1546-1618) restored the practice of the Catholic religion, built a gymnasium for the Jesuits, and founded the University of Paderborn in 1614.

During the French Revolutionary period,, the prince-bishopric was dissolved (1802) and the land became part of the Kingdom of Westphalia (1807-1813), ruled by Napoleon's brother Jéräme Bonaparte. After the fall of Napoleon, it became the Prussian province of Westphalia. The Jesuit university was closed in 1819.

The Diocese of Paderborn was recreated by Pope Pius VII in 1821, and promoted to an archdiocese in 1930. In 1972, the university was re-founded and is now attended by some 14,000 students.

Paderborn and the city of Le Mans in France have had a close relationship since 836. It has even been considered as the earliest form of town twinning in Europe. A modern town twinning arrangement was officially established in 1967.

Irminsul on a 12th-century Christian carving

The tree Irminsul is the pillar that was said to connect heaven and earth in Germanic mythology. Charlemagne reportedly destroyed the pagan pillar in 772, while converting the Saxons to Christianity.

According to archaeologist Wilhelm Teudt (1860-1942), the Irminsul was located near the Externsteine rock formation, in the Teutoburger Wald close to Paderborn.

In 1933, Wilhelm Teudt proposed to the recently elected National Socialist Party to turn the Externsteine into a "sacred grove" for the commemoration of the ancestors.

Some Neo-Pagans continue to believe that the Irminsul was located at the Externsteine and identify it with a bent tree depicted under the cross of a 12th-century Christian carving. The site has also raised the interest of various German nationalist movements over the years, and continues to draw crowds of visitors.

Paderborn Cathedral (photo by Cvoegtle - Creative Commons Licence) Town Hall, Paderborn (photo by Efgeka - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license) City History Museum in Adam & Eve House, Paderborn (photo by 	ThomasLieven - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)


With its long ecclesistical history, it is only natural that the most important sight in town should be the cathedral. The present building is a hall church (i.e. with three naves instead of one) completed in 1270 in a transitional Romanesque-Gothic style. It is covered with a greenish copper roofing. The 93m high bell tower dates from the 12th century and is characterised by the 18 niches on each of its facade, as well as four roofed turrets at each corner. The crypt, with a length of 32 metres, is one of the largest in Germany, and contains the relics of St. Liborius.

The Three Hares Window
The Three Hares Window

While visiting Paderborn Cathedral, note the window with a circular motif depicting three hares chasing each other in a circle (known in German as the Dreihasenfenster). Each of the ears is shared by two animals so that only three ears are shown.

The three hares design originated in Chinese cave temples about 1400 years ago, and is said to have been brought to Europe through the silk road. The same motif is found at various locations in Central Asia (Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Iran), as well as in North-Western Europe (Germany, Benelux, Northern France, England and Wales).

The foundations of Charlemagne's palace (Kaiserpfalz) were discovered recently just north of the cathedral. Opposite stands the reconstructed 11th-century Ottonian palace, which contains a museum with the artifacts found during the excavations.

Other buildings of interest in town include the Renaissance Town Hall (built in 1616) on the Market Square, the Jesuit Church (an interesting fusion of Baroque, Gothic and Romanesque elements), the Romanesque Abdinghofkirche (an 11th-century Benedictine monastery converted into a Protestant church in 1867), the 17th-century Heisingsche Haus next to the tourist office, and the half-timbered Adam and Eve House housing the City Museum.

Paderborn has the biggest computer museum in the world, the Heinz Nixdorf Museums Forum. It was established (and named after) the founder of Nixdorf Computers, based in Paderborn. The company became the fourth largest computer company in Europe and a worldwide specialist in banking systems (it was acquired by Siemens in 1990). The museum retraces the history of communication since the dawn of civilisations, with a special emphasis on the evolution of computers.

How to get there

By car

Paderborn is located on the short A33 motorway, connecting the E331/A44 (Dortmund-Kassel) to the E34/A2 (Duisburg-Bielefeld-Hannover).

By train

There are frequent direct trains from/to Düsseldorf (2h to 2h20min), Dortmund (1h10min), Hannover (1h45min), and Erfurt (2h40min), among others.

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