The date and circumstances of the town’s foundation are unknown. Tradition maintains that Braunschweig was created through the merger of two settlements, one founded by Brun(o), a Saxon count who died in 880, on one side of the river Oker – the legend gives the year 861 for the foundation – and the other the settlement of a legendary Count Dankward, after whom Dankwarderode Castle (Dankward’s clearing), which was reconstructed in the 19th century, is named. The town’s original name of Brunswik is a combination of the name Bruno and Low German wik, a place where merchants rested and stored their goods. The town’s name therefore indicates an ideal resting-place, as it lay by a ford across the Oker River. Another explanation of the city’s name is that it comes from Brand, or burning, indicating a place which developed after the landscape was cleared through burning. The city was first mentioned in documents from the St. Magni Church from 1031, which give the city’s name as Brunesguik.
Middle Ages and early modern period
Up to the 12th century Braunschweig was ruled by the Saxon noble family of the Brunonen, then, through marriage, it fell to the House of Welf. In 1142 Henry the Lion of the House of Welf became Duke of Saxony and made Braunschweig the capital of his state (which, from 1156 on, also included the Duchy of Bavaria). He turned Dankwarderode Castle, the residence of the counts of Braunschweig, into his own Pfalz and developed the city further to represent his authority. Under Henry’s rule the Cathedral of St. Blasius was built and he also had the statue of a lion, his heraldic animal, erected in front of the castle. The lion subsequently became the city’s landmark.
Henry the Lion became so powerful that he dared to refuse military aid to the emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, which led to his condemnation and fall. However, his son Otto (IV), who could regain influence and was eventually crowned Holy Roman Emperor, continued to foster the city’s development.
During the Middle Ages Braunschweig was an important center of trade, one of the economic and political centers in Northern Europe and a member of the Hanseatic League from the 13th century to the middle of the 17th century. By the year 1600, Braunschweig was the seventh largest city in Germany. Although formally one of the residences of the rulers of the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg, a constituent state of the Holy Roman Empire, Braunschweig was de facto ruled independently by a powerful class of patricians and the guilds throughout much of the Late Middle Ages and the Early modern period. Because of the growing power of Braunschweig’s burghers, the Princes of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, who ruled over one of the subdivisions of Brunswick-Lüneburg, finally moved their Residenz out of the city and to the nearby town of Wolfenbüttel in 1432. The Princes of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel didn’t regain control over the city until the late 17th century, when Rudolph Augustus, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, took the city by siege.
In the 18th century Braunschweig was not only a political, but also a cultural centre. Influenced by the philosophy of the Enlightenment Dukes like Anthony Ulrich and Charles I became patrons of the arts and sciences. In 1745 Charles I founded the Collegium Carolinum, predecessor of the Braunschweig University of Technology, and in 1753 he moved the ducal residence back to Braunschweig. With this he attracted poets and thinkers such as Lessing, Leisewitz, and Jakob Mauvillon to his court and the city.Emilia Galotti by Lessing and Goethe’s Faust were performed for the first time in Braunschweig.
19th and early 20th century
In 1806 the city was captured by the French during the Napoleonic Wars and became part of the short-lived Napoleonic Kingdom of Westphalia in 1807. After the Congress of Vienna in 1815 Braunschweig was made capital of the reestablished independent Duchy of Brunswick, later a constituent state of the German Empire from 1871.
At the end of World War I, on 8 November 1918, a socialist Workers’ council forced Duke Ernest Augustus to abdicate his throne. On 10 November the council proclaimed the Socialist Republic of Brunswick under a one party government of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD). However, the subsequent elections on 22 December 1918 were won by the Social Democratic Party of Germany (MSPD), and USPD and MSPD formed a coalition government. In 1919 an uprising in Braunschweig, led by the communist Spartacus League, was defeated when Freikorps troops under Georg Ludwig Rudolf Maercker, by order of German Minister of Defence Gustav Noske, took over the city. Subsequently, a SPD-led government was established, and in December 1921 the new constitution of the Free State of Brunswick, now a parliamentary republic within the Weimar Republic, again with Braunschweig as its capital, was approved.
During World War II thousands of forced Eastern workers were brought to the city. During the years 1943–1945 at least 360 children taken away from the workers died in the Entbindungsheim für Ostarbeiterinnen.
During the war, Braunschweig was a Sub-area Headquarters (Untergebiet Hauptquartier) of Military District (Wehrkreis) XI. It was also the garrison city of the 31st Infanterie Division, which took part in the invasions of Poland, Belgium, France, and Russia, and was largely destroyed during the German withdrawal from Russia. The city was severely damaged by Anglo-American aerial attacks. The air raid on October 15, 1944 destroyed most of the Altstadt (old town), which had been the largest ensemble of half-timbered houses in Germany, as well as most of the churches. The cathedral, which had been converted to a national shrine (German: Nationale Weihestätte) by the Nazi government, still stood.
Postwar period to the 21st century
After the war, Braunschweig ceased to be a capital when the Free State of Brunswick was dissolved by the Allied occupying authorities (most of its lands were incorporated in the newly formed state of Lower Saxony). The cathedral was restored to its function as a Protestant church. The rebuilding of the city was intended to make it modern and automobile-oriented. A small section of the Altstadt survived the bombing and remains quite distinctive. In the 1990s efforts increased to reconstruct historic buildings that had been destroyed in the air raid. Buildings such as the Alte Waage (originally built in 1534) now stand again in their pre-war glory.