Wiesbaden is a city in southwest Germany and the capital of the federal state of Hesse. It has about 280,000 inhabitants, plus approximately 10,000 United States citizens (mostly associated with the United States Army). Wiesbaden, together with the cities of Frankfurt am Main, Darmstadt and Mainz, is part of the Frankfurt Rhine Main Region, a metropolitan area with a combined population of about 5.8 million people.
Wiesbaden is one of the oldest spa towns in Europe. Its name translates to «meadow baths,» making reference to the hot springs. At one time, Wiesbaden boasted 26 hot springs. Fourteen of the springs are still flowing today.
In 1970, the town hosted the tenth Hessentag state festival.
While evidence of settlement at present-day Wiesbaden dates back to the Neolithic era, historical records document continuous occupancy after the erection of a Roman fort in 6 AD which housed an auxiliary cavalry unit. The thermal springs of Wiesbaden are first mentioned in Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia. They were famous for their recreation pools for Roman army horses and as the source of a mineral used for red hair dye (which was very fashionable around the turn of BC/AD among women in Rome).
The Roman settlement is first mentioned using the name Aquae Mattiacorum (Latin for «Waters of the Mattiaci») in 121. The Mattiaci were a Germanic tribe, possibly a branch of the neighboring Chatti, who lived in the vicinity at that time. The town also appears as Mattiacum in Ptolemy’s Geographia (2.10). The line of Roman frontier fortifications, the Limes Germanicus, was constructed in the Taunus not far north of Wiesbaden.
The capital of the province of Germania Superior, Mogontiacum (present-day Mainz), base of 2 (at times 3) Roman legions, was just over the Rhine and connected by a bridge at the present-day borough of Mainz-Kastel (Roman «castellum»), a strongly fortified bridgehead.
The Alamanni, a coalition of Germanic tribes from beyond the Limes, captured the fort c. 260. Later, in the 370s, when the Romans and Alamanni were allied, the Alemanni gained control of the Wiesbaden area and were in charge of its defense against other Germanic tribes.
After the Franks under Clovis I defeated the Alamanni in the Battle of Tolbiac in 496, the Franks eventually displaced the Alamanni in the Wiesbaden area over the course of the 6th century. In the 8th century, Wiesbaden became the site of a royal palace of the Frankish kingdom. The first documented use of the name Wiesbaden is by Einhard, the biographer of Charlemagne, whose writings mention «Wisabada» sometime between 828 and 830.
When the Frankish Carolingian Empire broke up in 888, Wiesbaden was in the eastern half, called East Francia (which would evolve into the Holy Roman Empire). The town was part of Franconia, the heartland of East Francia. In the 1170s, the Counts of Nassau, Walram I, received the area around Wiesbaden as a fiefdom. When Franconia fragmented in the early 13th century, Nassau emerged as an independent state as part of the Holy Roman Empire.
In 1232 Wiesbaden became a reichsstadt, an imperial city, of the Holy Roman Empire. However, in 1242, during the war of Emperor Frederick II against the Pope, the Archbishop of Mainz, Siegfried III, ordered the city’s destruction.
Wiesbaden returned to the control of the House of Nassau in 1270 under Count Walram II of Nassau-Weilburg. However, Wiesbaden and the castle at Sonnenberg were again destroyed in 1283 in conflict with Eppstein.
Walram’s son and successor Adolf would later became King of Germany from 1292 until 1298. In 1329, under Adolf’s son Gerlach I of Nassau-Weilburg the House of Nassau and thereby, Wiesbaden, received the right of coinage from Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Bavarian.
In 1355, the County of Nassau-Weilburg was divided among the sons of Gerlach. The County of Nassau’s holdings would be subdivided many times among heirs, with the parts being brought together again whenever a line died out. Wiesbaden became the seat of the County of Nassau-Wiesbaden under Count Adolf I (1307–1370), eldest son of Gerlach. It would eventually fell back to Nassau-Weilburg in 1605.
Due to its participation in the uprisings of the German Peasants’ War of 1525, Wiesbaden lost all its privileges for over forty years. During this time, Wiesbaden became Protestant with the nomination of Wolf Denthener as first Lutheran pastor on January 1, 1543. The same day, the first Latin school was opened, preparing pupils for the gymnasium in Idstein. In 1566 the privileges of the city were restored.
The oldest remaining building of Wiesbaden, the old city hall, was built in 1609 and 1610. No older buildings are preserved due to two fires in 1547 and 1561.
In 1648, at the end of the devastating 30 years war, chronicles tell that Wiesbaden had barely 40 residents left.
In 1659, the Countship of Nassau-Weilburg was divided again. Wiesbaden became part of the Countship of Nassau-Usingen. In 1744, the seat of Nassau-Usingen was moved to Biebrich.
In 1771, the Count of Nassau-Usingen granting a concession for gambling in Wiesbaden. In 1810, the Wiesbaden Casino (German: Spielbank) was opened in the old Kurhaus. Gambling would later be outlawed by Prussian authorities in 1872.
As a result of Napoleon’s victory over Austria in the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved. On July 12, 1806, 16 states in present-day Germany, including the remaining Countships of Nassau-Usingen and Nassau-Weilburg, formally left the Holy Roman Empire and joined together in the Confederation of the Rhine. Napoleon was its «protector.» Under pressure from Napoleon, both countships merged to form the Duchy of Nassau on August 30, 1806.
At the 1815 Congress of Vienna, the Duchy of Nassau joined the German Confederation. The capital of Nassau was moved from Weilburg to Wiesbaden, and the city became the ducal residence. Building activity started in order to give the city a magnificent appearance. Most of the historical center of Wiesbaden dates back to this time.
Marktkirche, designed by Carl Boos. Its neo-Gothic steeple dominates the center of Wiesbaden.
In the Revolutions of 1848, 30,000 citizens of Nassau assembled in Wiesbaden on March 4. They demanded a constitution from the Duke, which they received.
In the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Nassau took Austria’s side. This decision led to the end of the duchy. After the Austrian defeat Nassau was annexed by Prussia and became part of the Prussian province of Hesse-Nassau. The deposed duke Adolph of Nassau in 1890 became the Grand Duke of Luxembourg (see House of Nassau).
In the subsequent period, Wiesbaden experienced growth as a spa, convention city, and administrative seat. The period around the turn of the 19th to 20th century is regarded as the heyday of the city. Kaiser Wilhelm II visited the city regularly in summer, such that it became an unofficial «summer residence». The city was also popular among the Russian nobility. In the wake of the imperial court, numerous nobles, artists and wealthy businessmen increasingly settled in the city. Many wealthy persons chose Wiesbaden as their retirement seat, as it offered leisure and medical treatment alike. In 1894, the present Hessian State Theater, designed by the Vienna architects Fellner and Helmer, was built on behalf of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Weimar Republic and Third Reich (1919 to 1945)
After World War I, Wiesbaden fell under the Allied occupation of the Rhineland and was occupied by the French army in 1918. In 1921, the Wiesbaden Agreement on German reparations to France was signed in the city. In 1925, Wiesbaden became the headquarters of the British Rhine Army until the withdrawal of occupying forces from the Rhineland in 1930.
In 1929, an airport was constructed in Erbenheim on the site of a horse-racing track. In 1936, Fighter Squadron 53 of the Luftwaffe was stationed here.
In the Kristallnacht pogrom on November 10, 1938, Wiesbaden’s large synagogue on Michelsberg was destroyed. The synagogue had been designed by Phillip Hoffmann and built in 1869. Another synagogue in Wiesbaden-Bierstadt was also destroyed. During the Third Reich, a total of approximately 1200 Wiesbaden Jews were deported and murdered.
General Ludwig Beck of Wiesbaden was one of the planners of the July 20, 1944 assassination attempt of Adolf Hitler. Beck was designated by his fellow conspirators to be future Head of State (Regent) after elimination of Hitler. The plot failed, however, and Beck was forced to commit suicide. Today, the city annually awards the Ludwig Beck prize for civil courage in his honor.
Lutheran pastor and theologian Martin Niemöller, founder of the Confessing Church resistance movement against the Nazis, is an Honorary Citizen of Wiesbaden. He presented his last sermon before his arrest in Wiesbaden’s Market Church.
World War II
In World War II, Wiesbaden was the Headquarters for Germany’s Wehrkreis XII. This military district included the Eifel, part of Hesse, the Palatinate, and the Saarland. After the Battle of France, this Wehrkreis was extended to include Lorraine, including Nancy, and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The commander was General der Infanterie Walther Schroth.
Wehrkreis XII was made up of three subordinate regions: Bereich Hauptsitze Koblenz, Mannheim and Metz.
Bereich Hauptsitz Koblenz was the headquarters for 12 Unterregion-Hauptsitze, namely Trier I, Trier II, Koblenz, Neuwied, Kreuznach, Wiesbaden, Limburg an der Lahn, Lahn, Mainz, Worms, Darmstadt and Luxembourg.
Bereich Hauptsitz Mannheim was the headquarters for 10 Unterregion-Hauptsitze, namely Saarlautern, Saarbrücken, St. Wendel, Zweibrücken, Kaiserslautern, Neustadt an der Weinstraße, Ludwigshafen (Rhein), Mannheim I, Mannheim II and Heidelberg.
Bereich Hauptsitz Metz was the headquarters for Unterregion-Hauptsitze Metz, Diedenhofen (Thionville) and Saint-Avold.
During the war, Wiesbaden was largely spared by allied bombing raids. But between August 1940 and March 1945, Wiesbaden was attacked by allied bombers on 66 days. In the attacks, about 18% of the city’s homes were destroyed and approximately 1,700 people lost their lives.
Wiesbaden was captured by U.S. Army forces on March 28, 1945. The U.S. 317th Infantry Regiment attacked in assault boats across the Rhine from Mainz while the 319th Infantry attacked across the Main River near Hochheim am Main. The attack started at 0100 and by early afternoon the two forces of the 80th U.S.Infantry Division had linked up with the loss of only three dead and three missing. The Americans captured 900 German soldiers and a warehouse full of 4,000 cases of champagne.
After World War II, the state of Hesse was established (see Greater Hesse), and Wiesbaden became its capital, though nearby Frankfurt am Main is much larger and contains many Hessian government offices. Wiesbaden however suffered much less than Frankfurt from air bombing. There is a constant rumour that the U.S. Army Air Force spared the town due to its scheduled function as a postwar HQ, but USAAF sources claim this to be a myth, arguing that Wiesbaden’s economic and strategic importance simply did not justify more bombing. Wiesbaden was host to the Headquarters, U.S. Air Forces, Europe based at the former Lindsey Air Station from 1953 to 1973.
American armed forces have been present in Wiesbaden since World War II. The U.S. 1st Armored Division was headquartered at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield, just off the Autobahn toward Frankfurt, until the Division completed relocation to Fort Bliss, Texas in 2011. Wiesbaden is now home to the U.S. Army Europe Command and Battle Center. The Smaller supporting American kasernes and housing areas are scattered around the city. More Americans are moving in from bases scheduled to be closed such as Darmstadt and Heidelberg.