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"... a smoothly polished bowl, filled with red crabs"
An overview of the history of the island town of Ratzeburg
“This island is built on with a fairly regular town which, seen from afar, seems to have only been finished yesterday because of its red tile roofs. Imagine you saw a smoothly polished bowl filled with red crabs, the edge covered with green parsley: and what you see is Ratzeburg. " The island location of the city, which Johann Heinrich Campe inspired to write his poetic description in 1785, has had a significant impact on the history of Ratzeburg again and again.
On a small island in front of the main island, which can no longer be recognized as such today, a Slavic ring wall was probably built around the middle of the 9th century, which in the 11th century became an administrative center for the Slavic Polabian tribe living in the region (Elbe residents) was expanded. The island offered the castle a strategically favorable protective position. From a medieval chronicle we have news of the Slavic prince Ratibor, who fell in battle against the Danes in 1042. With the short form of his name - Ratse - he was named after the castle and the later city. Ratzeburg was in the border area between Slavs and Saxons, and this situation owes its first documentary mention to the place, when in 1062 Heinrich IV. Awarded the castle Ratzeburg to the Saxon Duke Ordulf (Otto), who as margrave of the Saxon border march north of the Elbe for security the border area with the Slavs was responsible.
At the same time the first beginnings of Christian mission fall. A cleric from Jerusalem named Aristo was ordained the first bishop of Poland. A church and a monastery were built very close to Ratzeburg, probably on St. Georgsberg. 1066 this attempt to Christianize the Polabenland came to an abrupt end. The abbot Ansverus died a martyr's death with his monks in a Slav uprising near Ratzeburg - the Ansverus cross near Einhaus is still a place of pilgrimage and a representation of the legend of Ansverus can be seen in the Ratzeburg cathedral. It took decades for Christianity to regain a foothold. Only the consistent power politics of Henry the Lion brought the decisive turning point. Heinrich, who became the most powerful prince in the empire, began the political reorganization of northern Elbe. In 1143 he enfeoffed Heinrich von Bathide with the land of the Polabians. The conquered area was given a completely new structure. In the period that followed, not only were churches built and Christianity preached, but new settlers, mainly from Lower Saxony and Westphalia, were brought into the country. The “Heinrichstein” at the entrance to the cathedral courtyard is a reminder of the achievements of Heinrich von Badewide, who prepared the basis for the foundation of the Ratzeburg diocese in 1154. The founding of the diocese was a decisive step for the future development of the entire area north and northeast of the Elbe . As a result, Ratzeburg developed into the spiritual and secular center of the region.
Around 1160, the construction of the Ratzeburg Cathedral began - also largely supported by Heinrich the Lion - and it was completed around 1220. The urban settlement on the island developed in the immediate vicinity of the castle and cathedral and had its own town charter at the end of the 13th century. In addition to the timber trade, the brewing industry was of particular economic importance. The Ratzeburg beer, which was even shipped across the Baltic Sea to Gdansk under the name “Rommeldeus”, was an export hit. In 1601 there were 70 breweries in the city.
The Ascanian ducal dynasty, which had ruled the duchy since the 12th century, died out in 1689. A dispute about the inheritance immediately set in, which was ultimately won by Georg-Wilhelm von Lüneburg-Celle with a military occupation of the country. The new sovereign wanted to gain a bridgehead north of the Elbe and built Ratzeburg into a modern fortress - the Ascanian castle and palace had to give way: only the name Schlosswiese at the western entrance to the city island remains today. The armament efforts were understandably a thorn in the side of the Danish King Christian V. He had the island city besieged and bombarded in August 1693. Only the cathedral, the town church and a few houses in the town survived the Danish bombardment.
From the catastrophe of the summer of 1693 a new city gradually arose, planned according to baroque ideas and based on the model of the city of Mannheim. The regular, chessboard-like floor plan of the city with the market square in the center can still be seen today. After the death of Georg-Wilhelm von Lüneburg-Celle in 1705, the Hanoverian elector, who became King George I of Great Britain in 1714, took over the rule of the Duchy of Lauenburg. The "Hanoverian period" lasted until 1803, during which Ratzeburg developed into a cultural center of the duchy as a garrison town and seat of the Lauenburg government, the court court and the consistory.
After the occupation by French troops in the Napoleonic era, the duchy became an object of exchange between the larger powers in the Congress of Vienna. Finally, the Danish King Frederick VI. new sovereign. After the German-Danish war (1864) the Prussian era of the Duchy of Lauenburg began. As "Minister for Lauenburg", Otto von Bismarck prepared the complete incorporation of the duchy into the Prussian monarchy. In 1876 Ratzeburg became the district town of the Prussian district of the Duchy of Lauenburg.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the infrastructure of the city, which at that time had about 4,300 inhabitants, was significantly improved. Before the First World War, the establishment of the central supply with gas, water and electricity began. Due to some incorporations, the urban area expanded in the 1920s and 1930s. The city remained undestroyed during World War II. By accepting evacuees, refugees and displaced persons, the number of inhabitants in Ratzeburg doubled compared to the pre-war period to around 12,000 people in 1946.
The proximity of the inner-German border and the poor transport connections restricted the economic development of Ratzeburg considerably after the Second World War. In the 1960s, the success of the Ratzeburg rowing club and the “rowing professor” Karl Adam Ratzeburg gained international renown.
With the opening of the inner-German border, Ratzeburg has regained its natural catchment area and today has around 13,000 inhabitants. The scenic location offers excellent conditions for the further development of local recreation and tourism.
A considerable cultural offer also attracts many visitors to Ratzeburg. The district museum, the Ernst Barlach Museum and the A. Paul Weber Museum are just as worth a visit as the city's churches or the renowned cathedral music.
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