Attendees - Town History

Darmstadt was first settled in the 8th or 9th century, first as a settlement of Franks. It is first mentioned in a document between 1050 and 1100 as Darmundestat. The actual meaning of the name remains unclear; it might have meant "a settlement that offers protection from fires or damage".

Initially, Darmstadt was less relevant than Bessungen (now part of Darmstadt), which was an older settlement first mentioned in 1002. Other villages (long since suburbs) include "Arheilgen", which was settled in the 5th century and first mentioned in 836, and "Eberstadt", first mentioned in 782. From 1013, Darmstadt and Bessungen belonged to the diocese of Worms, a city about 40 km to the southwest of Darmstadt. 1259 was granted to the dukes of Katzenelnbogen, who remained the owners until their line ended in 1479. They also started to prefer Darmstadt over Bessungen and erected a small castle with a moat in the place to today's city castle. They also won the city rights for Darmstadt in 1330, and following this, had a city wall erected.

In 1479, Darmstadt changed ownership and now belonged to the landgraves of Hesse (a noble title that falls roughly between a count and an earl). In 1567, the then current landgrave Georg changed Darmstadt to his main residence and started the Landgravedom of Hesse-Darmstadt. After joining the Rhine Alliance in 1808, the region was elevated to a Grand Duchy, and remained that way until the German Revolution of 1918.

From 1918-146, Darmstadt remained the capital of the State of Hesse, although the Nazis turned Frankfurt into the political center of the area.

In the evening of September 11,1944, allied air forces bombed Darmstadt in a "test run" for their "firestorm" attack, which was repeated in the bombing of Dresden (Saxony) in February 1945. Within one night, an estimated 11,000-12,000 inhabitants were killed, with another 70,000 left homeless. Depending on the sources, between 75 and 95 per cent of the city were "affected" or "destroyed".

In 1946, due to its still very sorry state, Darmstadt lost its status of state capital to Wiesbaden (about 40km to the northwest of Darmstadt), as this city had been left largely undamaged during World War II.

Interesting other historical facts

  • In 1688, the local family Merck founds first a pharmacy and later a chemical ad pharmaceutical company (Merck, "EMD" - for Emmanuel Merck, Darmstadt in the USA). This is the world's oldest still operating chemical and pharmaceutical company. In 1842, the resulting firm Merck grows further and moves headquarters to the city of the center, later to the outskirts. Today, Merck is still one of the larger employers in Darmstadt and does brisk international business, formerly using the slogan Merck - From Darmstadt all over the world.
    Merck Inc., also doing business in the USA, is a separate firm that was built on the foreign properties and firms of Merck confiscated at the end of World War I.
  • The roots of the city church next to the hotel Bockshaut go back to 1369.
  • In 1777, Darmstadt had only about 9.038 inhabitants, one third of which were soldiers. In 1819, the number had risen to about 20,000
  • In 1868, the "Higher Trade School" is extended to a "Polytechnicum". The name is changed in 1877 to "Technical High School" and in 1997 to "Technical University" (TU Darmstadt).
  • IN 1882, Darmstadt establishes the first professorship for Electrical Engineering in a German Technical High School.
  • The first "Elektrische" ("Electricals") (electrical trams) enter service.
  • In 1899, the Grand Duke provides the Mathilda Heights (hill) to artisans, establishing the Artisans' Colony in Darmstadt. The area is settled, supported by the Grand Duke, with artisans and craftsmen of different trades, who quickly start inspiring each other with new concepts. Darmstadt turns into one of the foremost centers of the Art Nouveau ("Jugendstil") style that reaches into art, architecture, and applied arts. Four exhibitions are held until the start of the First World War.
  • 1918, following the First World War, the nobility is officially abolished in Germany, and Grand Duke Erst Ludwig also loses his position.

Today, Darmstadt has a city partnership with Alkmaar (Netherlands; since 1958), Troyes (France; 1958), Chesterfield (UK; 1959), Graz (Austria; 1969), Trondheim (Norway; 1968), Bursa (Turkey; 1971); Plock (Poland; 1988), Szeged (Hungary, 1990), Gyönk (Hungary; 1990), Freiberg (Saxony; 1990), Brescia (Italy; 1991). Saanen-Gsaad (Switzerland; 1991), Uschgorod (Ukraine; 1992), Liepäja (Latvia; 1993) and Logroño (Spain, 2002).

The emblem of Darmstadt shows a red lion, the symbol of the graves of Katzenelnbogen, above the lily, the symbol of purity and innocence representing Mary (mother of Christ), crowned with a golden crown.

© Dr. Guido Roessling 2018