Celle was first mentioned in a document of A.D. 985 as Kiellu (which means Fischbucht or fishing bay). It was granted the right to mint and circulate its own coins (Münzrecht [minting privileges]) during the 11th century and several coins were found in the Sandur hoard in the Faroes. In 1292 Duke Otto II the Strict (1277-1330), a Welf who ruled the Principality of Lüneburg from 1277 to 1330 left Altencelle, where there had been a defences in the form of a circular rampart (the Ringwall von Burg) since the 10th century, and founded a rectangular settlement by the existing castle (Burg) 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) to the northwest. In 1301 he granted Celle its town privileges, and in 1308 started construction on the town church.
In 1378 Celle became the Residenz of the dukes of Saxe-Wittenberg and, in 1433, the princes of Lüneburg took up residence in the castle (Schloss). The ducal palace was situated on a triangle between the River Aller and its tributary, the Fuhse. A moat connecting the rivers was built in 1433, turning the town centre into an island. In 1452 Duke Frederick the Pious of Lüneburg founded a Franciscan monastery. In 1464 the corn shipping monopoly generated an economic upturn for the town.
Early modern period
In 1524 the Reformation was introduced into Celle. In 1570 Duke William the Younger built the castle chapel which was consecrated in 1585. From 1665 to 1705 Celle experienced a cultural boom as a Residenz under Duke George William. This has been particularly put down to his French wife, Eleonore d'Olbreuse, who brought fellow Hugenot Christians and Italian architects to Celle. During this time the French and Italian Gardens were laid out and the barock castle theatre built.
In 1705 the last duke of the Brunswick-Lüneburg line died and Celle, along with the Principality of Lüneburg, passed back to the Hanover line of the Welfs. By way of compensation for the loss of its status as a Residenz town numerous administrative institutions were established in Celle, such as the Higher Court of Appeal (Oberappellationsgericht), the prison and the State Stud Farm. That began its development into an administrative and judicial centre. Even today the Lower Saxony-Bremen State Social Security Tribunal and the High Court responsible for most of Lower Saxony are based in Celle, amongst others. Celle is also still home to a prison (the Justizvollzugsanstalt Celle or JVA Celle) with its satellite at Salinenmoor about 12 km north of the town centre. That the citizens of Celle once − in a vote − choose to have a prison in Celle rather than a university in order to protect the virtue of their daughters, is not verifiable, but it has remained a persistent anecdote in popular folklore.
In August 1714, George Elector of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (King George I) ascended to the British throne. Between then and 1866, when the town became Prussian during the Austro-Prussian War as part of the province of Hanover, Celle was a possession of the British Hanoverian line.
In 1786 Albrecht Thaer founded the first German Agricultural Testing Institute in the meadows at Dammasch (today Thaer's Garden). The Albrecht-Thaer School is nowadays part of a vocational centre in the Celle sub-district of Altenhagen.
In 1842 the Cambridge Dragoons Barracks (Cambridge-Dragoner-Kaserne) for the homonymous regiment named after the Hanoveran Viceroy Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge was built in Celle. After being extended in 1913 and partially rebuilt after a fire in 1936, it was renamed Goodwood Barracks in 1945 and from 1976 to 1996 was the headquarters of Panzerbrigade 33 in the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr. In 1989 it was renamed again to Cambridge-Dragoner-Kaserne. Since 1996 the land has mainly been used to house one of the largest youth centres in Lower Saxony.
From 1869 to 1872 an infantry barracks was built for the 77th Infantry Regiment. In 1938 it was renamed the Heidekaserne ("Heath Barracks"). After World War II the barracks was used by British troops until 1993. Today the New Town Hall (Neue Rathaus) and Celle Council Offices are housed in the restored brick building. Residential buildings and a town park have been established on the rest of the terrain.
In 1892 - with the help of numerous citizens' donations - the present-day Bomann Museum with its important folkloric and town history collections was founded. In 1913 the 74 metre high clock tower was built on the town church, its clockwork underwent a major restoration in 2008. In the 1920's the silk mill was built. It was merged in 1932 with the one in Peine to become the Seidenwerk Spinnhütte AG. This concern expanded itself during the Nazi era into an armaments centre under the name of "Seidenwerk Spinnhütte AG". A subsidiary founded in 1936, the "Mitteldeutsche Spinnhütte AG", which led war preparations through its branches in the central German towns of Apolda, Plauen, Osterode, Pirna and Wanfried. Its only product was parachute silk that was needed for the paratroopers of the Wehrmacht.
In September 1929 Rudolph Karstadt opened a Karstadt department store in Celle town centre, the facade of which was identical with that of the Karstadt store on Berlin's Hermannplatz. The Celle branch was demolished in the 1960's and replaced by a controversial new building, whose aluminium braces were meant to represent Celle's timber framed houses.
During Kristallnacht, the anti-Jewish pogrom in Nazi Germany on 9/10 November 1938, the synagogue in Celle was only saved from complete destruction because there would have been a risk to the adjacent leather factory and other parts of the historic Altstadt.
On April 1, 1939 Altenhäusen, Klein Hehlen, Neuenhäusen, Vorwerk and Wietzenbruch were incorporated into Celle. On April 8, 1945 the only serious allied bombing attack on the city during World War II occurred, 2.2% of the town was destroyed, especially on the industrial areas and railway freight terminal. A train in which about 4,000 prisoners were being transported to the nearby Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was hit. The attack claimed hundreds of casualties, but some of the prisoners managed to escape into the nearby woods. SS guards and Celle citizens participated in the so-called 'Celle hare hunt' (Celler Hasenjagd) The 'hunt' claimed several hundred dead and went on until April 10, 1945 and represented the darkest chapter in Celle's history. The exact number of victims has not been . Several of the perpetrators were later tried and convicted of this war crime.
About 2.2% of Celle (67 houses) was destroyed in World War II. It was spared from further destruction by surrendering without a fight to advancing allied troops on 12 April, 1945.
German Army Anti-tank helicopter Bölkow Bo 105 at Celle Air Base.
During the Third Reich, Celle was an important garrison location. Elements of the 17th and 73rd Infantry Regiments and the 19th Artillery Regiment were garrisoned in the town. Celle was also the headquarters of a military district command and a military records office.
The different barracks (including the Freiherr von Fritsch Barracks in Cambridge and the Dragoons Barracks in the city) into the 1990s were used as sites for the 33rd Armoured Brigade, Celle. The Celle Air Base (Immelmann Barracks) in the District of Wietzenbruch is now the site of the Training Centre of the Army Aviation School. British troops handed over some of the barracks, but one is still used today as a British base (the former von Seeckt Barracks, now Trenchard Barracks). The old barracks are currently being converted to civilian use. The new city hall is in the former Heidemarie Barracks, and the former British Cambridge Dragoons Barracks has now become a youth cultural centre. Since German reunification, Celle has largely lost its role as a major garrison town.
After the war Celle applied, along with Bonn and Frankfurt, to become the seat for the Parliamentary Council (Parlamentarischer Rat), the immediate post-war governmental body in Germany, later superseded by the West German Bundestag. In the end the privilege went to Bonn.
On January 1, 1973, Celle lost its status as an independent town (Kreisfreie Stadt) and became the largest municipality in the new district (Kreis) of Celle. It also became the largest town in the new region (Regierungsbezirk) of Lüneburg. At the same time the localities of Ummern, Pollhöfen and Hahnenhorn were incorporated into Gifhorn district. Since then the parish of Hohne has looked after six villages (Hohne, Helmerkamp, Spechtshorn, Ummern, Pollhöfen and Hahnenhorn) in two rural districts. The town of Celle has also incorporated a number of villages from the surrounding area.
On July 25, 1978 a staged bomb attack was made on the outer wall of the prison. This was initially blamed on the Red Army Faction, but was later revealed to have been perpetrated by Lower Saxony's intelligence service, the Verfassungsschutz. The incident became known as the Celle Hole.
In 2004 the region of Lüneburg was dissolved along with the rest of Lower Saxony's administrative districts. Celle is currently the 12th largest town in Lower Saxony.
Urbanus Rhegius, actually Urban Rieger (1489-1541), reformer
Johann Arndt (1555-1621), post-Reformation theologian
Michael Walther der Ältere (1593-1662), Lutheran theologian
George William, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (1624-1705), ruled from 1665 to this death from Celle Castle as the last "Heath Duke" of the House of Welf
Francesco Maria Capellini, called Stechinelli (1640-1694), lived in Celle from 1665 as a businessman and court banker for Duke George William. Occupied Stechinelli House on Großer Plan 14 and built the Stechinelli Chapel in Wietze-Wieckenberg
Nicolaus Adam Strungk (1640-1700), violinist, organist and composer
Weipart Ludwig von Fabrice, first president of the Celle higher appeal court
Imperial Baron (Reichsfreiherr) Ludwig von Gemmingen-Hornberg (1694-1771), Higher appeal court judge and vice president in Celle, Foreign Minister for King George II of England
Johann Anton Leisewitz (1752-1806), writer and lawyer; Son of a Celle wine merchant
Heinrich Hüner (1881-1945), folk poet and leader of the Freien VolksBühne
Jochen Neurath (b 1981), composer, arranger and conductor