Kassel was first mentioned in 913 AD as the place where two deeds were signed by King Conrad I. The place was called Chasella and was a fortification at a bridge crossing the Fulda river. A deed from 1189 certifies that Kassel had city rights, but the date of their conveyance is not known.
In 1567, the landgraviate of Hesse, until then centered in Marburg, was divided among four sons, with Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel) becoming one of its successor states. Kassel was its capital and became a center of Calvinist Protestantism in Germany. Strong fortifications were built to protect the Protestant stronghold against Catholic enemies. In 1685, Kassel became a refuge for 1700 Huguenots who found shelter in the newly established borough of Oberneustadt. Landgrave Charles, who was responsible for this humanitarian act, also ordered the construction of the Oktagon and of the Orangerie. In the late 18th century, Hesse-Kassel became infamous for selling mercenaries (Hessians) to the British crown to help suppress the American Revolution and to finance the construction of palaces and the landgrave's opulent lifestyle.
In the early 19th century, the Brothers Grimm lived in Kassel and collected and wrote most of their fairy tales there. At that time, around 1803, the landgravate was elevated to a principality and its ruler to Prince-elector. Shortly after, it was annexed by Napoleon and in 1807 it became the capital of the short-lived Kingdom of Westphalia under Napoleon's brother Jérôme. The electorate was restored in 1813.
Having sided with Austria in the Austro-Prussian War for supremacy in Germany, the principality was annexed by Prussia in 1866. The Prussian administration united Nassau, Frankfurt and Hesse-Kassel into the new Prussian province of Hesse-Nassau. Kassel ceased to be a princely residence, but soon developed into a major industrial center as well as a major railway junction.
In 1870, after the Battle of Sedan, Napoleon III was sent as a prisoner to the castle of Wilhelmshohe above the city.
World War II
Kassel was the Headquarters for Germany’s Wehrkreis IX, and a local subcamp of Dachau concentration camp provided forced labor for Henschel facilities. The most severe bombing of Kassel in World War II destroyed 90% of the downtown area, some 10,000 people were killed, and 150,000 were made homeless. Most of the casualties were civilians or wounded soldiers recuperating in local hospitals, whereas factories survived the attack generally undamaged. Karl Gerland replaced the regional Gauleiter, Karl Weinrich, soon after the raid. The US Army captured Kassel on April 3, 1945.
Post-war, most of the ancient buildings were not restored, and large parts of the downtown area were completely rebuilt in the style of the 1950's. A few historic buildings, however, such as the Museum Fridericianum, were restored. In 1949, the interim parliament ("Parlamentarischer Rat") eliminated Kassel in the first round as a city to become the provisional capital of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bonn won).
In 1558 the first German observatory was built in Kassel, followed in 1604 by the Ottoneum, the first permanent theater building, and in 1779 by Europe's first public museum, named the Museum Fridericianum after its founder. By the end of the 19th century the museum held one of the largest collections in the world of watches and clocks. Since 1955 the Documenta, an international exhibition of modern and contemporary art, has been held regularly in Kassel. The Documenta now takes place every 5 years and the next will be in mid-2012. As a result of the Documenta 6 (1977), Kassel became the first town in the world to have been illuminated by LASER-beams at night (Laserscape, by artist Horst H. Baumann).
Famous inhabitants of Kassel include Jerome Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, while he was king of Westphalia; the Brothers Grimm; F. W. Murnau, the movie director; Paul Reuter, founder of the Reuters news agency; Franz Rosenzweig, philosopher, Philipp Scheidemann, briefly Germany's Chancellor after World War I; and Louis Spohr, the 19th-century composer and violinist, who is commemorated by a museum in the city. Astrid and Thorwald Proll, members of the German terrorist group the Red Army Faction (also known as the Baader-Meinhof gang) active during the 1970's and 1980's, were born here in 1947 and 1941, respectively. Kassel is also the birthplace of Annika Mehlhorn, a German butterfly and medley swimmer who competed in the 2004 Summer Olympics. Helmut Hasse (1898-1979) did fundamental work in algebra and number theory. Rudolf Erich Raspe, a Landgrivate Councilman who fled Kassel with a substantial part of the Princely coffers to England. There he writes a much-read book " The Occurrences of the Baron von Münchhausen". Diego Sanmartin, editor of "Entre Vecinos", one of the most important newspapers in Caracas.
Due to the destruction of 1943 the city was almost completely rebuilt in the fashion of 1950's. Hence there are a very few old buildings in downtown. The oldest monument is the Druselturm. The Brüderkirche and the Church of St. Martin are also in part of medieval origin. The towers of St. Martin are from the 1950's.
What historic buildings have remained undamaged are mainly outside the center of town. Wilhelmshöhe Palace, above the city, was built in 1786 by landgrave Wilhelm IX of Hesse-Kassel. The palace now is a museum and houses a world-famous wallpaper collection, an important collection of Graeco-Roman antiques and a fine gallery of paintings comprising the second largest collection of Rembrandts in Germany. It is surrounded by the beautiful Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe with many appealing sights. The Oktagon is a huge octagonal stone structure carrying a giant replica of Hercules "Farnese" (now at Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, Italy). From its base down to Wilhelmshöhe Palace runs a long set of artificial cascades which delight visitors during the summer months. The Löwenburg ("Lions Castle") is a replica of a medieval castle, also built during the reign of Wilhelm IX. After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 Napoléon III was imprisoned in Wilhelmshöhe. In 1918 Wilhelmshöhe became seat of the German Army Command (OHL): it was there that the military commanders Hindenburg and Ludendorff prepared the Germancapitulation.
Another large park is the Karlsaue along the Fulda River. Established in the 16th century, it is famous for the Orangerie, a palace built in 1710 as a summer residence for the landgraves. Today there is also a planetarium in the park. In addition, the Park Schönfeld contains a small, municipal botanical garden, the Botanischer Garten Kassel.
Kassel is scene of Documenta, an important international exhibition of modern and contemporary art. Museums include: Schloss Wilhelmshöhe (Antiquities Collection and Old Masters; wall paper museum), Museum für Sepulkralkultur (the only German Museum for Sepulchral Culture); Art Gallery (Albrecht Dürer, Rubens, Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Anthony van Dyck), New Gallery (Tischbein Family, Joseph Beuys).
Park: West of the town
Kassel is scene of the Documenta, an international exhibition of modern and contemporary art.
Wilhelmshöhe Schloß (Palace):
- Antiquities Collection
- Old Masters' Art Gallery: Albrecht Dürer, Rubens, Rembrandt, Franz Hals, Antoon van Dyck)
- New Gallery (Tischbein Family, Joseph Beuys).
Naturkumdemuseum: (Natural History Museum)
Martinskirche (St. Martin Church)
See detailed description and photos at: City Guide