Bonn is a city on the banks of the Rhine River in the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It was the capital of West Germany from 1949 to 1990 and the official seat of government of united Germany from 1990 to 1999. Bonn is located in the very south of the largest metropolitan area in Germany. It is the seat of two major DAX-listed German corporations.
Even though Berlin replaced Bonn as the capital of united Germany in 1990, Bonn remains a centre of politics and administration. Roughly half of all government jobs and many government departments and numerous sub-ministerial level government agencies remain in Bonn. In recognition of this, the former capital holds the one-of-a-kind title of Federal City ("Bundesstadt").
Bonn has developed into a hub of international cooperation in particular in the area of environment and sustainable development. In addition to a number of other international organizations and institutions, such as the IUCN Environmental Law Center (IUCN ELC), the city currently hosts 18 United Nations institutions. Simultaneously, Bonn is establishing itself as a national and international centre of meetings, conventions and conferences, many of which are directly related to the work of the United Nations. A new conference centre capable of hosting thousands of participants is currently under construction in the immediate vicinity of the UN Campus.
The city is home to the University of Bonn, one of Germany's most reputable institutions of higher learning. From 1597 to 1794, Bonn was the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and residence of the Archbishops and Prince-electors of Cologne, and is the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven (born 1770).
The history of the city dates back to Roman times. In about 11 BC, the Roman Army appears to have stationed a small unit in what is presently the historical centre of the town. Even earlier, the Army had resettled members of a Germanic tribal group allied with Rome, the Ubii, in Bonn. The Latin name for that settlement, "Bonna", may stem from the original population of this and many other settlements in the area, the Eburoni. The Eburoni were members of a large tribal coalition effectively wiped out during the final phase of Caesar's War in Gaul. After several decades, the Army gave up the small camp linked to the Ubii-settlement. During the 1st century AD, the Army then chose a site to the north of the emerging town in what is now the section of Bonn-Castell to build a large military installation dubbed Castra Bonnensis, i.e., literally, "Fort Bonn". Initially built from wood, the fort was eventually rebuilt in stone. With additions, changes and new construction, the fort remained in use by the Army into the waning days of the Western Roman Empire, possibly the mid-5th century. The structures themselves remained standing well into the Middle Ages, when they were called the Bonnburg. They were used by Frankish kings until they fell into disuse. Eventually, much of the building materials seem to have been re-used in the construction of Bonn's 13th century city wall. The Sterntor (star gate) in the town centre is a reconstruction using the last remnants of the medieval city wall.
To date, Bonn's Roman fort remains the largest fort of its type known from the ancient world, i.e. a fort built for one full-size Imperial Legion and its auxiliaries. The fort covered an area of approximately . Between its walls it contained a dense grid of streets and a multitude of buildings, ranging from spacious headquarters and large officers' houses to barracks, stables and a military jail. Among the legions stationed in Bonn, the "1st", i.e. the Prima Legio Minervia, seems to have served here the longest. Units of the Bonn legion were deployed to theatres of war ranging from modern-day Algeria to what is now the Russian republic of Chechnya.
The chief Roman road linking the provincial capitals of Cologne and Mainz cut right through the fort where it joined the fort's main road (now, Römerstraße). Once past the South Gate, the Cologne-Mainz road continued along what are now streets named Belderberg, Adenauerallee et al. On both sides of the road, the local settlement, Bonna, grew into a sizeable Roman town.
In late antiquity, much of the town seems to have been destroyed by marauding invaders. The remaining civilian population then holed up inside the fort along with the remnants of the troops stationed here. During the final decades of imperial rule, the troops were supplied by Germanic chieftains employed by the Roman administration. When the end came, these troops simply shifted their allegiances to the new barbarian rulers. From the fort, the Bonnburg, as well as from a new medieval settlement to the South centred around what later became the minster, grew the medieval city of Bonn.
Between the 11th and 13th centuries, the Romanesque style Bonn Minster was built, and in 1597 Bonn became the seat of the Archdiocese of Cologne. The town gained more influence and grew considerably. The elector Clemens August (ruled 1723-1761) ordered the construction of a series of Baroque buildings which still give the city its character. Another memorable ruler was Max Franz (ruled 1784-1794), who founded the university and the spa quarter of Bad Godesberg. In addition he was a patron of the young Ludwig van Beethoven, who was born in Bonn in 1770; the elector financed the composer's first journey to Vienna.
In 1794, the town was seized by French troops, becoming a part of the First French Empire. In 1815 following the Napoleonic Wars, Bonn became part of the Kingdom of Prussia. Administered within the Prussian Rhine Province, the town became part of the German Empire in 1871 during the Prussian-led unification of Germany. Bonn was of little relevance in these years.
During World War II, Bonn acquired military significance because of its strategic location on the Rhine River, which formed a natural barrier to easy penetration into the German heartland from the west. The Allied ground advance into Germany reached Bonn on 7 March 1945, and the US 1st Infantry Division captured the city during the battle of 8–9 March 1945.
Following World War II, Bonn was in the British zone of occupation, and in 1949 became the capital of West Germany. The choice of Bonn was made mainly due to the advocacy of West Germany's first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, a former Cologne Mayor and a native of that area. This was despite the fact that Frankfurt already had most of the required facilities and using Bonn was estimated to be 95 million DM more expensive than using Frankfurt. It was thought, however, that locating the capital in a major city like Frankfurt or Hamburg would imply a permanent capital.
Because of its relatively small size for a capital city, Bonn was sometimes referred to, jokingly, as the 'B'undeshauptstadt ohne nennenswertes Nachtleben (Federal capital without noteworthy night-life) or the 'Bundesdorf' (Federal Village). At one point in the post-WWll/Cold War era, the U.S. Embassy in Bonn was America's largest, "comparable, with its thousands of staff, to the [U.S.] Baghdad embassy today."
German reunification in 1990 made Berlin the nominal capital of Germany again. This decision did not mandate that the republic's political institutions would also move. While some argued for the seat of government to move to Berlin, others advocated leaving it in Bonn—a situation roughly analogous to that of the Netherlands, where Amsterdam is the capital but The Hague is the seat of government. Berlin's previous history as united Germany's capital was strongly connected with Imperial Germany, and more ominously with Nazi Germany. It was felt that a new peacefully united Germany should not be governed from a city connected to such overtones of war. Additionally, Bonn was closer to Brussels, headquarters of the EU.
The heated debate that resulted was settled by the Bundestag (Germany's parliament) only on 20 June 1991. By a vote of 338-320, the Bundestag voted to move the seat of government to Berlin. The vote broke largely along regional lines, with legislators from south and west favouring Bonn and legislators from north and east voting for Berlin.
While the government and parliament moved to Berlin, as a compromise, some of the ministries (such as Defence and Agriculture) largely remained in Bonn, with only the top officials in Berlin. There was no plan to move these departments, and so Bonn remained a second, unofficial capital with the new title "Federal City" (Bundesstadt). Because of the necessary construction work, the move took until 1999 to complete. Over 8,000 of the 18,000 federal bureaucratic employees remain in Bonn.
At present, the private sector plays a major role in Bonn's economy. With 5 stock listed companies, Bonn has the 4th highest market capitalisation among German towns. With headquarters of DHL, T-Mobile and other renowned companies, managers have replaced the public sector.