Dessau is a city in Germany on the junction of the rivers Mulde and Elbe, in the Bundesland (Federal State) of Saxony-Anhalt. Since 1 July 2007, it is part of the new city of Dessau-Roßlau. Population of Dessau proper: 77,973 (June 2006).
Dessau was first mentioned in 1213. It became an important centre in 1570, when the Principality of Anhalt was founded. Dessau became the capital of this state within the Holy Roman Empire. Anhalt was dissolved In 1603 it was split into four – later five – Anhalts, Dessau becoming the capital of the mini-state of Anhalt-Dessau until 1918. In 1863 two of the noble line died out, and became reunited.
The city was almost completely destroyed by Allied air raids in World War II on March 7, 1945, six weeks before American troops occupied the town. Afterwards it was rebuilt with typical GDR concrete slab architecture (Plattenbau) and became a major industrial centre of East Germany. Since German reunification in 1990 many historic buildings have been restored.
The composer Kurt Weill was born in Dessau. Since 1993 the city has hosted an annual Kurt Weill Festival. Dessau was also the birthplace of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (in 1729), and Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau (der alte Dessauer), a lauded field marshal for the Kingdom of Prussia.
Since January 7, 2005, Dessau has gained notoriety for the mysterious death of Sierra Leonean convicted drug trafficker and failed asylum seeker Oury Jalloh in his cell at a Dessau police station. According to local police, Jalloh, who was drunk and had been tied to his bed because he was volatile and violent, set his own mattress on fire, causing his own death as he burned alive. A number of contradictions and inconsistencies as well as the disappearance of key evidence such as video tapes have led to allegations that the police and maybe even the local court may have been involved in Jalloh's death and subsequent cover-up efforts. A local court acquitted officers in 2008. In 2010, however, a higher federal court declared that ruling null and void, and ordered a new investigation and trial be launched.