Osnabrück (; Low German: Ossenbrügge; ) is a city in Lower Saxony, Germany, some 80 km NNE of Dortmund, 45 km NE of Münster, and some 100 km due west of Hanover. It lies in a valley penned between the Wiehen Hills and the northern tip of the Teutoburg Forest. As of December 31, 2010, its population was 164,119, making it the third-largest city in Lower Saxony.
Osnabrück developed as a marketplace next to the bishop's see founded by Charlemagne, king of the Franks, 780. Some time before 803, the city became seat of the Prince-Bishopric of Osnabrück. Although the precise date is uncertain, Osnabrück is likely the oldest bishopric in Lower Saxony.
In the year 804 Charlemagne was said to have founded the Gymnasium Carolinum in Osnabrück. This date would make it the oldest German Gymnasium but the charter date is disputed by historians, some of whom believe it could be a forgery.
In 889 the town was given merchant, customs, and coinage privileges by King Arnulf of Carinthia. It is first mentioned as a "city" in records in 1147. Shortly after in 1157, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa granted the city fortification privileges (Befestigungsrecht). Part of the medieval fortification, most of the towers are still visible in the city. Osnabrück became a member of the Hanseatic League in the 12th century, as well as a member of the Westphalian Federation of Cities.
The history of the town in the later Middle Ages was recorded in a chronicle by Albert Suho, one of the most important Osnabrück clerics of the 15th century.
Early Modern age
The main period of witch hunting in Osnabrück was between 1561 and 1639, a time of social unrest and tensions because of the Protestant Reformation and the European wars of religion. In the year 1582 during the reign of mayor Hammacher (1565–1588), 163 women were killed as alleged witches, most of them burned. During the tenure of mayor Dr. Pelster between 1636–1639, more than 40 women were killed as witches. In total, 276 women and 2 men were executed after a witch trial for wizardry.
Between 1643-1648 negotiations in Münster and Osnabrück led to the Peace of Westphalia.
In the early 18th century, Osnabrück native Justus Möser wrote an influential social and constitutional history, the Osnabrücker Geschichte, in the town. Following the Seven Years' War, the town's population fell below 6,000, but an economic revival based on the linen and tobacco industries brought growth from the 1780s.
The French Revolutionary Wars brought Prussian troops into the city in 1795, followed by the French in 1803. The town's population remained below 10,000 in this first decade of the nineteenth century. Control of Osnabrück passed to the Electorate of Hanover in 1803 during the German Mediatisation and then briefly to the Kingdom of Prussia in 1806. It was part of the Kingdom of Westphalia from 1807–10, after which it passed to the First French Empire. After the Napoleonic Wars, it became part of the Kingdom of Hanover in 1815.
The town's first railroad was built in 1855, connecting it with Löhne. Further rail connections were built in the following decades, connecting Osnabrück with Emden in 1856, Cologne in 1871, and Hamburg in 1874. In 1866 Osnabrück was annexed by Prussia after the Austro-Prussian War and administered within the Province of Hanover. Economic and population growth was fueled by the expansions in the engineering and textile industries, with the Hammsersen weaving mill established in 1869 and the Osnabrücker Kupfer- und Drahtwerk metallurgical firm following in 1873. The last half of the century also brought the expansion of schools and the arrival of electrification and modern sanitation systems.
In 1914 Osnabrück had over 70,000 inhabitants. The outbreak of the First World War brought food rationing; the Allied blockade and a harsh winter in 1917 led to further shortages. Following Germany's defeat in 1918 a council of workers and soldiers appeared during the November Revolution but was replaced by the new Weimar Republic in the following year. As in other parts of Germany, Osnabrück experienced inflation and unemployment in the 1920s, with over 2,000 out of work in 1923 and nearly 14,000 receiving some kind of government assistance in 1928.
Politically, Osnabrück in the 1920s was a bastion of support for the Social Democrats and the Catholic Centre Party. However, in the Reichstag elections of September 1930, the Nazi party received the highest percentage of votes in the city (nearly 28%), exceeding all the other parties. This was a significant increase on their electoral performance of 1928, when only 3.7% of Osnabrückers had supported the party. During the campaigns prior to the two federal elections of 1932, both Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels made speeches before crowds of thousands in the city.
Following the Nazi seizure of power in January 1933, Osnabrück saw the implementation of National Socialist economic, political, and social programs. These resulted in economic growth for ethnic Germans who did not run afoul of the new regime, and the town went from over 10,000 unemployed in early 1933 to an actual labor shortage by 1938. However, dissenters, supporters of opposition parties, and Jews did not share in this growth and found themselves discriminated against, imprisoned, or forced to close their businesses and leave town as Nazi pressure increased as the Second World War approached. During the war, both Jews and Romany were deported to concentration camps and extermination camps The city suffered heavy bombing during World War II, but was rebuilt after the war. In January 2009, more than 15,000 residents were evacuated when German bomb disposal teams had to come in and detonate two World War II bombs and defuse another two World War II bombs.
The war ended in Osnabrück on April 4, 1945, when the XVII Corps of Montgomery's Second Army entered the city with little resistance. Leading Nazis fled the city and the British appointed a new mayor, Johannes Petermann. However, power rested chiefly with the occupiers, represented locally by the military governor, Colonel Geoffrey Day. Relations between the occupiers and the people of Osnabrück were generally peaceful, though tensions existed; some small fights broke out between British soldiers and local youths and some Osnabrückers resented the relationships that developed between the occupiers and local women. Additionally, the British took over more than seventy homes for their own use by the middle of 1946. Amidst shortages, the black market thrived and became a main focus of police activity.
After World War II, when West Germany realigned its states, the city became part of the new state of Lower Saxony in 1946. The British continued to maintain a garrison near the city and it was the largest British garrison in the world at one point, housing some 4000 troops and employing around 500 local civilians. It was the site of the PIRA attack in 1996. Due to budget cuts, the troops were withdrawn in 2008 and the property returned to the local government.