Schwäbisch Hall ( (or Hall for short) is a town in the German state of Baden-Württemberg and capital of the district of Schwäbisch Hall. The town is located in the valley of the Kocher in the north-eastern part of Baden-Württemberg.
Hall was a Free Imperial City for five centuries until it was annexed by Württemberg in 1802.
Salt was distilled by the Celts at the site of Schwäbisch Hall as early as the fifth century. The first time it was mentioned in a forged document called "Öhringer Stiftungsbrief" that dates in the final years of the 11th century. The village probably belonged first to the Counts of Comburg-Rothenburg and went from them to the Imperial house of Hohenstaufen (ca 1116). It was probably Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa who founded the imperial mint and started the coining of the so-called Heller. Hall flourished through the production of salt and coins. Since 1204 it has been called a town.
After the fall of the house of Hohenstaufen, Hall defended itself successfully against the claims of a noble family in the neighbourhood (the Schenken von Limpurg). The conflict was finally settled in 1280 by King Rudolph I of Habsburg; this allowed the undisturbed development into an Free Imperial City (Reichsstadt) of the Holy Roman Empire. Emperor Louis IV the Bavarian granted a constitution that settled internal conflicts (Erste Zwietracht) in 1340. After this, the city was governed by the inner council (Innerer Rat) which was composed by twelve noblemen, six "middle burghers" and eight craftsmen. The head of the council was the Stättmeister (mayor). A second phase of internal conflicts 1510–12 (Zweite Zwietracht) brought the dominating role of the nobility to an end. The confrontation with the noble families was started by Stättmeister Hermann Büschler, whose daughter Anna Büschler is the subject of a popular book by Harvard professor Steven Ozment ("The Bürgermeister's Daughter: Scandal in a sixteenth-century German town"). The leading role was taken over by a group of families who turned into a new ruling class. Amongst them where the Bonhöffers, the ancestors of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
From the 14th to the 16th centuries, Hall systematically acquired a large territory in the surrounding area, mostly from noble families and the Comburg monastery. The wealth of this era can still be seen in some gothic buildings like St. Michael's Church (rebuilt 1427–1526) with its impressive stairway (1507). The town joined the Protestant Reformation very early. Johannes Brenz, a follower of Martin Luther, was made pastor of St. Michael's Church in 1522 and quickly began to reform the church and the school system along Lutheran lines.
Hall suffered severely during the Thirty Years' War, though it was never besieged or scene of a battle. However, it was forced to pay enormous sums to the armies of the various parties, especially to the imperial, Swedish and French troops, who also committed numerous atrocities and plundered the town and the surrounding area. Between 1634 and 1638 every fifth inhabitant died of hunger and diseases, especially from the bubonic plague. The war left the town an impoverished and economically ruined place. But with the help of reorganizations of salt production and trade and a growing wine trade, there was an astonishingly fast recovery.
17th century to early 20th century
Fires were a constant threat to the mostly wooden houses of the town. The great fires of 1680 and especially of 1728 destroyed much of the city, which led to new buildings in the Baroque style, such as the city hall.
The Napoleonic wars brought the history of Hall as a Free Imperial City to an end. Following the Treaty of Lunéville (1801), the duke of Württemberg was allowed by Napoleon to occupy the town and several other minor states as a compensation for territories on the left side of the Rhine that fell to France. This took place in 1802 — Hall lost its territory and its political independence and became a Oberamtsstadt (seat of an Oberamt, comparable to a county). Ownership of the salt works was handed over to the state. A long economic crisis during the 19th century forced many citizens to move to other places in Germany or to emigrate overseas, mostly to the USA. While other towns like Heilbronn grew steadily due to the Industrial Revolution, the population of Hall stagnated. The economic situation improved during the second half of the 19th century — a main factor was the railway line to Heilbronn (1862) — but was not followed by a significant growth of the town. It was not until the 1920s and 1930s that new settlements were built on the heights surrounding the old town. Hall also grew through the incorporation of Steinbach (1930) and Hessental (1936).
In 1827, a health spa was established on one of the islands in the Kocher river. Especially after the building of the railway (1862) it became a considerable economical factor. The well-preserved old town also brought a rising number of tourists. Since the beginning of the 20th century, Hall has developed many festivities. Especially well known are the theatre productions which are performed every year in the centre of the city on the steps of St. Michael.
Nazi Germany and World War II
In 1934, Hall was officially named Schwäbisch Hall. During the Third Reich a Luftwaffe air base was built at Hessental. During Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938, local Nazis burned the synagogue in Steinbach and devastated shops and houses of Jewish citizens. Approximately 40 Jewish citizens of Schwäbisch Hall fell victim to the Holocaust in extermination camps in Eastern Europe. In 1944 a concentration camp was established next to the train station Hall-Hessental. The train station at Hall was targeted by an American air raid on February 23, 1945, but the devastation was mostly limited to the suburbs of St. Katharina and Unterlimpurg. The town was occupied by US Army troops on April 17, 1945 without serious resistance; though several buildings were destroyed or damaged, the historical old town suffered comparatively little.
Post World War II