The history of Schwäbisch Hall - an overview
Schwäbisch Hall - an overview of its history
The hills above the valley of the river Kocher were already settled in the Neolithic Age (5th millennium BC). In place of the later town of Schwäbisch Hall, a Celtic saltwork is attested for the fifth to the first century BC. Written sources document the existence of a settlement, however, not before the (phoney) 'Öhringer endowment letter' that is probably to be dated to the very late 11th century AD. At this time the town extended from the valley where the salt spring is located via the workshop district (the modern Hinter der Post) to the administration zone, uphills bordered by Jacob's church at the site of the modern town hall.
The town was founded during the 12th century in several stages: bishop Gebhard von Würzburg consecrated the recently built Michael's church and installed the Michaelis market in 1156. Since the second half of the 12th century, the Heller coins were minted in Hall that were rather inferior yet replaced the better money, becoming a very widespread currency. A document of 1204 mentions Hall for the first time as a town; since 1280, the immediacy of supremacy remained uncontested that in the years before had been wrestled from the neighbouring Schenk von Limpurg clan. Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian had to intervene into the internal affairs of the town in 1340, and he had to reform the structure of the council, the authoritative committee of the town's politics. From 1340 to 1512 it would consist now of twelve aristocrats, six middle-class citizens and eight craftsmen. As a result of the Great Discord from 1510 to 1512, the nobility of the town lost its supremacy. Subsequently, the council was dominated by a group of rather bourgeois, increasingly academically educated families that developed into a new upper class.
The town of Schwäbisch Hall acquired significant territory during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries until it covered 330 square kilometres in 1802 and hosted approx. 21 000 inhabitants. Outside of the imperial town was Comburg castle, founded in 1079 as a Benedictine monastery and transformed into a knights' seminary in 1488.
Johannes Brenz, who was after 1522 active preacher at Michael's church, initiated the switch of the town to the Reformation in 1523. After 1548, Brenz joined the service of the dukedom of Württemberg. Schwäbisch Hall was member of the Schmalkaldic League and the Protestant Union when the Thirty Years' War approached that struck the town severely: one out of five inhabitants fell victim to plague, typhoid and hunger between 1634 and 1638.
The suburb of Gelbing burnt down in 1680, the major part of the actual town followed in 1728. The town was immediately after rebuilt in Baroque style that dominates the townscape today (the town hall, e. g., was inaugurated in 1735). The council enforced the modernisation of the salt production against the will of the salters in the 18th century, as a result, the production increased to approx. 100 000 hundredweight per year by 1800. Schwäbisch Hall had the largest saltwork in south-west Germany at this time.
Württemberg occupied the town in 1802, to compensate the loss of its possessions east of the Rhine to France. Schwäbisch Hall lost thereby its independence and became a Württembergian administrative district capital (Oberamtsstadt). The early 19th century was a period of stagnation and decline. Industrialisation came only haltingly. Many people from Hall left their hometown therefore and emigrated either overseas, mostly into the USA, or into German conurbations. The saltwork, nationalised by Württemberg in 1804 and relocated out of the old town, lost its commercial relevance in the late 19th century and was shut down in 1924. When a connection with the railroad network was established in 1862, the town received an impetus as a bathing and health resort; the conditions for the settling and developing of industrial companies improved as well.
Not before the 20th century did Schwäbisch Hall expand out of its valley, due to the foundation of new settlements. The town developed into a centre of authority and service, facilitated by the foundation of many schools, the Diakonissenanstalt (in 1886, now called the Protestant Diakoniewerk) and the establishment of the Building Society (1944) because of WWII. The foundation of the open-air performances in 1925 was a major step forward to becoming a cultural centre of the region.
A middle-class industry was growing, concentrating on mechanical engineering, whose roots trace back in parts to the 19th century. Another main focus developed in the construction of packaging mechanics.
At the beginning of the National Socialist rule, the pursuit of political opponents and citizens of Jewish faith was initiated in 1933. During the Reichskristallnacht of 9 to 10 November 1938, Nazis from Hall burnt the synagogue in Steinbach down and laid the oratory in Obere Herrngasse waste, as well as shops and private flats. About 40 Jews from Schwäbisch Hall were murdered by the National Socialists, many others were forced into emigration. The Euthanasia further caused 173 handicapped living in the Diakonissenanstalt to fall victim to the NS terror. The Hessental air base, completed in 1936, served the preparation of war; bombers and, during the war, night fighters and the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter were stationed there. A National Socialist concentration camp was installed near the Hessental railway station in 1944, the prisoners were used as working slaves, p. e. on the air base. The town survived the Second World War and the conquest by US troops without serious damage, the former air base, renamed Dolan Barracks, remained a site of the US army till 1993.
There was a considerable increase of population by the settlement of expelled Germans after 1945 (Heimbach settlement). Schwäbisch Hall achieved the status of a 'greater district capital' in 1960. Steinbach, Hessental and Hagenbach (a district of Bibersfeld) had been incorporated already in the 1930s, the community reform of 1972 to 1978 added Tüngental, Weckrieden, Sulzdorf, Gailenkirchen, Bibersfeld, Eltershofen, Gelbingen and Heimbach to the territory of the town. Modern Schwäbisch Hall has now about 37 000 inhabitants.
Please find further information on the town history of Schwäbisch Hall in the town archive or in the town chronicle, managed by the archive.