City history

Today, Münster is a city loved by students and tourists and a livable city. Furthermore Münster was a royal seat, City of “Peace of Westphalia”, imperial city of the Anabaptists. Welcome to Münster, we invite you to a trip round the town history.

Foundation of the city in 9th century

In 793 A.D. Karl der Große instructs the Frisian aristocrat and ecclesiastical Liudger to proselytize Münsterland and Friesland. As a starting point for the missionary work Liudger found a monastery (in Latin: Monasterium) near Mimigernaford. This monastery gives the name for the town. In 805 A.D. Münster becomes a diocese. The first cathedral is finished 850 A.D.

Rise to the political and economic center of Westphalia

In 1170 the city received its town charter. Some years later, after the fall of the Saxon’s duke Heinrich des Löwen, Münster rises the prince’s diocese. In the 14th century Münster becomes an influential member of the Hanse. Today, the Prinzipalmarkt, the town hall that is built about 1350 and the market church St. Lamberti still show the economic and political boom of these times.

The Empire of the Anabaptists

From 1530 the Reformation begins. The inception of the mass baptism of adults takes place in early 1534, those unwilling to be baptised are coerced to leave the town. The Baptists under the leadership of Jan Mathys and Jan van Leiden gain the upper hand in the town, installing a reign of terror. On June 24, 1535, the Landsknechte (landsquenets) of the bishop and his allies assault the town, wreaking carnage. The ringleaders of the Baptists’ realm, Jan van Leiden, Bernd Knipperdollinck, and Bernd Krechting are executed, their corpses are displayed in wrought-iron baskets on the spire of St. Lamberti’s Church. Even today the baskets hanging above the Prinzipalmarkt.

City of “Peace of Westphalia”

During the Thirty’s Year War, Münster was spared by the act of war because of its strong fortification. In 1641 the city becomes a neutral convention city: From 1643/44 the representatives of the belligerent parties negotiate about a peace treaty. The negotiations last five years. The Thirty Years’ War is ended by virtue of the Peace of Westphalia concluded in Münster and Osnabrück. As early as on May 15, 1648, the Spanish-Dutch Peace is solemnly invocated in the Council Chamber of the town-hall, the present Hall of Peace. Concluded as early as on January 30, this was the “hour of birth” of the Netherlands.

Münster in the German Empire

The “Kulturkampf” (Culture Struggle), the skirmish between the liberal state (which was moreover protestant in Prussia) and the Catholic Church, rages especially intensely in Münster. Bishop Johann Bernhard Brinkmann is forced to flee to the Netherlands. His return from exile in the year 1884 is celebrated by Münster’s citizens as a triumph. Hermann Landois establishes the Westphalian Zoological Garden in 1875. It is the first zoo in Westphalia. In 1902 Emperor Wilhelm II founds the University of Münster, thus granting the city a long-standing wish. The emperor, on the occasion of his visit Münster in 1907, bestows the name “Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität” on the university, which it carries to the present day. Today, the University of Münster ranks among the largest in Germany.

Nazi period in Münster

After the National Socialists coming into power, the NSDAP district Westphalia North is situated in Münster. Following anti-Semitic activities as early as since 1933, National Socialists burn down the synagogue in the Klosterstrasse, mistreat Jewish citizens, and demolish their apartments and shops. Münster is famous for Bishop Clemens August von Galen, who preaches his now world-famous sermons against the expropriation of monasteries and euthanasia, pressing criminal charges. The National Socialists, however, did not dare to take action against the “Lion of Münster”. Münster has become a target of bombing raids since 1940. When on April 2 the city is occupied by British and American units, the city belongs to the most severely impacted major cities.

Reconstruction and history after 1945

In contrast to many other cities, the reconstruction of Münster proceeds within the traditional standards and in a style modelled on the destroyed Münster. The construction of university facilities are implemented step by step by the city, the federal state, and the university. The Naturwissenschaftliches Zentrum (Science Centre) and the Großklinikum (major clinical centre) emerge as a result in the 1970s and 1980s. In the town-hall, a momentous event takes place after the East/West conflict had been overcome: In 1990 Eduard Schewardnaze, foreign minister of the USSR, and German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher meet to prepare the “Zwei-plus-Vier-Treffen” (Meeting for the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany). In 1992 the ministers of economic affairs of the G7 countries meet with their colleagues from the East European republics for the first time.