The historic city of Braunschweig (or in its Anglicisation – Brunswick) in Lower Saxony, Germany has a very special place in my heart as the place where my wife lived for the first six years after we met and where we were married.
An hour’s drive from Hannover – provider to Britain of a series of monarchs between 1714 and 1901 – it is perhaps unsurprising that Braunschweig has strong connections with British history. Despite this, it is one of the German cities that suffered most devastatingly from Allied bombing in the Second World War – with some 90% of its ancient inner city being destroyed.
Braunschweig was the seat of Heinrich der Löwe (Henry the Lion) who ruled large swathes of North and South Germany in the 12th century and is credited with founding the city of Munich. He was a member of the famous Welf (or Guelph) dynasty of European nobility who were ancestors of the Hanoverians. Not only is there this connection, but in 1168 he married Matilda, daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Matilda was therefore the sister of Richard I (the Lionheart) of England and her sarcophagus lies in the crypt of the Braunschweig Cathedral.
The modern city of Braunschweig shows its origin as a collection of individual settlements by a loop of the River Oker in containing several distinct squares associated with churches.
The Altstadtmarkt (Old City Market Place) is next to the Martinikirche (St Martin’s Church), and contains the Aldstadtrathaus (Old City Hall) dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. The Burgplatz (Castle Square) contains Henry’s castle, Dankwarderode, the Dom St Blasii (St Blasius’s Cathedral) and a copy of a bronze statue of a Lion that was originally erected by Duke Henry and remains the Braunschweig city symbol to this day.
Other districts of central Braunschweig include the Hagen district, founded by Henry for Flemish settlers. The is centred on the Hagenmarkt with the Heinrichsbrunnen – a fountain with a statue of Heinrich that stands in the in front of the Katherinenkirche. The church was built during the reign of Heinrich’s son Otto IV, who went on to become Holy Roman Emperor in 1209 (and so nominally came to rule all of Germany as well as various lands beyond). Other ancient districts are those centred around the Kohlmarkt (coal-market) and the Aegidienmarkt.