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Sculptur from around 13th to 15th century.
Sculptur from around 13th to 15th century.

The History of Eilenburg

Eilenburg's history reaches back over a thousand years and can honestly claim itself as one of Saxony's 'original cities'.  The uninterrupted reign of the Wettins over a territory out of which the current state of Saxony (among other regions) resulted began with the Earl of Ilburg in the 11th century and continued until the year 1918.

In the Middle Ages Eilenburg grew and thrived mainly due to the brewery industry.  Even Martin Luther sojourned in this city extensively and frequently.  During the 30-year war (from 1618-1648) the industrial sector was nearly wiped out completely and later in 1815 Eilenburg belonged to one of the Saxon regions forced to surrender to Prussia.  This accelerated the transition from a small country town to an industrial focal point.  In fact, Eilenburg rose to become one of the most significant textile industry cities in all of Prussia.  Yet the city that had in years past also been shaped, molded and characterized by chemical, metal, and wood-working companies and enterprises was engulfed in a cloud of soot and ashes in the year of 1945.  The city has yet to fully recover from this tragic stroke of fate.

The Beginning

The Beginning

The earliest evidence of human activity in this region goes back to the Old Stone Age (Paleolithic era). Already 12, 000 years ago clans of hunters were roaming the Eilenburger territory, whose land was formed and molded by the powerful natural forces of the Ice Age. All of the following archeologically established groups and tribes have also left their marks on this landscape, defined by the river Mulde. 

When the eastern-Slavic tribes settled onto the land left behind by Germanic farmers in the 6th century, fortifications along old long-distance trade trails were already established along the banks of the Mulde. The Sorbs erected a large-scale ringfort as the central location for their settlement territory, which was already bound by its natural landscape. With the forced integration of the Sorbian territories into the German feudal state at the beginning of the 10th century, the German king Heinrich I had a military base established as a component of the burgward system in place of the Sorbian ringfort.

The early Centuries

The early Centuries

Ilburg's existence was first made official on the 29th of July, 961 in a deed of donation by King Otto I.  The lords of the castle had referred to themselves as the "Earls of Ilburg" since the year 1000.  After the Ilburger lords were already established as the Margraves of Niederlausitz they also founded the Wettin territorial state through the cession of the Mark Meissen to Heinrich I of Ilburg in 1089.  This marked the beginning of the uninterrupted Wettin reign over a territory that preceded today's Saxony, which lasted all the way until 1918.  Around the mid 12th century the Ilburgers methodically surrounded their strong castle fortress with orderly, well-planned, oval-shaped city districts, 600m long and 300m wide, boasting grid-like road networks.  It was primarily the Flemish colonists that first decided to settle in and develop these wet, foggy lowlands, first pronounced a city in the year 1161.

The trade routes that ran primarily from east to west dictated the shape the city took on and eventually expanded into a large street market in the centre of the city.  After the Lords of Ilburg decided to sell the fortress and city around 1400 the Margraves of Meissen were able to acquire the castle of their ancestors and the appendent city.  The destroyed castle was rebuilt as the administrative centre of Eilenburg (since 1402) and the city was granted many significant privileges that challenged the economic and political positions of the largely middle-class civilians considerably.  The brewery industry took off especially quickly, thanks to the giant, unique and singular Mount Cellars.  Even Martin Luther happily spent much of his time in this affluent city, which he often referred to as a "blessed pit of lard".  The variety and multitude of the representative structures of the period attest to the city's self-confident and prosperous citizens.

17. - 19. Century

17th - 19th Century

The flourishing economy was nearly brought to its knees during the 30-year war (1618 - 1648).  Only few Eilenburger citizens survived the chaos of war, disease, and famine.  It is thanks to minister and poet Martin Rinckart, composer of the song "Nun Danket Alle Gott" (Let Us All Thank the Lord), that the city was not wiped out by Swedish troops in the year 1639. 

The 7-year war (1756-1763) and the foreign rule under Napoleon (1806-1813) meant even more unutterable privations and burdens for the citizens of the small farming city.  Napoleon set up camp in Eilenburg shortly before the famous "Völkerschlacht" (battle of nations) and took one final review of the allied Saxon troops just in front of the town Kültzschau (today part of Eilenburg East).  Eilenburg also belonged to the Saxon regions that were surrendered to Prussia in 1815.  Due to the affiliation with the at that time most progressive German state, the transition from country town to industrial centre was accelerated considerably.  Saxon textile enterprises were especially eager to get a foot in the door and snag a piece of the flourishing Prussian market by setting up shop in Eilenburg with its convenient location opportunities (as Eilenburg is a neighbour to the trade metropolis of Leipzig) as well as the millrace's potential as a source of energy.  City walls (1820) and city gates (1835) were also forced to yield to the incredibly fast-paced economic developments.  Within 50 years, from 1800 onwards, Eilenburg grew to become the largest city far and wide with a population of approximately 10,000, and as a result rose up as one of the most significant Prussian cities in terms of textiles.

Modern Day

Modern Day

The social tensions, contradictions, and antagonisms of the times were reflected in this city more than in any other.  It was no accident that Eilenburg became the focal point of the German associative movement and kicked off the quest for labourer's rights of co-determination in the form of work councils (Dr. Bernhardi, Degenkolb und Fritzsche).

The impacts of the period of promoterism changed the very foundations of the city's industrial structure and setup, which since the mid-19th century consisted of seven suburb communities and three city districts.  Essential chemical, metal-working, and wood-processing companies comprised the main job opportunities for the citizens, whose city had been joined to the rail system in 1872.
Of course neither of the world wars passed silently over Eilenburg as might have been hoped; especially not the Second World War.  At 10:30 am on the 17th of April, 1945 the sirens sounded and a German commander declared the city a stronghold, which meant defense to the very end.  The command read: "Die Muldelinie muss verteidigt werden!" (The Mulde border must be defended at all costs!)  With this mad undertaking at the forefront of everyone's minds hundreds of Eilenburger gathered in the marketplace on the morning of April 18th, 1945 and demanded a revision of this impossible and insane order; all pleas and protests to no avail.  Many Eilenburgers left the city as a result and approximately 4500 sought refuge in the protective bowels of the mount cellars.

Some Eilenburger citizens hung white cloths and towels as a sign of surrender out of their windows, despite contradictory orders.  The bridges were blown up, the American ultimatum went unheeded.  Until that day Eilenburg had basically been spared from extensive damages, aside from a single bombing on Eilenburg-East and the explosion of a munitions transport at the train station.  The battle lasted 9 days; the city was shelled extensively for 3 days and 3 nights; in the end all that was left was a smoking pile of rubble.  This futile and absurd defense attempt cost over 200 lives, including many Hitler youth that fanatically followed their "Fuehrer" to the very end.  More than 90 percent of historic Eilenburg's buildings and structures lay in a heap of soot and ashes.