The most important event in the history of Osnabrück occurred on October 24, 1648 with the proclamation on the steps of the Osnabrück City Hall (Rathaus) that the Thirty Years War was over. Our tour of Historic Osnabrück on Thursday afternoon with Carol Saint-Clair began at this famous building which was completed in 1512 after 25 years of construction.
The Thirty Years War is often considered the most horrible war in European history. It began as a war of religion, Catholics versus Protestants, and the early battles occurred in Bohemia (present day Czech Republic). Then Catholic France entered the war on the side of Sweden against Spain and the Catholic portions of Germany and things got muddled. Denmark even switched sides in the middle of the war. By the end of the war it was all about territorial power and modern European national boundaries began to take hold.
Carol explained that peace negotiations began in 1644 in Osnabruck and the neighboring city of Munster. For the most part Protestants led by Sweden met in Osnabrück and Catholics met in Munster. Both cities were classified as neutral and war-free zones. So why did it take so long to negotiate? Well, there’s a story that it took a year to just agree on the seating arrangements at the negotiation tables!
The war was fought primarily by mercenary armies who raped and plundered all over central Europe but primarily in present day Germany and the Czech Republic. When the treaties that made up the Peace of Westphalia were finally signed, one third of the population of Bohemia and about 40% of the population of present day Germany, including two-thirds of the males, were dead. One result of the treaties was that this was the last war in Europe to be fought primarily by mercenaries.
Another result of the war was the rise of France and Sweden and the beginning of the fall of Spain. The 80 year war between Spain and her northern European colonies also ended in 1648 and the northern Netherlands became the Dutch Republic. The Holy Roman Empire was also greatly weakened and Germany became a large number of small sovereign principalities, duchies and city-states whose religion depended on the whim of their respective sovereign. Osnabrück was allowed to be one of the few places in Germany where both Protestants and Catholics were allowed and the prince-bishop alternated between the the leaders of the two religions.
We toured the rest of Osnabrück’s Marktplatz after visiting the Rathaus and then walked around the Innenstadt observing several of the half-timbered buildings some of which were more than 500 years old. There aren’t too many of these buildings left. Osnabrück suffered greatly during Word War II. Apparently the city was in a direct line back to England for British bombers after bombing Berlin and if they had any bombs left over, three guesses where they unloaded.
We concluded our Osnabrück tour with Carol on Friday afternoon when we visited the interiors of both St Mary’s Lutheran Church (St Marienkirche) and St Peter’s Cathedral (Dom).
In my next posting we will visit St Andrew’s Evangelical church in Alswede — where my ancestors worshiped.