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Title: Nordhausen  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Mühlhausen, Thuringia, Erfurt, Harz, Hanseatic League
Collection: Imperial Free Cities, Nordhausen, Nordhausen (District), Province of Saxony, Towns in the Harz
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View of Nordhausen (city centre)
View of Nordhausen (city centre)
Flag of Nordhausen
Coat of arms of Nordhausen
Coat of arms
Nordhausen   is located in Germany
Country Germany
State Thuringia
District Nordhausen
 • Mayor Dr. Klaus Zeh (CDU)
 • Total 105.27 km2 (40.64 sq mi)
Population (2014-12-31)[1]
 • Total 41,800
 • Density 400/km2 (1,000/sq mi)
Time zone CET/CEST (UTC+1/+2)
Postal codes 99734
Dialling codes 03631
Vehicle registration NDH

Nordhausen is a city in Thuringia, Germany. It is the capital of the Nordhausen district and the urban centre of northern Thuringia and the southern Harz region with a population of 42,000. Nordhausen is located approximately 60 km (37 miles) N of Erfurt, 80 km (50 miles) W of Halle, 85 km (53 miles) S of Braunschweig and 60 km (37 miles) E of Göttingen.

Nordhausen was first mentioned in the year 927 and became one of the most important cities in central Germany during the later Middle Ages. In the early 13th century, it became a free imperial city, so that it was an independent and republican self-ruled member of the Holy Roman Empire. Due to its long-distance trade, Nordhausen was prosperous and influential with a population of 8,000 around 1500, that was the third-largest in Thuringia after Erfurt, today's capital, and Mühlhausen, the other free imperial city in the Land. Later, World War II brought much harm to Nordhausen: in the nearby KZ Mittelbau-Dora 60,000 forced labourers had to work in the arms industry, where 20,000 of them died because of the bad conditions and in April 1945, most of the city was destroyed by Royal Air Force bombings with 8,800 casualties (more than 20% of the population) and the loss of most of the historic buildings, which made it the most destroyed city in Thuringia in WW II. Nordhausen is the birthplace of the famous mathematician Oswald Teichmüller, born 18 June 1913, died 11 September 1943, known for his groundbreaking work on the spaces named after him.

Nordhausen was once known for its tobacco industry and is still known for its distilled spirit, Nordhäuser Doppelkorn. Furthermore, it hosts the Fachhochschule Nordhausen with 2,500 students and is a starting point of the Harz Narrow Gauge Railways, which are intensely frequented by tourists traveling through the Harz mountains.

The city is situated at Helme river within the fertile region of Goldene Aue (golden floodplain) at the southern edge of the Harz mountains.


  • History 1
    • Middle Ages 1.1
    • Early modern period 1.2
    • Since 1815 1.3
  • Geography and demographics 2
    • Topography 2.1
    • Administrative division 2.2
    • Demographics 2.3
  • Culture, sights and cityscape 3
    • Museums 3.1
    • Cityscape 3.2
    • Sights and architectural heritage 3.3
      • Churches 3.3.1
      • Secular buildings 3.3.2
  • Economy and infrastructure 4
    • Agriculture, industry and services 4.1
    • Transport 4.2
    • Education 4.3
  • Politics 5
    • Mayor and city council 5.1
    • Twin towns 5.2
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Imperial City of Nordhausen
Reichstadt Nordhausen
Free Imperial City of the Holy Roman Empire

Nordhausen in the 17th century
Capital Nordhausen
Government Republic
Historical era High Middle Ages
 •  Settlement founded 650-700
 •  Reichsfreiheit 27 July 1220
 •  Reichsfreiheit confirmed 1290
 •  New city constitution 14 February 1375
 •  Joined Hanseatic League 1430
 •  Reformation 1523
 •  Ceded to Prussia 1802
 •  Ceded to Westphalia 1807–13

Middle Ages

The Franks colonized the area around Nordhausen about 800, many place names here have a Frankish origin, discernible by the suffix -hausen (like Nordhausen itself, Sundhausen, Windehausen and the later abandoned settlement Stockhausen as well as the neighbouring cities of Mühlhausen, Sondershausen, Frankenhausen and Sangerhausen). Nordhausen itself is first mentioned in a 13 May 927 document of King Henry the Fowler. He built a castle here, which is traceable between 910 and 1277 and became a centre of the empire during the 10th century. Gerberga of Saxony, Henry's daughter shall be born there, same as Henry I, Duke of Bavaria. A first market was established in the 10th century, same as the chapter of nuns (961). During the 12th century, the old town was semi-planned established around the new market place and St. Nicholas' Church.

Nordhausen was Ilfeld), who extorted Nordhausen during the 14th century to get money. On the other hand, the debts of the Hohnstein Counts were gigantic: they owed 86 citizens of Nordhausen 5744 Mark silver in 1370. In 1306, Nordhausen allied with the two other major Thuringian cities Erfurt and Mühlhausen against the Wettins and the local counts (Hohnstein, Stolberg, Schwarzburg, Beichlingen etc.) and joined the Hanseatic League together with them in 1430. Further alliances were concluded with Goslar, Halberstadt, Quedlinburg and Aschersleben to represent urban interests against the landlords.

Early modern period

In 1500 it became part of the Lower Saxon Circle, and from around the same year the city began producing fermented grain liquor, which became famous under the name Nordhäuser Doppelkorn. In 1523, a year in which Thomas Müntzer spent some time in the city, the Protestant Reformation came to Nordhausen, which was one of the first cities that adopted the new doctrine. The cathedral chapter stayed catholic, protected by the Habsburg emperors but the other monasteries got closed during the following decades and their heritage came to the city. During the 16th century, Nordhausen succeeded to push back the influence of the Wettins and the Hohnstein counts by buying back their privileges over the city. This marked the peak in pre-modern urban development, followed by some centuries of decline introduced by the Thirty Years' War.

After the war, the Electorate of Brandenburg tried to incorporate the free cities of Nordhausen, Mühlhausen and Goslar, because it already became large territories in the Harz region. The Electorate of Saxony, protecting power of Nordhausen gave hidden support to the Brandenburgs, so that Nordhausen tried to keep its independence through the protection by the Hanovers. After the Brandenburg-Prussians had occupied Nordhausen between 1703 and 1714, the city got protection of Hanover resp. England, which paid 50,000 Talers to the Prussians to leave Nordhausen, which was moreover destroyed by two town fires in 1710 and 1712. Under the protection of Hanover, the economy improved again and the production of tobacco since mid-18th century brought new wealth to Nordhausen.

During the Napoleonic Wars, Prussian troops occupied Nordhausen on 2 August 1802; the city lost its status as an Imperial Free City during the German Mediatisation. After Prussia's defeat against Napoleon, it became part of the Kingdom of Westphalia created in 1807.

Since 1815

Underground factory of KZ Mittelbau-Dora
The destroyed Boelcke Kaserne and hundreds of killed interned forced labourers after the bombings in 1945

Following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, Nordhausen was included in the Kingdom of Prussia's Province of Saxony created in 1816. During the mid-19th century, the industrialisation started in Nordhausen with production of chewing tobacco, alcoholic beverages, paper and textiles. The breakthrough was reached as Nordhausen got connected to main railways in four directions between 1866 and 1869. In 1882 it became an urban district (until 1950). As the engineering industry developed after 1900, the city saw an economic heyday with large building activities during the following decades.

The Nazi rule led to the destruction of the synagogue during the Kristallnacht in 1938. The Jews emigrated or were deported to the death camps. The Mittelbau-Dora Nazi concentration camp, established in 1943 after the destruction of Peenemünde, was located on the outskirts of Nordhausen during World War II to provide labor for the Mittelwerk V-2 rocket factory in the Kohnstein. Over its period of operation, around 60,000 inmates passed through Dora and its system of subcamps, of whom around 20,000 died from bad working conditions, starvation and diseases or were murdered. Around 10,000 forced labourers were deployed in several factories within the city, up to 6,000 of them were interned at Boelcke Kaserne, working for a Junkers factory.

On April 3 and 4, 1945 three-quarters of the town were destroyed by bombing raids of the Royal Air Force, in which around 8,800 people died, including 1,300-1,500 sick prisoners at the Boelcke Kaserne barracks within Nordhausen.[2] Earlier on August 24, 1944, 11 B-17 Flying Fortresses of Mission 568 bombed the airfield at Nordhausen as a target of opportunity.[3] On 11 April 1945, the Americans occupied the town, and on 2 July the Red Army took over. A Special Mission V-2: US operation, by Maj. William Bromley, meant to recover V-2 rocket parts and equipment. Maj. James P. Hamill co-ordinated the rail transport of said equipment with the 144th Motor Vehicle Assembly Company, from Nordhausen to Erfurt (Operation Paperclip). On 18 July the Soviet administration created the Institute Rabe to develop Soviet rocket technology on the basis of the substantially more sophisticated V-2 rockets. In May 1946 the Institute was subsumed into the new Institute Nordhausen, under an expanded programme of research across the Soviet occupation zone, including a new Institute Berlin. On 22 October 1946, under Operation Osoaviakhim, 10-15,000 German scientists, engineers and their families were deported to the Soviet Union, including around 300 from Nordhausen.[4] Transplanted along with their equipment, many remained there until the early 1950s.

Nordhausen became part of East Germany in 1949 and was administered within Bezirk Erfurt since 1952. The reconstruction of Nordhausen took long time during the 1950s and 1960s and was carried out in modern architectural style. Town hall, cathedral and St. Blaise's Church were the only rebuilt historic sights. The Uprising of 1953 in East Germany found a centre in Nordhausen, because the living conditions within the destroyed city were still bad and the people were exceedingly dissatisfied. Only the Soviet army could defeat the uprising. Within the GDR, Nordhausen was the centre of tobacco and liqueur production.

After the German reunification of 1990, Nordhausen was made part of the recreated state of Thuringia. The 1990s brought an economic crisis with high unemployment rates and many uncompetitive communist era factories had to close. Nevertheless, the local industry revived after the crisis and since 2000 the economy is growing again, with the unemployment rate decreasing and Nordhausen consolidated as the urban centre of northern Thuringia. The Nordhausen University of Applied Sciences was found in 1997 and brought some students to the town and the Landesgartenschau (Land's horticultural exhibition) in 2004 was an impetus to further urban development.

Geography and demographics

The Zorge river in Nordhausen


Nordhausen is situated at the border between the flat and fertile area of Helme river runs in west-eastern direction at the southern border of the municipality. Between them are some quarry ponds of former gravel mining near the Sundhausen and Bielen districts. To the north, the terrain is getting more hilly and part of a karst area south to the Harz mountains. The north-west of the territory is marked by the Kohnstein hill (335 m) and the north-east is the Rüdigsdorf Switzerland, a small area with a beautiful landscape up to 350 m of elevation around Rüdigsdorf district. South of Helme river, the terrain gets also hilly around the Windleite mountains between Nordhausen and Sondershausen. Most of the municipal territory is in agricultural use. The forests are located first between the city centre in the south and Rüdigsdorf in the north (with interruptions), second at Kohnstein hill and third in the east around Rodishain and Stempeda.

Administrative division

District map

Nordhausen abuts the following municipalities: Ellrich, Harztor, Harzungen, Neustadt, Buchholz and Herrmannsacker in the north, Südharz and Urbach in the east, Heringen and Kleinfurra in the south and Werther in the west. Except of Südharz, which is part of Mansfeld-Südharz district in Saxony-Anhalt, all the neighbouring municipalities belong to the Nordhausen district in Thuringia.

The following villages belong to the Nordhausen municipality:

  • Bielen (incorporated in 1994)
  • Herreden (1994)
  • Hesserode (1997)
  • Hochstedt (1994)
  • Hörningen (1994)
  • Krimderode (1950)
  • Leimbach (1994)
  • Petersdorf (2007)
  • Rodishain (2007)
  • Rüdigsdorf (1993)
  • Salza (1950)
  • Steigerthal (1999)
  • Steinbrücken (1994)
  • Stempeda (2007)
  • Sundhausen (1994)


Nordhausen had approx. 8,000 inhabitants during the late Middle Ages around 1500, which was the third-largest number within today's Thuringia, after Erfurt, the current capital and Mühlhausen. The early modern period brought stagnation to the city, so that the population was also 8,000 around 1800. Nordhausen fell back behind the new ducal residence cities like Weimar, Gotha or Altenburg in this ages and lost its former importance. Nevertheless, Industrialization started in the 1860s, as Nordhausen got connected to the railway and the population grew to 26,000 and 33,000 in 1910, which was a smaller growth than in other cities of comparable size during that period of rapid urbanisation in Germany. Until 1940, the population rose to 42,000, but decreased due to the destruction of the city in World War II to 32,000 in 1946. The old level was attained again in the early 1960s and the population peak was reached in 1988 with 48,000. The bad economic situation after the German reunification led to emigration during the 1990s and the population shrunk in that decade. Because of the various incorporations of neighbouring villages, the amount looks smaller than it was.

The average change of population within the last years (2009–2012) was approximately -0.35% p. a, whereas the population in bordering rural regions is shrinking with accelerating tendency and the 2011 EU census led to a statistical amendment of –2,000 persons. Suburbanization played only a small role in Nordhausen. It occurred after the reunification for a short time in the 1990s, but most of the suburban areas were situated within the administrative city borders.

The birth deficit was 266 in 2012, this is -6.3 per 1,000 inhabitants (Thuringian average: -4.5; national average: -2.4). The net migration rate was -0.5 per 1,000 inhabitants in 2012 (Thuringian average: -0.8; national average: +4.6),[5] but is fluctuating relatively heavy for years. The most important regions of origin of Nordhausen migrants are rural areas of Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt as well as foreign countries like Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria.

Like other eastern German cities, Nordhausen has only a small amount of foreign population: circa 2.3% are non-Germans by citizenship and overall 4.6% are migrants (according to 2011 EU census). During recent years, the economic situation of the city improved a bit: the unemployment rate in Nordhausen district declined from 24% in 2005 to 10% in 2013 with higher rates in the city than in the bordering rural municipalities. Due to the official atheism in former GDR, most of the population is non-religious. 16.2% are members of the Evangelical Church in Central Germany and 4.5% are Catholics (according to 2011 EU census).

Culture, sights and cityscape


  • The Flohburg/Nordhausen-Museum at Barfüßerstraße is the municipal museum of Nordhausen hosting an exhibition about the city's history.
  • The Museum Tabakspeicher at Bäckerstraße is a trade history museum, showing some items of the last centuries economic history.
  • The Kunsthaus Meyenburg at Alexander-Puschkin-Straße is Nordhausen's arthistorical museum and shows temporary exhibitions of art.
  • The Mittelbau-Dora memorial north-west of the city hosts an exhibition about the history of this Nazi concentration camp and a memorial for its 20,000 victims.
  • The IFA-Museum at Montaniastraße shows an exhibition of automotive engineering within an old Industrieverband Fahrzeugbau factory.


Some Gründerzeit architecture in the northern mansion district
The Töpferstraße within the old town is marked by the reconstruction after 1945

Nordhausen's cityscape is marked by the nearly total destruction during the bombings in 1945, that extinguished most of the historic city centre. There were four historic city parts before: the old town within the city wall on a hill east of the Zorge valley, the new town within the valley between the river in the west, the city wall in the east, Hohensteinerstraße in the north and Vor dem Vogel street in the south, the Altendorf suburbium in the north-west around Altendorf and Am Alten Tor street and the Altnordhausen suburbium in the south-east around St. Mary's Church on the hill. Altnordhausen and the new town are completely vanished, the old town was destroyed up to 90%, only some buildings around Barfüßerstraße, Domstraße and Bäckerstraße on the western edge remained, whereas Altendorf preserved entirely. During the 19th and 20th century, the city enlarged to all directions, the worker's districts were built up in the west at Zorge valley and Salza and to the east around Förstemannstraße and Leimbacher Straße. The mansion district developed in the north around Stolberger Straße and in the south and west along the railways, the big industrial areas are located.

The reconstruction after the World War II was carried out in altered manner, changing the grid and the structure of Nordhausen, which can be clearly seen along the new main streets Rautenstraße and Töpferstraße. Some areas were never built up again, for example those north and south of Kranichstraße and around Georgengasse. Peripher Plattenbau settlements were built during the later GDR period in the east at Leimbacher Straße and in the north around the hospital. The village Salza in the north-west is grown together with Nordhausen since the 20th century.

Sights and architectural heritage


  • The Nordhausen Holy Cross Cathedral is the catholic parish church of Nordhausen. It was never a bishop's seat but it's also called a cathedral because it is dating back to a cathedral chapter monastery. The building was established between 1180 and 1400 and shows both Romanesque and Gothic style elements.
  • The St. Blaise's Church is the evangelical main church of Nordhausen. It was built during the second half of the 15th century in Gothic style.
  • The St. Mary's Church in the valley at Altendorf (north-western historic city part) is an evangelical parish church today and was built as monastery around 1353 in Gothic style.
  • The St. Mary's Church on the hill at Frauenberg hill (south-eastern historic city part) is also an evangelical parish church arose from a monastery. It was built in the 12th century in Romanesque style and destroyed (about 80%) in 1945 during the bombings. Later, the ruins were involved in a modern reconstruction.
  • The Petri Tower is the remained steeple of the damaged St. Peter's Church within the city centre. It was built in 1362.

Furthermore, there were churches being destroyed by the 1945 bombings: the old main church St. Nicholas' and the new town's church St. Jacob's as well as the earlier abandoned monasteries of the Augustines, Fanciscans and Dominicans.

Secular buildings

  • The city wall was built between 13th and 15th century and remained in big parts (in the north, south-west and south-east).
  • The town hall was built in Renaissance style between 1608 and 1610 and is one of only few buildings being rebuilt after the destruction by the bombings in 1945. The Nordhausen Roland is the city's landmark, it was established in 1717 as larger-than-life statue on the south-western corner of the town hall (wooden, today a copy, the original is shown in the museum).
  • The Stadttheater was built between 1913 and 1917 and is in use a theatre until today.
  • The Walkenrieder Hof is a former storage building at Waisenstraße, built in 1345 and now used as municipal archive.
  • Some old buildings in city centre that survived the bombings in 1945 are only remained along Barfüßerstraße, Domstraße and Bäckerstraße on the western edge of the city centre and in the former suburbium Altendorf in the north-west. An interesting mansion district preserved north of the city centre with late-19th and early-20th century mansions.

Economy and infrastructure

Agriculture, industry and services

The Nordhäuser distillery

Agriculture plays an important role until today, about 57% of the municipal territory are in agricultural use. Cereals are manufactured to a famous spirit, the Nordhäuser Korn.

The major industrial branch of Nordhausen was and is heavy machinery construction. There was a factory for rail engines until 1942 and later producers of truck motors, augers and excavators. Today, engineering is still the most important industrial branch of Nordhausen, although many factories had to close after the German reunification in 1990. In 2012, there were 35 companies with more than 20 workers in the industrial sector, employing all together 4,000 persons and generating an annual turnover of €800 mio,[6] making Nordhausen to an industrial core in Thuringia today.

Nordhausen is the biggest city in a circuit of 60 km (37 mi), making it to an important regional service hub in retail, medicine, education, government and culture (theatre, cinema etc.). A major shopping centre is the Südharz Galerie at Bahnhofstraße and the Südharz Klinikum is one of the biggest hospitals in Thuringia.


Nordhausen station
Nordhausen HSB train station.

Nordhausen has been a railway node since the late 19th century. The Halle–Kassel railway was opened in 1866/67, the South Harz Railway in 1869 and the Nordhausen–Erfurt railway also in 1869. In 1897, the narrow-gauge Trans-Harz Railway followed as the last one. Today, there are regional express trains to Halle in the east and Kassel in the west as well as local trains to Halle, Heiligenstadt, Erfurt and Göttingen (via Northeim), running every one to two hours. Nordhausen station is the main station, a second one is Nordhausen-Salza on the South Harz line. The narrow-gauge Trans-Harz-Railway is linked with the tramway network in a Tram-train system with many stops within Nordhausen.

Nordhausen is located on the Bundesautobahn 38 from Göttingen in the west to Halle and Leipzig in the east, opened in the 2000s. Furthermore, there are two Bundesstraßen connecting Nordhausen: the Bundesstraße 4 is a link to Erfurt in the south and to Braunschweig through the Harz mountains in the north and the Bundesstraße 243 connects Nordhausen with Hildesheim in the north-west. The former Bundesstraße 80 was annulled after the opening of the parallel Bundesautobahn 38 and the Bundesstraße 81 as a connection to Magdeburg starts a few kilometres north of the city at B 4. The B 4 (southern branch) and the B 243 shall be enlarged because of their importance as connections to and between Erfurt and Lower Saxony. Furthermore, there are important secondary roads to Heringen in the south-east and to Buchholz in the north-east.

The nearest airports are the Erfurt-Weimar Airport, 80 km (50 mi) to the south, the Leipzig/Halle Airport, 120 km (75 mi) to the east and the Hannover Airport, 150 km (93 mi) to the north-west.

For cycling, the long-distance Südharzroute trail network offers 10 trails in the region around Nordhausen.

The Nordhausen tramway network forms an important part of the public transport system, established in 1900. Furthermore, there are inner-city and regional bus services.


Nordhausen has a Fachhochschule (University of Applied Sciences) with 2,500 students that offers Bachelor's and Master's degrees in business administration, public management, and business engineering, among others.[7] Furthermore, there are two Gymnasiums in Nordhausen.


Mayor and city council

The current mayor Klaus Zeh, CDU is in office since 2012. His predecessor was Barbara Rinke, SPD (in office 1994–2012).

The last municipal election was held in 2009 with the result:

Party Percentage Seats in council
SPD 35.3 13
CDU 25.9 9
The Left 22.0 8
FDP 7.3 3
Greens 6.3 2
NPD 3.1 1

Twin towns

Nordhausen is twinned with:


  1. ^ "Bevölkerung der Gemeinden, Gemeinschaftsfreie Gemeinde, erfüllende/beauftragende Gemeinden, Verwaltungsgemeinschaft/Mitgliedsgemeinden in Thüringen".  
  2. ^ Béon, Yves (1997). Planet Dora: A Memoir of the Holocaust and the Birth of the Space Age. (translated from the French La planète Dora by Béon & Richard L. Fague). Westview Press, Div. of Harper Collins. p. XIX,XXI,XXII,XXIV.  
  3. ^ "8th Air Force 1944 Chronicles". Archived from the original on September 12, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-25. 
  4. ^ Soviet rocket building in Thuringia (in German)
  5. ^ According to Thüringer Landesamt für Statistik
  6. ^ According to Thüringer Landesamt für Statistik
  7. ^ Fachhochschule Nordhausen

External links

  • Official website
  •  "Nordhausen".  
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