City history

Günzburg – from a Roman Castellum and a later Imperial Residence to the modern center of a lively region in Suebia

It have alway been the traffic routes which have given Günzburg its high regard and importance. It all started when the Romans secured the crossing of the Danube and the road junction by setting up a castellum for some 500 equestrians in 77/78 A. D. This soon developed into a prosperous trading post that existed well into the first half of the fifth century. The importance and wealth of old ”Guntia” are documented by the findings of excavations on the site of the largest burial field north of the Alps.

The name ”Guntia”, by the way, goes back to a Celtic goddess who later on was also worshipped by the Romans. Some of the most beautiful artefacts from these excavations are on exhibition at the local museum (Heimatmuseum).

The Romans who left Guntia by the end of the 5th century were followed by the Alemans who, in turn, came under Frankonian sovereignty in the 8th century.

It is only few certainty that a Frankonian Royal Court was established on the site of the old Roman settlement – in any case a document was signed by the young German King Heinrich IV ”ze Gunceburch” in 1065. After the year 1280 Gunceburch was taken over by the Margraveship of Burgau and later, together with Burgau, fell into the hands of the Habsburg dynasty. This proprietary status lasted for over 500 years, apart from some pawning.
Also the Habsburg rulers at once recognized the extremely favorable situation of the city with regard to traffic routes, and in the 14th century they consequently established a well planned ”upper town” high up upon the southern bank of the Danube and the estuary of the river Günz which developed rapidly and soon surpassed all neighboring boroughs. The City Right was granted in 1307, the weekly market was transferred ”uptown”, a hospital and a Latin school were founded.

After the construction of a castle and church in the south-western corner of the upper town (1577/80), Günzburg became the residence of Archduke Ferdinand II`s son Karl from 1609 until 1618. Margrave Karl was able to bring craft and trade to new heights, but later all his efforts were ruined by the Thirty Year War (1618–1648) in the course of which the number of Günzburg`s citizens went down from about 2,400 to some 800.

The following decades were also overshadowed by further drawbacks – during the Spanish Heriditary Wars

(1701–1714) the castle went up in flames (1703) and the citizens suffered badly under the occupation; then, on 8 May, 1735, a huge fire destroyed the complete northern half of the upper town. But in spite of all economical difficulties and bottlenecks, a new church was built on the site of the old Gothic ”Frauenkirche” (1736–41). The architect of this new Rokoko–style Frauenkirche was Dominicus Zimmermann of Wessobrunn, who also built the famous Wieskirche, and this new Frauenkirche in Günzburg is regarded by art experts as ”one of the greatest architectural achievements of the 18th century” (Georg Dehio).

The reign of Empress Maria Theresia marks the beginning of one of Günzburg`s happiest period in its history for both, city and citizens. The postal route from Vienna to Paris led right across the Günzburg market place which resulted in the most interesting fact that out of the 43 houses surrounding the market place, 19 houses where guest houses and inns with their own brewery rights. In the 1750's a reorganisation of the local school system took place: Padres of the Piarist Order were called for the boys' school (the former school building today houses the local museum), and ladies of the Mary Ward Congregation taught the girls.

This positive development of Günzburg turned out to be a most lucky break for the trade settlements of the Italian families of Brentano (“Brentanohaus” on Market Place ), Molo, and Rebay. A shipping company with regular traffic on the Danube from Ulm to Vienna via Günzburg established trade connections also with the eastern provinces of the Habsburg Empire, and Günzburg served as embarkation point for German emigrants to the Banat region of Hungary. A real highlight of the importance of Günzburg in those days certainly was the setting up of an Imperial Mint for Lower Austria (1764–67), shortly before the end of the ancien régime, and today's replicas of the famous Maria-Theresia-Taler; still proudly boast the coining stamp ”SF” for Günzburg's mint. The building of the former mint today houses the local administration.

Militarywise, Emperor Joseph II of Austria–Hungary (1780–90) made Günzburg a garrison whose barracks buildings today serve a more peaceful purpose: “Dossenbergerhaus” is a school. All in all it can be rightfully said that, apart from Freiburg/Breisgau, Günzburg has the most and the most beautiful architectural monuments from the Habsburg period.
The mail coaches of those times brought people of all social standings to Günzburg, and in 1770 even Princess Marie Antoinette, who later became the wife of King Louis XVI of France, made a short stopover here.

Another guest, not quite as favorably received, arrived in October 1805: Napoleon Bonaparte. He, by the way, left with a bill unpaid, and it was only in 1989 that it was settled by Francois Mitterand, the French President, in the course of a summit meeting with Chancellor Helmut Kohl on Reisensburg. It was under Napoleon that Günzburg was incorporated into the young Kingdom of Bavaria - a fact not exactly welcomed by the people of the city, and it may be taken as a sort of civil disobedience that the Bavarian rhomboid in the escutcheon of Günzburg replaced the Austrian Red–white–red only as late as in 1812.

The beginning of modern industry in and around Günzburg was closely connected with the development of the railroad system wich reached the city in 1853. The steady upward trend of trade, industry and commerce has been continuing ever since, interrupted, however, by the two world wars. In April 1945 Allied bombers caused heavy damage on buildings and traffic installations. The necessary reconstruction work and, in addition, the need to integrate more than 3,500 refugees from Eastern Germany into the community was heavy burden for the city and its people.

In the course of political district reorganization, the former independent boroughs of Deffingen, Denzingen, Leinheim, Nornheim, Reisensburg, Riedhausen and Wasserburg have now been added to the city area, thus more than doubling it, without however losing their individual identities - luckily, as we should state. Led by the three mayors of the post-war period, Günzburg has, together with neighbouring Leipheim, received the status of “Mittelzentrum” (regional trade and industrial center), and has itself become a modern city. Important district administrations and internationally well-know industrial companies have their seats here, and the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) are also present in their barracks in Donauried. All kind of social installations, primary and secondary school, manifold shopping facilities and modern sports fields are there to serve Günzburg's citizens and guests. The “Forum am Hofgarten” is the city's latest feature for concerts, theater performances, congresses etc. The forum was built in the early nineties and has developed into a most popular cultural center for the whole region. The careful rebuilding and modernisation of the historical city center, generous pedestrian malls on and around the market place and a spacious underground garage have added vastly to the glamour and attractiveness of the city. Whoever strolls along the market place and its adjoining lanes and narrow streets today, or walks through the modern living quarters of Günzburg, will experience all the advantages that a charming Suebian city can offer its inhabitants and its visitors.