WENDY’S WEEK THE OLD TOWN HANNOVER
Last week I promised to tell you about some of the most famous sights of Hannover that I enjoyed visiting. A trip to the Old Town is a must with its half-timbered buildings and museums. However do allow yourself plenty of time to explore, and if your mobility isn’t great then a leisurely stop at the odd cafe or three or one of the gardens will help you to enjoy the visit.
In the days before the Second World War there was a large old town in the centre of Hannover containing narrow lanes and many half-timbered buildings dating back to the Middle Ages. A lot of poor people lived there under bad conditions and the ordinary Hannoverians of the day stayed away from the Old Town because they considered it to be a place of crime and, especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries it became a place where a certain class of women, financially supported by wealthy lovers, lived.
The Old Town of Hannover extended from Steintor to Aegidientorplatz and is today only recognizable by its oval shape. The old main streets like Osterstraße, Schmiedestraße, Knochenhauerstraße, Burgstraße, Leinestraße and others are well worth exploring and are linked by numerous lanes that join again at the old gates as was common in German merchants’ settlements of the Middle Ages.
After the bombing raids of the Second World War there was almost nothing left of Hannover’s Old Town. Forty old half-timbered buildings remained, twelve in Knochenhauer, Kramer, and Burgstraße, and during the rebuilding of Hannover, parts of the old buildings, mainly the facades, were transferred and concentrated in this area. So today they form a ‘New Old Town’ in Hannover’s oldest part with its most picturesque half-timbered buildings nesting amidst the new buildings in upper Burgstraße. The Renaissance facade dates from 1566, but the house at the back is even older.
Close by, in the middle of the new buildings is Hannover’s oldest church, the Kreuzkirche, built in 1333. The interior was destroyed in the Second World War, and the Altar, designed by Lucas Cranach the Elder, comes from a church in Einbeck. The Duvekapelle, adjacent to the Kreuzkirche, was built in 1655 and contains the family vault of the Duve family, a prosperous merchant family. The best-known member was Johann Duve, who was renowned for his charity.
The old Town Hall was built over a period of more than 100 years. The earliest part (from 1410) overlooks the Schmiedestrasse (Blacksmith Street), the later wing next to the market erected on the foundations of the 13th century trade hall. The adjacent wing in the Koebelinger Str. is called the “Chemists’ Wing (“Apothekenflügel”), because it was the location of the Town Hall’s pharmacy. This wing was later rebuilt in Italian Romanesque style, after a citizen’s “action group” led by a well known neo-Gothic architect, Conrad Wilhelm Hase, managed to save the entire building from demolition in 1844. Hase was subsequently commissioned to renovate the remaining wings in their original style of 1500, with its exceptional gothic gables and the ornamental frieze. Amongst the portraits of the princes and coats-of-arms features the “Luderziehen”, a popular game from the Middle-Ages, a kind of “Tug of War” with the opponents using just their little fingers instead of the rope (a similar game called “Fingerhakeln” is still a firm part of the south German folklore). This marvelous picture above the outer right arched window in the Schmiedestrasse can only be seen by following the “red line” around the Old Town Hall.
Along Kreuzstraße the way leads to the Ballhofplatz. The Ballhof, built in 1649-64, used to be a sports hall, designed for ball games out of the wind and rain. Later it was used as an assembly hall and eventually became a theatre. The Ballhofplatz was only created in the thirties when during a redevelopment process many old buildings in that area were demolished.
Opposite the City Museum, which was built in the sixties in an extravagant style, stands the reconstruction of the Leibnizhaus. It was a famous building with beautiful sandstone masonry. Originally built in 1499, it was restored in 1652 and inhabited by the well-known philosopher Leibniz from 1676. It was destroyed in the Second World War. The reconstruction of the facade is based on photographs and relicts. The building behind the facade is entirely modern and serves as a guest house for Hannover’s universities.
The magnificent Herrenhausen Gardens encompass the Georgengarten, a beautiful English-style park, and the Berggarten, a botanic garden with orchid and cactus houses and an ideal place to sit on reflect. At the north end stands the Mausoleum built in 1846 for King Ernest Augustus and Queen Friederike, and which contains the tomb of George I of Britain. Also of note is the recently rebuilt Herrenhausen Palace, home to a museum showcasing artifacts and documents related to the city’s rich Baroque era.
The Tiergarten, the deer park in Hannover with its 112 hectares of this recreational forest is inhabited by a large number of wild animals, making it one of Hannover’s most popular attractions. From the beginning it was not the production of wood, but hunting and the beauty of the wild animals and the forest that stood in the foreground. Thanks to this attitude a very old tree population could develop, creating scenery of rare beauty and serenity. It was created in 1678/79 by Duke Johan Friedrich for hunting. 120 fallow deer were let free in the forest. This is approximately the number living there today. Unfortunately, Duke Johan Friedrich did not live to enjoy the first hunt, organized in 1680. He died a year earlier during his journey to Italy. In 1997 a majestic red deer and two graceful hinds were put in the “Hubertus” enclosure, previously inhabited by wild horses. The Tiergarten also provides living space for numerous species of birds and rare bats. The annual Tiergartenfest in October is a highlight of a special kind, especially for children and families, who are rewarded in that way by the Municipal Forestry Department for the collection of acorns and chestnuts for feeding the wild animals during the winter.
Other city gardens well worth a visit is the Grosser Garten (Great Garden), dating from 1666 and the best-preserved example of an Early Baroque garden in Germany with cascades, fountains, an orangery, and a garden theater
The Leineschloss, is the parliament building for Niedersachsen’s government and dates back to the 12th century. Originally it was a Franciscan convent which was dissolved in 1553. When the Duke of Calenberg took residence in Hannover in 1636 parts of the building were redecorated. In the 19th century after Hannover had become a kingdom, the whole Leineschloss was rebuilt by Hannover’s noted architect Laves, who also built the portico with six Corinthian columns. In 1943, the Leineschloss burned down almost completely, with only the portico remaining, and when it was rebuilt, the modern assembly hall was added.
On the 3-5th November I have my usual Stickler syndrome conference in Coventry, which I am looking forward to, although I am frantically trying to organise everything at the moment, and wondering if I will be ready in time. Then if that wasn’t enough to contend with, yesterday I received the proofs of my latest book A-Z of Curious Sussex asking for them to be returned by 3rd November! Life is never dull in the Hughes household!