© Ernesto Uhlmann

The Chemnitz Story

How the makers of Chemnitz shaped their city at all times

How Chemnitz could go from being an industrial metropolis to the European Capital of Culture? The answers are: Inventiveness, courage and hard work.

Perhaps it all began in 1357, when Chemnitz was granted the so-called bleaching privilege. All textiles in the surrounding area were only allowed to be bleached in Chemnitz, making the city the trading and transshipment centre of the region. The affinity with textiles and their production was to remain and led to more than a third of the workforce in Chemnitz being employed in the textile industry as early as the 17th century. In 1799/1800 the Bernhard brothers built the first mechanical cotton spinning mill in what is now the Harthau district. Chemnitz grew into an industrial stronghold and soon became a major city and the richest city in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Entrepreneurial spirit, coupled with Chemnitz's doer mentality, led to innovative inventions and modern achievements. The Saxon locomotive king Richard Hartmann was as much at home here as the loom imperialist Louis Ferdinand Schönherr.

Early on, the industrialists afforded themselves splendid houses and acted as patrons. Art and culture had a high status in city society and those with sufficient financial means employed young European architects such as Henry van de Velde. The preserved and now renovated Villa Esche of the stocking manufacturer Herbert Eugen Esche still bears witness to this today. The König Albert Museum, the home of the Chemnitz Art Collections, is also a testimony to this period and the investment in timeless aesthetics. Magnificent sacred buildings and an entire district in Art Nouveau style followed. Largely spared by the war, a walk across the Kaßberg is now a must for every visitor to the city.

After the Second World War, the city had to reinvent itself. A large part of the city centre was almost completely destroyed shortly before the end of the war. In 1953, a change of name took place, and the city was called "Karl-Marx-Stadt" from then until 1990. This was followed not only by the inauguration of the large, well-known sculpture of the philosopher's head in the city centre, but also by an extensive urban development programme. The city centre offered space for new plans and buildings - some of which can still be experienced today in the now also appreciated style of Eastern Modernism. More people moved into the city, housing became scarce and housing estates such as the Fritz Heckert area were built on the outskirts.

In the shadow of Leipzig and Dresden, Chemnitz developed its very own culture over the years. A culture characterised by machismo. An old film recording says that in Karl-Marx-Stadt "workers build their own city". They were good, they could do it - but they didn't make a big fuss about it. After the fall of communism, many residents left their city and were once again confronted with issues that did not allow them to take a deep breath. The redevelopment of the city centre, the revitalisation of brownfield sites and dealing with vacancies were pressing issues that came to the fore. But the city also mastered these issues with the help of committed citizens; the Technical University grew, companies were founded here and "Made in Chemnitz" is now internationally recognised as a seal of quality and innovative solutions.

Since October 2020, it has also been clear: Chemnitz has the potential to make even more of it and also to light up the cultural map of Europe. The international jury recommended the city as European Capital of Culture 2025.

In the Capital of Culture year 2025, projects under the motto "C the Unseen" will bring undiscovered places to life and make the invisible visible. The European makers are to be the focus and, starting from history, spin the thread into the future.

„Culture does not exist without industry.”
Sven Liebold from Schauplatz Eisenbahn

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