Bielefeld was founded in 1214 by Duke Hermann von Ravensberg. A man of great foresight, he saw potential in the location at the intersection of two old trading routes near a pass through the Teutoburg Forest. This paved the way for a typical mercantile town with a large market and beautiful timber-framed houses, which to this day remain prominent features in a city that appreciates fine art.
Many a merchant took advantage of the freedoms granted by the ruler of this new town, thus shaping its development from the very beginning. Trade in cloth and linen, sought-after goods at the time, brought Bielefeld a period of great prosperity, which is today reflected in the buildings on Alter Markt square, the Old Town Hall and the Church of St. Nicholas in the old quarter. Walking around the city you can see the changes brought about by subsequent industrialisation. New residential quarters were established with distinctive two and three-storey houses. In the early 20th century a number of prestige buildings sprang up, including the New Town Hall, the theatre, the Old Post Office with its ornamental Renaissance facade and the art nouveau train station. 1930 saw the arrival of the Rudolf Oetker Hall, a splendid concert house famed for its acoustics and its unique architectural style alternating between classicism and New Objectivity. Late 20th century additions to the city's cultural scene include the Kunsthalle art gallery, the Stadthalle, the Seidensticker Halle events centre and, in the former Ravensberg spinning mill, the History Museum and Huelsmann Museum.
In 1969 Bielefeld became a university city. The largest of the city's six higher education institutes is located on the edge of the Teutoburg Forest and is home to the 300-metre-long Great Hall – a popular rendezvous of architectural note. Besides its students, Bielefeld is also known for its time-honoured festivals. Every May Bielefeld's old town is the venue for the Linen Weavers' Market, whose fairground rides and festivities entertain the city for several days. Other annual events include the medieval games at Castle Sparrenburg in July and the September wine festival in the old quarter. The year traditionally closes with the Christmas market, which is also held in the old town, against a backdrop of more than 100 festively decorated timber-framed houses. Another of the city's traditions is the Hermannslauf, which takes runners from the Hermann the Cheruscan monument in Detmold to Sparrenburg Castle in Bielefeld across the hills of the Teutoburg Forest. But don't worry, you can explore the castle at your own pace. And that applies to the whole city – take your time discovering its hidden gems.
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