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Bielefeld: merchant city with a love of the arts.

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.

City Highlights

Bielefeld's famous landmark – Sparrenburg Castle – sits in majestic splendour on Mount Sparrenberg overlooking the city. This mighty fortress is situated on one of Germany's most beautiful hill-walking trails, the 156km Hermannsweg. Built in the middle of the 13th century by the Count of Ravensberg, the castle served as the administrative headquarters and residence of the ruling nobility, offering protection to the city and the trading route along the Bielefeld pass. Impressive features include the 300-metre system of underground tunnels, which is open to the public from April to October, and magnificent panoramic views of the city and surrounding area.

The Kunsthalle in Bielefeld is a museum and exhibition centre for modern and contemporary art.

This important collection of 20th century art includes works by Picasso, Sonia and Robert Delaunay, Max Beckmann, Man Ray, and the Brücke and Blue Rider artists. In addition, the museum will soon host its fifth Picasso exhibition. Every year, on the last Saturday in April, the museum has an open night offering 'Bielefeld Art Encounters'. On Museums Night more than 40 museums, churches and galleries open their doors to the public and offer an artistic journey through the night highlighting fascinating aspects of the town's cultural scene.

The Rudolf Oetker Hall reflects the strong sense of civic pride, outstanding commitment and traditional appreciation of cultural life in the East Westphalian city. Back in 1925 the Oetker family came to the city of Bielefeld with a grand proposal: they wanted to finance a large concert hall in their home town – in memory of Dr Rudolf Oetker, the music-loving son of the company's founder who died in 1916 during the First World War. It was intended to "bring joy to the living and enhance their appreciation of musical works" according to the inscription on a plaque in the entrance hall.

Built from 1855 to 1857, Ravensberg spinning mill was one of the largest flax mills in Europe in the 19th and early 20th century. In front of the main building lies Rochdale Park, laid out in 1978 to mark the 25th anniversary of Bielefeld's twinning with the English town of Rochdale. The entire area around Ravensberg spinning mill is now a popular attraction for culture aficionados. In addition to exhibitions at the History Museum and the handicraft collection at Huelsmann Museum, the area regularly plays host to cultural events such as concerts and comedy performances.

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