Back in 1214, Duke Hermann of Ravensberg recognised the potential in Bielefeld's location at the intersection of two old trading routes. This paved the way for a typical mercantile city with a large market and beautiful timber-framed houses, which still remain prominent features in this city that appreciates fine art.

Flourishing trade in cloth and linen, sought-after goods at the time, brought the city a period of great prosperity very early on. Today, this can be seen in the buildings on the Alter Markt square, the Old Town Hall and the Church of St. Nicholas in the Old Town. The changes brought about by subsequent industrialisation are also reflected in the cityscape, where new residential districts were established with distinctive two and three-storey houses. A number of prestige buildings sprang up in the early 20th century, including the New Town Hall, the theatre, the Old Post Office with its ornamental Renaissance facade and the Art Nouveau train station.

The Rudolf Oetker Hall, a splendid concert hall famed for its acoustics and its unique architectural style alternating between Classicism and New Objectivity, dates back to 1930. Late 20th century additions such as the Kunsthalle art gallery and museums added to the city's cultural scene. Bielefeld became a university city in 1969. The largest of the city's six higher education institutions is located on the outskirts of the Teutoburg Forest and is home to the 300-metre-long Great Hall – a popular meeting place of architectural note. Bielefeld is also popular for its time-honoured festivals, many of which are held in the heart of the Old Town with its must-see timber-framed buildings.

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