Hünfeld is the only regional centre in the Rhön Biosphere Reserve and the second biggest employment centre in the rural district of Fulda. Over 5,000 employees subject to social security and far more than 7,500 job opportunities are by no means self-evident for a town with a population of 16,000 and demonstrate the importance of Hünfeld in the region.
Whilst in earlier decades commercial, technical and industrial jobs dominated the economic life of our town, Hünfeld has developed more and more in recent years to become an administrative and services location. There are 1,500 people working in the public sector alone, and another 1,000 in the health and care sectors. These include, for example, a full-service hospital for basic care, senior citizen facilities and a care home for cranial and brain injury patients. The administrative centre features the only remaining operations department of the Federal Police in Hessen, the new prison but also the central dunning court for Hessen, the field office of the Hessian Centre for Data Processing or the central social benefits department for the State Administration in Hessen.
Hünfeld down the ages
The town evolved from a foundation of Charlemagne, who in 781 bestowed the “Campus Unofelt” on the Fulda Monastery. Monks probably settled on the hills above the Haune as long ago as anno 782 and founded a Benedictine Monastery. A foundation called the “Chorherrenstift” developed from that, around which farmers settled and cultivated the land. Even around the turn of the first millennium, Hünfeld possessed two churches, the Stiftskirche and the predecessor to today’s Stadtpfarrkirche. This shows that Hünfeld had undergone a remarkable development already in the early Middle Ages. This experienced a first high point in 1310 with the bestowal of the so-called “Gelnhäuser” City Rights, which boosted the town’s development still further. Through its situation on the former military and trade routes, Antsanvia and the later Frankfurt – Leipzig trade route, many people eked out a living in the craft trades, in providing accommodation for travelling merchants and harnessing services for the trading convoys. What contributed to a modest living for people in times of peace, proved in time of war to be a heavy burden on them. Armies passing through again and again left trails of destruction. Billeting, robberies and commandeering inflicted suffering on the town’s citizenry. The French Emperor Napoleon alone passed through Hünfeld nine times on his campaigns. Great minds also stopped off in Hünfeld on the Frankfurt-Leipzig trade route. Among them was the German prince among poets, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who left the Hünfelders a poem, which bears fascinating witness to the devastating consequences of the Napoleonic campaigns.
The difficult economic and social situation ahead of the German Revolution in 1848 also held Hünfeld in its grasp. At that time, Johann Adam Förster, who later belonged to the radical-democratic wing of the German National Congress in Frankfurt’s Paulskirche, was elected mayor of the town. He fought until the bitter end in the Baden Rump Parliament for civic freedoms and was one of the outstanding political minds of the time. He had to pay for his devotion to civic freedoms with the loss of his home. As part of the restoration of the still monarchistic situation, he fled to the United States, where he died in the 1870s as a justice of the peace.
A further setback for Hünfeld was its connection to the railway network in 1866. More and more goods shifted to this new mode of transport. The number of trading and mail coaches fell drastically, the town had to reorient itself economically. The first industrial beginnings developed with a flax processing factory, a paper mill and a sugar factory. This modest, bourgeois life was rudely interrupted by the First World War and even more so by the national-socialist dictatorship, which led straight to the hugely destructive Second World War. On 27 October 1944, 106 citizens of the town and travellers lost their lives in a devastating air raid on the railway station. Countless families mourned fathers and sons, who had to lose their lives to the war.
The war had left deep wounds in social, cultural and economic life. But only a few months later, the Hünfelders had to face quite new challenges. Within a few years, the population of Hünfeld had almost doubled through the arrival of displaced people and refugees from the Soviet-occupied part of Germany. Homes and jobs had to be created quickly. In the stormy post-war times, that succeeded within a few years. Hünfeld became a minor centre of the textiles industry with at times up to 1,200 employees. With Wella, a global company in hair cosmetics settled in Hünfeld, after being expropriated in its native Erzgebirge region.
The stormy years of recovery and the constant growth were followed in the 1960s by a time of consolidation, until in 1972 local government reform dealt yet again changed the town’s history. Fourteen formerly autonomous villages joined Hünfeld, the population doubled; the town’s official surface area even grew tenfold. The 1970s were all about bringing the infrastructure in Hünfeld’s new districts up to date. The town centre was also endowed with a new look in the 1980s with a traffic-calmed town centre, extended greenbelt recreation areas and leisure facilities. An aggressive but family-friendly land policy ensured that many young families could settle in numerous new housing areas. The economic development of Hünfeld also kept pace with this steady growth. The number of employees subject to social security alone climbed from the mid-1970s onwards from around 3,000 to over 5,000.
A modern urban development policy made sure that green-field supermarkets were prevented in Hünfeld, as opposed to many other small towns in this rural region. Instead, these stores were settled in the town centre, so that Hünfeld even now still has a town centre with many well-stocked shops.
Another changing point in the town’s history was the opening of the nearby internal German border. As a result, Hünfeld was shifted after 40 years from a peripheral location into the middle of Germany and Europe. The town suffered at the beginning under the strong subsidy gaps to locations in neighbouring Thüringia, so that many a company which had planned an investment in Hünfeld before the reunification took advantage of the good subsidy opportunities in Thüringia. A dynamic economic exchange nonetheless developed, from which the town very much benefits today. Without the many commuters from Thüringia, who drive to Hünfeld every day to work, many companies would not have been able to develop so positively.
As a pulsating regional centre in the Rhön Biosphere Reserve, Hünfeld has successfully faced the competition also as a place to live and has been able to at least hold its population steady even in times of demographic change in contrast to many other small towns and regional centres in rural areas after years of strong growth.
The good transport connections certainly contribute to Hünfeld’s situation as an economic centre and place to live. The nearby autobahn A7, the B27 and B84 main roads, the renovated railway and bus stations as well as the nearby ICE high-speed rail connection in Fulda are meanwhile also making Hünfeld attractive as a conference location at the heart of Germany.
Education, health and culture
For a small town with 16,000 inhabitants, Hünfeld has outstanding infrastructure at its disposal. In the pre-school area alone there are six kindergartens, a crèche and a well-developed network of day-care facilities. Four primary schools, one secondary school and a grammar school, as well as a vocational college provide for excellent education opportunities. 32 general practitioners, one of the most modern hospitals for basic care, a specialist clinic for addictions and one of the most modern care facilities for cranial and brain injury patients cover the needs in healthcare. Modern forms of living for senior citizens in two highly modern care homes and one senior citizens’ residence, nursing services, apartments suitable for the elderly and sheltered living all contribute to ensuring that people in the region are well taken care of even in old age. In addition there is presently a day-care facility and a generations rendezvous with many open offerings to permit the elderly a self-defined and dignified life. Hünfeld works very intensively with its neighbouring communities of Nüsttal, Rasdorf and Burghaun, which together with the intercommunal working group “Hessisches Kegelspiel” form a dense network for elderly and social care. Hünfeld’s St. Bonifatiuskloster with its youth office and its major conference and spiritual exercises centre, which serves and accommodates groups from many parts of Germany and the world, occupies a special position. The facility is operated by the “Hünfelder Oblaten der makellosen Jungfrau Maria”, the cradle of the “Deutschen Ordensprovinz der Patres und Fratres 1895” in Hünfeld.
Culturally too, Hünfeld has a lot more to offer that one might expect in a small town. Hünfeld achieved international fame through the Konrad-Zuse Museum with its history of the town and district, which possesses the biggest collection of early Zuse Computers, but also documents and paintings by the computer pioneer, who lived in Hünfeld from 1956 to 1995. Hünfeld has borne the name of its Freeman of the Town, Konrad Zuse, since 2006 by edict of the Minister of the Interior of Hessen as a by-line to its name, the “Konrad-Zuse-Stadt Hünfeld”.
The Hünfelder Museum Modern Art also creates furore in the art scene with the Jürgen Blum Collection in the old gasworks. Contemporary artists of the 20th century are displayed over more than 2,000 square metres of exhibition space in the former art nouveau gasworks and in pavilions built by private patrons. They include Balieu and Beuys as well as Uecker, Adler, Mosso and Christo. The museum sets a special accent in constructive and concrete art. The project “Das Offene Buch” also emanated from the founder and namesake of the museum, Jürgen Blum. Some 140 house facades in Hünfeld are meanwhile permanently decorated with works of Concrete Poetry, for which the former Czech President and author Vaclav Havel has made works available, as has the Father of Concrete Poetry, Eugen Gomringer.
The young art scene again and again provides for remarkable exhibitions in the “Galerie im Bahnhof”, which shows contemporary artists from across the world.
Well-attended evenings in the Town Hall with a richly varied programme of concerts, cabaret and literature, as well as countless events organised by the more than 160 clubs and societies in the town, round off the town’s cultural life. Among the outstanding festivals in Hünfeld are the “Gaalbernfest” at the end of August, the “Frühlings- und Martinsmarkt” and the “Lange Nacht des Vereins Citymarketing”.
The catchment area of Hünfeld’s public library, the “Stadtbibliothek”, extends far beyond the boundaries of the town. It boasts more than 3,600 regular readers and a media stock of almost 20,000 books and electronic media.
Twin towns and partnerships
Since as long ago as 1968, Hünfeld has had a very active partnership with the Breton town of Landerneau not far from the Atlantic coast. School classes, clubs and societies, but also many befriended families, meet every year. This civic partnership has already been honoured by the European Council several times with prestigious awards. A partnership with Proskau in Upper Silesia, in today’s Poland, has been developing with similar success since 1997, so Hünfeld has become a bridge between East and West at the heart of Europe. Also with Proskau there is meanwhile a regular student exchange programme, befriended clubs visit one another and nurture friendship and cultural exchange. The German-German partnership with Steinberg im Erzgebirge has special priority. In Rothenkirchen, today the core community of Steinberg, stood the cradle of the later global company Wella, which was re-established in Hünfeld after the Second World War. A special partnership evolved out of these contacts, which today is carried by many personal contacts of the people of Hünfeld and Steinberg, by clubs and cultural institutions. Founded after the reunification, the German-German partnership with the neighbouring town of Geisa in Thüringia has rapidly developed to become a friendly co-existence between neighbouring towns. For many years, Hünfeld was also the godfather town for the 58th Engineers Company of the 11th Cavalry Regiment of the US Army, which operated to secure the peace at the inner-German border. This partnership created many friendships, which lasted beyond the withdrawal of the American forces at the beginning of the 1990s. Since 1955, Hünfeld has also been a partner town for the former inhabitants of the town of Neustadt an der Tafelfichte, who were driven out of their homes in 1946. Even today, the national meetings of the “Neustädter” and gatherings of the “Heimatkreises Friedland” take place in Hünfeld.
A particular friendship, which created a furore above all in France, also unites the town of Hünfeld with former French prisoners of war at the prison camp in Hünfeld. Today, this friendship is mainly still being borne by the descendants of these former French prisoners of war, who still meet every year at other places in France and on special occasions also in Hünfeld.
A special contact has developed since a gathering in 1998 of the former Jewish inhabitants of Hünfeld, who had survived the terrors of Nazi tyranny. There followed numerous visits, the publication of a book about the life story of the Jewish family Strauss and in 2010 the opening of a department in the Konrad-Zuse Museum with its history of the town and district and the project “Stolpersteine” which remembers victims of the Nazi dictatorship.
These outstanding international activities have been honoured with the European Flag, the Europa Plaque and, in 2011, finally with the highest distinction that the European Council has to award, the Europa Prize.
Partnerschaftsverein Hünfeld e. V.
in the internet: www.pv-huenfeld.de
Mayor Stefan Schwenk
Am Anger 2
Telephone: +49 6652 180 140
Fax: +49 6652 180 149
Hünfeld today is bearing the fruits of a rigorous urban development policy. The town is well positioned to survive future challenges too. The good infrastructure and successful urban development were not, like at other locations, bought at the cost of high debts. Rather, financial provision for the future took the form of founding trusts. As an industrial site, Hünfeld today benefits more than ever from its central location in Germany and Europe. Within the shortest of times, more than 500 new jobs will have been created in the logistics area Hessische Kegelspiel / Michelsrombach on the Autobahn A 7. The great success of this area will be continued through connecting further spaces for powerful and future-oriented businesses.
The town is also facing up to the particular challenges of demographic transformation. A generations rendezvous is currently being created as part of an intercommunal network for senior citizens and social affairs of the German Red Cross District Group Hünfeld. Besides a stationary day-care facility, there are also numerous open offerings for the elderly, but also for families to provide counselling in their everyday lives. The education offered in Hünfeld has been bolstered in recent years through many investments in the schools, and Hünfeld has assumed a forerunner role in the region also in the area of child support and education. For instance, Hünfeld in 2009 already met the requirements for the legal right to day-care for children over three, which has applied since 2013.
All this is happening without abandoning the policy of financial solidity. In the decision-making bodies of the town there prevails a broad consensus that income and spending must always be in equilibrium. For that reason, the town’s debt today is lower than the level of reserves. The disposable assets exceed the level of debt by many times. The town is still endeavouring to preserve its high standard as a place to live and work as well as in its leisure, recreation and cultural offering and thus be able to survive in the competition. All relevant forecasts confirm Hünfeld’s stability and future prospects.