The Two Ottos of Magdeburg
and von Steuben

Great Otto I
Great Otto I

Emperor Otto, the Great Otto I, was the most influential character of central Europe during the whole of the 10th century. As the Duke of Saxony, he reinforced the Ottonic-Salian empire church system, with the high clergy supporting his power. Magdeburg played its part when Otto I married the English princess Editha in 929 where she was given the city as a wedding gift.

When in 936 in Aachen he was installed as the East Franconian King, he extended— in connection with securing the eastern borders of the empire and founding new dioceses in order to mission the Slavs— the Magdeburg Palatine to the center of power. Through his politics the city became one of the leading centers of government in the 10th century.

Otto von Guerick
Otto von Guericke

The great son of the city Otto von Guericke is remembered as a diplomat and scientist, a universal genius. Von Guericke put his life in the service of his hometown and of natural science. He appeared politically gifted but at the same time was an engineer and physicist. He descended from an old established and wealthy Magdeburg patrician’s family and was knighted in 1666.

He became world famous through his scientific experiments, and was one of the pioneers of exploring air pressure. He invented the vacuum air pump and the barometer. In the experiment with the Magdeburg hemispheres, he proved the effects of air pressure in 1654, and again in 1663 at the Berlin court.

Friedrick Wilhelm von Steuben
Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben

Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was one of the heroes of the North American War of Independence from 1775 to 1783. He served in the Prussian army as an officer, and for a time was one of the aide-de-camps to Friedrich the Great. In 1777, after completion of the Seven Years’ War, he joined the U.S. Army as General Major and General Inspector. On the order of George Washington he turned disorganized farmers’ militias into a disciplined and powerful army, an act that contributed greatly to the victory of the independence movement in the U.S.


Magdeburg Cathedral
Magdeburg Cathedral ©




Monastery of Our LadyMonastery of Our Lady


Monastery of Our Lady





Economic distress and the imminent return to Catholicism during the Thirty Year War leads to internal and external implications which result in the deposition of the present Council. The new Council signs a pact with Sweden, leading to the city being besieged by imperial troops.

The city is nearly completely destroyed by imperial troops. Only the Cathedral, Monastery of Our Lady and several buildings near Cathedral Square remain unscathed. As many as 20,000 people died here during this attack.

Magdeburg has a population of only 450. Before the Thirty Year War about 30,000 people lived here.

Field Marshal Sparr and his 15,000-man army arrive at Magdeburg, and a permanent Kurbrandenburg garrison is established.

After 52 years of Council work, Otto von Guericke resigns as mayor.

After the death of the last Kursachsen administrator, the former Archbishopric of Magdeburg is turned into the Duchy of Magdeburg and handed over de jure to the Electorate of Brandenburg. After more than 700 years Magdeburg is no longer an Archbishopric.

A Pedagogium is established at the Monastery of Our Lady.

Prince Leopold I of Anhalt-Dessau, the so-called “Alte Dessauer," was in charge of the Magdeburg stronghold; he transforms the city into the strongest Prussian fortress.

Leopold reconstructs and regulates the streets of the old city center, pulling down dilapidated houses and building new ones. Many baroque buildings are built and Cathedral Square is transformed into a parade ground.








Millenium TowerScience demonstration at Millenium Tower




Town Hall of Magdeburg
Magdeburg Town Hall with Statue of Otto I (912 – 973), Magdeburg, Germany. Otto I, or Otto the Great, was the founder of the Holy Roman Empire, reigning as German king from 936 until his death in 973.


















Magdeburg tram
Tram system in Magdeburg






























My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I'll not be knowing;
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
No matter where it's going.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Travel"

Cathedral with boatMagdeburg Cathedral ©

Magdeburg: State Capital of Saxony-Anhalt and the 'City of Otto'

From an historic Cathedral to a Green Citadel and a Millennium Tower, this city is thriving

By Don Heimburger
Photos courtesy of the author, German National Tourist Office and Magdeburg Marketing

The Elbe River cuts through the heart of Magdeburg, offering this historic German city an idyllic landscape and picture-perfect views through a camera. But the city has seen its share of severe destruction over the centuries, such as in the Thirty Years War and World War II.

Today, this city of 240,000 in central Germany has rebounded nicely and combines its important and long history with new architecture, innovative cultural events and green spaces to make it an appealing attraction for tourists.

Magdeburg on the Elbe River
Aerial view of Magdeburg on the Elbe River

Magdeburg CathedralMagdeburg Cathedral shines at night.

Magdeburg Cathedral
The town's huge cathedral is a "must-see" and is the largest church building in this part of Germany. Surprisingly, the Magdeburg Cathedral can be traced back as early as 937, when Emperor Otto the First founded a monastery dedicated to St. Maurice. In 955, the church building was extended before becoming the cathedral of the established bishopric of Magdeburg in 968. Otto the First had a number of high quality pieces of antique art shipped to Magdeburg from northern Italy to the cathedral. These included columns made of purple-red porphyry, marble and granite, many of which still provide finishing touches to the architecture of the cathedral today.

Magdeburg Cathedral architectureMagdeburg Cathedral architecture

When Emperor Otto died in 973, his remains were brought to Magdeburg Cathedral, where he was buried in a stone sarcophagus. In 1207, the Ottonian cathedral was damaged in a city fire. Archbishop Albrecht II then began construction on a new Gothic cathedral, which was consecrated in 1362. The cathedral’s 341-foot-high west towers were completed in 1520.

Today, visitors to Magdeburg Cathedral can see the rich interior stone work which displays impressive architecture. The building is also full of unique and internationally renowned original exhibits representing nearly all periods of art history, including spolia from the building’s Ottonian predecessor, the original tomb of Emperor Otto I and his first wife Edith.

MagdeburgMagdeburg Cathedral ©

In addition, there are Romanesque bronze grave markers, early Gothic sandstone sculptures including the famous figures of the “Clever and Stupid Virgins," the carvings on the choir stalls of the canons dating back to the 14th century, and Renaissance paintings, as well as 20th century art such as the famous war memorial designed by Ernst Barlach. The cathedral, which became protestant in 1567, is now the seat of a Protestant bishopric and home to members of a congregation in the city center.

Monastery of Our LadyMonastery of Our Lady

Monastery of our Lady
Said to be the "pearl of the Romanesque Road," the Monastery of our Lady in Magdeburg is considered the oldest surviving building in the city.

The unique well-house, magnificent barrel-vaults and sublime monastery church with its slender towers comprise an architectural marvel which is the centerpiece of all Romanesque buildings in Saxony-Anhalt. The structure holds both the Magdeburg Art Museum and the Georg Philipp Telemann concert hall. Archbishop Gero of Magdeburg ordered the erection of the building in 1017-18. However, nothing remained of the original construction, and it was Archbishop Werner (1063-1078) who arranged for the reconstruction which was finally completed in the 12th century by the Premonstratensian order.

The rotunda with its pointing cones, resembling a monk’s tonsure, is a remarkable architectural feature of the eastern wing. Together with its 32 arcades, the rotunda forms an ensemble considered one of the most amazing and interesting structures in European monastery architecture. After 1220, the monastery church was vaulted in early Gothic style. Also deserving a special mention is a collection of sculptures ranging from medieval to contemporary in the museum of the monastery. The surrounding area includes a sculpture park created in 1989.

St. John's Church is Magdeburg's oldest parish church, first mentioned in 941. The western section of the church, which features a late Romanesque design, and the Gothic hall church, have both been preserved. A monument of Martin Luther and the crypt of the Otto von Guericke family can be found in front of and inside the church.

The history of the church was marked by many changes: St. John's fell victim to many city fires and was destroyed when General Tilly's army invaded Magdeburg in 1631. However, the citizens never tired of rebuilding the church. St. John’s Church left its mark on history when an important and far-reaching event took place: on June 26, 1524, Martin Luther held a famous sermon on right and wrong justice in the greatly overcrowded church, whereupon all parishes of the city center converted to Protestantism, as laid down in the annals of Magdeburg.

Today St. John's is open to the public and has become a popular venue for a wide variety of events.

Green Citadel of MagdeburgHundertwasser's Green Citdadel ©

Green Citadel of Magdeburg
One of Magdeburg’s most eye-catching attractions for visitors is also one of the last architectural masterpieces designed by the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The Green Citadel of Magdeburg is located among a mixture of Baroque facades and examples of modern design and provides the Breiter Weg with a landmark structure and a burst of colorful culture.

This architectural retail/apartment building has been the subject of much discussion since it was constructed in 2005. It was the last building Hundertwasser designed before his death. The artist said the building was an “oasis for humanity and nature within a sea of rational houses” at the heart of the “concrete desert” of Magdeburg.

Millenium Tower
Millenium Tower features interactive programs ©Magdeburg Marketing

To explore the green of Magdeburg, visitors also want to investigate Elbauenpark. The park, which covers an area of 222 acres and was awarded the title of Germany’s second most attractive park in 2005, is home to many attractions that visitors can explore.

Since being created, the unique park has gained its place as one of Magdeburg’s most important landmarks. It is home to the Millennium Tower (the world’s tallest wooden construction of its kind), Lake Stage, Butterfly House and a number of playgrounds, sports areas, pieces of art, themed gardens and other attractions.

The park is home to a wide range of activities and facilities for sports fans, including golf, skating, rock climbing, hiking, biking, a high-rope park and even a toboggan run.

Town Hall of Magdeburg
The Town Hall of Magdeburg dates to the 12th and 13th century, with the oldest remains in the vaults which form part of today's Ratskeller restaurant. Pelt dressers, tanners and dealers in hides and skins met here in the long hall to trade and stock their goods. After the turmoil of the 30 Years War, a two-story sandstone town hall building was erected in Dutch Renaissance style including Italian Renaissance architecture, and in the 19th century it underwent a number of changes and extensions.

In January 1945, the Town Hall was completely destroyed during an air raid, but reconstruction work on it began in 1965, and it was rebuilt and restored according to its original blueprints. The hall features bronze doors designed by Heinrich Apel and carved with historical figures and stories from the city's past as well as features an impressive bell carillon with four octaves. The carillon is played on market days and also for concerts.

Colorful street of buildings on Otto-Richter-Strasse

Numerous Art Venues
Today Magdeburg features numerous museums, art galleries, theaters and performing venues including the AMO, a multifunctional complex for shows, concerts and conferences. There is also the Stadthalle Magdeburg, the city's civic hall. The hall was constructed in the style of the Neues Bauen modern architecture movement in 1927 for use as a showplace on the occasion of the German Theatre Exhibition. It has hosted a wide range of events such as classical concerts, theater performances, musicals, revues, ballets, galas, sports shows and rock and pop concerts.

Biking along the Elbe River
Magdeburg features miles of bike pathsthis one is near the Elbe River.

Magdeburg Zoo
Magdeburg Zoo is located at the heart of Vogelgesang Park, a natural and garden landscape that covers 47 acres. The zoo features 835 animals representing 176 different species. The man-made savannah landscape in the zoo covers an area of 215,000 square feet; the Savannah Viewing Point enables visitors to enjoy a panoramic view over the Africa area and the Water Bird Pond.

reformation program coming
Magdeburg Cultural History Museum will showcase the city of Magdeburg as a special historical location for German Lutheranism between September 3, 2017 and January, 2018. The program is entitled Against the Emperor and Pope—Magdeburg and the Reformation.

Magdeburg was the site of the 2016 German Travel Mart, attended by 1,500 participants from all over the world. Editor/Publisher Don Heimburger was on hand and filed this report about the green city of Magdeburg.


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