Hanau is a town in the Main-Kinzig-Kreis, in Hesse, Germany. It is located 25 km east of Frankfurt am Main. Its station is a major railway junction and it has a port on the river Main, making it an important transport centre. The town is known for being the birthplace of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm and Franciscus Sylvius. Since the 16th century it was a centre of precious metal working with many goldsmiths. It is home to Heraeus, one of the largest family-owned companies in Germany.
The historic core of Hanau is situated within a semicircle of the river Kinzig which flows into the river Main just west of the town. Today, after a substantial expansion during the 19th and 20th centuries it also extends to the river Main and after a restructuring of municipal borders within Hesse in the 1970s a couple of nearby villages and towns were incorporated. After this change, Hanau for the first time also extended to the south bank of the Main river.
The name is derived of "Hagenowe" which is a composition out of "Haag" (wood) and "Aue" (open land by the side of a river).
As a place of settlement Hanau was first mentioned in 1143. Formerly it was the site of a castle which used the waters of the river Kinzig as a defense. The castle belonged to a noble family, calling themselves "of Hanau" since the 13th century. Starting from this castle a village developed and became a town in 1303. As a result of this history, the main church of Hanau stood outside its walls in the village of Kinzdorf. The villagers moved into the town, Kinzdorf became an abandoned village leaving only the church. Only in the 15th century was the status of the Hanau parish church transferred to the church of Mary Magdalene within the town walls.
Shortly after the first town walls were built at the beginning of the 14th century, the town outgrew this limit. Outside the wall, along the road to Frankfurt am Main a settlement developed (the Vorstadt) which was properly included in the fortifications of Hanau only when Hanau received completely new fortifications in Renaissance-style during the first half of the 16th century. These new fortifications enclosed three elements: The medieval castle, the medieval town of Hanau and the Vorstadt.
At the end of the 16th century, Count Philipp Ludwig II attracted Protestant refugees from the Netherlands and France to found their own settlement south of Hanau. This was of high economic interest for him because these Walloons brought high-class trade, their knowledge of jewellery and other production of luxury items and therefore taxes to his county. Out of this tradition, goldsmiths are still trained in Hanau. Hanau also was the site of the first workshop to produce Faience within Germany. These new citizens were granted privileges and they formed their own community, church and administration for the "new town of Hanau" (Neustadt Hanau) wholly separate from the existing community. It took more than 200 years to amalgamate both. The new town – larger than the old one – was protected by a then very modern fortification in Baroque-style which proved a big asset only a few years later in the Thirty Years' War. The town survived a siege in 1637 with only minor damage.
The new citizens formed the major economic and political power within the County of Hanau and in 1642 played a leading role in the succession of Count Fredrik Casimir of Hanau Lichtenberg into the County of Hanau-Münzenberg of which the town of Hanau was the capital.
In 1736 Johann Reinhard III of Hanau-Lichtenberg, the last of the Counts of Hanau, died. Those parts of his county belonging to the County of Hanau-Münzenberg, which included Hanau, were inherited by the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. Due to dynastic troubles within this family the County of Hesse-Hanau was created a separate state from the Landgraviate until 1786. So Hanau stayed capital for another 50 years. Even after that it became – after Kassel – the town second in importance within Hesse-Kassel.
During the Napoleonic Wars the Emperor himself ordered the fortifications of Hanau to be destroyed. This created a chance for both parts of the town to expand across their traditional limits. In 1813, the Battle of Hanau took place near the city between French troops and Austro-Bavarian forces. During the 1820s the administrations of both towns of Hanau were merged. The first common Mayor, who became Lord Mayor (Oberbürgermeister) was Bernhard Eberhard, later to become prime minister and minister of the interior of the Electorate of Hesse after the Revolution of 1848.
With its pre-industrial workshops Hanau became a nucleus of a heavy industrialisation during the 19th century: From within the city (e.g.: Heraeus) as well as from outside (e.g. Degussa, Dunlop). This was heavily supported by its development as an important railway interchange of six railway lines, most of them main lines:
In the 19th century, Hanau was a centre of the German democratic movement and contributed significantly both in 1830 and in the Revolution of 1848. As part of this movement the German Gymnastic League (Deutscher Turnerbund) was founded here in 1848. Hanau was finally annexed to Prussia like all of Hesse-Kassel in 1866 after its Prince-elector took the Austrian side in the Austro-Prussian War. It remained part of Prussia until 1945.
In the late 19th century Hanau became a major garrison town. Due to its interchange of railway lines a large detachment of military railway-engineers as well as other military units were stationed here.
During World War II, the Jewish population were persecuted with the last Jews being deported in May 1942.
The town housed a large U.S. Army garrison until its withdrawal in 2008. The extensive U.S. facilities included Hanau Army Airfield, also known as Fliegerhorst Langendiebach.
In 2010, the town started a huge building project to completely redesign the inner city. Those are the largest construction works in the city since the reconstruction after World War II.
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The earliest documentary evidence for the presence of Jews in Hanau dates from 1313. In the 17th and 18th centuries HANAU developed into an important center of Hebrew printing. The community numbered 540 persons 1805, 80 families in 1830, 447 persons in 1871, and 657 at the turn of the century. In 1925 there were 568 Jews in HANAU. In 2017, a book was written about the Jewish family Schwab who trace their presence in Hanau back to 1603 and describes the tragic end of the Jewish community during the Second World War.
In addition it is associated with two other towns:
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Hanau is a transportation hub in Germany, with its main station serving the following lines:
Besides the main station, the town is also served by Hanau West and Hanau-Wilhelmsbad on the Frankfurt-Hanau Railway, Großauheim on the Main-Spessart-Bahn, Wolfgang an der Kinzigtalbahn, the S-Bahn station at Steinheim (Main) on the South-Main S-Bahn, Hanau Nord at the Hanau-Friedberger Bahn and Hanau-Klein Auheim on the Odenwaldbahn.
Lion at Schloss Philippsruhe by Christian Daniel Rauch
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