Celle was first mentioned in a document of A.D. 985 as Kiellu (which means Fischbucht or fishing bay). It was granted the right to mint and circulate its own coins (Münzrecht [minting privileges]) during the 11th century and several coins were found in the Sandur hoard in the Faroes. In 1292 Duke Otto II the Strict (1277–1330), a Welf who ruled the Principality of Lüneburg from 1277 to 1330 left Altencelle, where there had been a defences in the form of a circular rampart (the Ringwall von Burg) since the 10th century, and founded a rectangular settlement by the existing castle (Burg) 4km to the northwest. In 1301 he granted Celle its town privileges, and in 1308 started construction on the town church.
In 1378 Celle became the Residenz of the dukes of Saxe-Wittenberg and, in 1433, the princes of Lüneburg took up residence in the castle (Schloss). The ducal palace was situated on a triangle between the Aller and its tributary, the Fuhse. A moat connecting the rivers was built in 1433, turning the town centre into an island. In 1452 Duke Frederick the Pious of Lüneburg founded a Franciscan monastery. In 1464 the grain shipping monopoly generated an economic upturn for the town.
Early modern period
In 1524 the Reformation was introduced into Celle. In 1570 Duke William the Younger built the castle chapel which was consecrated in 1585. From 1665 to 1705 Celle experienced a cultural boom as a Residenz under Duke George William. This has been particularly put down to his French wife, Eleonore d'Olbreuse, who brought fellow Huguenot Christians and Italian architects to Celle. During this time the French and Italian Gardens were laid out and the baroque castle theatre built.
In 1705 the last duke of the Brunswick–Lüneburg line died and Celle, along with the Principality of Lüneburg, passed back to the Hanover line of the Welfs. By way of compensation for the loss of its status as a Residenz town numerous administrative institutions were established in Celle, such as the Higher Court of Appeal (Oberappellationsgericht), the prison and the State Stud Farm. That began its development into an administrative and judicial centre. Even today the Lower Saxony-Bremen State Social Security Tribunal and the High Court responsible for most of Lower Saxony are based in Celle, amongst others. Celle is also still home to a prison (the Justizvollzugsanstalt Celle or JVA Celle). That the citizens of Celle once − in a vote − chose to have a prison in Celle rather than a university in order to protect the virtue of their daughters is not verifiable, but it has remained a persistent anecdote in popular folklore.
In August 1714, George Elector of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick–Lüneburg (King George I) ascended to the British throne. Between then and 1866, when the town became Prussian during the Austro-Prussian War as part of the province of Hanover, Celle was a possession of the British Hanoverian line.
In 1786 Albrecht Thaer founded the first German Agricultural Testing Institute in the meadows at the Dammasch (dam marsh) (today Thaer's Garden). The Albrecht-Thaer School is nowadays part of a vocational centre in the Celle sub-district of Altenhagen.
Steel engraving of the market place around 1845
In 1842 the Cambridge Dragoons Barracks (Cambridge-Dragoner-Kaserne) for the homonymous regiment named after the Hanoveran Viceroy Duke Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, was built in Celle. After being extended in 1913 and partially rebuilt after a fire in 1936, it was renamed Goodwood Barracks in 1945 and from 1976 to 1996 was the headquarters of Panzerbrigade 33 in the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr. In 1989 it was renamed again to Cambridge-Dragoner-Kaserne. Since 1996 the area has mainly been used to house one of the largest youth centres in Lower Saxony.
From 1869 to 1872 an infantry barracks was built for the 77th Infantry Regiment which also gave the main street (running the length of the front of the barracks) its name of 77er Strasse. In 1938 it was renamed the Heidekaserne ("Heath Barracks"). After the Second World War the barracks was used by British troops until 1993 during which time 94 Locating Regiment Royal Artillery held residency for over 25 years, followed briefly by 14 Signal Regiment, who relocated from Scheuen until the barracks were handed back to the local authorities. Today the New Town Hall (Neue Rathaus) and Celle Council Offices are housed in the restored brick building. Residential buildings and a town park have been established on the rest of the terrain.
In 1892 − with the help of numerous citizens' donations − the present-day Bomann Museum with its important folkloric and town history collections was founded. In 1913 the 74 metre high clock tower was built on the town church, its clockwork underwent a major restoration in 2008. In the 1920s the silk mill was built. It was merged in 1932 with the one in Peine to become the Seidenwerk Spinnhütte AG. This concern expanded itself during the Nazi era into an armaments centre under the name of "Seidenwerk Spinnhütte AG". A subsidiary founded in 1936, the "Mitteldeutsche Spinnhütte AG", which led war preparations through its branches in the central German towns of Apolda, Plauen, Osterode, Pirna and Wanfried. Its only product was parachute silk that was needed for the paratroopers of the Wehrmacht.Hubertus Feußner, Die Spinnhütte, = Apoldaer Heimat. Beiträge zur Natur und Heimatgeschichte der Stadt Apolda und ihrer Umgebung 2008, S. 29ff.
In September 1929 Rudolph Karstadt opened a Karstadt department store in Celle town centre, the façade of which was identical with that of the Karstadt store on Berlin's Hermannplatz. The Celle branch was demolished in the 1960s and replaced by a controversial new building, whose aluminium braced facade was meant to represent Celle's timber framed houses.
Memorial in Celle to the victims of the Celle massacre
During Kristallnacht, the anti-Jewish pogrom in Nazi Germany on 9/10 November 1938, the synagogue in Celle was only saved from complete destruction because there would have been a risk to the adjacent leather factory and other parts of the historic Altstadt.
On 1 April 1939 Altenhäusen, Klein Hehlen, Neuenhäusen, Vorwerk and Wietzenbruch were incorporated into Celle. On 8 April 1945 the only serious allied bombing attack on the city during World War II occurred, 2.2% of the town was destroyed, especially on the industrial areas and railway freight terminal. A train in which about 4,000 prisoners were being transported to the nearby Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was hit. The attack claimed hundreds of casualties, but some of the prisoners managed to escape into the nearby woods. SS guards and Celle citizens participated in the so-called 'Celle hare hunt' (Celler Hasenjagd). The 'hunt' claimed several hundred dead and went on until 10 April 1945 and represented the darkest chapter in Celle's history. The exact number of victims has not been determined. Several of the perpetrators were later tried and convicted of this war crime.
About 2.2% of Celle (67 houses) was destroyed in the Second World War. It was spared from further destruction by surrendering without a fight to advancing allied troops on 12 April 1945, so that the historic city centre and the castle survived the war completely unscathed.
German Army Anti-tank helicopter Bölkow Bo 105 at Celle Air Base.
During the Third Reich, Celle was an important garrison location. Elements of the 17th and 73rd Infantry Regiments and the 19th Artillery Regiment were garrisoned in the town. Celle was also the headquarters of a military district command and a military records office.
The different German Army barracks (including the Freiherr von Fritsch Barracks in Scheuen and the Cambridge Dragoons Barracks in the city) were used as sites for the German 33rd Armoured Brigade until the 1990s. The Celle Air Base (Immelmann Barracks) in the District of Wietzenbruch is now the site of the Training Centre of the Army Aviation School and the Cambridge Dragoons Barracks has now become a youth cultural centre (CD-Kaserne).
The British Army barracks, which as Celle Station formed part of Bergen-Hohne Garrison, were handed over to the German authorities on 5 November 2012. Since German reunification, Celle has largely lost its role as a major garrison town.
After the war Celle applied, along with Bonn and Frankfurt, to become the seat for the Parliamentary Council (Parlamentarischer Rat), the immediate post-war governmental body in Germany, later superseded by the West German Bundestag. In the end the privilege went to Bonn.
Trenchard Barracks in Celle was the most modern barracks in Germany during the war, with blackout blinds between the double-glazed windows and other features which became commonplace afterwards. The cellar doors were trial rooms for the number of inmates from Belsen who could be gassed. When Belsen concentration camp was liberated Trenchard Barracks was used as a hospital for surviving inmates who needed treatment. Later it became the Barracks for the 1st Battalion of the Rifle Brigade.
On 1 January 1973 Celle lost its status as an independent town (Kreisfreie Stadt) and became the largest municipality in the new district (Kreis) of Celle. It also became the largest town in the new region (Regierungsbezirk) of Lüneburg. At the same time the localities of Ummern, Pollhöfen and Hahnenhorn were incorporated into Gifhorn district. Since then the parish of Hohne has looked after six villages (Hohne, Helmerkamp, Spechtshorn, Ummern, Pollhöfen and Hahnenhorn) in two rural districts. The town of Celle has also incorporated a number of villages from the surrounding area.
On 25 July 1978 a staged bomb attack was made on the outer wall of the prison. This was initially blamed on the Red Army Faction, but was later revealed to have been perpetrated by Lower Saxony's intelligence service, the Verfassungsschutz. The incident became known as the Celle Hole.
In 2004 the region of Lüneburg was dissolved along with the rest of Lower Saxony's administrative districts. Celle is currently the twelfth largest town in Lower Saxony.
Incorporation of municipalities
- 1 April 1939: Altenhäusen, Klein Hehlen, Neuenhäusen, Vorwerk und Wietzenbruch
- 1 January 1973: Altencelle, Altenhagen, Alvern, Bostel, Boye, Burg, Garßen, Groß Hehlen, Hustedt, Lachtehausen, Scheuen and Westercelle.
Growth in population
In the Middle Ages and early modern period Celle only had a few thousand inhabitants. The population grew only slowly and dropped frequently as a result of many wars, epidemics and periods of famine. Not until the beginnings of industrialisation in the 19th century did population growth accelerate. It reached a total of 8,800 in 1818 but by 1900 this had more than doubled to 20,000. The incorporation of the surrounding villages on 1 April 1939 saw a further (artificial) rise in numbers to 38,000.
Shortly after the Second World War the many refugees and displaced persons from the German areas of Eastern Europe led to a steep rise in the number of inhabitants within just a few months from around 17,000 to 55,000 by December 1945. The addition of new municipalities on 1 January 1973 saw an additional 18,691 people being included within the borough of Celle and bringing the total population to 75,178 − its historical high point.
On 30 June 2005 the official number of inhabitants within Celle borough, according to an update by the Lower Saxony State Department of Statistics, was 71,402 (only main residences, and after adjustments with the other state departments).
The following overview shows the population numbers based on the 'catchment area' at the time. The 1818 figure is an estimate, the rest are based on census results(¹) or official updates by the Department of Statistics. From 1871 the returns show the population actually present, from 1925 the resident population and since 1987 the population residing at their main residence. Before 1871 the numbers are based on various, different census-gathering processes.
3 December 1855 ¹ 13,117
3 December 1861 ¹ 14,100
3 December 1864 ¹ 14,900
3 December 1867 ¹ 16,200
1 December 1871 ¹ 16,147
1 December 1875 ¹ 18,200
1 December 1880 ¹ 18,800
1 December 1885 ¹ 18,800
1 December 1890 ¹ 18,901
2 December 1895 ¹ 19,438 Year Population
1 December 1900 ¹ 19,883
1 December 1905 ¹ 21,390
1 December 1910 ¹ 23,263
1 December 1916 ¹ 20,521
5 December 1917 ¹ 19,997
8 October 1919 ¹ 23,589
16 June 1925 ¹ 25,456
16 June 1933 ¹ 27,734
17 May 1939 ¹ 37,799
31 December 1945 55,059
29 October 1946 ¹ 52,281 Year Population
13 September 1950 ¹ 59,667
25 September 1956 ¹ 57,239
6 June 1961 ¹ 58,506
31 December 1965 58,766
27 May 1970 ¹ 57,155
31 December 1975 74,347
31 December 1980 72,820
31 December 1985 70,482
25 May 1987 ¹ 71,222
31 December 1990 72,260
31 December 1995 73,936 Year Population
31 December 2000 72,127
30 June 2005 71,402
1 January 2006 71,371
1 January 2008 70,850
31 December 2011 69,972
¹ Census results