Jena City Hall (Rathaus) is one of the oldest in Germany



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Jena City Hall: One of
the oldest in Germany

By Cathleen

25 August 2008: The historic city hall (Rathaus) of Jena, whose origins go back to 1413, is one of the oldest in Germany. Situated at Markt 1 in the city centre, the building still houses a few city departments, such as the civil registry office, but most of them are now located in a separate municipal building close to the city hall.

In the Middle Ages the building, in its capacity as a place where public affairs were conducted, was smaller than the one that exists today. Its appearance is essentially that of 1413, with its brick stones typical of the medieval age. Its original structure symbolised the wealth and self esteem of the German educated class of the time.

The twin-towered two-storey building is almost square in ground dimension. Between the twin roofs there is a framework tower, typical of the time, 29 metres high. Construction started in 1411 and an existing stone-built market hall with seven arches served as a foundation wall. It was completed in 1413.

Conference rooms and the historic mayor’s office are located on the first floor. Since 1968 the ancient mayor’s office, with its magnificent chandelier and colourful wooden ceiling, floor and wall linings, has served as the civil registry room for weddings. This ‘wooden room’ is renowned as the most romantic place imaginable in which to get married.

The basement of Jena City Hall is made up of vaulted arches painted with differing ornaments and patterns. The ‘Ratszeise’ restaurant is situated in the basement and serves typical Thuringian food, to the delight of those who particularly  enjoy a medieval atmosphere – not to mention the excellent food!

Bombing in the second world war destroyed the city hall and most of the old town. Since 1948 many parts of the town have been restored, with whole buildings undergoing reconstruction. Between 1995 and 1998 the whole affected area underwent further renovation.

Jena City Hall’s main attraction is the clock in the central tower. It is known as one of the ‘seven wonders of Jena’. The beautifully painted forms of the turret clock, constructed of oak in around 1500, are based upon a medieval saga. On the top of the clock face there are three figures. In the middle there is a human head, called Hans, a symbol of the ordinary inhabitants of Jena. Hans has been a typical German name since the Middle Ages. To the right there is an angel, and on the left a pilgrim holds a stick with a golden ball.  

As each hour chimes the angel rings the bell and the pilgrim moves the stick with the golden ball towards the head. Hans tries to catch the ball with his mouth but never succeeds - hence his name of ‘Schnapphans’, or ‘Snapping Hans’.

Tradition has it that if Schnapphans ever succeeds in catching the golden ball it will signal the end of the world. In the past he has in fact caught it a few times owing to technical problems - but fortunately nothing happened! These days  the original clock is to be found in the city’s museum of history, but a copy still snaps every hour.

Dr. Albrecht Schöter, the Mayor of Jena, was elected in 2006. Before this he  was head of department for cultural and social affairs. He is a member of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD).


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