Altonaer Stiftung für philosophische Grundlagenforschung

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Some history

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ALTONA Historical

In the first half of the sixteenth century, in that district of the kleine Elbstraße which is safe from storm tides, a small settlement of fishing and trades people grew up. The name `Altona' may stem from "all ten au", meaning "at the brook". The other possible meaning sounds true to life and also throws light on Altona's relationship to the larger neighbouring city, Hamburg. In 1537 Hamburg complained about Altona. The Hamburg councillors described the inn run by Joachim von Lohe as "all to nah" ("all too near") because competion west of the stream that marked Hamburg's boundary was a thorn in their flesh. But with the help of the bailiff of Pinneberg the landlord was able to keep his inn open. Altona, consisting of about five estates, is mentioned for the first time in a minute which orginated in just this inn.

Altona was ruled at this time by the counts of Schauenburg who, in the second half of the sixteenth century, took in victims of religious persecution, mainly Mennonites, Catholics, Jews and Quakers. Not least because of the guarantee of freedom of religion and trade, many skilled workers and businesses settled in Altona and invigorated the economy of the town.

In 1620, Altona already had 1500 inhabitants and had developed from a small rural town to a town of trade and industry. With the ending of the Schauenburg male line in 1640, the rule of Altona passed with that of Pinneberg to the state of Denmark which continued the policy of freedom of religion and trade.

The establishment of Altona as an independent municipality is dated the 23 August, 1664, when King Frederick III of Denmark granted Altona a town charter. With that, Altona got the first free harbour in northern Europe, trade and religious freedom, trading and market rights and a city coat of arms. For the Danes, who had competition with Hamburg in mind, the grant of the town charter was primarily meant as a measure to strengthen Altona with regard to Hamburg.

Altona remainded Danish, with various effects on its development, for 200 years. For example, the Altona population had the Danes to thank for being largely spared from cholera in 1892. The people of Hamburg received their tap water from the unfiltered water of the Elbe, whereas from 1859 Altona had a water filtration plant. It is striking that in the street Am Schulterblatt, which at that time marked the border between Altona and Hamburg, the residents on the Altona side were spared. Despite multiple warnings from different experts in the years before the epidemic, the Hamburg authorities decided not to finance a sand filtration plant. Instead the customs harbour, so important for trade, was extended and a prestigious town hall built.

In 1713 as Denmark's southernmost outpost, Altona was caught up in the conflict between Denmark and Sweden and was devastated by the so called "Schwedenbrand". While Hamburg kept its gates closed on account of the raging plague, Swedish troops forced their way into Altona. Under the overall control of General Stenbock, they set Altona on fire house by house. With the exception of the street Palmaille, Altona was completely destroyed. This attack, made in the course of the Nordic wars, contravened any right of war.

In the mid-18th century, after the rebuilding through Count Reventlov and the master builder Claus Stallknecht, Altona had a strong economic upswing, in particular in shipbuilding and transport. Between 1794 and 1800 Altona experienced its golden years within the golden age. In the territories of the Danish state, next to Copenhagen, Altona was the second largest city and the most important city in the lower Elbe region. But Altona also flourished culturally and intellectually. On the order of King Christian VI, a school established in Altona became a grammar school, the Christianeum, giving its students the possibility of gaining a place at the university in Copenhagen. The philosopher Salomon Maimon attended this grammar school between 1783 and 1785 and, in his own words, lived at this time for "a few years happy and contented".

Between 1799 and 1814, as the southernnost post of Denmark, Altona fell again and again between the fronts of the hegemonic ambitions of the big European powers. A continental blockade announced by Napoleon at war with England destroyed trade and navigation for Hamburg and Altona for several years.

In 1867 with the ending of Danish rule, Altona became Prussian. Developing economically to an important location of the metalwork industry, as well as the food, luxury items, fish and tobacco industries, the city became a centre of the workers' movement. At the time of the Weimar Republic the Altona Altstadt was a red part of town. And just there, on the 17th July, 1932, about 7500 members of the SA and SS from Hamburg and the surrounding regions, staged a promotional/provocational march. The SPD at the time recommended the inhabitants to hold back or to go to the country.

That Sunday has gone down in history as the "Altona Bloody Sunday". The Nazis provoked the Altona onlookers with brutal attacks. Shots were fired and the police shot uncontrolledly into the crowd. 18 people were killed and 60 injured. The young communists Bruno Tesch, August Lütgens, Walter Möller and Karl Wolff were unjustly accused of killing two SA men and were sentenced to death by manual decapitation. The sentence was carried out. The judgement was quashed posthumously in 1992.

In 1937, with the passing of the Greater Hamburg Act by the National Socialists, Altona became a part of Hamburg. It was destroyed to a large extent by airraids during the second World War. <

website der Stadt Hamburg
Werner Skrentny, Zu Fuß durch Hamburg, Hamburg 2001
Hajo Brandenburg, Die Geschichte Altonas,
Christina Becker, Altona von A-Z, Hamburg 2001
Website der Bruno Tesch Gesamtschule
Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy on Maimon

Links of interest:
Zur Geschichte des Christianeums
Hermann Weyl a German mathematician, theoretical physicist. He attended the gymnasium Christianeum.