Bonn is an exciting city steeped in history that has successfully evolved from a provisional capital to a location for top-class international institutions, large DAX corporations, a multi-award-winning university of excellence and many small start-ups. A successful transformation.
The recent history of the city of Bonn is inextricably linked to the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany. From Roman fort, to Baroque residence of the Cologne Electors and Prussian provincial city, to cradle of post-war democracy and capital of a new Federal Republic - this spectacular rise makes Bonn's history (and present) unique.
Bonn as the Cradle of the Basic Law
After the Six-Power Conference had issued its "London Recommendations" in June 1948, the course was set for a constituent state in the western occupation zones of Germany. In the autumn of same year, the constituent assembly, the "Parliamentary Council", began to draft a new provisional constitution for the future democratic state. The so-called “Basic Law” was promulgated on May 23, 1949.
In the Parliamentary Council, 65 members of the western state parliaments (61 men and four women) set to work in Bonn, to create the basis for a defensive democracy that could withstand against any hostility. They thus built the foundation for the political life of the Federal Republic of Germany. Their first meeting place was the atrium of today’s “Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig”, formerly called “Museum Koenig” in Bonn. For all those involved, it was of particular importance that the new constitution embodied a liberal, egalitarian, federal and participatory spirit. At the same time, the very name of the constitution needed to make it clear that, because Germany’s forced division, it was only to be a transitory arrangement. For this reason, they council adopted Hamburg mayor Max Brauer’s proposal to call the constitution the "Basic Law". Thanks to the four "Mothers of the Basic Law" involved in the process, the German Constitution guaranteed full equality for women.
Bonn as Federal Capital
But Bonn was granted even more honours: not only was it now one of Germany's three constitutional cities participating in the election of a new capital, along with the cities of Frankfurt on the Main and Weimar. In the election of a new capital, Frankfurt on the Main was the favorite, yet Bonn won the vote on November 3, 1949, with a majority of 200 to 176.
The city on the Rhine, which at the time had 100,000 inhabitants, became the new political center of the young democracy. It is not proven whether this decision came about due to the vehement advocacy of the first German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, who was rumored to have been reluctant to leave behind his rose bushes in Rhöndorf near Bonn. What is certain, however, is that many valued the city on the Rhine precisely because of its modesty. Abandoning Berlin as the capital of a unified Germany with the elections, was seen as a positive signal..
Initially, political work in Bonn took place in temporary offices, but over the entire period of the "Bonn Republic" (1949 to 1990), many new buildings were erected that still shape the cityscape today: The Foreign Office, the Chancellor's Bungalow or the "Langer Eugen", a former high-rise building for members of parliament. Today, they house the UN secretariats and other international institutions.
Many citizens of Bonn remember with joy and pride the times they welcomed international state guests on the grand staircase of Bonn's Old Town Hall, such as John F. Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth II or Mikhail Gorbachev, Emperor Haile Selassi of Ethiopia and the Chairman of the Soviet CPSU, Leonid Brezhnev. Many of them stayed in what was then the German government's guesthouse on Petersberg.
Bonn as Germany’s Second Political Center
The reunification of Germany brought about a major change for the people of Bonn when, on June 20, 1991, the Bundestag decided that Berlin, as the capital of a unified Germany, should once again assume the seat of parliament and the core functions of government. Some government responsibility has remained on the Rhine. The Berlin-Bonn Act of 1994 established a division of labor between the two cities. This established Bonn as the second political center in Germany, as reflected in the term "federal city" adopted from Switzerland, which underscores the federal nature of the political system.
Six of the 14 federal ministries have their first official seat in Bonn:
- Federal Ministry of Defense (BMVg)
- Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL)
- Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
- Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV)
- Federal Ministry of Health (BMG)
- Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)
All other ministries, among them the Federal Foreign Office, maintain a second office in Bonn. The second offices of the Federal Chancellor and Federal President as well as a branch office of the Federal Council are still located here as constitutional bodies. In addition, 20 federal authorities have moved from Berlin and Frankfurt to the Rhine, including the Federal Cartel Office, the Federal Audit Office and the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information.
Bonn – International Political Location
Bonn's political activities are not limited to the national level. The federal city is active in European and international networks. It has been a UN city since 1996, and the number of international institutions based here has grown steadily since. Bonn has also established itself as a venue for high-level international conferences.
Bonn is a vibrant business location where global players and traditional companies coexist. This and its equally great importance as a center of science have contributed to Bonn's continuously growing population. The structural change that has taken place is particularly visible in the former Federal District: over the past 20 years, a new district has grown there, including the World Conference Center Bonn (WCCB) and the United Nations Campus. In total, more than one-fifth of all jobs in Bonn have been established in the Federal District since 1991 – in more than 90 companies and institutions offering more than 45,000 jobs.
On the trail of the Bonn Republic: Path of German Democracy
If you want to experience the Bonn Republic with all your senses, you can do so on foot or by bike and public transport on the "Path of Democracy" in the former Federal District and Bonn's surrounding area. The "Path of Democracy", which was established in 2004, is a cooperation project of the City of Bonn and the “Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland” (House of History of the Federal Republic of Germany) Foundation. It presents places that have shaped German democratic history since 1949: parliament and government buildings, embassies and state representations, places related to the history of political parties and the media as well as democratic protest.
On walks of varying lengths through the city, visitors may visit up to 65 buildings and institutions, where picture and text panels illustrate their historic significance. Guided tours of the city of Bonn, individual buildings and places of remembrance are also on offer. The online offering for the "Path of Democracy" also includes the option of navigating from place to place via smartphone. In addition to nine different route suggestions, users can put together their own theme-based favorite route. Historical recordings and audio contributions on special events in German history round off the walk. Of course, you may also experience the historic sites from the comfort of your own home via the website.
Jubilee year “75 Years of the Basic Law”
2023 and 2024 mark significant anniversaries for the Federal Republic of Germany and especially for Bonn: September 1, 2023 marked the 75th anniversary of the inauguration of the Parliamentary Council in Bonn and May 23, 2024 the promulgation of the Basic Law with the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn. Under the motto "75 years of the Basic Law - Democracy made in Bonn", the Federal City of Bonn and its partner organizations want to honor the anniversary year with many activities and events.
Information on the anniversary year is available at:
Bonn International Democracy Award
As the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven's liberal, cosmopolitan spirit and the cradle of the German Basic Law, the federal city of Bonn is particularly committed to strengthening democracy at the local, national and supranational levels. That is why, in 2009, the Bonn International Democracy Award was established. It is a symbol of the commitment of people fighting for freedom, democracy and human rights worldwide. The prize is awarded by the association Internationaler Demokratiepreis Bonn e.V. to natural and legal persons from all over the world. The aim of the association is to strengthen and spread democratic convictions worldwide. It builds a bridge between the successful experiences of the Federal Republic of Germany and international developments in democratization, with a clear reference to Bonn as the birthplace of the most successful democracy on German ground to date. Previous laureates are Małgorzata Maria Gersdorf, Leymah Roberta Gbowee, Federica Mogherini, Reporters without Borders, Prof. Yadh Ben Achour, Dr. Shirin Ebadi and Václav Havel. The next presentation of the 10,000-Euro award will take place in 2024.
Spotlights of the city's history
Of course, Bonn's history did not begin with the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany. Without a doubt, Bonn is one of the cities most steeped in tradition on the Rhine: Stone Age tools, Roman legionaries, medieval Cassius Abbey, electoral residence, Napoleonic Rhineland occupation, royal university city – just a few spotlights from the city's eventful history show that Bonn's path through the millennia is an exciting book.
Oberkassel Double Grave
The region around Bonn was inhabited by people even in the Stone Age. This is evidenced by hand tools up to 70,000 years old, found in the Marienforster Valley in Bad Godesberg, which are attributed to the Neanderthals. The spectacular chance discovery of a double grave during quarry work in 1914 in the "Oberkasseler Ley" on the right bank of the Rhine dates from the Neolithic period. Scientific investigations revealed that the two people were buried there about 12,000 years ago. The very well preserved skeletons of the older man and the young woman second oldest Homo sapiens ever to be found in Germany. The bones of a dog also laid to rest in the burial site are one of the first evidences of domestic animal husbandry. The finds can be visited in the LVR-Landesmuseum today.
The nucleus of today's city of Bonn was a military camp that Drusus, stepson of Emperor Augustus, is said to have founded. The first written references date back to 11 BC. The camp grew into the legionary camp "Castra Bonnensia" with 7,000 soldiers. The Romans also built the first bridge over the Rhine. The fort was part of the 400 km long, important western border fortifications of the Roman Empire. Today, its relics are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Lower Germanic Limes". For several hundred years, the Roman military - and the civilian settlement that developed next to it - shaped life in the region. Evidence from this period is still visible in the townscape today, including gravestones and votive stones. Relics of the Roman settlers are often encountered during construction work, ranging from a few artifacts to entire residential and temple buildings.
Education on History
Those who would like to learn more about the individual chapters of the city's history have many opportunities to do so, for example at the House of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany or the LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn.
House of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany (HdG):
The multimedia exhibition begins with the post-war years and the division of Germany and continues through the Cold War and the reunification of the Federal Republic in 1989 to the present da. Political developments form the central theme of the exhibition, but small, private events are also present. For example, visitors can walk inside a "raisin bomber", watch advertisements from the 1950s in the movie theater, or share in the experiences of so-called "guest workers" in contemporary testimonies. The House of History has additional offerings for many different interest groups, including guided tours, audio guides and educational materials.
The “LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn” is the central museum for the history of the Rhineland, under the sponsorship of the “Landschaftsverband Rheinland” (LVR, Rhineland Regional Association). It offers unique insights into the cultural history of the region and its archaeological collection is of international importance. The exhibition shows treasures of archaeology, art and cultural history from more than 400,000 years of history of settlement, tracing the development of the region up to the present. Thus, there is a wealth of interesting objects ranging from the skeleton of a Neanderthal man to Celtic jewelry and Roman statues to medieval goldsmith art. In addition to its museum work, “LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn” is a leading national and international archaeological research institute.