The English name "Hesse" originates in the Hessian dialects. The variant "Hessia" comes from medieval Latin Hassia. The German term Hessen is used by the European Commission because their policy is to leave regional names untranslated (paragraphs 1.31 and 1.35). The term "Hesse" ultimately derives from a Germanic tribe called the Chatti, who settled in the region in the first century B.C. An inhabitant of Hesse is called a "Hessian" (German: Hesse (masculine) or Hessin (feminine)). The synthetic element hassium, number 108 on the periodic table, is named after the state of Hesse.
As early as the Paleolithic period, the Central Hessian region was inhabited. Due to the favorable climate of the location, people lived there about 50,000 years ago during the last glacial period, as burial sites show from this era. Finds of paleolitical tools in southern Hesse in Rüsselsheim suggest Pleistocene hunters about 13,000 years ago. The Züschen tomb (German: Steinkammergrab von Züschen, sometimes also Lohne-Züschen) is a prehistoric burial monument, located between Lohne and Züschen, near Fritzlar, Hesse, Germany. Classified as a gallery grave or a Hessian-Westphalian stone cist (hessisch-westfälische Steinkiste), it is one of the most important megalithic monuments in Central Europe. Dating to the late fourth millennium BC (and possibly remaining in use until the early third), it belongs to the Late Neolithic Wartberg culture.
An early Celtic presence in what is now Hesse is indicated by a mid-fifth-century BC La Tène-style burial uncovered at Glauberg. The region was later settled by the Germanic Chatti tribe around the first century BC, and the name Hesse is a continuation of that tribal name.
The ancient Romans had a military camp in Dorlar, and in Waldgirmes directly on the eastern outskirts of Wetzlar was a civil settlement under construction. Presumably, the provincial government for the occupied territories of the right bank of Germania was planned at this location. The governor of Germania, at least temporarily, likely had resided here. The settlement appears to have been abandoned by the Romans after the devastating Battle of the Teutoburg Forest failed in the year 9 AD. The Chatti were also involved in the Revolt of the Batavi in 69 AD.
Hessia, from the early seventh century on, served as a buffer between areas dominated by the Saxons (to the north) and the Franks, who brought the area to the south under their control in the early sixth century and occupied Thuringia (to the east) in 531. Hessia occupies the northwestern part of the modern German state of Hesse; its borders were not clearly delineated. Its geographic center is Fritzlar; it extends in the southeast to Hersfeld on the Fulda River, in the north to past Kassel and up to the rivers Diemel and Weser. To the west, it occupies the valleys of the Rivers Eder and Lahn (the latter until it turns south). It measured roughly 90 kilometers north-south, and 80 north-west.
The area around Fritzlar shows evidence of significant pagan belief from the first century on. Geismar was a particular focus of such activity; it was continuously occupied from the Roman period on, with a settlement from the Roman period, which itself had a predecessor from the fifth century BC. Excavations have produced a horse burial and bronze artifacts. A possible religious cult may have centered on a natural spring in Geismar, called Heilgenbron; the name "Geismar" (possibly "energetic pool") itself may be derived from that spring. The village of Maden, Gudensberg, now a part of Gudensberg near Fritzlar and less than ten miles from Geismar, was likely an ancient religious center; the basalt outcrop of Gudensberg is named for Wodan, and a two-meter tall quartz megalith called the Wotanstein is in the center of the village.
By 650, the Franks were establishing themselves as overlords, which is suggested by archeological evidence of burials, and were building fortifications in various places, including Christenberg. By 690, they were taking direct control over Hessia, apparently to counteract expansion by the Saxons, who built fortifications in Gaulskopf and Eresburg across the River Diemel, the northern boundary of Hessia. The Büraburg (which already had a Frankish settlement in the sixth century) was one of the places the Franks fortified to resist the Saxon pressure, and according to John-Henry Clay, the Büraburg was "probably the largest man-made construction seen in Hessia for at least seven hundred years". Walls and trenches totaling one kilometer in length were made, and they enclosed "8 hectares of a spur that offered a commanding view over Fritzlar and the densely populated heart of Hessia".
Following Saxon incursions into Chattish territory in the seventh century, two gaue had been established—a Frankish one, comprising an area around Fritzlar and Kassel, and a Saxon one. In the 9th century, the Saxon Hessengau also came under the rule of the Franconians. In the 12th, century it was passed to Thuringia.
In the War of the Thuringian Succession (1247–1264), Hesse gained its independence and became a Landgraviate within the Holy Roman Empire. It shortly rose to primary importance under Landgrave Philip the Magnanimous, who was one of the leaders of German Protestantism. After Philip's death in 1567, the territory was divided among his four sons from his first marriage (Philip was a bigamist) into four lines: Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel), Hesse-Darmstadt, Hesse-Rheinfels, and the also previously existing Hesse-Marburg. As the latter two lines died out quite soon (1583 and 1605, respectively), Hesse-Kassel and Hesse-Darmstadt were the two core states within the Hessian lands. Several collateral lines split off during the centuries, such as in 1622, when Hesse-Homburg split off from Hesse-Darmstadt. In the late 16th century, Kassel adopted Calvinism, while Darmstadt remained Lutheran and subsequently the two lines often found themselves on different sides of a conflict, most notably in the disputes over Hesse-Marburg and in the Thirty Years' War, when Darmstadt fought on the side of the Emperor, while Kassel sided with Sweden and France.
The Landgrave Frederick II (1720–1785) ruled as a benevolent despot, 1760–1785. He combined Enlightenment ideas with Christian values, cameralist plans for central control of the economy, and a militaristic approach toward diplomacy. He funded the depleted treasury of the poor nation by renting out 19,000 soldiers in complete military formations to Great Britain to fight in North America during the American Revolutionary War, 1776–1783. These soldiers, commonly known as Hessians, fought under the British flag. The British used the Hessians in several conflicts, including in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. For further revenue, the soldiers were rented out elsewhere, as well. Most were conscripted, with their pay going to the Landgrave.
The ruler of Hesse-Kassel was elevated to the status of Prince-Elector in 1803, but this remained without effect, as the Holy Roman Empire was disbanded in 1806. The territory was annexed by Napoleon to the Kingdom of Westphalia in 1806, but restored to the Elector in 1813. While other Electors had gained other titles, becoming either Kings or Grand Dukes, the Elector of Hesse-Kassel alone retained the anachronistic title. The name survived in the term Kurhessen, denoting the region around Kassel. In 1866, it was annexed by Prussia, together with the Free City of Frankfurt, the small Landgraviate of Hesse-Homburg, and the Duchy of Nassau, which were then combined into the province of Hesse-Nassau.
Hesse-Darmstadt was elevated by Napoleon to the status of a Grand Duchy in 1806, becoming the Grand Duchy of Hesse. In the War of 1866, it fought on the side of Austria against Prussia, but retained its autonomy in defeat because a greater part of the country was situated south of the Main River and Prussia did not dare to expand beyond the Main line, as this might have provoked France. However, the parts of Hesse-Darmstadt north of the Main (the region around the town of Gießen, commonly called Oberhessen) were incorporated in the Norddeutscher Bund, a tight federation of German states, established by Prussia in 1867. In 1871, after France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the rest of the Grand Duchy joined the German Empire. Around the turn of the 20th century, Darmstadt was one of the centres of the Jugendstil. Until 1907, the Grand Duchy of Hesse used the Hessian red and white lion as its coat-of-arms.
The revolution of 1918 transformed Hesse-Darmstadt from a monarchy to a republic, which officially renamed itself "Volksstaat Hessen" (People's State of Hesse). The parts of Hesse-Darmstadt on the western banks of the Rhine (province Rheinhessen) were occupied by French troops until 1930 under the terms of the Versailles peace treaty that officially ended World War I in 1919.
After World War II, the Hessian territory west of the Rhine was again occupied by France, whereas the rest of the region was part of the US occupation zone. The French separated their part of Hesse from the rest of the region and incorporated it into the newly founded state of Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz). The United States, on the other side, proclaimed the state of Greater Hesse (Groß-Hessen) on 19 September 1945, out of Hesse-Darmstadt and most of the former Prussian province of Hesse-Nassau. On 4 December 1946 Groß-Hessen was officially renamed Hessen.
Situated in west-central Germany, Hesse state borders the German states of (starting in the north and proceeding clockwise) Lower Saxony, Thuringia, Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, and North Rhine-Westphalia.
Most of the population of Hesse is in the southern part in the Rhine Main Area. The principal cities of the area include Frankfurt am Main, Wiesbaden, Darmstadt, Offenbach, Hanau, Gießen, Wetzlar, and Limburg. Other major towns in Hesse are Fulda in the east, and Kassel and Marburg an der Lahn in the north. The densely populated Rhine-Main region is much better developed than the rural areas in the middle and northern parts of Hesse.
The most important rivers in Hesse are the Fulda and Eder Rivers in the north, the Lahn in the central part of Hesse, and the Main and Rhine in the south. The countryside is hilly and the numerous mountain ranges include the Rhön, the Westerwald, the Taunus, the Vogelsberg, the Knüll and the Spessart.
The Rhine borders Hesse on the southwest without running through the state, only one old arm – the so-called Alt-Rhein – runs through Hesse. The mountain range between the Main and the Neckar Rivers is called the Odenwald. The plain between the rivers Main, Rhine, and Neckar, and the Odenwald Mountains is called the Ried.
Hesse is the greenest state in Germany, as forest covers 42% of the state.
Hesse is a unitary state governed directly by the Hessian government in the capital city Wiesbaden, partially through regional vicarious authorities called Regierungspräsidien. Municipal parliaments are, however, elected independently from the state government by the Hessian people. Local municipalities enjoy a considerable degree of home rule.
The state is divided into three administrative provinces (Regierungsbezirke): Kassel in the north and east, Gießen in the centre, and Darmstadt in the south, the latter being the most populous region with the Frankfurt Rhine-Main agglomeration in its central area. The administrative regions have no legislature of their own, but are executive agencies of the state government.
Hesse is divided into 21 districts (Kreise) and five independent cities, each with their own local governments. They are, shown with abbreviations as used on vehicle number plates:
- Bergstraße (Heppenheim) (HP)
- Darmstadt-Dieburg (Darmstadt) (DA, DI)
- Groß-Gerau (Groß-Gerau) (GG)
- Hochtaunuskreis (Bad Homburg) (HG, USI)
- Main-Kinzig-Kreis (Gelnhausen) (MKK, GN, HU, SLÜ)
- Main-Taunus-Kreis (Hofheim am Taunus) (MTK)
- Odenwaldkreis (Erbach) (ERB)
- Offenbach (Dietzenbach) (OF)
- Rheingau-Taunus-Kreis (Bad Schwalbach) (RÜD, SWA)
- Wetteraukreis (Friedberg) (FB, BÜD)
- Gießen (Gießen) (GI)
- Lahn-Dill-Kreis (Wetzlar) (LDK)
- Limburg-Weilburg (Limburg) (LM, WEL)
- Marburg-Biedenkopf (Marburg) (MR, BID)
- Vogelsbergkreis (Lauterbach) (VB)
- Fulda (Fulda) (FD)
- Hersfeld-Rotenburg (Bad Hersfeld) (HEF, ROF)
- Kassel (Kassel) (KS, HOG, WOH)
- Schwalm-Eder-Kreis (Homberg (Efze)) (HR)
- Werra-Meißner-Kreis (Eschwege) (ESW, WIZ)
- Waldeck-Frankenberg (Korbach) (KB, FKB, WA)
- Darmstadt (DA)
- Frankfurt am Main (F)
- Kassel (KS)
- Offenbach am Main (OF)
- Wiesbaden (WI)
The term "Rhenish Hesse" (German: Rheinhessen) refers to the part of the former Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt located west of the Rhine. It has not been part of the State of Hessen since 1946 due to divisions in the aftermath of World War II. This province is now part of the State of Rhineland-Palatinate. It is a hilly countryside largely devoted to vineyards; therefore, it is also called the "land of the thousand hills". Its larger towns include Mainz, Worms, Bingen, Alzey, Nieder-Olm, and Ingelheim. Many inhabitants commute to work in Mainz, Wiesbaden, or Frankfurt.
Hessen has been a parliamentary republic since 1918, interrupted by a 12-year episode from 1933 until 1945 during the Nazi dictatorship. The German federal system has elements of exclusive federal competences, shared competences, and exclusive competences of the federal states. Hessen is famous for having a rather brisk style in its politics with the ruling parties being either the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) or the center-left Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). However, due to the Hessian electoral laws, the biggest party normally needs a smaller coalition partner.
As Hesse is a federal state, its constitution combines the offices of the head of state and head of government in one office called the "Minister President" (German: Ministerpräsident) which is comparable to the office of a prime minister. In the framework of the German federation, the President of Germany is de facto Hesse's head of state.
Although the government under Minister-President Volker Bouffier (CDU) lost some votes in the 2014 state elections, he could form a government with the Green Party as the conservative CDU's coalition partner. Hesse is the first German state with a coalition government formed by the conservative CDU and the leftist Green party. In the current Hessian parliament (Hessischer Landtag) the conservative CDU holds a 47 seats, the centre-left SPD 37 seats, the leftist Green party 14 seats and the liberal FDP as well as the socialist party "Die Linke" each six seats.
As a member state of the German federation, Hesse does not have a diplomatic service of its own. However, Hessen operates representation offices in foreign countries such as the USA, China, Hungary, Cuba, Russia, Poland, and Iran. These offices are mostly used to represent Hessian interests in cultural and economic affairs. Hesse has also permanent representation offices in Berlin at the federal government of Germany and in Brussels at the European Union.
The flag colors of Hesse are red and white; its coat of arms shows a standing lion. These symbols are in line with the state symbols of the former Grand Duchy of Hesse. The official anthem of Hesse is called "Hessenlied" ("Song of Hesse") and was written by Albrecht Brede (music) and Carl Preser (lyrics).
The southern parts of Hesse were deeply influenced by the fact that they belonged to the Grand Duchy of Hessen, an independent state until 1871, while the northern region of what is today the State of Hessen came under strong Prussian influence. Darmstadt which was the capital city of Hessen until 1945, the city from which the Grand Dukes of Hesse ruled the country, was influenced by British and Russian imperial architecture due to close family ties of the Grand Duke's family to the reigning dynasties in London and Saint Petersburg.
The Hessian people speak a variety of German, a Rhine Franconian dialect known as Hessisch.
In 2013 Christianity was the most widespread religion in the state (67%). 40% of the Hessians belonged to the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau or Evangelical Church of Hesse Electorate-Waldeck (members of the Evangelical Church in Germany), 25% adhered to the Roman Catholic Church, while other Christians constituted some 2%. The remaining one third of the Hessian population were Muslims or belonged to other faiths, or were unaffiliated. Acknowledged as a legal entity under public law in Hesse, the Ahmadiyya is the first Islamic community in all of Germany to be recognized as such. The continental Baha'i House of Worship for Europe is located in the village of Langenhain in the town of Hofheim near Frankfurt.
The former state capital, Darmstadt, has been a centre of art nouveau and modern architecture since 1914, Frankfurt am Main is cultural centre of international magnitude and the northern Hesse city of Kassel is home of the five-yearly documenta, a modern art exhibition. Hesse has four major opera houses, the most important being the Frankfurt am Main Opera House. Through its Cultural Investment Programme, Hesse supports the renovation and promotion of historical sites and it promotes the documenta, a world-wide art exhibition held every five years in Kassel. The Hessian Ministry of the Arts supports numerous independent cultural initiatives, organisations, and associations as well as artists from many fields including music, literature, theatre and dance, cinema and the new media, graphic art, and exhibitions. International cultural projects aim to further relations with European partners.
Frankfurt hosts the following professional sports teams or clubs:
Frankfurt is host to the classic cycle race Eschborn-Frankfurt City Loop (known as Rund um den Henninger-Turm from 1961 to 2008). The city hosts also the annual Frankfurt Marathon and the Ironman Germany.
Outside Frankfurt, notable professional sports teams include SV Darmstadt 98, Marburg Mercenaries, Gießen 46ers, MT Melsungen and VfB Friedberg.
The Hessian state broadcasting corporation is called HR (Hessischer Rundfunk). HR is a member of the federal ARD broadcasting association. HR provides a statewide TV channel as well as a range of regional radio stations (HR 1, HR 2, HR 3, HR 4, you fm and HR info). Besides the state run HR, privately run TV stations exist and are an important line of commerce. Among the commercial radio stations that are active in Hesse Hit Radio FFH, Planet Radio, Harmony FM, Radio BOB and Main FM are the most popular.
With Hesse's largest city Frankfurt am Main being home of the European Central Bank (ECB), the German Bundesbank and the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, Hesse is home to the financial capital of mainland Europe. Furthermore, Hesse has always been one of the largest and healthiest economies in Germany. Its GDP in 2013 exceeded 236 billion Euros (about 316 bn US$). This makes Hesse itself one of the largest economies in Europe and the 38th largest in the world. According to GDP-per-capita figures, Hesse is the wealthiest State (after the City-states Hamburg and Bremen) in Germany with approx. $52.500 US.
The Rhine-Main Region has the second largest industrial density in Germany after the Ruhr area. The main economic fields of importance are the chemical and pharmaceutical industries with Sanofi, Merck, Heraeus, Messer Griesheim and Degussa. In the mechanical and automotive engineering field Opel in Rüsselsheim is worth mentioning. Frankfurt is crucial as a financial center, with both the European Central Bank and the Deutsche Bundesbank's headquarters located there. Numerous smaller banks and Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, KfW Bank, DZ Bank are also headquartered in Frankfurt, with the offices of several international banks also being housed there. Frankfurt is also the location of the most important German stock exchange, the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Insurance companies have settled mostly in Wiesbaden. The city's largest private employer is the R+V Versicherung, with about 3,900 employees, other major employers are DBV-Winterthur, the SV SparkassenVersicherung and the Delta Lloyd Group. The leather industry is predominantly settled in Offenbach. Frankfurt Airport is the largest employer in Germany with more than 70.000 employees. Companies with an international reputation are located outside the Rhine-Main region in Wetzlar. There the center of the optical, electrical and precision engineering industries Leitz, Leica, Minox, Hensoldt (Zeiss) and Buderus and Brita with several plants in central Hesse. In the east Fulda there is the rubber plant (Fulda Reifen). In northern Hesse, in Baunatal, Volkswagen AG has a large factory that manufactures spare parts. Bombardier has a large plant that manufactures Locomotives in Kassel.
In August 2008 there were 199,573 people unemployed in Hesse. The unemployment rate is thus 6.4% (August 2007: 7.6%). With 3.8% the Hochtaunuskreis has the lowest rate, while the independent city of Kassel has the highest rate nationally with 12.1%.
Hesse has one of the best transportation networks in Europe. Many trans-European and German motorways, high-speed train, and waterways lines cross Hesse. Frankfurt International Airport is Germany's largest and Europe's third-largest airport (after London Heathrow and Paris-Charles de Gaulle). Frankfurt (Main) Hauptbahnhof is Germany's second-busiest railway station by passengers but the busiest in terms of traffic.
Hesse has a dense highway network with a total of 24 motorways. The internationally important motorway routes through Hesse are the A3, A5, and A7. Close to the airport of Frankfurt is the Frankfurter Kreuz, Germany's busiest and one of Europe's busiest motorway junctions, where the motorways A3 (Arnhem-Cologne-Frankfurt-Nuremberg-Passau) and A5 (Hattenbach-Frankfurt-Karlsruhe-Basel) intersect. The A5 becomes as wide as four lanes in each direction near the city of Frankfurt am Main. During the rush-hour, it is possible to use the emergency lanes on the A3 and A5 motorway in the Rhine-Main Region. The effect is that the motorways have four lanes in each direction. Other major leading Hesse highways are the A4, the A44, the A45, the Federal Highway A66 and the A67. There are also a number of smaller motorways and major trunk roads, some of which are dual carriageways.
Hesse has access to many major rail lines, including the high-speed lines Cologne–Frankfurt and Hanover–Würzburg. Besides, other north-south connections traverse major east-west routes from Wiesbaden and Mainz to Frankfurt and from Hanau and Aschaffenburg to Fulda and Kassel. The Frankfurt Central Station is the most important hub for German trains.
The region around Frankfurt has the S-Bahn Rhein-Main with an extensive S-Bahn network, which is complemented many regional train connections. In the rest of the country, the rail network is less extensive. In the northern part of Hesse exists since 2007 the RegioTram, a tram-train-concept similar to the Karlsruhe model.
Frankfurt Airport is by far the largest airport in Germany with more than 57 million passengers each year and among the world's ten largest. Not far from the Airport towards the south is the Frankfurt Egelsbach Airport which is frequented by general aviation planes. The DFS (German air traffic control) has its headquarters in Langen. Situated in Northern Hesse Kassel Calden Airport, whose expansion is planned, has however only regional importance. There are also a number of sports airfields. Low-cost airlines, especially Ryanair, uses Frankfurt-Hahn Airport as a major base. The airport is actually located about 100 km from Frankfurt in the neighbor state of Rhineland-Palatinate.