In modern German, Saarbrücken literally translates to Saar bridges (Brücken is the plural of Brücke), and indeed there are about a dozen bridges across the Saar river; however the name actually predates the oldest bridge in the historic center of Saarbrücken, the Alte Brücke, by at least 500 years.
The name Saar stems from the Celtic word sara (streaming water), and the Roman name of the river, saravus.
However, there are three theories about the origin of the second part of the name Saarbrücken.
The most popular theory states that the historical name of the town, Sarabrucca, derived from the Celtic word briga (hill, or rock, big stone), which became Brocken (can mean rock or boulder) in High German. The castle of Sarabrucca was located on a large rock by the name of Saarbrocken overlooking the river Saar.
A minority opinion holds that the historical name of the town, Sarabrucca, derived from the Old High German word Brucca(German), meaning bridge – or more precisely a Corduroy road, which was also used in fords. Next to the castle, there was a ford allowing to cross the Saar.
A mostly rejected theory claims that the historical name of the town, Sarabrucca, derived from the Germanic word bruco (swamp, marsh). There is an area in St Johann called Bruchwiese (wiese meaning meadow), which used to be swampy prior to development, and there were flood-meadows along the river, and those are often marshy. However, the Saarbrücken area was first settled by Celts and not by Germanic peoples.
In the last centuries BC, the Mediomatrici settled in the Saarbrücken area. When Julius Caesar conquered Gaul in the 1st century BC, the area was incorporated into the Roman Empire.
From the 1st century AD to the 5th century, there was the Gallo-Roman settlement called vicus Saravus west of Saarbrücken's Halberg hill, on the roads from Metz to Worms and from Trier to Strasbourg. Since the 1st or 2nd century AD, a wooden bridge, later upgraded to stone, connected vicus Saravus with the south-western bank of the Saar, today's St Arnual, where at least one Roman villa was located. In the 3rd century AD, a Mithras shrine was built in a cave in Halberg hill, on the eastern bank of the Saar river, next to today's old 'Osthafen' harbor, and a small Roman camp was constructed at the foot of Halberg hill next to the river.
Towards the end of the 4th century, the Alemanni destroyed the castra and vicus Saravus, removing permanent human presence from the Saarbrücken area for almost a century.
The Saar area came under the control of the Franks towards the end of the 5th century. In the 6th century, the Merovingians gave the village Merkingen, which had formed on the ruins of the villa on the south-western end of the (in those times still usable) Roman bridge, to the Bishopric of Metz. Between 601 and 609, Bishop Arnual founded a community of clerics, a Stift, there. Centuries later the Stift, and in 1046 Merkingen, took on his name, giving birth to St Arnual.
The oldest documentary reference to Saarbrücken is a deed of donation from 999, which documents that Emperor Otto III gave the "castellum Sarabrucca" (Saarbrücken castle) to the Bishops of Metz. The Bishops gave the area to the Counts of Saargau as a fief. By 1120, the county of Saarbrücken had been formed and a small settlement around the castle developed. In 1168, Emperor Barbarossa ordered the slighting of Saarbrücken because of a feud with Count Simon I. The damage cannot have been grave, as the castle continued to exist.
In 1321/1322 Count Johann I of Saarbrücken-Commercy gave city status to the settlement of Saarbrücken and the fishing village of St Johann on the opposite bank of the Saar, introducing a joint administration and emancipating the inhabitants from serfdom.
From 1381 to 1793 the counts of Nassau-Saarbrücken were the main local rulers.
In 1549, Emperor Charles V prompted the construction of the Alte Brücke (old bridge) connecting Saarbrücken and St Johann. At the beginning of the 17th century, Count Ludwig II ordered the construction of a new Renaissance-style castle on the site of the old castle, and founded Saarbrücken's oldest secondary school, the Ludwigsgymnasium. During the Thirty Years' War, the population of Saarbrücken was reduced to just 70 by 1637, down from 4500 in 1628. During the Franco-Dutch War, King Louis XIV's troops burned down Saarbrücken in 1677, almost completely destroying the city – just 8 houses remained standing.
The area was incorporated into France for the first time in the 1680s. France was forced to relinquish the Saar province in 1697, but from 1793 to 1815 regained control of the region.
During the reign of Prince William Henry from 1741 to 1768, the coal mines were nationalized and his policies created a proto-industrialized economy, laying the foundation for Saarland's later highly industrialized economy. Saarbrücken was booming, and Prince William Henry spent on building and on infrastructure like the Saarkran river crane (1761), far beyond his financial means. However, the famous baroque architect Friedrich Joachim Stengel created not only the Saarkran, but many iconic buildings that still shape Saarbrücken's face today, like the Friedenskirche (Peace Church), which was finished in 1745, the Old City Hall (1750), the catholic St. John's Basilica (1754), and the famous Ludwigskirche (1775), Saarbrücken's landmark.
In 1793, Saarbrücken was captured by French revolutionary troops and in the treaties of Campo Formio and Lunéville, the county of Saarbrücken was ceded to France.
After 1815 Saarbrücken became part of the Prussian Rhine Province. The office of mayor Saarbrücken administrated the urban municipalities Saarbrücken and St Johann, and the rural municipalities Malstatt, Burbach, Brebach, and Rußhütte. The coal and iron resources of the region were developed: In 1852, Saarbrücken got a railway connecting the Palatine Ludwig Railway with the French Eastern Railway, the Burbach ironworks started production in 1856, the Saar up to Ensdorf was channeled since 1860, and Saarbrücken was connected to the French canal network.
At the start of the Franco-Prussian War, Saarbrücken was the first target of the French invasion force which drove off the Prussian vanguard and occupied Alt-Saarbrücken on 2 August 1870. Oral tradition has it that 14-year-old French Prince Napoléon Eugène Louis Bonaparte fired his first cannon in this battle, an event memorated by the Lulustein memorial in Alt-Saarbrücken. The French left Saarbrücken on 4 August 1870 and were driven away towards Metz in the Battle of Spicheren on 6 August 1870.
In 1909 the cities of Saarbrücken, St Johann und Malstatt-Burbach merged and formed the major city of Saarbrücken with a population of over 100,000.
During World War I, factories and railways in Saarbrücken were bombed. The Royal Naval Air Service raided Saarbrücken with 11 DH4s on October 17, 1917, and a week later with 9 HP11s. The Royal Flying Corps raided Saarbrücken's railway station with 5 DH9s on July 31, 1918, on which occasion one DH9 crashed near the town centre.
Saarbrücken became capital of the Saar territory established in 1920: under the Treaty of Versailles (1919), the Saar coal mines were made the exclusive property of France for a period of 15 years as compensation for the destruction of French mines during the First World War. The treaty also provided for a plebiscite, at the end of the 15-year period, to determine the territory's future status, and in 1935 more than 90% of the electorate voted for reunification with Germany, while only 0.8% voted for unification with France. The remainder wanted to rejoin Germany but not while the Nazis were in power. This 'status quo' group voted for maintenance of the League of Nations administration. In 1935, the Saar territory rejoined Germany and formed a district under the name Saarland.
Saarbrücken was heavily bombed in World War II. In total 1,234 people (1.1 percent of the population) in Saarbrücken were killed in bombing raids 1942-45. 11,000 homes were destroyed and 75 percent of the city left in ruins.
The Royal Air Force raided Saarbrücken at least 10 times. Often employing area bombing, the Royal Air Force used total of at least 1495 planes to attack Saarbrücken, killing a minimum of 635 people and heavily damaging more than 8400 buildings, of which more than 7700 were completely destroyed, thus dehousing more than 50,000 people. The first major raid on Saarbrücken was done by 291 aircraft of the Royal Air Force on July 29, 1942, targeting industrial facilities. Losing 9 aircraft, the bombers destroyed almost 400 buildings, damaging more than 300 others, and killed more than 150 people. On August 28, 1942, 113 Royal Air Force planes raided Saarbrücken doing comparably little damage due to widely scattered bombing. After the Royal Air Force mistakenly bombed Saarlouis instead of Saarbrücken on September 1, 1942, it raided Saarbrücken with 118 planes on September 19, 1942, causing comparably little damage as the bombing scattered to the west of Saarbrücken due to ground haze. There were small raids with 28 Mosquitos on April 30, 1944, with 33 Mosquitos on June 29, 1944, and with just 2 Mosquitos on July 26, 1944. At the request of the American Third Army, the Royal Air Force massively raided Saarbrücken on October 5, 1944, in order to destroy supply lines, especially the railway. The 531 Lancasters and 20 Mosquitos achieved these goals, losing 3 Lancasters but destroying large parts of Malstatt and nearly all of Alt-Saarbrücken. From January 13 to January 14, the Royal Air Force raided Saarbrücken three times, targeting the railway yard. The attacks with 158, 274, and 134 planes, respectively, were very effective.
The 8. US Air Force raided Saarbrücken at least 16 times, from October 4, 1943, to November 9, 1944. Targeting mostly the marshalling yards, a total of at least 2387 planes of the 8. USAF killed a minimum of 543 people and heavily damaged more than 4400 buildings, of which more than 700 were completely destroyed, thus depriving more than 2300 people of shelter. Donald J. Gott and William E. Metzger, Jr. were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions during the bombing run on November 9, 1944.
On the ground, Saarbrücken was defended by the 347. Infanterie-Division commanded by Wolf-Günther Trierenberg in 1945. The US 70th Infantry Division was tasked with punching through the Siegfried Line and taking Saarbrücken. As the fortifications were unusually strong, it first had to take the Siegfried Line fortifications on the French heights near Spicheren overlooking Saarbrücken. This Spichern-Stellung had been constructed in 1940 after the French had fallen back on the Maginot Line during the Phoney War. The 276th Infantry Regiment attacked Forbach on February 19, 1945, and a fierce battle ensued, halting the American advance at the rail-road tracks cutting through Forbach on February 22, 1945. The 274th and 275th Infantry Regiments took Spicheren on February 20, 1945. When the 274th Infantry Regiment captured the Spicheren Heights on February 23, 1945, after a heavy battle on the previous day, the Germans counter-attacked for days, but by February 27, 1945, the heights were fully under American control. A renewed attack on March 3, 1945, allowed units of the 70th Infantry Division to enter Stiring-Wendel and the remainder of Forbach. By March 5, 1945, all of Forbach and major parts of Stiring-Wendel had been taken. However, fighting for Stiring-Wendel, especially for the Simon mine, continued for days. After the German defenders of Stiring-Wendel fell back to Saarbrücken on March 12 and 13th, 1945, the 70th Infantry Division still faced a strong segment of the Siegfried Line, which had been reinforced around Saarbrücken as late as 1940. After having the German troops south of the Saar fall back across the Saar at night, the German defenders of Saarbrücken retreated early on March 20, 1945. The 70th Infantry Division flanked Saarbrücken by crossing the Saar north-west of Saarbrücken. The 274th Infantry Regiment entered Saarbrücken on March 20, 1945, fully occupying it the following day, thus ending the war for Saarbrücken.
In 1945, Saarbrücken temporarily became part of the French Zone of Occupation. In 1947, France created the nominally politically independent Saar Protectorate and merged it economically with France in order to exploit the area's vast coal reserves. Saarbrücken became capital of the new Saar state. A referendum in 1955 came out with over two thirds of the voters rejecting an independent Saar state. The area rejoined the Federal Republic of Germany on 1 January 1957, sometimes called Kleine Wiedervereinigung (little reunification). Economic reintegration would however take many more years. Saarbrücken became capital of the Bundesland (federal state) Saarland. After the administrative reform of 1974 the city had a population of more than 200,000.
From 1990 to 1993, students and an arts professor from the town first secretly, then officially created an invisible memorial to Jewish cemeteries. It is located on the fore court of the Saarbrücken Castle.
On March 9, 1999 at 4:40am, there was a bomb attack on the controversial Wehrmachtsausstellung exhibition next to Saarbrücken Castle, resulting in minor damage to the Volkshochschule building housing the exhibition and the adjoining Schlosskirche church – but not causing any injuries.
The city is served by Saarbrücken Airport (SCN), and since June 2007 ICE high speed train services along the LGV Est line provide high speed connections to Paris from Saarbrücken Hauptbahnhof. Saarbrücken's Saarbahn (modelled on the Karlsruhe model light rail) crosses the French–German border, connecting to the French city of Sarreguemines.
Saarbrücken is also the home of the main campus of Saarland University (Universität des Saarlandes). Co-located with the University are several research centres including:the Max Planck Institute for Informatics,
the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems,
the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS),
the Fraunhofer Institute for Non-destructive Testing,
the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence,
the Center for Bioinformatics,
the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Europe Research Society,
the Leibniz Institute for New Materials (INM), and
the Intel Visual Computing Institute,
the Center for IT-Security, Privacy, and Accountability (CISPA),
the Society for Environmentally Compatible Process Technology,
the Institut für Angewandte Informationsforschung for applied linguistics,
several institutes focusing on transfer of technology between academia and companies, and the Science Park Saar startup incubator. The Botanischer Garten der Universität des Saarlandes (a botanical garden) was closed in 2016 due to budget cuts.
Furthermore, Saarbrücken houses the administration of the Deutsch-Französische Hochschule, a French-German cooperation of 180 institutions of tertiary education mainly from France and Germany but also from Bulgaria, Canada, Spain, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Great Britain, Russia and Switzerland, which offers bi-national French-German degree programs and doctorates as well as tri-national degree programs. The Saarland University also has a Centre Juridique Franco-Allemand, offering a French and a German law degree program.
Saarbrücken houses several other institutions of tertiary education as well:the University of Applied Sciences Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft des Saarlandes,
the University of Arts Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar,
the University of Music Hochschule für Musik Saar, and
the private Fachhochschule for health promotion and physical fitness Deutsche Hochschule für Prävention und Gesundheitsmanagement
Saarbrücken also a houses a Volkshochschule.
With the end of coal mining in the Saar region, Saarbrücken's Fachhochschule for mining, the Fachhochschule für Bergbau Saar, was closed at the beginning of the 21st century. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Trier's Katholische Hochschule für Soziale Arbeit, a Fachhochschule for social work, was closed in 2008 for cost cutting reasons. The Saarland's Fachhochschule for administrative personnel working for the government, the Fachhochschule für Verwaltung des Saarlandes, was moved from Saarbrücken to Göttelborn in 2012.
Saarbrücken houses several institutions of primary and secondary education. Notable is the Saarland's oldest grammar school, the Ludwigsgymnasium, which was founded in 1604 as a latin school. The building of Saarbrücken's bi-lingual French-German Deutsch-Französisches Gymnasium, founded in 1961 and operating as a laboratory school under the Élysée Treaty, also houses the École française de Sarrebruck et Dilling, a French primary school which offers bi-lingual German elements. Together with several Kindergartens offering bi-lingual French-German education, Saarbrücken thus offers a full bi-lingual French-German formal education.
Climate in this area has mild differences between highs and lows, and there is adequate rainfall year-round. The Köppen Climate Classification subtype for this climate is "Cfb" (Marine West Coast Climate/Oceanic climate).
Some of the closest cities are Trier, Luxembourg, Nancy, Metz, Kaiserslautern, Karlsruhe and Mannheim. Saarbrücken is connected by the city's public transport network to the town of Sarreguemines in France, and to the neighboring town of Völklingen, where the old steel works were the first industrial monument to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994 — the Völklinger Hütte.
The city is home to several different teams, most notable of which is association football team based at the Ludwigsparkstadion, 1. FC Saarbrücken, which also has a reserve team and a women's section. In the past a top-flight team, twice the country's vice-champions, and participant in European competitions, the club draws supporters from across the region.
Lower league SV Saar 05 Saarbrücken is the other football team in the city.
The Saarland Hurricanes are one of the top American football teams in the country, with its junior team winning the German Junior Bowl in 2013.
Various sporting events are held at the Saarlandhalle, most notable of which was the badminton Bitburger Open Grand Prix Gold, part of the BWF Grand Prix Gold and Grand Prix tournaments, held in 2013 and 2012.
Saarbrücken is a fellow member of the QuattroPole union of cities, along with Luxembourg, Metz, and Trier (formed by cities from three neighbouring countries: Germany, Luxembourg and France).
Saarbrücken is twinned with:
Saarbrücken has a Städtefreundschaft (city friendship) with:
Some boroughs of Saarbrücken are also twinned:Peter Kurtz (1881–1977), native of Saarbrücken. Introduced the Music of Peer Gynt to America
Max Ophüls (1902–1957), film director
Wolfgang Staudte (1906–1984), film director
Walter Schellenberg (1910–1952), Senior German SS officer (head of Foreign intelligence)
Gerhard Schröder (1910–1989), politician (CDU)
Otto Steinert (1915–1978), photographer
Michel Antoine (1925–2015), French historian
Frédéric Back (1924–2013), Canadian animator
Frederic Vester (1925–2003), biochemist
Hannelore Baron (1926–1987), collage and assemblage artist, emigrated to United States in 1941.
Sandra Cretu (born 1962), singer
Claudia Kohde-Kilsch (born 1963), tennis player
Nicole (born 1964), singer
Manfred Trenz (born 1965), game designer
Saskia Vester (born 1959), actress and author
Willi Graf (1918–1943), member of the White Rose resistance group
Tzvi Avni (born Hermann Jakob Steinke, 1927), Israeli Composer