This article is about the town in Thuringia, Germany. For other uses, see Altenburg (disambiguation).

Coat of arms

Coordinates: 50°59′6″N 12°26′0″E / 50.98500°N 12.43333°E / 50.98500; 12.43333Coordinates: 50°59′6″N 12°26′0″E / 50.98500°N 12.43333°E / 50.98500; 12.43333
Country Germany
State Thuringia
District Altenburger Land
  Lord Mayor Michael Wolf (SPD)
  Total 45.6 km2 (17.6 sq mi)
Population (2015-12-31)[1]
  Total 32,910
  Density 720/km2 (1,900/sq mi)
Time zone CET/CEST (UTC+1/+2)
Postal codes 04600
Dialling codes 03447
Vehicle registration ABG, SLN

Altenburg ( listen ) is a city in Thuringia, Germany, located 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Leipzig, 90 kilometres (56 miles) west of Dresden and 100 kilometres (62 miles) east of Erfurt. It is the capital of the Altenburger Land district and part of a polycentric old-industrial textile and metal production region between Gera, Zwickau and Chemnitz with more than 1 million inhabitants, while the city itself has a population of 33,000.

Altenburg was first mentioned in 976 and later became one of the first German cities within former Slavic area, east of the Saale river (as part of the medieval Ostsiedlung movement). The emperor Frederick Barbarossa visited Altenburg several times between 1165 and 1188, hence the town is named a Barbarossa town today. Since the 17th century, Altenburg was the residence of different Ernestine duchies, of whom the Saxe-Altenburg persisted until the end of monarchy in Germany in 1918. Industrialization reached Altenburg and the region quite early in the first half of the 19th century and flourished until the Great Depression around 1930. Economic malaise set in while Altenburg was in East Germany and continued after German reunification in 1990, evidenced by a decline in population, high unemployment and house vacancy rates.

The main sights of Altenburg are the castle, the Lindenau-Museum, the historic city centre (most buildings are from early-modern origin) and the Gründerzeit architecture around the centre. The popular German card game Skat was developed in Altenburg during the 1810s and the founder of the famous Brockhaus Enzyklopädie, Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus, lived and worked in Altenburg between 1810 and 1817.

Altenburg lies in the flat and fertile landscape of Osterland on the Pleiße river in the very east of Thuringia, next to the neighboring federal state of Saxony.


Altenburg about the year 1650
Castle of Altenburg
The Nikolai quarter is one of the oldest parts of Altenburg

Middle Ages

The town (civitas Altenburg) was first mentioned in a deed to the Bishop of Zeitz in 976. Remains of a Slavic castle on the Schloßberg ("Castle Hill") demonstrate that the town was probably a Slavic foundation, the capital of the shire of Plisni, taken over during the conquest of Meissen by Henry I. As shown by placenames, the surrounding area (Osterland) was mainly settled by Slavs.

The town's location on the imperial road 'Via Imperii' between Halle and Cheb in Bohemia gave Altenburg economic importance in the salt trade.

The first castle, located under the present day church St. Bartholomäi, was destroyed after the Battle of Hohenmölsen between Henry IV and Rudolph of Swabia. It was rebuilt on the Schloßberg outside of the town. The 11th century Mantelturm tower is still preserved. The castle later became an imperial palatinate and played an important part in the German takeover and settlement of the area between the Harz-mountains and the Elbe.

In the middle of the 12th century, the Hohenstaufen emperors patronized Altenburg as one of their Kaiserpfalzes, allowing the town to become a market and a mint. Together with the Royal forests Leina, Pahna, Kammerforst and Luckauer Forst, lands of the Groitzsch family bought by Frederick Barbarossa, Altenburg, Colditz, Zwickau and Chemnitz were turned into the Terra Plisnensis. Altenburg and Chemnitz as Imperial towns were intended to reduce the importance of Leipzig held by the Margrave of Meissen. Under Frederick Barbarossa much building took place, especially in the market area, and the town grew rapidly. A priory of canons regular was founded and the parish church was finished in 1172. The twin towers of the 12th century Augustine monastery (Rote Spitzen) are still preserved. A town wall with 5 gates was constructed at the end of the 12th century. Altenburg got its charter around 1200, in 1256 the Wettins confirmed it again. The law structure was transposed from Goslar municipal law.

During the Interregnum, the Terra Plisnensis was impounded, but bought back by Rudolph I of Germany, who desired the crown of Thuringia. Together with Zwickau and Chemnitz, Altenburg was part of the anti-Meissen Pleiße-city Union of 1290. After the Battle of Lucka in 1307 against Frederick the Brave of Meissen and his brother Diezmann, King Albert I lost Altenburg and the Pleiße-lands to the Wettin margraves of Meissen, who held the city until 1918.

In 1455, Altenburg saw the division (Altenburger Teilung) of the Meissen lands between Elector Frederick II (the Gentle) and Duke William that led, after a failed attempt at reconciliation (Hallescher Machtspruch) to a war (1446–1451) between the two brothers (Bruderkrieg). In the second division of the Wettin lands between Ernest and Albert at Leipzig in 1485, Altenburg fell to Ernest, together with the Electorate (Kurland), Grimma, the Mutschener Pflege, Leisnig, Thuringia and the Vogtland. From this time on, Altenburg was historically connected with Thuringia and its dynasty, the Ernestine Wettins.

Early modern period

The Reformation was introduced in Altenburg quite early, in 1522, by George Spalatin, Wenzeslaus Linck and Gabriel Zwilling. During the German Peasants' War of 1525, the Altenburg Augustinian monastery was attacked. In the summer, four peasant rebels were executed at the marketplace. After the Schmalkaldic War brought defeat for the Ernestines, Altenburg belonged to the Albertines for short time (1547–1554) before coming back to the Ernestines after the Naumburg Treaty.

From 1603 to 1672, Altenburg was the residence of an Ernestine line, after that, it fell to Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. The Thirty Years' War brought heavy damage to the city and more than half of the population died.

During the Napoleonic wars it was a scene of a brief Allied raid by the Saxon General Johann von Thielmann.

Since 1815

Market square in 1839

When the Ernestine lands were re-divided in 1826, Altenburg became the capital of Saxe-Altenburg, successor state to the dissolved Saxe-Hildburghausen. Around 1830, the city walls and gates were knocked down and the old suburbia in front of the former wall were incorporated. Industrialization began around this time and the economy and population both saw rapid growth, strengthened by the connection to the railway in 1842 (as Thuringia's first connected city). The Revolution of 1848 led to the abdication of the conservative duke Joseph, who was replaced by his more liberal brother George. The last duke abdicated during the Revolution of 1918 on 13 November 1918 after being promised 12 million Marks and the ownership of numerous castles. The free-state of Saxe-Altenburg was merged with Thuringia in 1920.

Altenburg was a working-class city during the Weimar Republic, ruled by SPD and KPD, which led to heavy conflicts between left- and right-wing forces after 1933. The Jewish community was destroyed during the Kristallnacht in 1938, many Jews emigrated or were killed in the concentration camps. Furthermore, communists and invalids from Altenburg were murdered. During World War II, several subcamps of the Buchenwald concentration camp were located here. They provided 13,000 forced labourers for HASAG, the third largest German company to use concentration camp labour.[2] The US Army reached Altenburg on 15 April 1945 and was replaced by the Soviet Army on 1 July 1945.

In 1952, Thuringia was dissolved and replaced by administrative divisions of East Germany (Bezirks). Altenburg became part of the Leipzig administrative district, in which it was the second largest city. After reunification, previously extant states were re-established in the former east Germany as federal states in the reunified Germany. Although a majority of 54% in the district voted for Saxony in a plebiscite, the district council decided to join Thuringia together with the Schmölln district, partly because a vast majority of 80% in the neighboring Schmölln district had voted for Thuringia. These districts had formed the eastern part of Saxe-Altenburg until 1920 and were reunified as the modern-day Altenburger Land district in 1994.

Geography and demographics


"Großer Teich", bridge to island with the Zoological Gardens

Altenburg is located on the southern edge of the Leipzig Bay, a flat and fertile area, with intensive agricultural use and lignite surface mining 10 km (6 mi) north of the town. The nearest mountains are the Ore Mountains approximately 50 km (31 mi) to the south-east. The Pleiße valley runs east of the city, whereas the centre itself is located at Blaue Flut (blue flood) river, a small tributary of Pleiße river. The Blaue Flut feeds the Großer Teich (big pond), an inner-city pond with an island in the middle, on which the Altenburg zoo is located. There is relatinely little forest within the town's municipal territory: the small Stadtwald (town wood) and Herzog-Ernst-Wald (Duke Ernest wood) south of the centre and the Fasanerieholz (Pheasantry wood) at Ehrenberg district. The elevation of the city centre is 200 m, to the north it declines down to 162 m and in the south next to Mockzig district it rises up to 261 m.

District map

Administrative division

Altenburg is bounded by Windischleuba, Nobitz, Altkirchen, Göhren, Lödla, Rositz, Meuselwitz, Treben and Gerstenberg.

Because of the quite densely settlement of the region, many small villages and ancient former suburbs are situated within the municipal territory, which is officially divided into 4 districts:

For a detailed view of Altenburg's administrative division, see the list in German Wikipedia.


Evolution of population between 1831 and 2011

Altenburg has been a relatively big town (compared to others in the wider region) down the centuries, because of its importance as a Kaiserpfalz and later as a ducal residence. During the Middle Ages, it had a population of 3,000 to 4,000 inhabitants, rising to 6,000 around 1700, 10,000 around 1800 and 20,000 around 1870, making it Thuringia's second-largest city after Erfurt for a short time in the mid-19th century. The population grew further to 40,000 in 1910, 44,000 in 1940 and peaked at about 56,000 around 1980 before starting to decline. In 1988, before reunification, Altenburg had 53,000 inhabitants, shrinking to 41,000by 2000 and 33,000 in 2012. With a decline of nearly 40% since 1988, Altenburg is among the most rapidly decling urban areas in Germany.

The average decrease of population between 2009 and 2012 was approximately 1.27% p.a., whereas the population in bordering rural regions is shrinking with accelerating tendency. Suburbanization played only a small role in Altenburg. It occurred after the reunification for a short time in the 1990s, but most of the suburban areas were situated within the administrative city borders, others are Windischleuba and Nobitz. During the 1990s and the 2000s, many inhabitants left Altenburg to search a better life in western Germany or other major east German cities like Leipzig, Dresden or Jena. The birth deficit, caused by the high average age of the population, is becoming a bigger problem because there is no immigration to compensate it. Despite urban planning activities to tear down unused flats, vacancy is still a problem with rates around 16% (according to 2011 EU census), which is the largest amount among Thuringia's major towns. A positive side effect for the inhabitants is that Altenburg has one of the lowest rent levels in Germany.

The birth deficit was 282 in 2012, this is -8.5 per 1,000 inhabitants (Thuringian average: -4.5; national average: -2.4). The net migration rate was -1.7 per 1,000 inhabitants in 2012 (Thuringian average: -0.8; national average: +4.6).[3] The most important target regions of Altenburg migrants are the large cities around like Leipzig, Dresden, Halle, Jena and Erfurt, as well as the western German conurbations.

Like most other small to middling eastern German towns, Altenburg has only a small amount of foreign population: circa 1.7% are non-Germans by citizenship and overall 1.6% are migrants (according to 2011 EU census). Differing from the national average, the biggest groups of migrants in Altenburg are Russians and Vietnamese people. During recent years, the economic situation of the city has improved a bit: the unemployment rate in the district declined from 24% in 2005 to 10% in 2013 with little bit higher rates in the city than in the other municipalities of the Altenburger Land district. Nevertheless, this is still one of the highest rates in Thuringia.

Partly due to official atheism in former GDR, most of the population is non-religious. 12.1% are members of the Evangelical Church in Central Germany and 2.5% are Catholics (according to 2011 EU census).

1831 – 1939 1946 – 1996 1997 – 2004
  • 1831 – 12,629
  • 1880 – 26,241
  • 1885 – 29,110
  • 1890 – 31,439
  • 1900 – 37,110
  • 1925 – 42,570
  • 1933 – 43,736
  • 1939 – 45,851
  • 1946 – 51,805 [* 1]
  • 1950 – 49,413 [* 2]
  • 1960 – 46,791
  • 1981 – 55,827
  • 1984 – 54,755
  • 1994 – 46,291
  • 1995 – 45,472
  • 1996 – 44,854
  • 1997 – 44,060
  • 1998 – 43,032
  • 1999 – 42,005
  • 2000 – 41,290
  • 2001 – 40,559
  • 2002 – 39,810
  • 2003 – 39,189
  • 2004 – 38,417
  • 2013 – 32,992
Source (since 1994): Thüringer Landesamt für Statistik
  1. 29 October
  2. 31 August

Culture, sights and cityscape


Altenburg is nicknamed playing cards town. The game of skat is said to have originated here, based on the Bavarian tarock. Because of the influence Emperor Frederick Barbarossa had on the town, it is nicknamed a "Barbarossa town".


There are some museums in Altenburg:

Old town

Some Gründerzeit architecture at Wallstraße

The town centre of Altenburg within the former wall has a planned grid of 12th/13th century origin, whereas the two old settlement cores were located around Brühl in the north-east and around St. Nicholas' Church in the south-west. The area around the castle and southward on the eastern bank of Blaue Flut river has also been urban since the Middle Ages, nevertheless, it was located outside the city walls.

During the 19th and early 20th century, Altenburg saw a construction boom and the town enlarged to all directions, particularly north and east towards the new railway station (opened in 1878). Its time as a state capital until 1918 led to many interesting public and private buildings in Gründerzeit style, same as in other historist styles. Later, the town lost some of its importance and became a simple district capital in Thuringia. World War II left Altenburg unscathed, so all historic buildings are preserved. Nevertheless, the buildings' maintenance was neglected during the East German period, instead, some big Plattenbau settlements were set up on the northern and south-eastern periphery of Altenburg.

After reunification, most of the main sights and historic buildings were refurbished. On the other hand, the city lost much of its population which led to a very high vacancy rate, especially in the old inner-city buildings, which today endangers the historic city structure because of many vacant old private houses.

Sights and architectural heritage


Ducal buildings

Other sights

Economy and infrastructure

Agriculture, industry and services

Gumpert Apollo

Agriculture plays an important role in the region, because the Loess soil around the city is very fertile. 69% of the municipal territory is in agricultural use, both for cultivation and cattle farming. A famous product of the region is Altenburger Ziegenkäse, a soft cheese of goat milk with some caraway seed inside with protected Geographical indication. Another typical dish of Altenburg is Mutzbraten, a flame-grilled pork speciality. Altenburg is also known for its mustard, which is produced by Altenburger Senf und Feinkost. Altenburger beer also enjoys some popularity.

The industry of Altenburg was based on the production of textiles and hardware during the 19th and 20th century, but most of the companies did not survive the transition to capitalism after German reunification. Altenburg was especially known for its sewing machine production from companies like Vesta. Today, the main branches are food industries (with a factory of Vion NV amongst others) and engineering with car component production in focus. The Gumpert Sportwagenmanufaktur produced the Gumpert Apollo supercar between 2005 and its bankruptcy in 2013. Altenburg is also noted for produced playing cards. The Altenburger Spielkartenfabrik (playing card factory) was founded in 1831; today it is a subsidiary company of Cartamundi and market leader in Germany. In 2012, there were 19 companies with more than 20 workers in industrial sector, employing 1,400 people and generating an overall turnover of €451 million.[4]

Altenburg is a regional service hub for retail, hospitals, government, culture etc. Tourism doesn't play a big role, although the city hosts many historic sights and is a local centre of culture with theatre and museums. In 2012, 37,000 hotel guests had 87,000 overnight stays in Altenburg.[5]


Altenburg station

Altenburg was the first city in Thuringia with connection to the railway, established in 1842 with the Leipzig–Hof line. Initially, Altenburg station was a terminus station, which became impractical as traffic grew, so a new through station was built in 1878 in the north-east of the city. In addition to the connections to Leipzig (1842) and Hof/Zwickau (1844), some more lines were established to Glauchau (1858, via Gößnitz), to Gera (1865, via Gößnitz), to Zeitz (1872, abandoned in 2002) and to Narsdorf (1901, abandoned in 1998). Today, the Altenburg station is the only station within the municipality, after the Paditz station (on the Hof line) and the North Altenburg station (on the Zeitz line) were closed. There are some regional trains to Leipzig, Zwickau and Erfurt (via Gera and Jena) today. Glauchau can be reached by changing trains in the near Gößnitz station. With the rollout of the Leipzig City Tunnel in December 2013, the services on the Leipzig–Hof/Zwickau line were reorganized and integrated in the S-Bahn Mitteldeutschland with connections to Leipzig twice an hour. The connection to long-distance trains is carried out via Leipzig (north and east), Jena (south) and Erfurt (west), since the last long-distance trains on the Leipzig–Hof line ceased operating in 2006.

Altenburg is situated between two Autobahns: the A4 (ErfurtDresden) passes approximately 20 km (12 mi) south and the A72 (LeipzigChemnitz) passes approximately 20 km (12 mi) east of the city. Regional traffic is carried by the three national roadsn in Altenburg. The B7 is the connection to Gera (and A4 in Erfurt direction) in the south-west and to Rochlitz in the north-east, the B93 runs to Borna (and A72 in Leipzig direction) in the north and to Zwickau in the south and the B180 links Altenburg with Zeitz in the west and Hohenstein-Ernstthal (and A72/A4 in Chemnitz and Dresden direction via secondary road 1357) in the south-east. An important secondary road connects Altenburg with Gera north to the B7 via Lumpzig. The B7 and B93 bypass the town centre on a ring road to absorb the transit traffic between Leipzig and Zwickau.

Leipzig-Altenburg Airport

The Leipzig-Altenburg Airport, a former Soviet military airport, is situated 5 km (3 mi) east of the city and was used by Ryanair for flights to London Stansted, Barcelona-Girona and Edinburgh until 2011. Currently, there are no public flights at this airport. The next regional airport is located in Leipzig/Halle (60 km (37 mi) to the north).

Biking is becoming more popular since the construction of long distance cycle tracks began in the 1990s. Both the Pleiße track, along the Pleiße valley from Werdau near Zwickau to Leipzig, and the Thuringian city track (Radweg Thüringer Städtekette) from Eisenach via Erfurt, Weimar, Jena and Gera to Altenburg, connect points of tourist interest.

Local public transport within Altenburg is based exclusively on buses. Six lines connect the outlying quarters to the inner city. Furthermore, there are some regional bus services to the villages in the district. The Altenburg Tramway was in operation from 1895 until 1920.


There are three Gymnasiums in Altenburg: two state-owned and one Christian (ecumenical).


Mayor and city council

The current mayor Michael Wolf, SPD is in office since 2000.

The last municipal election was held in 2009 with the result:

Party Percentage Seats in council
SPD 31.0 13
CDU 29.5 5
Pro Altenburg 6
The Left 24.1 9
FDP 12.4 2
Greens 3.0 1

Two FDP members changed to the SPD in 2010. In 2011, six CDU members founded a new group "Pro Altenburg".

Twin towns

Altenburg is twinned with:

Notable natives

Walther Flemming
Hermann Schlegel 1842


External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Altenburg.
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