One of the most impressive buildings in Regensburg is the Old Town Hall on Rathausplatz. Here you can go on a journey of discovery with a guided tour and learn about the history of Regensburg’s imperial days.
Regensburg needed a town hall in 1245, when the city became a free imperial city. Now the city was allowed to have a mayor and a council. Thus, in the middle of the 13th century, the oldest part of the town hall still preserved today was built.
The 55-metre high council tower and the annexes were built near the former Roman fort. An arch on the ground floor of the tower leads to the town hall courtyard.
The two-storey council hall building was erected in 1320-1330; originally it stood free next to the town hall building, but only later was a connection created between the two buildings. In the course of this work, the portal building with staircase and vestibule to the Imperial Hall was also built. This entrance seems to have become somewhat larger than originally planned. If you look more closely, you will discover that a window of the Imperial Hall has been added. If one counts the windows in the hall, one notices a grouping of four windows, only in one place are there three windows. Window number 4 has been blocked by the newly built wall.
An oriel adorns the window front of the Imperial Hall. This is where the emperor showed himself to the people when he was present during the Imperial Diet and had homage paid to him.
Little stories about the Old Town Hall
The coat of arms of Regensburg shows two crossed silver keys on a red shield. If you look at the façade of the Old Town Hall, you will see the coat of arms seven times. There is no place in the old town where the coat of arms can be seen more often.
Two statues stand at the entrance to the town hall. With folded arms, hammers in their hands, throwing stones and looking grim, they symbolise the protection of the city. The names given to the two figures are particularly beautiful: Schutz and Trutz!
Imperial Diet in Regensburg
Already under Charlemagne, the emperor and the princes met for imperial assemblies. At first, this still took place at different locations. Regensburg was also the venue 16 times.
From 1594 on, the imperial days were held only in Regensburg, but these meetings were limited in time.
In 1663, another Imperial Diet was convened in Regensburg. At first, they negotiated about the desired support that Emperor Leopold I had requested against the Turks. After the Emperor had left the city again, the envoys of the princes only wanted to settle the remaining business and then leave Regensburg as well. But there was no end to the work and the Diet could not be dissolved. Rather unintentionally, the Perpetual Diet came into being, which met for 143 years in the Imperial Hall and the adjoining deliberation rooms.
In retrospect, it can be said that it was the first German parliament (not democratically elected) to meet in Regensburg.
Time after the Imperial Days
After the Holy Roman Empire ceased to exist, the Imperial Hall was unused for many years. From 1806, the hall was used for storage. Later, people warned that this historic room was “going to rack and ruin” and accused the city of Regensburg of lacking a sense of responsibility with historic property.
Regensburg then decided to renovate the hall. Financing was provided by a lottery and the construction work was completed in 1910.
The guided tour of the City Hall takes you through the rooms of the Reichstag Museum, the historic rooms where the Perpetual Diet was held.
First you enter the Electoral College. The Inner Council of the Imperial City of Regensburg met here until 1663; during the Imperial Diet, the electors used the room. They were responsible for electing the emperor, for example. At the time of the Perpetual Diet, the room was exclusively at the disposal of the Electoral College. The number of members varied between seven and ten.
I particularly liked the large clock from 1624. It only has an hour hand. The minutes had to be estimated. The old clockwork is still there and has to be wound daily.
A door leads to an adjoining room located in the tower of the Old Town Hall. This is where the secret deliberations of the electors took place from 1664 onwards. The walls are panelled with oak and Hungarian ash. There are wall cupboards set into the wall that were used to store documents.
It is said that there was also a table here that had a green tabletop/cover. Meetings and negotiations were held at this table, and sometimes decisions were made. Is this where the saying “decided at the green table” comes from? We do not know for sure.
Through a vestibule we enter the Imperial Hall.
Imperial Hall in the Old Town Hall
The Imperial Hall is probably the most impressive room during the tour.
The hall is 8 metres high. A beautifully preserved wooden ceiling with decorative paintings spans the hall without supports. It is a wooden ceiling from the 15th century, on which one can discover the figure of St. Peter in the centre of the ceiling. The beautiful chandeliers on the ceiling are striking and looked very familiar to me. They are replicas of the chandeliers from Lübeck’s town hall, which I had already admired during a visit to the town hall.
Originally, the room served as a dance and banqueting hall for the citizens of the city of Regensburg (1320 – 1330).
During the imperial diet, the three imperial estates (electors, princes, imperial cities) met here to vote on new laws and ordinances, among other things. They were seated in a very specific arrangement based on their status. Today, the original seating arrangement is no longer in the hall, but through a successful “re-enactment” you can learn very precisely who sat where at that time. This is made very clear, for example, by the different seat heights and the different seats.
Fragstatt – the torture chamber in the Old Town Hall
We continued to the interrogation room. In this room, interrogations were carried out under torture. In Regensburg, you can still see the original equipment at the original site.
In the first room, there are devices like those used to carry out sentences in public. Standing in the so-called pillory, the accused were exposed to public ridicule. I found the so-called double fiddle particularly interesting. Here, quarrelling women were locked up and had to stand face to face. The verbal scraps must have flown back and forth.
In the actual interrogation centre, the “painful questioning” was carried out from 1532 onwards. The procedure was regulated by the first German code of criminal procedure (“Constitutio Criminalis Carolina”). According to this, the conviction of the accused was only possible after a confession. Only if there was sufficient circumstantial evidence and at least two eyewitnesses could the confession be waived. The “questioners” sat behind a wall. If they did not like the answers to their questions, the accused were tortured. Some of the old torture instruments are still there. They were really cruel devices.
Another room that can be visited during the tour are some of the prison cells. One of them is more like a hole in the ground (hole prison), the other two small hovels where you could only move in a stooped position (block prison).
We really enjoyed the tour with the very good tour guide. I expanded my knowledge about the history of Germany and the rooms we visited were very impressive.
Altes Rathaus, Rathausplatz 4
The exact times of the tour and the availability of tickets should be asked there.
The tour lasts about 60 minutes. The number of participants is limited!
Disclosure: The guided tour of Regensburg’s Old Town Hall was part of the programme of our blogger trip to Regensburg. This report was written independently of that visit and is based solely on our impressions.