In front of Magdeburg’s city hall lies the Old Market Square. A tour of the square takes you past some landmarks and small discoveries that are easy to overlook.
The Old Market was the center of a merchant settlement around 965. The shape of the square was used as a model in the 12th century for numerous marketplaces in towns founded under Magdeburg law. The original form has been preserved to this day.
There is plenty to discover on a tour in and around the marketplace.
First we passed the Eulenspiegel Fountain, which was erected in 1970. This stands at the Old Market, because according to legend, Till Eulenspiegel played his practical jokes on the citizens of the city during his visit to Magdeburg.
There are other references to the jester, which you can read in our article “Till Eulenspiegel in Magdeburg“.
Magdeburg City Hall
The Old Town Hall of the city stands directly on the Old Market Square. As the population grew and administrative tasks increased, the space eventually became insufficient, so a New Town Hall was built not far away.
Around 1244, the citizens of Magdeburg converted a warehouse and merchant’s hall of the furrier’s guild on the market square into a town hall, thus setting a sign of self-government. Today, the Ratskeller of the town hall is the only remaining original part of the building and is now used as a restaurant.
Already in 1293 the town hall burned down and quickly the citizens of Magdeburg rebuilt it almost splendidly. There was a large festival and assembly hall, several towers and arcades to the south and north.
During the Thirty Years’ War, the town hall burned down again. Unfortunately, the flames also destroyed the town archives. Around the middle of the 17th century, the town slowly began to rebuild the town hall. During the Second World War, air raids destroyed the town hall again. From 1950 it was rebuilt in its historical form.
I find the bronze town hall door particularly beautiful.
The door, designed by sculptor Heinrich Apel, shows scenes from the history of Magdeburg. It begins in the time of the Ottonians and ends in the time of the GDR. At the top left you can see Otto I with his wife Editha.
There is a depiction of Till Eulenspiegel showing the prank he is said to have played on the citizens of Magdeburg. One finds Doktor Eisenbart, Otto von Guerike, the composer Telemann and the aviation pioneer Hans Grade – all people who helped to determine and enrich life in Magdeburg.
If you look over the door, the large dates immediately catch your eye. 1698 and 1969 are written there (in 1698 the reconstruction of the town hall was finished). Not so long ago, something completely different was written there – namely 1689 and not 1698. When the town hall was rebuilt after the Second World War, the number error must have happened unintentionally. In 2005, on the occasion of the 1200th anniversary of the first mentioning of the town, the mistake was noticed and the arrangement of the numbers was corrected. To this day, you can see the old hole in the lower circle of the 8.
If you stand in front of the beautiful door of the town hall, to the left of it is the more modern entrance. Here hangs a black plaque with a clearly visible indication of length – the Prussian half ruth, a measure of length from 1816. Under this inscription, a bar of 1.883 meters in length can be seen, which clarifies this measure.
This unit of measurement was valid throughout Prussia from 1816 and so that no dispute arose on market days or other sales, the measure was hung up on the town hall for all to see.
Something special is also the carillon in the tower of the Old Town Hall. Since 1974, 47 bronze bells of different sizes have been hanging there, playing a melody every day from 10 am – 6 pm. Once a week a carilloneur comes (Fridays at 10 am) and plays live.
If you go to the west side of the building, you will make one of the small discoveries at the Old Market. High up on the building you will discover a small iron bracket. Today this rosette is without function and reminds of the history of the Magdeburg tramway. An overhead streetcar line was once attached to this rosette. And since nobody liked to have only one hook in the wall of his house, one put an art nouveau rosette around it.
Directly in front of the town hall on the Old Market stands the Magdeburg Horseman. This statue represents a life-size equestrian statue with two virgins standing next to it.
The rider sits upright on his horse, his right hand raised in a gesture. He wears splendid clothes and a crown. The two women standing next to him are depicted smaller than the rider.
At the time when the statue was created (1240), it was customary to place virgins at the side of the ruler.
Since 1651 the figure has been placed under a baroque canopy in the monument enclosure.
The entire statue is made of sandstone. I always find it impressive how detailed can be worked with this material. If you look at the rider, you can even see the individual curls of his hair exactly.
One is not sure to this day who the rider is. One suspects a representation of Otto I.
Today, a copy of the Magdeburg Rider stands on the Old Market Square. This, like the doors of the Magdeburg City Hall, was created by Heinrich Apel. In 2000, parts of the figures were gilded. The original is in the Magdeburg Museum of Cultural History.
In front of the town hall there is another very interesting statue, the Magdeburg Roland.
Roland figurines dates back to the Middle Ages and symbolized the urban freedoms and independence of the city. There must have been a Roland figure in Magdeburg as early as 1419. There are written mentions in which it is reported that a new Roland was erected. This figure was destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War. At the site today there is a plate in the ground with the inscription Roland 1727.
For almost 2 centuries Magdeburg had no Roland figure. It was not until the First World War that Rudolf Bosselt created a wooden figure, the Nagelroland. Here nails were supposed to symbolize donations intended for families of fallen soldiers. It was decided that the figure should rather be preserved and the nails were not hammered in. After the figure had been in the museum for a few years, it was put back in front of the town hall in 1933. In the post-war period, the Roland was apparently processed into firewood, it suddenly disappeared.
After the political change there were efforts to erect a new Roland. The sculptor Martina Seffers created today’s Roland after an old image – with a small change – on the back is a small figure of Till Eulenspiegel. Since 2005 the Roland of Magdeburg stands again in front of the town hall.
Southwest of the town hall is a column, as I would not have suspected in Magdeburg. It is the third statue on the Old Market and also on old drawings you can see that this column has existed in the city for a long time.
In old descriptions one finds that on a round column there is a stag with a golden collar. Why a stag, one wonders. The meaning is not completely clear until today. But as always in such a case, there are numerous legends that could provide a reason.
One of the legends says that Emperor Charlemagne once caught such a deer. Another legend even tells that Charlemagne put the collar on the deer and let him back to freedom. On the collar is said to have said “Dear hunter, let me live, I will give you my collar.” Yes, and supposedly 400 years later Emperor Frederick Barbarossa saw the stag again.
There are other conjectures that assume that the stag represented a legal symbol of the city or a symbol of the promise of the heavenly paradise and the Christian faith.
Since 2011, the deer column has been back in its historic place.