Through Bensheim flows the Lauter, coming from the Lauter valley from the east, which as of Bensheim is known as the Winkelbach. In the south of town runs the Meerbach, also coming from the Odenwald (but from the Zell valley). Mostly channelled underground and only coming above ground at the western edge of town is the Neuer Graben, or “New Channel”, which branches off the Lauter.
Bensheim is especially well known, like other places along the Bergstraße as well, for its particularly mild and sunny climate with roughly 2,000 hours of sunshine yearly and Germany’s earliest onset of spring. Under the Odenwald’s protection, kiwifruit, almonds, figs and peaches thrive here, giving the Bergstraße the nickname “Germany’s Riviera”.
The town of Bensheim fosters almond tree cultivation, to name one example, in people’s front gardens. Each year in Bensheim, there is even a Blütenkönigin (“Blossom Queen”). She is put forth every year by the Bensheim Automobile Club and for decades has been Bensheim’s hallmark both within the country and abroad.
The name changed from Basinsheim to Basinusheim and then to Besensheim, finally becoming Bensheim. Noteworthy is that town rights were granted early on by Emperor Otto I on 5 March 956. It can be inferred from the document text that Otto I, on the occasion of his stay in Frankfurt am Main, with his wife Adelheid’s intervention, awarded the Lorsch Abbey’s oldest market privilege. The concept, called publicae mercationes in the original, indicates the community, where public buying and selling was allowed. It still cannot be assumed that this led to a regular yearly or weekly market. Great parts of the town were destroyed in the seige of 1301 by King Albrecht I.
When Friedrich II enfeoffed the territory of the now derelict Lorsch Imperial Abbey to Archbishop Siegfried III of Eppstein, Bensheim became part of Electoral Mainz’s domains and likely received town rights only a few decades later, which is, however, only proved by a certificate issued in 1320.
In today’s outlying centres of Auerbach and Schönberg, Bensheim borders on what were the Upper County – “Upper” here refers to geography, not rank – of the Counts of Katzenelnbogen and domains of the Schenken of Erbach. When the Katzenelnbogens died out in 1479, the Landgraviate of Hesse became a neighbour to the north. In 1532, the Erbachs were raised to counts and the County of Erbach became a neighbour to the east.
In the time of the pledging to the counts palatine of the Rhine from 1461 to 1650, Bensheim experienced a boom, but as a Palatinate town, however, it was embroiled in the Bavarian-Palatine war of succession in 1504, and for eleven days was unsuccessfully beseiged by the Landgrave of Hesse, who was charged with the execution of the ban of the Empire, and his confederates, the Dukes Henry of Brunswick and Henry of Mecklenburg. From this year, two yearly markets and one weekly can be established; a third yearly market came in 1619.
With the introduction of the Reformation in the Landgraviate of Hesse in 1526 and in the County of Erbach in 1544, Bensheim got not only a territorial border with these neighbours, but also a denominational one.
Then, to all positive developments the Thirty Years' War put an end. On 20 November 1644, Bensheim was occupied by French and Swedish troops, who were driven out again on 2 December by Bavarian units. Later, the legend of the Fraa vun Bensem arose (the “woman from Bensheim” is said to have led the Bavarians into town through a secret route). In 1650, after just under 200 years of being pledged to Electoral Palatinate, Bensheim was once again redeemed by the Archbishopric of Mainz.
By the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss in 1803, Bensheim passed to the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, who joined the Confederation of the Rhine in 1806 and was raised to Grand Duke. In 1822, there was a great fire in which 16 buildings were destroyed and 15 others were heavily damaged.
Bensheim became the seat of the Landratsbezirk (an administrative region) of Bensheim in the province of Starkenburg, which in 1832 was merged with the Landratsbezirk of Heppenheim to form the district of Bensheim (Kreis Bensheim) with Bensheim as its seat.
In 1918, the Grand Duke was removed and out of the Grand Duchy of Hesse the People's State of Hesse was formed. On 1 November 1938, the districts of Bensheim and Heppenheim were merged into one district, Kreis Bergstraße with Heppenheim as its seat. To offset Bensheim’s loss of the status of district seat, the town got the district leadership of the Nazi Party.
During Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938, the synagogue was destroyed, while the one in Auerbach survived. In 1939, Auerbach, Schönberg and Zell were amalgamated, raising the population to just under 16,500. In Auerbach, a subcamp of Natzweiler-Struthof Concentration Camp was built.
On 24 March 1945, twelve people were taken to the Kirchberg (mountain) where they were murdered by the Gestapo. Two days later, on 26 March 1945, Saint George’s Parish Church, the Town Hall and parts of the Old Town were destroyed by incendiary bombs. On 27 March, the town was occupied by United States troops. As the National Security Agency liaison officer, Henry Kissinger was the most important representative of the occupying power, after the official town commander.
In 1945, Bensheim passed to the newly formed state of Hesse.
After the Second World War ended in 1945, a displaced persons camp was established in Bensheim-Auerbach, first for Polish former forced labourers, later for Jewish displaced persons. The camp was dissolved in 1949.
In 1971, the population rose to some 34,000 with the amalgamation of Langwaden, Schwanheim, Fehlheim, Hochstädten, Gronau and Wilmshausen.
From 1859 to 1987 on the Nibelungenstraße towards Schönberg stood the Guntrum Bräu Bensheim brewery. In 1979, the brewery was taken over by Binding Bier Mainz, and then closed and torn down in 1987. Today, the former premises are home to a number of houses.
|Parties and voter communities|| %|
|CDU||Christian Democratic Union of Germany||43.2||20||43.1||20|
|SPD||Social Democratic Party of Germany||29.5||13||32.7||15|
|FDP||Free Democratic Party||7.1||3||5.3||2|
|GLB||Grüne Liste Bensheim||13.6||6||13.7||6|
|FWG||Freie Wählergemeinschaft Bensheim||6.6||3||5.2||2|
|Voter turnout in %||43.0||50.5|
Mayor Thorsten Herrmann (CDU) was elected on 30 June 2002 with 52.8% of the vote. On 15 June 2008 he was reëlected with 60.5% of the vote.
The German blazon says that the kontos, or lance, is golden, and that the dragon is green, although the achievement shown here, whose source is the town administration itself, shows different tinctures for these two charges.
The red field refers to the Mainz coat of arms, as the town was owned by the Bishopric of Mainz until 1802. The knight slaying the dragon represents Saint George, who was said in earlier times to have been Bensheim’s patron saint.
Moreover, some outlying centres have their own separate partnerships.
The Parktheater was built in 1968 and is a linchpin in offering various cultural activities. Besides the municipal programme of plays, freelance producers, clubs and schools bring a multifaceted programme in the fields of spoken theatre, musical theatre and dance theatre. From October 1998 to December 1999, the Parktheater was optically, technologically and artistically made over from the ground up and now shines in new splendour.
Furthermore, Bensheim also has the PiPaPo Theater (cabaret), the Vornerum Theater, the Varieté Pegasus and the Autorenkollektiv Laufkundschaft.
The Landgraves of Hesse once used the Fürstenlager near Bensheim-Auerbach as a spa. It is an artistic combination of simple buildings clustered like a village around the Good Well in the middle of a picturesque landscaped park. Like many territorial overlords of their day, its owners sought the peace of a rural idyll far removed from the pomp and circumstance of court.
All the above churches are Catholic, except Saint Michael’s, which is Evangelical.
All 557 cultural monuments are listed in the Liste der Kulturdenkmäler in Bensheim.
Bensheim and its outlying centres are also home to many other sport clubs.
Bandsheim (“Band Home”) has afforded the youth music scene an outlet that regularly hosts “newcomer” concerts in Bensheim. Besides Bandsheim there is also an outlet in Party-Bensheim, which offers a venue for youths to get to know each other, have discussions and make arrangements. Both these outlets were founded by youths themselves.
Bensheim does host an “unofficial” youth club. Since the early 1980s there has been “McSlobos”, an inn that had its beginnings in the “Germania-Hof”, which has now been torn down. With many live concerts by famous local bands and the guests’ active engagement in political issues, this inn has grown into an attraction for many youths.
Nevertheless, many youths feel left out, as they must pay for all leisure activities. Hence there has also been for some time the will to create a self-administering youth centre. To this end, various action groups and campaigns have been started, such as, for example SKJuz,, a “promotional club for a self-administering culture and youth centre in Bensheim”, and the action group BürgerMaiStar.
The Bürgerfest (“Citizens’ Festival”), which was introduced on the occasion of the opening of the pedestrian precinct in 1975, has been regularly celebrated in early summer since 1977. Great popularity is enjoyed by the Auerbacher Bachgassenfest, an outdoor gastronomical event put on by those who live on the Bachgasse (“Brook Lane”) in Auerbach, first held in 1987. Since 1986, in memory of Gertrud Eysoldt, a German actress and director, the Gertrud-Eysoldt-Ring, one of Germany’s most important theatrical prizes, has been awarded yearly.
Since 2003, the Maiway has been held every year. This is a gastronomical festival at which many pubs in Bensheim have musical groups perform.
The town has in its favour good economic data – even in relation to the Rhine Neckar Area’s as a whole – above-average employment figures and an especially high proportion of graduates in the resident population’s above-average buying power.
Sirona Dental Systems GmbH has its head office in Bensheim. The enterprise is the district’s biggest employer and produces goods and services for dentists. Kern GmbH manufactures enveloping systems for banks, insurance companies, telecommunications businesses and information technology service providers and is also headquartered in Bensheim. Offering services to pharmaceutical businesses is Cegedim Deutschland GmbH, which also has its head office in Bensheim. Furthermore, there are the electronics firm Tyco Electronics AMP GmbH, SAP AG, which is active in the information technology field, the Institut für Organisationskommunikation (IFOK) and HTV GmbH, which tests and programs semiconductors for manufacturers from almost all fields of electronics. Also, the auto manufacturer Suzuki International Europe GmbH is headquartered in Bensheim. The cars in the company’s national television advertising bear registrations beginning with “HP” (Heppenheim/Kreis Bergstraße) for this reason, which is seldom otherwise seen in this context. Deutsche Papier Vertriebs GmbH, which belongs to PaperlinX, runs, as a nationally active paper wholesaler, one of Germany’s most modern high-bay warehouses. GGEW, a service-providing business for electricity, natural gas and drinking water, has its head office in Bensheim.
Bensheim lies at the crossroads of Bundesstraßen 3 and 47. Through the town’s west end runs Autobahn A 5, from which Bensheim can be reached by two exits: in the north the Zwingenberg – Bensheim-Auerbach exit, and in the south the Bensheim exit. A few kilometres farther west, running parallel to the A 5, is the A 67, whence Bensheim can be reached through the Lorsch exit.
From Bensheim railway station, the town is linked to the German InterCity network by the Frankfurt am Main–Heidelberg line. The station is also the end of the Nibelungenbahn (railway) from Worms to Bensheim. The outlying centre of Auerbach has its own station, Bensheim-Auerbach, on the Frankfurt-Heidelberg line, but only Regionalbahn trains stop there.
Offering adult education are the Volkshochschule Bensheim and the Frauen- und Familienzentrum Bensheim, with about 2,000 participants each year the biggest family meeting place in Kreis Bergstraße.Primary schools
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