First documented in 1143, Chemnitz evolved into one of the most important industrial cities of Germany in 19th and the beginning 20th century. In 1953, the city was renamed Karl-Marx-Stadt after the philosopher, political economist, and revolutionary Karl Marx. After the reunification of Germany in 1990, the city regained its original name and has the status of an independent city which is not part of any county and seat of the government region Regierungsbezirk Chemnitz.
Chemnitz is one of the most important East German cities in economy, culture and science. The city's economy is based on the service sector and manufacturing industry. The Chemnitz University of Technology with about 10,000 students is the centre of scientific life.
An early Slavic tribe's settlement was located at the place of Chemnitz called Kamienica. In 1143 there was a Benedictine monastery at the place where the city is now. A settlement grew around the monastery and about 1170 Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor granted it the rights of an imperial city. In 1307 the town became subordinate to the margraviate of Meissen (which was the predecessor of the Saxon state). In medieval times Chemnitz became a centre of textile production and trade. More than one third of the population worked in textile production. This continued through the industrial revolution: factories were established, and by the early 19th century Chemnitz had become an industrial centre (sometimes called "the Saxon Manchester"). In 1913 Chemnitz had a population of 320,000 and is one of very few cities which were larger at that time than they are today.
During World War II, a subcamp of Flossenbürg concentration camp was located here. Its 500 female inmates provided slave labour for Astra-Werke AG. During the war the factories of Chemnitz mainly produced goods for the military. Towards the end of the war Chemnitz was targeted under Operation Thunderclap. On the night of February 14th/15th 1945 the town experienced its first major raid when 717 RAF bombers targeted the town but due to cloud most bombs fell over open countryside. On March 2nd the town was attacked by 255 bombers of the USAAF who also attacked the marshalling yards on March 3rd (166 aircraft), and again on March 5th (233 aircraft). That night the town was again attacked by the RAF with 760 aircraft. These raids left most of the city in ruins.
In 1953 Chemnitz was renamed Karl-Marx-Stadt ("Karl Marx City"). To address the problem of extensively destroyed city buildings (factories, dwellings, offices) the East German government adopted major rebuilding projects typical of those adopted in numerous parts of post war Europe. Similar to Stalinstadt (later Eisenhüttenstadt), and large sections of Berlin, Dresden and other major GDR cities, Chemnitz experienced so-called socialist model city reconstruction. Extensive bombed out sections of the existing urban portions of Karl-Marx-Stadt (as it was then known) as well as extensive agricultural or unused land became the focus of large low rise (and later high-rise plattenbau) buildings to provide cheap affordable quality (in relative terms to the bombed out shells of former dwellings) housing for the rapidly expanding post-war population, similar to the concrete jungle projects in the West. Then, as now, there was little incentive or funding to undertake pre-war building restoration such as the (successful) Frauenkirche in Dresden or the (still debated) Stadtschloss in Berlin. Karl-Marx-Stadt returned to the original name of Chemnitz on 21 June 1990.
Chemnitz has been reported as having the lowest birth rate in the world as of 2006.
Chemnitz was heavily bombed during the Second World War. After the war, almost all the remaining old buildings in the city centre were removed to make space for new, modern buildings. Typical of Communist architecture, these are mostly utilitarian and not designed primarily to be pleasing to the eye. However in the neighbourhood of Kassberg there are many buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries.
As a result of the Stalinist planning era of the 1950s there are few tourist sights. Some of the sites were restored in the DDR era, and some have been restored since German reunification. As a relic of the communist era, the city council decided to keep the Karl Marx Monument, which was made by Lev Kerbel and is affectionately called "Nischl" by locals, an informal regional Saxon word for "head" (which would be "Kopf" in standard German).
Despite all this Chemnitz still has some beautiful, historic sights. Landmarks include the Old Town Hall with its Renaissance portal (15th century), the castle on the land of the former monastery, and the area around the opera house and the old university. The most conspicuous sight is the red tower which was built in the late 12th or early 13th century as part of the city wall.
A petrified forest can be found in the courtyard of Kulturkaufhaus Tietz. It is one of the very few in existence, and dates back several million years. Also within the city limits, in the district of Rabenstein, is the smallest castle in Saxony: Burg Rabenstein.
The town has changed considerably since German reunification. Most of its industry is gone and the core of the city has been rebuilt with many small shops as well as huge shopping centres. Many of these shops are of well known labels, including Zara, H & M, Esprit, Galeria Kaufhof, Leiser Shoes, Peek & Cloppenburg and so on. The large shopping centre "Roter Turm" (Red Tower) is very popular with young people.
The Chemnitz Industrial Museum is an Anchor Point of ERIH, The European Route of Industrial Heritage.
Newly opened (on December 1st, 2007) is the "Museum Gunzenhauser", formerly a bank, which in recent months has been converted into a museum . Dr. Alfred Gunzenhauser, who lived in Munich, had a collection of some 2,500 pieces of modern art, including many paintings and drawings from Otto Dix, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and others.
Chemnitz is largest city of the Chemnitz-Zwickau urban area being one of the most important economic regions of East Germany. Chemnitz had an GDP of about €6.3 billion in 2004. Since about 2000, the city's economy has generated record very high annual GDP growth rates thus Chemnitz is among the ten German cities with the highest growth rates. The local and regional economic structure is characterized by medium-sized companies with the heavy industry's sectors of mechanical engineering, metal processing and vehicle manufacturing as most significant economic basis.
Over several years, the unemployment rate has steadily decreased to 13.9% (Jul/2007). The number of employees amounts to about 100.000, the city has about 46.000 commuters from other municipalities. 16.3 percent of employees in Chemnitz have a degree of a university or a college of higher education, a value exceeding the average for Germany by more than 100 percent
Public transport within Chemnitz is provided by the Straßenbahn (28.73 km [17.85 mi] net length) and Bus (326.08 km [203.32 mi] net length) —operated by the CVAG — and by the Stadtbahn (16.3 km [10.16 mi]). Nowadays, one Stadtbahn, five tram and 27 city bus, several regional bus lines, among them two express bus lines, run within Chemnitz and neighbouring municipalities. In the weekend and before bank holidays two bus lines, two tram lines and one Stadtbahn line run at night after midnight.
Since March 30, 2008 Chemnitz has a new structured tram and bus net. It is expected that the new net will consist of one Stadtbahn line, four tram lines, 23 bus lines and several further regional und express bus lines all the day. Between midnight and morning hours, eight night bus lines will serve the public transport in Chemnitz.
Chemnitz also has a small commercial airport about 13.5 km [8.4 mi] south of the city. The so-calledVerkehrslandeplatz Chemnitz Jahnsdorf is currently being upgraded. After completion it will have a runway of 1,400 m x 20 m (asphalt surface).