Past and Present - Idstein, a Town of Tradition
The name Idstein first appears in 1102 in a court document involving Udalrich and his brother Konrad von Etichestein.
Their ancestors probably built the castle. Certainly, the owners of Idstein castle were stewards to the monastery of Bleidenstadt, which was founded by the archbishops of Mainz.
Count Udalrich was succeeded in Idstein by the counts of Laurenburg, relatives of the archbishop of Mainz, who gave Idstein castle to them. They are credited with extending the influence of Mainz in the Taunus region (name of the local ridge of hills) and strengthening the power of the empire. From the middle of the 12th century, the Laurenburg family named themselves after the castle of Nassau. During this period, Idstein became attached to Nassau and remained so until 1866.
When in 1255 the Counts of Nassau divided their estates and the river Lahn formed the border between the territories belonging to Otto and Walram, Idstein became the major castle and thereby the focal point of power in the Taunus region and further beyond to the south of the river Lahn. Around this core area grew the town, for which Count Adolf of Nassau secured civic status through King Rudolf of Habsburg in 1287. Count Adolf of Nassau, himself King of the German nation from 1292 to 1298, was killed in the battle of Göllheim against Albrecht of Austria.
It was from this first golden age of Idstein that the watchtower originated, which derives its name "witches' tower" from the witch trials around 1676. The tower was probably built in 1170 and is still the oldest preserved building in Idstein. Alongside the development of the castle into a town came the organisation of the church. The oldest church building was built Idstein became a town. Parts of it are still to be found in the protestant church, the Union Church.
At the beginning of the 14th century Count Gerlach von Nassau-Idstein began the
development of a spiritual centre, succeeding in 1340 with the founding of St.Martin's Seminary. This brought with it the first school in Idstein, thus beginning the long and diverse scholastic history, which gave Idstein the name of "town of schools". Between 1346 and 1475, the house of the Counts of Idstein produced four archbishops of Mainz (Gerlach 1346-1371, Adolf 1373-1390, Johann 1396-1419 and Adolf II. 1461-1475) and thereby secured influence on imperial policies. After the end of the 15th century Idstein lost its impetus for political expansion and extended its territorial influences no further. In 1502 Emperor Maximilian I. visited Idstein. In 1497 Count Philip I built the gatehouse and probably altered the upper parts of the old watchtower. The gatehouse has hardly changed since then, whilst the engravings of Dilich, Meisner and Merian show what the watchtower looked like. Its present form dates from alterations carried out in 1810. The castle buildings between the arch of the gatehouse and the witches' tower were erected in the period between 1500 and 1588.
The oldest remaining house, at no. 2 Obergasse, was built around from 1410.
Many of the houses in the old part of Idstein date from the late 16th and early 17th centuries and their position, size, half-timbered construction and rich decorative features are proof of the wealth and pride of their architects and owners.
This indicates that, despite the decline of the town's influence on imperial politics, town life flourished and indeed grew steadily, before finally being extinguished in the difficult years of the 30 years war; the buildings, however, survived the war and to this day testify to the civic consciousness of the town.
The older Idstein lineage died out in 1605. The heirs were the counts of Nassau-Weilburg, starting in 1629 with Count Johannes. The thirty-year war forced him into exile in Straßburg, from where he returned in 1646, before the peace accord of Westfalen. Johannes devoted himself to rebuilding his country, by completing the construction of the palace begun in 1614 and then establishing the palace gardens between 1650 and 1675. The "Florilegium" (flower book) by Johannes Walter gives a good impression of the palace gardens. The palace was built by employees of the Nassau family, engineer Jost Heer (Hoer) and his son Henrich. The architect Henrich Heer built the imposing building at the end of "Obergasse" for himself. For many years the house bore the name of the well-known artist Ernst Toepfer (1878-1955), who owned the house from 1911. Following a change of ownership in 1989 and thorough restoration, since 1992 the building has been a hotel and restaurant. In the final years of Count Johannes' rule, the old town church was renovated. Due to alterations and interior furnishings, the church became a unique example in a Nassau residence of the desire of the time to both build and impress. The wall and ceiling paintings, by artists of the Rubens school are especially significant in art history.
During the rule of count Johannes, the witches' trials took place between 1675 and 1677, in the course of which 35 women and 8 men (following charges, torture and hearings) were executed. After the death of count Johannes in 1677 his son, Georg August Samuel took over the title. He continued with the reconstruction and improvements of his father and through his work highlighted the importance of Idstein, before the family line finally died out in 1721.
Under Georg August Samuel, who took over the royal title in 1688, Idstein underwent the first planned expansion outside the original walled city. The draining of the "Weiherwiese" created the area of construction between "Borngasse" and "Kreuzgasse", the second market place was laid out and the Latin school, which evolved out of the St. Martin's seminary, became the Augusteum grammar school. The death of Georg August Samuel in 1721 ended Idstein's history as a Nassau royal residence. This heralded a new era.
During the reformation, the Martin seminary was converted into a Latin school, its reputation attracting pupils of all social classes. The school continued as a grammar school until 1817, when the Weilburg grammar school was designated as the only grammar school in the Nassau state. In 1779 a teaching department was established in Idstein, which supported the reforms to the schooling system in Nassau from 1817, and realized Pestalozzi's ideas and notions in teacher training, and school work.
The department existed until 1851. Idstein achieved special political significance through the "Regional Congress" of 1849, in which several hundred delegates assembled in the Union Church demanding democracy. One of the principal initiators of the action was Idstein resident Gustav Justi.
This revolutionary meeting was partly responsible for the relocation of the teaching department (and its continuation as two institutions of different denominations, one in Usingen and one in Montabaur). Closely connected with the teacher training was the work of the Agricultural Institute, which, under the leadership of Wilhelm Albrecht, ran a model farm on "Hof Gassenbach" in order to improve regional agriculture and cultural development. In 1834 the institute was moved to Wiesbaden. However, the foundation of more schools in the 19th century secured Idstein's reputation as the "town of schools". In 1858 the secondary school was opened, followed in 1869 by the founding of the "School of Architecture", which underwent several changes of name and support, finally becoming part of the Technical College in Wiesbaden. In 1995, the "Fresenius European Technical College" moved in to the building.
In 1888, the Kalmenhof Institute was created, mainly provided for by Jewish citizens of Frankfurt, for the care and support of handicapped children. For decades the Kalmenhof was of great benefit to the community until, in this area too, the campaign of murder by the Nazis was carried out. A memorial on the site of the "Kalmenhof" commemorates the members of the institute who died during the Second World War.
At the same time as the new educational establishments were set up in Idstein, the centuries old tradition of tannery was replaced by a new trade, the production of fine leather. The first leather factory was founded in 1810 (today the hotel "Felsenkeller"). This signalled the start of the industrialisation of Idstein and a boom, particularly during the years of great economic expansion and subsequently after the railway was built up 1877, which ended only after the First World War. Right up to the present day, the leather industry has been heavily represented in Idstein. However, the only surviving evidence of the old trade is the last remaining tannery (drying room) in "Löhergasse".
In 1817, the Union of Nassau was sealed in Idstein, in which the Lutheran and Reform churches were united in one church, the Protestant church of the duchy of Nassau, later to become the Protestant Church of Hessen and Nassau.
1806 saw the formation, for the first time since the reformation, of an independent Catholic parish church in Idstein, which erected its own church in 1888. This church stood on "Wiesbadener Straße" and was demolished in 1964 to make way for the new church of St. Martin's. A synagogue for the Jewish community in Idstein has existed since 1793 having been rebuilt several times, and its location now is in "Felix-Lahnstein-Straße". The Jewish community existed in Idstein until 1938m whereupon most of the community fled to the larger cities, a few succeeded in escaping abroad, others took their own lives, and many were deported to concentration camps.
Idstein castle, together with earlier buildings on the site, dates back to the 11th century and was for many centuries the residence of the counts (since 1688, the princes) of Nassau-Idstein, one line of a very large Nassau family. Reconstruction and extensions carried out between 1614 and 1634 transformed the former castle into a palace. Originally built in the renaissance style, the building took on a baroque style at the beginning of the 18th century.
When the royal line of Nassau-Idstein died out in 1721, the palace lost its role as residence of the sovereign and seat of the government, serving several functions over the last 270 years, for example, acting as the headquarters of the Nassau Public Archive from 1729 to 1881, the preceding body to the Central Public Record Office of Hessen, based in Wiesbaden. In 1946, the newly founded Idstein Grammar school (Pestalozzi school) was set up in the palace.
For centuries life in Idstein was defined by its roles as the royal, spiritual and intellectual focus of an area, which until the last years of the Middle Ages was of significant importance in the realm of state politics. During the 19th century the town of Idstein was a centre of law and seat of the Supreme Court, until the Union of Nassau with Preußen in 1866. However, even afterwards, Idstein performed many functions over and above that of a town and indeed added more to the list.
Besides schools, district hospital, law court, Forestry office, protestant deanery, railway station, motorway police and other institutions and public bodies all provide the infrastructure for an expanding catchment area.
Idstein is, nevertheless, conscious of its history, not only the high points, but also the darker periods. Information thereon is provided by notice boards and commemorative plaques on buildings and furnishings.
After 1945, the structure of Idstein changed fundamentally. The influx of exiled people (approximately one in four inhabitants of Idstein comes from the east of Germany or from eastern or south-eastern European countries), the systematic expansion of the town through the construction of new residential areas, the settlement of larger industrial plants of global importance, the district reforms (between 1971 and 1977 eleven formerly independent villages were incorporated into the town) and therefore the increasing functions of Idstein - not least its role in the transport system - made the former royal seat with a population in 1939 of approximately 4,500 inhabitants into a key centre. Idstein offers its current population of over 20,000 not only residential and employment opportunities, but also contends with a variety of demands on the town, all the while meeting the needs of modern life. The appearance of the town has altered dramatically, especially in the last few years. Prime examples of these changes are the new residential area of Gänsberg, the restoration of the old town, the pedestrian precinct and town by-pass, the town hall, the extension to the grammar school and new buildings on the site of the old Landauer leather factory ("Löherplatz).