The City of Ulm - from Medieval to Modern Times

Ulm, located at the banks of the Danube river, is probably best known (at least to scientists) for two facts. First, Albert Einstein was born in Ulm on March 14, 1879. However, Einstein left Ulm already at the age of 15 months for Munich where his father and uncle were advancing an electrotechnical company.

Second, the Ulm cathedral, which is actually not a cathedral, but a Minster (Münster in German), exhibits the highest church tower in the world (161.53 m). Probably an even more interesting fact about the Münster of Ulm is that this cathedral was built and financed exclusively by the citizens of Ulm and not by the church. The construction started in 1377 when Ulm was still roman-catholic. But in 1530/31 the citizens decided to change to the protestant faith. Not long after that, in 1543, religious turmoils and financial problems caused an adjournment of the construction works for about 300 years. The church tower was not completed until 1890, when the completion of the edifice could be celebrated in an official festivity.

Ulm has been a free imperial city from the medieval ages on. It had intense trade connections in particular to other cities along the Danube river. Ulm constitutes the first upstream city from which the river is navigable. In order to efficiently transport merchandise goods downstream to the communities of Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, and toward the Black Sea, a special type of wooden ship was devised. These ships were built without sails and rowing oars and were called "Ulmer Schachtel" ("box of Ulm"). These boats could carry heavy load and floated with the current downstream. Once they reached their destination, the boats were disassembled and the wood was sold together with the merchandise it was carrying. The merchants themselves made their way back to Ulm afoot to build new "boxes" and start over again.

A further interesting tradition that dates back to the medieval times of the free imperial city is a special holiday, the "Swear Monday", which only exists in Ulm. At this day, the third Monday in the month of July, the Mayor of Ulm has to present a speech from a particular balcony (of the "Swear House") in which he has to render an account of all city matters, swear an oath, and pledge loyalty to the citizens. This ceremony is followed by a big city festivity and a boat parade on the Danube river.

Ulm has also always been a garnison town housing a large military camp. As a consequence there has been a strong military hospital tradition and in connection to this a renowned medical school. When several new Universities were founded in the state of Baden-Württemberg in the 60s of the last century, the original intention of the state government was to strengthen the medical school, but not to extend it to a full University. Only through the strong support and the determined intervention of the citizens of Ulm, it finally was possible to found the University of Ulm in 1967. The University has constantly expanded since and consists today of four faculties (Engineering and Information Technology, Mathematics and Business Sciences, Medicine, and Natural Sciences) with almost 10,000 students.


More information: Ulm Tourism

Photos: E. Eberhardt, N. Bernhardt, T. Bernhardt