Long before the famous Neanderthals...
Long before the famous Neanderthals, humans were already living in the area which is today the district of Euskirchen: ten thousand generations separate us from the tools of Homo Erectus found on the plateau of the Kartstein cave, near Eiserfey, which go back 300.000 years. These are the oldest traces of human abode in the Rhineland. These early humans were hunters and gatherers, as were most of the following generations.
It was not until 6.500 years ago, during the late Ice Age, that humans began to cultivate fields, keep cattle and build solid houses. They became settled and the invention of ceramics constituted a revolutionary innovation. Above all, in the northern foot-hills of the Eifel we know of settlements of those early farmers in Roitzheim, Nemmenich, Müggenhausen and Lommersum. The discovery of metal smelting processes and, in some cases wide-ranging trade in products made from bronze enabled new developments in agriculture, crafts and weapon technology. Two remarkable finds from the Bronze Age in Wallenthal and Gemünd can today be seen in the Eifel Museum in Blankenheim.
Romans in the Rhineland
In the year 55 B.C., when the Roman general Gaius Julius Caesar first came to what is today the district of Euskirchen, he found the population was almost exclusively of peasants, mostly belonging to the Eburon tribe, whom he conquered and finally subjugated in 53 B.C. Burnt layers in the earth-wall fortification "Alter Burgberg" near Kreuzweingarten indicate that it was destroyed in that year. On the plateau above the Kartstein cave and on the Stromberg mountain near Ripsdorf the remains of such pre-Roman fortifications can still be seen. No other epoch in history has influenced the district of Euskirchen as much as that of 400 years ago, in which the area west of the Rhine had been the province Germania inferior of the Roman Empire. In the foot-hills of the Eifel, around the settlements Tolbiacum (Zülpich) and Belgica (Billig), fields of grain extended as far as the eye could see. Large tracts of forest, above all in the mountainous part of the district of Euskirchen, were cleared and converted to arable land. Mechernich had become the centre of lead mining in Roman times, but also in Keldenich and in the higher area between Schmidtheim, Blankenheim and Nettersheim extensive traces of ancient mining have been found. The Romans took stone for building houses, military facilities and bridges from numerous quarries. Today visible signs of quarrying in the Katzensteinen near Katzvey demonstrate the amazing sophistocation of ancient quarry techniques. Troops of the legion stationed in Xanten operated a lime works near Iversheim which can be described as pre-industrial. In its five kilns approx. 200 tonnes of quicklime were produced monthly. An excellent road network connected the military bases with the economic centres and settlements. Only at the end of the 19th century did road conditions in the Eifel become as good again as they had been during the Roman era.
The most significant technical innovation of the Romans in the Rhineland was to conduct water from the Eifel. For over 200 years, using the natural gradient, fresh spring water was conveyed from the area which today is the Nettersheim parish to Cologne. Archaeologists have carried out digs at the source in the Urft valley, at the well near Kallmuth and at the aqueduct in Vussem, where several pillars were re-erected. For many years it has been possible to walk to Cologne along the "Roman canal trail", which follows its route, providing information along the way.
The cultural/religious legacy of Roman times can be seen in the temple districts of Pesch, Zingsheim and Nettersheim, where the Gallo-Roman matrons (goddesses of motherhood and fertility) were worshipped by the native and Roman populations alike.
At the end of the 4th century A.D., when the Romans were forced to leave their Rhine provinces, as a result of attacks by Germanic tribes, part of the population remained in their traditional homes and after several generations merged with the tribes arriving from the East in the migration of peoples, to become the Franks. The end of Roman hegemony appears to have occurred quite peacefully, despite a few battles. However, most buildings fell into disrepair and, in later centuries, were used as welcome materials for the construction of churches, castles or for the foundations of houses. This is particularly evident in the fate of the Roman waterway: after the flow of water dried up, as a reslut of silt and lime deposits, the thick chalk partitions were used as a substitute for marble in the fittings of churches, castles and houses, a fine example of which can be seen in the Roman House in Bad Münstereifel.
8th to 12th centuries
At the time of Carolingian rule (8th / 9th centuries) and during the following centuries it was the monasteries which developed new land for agriculture and housing. Affiliated with Prüm, circa 800 A.D. Benedictine monks established themselves in Münstereifel. Around 1130 Premonstratensians founded the Steinfeld monastery, which still stands today, and in the surrounding area they acted for centuries as pastors and as a conduit for culture and technology.
In a long process of social restructuring in the 11th and 12th centuries the land of our district came under the domain of the Middle Ages. The land originally lent for a lifetime (fiefdom) by the king was inherited over time and hence in reality became the property of the nobility. Above all, the Archbishops of Cologne and the Earls of Jülich struggled for supremacy in the area which today is the district of Euskirchen.
15th to 18th century
The only riches the area had to bestow upon its rulers were the deposits of ore, especially iron ore. In the valley of Schleiden and the upper Ahr region, there were significant ironworks and mines. Since the 15th century the people of the Eifel had known about techniques of casting iron, and then the production of cast-iron plates began, which were traded throughout central Europe and became a brand product of the Eifel ironworks. However, transporting them to customers proved to be a long-term problem over the centuries: the heavy loads were rolled along the routes of the Roman roads, but in places the carts had to labour over bumpy stone roads, or through narrow muddy passes.
The Reformation of Martin Luther, after initial successes in the estates of Manderscheid, resulted in the establishment of Protestant congregations only in the Schleiden valley, where there were numerous contacts with the outside world due to the ironworks. Two of the most famous scholars of the 16th century came from these congregations: Johann Sturm and Johannes Sleidanus, whose work as Rector of the University of Strasbourg was in the spirit of the Reformation.
A dark chapter of the 17th century concerns the countless witch-trials, which reveal the insecurity and fear of the population at the time, but also the greed and unscrupulous megalomania of individual lawyers and officials. In the collegiate library in Bad Münstereifel the shocking book of the Mayor of Rheinbach, Hermann Löher, is kept, who turned against the witch-hunts and thereby almost became a victim of torture himself.
The wars of the 17th and 18th centuries bled the country white: the French, Spanish, Dutch, Russians, Prussians, British and Austrians plundered, murdered and burned down farms if the people refused to hand over the "forage" demanded. Meanwhile, the economy and lifestyle of the population had hardly changed over hundreds of years: wooden agricultural implements with metal fittings, cows and oxen used as draught animals, lean cattle, low harvest yields. Epidemics of cholera, typhoid and the plague desolated entire villages.
In 1794 the troops of the French revolution...
In 1794 the troops of the French revolution chased out the old rulers of the land in our district, too. Not only many castles and monasteries were destroyed, but also the valuable cultural history collection of the Earls of Manderscheid-Blankenheim was cast to the four winds. In 1990 a part of this treasure was assembled from numerous museums and archives and exhibited in the setting of a large international presentation in the Eifel Museum in Blankenheim.
Apart from the wars, the Napoleonic era which followed had predominantly positive consequences in the Rhineland west of the river. For the first time since the Romans, well constructed highways were planned, some of which were built. The introduction of sugar beet in the Zülpich plain led to an upturn in agriculture. The Prussians also oriented themselves toward the "Code Napoléon" statute book when they became the new rulers of our district, according to the terms of the Vienna Congress of 1815.
A new administrative organization now divided the territorial affliations of the past centuries. In 1827 Euskirchen became the chief town of the district of the same name, after the area had temporarily belonged to the district of Lechenich.
The south-east part of the district was not added until 1932, after the dissolution of the hitherto existing district of Rheinbach. In 1829 after several preliminary stages, the district of Schleiden was created, which included the mountainous Eifel region, and was in turn absorbed into the district of Euskirchen in 1972.
The Prussians were at first, and in some matters always, unloved rulers of the land. They were too different in their mentality, actions and above all feelings from the inhabitants of the Rhenish Eifel and its foothills. With regard to the economy, however, Prussian rule was a blessing for the Eifel: reforestation, improvement of the soil and development were the three main points of their program. This development aid was urgently needed: the soil of the fields was exhausted, the forests had been felled, the meadows had become marshy or turned to karst. Thousands emigrated yearly, because the land could no longer feed them.
It was not until the end of the 19th century that conditions stabilized. The railway linked the most important towns with one another and with the "wide world". However, the old iron industry had moved in the meantime to the Ruhr region; the land in the Eifel and its foothills remained an agricultural area. Thousands had to earn their living as industrial workers or as servants in the cities nearby.
First ans second world war
Shaped by Catholicism and Centre Party politics, the country went through the troubles and privations of the First World War. In the trenches many soldiers from the Eifel and its foothills first became acquainted with the Christmas tree, which until then had been uncommon in their region. The separatists fighting for a free Rhineland found as little support here as did the Communists and National Socialists. Up till the last reasonably free elections on 5th March 1933 the Centre Party was still the leading party almost everywhere.
Hitler's rule of terror soon led to the repression of anyone who thought differently. Along the border with Belgium the "West-wall" was erected, using a huge contingent of the unemployed: a harbinger of the approaching world war. In 1938 the Jewish places of worship were also systematically destroyed in our region, the Jewish population deported and for the most part killed. Courageous men and women rescued countless people by secretly helping them across the border to safety in Belgium.
At the end of the Second World War the district of Euskirchen was a scene of destruction. The north-western part belonged to the most devastated areas of West Germany. Reconstruction went ahead slowly; in the hunger years after the war the population did without and were willing to make sacrifices, through their suffering they found encouragement and their purpose in life.
The 'economic miracle' of the 1950's
The "economic miracle" of the 1950's gave the people, apart from a significant improvement in their standard of living, several technical innovations: refrigerators, washing-machines, tractors and above all the television. All this changed our daily lives more than the development of the previous centuries.
The motor car became the most important means of locomotion and made everyone "mobile", whether travelling to work, shopping or going on holiday.
Even in the third millennium one should not dismiss the evidence of 300.000 years of cultural history thoughtlessly. If people today want to understand their sphere of life, they must refer to their history. One encounters it wherever one goes.