A short history of the town of Wesel from 1241 to date
Wesel has always lived with and from the river Rhine, but the origins of the town are lost in history. The name "Wesel" appears earlier as "Wisele" or in Latin documents as "villa Wesels", interpreted as "manor in the meadows" - which gradually developed into a village in the place between the Rhine and the river Lippe. This developed further until in 1241 the young town was granted the privilege to freely elect a council, given exemptions from Kleve's customs duties and by 1277 was granted a city charter. This charter gave the town permission to raise duty on the trade of goods, the key to its economic success.
Wesel surpassed the provincial capital of Kleve and its main rival Duisburg and in 1407 became a member of the Hanseatic League. During this Middle Ages economic heyday, expensively extravagant buildings were erected including a castle, churches, town hall and the Willibrodi church.
Over the years Wesel became a liberal and cosmopolitan town, opening its doors to people from far and wide - refugees, dissidents and victims of persecution, and so earning its self the title "Vesalia hospitalis" - hospitable Wesel.
Harder times arrived from 1586 with the arrival of the plague and the town's involvement in the 80 year Dutch / Spanish war. The town was freed by the Dutch then later came under the power of Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg.
In 1687 the citadel was built and eventually the whole town was contained within a walled defensive fortification, being a vital part of Prussia's border defences. The result of this was that trade diminished as the town was unable to expand with traders moving away. In 1811 the town was taken by Napoleon Bonaparte, only reverting to Prussian rule again in 1814. It was not until 1891 with the removal of the fortifications, that Wesel was able to expand and economic development returned.
During the First World War, Wesel turned into a military camp, with thousands of troops streaming from the barracks to the western front. The aftermath of the war followed by the great depression with large numbers of unemployed and discontented, made it, as elsewhere in Germany, a breeding ground for radical political forces. The unstoppable rise of the Nazis party had began with party members put into key positions in the municipality, schools, press and cultural organisations.
There was a small Jewish community of just 250 members in Wesel, but with the night of the pogrom in 1938 this came to an abrupt end - the same as elsewhere in Germany. No-one knows how many Jews from Wesel died in the concentration camps, but it was recorded that by 1943 there were no Jews living in Wesel.
Then nearly at the end of the Second World War, Wesel was destroyed. The area around Wesel had been chosen as the point where the British, Canadian and American armies would storm across the Rhine for the final assault on Germany. In February and March 1945, RAF and USAF carpet bombing and Allied artillery fire destroyed 97% of the town. Six weeks later the war in Europe had ended.
The events of February and March 1945 were especially remembered on the weekend of 15th/16th February 2020 - the 75th anniversary year. A special programme of concert of the Castle singers in the church zu den Heiligen Engein, Reception in the town hall, visit to the Museum of Freedom and restaurant Wacht am Rhein and ecumenical worship in Willibrordi Dom. Speeches (English language version) can be read by clicking on the Mayor of Wesel Mrs Ulrike Westkamp and Alexander Berkel TV-journalist and historian
Chaos, despair and desperation followed for years with shortages in every walk of life into the 1950's. Citizens action committees were formed working with the municipality to reconstruct the town, notably starting with work on the shattered remains of the Willibrordi Dom (cathedral).
Through the sixties and beyond reconstruction continued with Wesel becoming the administrative centre of the new borough of Wesel with its 13 towns and communities.
And Wesel today ? Whoever takes a walk through the town enjoys the sight of the few remaining historic glories of better times like the Willibrordi Cathedral and the Berliner Tor, and of course wonderful walks along the Rhine promenade to watch the seemingly endless line of Rhine barges taking cargoes up and down this major waterway.
The story about how and when Felixstowe and Wesel twinned.
And so the question must be asked - how did Wesel and Felixstowe join into their historic partnership?
The answer is that the idea of twinning started with the Suffolk and Ipswich Fire Service inviting the Wesel Fire Service to visit Felixstowe, an event warmly welcomed by many Felixstowe people. The invitation came about because of the action of Mike Yetton Ward better known as Chairman of the then Felixstowe Urban District Council. In the aftermath of the war, he had been posted to Wesel to help re-establish their Fire Service and had formed a close friendship with the officers, men and the youngsters in the Wesel Fire Cadet unit.
The first visit was a success with mutual interest and understanding quickly developing and links being made between the Felixstowe Rifle Club, Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Club and many private individuals taking the first steps towards building friendships.
Before long the respective local authorities became involved and added their support with the result that town twinning ceremonies took place in 1974 in Felixstowe and Wesel.
Since then the net has widened with many other organisations forming links with their opposite numbers in Wesel, and many individuals forming close personal friendships.
(This page last updated 13th September 2022)