Discover History: Red Tower

The Red Tower is the oldest structure in the original city of Chemnitz. It is mentioned as early as 1466. And there is significant evidence suggesting it is even older. For example, archaeological investigations have found that the tower was not an integral part of the city walls, but was probably already in existence when the walls were built. It may be that the tower is the remains of a 12th-century keep that oversaw early market trading on the Aue (floodplain) in Chemnitz. It might also have served as the residence of the town magistrate, who was appointed by the emperor.


The warm red tone of the tower‘s Rochlitz porphyry cladding may be what gives the tower its name. However, many German cities have a “Red Tower”, indicating that it may also have had a legal function. Its use as a prison is only documented from the 16th century onwards. In 1570, it had 13 cells for 19 prisoners. It was still being used as a prison in 1840, when the city walls had already been dismantled. It was in stark contrast with the Chemnitz Casino Society across the road, a sophisticated building with a wooded garden that was an inviting place for a stroll. By 1945, when the city centre was destroyed, the Red Tower had been completely rebuilt, had little impact on the urban landscape and was only visible from a few points in the city.


The tower burned down in 1945, and a temporary roof was added five years later. The Café Roter Turm, an adjoining low‑rise building that opened on 14 February 1959, became a popular meeting‑place, and also housed an exhibition about the construction of the city centre. The tower played, and continues to play, an important role in industrial design and was used as a model for bottles for everything from washing‑up liquid to spirits. After 1990, the old fortified tower was completely renovated and it is now open on request.


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