History of Attendorn

History and Development of the Hanseatic Town

Every old town has its big and its small history. On the one hand, it is affected by the fate of the country; on the other hand it is influenced by the particular events in town, which are typical of its specific situation, its people, its traditions. Even if the technical developments and the reconstruction after World War II gave Attendorn a new outer appearance, the flair of the town, which was significant already in the medieval, has been preserved. Especially the efforts of the town council and administration, but also of its citizens, to give the town center an attractive design as a part of urban improvement measures have helped to enhance its historical appeal. This aspect and the excellent recreational opportunities make up the image of this town - an old but at the same time young town which is worthwhile to live in, also with respect to the increased demands of modern life.

History of foundation

Attendorn was founded not only because of a random decision by an Arch Bishop from Cologne, rather several factors speaking for the creation of a settlement at this place were so crucial that no ruler of a country could overlook them. The Attendorn hollow has advantages over neighboring areas thanks to its climate, soil and good traffic links and attracted people even in prehistoric times. There is proof of relatively concentrated settlement from the early medieval on.

The town developed out of a village-like settlement located at the crossing of two long-distance roads. An Early Parish was founded as early as the reign of Charlemagne. The foundations of a simple mission church from these times still rest beneath the floor of the Gothic nave of St. John’s Church. The Christianization of the surrounding areas started out from here. When Arch Bishop Anno of Cologne established the Grafschaft Monastery in the year of 1072, the church and a farm in Attendarra became part of its possessions. Later on, with respect to canon law , Attendorn received an outstanding position as the capital town of a deanery.

The development of a market and the building of fortifications in Attendorn were followed by its official declaration as a town in 1222 by Engelbert I von Berg, who awarded it the Law of Soest. Cologne thus assumed a powerful position in southern Westphalia. The building of the Schnellenberg castle (around 1200) and the acquisition of the Waldenburg castle (1248) also served the interests of the rulers from Cologne.

Rise and Heyday

Attendorn flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries mainly thanks to the nine guilds, especially the wool and linen weavers. But the political and ecclesiastical position of the town in its function as border fortress against the neighboring Mark County and as seat of one of the largest deaneries in the old archbishopric of Cologne led to the formation of wealth. In 1255, Attendorn was the only Sauerland town to join the Rhenish Confederation of 60 important towns of the empire.

As a member of the German Hanseatic League, Attendorn was especially renowned in the field of cloth trade. There is much evidence of merchants from Attendorn in the area of the Baltic Sea. There even was a permanent representative only for the town of Attendorn in the London Stalhof. The closest relations were those with Lübeck, where merchants from the Hanseatic Sauerland town settled and achieved both a good reputation and wealth.

Attendorn was a mediate member of the German Hanseatic League and was represented by the town of Soest at the major league meetings. Attendorn itself had supremacy over the towns of Olpe, Drolshagen and Menden. Attendorn presumably was a member of the Hanseatic League until the league was dissolved. This is proven by its regular attendance at the Hanseatic meetings in Soest.

Attendorn was an Archbishop’s Mint already around 1200. The coins of the 13th and 14th centuries are worth special mention. Medieval coins from Attendorn can be found from Brussels to Lubnice in Poland and up to the island of Gotland.

The town’s wealth allowed significant foundations in the late Medieval. From the early 14th century on until recent times, a charity hospital with a church and cemetery was located right outside the city walls. In 1391, Archbishop Friedrich III of Cologne opened the Cross Chapel located at the north side of the tower of St. John’s Church. It was sponsored by the von der Becke family. In 1420, Heinrich Weke founded the Ewig Monastery and added to it a hospital for the poor in 1429. The numerous vicarages which used to exist at the churches were established thanks to private initiative. At times, the town was so rich that it was even in a position to grant the archbishop of Cologne loans. It also supported the bishop in his dispute with Soest. In the so-called Feud of Soest, the citizens of Attendorn helped to conquer the castle and area of Bilstein in 1444/45.

In the late 15th century, the town’s wealth diminished, but the sciences thrived under the humanists Mulläus, Rivius and Daberkusius at the local grammar school founded in 1515.


The town was hit by the plague four times in the years 1464, 1597, 1598 and 1613. Almost at the same time as the last plague, a large fire broke out, and another one in 1623. In 1656, half of the town burned down. Further fires in the years of 1710, 1737 and 1742 also destroyed large parts of the town. The last large fire in 1783 destroyed 246 houses, St. John’s Church with the tower and chancel, the town hall, the monastery church and St. Francis’ monastery.

Attendorn also suffered wars, pillage and billeting, e.g. in the Limburg War of Succession (1280), in the Feud of Soest (1444-1449), in the Truchsessian Turmoil (1583/84) and in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). During the Napoleonic era, the town reached its lowest point from which it did not recover until the middle of the 19th century. In the last World War, Attendorn suffered great destruction as late as March 28, 1945 by bombs and on June 15 of the same year by a major ammunition explosion.

Development after 1945

An important date in the more recent history of the town is the merging of the former municipalities of Rural Attendorn and Helden (excluding the areas of Heggen and Oberveischede) with the old Town of Attendorn to a new town of the same name in accordance with a law on the restructuring the District of Olpe of July 1, 1969.

The area of today’s Town of Attendorn still had a population of around 12100 in 1939, which rose to approx. 15600 in 1959, then to approx. 18800 in 1961 and finally to approx. 23000 in 1970. This population figure has remained more or less the same in recent years. The municipal restructuring increased the town area eight- fold to around 97 square km. It now includes the Repe Valley, an important tourist attraction, with its main village of Helden, and the Ihne Valley, the main village of which is called Neu-Listernohl. Neu-Listernohl was newly erected as a whole in order to replace the old Listernohl, which was flooded when the Biggetalsperre, an artificial reservoir, was built. While the village of Ennest is now linked with the town center due to new houses being built in the area between, the villages of Windhausen and Lichtringhausen are separated from the center by a broad strip of land used for agriculture and forestry. This area is located at the border between the District of Olpe and the neighboring district called Märkischer Kreis.


A wide variety of local customs gives proof of the town’s old tradition. The custom of celebrating Carnival, coming to a powerful revival and filling the streets every year, deserves special mention. Especially the Parade on each Tuesday before Ash Wednesday that has been held for over 150 years attracts people from all over Sauerland.

The Easter traditions observed in Attendorn are probably unique. The tunes of a centuries-old horn played from the church tower, the blessing of bread on Easter Saturday, the putting up and burning of the Easter Fires at the four town gates, the processions from there to St. John’s Church, the display of unusual Easter lanterns: all this has remained alive and can be traced back far into the past, although the origins are not exactly known.

Clubs and brotherhoods organizing annual fairs featuring shooting matches can be found in all of Westphalia. But hardly any of these can compare with Attendorn’s Schützengesellschaft 1222 e.V., which keeps up medieval traditions such as the trill and bow dances. The marksmen of Attendorn celebrate their annual historical Schützenfest on the first weekend of July.

In the medieval, there were St. Nicolas brotherhoods in many places as associations of travelling merchants. In Attendorn, the Nicolai Confraternity, founded in the 14th century, still exists today. A full archive contains all the details. The guilds of the smiths and builders still also exist, keeping up their traditions, which are celebrated chiefly in the first half of the year. While they are meant mainly to preserve and pass on traditions, the population also sees them as an important instrument of bridging gaps and meeting on common ground. The great variety of traditions in Attendorn can be compared to a copiously illustrated book: The individual pictures are shown from ever-new perspectives, but in the end they form a fabulous whole on the basis of a sound community.

Business & Trade

In 1874, the Biggetal Railway gave business in town a boost, which further improved in the subsequent decades and led to today’s economic boom.

These days, the business activities in town focus mainly on the metal processing industries (mainly manufacturers of fittings and suppliers for the automobile industry). Another important factor is tourism.

In the field of regional planning, Attendorn’s permanent growth and its function as a central town has been taken into account: Attendorn - the town with the strongest economy in the district of Olpe - is a regional center point of central importance for a region comprising up to 50,000 people.

Satisfying the demands of this function was and is Attendorn’s foremost duty. It was important to adapt the center of town to the new needs without neglecting to support its other districts. There was an essential need to redevelop the center with its medieval layout as regards urban development and traffic aspects so that the town could fulfill its function as center of the community. The town center has been redesigned almost completely, in combination with improvement measures.

Not least, the town of Attendorn will have to focus on keeping up and creating work and homes for its citizens. This, however, seems possible only if the industrial sector will also continue to receive opportunities for business expansion or restructuring, made possible by appropriate development plans and if, at the same time, sufficient space is created for residential areas as well.

Thanks to its location, infrastructure, significance, size and opportunities of development, the town is in an excellent position of providing the required solid foundation for new industrial projects. Once the industrial areas of Stesse, Biggen and Ennest were fully occupied, the planned development of the Askay commercial and industrial estate comprising approx. 25 hectares of commercial and industrial building space began. In addition, an industrial center for small new enterprises is planned in the area of the Finnentroper Strasse. New residential areas are being or will be developed in the areas called Auf dem Sacke, Auf dem Schilde II and Wippeskuhlen-West and in the villages of Dünschede and Neu-Listernohl.

Furthermore, the town has commissioned a structural analysis designed to provide an account of its current situation and make proposals for improvement especially in the business and service sector. In order to provide more recreational opportunities it is planned to implement concrete projects and to accompany other projects through planning activities, e.g. extending the golf range in the Repe Valley to a 18- hole-course and enlarging the Waldenburger Bucht recreational park.


The main objective of relieving congestion in the town center will be to improve the traffic situation so that the conditions for the retail trade and service sector improve as well. To reach this goal it is planned to continue building the North tangent and a further dispersion of traffic as laid down in an existing traffic development concept.

An important factor for the proper overall functioning of the retail and service business is, among others, a sufficient number of parking spaces for stationary motor traffic, which were and will be created in decentralized locations of the town center.

Just a comment on the town’s efforts to put through the construction of the Northern tangent: Today’s situation, in which all north- and southbound traffic and part of the traffic coming from the east struggles through the historically narrow streets of the town center, makes the level of noise and exhaust fumes unacceptable for the residents. This also has a major negative effect on the proper functioning of retail business and its development opportunities; most of the sidewalks only have minimum width, so that the space available for stopping in front of stores is hardly sufficient and there are also considerable traffic risks.

The ideas and concepts presented here, which do not claim to be complete, will provide a solution in the end if the citizens, council and administration work together in partnership, so that Attendorn’s wide variety of functions can be improved and consolidated.

Education & Sports

Despite its urgent short-term activities in the town center, Attendorn has found the time to turn to and manage other problems. One example from the field of educational institutions in the Schwalbenohl area is the extension of a future- oriented school complex. Right next to it, there is a round gym hall with 3 playing fields and a stand. There also is a district sports stadium with a natural grass field, an artificial grass field and a cinder field. An attached building with changing rooms will soon be completed.

The demands of the elementary schools, whose proximity to the residential areas is intended to be kept up - as far as possible, considering that there are 59 such areas in the area of the town of Attendorn - were satisfied by improving or extending old schools which used to provide basic elementary and secondary education (Volksschulen) so that they will also meet future schooling demands.

Difficulties in the field of education arose due to the increased space requirement of the local Rivius-Gymnasium, one of the oldest secondary schools of the former Duchy of Westphalia. The buildings of this school had already been extended considerably in the past, but did not suffice any longer to satisfy the demand. In 1990, a spacious extension was opened officially.

Attendorn’s range of educational institutions is rounded off by 14 kindergartens or day care centers, one kindergarten specialized in remedial education, one after- school home for schoolchildren and many toddler’s groups and by the Music School which was opened in 1975 and makes a positive contribution to the cultural life in town and its culturally oriented societies. It will also help meet the citizens’ increased recreational demands in the future. A Youth Center offers young people extracurricular open youth projects.

In addition to these public institutions, there is a private secondary school (Realschule) and a grammar school (Gymnasium) supported by the Archdiocese of Paderborn, an evening school, a branch of the district’s decentrally-organized vocational school, a training workshop (Lehrwerkstatt GmbH) and the St. Laurentius home supported by the Olpe District’s Caritas Association with a special kindergarten and a Sheltered Workshop operating in the interest of the disabled.

The Biggesee Political Academy, Politische Akademie Biggesee, operates on an independent basis and is located in the town district of Neu-Listernohl. The Academy offers conferences and seminars on topical political issues, the history of Germany, economic policy, women's issues and many others, and is available for conferences and own events.

Social Facilities

An important step for the future of the town of Attendorn and its surroundings was the building of a new hospital with a capacity of 322 beds which was erected right next to the old 159-bed-hospital. This new hospital will be of special importance for the structure of the town also in the future.

It comprises the following departments / affiliated specialists:

  • AnesAnesthetics
  • Surgery
  • Thoracic and Vascular Surgery
  • Orthopedics
  • Gynecology/Obstetrics
  • Internal medicine
  • Geriatrics
  • Ophthalmology
  • Otolaryngology

The affiliated Nursing School offers excellent training opportunities.

The occupational health center for the district of Olpe (registered society) located in the old hospital building is available for employees of member companies.

In 1984, a modern retirement home was built in the town center by the Caritas Association of the Archdiocese of Paderborn.

Tourist Attractions

Yet today the Sauerländer Dom (Parish Church St. Johannes Baptist) with its Romanesque tower from around 1200 and its Gothic nave dating back to the 14th century, the Hospital Church from the 14th century, two towers which used to form part of the town’s defensive wall and other buildings give testimony of the varied history of the town. The former town hall, the only secular Gothic building still existing in southern Westphalia, now houses the Südsauerlandmuseum. Since the discovery of the Atta Cave (Attahöhle) in 1907, the biggest and most scenic limestone cave with stalactite and stalagmites in Germany, Attendorn has turned into Sauerland’s most popular destination for day trippers. There are also many attractions in the area surrounding the town, e.g. Schnellenberg Castle, where the famous Westphalian Droste von Fürstenberg family resided since 1594. The chapel and Waldenburg castle ruin are also notable. The latter was restored with great ideal efforts and cost in recent years as the oldest architectural monument (11th century) and the administrative germ cell of the Olpe district.

The Biggesee with a campground and the beach at Waldenburger Bucht before the town gates is an ideal recreational area. The huge dam of this largest and most beautiful reservoir of the Sauerland – with nearly 150 million cubic meters of water – is situated close to the town along with the Lister Reservoir and the Ahauser Reservoir. Guests can have a pleasant stay in modern hotels and inns. An indoor swimming pool, riding halls, sporting fields, shooting ranges, tennis courts and skittle alleys are available. The Stadthalle, which was expanded to a multifunctional hall for festivals and the arts in 1996-97, is suitable for cultural events, congresses, conferences, exhibitions and social events and company parties fo

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