The area around Kelheim has been settled since days of yore. The oldest traces of man here were left in the last glacial period. About 200,000 years ago, when the primeval Danube was running in the bed of the Altmuehl, ice age hunters were living in the caves of Essing , a place only some miles down-stream from Kelheim.
Since that time there is a never ending chain of prehistoric finds in the caves of the Altmuehl valley . A centre of settlement was the stalactite cavern called Schulerloch. In the Stone Age, about 6.000 years ago, man lived in the caves of the valley, and there were settlements in the open land of the basin and on the hills around Kelheim.
Early settlement culminated at the time of the Celtic migration. In the middle of the Kelheim basin, hundreds of graves were dug up. In the burial grounds there were flat graves of the early Bronze Age, tumuli of the late Bronze Age, chambers of urns, stone graves, and flat graves of the Hallstatt and of the La-Tene period.
At about 500 B. C: the Celts came from the west and settled where the Altmuehl flows into the Danube. On the Michelsberg (St. Michael´s Hill) they built a very large stronghold with mounds several miles long; a considerable part of the mound has been preserved. The Celtic settlement at the foot of the hill, probably the second largest after Manching, was completely destroyed when the Romans advances to the Danube in the first century A. D.
The Romans built a small castle on the hill of Weltenburg , and they operated a brick-field on the south bank of the Danube, but they did not found any permanent settlement on the north banks. A large number of relics of prehistoric settlement in the Kelheim area are presented in the exhibition of the Archaeological Museum .
After the retreat of the Romans, the Bavarians infiltrated the empty land between the Alps and the Danube. They settled also in Kelheim where there had been an early Germanic settlement in the 4th and 5th century. In the middle of the valley basin, excavators found a settlement and burial grounds of the 6th and 7th centuries.
The first document use of the name Kelheim was 866 A. D. when a nobleman named "Chrefting de Cheleheim" was mentioned in a contract. At that time there were two separate settlements: Upper Kelheim on Michelsberg and Gmuend (halfway between Herzberg and the Altmuehl bank). In the South of the Danube an additional settlement began to grow: the village Affecking, first mentioned in 878.
What is now in the old centre of Kelheim was founded after the construction of the castle on the Danube island. The origins of this castle go back to the 10th century when Kelheim was the seat of the counts of the so-called Kel-Gau (shire). The Schyrens were the domination family, and they are indeed the ancestors of the Earls of Scheyern and of the House of Wittelsbach.
The Danube castle first played a part in German history, when Emperor Konrad III. laid siege to Count Palatine Otto who was blockaded there for a long time: It had been Otto who built a castle which he called Wittelsbach near Aichach and then called his family Wittelsbach.
At the time of this siege, a small market town, on the Danube bank north of the castle, had long been in existence. In 1045, on obituary notice of Weltenburg Abbey mentions a man named "Henry, the smith, freeman of the market of Kelheim". In 1167 there was a leper hospital in Kelheim. According to Aventinus, a famous 16th century historian, Otto, Count Palatine, who later (1180) became Duke of Bavaria, the first Wittelsbach Duke, was born in Kelheim castle in 1120. When Duke Otto dies in the third year of his dukedom, he left his fief to his son Ludwig, a child of tender age, who had been born in Kelheim in 1173.
Contemporaries and historians have given Duke Ludwig the surname "the Kelheimer". They did not do so because Ludwig was born in Kelheim, but because he was assassinated in Kelheim on September 15th, 1231. Contemporary eyewitness concordantly reported that the Duke was stabbed by a man when he wanted to enter the town through the Danube gate-tower. The assassin´s identity was never revealed, because the Duke´s vassals killed him immediately after the assassination and drowned the corpse.
Ludwig´s son and successor, Duke Otto II, had a new entrance to the castle built and ordered the old gate to be made impermeable by walls and to be shaped as a memorial chapel. For this chapel he founded an modest monastery with a hospital and delegated the supervision of the new priory to St. James´ Abbey in Ratisbon.
Much of the original shape of the memorial chapel has been preserved. Though its patron saints are St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, people usually call it Otto chapel or hospital chapel.
After the dreadful incident, Duke Otto chose Landshut as a new residency. Kelheim castle became the seat of the ducal guardian. Of the old castle only the bulky base of the Romanesque belfry and some foundation walls have been preserves. All the other dilapidated parts were pulled down towards the end of the 15th century and were replaced by a new building. Today, this building serves as an office for the district president.
Shape and extension of the city were fixed by Duke Ludwig the Kelheimer, when he began to expand his residential town in the 13th century. All the remarkable items of the silhouette of the town are still distinguishable.
There is the broad cross of streets that forms the four quarters which are again divided by smaller streets. There is the square of the city walls with its turrets and gate-towers. Two of the gates have their origins in the 13th century; the middle gate was built in the 14th century. There was no gate at the east side, because here no road has led out of the town. Some of the turrets are as old as the gated, especially the tower of the St. Erasmus Church, originally part of the bulwark, and probably the so-called Citizen-Tower near the massive round tower which hosts the war-memorial (Grinder´s Tower).
This round tower was constructed in the 15th century when the city walls were reinforced and when parts of the dilapidated old castle were used for building.
In the Thirty Years´ War the fortifications of the town were again enlarged. Some of the old turrets and bastions no longer exist; they were pulled down in 1706 as a punishment.
What happened in 1706 is shown on a mural painting on the Middle Gate: Austrians soldiers are taken prisoners by the native master butcher Matthew Kraus . That was a single action, though not unimportant, in the revolt of the Bavarian people against the occupation forces in the War of the Spanish Succession. Some weeks before that action, Kraus had fled from Kelheim, but on December 12th, 1705. Late in the night, he entered the town with volunteer fighters and took the occupiers prisoners. Revenge followed soon. Kelheim was again captured by the Austrians with a lot of bloodshed. Kraus tried to hide, but he was discovered and executed in Kelheim on March 17th, 1706. Both the fresco on Middle gate and a fountain in the centre commemorate Kraus´ brave deed.
Zuletzt aktualisiert am 10.02.2017