Freistadt (Czech Cáhlov) is an Upper Austrian municipality with
7981 inhabitants (as of January 1, 2020) in the Lower Mühlviertel
and has been the seat of the district administration of the
Freistadt district since 1849. The city is located around 38
kilometers northeast of the state capital Linz and around 17
kilometers south of the state border with the Czech Republic.
Freistadt was laid out according to plan from 1220 and experienced its heyday between the 14th and 16th centuries. After the Thirty Years' War, Freistadt lost all the privileges from the time it was founded. This resulted in an economic downturn and in the 19th century it developed into a school and administrative town. In the two world wars, no armed conflicts took place in the Freistadt area. After the end of World War II, Freistadt was in the Soviet occupation zone.
Freistadt is the school, cultural, medical and economic center of the district of the same name. The Gothic old town with the medieval city fortifications, the defense towers and the baroque facades of the town houses are among the sights of the city. Freistadt is one of the few cities in Austria whose fortifications have been almost completely preserved.
City foundation, rise and prosperity
There can only be guesses as to the exact point in time when the city was built, as any documents have either been lost or give too little information. It is assumed that Freistadt was planned around 1225 by the Babenberg Leopold VI., The Glorious (Duke of Austria) by expanding an existing settlement on the trade route from Enns to the north and giving it numerous privileges to secure its economic existence. For the first time, Freistadt was mentioned in a document as "Frienstat" in 1241, and in 1277 King Rudolf von Habsburg granted the "Vreinstat" (the city's name at the time) the right to lay down and stack as well as compulsory streets.
As a result of the privileges granted, Freistadt quickly rose to become a rich and prosperous city from the 14th century and became the economic center of the Mühlviertel. The location on an important trade route (Goldener Steig) was the basis of life and source of wealth. The main trade goods to the north were iron and salt from southern Upper Austria and fish from Bohemia to the south. The old castle was expanded into a salt warehouse (today's Salzhof) in the 15th century. During these years, Freistadt was able to steadily increase its wealth and defend its privileges against neighboring towns.
The first city walls were significantly strengthened to protect wealth at the end of the 14th century and mid-15th century, and the city fortifications that still exist today and the Freistadt Castle were built in the northeast corner of the city. The city had towers built along the city wall as the most important defensive structures. In the Middle Ages, the Linzertor in the south and the Böhmertor in the north were the only possible entry points for horse-drawn vehicles over drawbridges.
In its entire history, Freistadt was spared major military destruction. However, there was a siege during the Hussite Wars (1424-1432), during which the suburb and the Frauenkirche were burned down. In 1596 and 1626 peasant armies besieged the city and in 1610 the Bavarians. However, major damage in the city caused fires. The two great city fires in 1507 and 1516 destroyed all the houses in the city and the lavish furnishings of the city parish church. Only the remote castle and the houses in the suburbs were spared. As a result, the houses were equipped with mantle walls (fire walls) that are still visible today.
Protestantism was quickly adopted in Freistadt because of the trade relations and more than half of the population professed this faith around 1610. The radical Reformation Anabaptist movement also had a community in the city, which was probably founded by Hans Schlaffer. In the course of the Counter Reformation after the Second Upper Austrian Peasants' War and the victory of Emperor Ferdinand II over the Protestants, all Protestants were expelled in 1627; Nothing precise is known about their later place of residence. For a long time the city was unable to overcome this great loss of substance.
Turning point 1627 and the time up to the First World War
The Thirty Years War was a turning point in the history of the city. By changing the border with Bohemia, Freistadt lost its privileges and lost its importance as a trading town and bulwark (border town). The economic situation after the end of the Thirty Years War was very bad. In addition to the decline in trade, absolutism (loss of political self-government) and mercantilism (manufacturers reduced the importance of the guilds) reduced the importance of the city. The city's greatest advantage was its location on an important trade route - the salt trade to Bohemia still took the route via Freistadt - which prevented impoverishment. As a result, Freistadt never regained the importance it had before the Thirty Years War.
In 1777 a new brewery was built after the brewing commune Freistadt was founded in 1770. Freistadt has been the capital of the district of the same name since 1850. The Freistadt fair (today: Messe Mühlviertel), first held in 1862, was intended to initiate the economic upswing. From 1832 the horse-drawn railway Linz – Budweis drove far past the city. Only when the Summerau Railway opened in November 1872 was a train station built in Freistadt.
The Piarists ran a German school and a Latin school from 1761 to
1870. The development towards a school town is evident from the fact
that the poor school sisters of our dear lady have been running a
school in the town since 1852. In 1900 the Marianists came and built
a large school building outside the city, in which they still run a
private school today. Since 1867 there has been a lower level of a
grammar school in Freistadt, in 1871 the upper level followed.
From the First World War until today
During World War I, the military set up a prisoner-of-war camp for Russian soldiers in Freistadt, which accommodated up to 20,000 prisoners in 91 barracks. In the interwar period, as in the rest of Austria, political parties were radicalized, but no shots were fired during the civil war in 1934.
Attempts to improve the economic situation led to the establishment of new companies, the public sector promoted the economy and invested in paving the streets and sewing. In 1937 the "Erzherzog-Karl-Kaserne" (today "Tilly-Kaserne") opened.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, the Wehrmacht enlarged the existing garrison and subsequently stationed more than 1,000 soldiers in Freistadt. Some residents of Freiberg joined the resistance group New Free Austria. However, they were betrayed in October 1944, later sentenced to death and executed on May 1, 1945. A memorial in front of the Linzertor commemorates this event.
During the war not a single bomb fell on Freistadt, which housed three hospitals towards the end of the war. On May 7, 1945, American tanks reached the city without a fight. On May 13, the Red Army joined them and shared the city with the Americans until May 23, when they withdrew south of the railway line. The Soviet soldiers quartered themselves in private houses as the occupying power, and the Hagleitner house on the main square served as the headquarters of the commandant's office. In 1945, 100,000 refugees moved through the city, who were housed in several refugee camps. At its peak, over 12,000 refugees were in the city at the same time. The economic upturn remained low due to the lack of investment in the first post-war years.
Only after the State Treaty of May 5, 1955 and the withdrawal of the Soviet occupying power did the investment climate change and Freistadt also benefited from Austria's so-called economic miracle. Characteristics of the upswing were, among other things, the increase in the population to around 6,000 inhabitants, the establishment of new companies and the expansion of capacities in existing companies. In addition, investments were made in housing and road construction, the construction of water pipes and sewer systems and the construction of a sewage treatment plant. The redevelopment of the old town should promote tourism. Further infrastructure measures were carried out with the construction of a hospital in 1947 and the renovation of the swimming pools and sports facilities. Freistadt developed more and more into a school town, between 1956 and 1971 four new school buildings were built.
In 1977 several settings for the TV miniseries “Holocaust”, which were broadcast in 1979, were shot in Freistadt, including scenes that take place in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
In the early 1990s, the new regional hospital was built in the south of the city. In the late autumn of 1997 a farmer found a very important silver treasure with 6,700 coins and hundreds of silver objects while plowing a field near the Fuchsenhof farm. It was not until 2004 that the find, which probably belonged to a goldsmith, was made available to the public; since then it has been in the Schlossmuseum Linz.
The heavy rainfall during the Danube floods in 2002 led to flooding in the vicinity of the Feldaist. In 2003, the Salzhof was converted into a culture and event center and the exhibition and event hall was built. In 2004 the city built the new multifunctional sports hall.
The 2013 state exhibition was accompanied by a renovation of many old town houses and the renewal of their lighting. With the opening of the S 10 - Freistadt bypass - on November 15, 2014, traffic relief of the B 310 through the urban area is expected.
Freistadt is a typical example of a late medieval town with a
rectangular main square. The city fortifications are almost
completely preserved. Worth seeing, Gothic and Renaissance houses in
the center. Late Gothic parish church with star and loop rib vaults
by M. Klayndl (1483-1501), modified in Baroque style by B. Carlone
1 parish church
2 Church of Our Lady
3 Freistadt Castle
4 main square
5 City Hall
8 Citizen Corps Tower
10 Scheibling Tower
Freistadt airfield (ICAO code: LOLF, 400 meters of grass runway).
Regional trains run from Linz to Freistadt.
By car from Linz on the A7 to Unterweitersdorf and further on the 310.