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The city of Merseburg, with around 34,000 inhabitants and a former imperial palace, is located in the south of the state of Saxony-Anhalt, around 10 km south of Halle. In addition to Halle and Bitterfeld-Wolfen, it is a center of the “chemistry triangle”. Merseburg is heavily industrialized by the chemical plants Buna (north), Leuna (south) and the former open-cast lignite mine (Geiseltal) and coal refining to the west.

Although one of the oldest cities in the region (first documented mention in the 9th century) and a former bishop's seat, Merseburg today has a rather torn townscape with little due to the war damage in World War II and the reconstruction in the GDR times that was not based on historical models coherent old building fabric. The two most important buildings (cathedral and castle), located on a hill, protrude from this.

The neighboring towns of Leuna and Schkopau, which have grown together with Merseburg, are dealt with in this article.


In the early and high Middle Ages, Merseburg was one of the most important cities in what is now Central Germany. It was first mentioned in a document around 890. History connoisseurs associate it above all with the so-called “Merseburg magic spells”, a collection of pagan incantations written in Old High German from the 9th or 10th century. In 968, Emperor Otto I founded the Merseburg diocese. The city, which at that time was still near the eastern border of Germany, remained an important religious center with its Benedictine abbey and Romanesque cathedral until the 16th century. Merseburg was one of the preferred palatinates of Emperor Heinrich II. The diocese of Merseburg was comparatively small, but included such important cities as Leipzig.

In the middle of the 16th century the Reformation found its way into Merseburg. The Benedictine abbey was dissolved and the territory of the diocese was annexed by the secular electorate of Saxony. From the middle of the 17th to the 18th century Merseburg was the residence of a branch of the Saxon dukes. After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the city came under Prussian rule and became the administrative seat of a government district to which the south of the province of Saxony (corresponds roughly to today's southern Saxony-Anhalt, including the much larger city of Halle) belonged.

In the beginning of the 20th century, Merseburg and especially its suburb of Schkopau became locations for the chemical industry. The Buna Works in Schkopau were founded in 1936 as part of the National Socialists' self-sufficiency policy (i.e. independence from raw material imports) and were the first place where rubber was synthesized on a large scale. During the division of Germany, plastic and elastane from Schkopau in the GDR was a well-known term for plastics. Large parts of the historic old town were replaced by "socialist" new buildings. After reunification, many workers lost their jobs because the factories, which were now largely unprofitable, had to close or massively change their production. Merseburg lost around a third of its population compared to the 1980s, and in 2015 the city still had around 34,000 inhabitants. The Buna works are now a subsidiary of the US group Dow Chemical.