Discover History: Johannistor / Beckerplatz


The city wall

In 1264, the Alte Johanniskirche (Old Church of St. John), situated in the outlying district of Johannisvorstadt on what is now Zschopauer Straße, was described as being „extra muros“ i.e. outside the city walls. However, it is unclear whether the walls in question were a stone fortification or simply a wall with palisades. Building from the second half of the 15th century onwards led to the expansion of the city wall and city gates, with their imposing gate towers. Their names derive from the outer districts to which they led, or from the churches that stood in these areas.

Johannistor tower

Accounts from 1597/98 provide detailed information about the construction of the Johannistor (St John’s Gate) tower, which is situated at the eastern entrance to the city. Carpenter Gregor Spindler, stonemason Hans Müller and watchmaker Caspar Libitzschen (who was commissioned to make the tower bell in Leipzig) all had a hand in its construction. In the 17th century, a Baroque dome was added to the tower. When you entered the city, you first passed over the Johannistorbrücke (gate bridge), which crossed the trench known as the Johannisgraben. On the other side of the bridge were the houses of the Wachtmeister (master sentinel) and the Torschreiber (gate keeper/toll collector). They kept the city gate closed for specified periods overnight and carefully managed the toll fees collected.

From the Johannistor to Johannisplatz

In the late 18th century, the common land in front of the Johannistor gate began to develop into a suburb of the city. By 1805 there were 37 new houses, and the wall and the gate had been left to crumble. The Johannistor gate tower was removed that same year, having fallen into disrepair. By 1830, the same fate had befallen the gate itself, and also the gatekeeper‘s and watchman’s residences and the bridge. The marshy city moat was filled in and turned into an open space. The first imposing houses were soon built on this site, by Winter, a merchant, Friedrich August Struwe and Johann Karl Hanewald. In the first half of the 20th century, the Johannisplatz became one of the Germany‘s four busiest squares.


The Bretturm tower

If you followed the city wall south from the Johannistor, you would reach the Bretturm tower, a former powder store, which was integrated into the city fortifications along with four other defensive towers. In 1814, Bretschneider, a Ratsmaurermeister (master mason), purchased both the Bretturm and the adjoining parts of the Zwinger wall, to convert it into a residence. The tower house was later taken over by Dr. Becker, until the city purchased the plot in 1855. Dr. Becker had already had the city moat filled in here in 1847, to enable the first Real- und Höhere Bürgerschule (‘citizens’ secondary school’) to be erected.

The Rathaus (town hall) on Beckerplatz

In 1879, the city council was finally relocated from the cramped conditions of the old Town Hall to the Bürgerschule building. However, in this rapidly growing city, the Bürgerschule also soon proved too small. Thus, in 1889, the Bretturm was torn down and an imposing neo-classical town hall extension was built in its place. The landscaped gardens of Beckerplatz square, with the Beckerdenkmal monument in the middle, formed a splendid complement to the Rathaus. However, the monument was not named after the former owner of the site, but after Christian Gottfried Becker, founder of the Chemnitz Kattundruckerei (printworks) and a benefactor of the poor population.

Dresden Bank

In 1867, on Beckerplatz, the Chemnitz Börsenverein (stock exchange) opened an institute for trading on the key European and American commodity and money markets and the Liverpool Cotton Market. A branch of the Dresdner Bank, designed by Chemnitz architect Prof. Heinrich Straumer, was built on the site of the old Exchange in 1924. It is the only building on the Beckerplatz to have survived the Second World War unscathed, and still stands today. The square was redeveloped in the 1960s, and now no longer exists. The site is now adjoined by Chemnitz Central Station.


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