Located at the confluence of the Rhine and Lippe, Wesel could hardly escape its fate to become a fortress city. All powers that took over Wesel since the 17th century contributed to the city with its fortifications. From 1614 to 1629, the Spaniards besieged the town, this was followed by the Dutch until 1672 and then the French until 1674.
During this year, Friedrich Wilhelm, the Great Elector of Brandenburg (1640-1688), occupied the city with his troops and introduced the long-term factual Brandenburg-Prussian rule. During his time of rule and that of his two successors, King Friedrich I. (1701-1713, Elector since 1688) and King Friedrich Wilhelm I. (1713-1740), one of the strongest fortresses of the state was built in Wesel with its powerful citadel. With a few disruptions, the Brandenburg electors and Prussian kings remained the heads of the city until the time of Napoleon.
From 1806 to 1814, Wesel was supposed to be an important cornerstone of the Napoleon leadership in northern Germany and went back to the sceptre of the Prussian monarchs (until 1918).
City and garrison
The belt of the fortification took away the cities breath economically. Only four of the original thirteen gates remain from the Hanseatic City. Tuchbleiche, Weideland, Mühlen and "Ziegelgründe" had to be given up. Any expansion beyond the tight ring of the fortification was prohibited. The rich Wesel merchants, in particular the cloth producers, left the city.
A number of houses were rented by military personnel. The first barracks in Wesel were built around 1770 and were intended for the families from soldiers. Around 1780, about 10,000 people lived in the city. More than half of them were soldiers with their families. This situation was eased with the construction of a spacious barrack, the first since the 19th century. Life in Wesel was significantly influenced by the military. Nevertheless, the residents of many generations got used to everyday life with and next to the soldiers.
The Wesel fortress - once again in Prussian possession - played an important role in the 19th century as well. Throughout the century, the greater ranges of weapons and stronger impacts led to the expansion of multiple exterior forts. They had the tasks of keeping enemy artillery away from Wesel and covering the new train lines. Two of these forts are still partially preserved: The Fort Fusternberg (1856-60, now the church of Holy Angels) and Fort I (1881/82) on the left side of the Rhine.
The area around the fortress would not allow construction within a radius of 1.5 km in order to ensure an open field of fire. Therefore, the city could not be expanded further and lost its connection to advances occurring during the industrial ages. The long process of defortification began in 1886. The last works of the citadel, as well as those of the outer forts I, II and Fort Blücher had to be removed after the completion of the Treaty of Versailles from 1919.
Huguenots build a fortress for free worship
The Great Elector Friedrich Wilhelm opened his countries in 1685 to Evangelical refugees that were forced to depart by the French "Sun King" Ludwig XIV. The newcomers provided their new sovereigns with their knowledge, their abilities, their military experience and their sword. The first three builders of the Brandenburg-Prussia fortification in Wesel were Huguenots who followed the teachings of the leading military theoretician Vauban. They hence, expanded Wesel into one of the most modern of fortifications.
An important impulse to build the huge fortress came from the Netherlands, which was exposed to the military expansion of Ludwig XIV. Wesel should now serve as a strongly fortified reinforcement base and support for mutual Dutch-Brandenburg operations. The powerful Wesel fortification protected the Evangelic followers in the Netherlands and on the Lower Rhine.
World Wars in the 20th century
During the years of World War I, from 1914 to 1918, Wesel was a military gathering point. Thousands of soldiers went to war from here. But once the war was over, everything changed drastically. The demilitarisation of the Rhineland forced by the victors also caused the Wesel barracks to be empty.
After the taking of power by the Nazis in January 1933, Germany slowly began with rearmament. Wesel became an important place for the military again. But what once helped Wesel bloom, namely the strategically convenient location on the Rhine and Lippe, became its downfall during World War II. Wesel was nearly completely destroyed by bombs from Allied attacks. Ninety-seven percent of the inner city was in ruins. But Wesel's residents did not give up and began the restoration of their city in 1949. Wesel received a completely new face.