We time travel back to 1648. 30 years of war in Europe. Almost half of the population in the German territories lost their lives. These are confusing disputes that can hardly be understood without historical study. Thus, on the one hand, the denominations are fighting against each other, Protestantism, which is still young, is in conflict with Catholicism. On the other hand, of course, it is about political power and national territories: Spain has been at war with the Netherlands for 80 years, the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations is fighting against Sweden, Lower Saxony is at war with Denmark, etc. It is very difficult to explain what the eternal bloodshed is all about.

Back to 2018: Together with the city guide Heide Jenzen I sit on the town hall square in Osnabrück. She loves her town. Excitement is also the word that best describes Heide Jenzen. She is hard to stop when she talks about the place and its history.

With shining eyes, she tells me what Osnabrück looked like 370 years ago: A small town, suddenly filled with nobility, dignitaries and their entourage. Because in Münster and Osnabrück something special happened that had never happened before: For the first time peace was achieved through negotiations instead of victory or defeat. “At the heart of the peace negotiations were three powers: Sweden, France and the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations. These three nations – represented by Ferdinand III, the Sun King Louis XIV and Queen Christina of Sweden, who is not even yet of age – agreed as early as 1641 to want to conduct peace negotiations (Hamburger Vorfriede)”, explains Heide Jenzen.  “I like to think that Christina had a considerable influence here: the young queen was interested in art and theatre. “She certainly had no interest in war.”

With Heide Jenzen it is not difficult to imagine anything: She tells exciting, downright captivating stories and brings the past to life. “We need to understand that the negotiations were very tough and laborious. Everyone had their own interests, everyone wanted to win something. It was negotiated in Latin, and if there was a single result, messengers rode to Münster to vote there,” Heide Jenzen explains the procedure to me.

In Osnabrück, the religious war had formed a core topic, the city guide continued. It had been customary for the population to have to “forcefully change” to the respective denomination of their ruler. So there was an eternal back and forth of denominations – combined with constant refuge. With the Peace of Westphalia, for the first time a firm religious affiliation was defined independently of the sovereign. “This was something like a first step towards religious freedom. A so-called Normal Year (1624) was defined. The denominations in force at that time were defined as the basis and were considered independent of the respective government. A clever solution”, enthuses Heide Jenzen. After a five-year congress in Münster and Osnabrück in 1648, the peace was sealed.

While standing on the stairs of the town hall, in the so-called Kanzel, Heide Jenzen tells us: ” This is exactly where they were standing, and the square was full of spectators. And then it was announced, the Osnabrück Peace Treaty with the impressive title “Instrumentum Pacis Osnabrugensis”. The same thing happened in Münster. There the “Instrumentum Pacis Monasteriensis” was proclaimed on the same day – also on 24 October 1648 – putting an end to two wars: the Thirty Year War and the 80-year war between Spain and the Netherlands.

Today, 370 years later, the square in front of the town hall lies quietly in the sun. Osnabrück is a tranquil town. People stroll comfortably through the alleys, the cafés are well frequented. It is peaceful, and this peace still has symbolic significance for Osnabrück. The city looks back proudly on its history, and it may also be proud. Being a site of peace is certainly not the worst mission of our time. Then I say goodbye to Heide Jenzen, for whom another city tour is waiting that day. I hate to part with her and her stories and once again realize what an exciting theme the Peace of Westphalia still is today.


Picture: Rathausklinke. © Stadt Osnabrück, Janin Arntzen