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The history of the Parliament building

The State Parliament of Lower Saxony has had its seat in Hanover’s Leineschloss palace since 1962. It is where elected representatives from all parts of Lower Saxony meet for plenary sessions, committee meetings and party meetings. The members of staff of the various parliamentary parties and the administrative body of the State Parliament also have their offices here. The building is situated on the river Leine and reflects the historical changes of past centuries in a very special way. Unlike any other structure it relates the fortunes of Lower Saxony, its capital and its people. In its present-day form it numbers amongst the most beautiful buildings in Hanover. In a way, the Leineschloss and its more recent history is also a reflection of the transformation that Germany has undergone when it comes to the execution of political power: once the ruling dynasty’s centre of absolute power, it has become the seat of the democratically elected representative body of the people, the State Parliament of Lower Saxony

Luftaufnahme Leineschloss 2013 - Bild vergrößern Leineschloss 2013 (©Tom Figiel)
Portikus, 2009 - Bild vergrößern Leineschloss 2009 (©Manfred Zimmermann).
In 1637, during the period of the Thirty Years’ War, Duke George of Calenberg, after having chosen Hanover as his residence, ordered the demolition of the old Minorite monastery of which first mention can be found around 1300. The first Leineschloss was built in its place. It was not designed to be a splendid palace but a practical half-timbered building. From 1680, the annex of the Schlossopernhaus (Palace Opera House), torn down in 1854, was built by Elector Ernst August in the exact location of the present-day plenary chamber. The Schlossopernhaus seated 1300 people, and Hanover was able to boast the most beautiful and magnificent such opera house in Germany at that time. In 1714, the year Elector George Ludwig became George I of Great Britain and Ireland – the beginning of the personal union between Britain and Hanover – the Leineschloss became a “residence without a regent” for 123 years. It was used only rarely, and then only for official purposes by the ruling monarchs.

Leineschloss 1637 bis 1666 - Bild vergrößern Das Leineschloss 1637 bis 1666 (Nds. Hauptstaatsarchiv Hannover)
Leineschloss im 17. Jahrhundert - Bild vergrößern Leineschloss 17. Jahrhundert (Historisches Museum Hannover).

During the French occupation of Hanover from 1803 to 1813, the Leineschloss saw the darkest days of its history up to that point in time. Napoleon’s occupational army stripped the palace totally and left the building to rot. During this period the geographical structure of Lower Saxony changed considerably. The Congress of Vienna (1814-15) brought about the restructuring of Europe and definite borders. Shortly before the Congress, Hanover had become a Kingdom under George III, who was ruling monarch of Great Britain and Ireland as well as Elector of Hanover. At the time, the Kingdom comprised ten former principalities and earldoms as well as seven provincial state parliaments. In 1814, the Prince Regent George, son of George III, in his position as representative of the King of Hanover, called a “General Assembly of the Estates (Ständeversammlung) of the Kingdom of Hanover”. In their rules of procedure – then referred to as the ‘regiment’ – the term ‘state parliament’ was already used. It was to act as an advisory body on matters concerning the state.

Thus, the first assembly representing the three estates had been formed for the entire state. It could also be seen as a first cautious attempt at establishing a parliamentary system, limited however to the upper classes. The passing of the constitution in 1833 once again brought about fundamental changes to the rights and the structure of the “Assembly of Estates” in favour of the bourgeoisie and the newly-freed peasants. The budget right, a public purse which originated from a general revenue fund and a royal fund, as well as the right of legislative initiative, made the Assembly of Estates into a first ‘building block’ on which the present-day parliamentary democracy is based.

Leineschloss 1815 bis 1842 - Bild vergrößern Leineschloss 1815 bis 1842 (Historisches Museum Hannover)
Leineschloss mit Friederikenplatz 1858 - Bild vergrößern Leineschloss, 1858 (Historisches Museum Hannover)

During the period between 1816 and 1842/51, the Leineschloss underwent extensive reconstruction under the direction of Hanover architect Georg Ludwig Friedrich Laves, one of the leading exponents of classicism. The façade of the building was given a uniform design, characterized by a classicist style. An impressive portico was added to the building, and this still stands today. When the personal union with Britain came to an end and Ernst August became ruling monarch in 1837, Hanover once again became a royal residence. However, construction work on the palace was not continued because the “Assembly of Estates” refused to give its consent to the immense costs such an undertaking would incur. Therefore, as previously, the Leineschloss was used almost entirely for official purposes.

The construction of the new Welfenschloss palace in Herrenhausen by King George V and the annexation of the Kingdom of Hanover by Prussia in 1866 put an end to further plans of reconstruction.

In 1921, the Leineschloss, no longer used for the purpose originally planned, became part of the administration of the City of Hanover. Plans were drawn up to house several museums and to store works of art here. To a certain extent, this plan was realized by the National Socialists towards the end of 1936, designating the palace both as a military memorial site and an arms museum, thus misusing the building for ideological purposes, in order to prepare the nation for an imminent war. During the years of inflation, parts of the building had been utilized as a soup kitchen and day rooms for the needy. On 26 July 1943 the Leineschloss was destroyed almost entirely during an American air raid. For ten years it remained a ruin – only its outer walls had survived partly intact. One wing was used by some Hanoverian companies as emergency quarters during the period after the war

Leineschloss 1857 bis 1943 - Bild vergrößern Leineschloss 1857 bis 1943 (Historisches Museum Hannover)
zerstörtes Leineschloss - Bild vergrößern Leineschloss 1943 (Archiv des Niedersächsischen Landtages)

After World War Two, following “Decree No. 55” under British military rule, the present-day state of Lower Saxony was created from the formerly independent states of Brunswick, Hanover, Oldenburg and Schaumburg-Lippe. After the first free elections to the State Parliament on 20 April 1947, the State Parliament of Lower Saxony used Hanover’s Stadthalle venue as its temporary quarters.

The tender for the construction of the new Leineschloss was won by the Hanoverian architect Dieter Oesterlen in 1954. The Leineschloss was redesigned as the present-day Parliament building, following his architectural plans. Building work began in 1957, and the foundation stone was laid in 1958. The State Parliament building was officially opened on 11 September 1962.

The former royal palace of Hanover has long since become the seat of the State Parliament of Lower Saxony – a seat of democracy. Those parts of the building’s valuable historical fabric that have remained intact have been preserved as a sign of respect to traditional state history. The interior, however, has been redesigned in line with state-of-the-art architectural and functional criteria. Today the Leineschloss is Lower Saxony’s central location for political debate as well as political communication. It is a centre which follows the ideas of democratic freedom in working for the benefit of the people.

Fahnen_Portikus.jpg - Bild vergrößern Leineschloss 2015 (©Tom Figiel)
Plenarsaal Flussseite - Bild vergrößern Leineschloss 2013 (©Manfred Zimmermann)

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