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Historical development

There are no accounts in writing or otherwise of Altenberge's origins. During Charlemagne's era (768–814) Altenberge was part of the "Dreimgau" to which the Free Earldom of Münster belonged; Altenberge was one of its 15 member parishes. Its first mention as a parish is dated 1181. Altenberge is likely to be a good deal older since the subsidiary parish of Nienberge has existed since 1050.

In great probability Altenberge was one of the 38 parishes established by St. Ludgerus (744–809), the 1st bishop of Münster. A baptismal church was founded either by St. Ludgerus or by one of his near successors on the Altenberge Ridge. The "Waltruper Feld" (Waltrup Field) is mentioned in a tax roll of 800. From 1142 – 1294 the Knights of Altenberge governed the episcopal Curia of Oldenberge where the church and court were situated.

The village community probably owes its existence to former peasants who settled in the town centre around the village church as bakers, smiths, and other tradesmen.

Parish Church St. John the Paptist with the old tower before 1882 (photo: Heimatverein Altenberge)

In 1498 the village already sheltered 742 members. Altenberge was not spared during the period of unrest provoked by the Anabaptists in Münster. The town was plundered by Spanish and Dutch troops from 1591–1600 and during the 30 Years' War (1622–1623) by troops from Braunschweig and Mansfeld.

Not only the trials of war caused the Altenberge populace suffering; from 1627 to 1689 the town was plagued by numerous severe fires which destroyed a good part of the village.

According to a document dated October 24, 1671, a large fire reduced the churchtower, the vicarage, the curate's house, the chaplain's house, and the poorhouses to ashes on Ascension Day. On November 29, 1688 a fire was even more destructive; it razed 30 houses in the village. The last great fires were in 1837 and 1858.

The fortunes of the political community were full of change as well. Until the secularisation of the Bischopric, the community was part of the Department of Wolbeck. After the partition of the diocese, Altenberge belonged to Prince Looz-Corswaren, who then was named the Prince of Rhein-Wolbeck. In 1806 the Prince lost his possessions and Altenberge was assigned to the newly formed Grand Duchy of Berg ruled by Napoleon's brother-in-law Joachim Murat.

In 1811 Altenberge became part of the Ems Department of the French Empire. From 1815 on the town was incorporated into Prussia and in 1816 the governmental region of Münster was formed to which Altenberge belongs today. In 1609 the first continuous postal route was established and in 1695 mail coaches began travelling between Münster – Altenberge – Enschede. In 1836 the postal expedition and in 1870 the riding postal route between Burgsteinfurt and Münster were established.

Historic view of the "Münsterstraße" (photo: Heimatverein Altenberge)

From 1820–1830 the village streets were paved; up until then, they had been in a sorry condition as were most of the roads in Altenberge. The only passable country road was the 'Horstmarer Damm', the main route from Münster to the Netherlands. In 1836 the firehouse was built and in 1839 the so-called emergency well in the church square (which was filled up in 1958). The fire-fighting equipment was stored in the firehouse except for a fire ladder an two fire hooks that hung under the organ platform in the church.

The introduction of a structural reform for rural communities in the province of Westphalia on October 18, 1842 turned the previous mayorality into the 'Amt Altenberge' (Department of Altenberge) in its present form which includes six farming communities. On December 31, 1950 Altenberge had a population of 5,232 – a number that has grown steadily in the following years:

Year Inhabitants
31.12.1960 4,946
31.12.1970 6,005
31.12.1980 7,870
31.12.1990 8,330
31.12.2000 10,127
31.12.2010 11,034
31.12.2015 11,478

Large communal projects have been completed. In 1953/ 54 a central water supply was established. Services such as street-cleaning, gritting the roads in icy weather, garbage collections, and sewage removal have been established.

Altenberge has been connected to a natural gas supply network since 1980. In 1975 a new sewage treatment plant with the capacity to handle 4,000 inhabitants was built; it was expanded to serve 11,000 in 1988.

Numerous new housing districts have been made available and large commercial areas have opened up to the east and west of the town. Many small and mid-sized firms as well as some large productive firms have settled here. In the early 1980s the firm of Schmitz Anhänger (cargotrailers) moved out of the town centre and its renovation began. A new residential district and a renewed town centre with a market square were completed. The redevelopment ended with the completion of a fountain in the market square in 1994.

Altenberge has two primary schools and a middle school (Hauptschule). Both primary schools have several full-day classes and full-day supervision. There is integrated instruction (with handicapped children) in one of the primary schools. Full-day schooling, beginning with the 5th grade, was introduced in the Ludgeri-Middle School in the school year 2008/ 2009.

The citiziens' hall in Altenberge

The "Bürgerhaus" (citiziens' hall) offers facilities for clubs and associations, for concerts, exhibitions, and other cultural functions. It was built in 1989 out of a historic building from 1840 in the centre of town. St. Johannes Hospital, built in 1914 houses a residential and therapy centre today. It has been an extension of Maria Hospital in Borghorst since 2004 and offers space for 16 patients in a psychotherapeutic medical centre. A home for senior citizens and a number of residences for seniors are available.

The "Heimatverein" (Society for the Preservation of Socal Traditions and Culture) has found its home in the centre of town in an old farmer's house, which had been used as a jail by the village police for years. The restored "Heimathaus Kittken" is complemented by a historic storehouse from the outskirts of Altenberge that has been reconstructed in its original form; today it houses the local museum. A traditional farm garden and a historic baking house complete the ensemble.

Altenberge has over 30 km of walking paths – marked as circular routes –, and athletics centre with track and field facilities (at category track), a grass soccerfield and an artificial grass playing field, a small playing field, facilities for long-jump and throwing events, as well as a skate-board-facility. Three indoor tennis courts and two tennis grounds with a total of 13 courts are adjacent to the sports centre. In addition there is a gymnasium and a double athletics hall in town. Next to it is an indoor swimming pool.

A greyhound racing track is situated between Altenberge and Nienberge.

Altenberge also has a large new indoor riding hall, completed in 2005.

Under the auspices of the "Regionale 2004" an integrative riding trail connecting Altenberge with the neighboring towns was completed – the 1st of its kind in Germany. Attractive safe riding trails lead to handicapped friendly stations where mounting assistance, wheel-chairs and specially trained horses and escorts (to be booked in advance) are available.

Since 1979 Altenberge has been the sister city of the Belgian town of Gooik, 25 km south of Brussels.

Altenberge, which retained its independence after a structural reform, is a thriving growing community with infrastructure for a population of 11,000.