The Neckaprivileg for Heilbronn

#onthisday, August 27th, 1333 emperor Ludwig IV “The Bavarian” issued the “Neckarprivileg” which allowed the citizens of the town of Heilbronn to alter the flow of the river Neckar whichever way they wanted.

The Neckar is a major tributary of the Rhine that flows from the Black Forest via Tubingen and Stuttgart to Heidelberg and Mannheim. The riverbed constantly shifted around, which is why the citizens of Heilbronn had been regulating flows since the early Middle Ages.

After they had received the Neckarprivileg they altered the flow radically, creating a weir that made the river into the moat of the city as well as a regular supply of hydropower for the city’s mills.

A side-effect of the regulation was to make Heilbronn a wealthy trading city. Since the weir interrupted river traffic past the town, merchants were forced to unload their wares and use local hauliers. Since the wares were already unloaded, the merchants were given the “opportunity” to sell them at the city’s market, something they were later required to do when Heilbronn received the Right of the Staple (Stapelprivileg). This market attracted customers from far and wide, making the Heilbronn merchants prosperous.

This is another little story about how the Holy Roman Empire worked. Though the emperor himself was politically weak, imperial rulings and privileges could create valuable economic or political positions. The neighbouring princes and cities respected the privileges, even though they were more than just an inconvenience. On the downside these privileges once granted became almost impossible to remove, which hampered economic progress. It took until the mid-19th century before the Neckar River was again navigable beyond Heilbronn.

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