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Ratzeburg (German pronunciation: [ˈʁatsəbʊʁk]) is a town in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It is surrounded by four lakes—the resulting isthmuses between the lakes form the access lanes to the town. Ratzeburg is the capital of the Kreis (district) of Lauenburg.



The town was founded in the 11th century as Racisburg. The name is traditionally derived from the local Wendish ruler, Prince Ratibor of the Polabians, who was nicknamed Ratse. In the year 1044 Christian missionaries under the leadership of the monk Ansverus came into the region and built a monastery. It was destroyed in a pagan rebellion in 1066; the monks were stoned to death. Today monuments to the missionaries in two of the town's churches commemorate these events. Ansverus was canonised in the 12th century and his relics were entombed in the Ratzeburg cathedral.

Henry the Lion (Heinrich der Löwe) became the ruler of the town in 1143 and established a bishopric in 1154. He was also responsible for the construction of the late Romanesque Cathedral (Dom), built in typical north German 'red-brick' style. Henry also caused similar-looking cathedrals in Lübeck and Braunschweig to be built—his remains are interred in the latter.

Later the town became a Prince Bishopric, whose ruler was sovereign and as such had a vote at the Imperial Diet. The Bishopric of Ratzeburg was the last Catholic state in north Germany. After the 1550 death of its ruler Prince-Bishop Georg von Blumenthal, who feuded with Thomas Aderpul, the bishopric converted to Lutheranism in 1554.

The town of Ratzeburg itself was not within the territory of the Bishopric of Ratzeburg, becoming instead part of the Duchy of Saxe-Lauenburg after the downfall of Henry the Lion. The town was almost completely destroyed in 1693, when Christian V of Denmark reduced Ratzeburg to rubble by bombardment. After this event it was rebuilt in baroque style.

Ratzeburg briefly was part of the First French Empire during the Napoleonic Wars and was awarded to Denmark in the Congress of Vienna. After being annexed in the Second Schleswig War (1864), the town became part of the Kingdom of Prussia's Province of Schleswig-Holstein. The cathedral quarter finally became part of the town of Ratzeburg with the 1937 Groß-Hamburg-Gesetz.

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