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Obernai is a rapidly growing city, its number of inhabitants having gone up from 6,304 in 1968 to 11,099 in 2006. The metropolitan area of Obernai had 12,369 inhabitants in 2006, from 7,293 in 1968.
The Obernai region, which was the property of the dukes of Alsace in the 7th century, is the birthplace of St. Odile, daughter of the Duke, who would become the Patron Saint of Alsace.
The Obernai name first appears in 1240, when the village acquires the status of town under the tutelage of the Hohenstaufen family. The town then prospered. It became a member of the Décapole in 1354, an alliance of ten towns of the Holy Roman Empire in Alsace. Obernai's status reaches its apex in the 15th and 16th century. In 1562, Emperor Ferdinand I visited the prosperous town of Obernai.
The Thirty Years' War (1618–48) damaged the town, which was occupied by the Imperial troops then by the Swedes. The town was ransomed and ceded to France in 1679, and started to recover some of its prosperity, without totally recapturing its former glory.
The town was annexed by Germany in 1871 with the rest of Alsace then was returned to France after World War I in 1918.
Obernai is an important center of wine and beer production as well as a touristic destination. The industrial activity features the following companies: Hager, Kronenbourg, Triumph, Sobovia, Supra and Stoeffler. The historical wine of the city is called the Vin du Pistolet in reference to a local legend.