Monthly temperature series for Central Europe back to AD 1500 are developed from documentary index series from Germany, Switzerland and the Czech Republic (1500–1854) and 11 instrumental temperature records (1760–2007). Documentary evidence from the Low Countries, the Carpathian Basin and Poland are used for cross-checking for earlier centuries. The instrumental station records are corrected for inhomogeneities, including insufficient radiation protection of early thermometers and the urban heat island effect. For overlapping period (1760–1854), the documentary data series correlate with instrumental temperatures, most strongly in winter (86% explained variance in January) and least in autumn (56% in September). For annual average temperatures, 81% of the variance is explained. Verification statistics indicate high reconstruction skill for most months and seasons. The last 20 years (since 1988) stand out as very likely the warmest 20-year period, accounting for the calibration uncertainty and decreases in proxy data quality before the calibration period. The new reconstruction displays a previously unobserved long-term decrease in DJF, MAM and JJA temperature variability over last five centuries. Compiled monthly, seasonal and annual series can be used to improve the robustness of gridded large-scale European temperature reconstructions and possible impact studies. Further improvement of the reconstruction would be achieved if documentary data from other European countries are further developed. ©2009 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.