Cultural Entities 

Altes Land

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1. Overview


Altes Land


River Elbe, river Schwinge, geest border, neighbouring entity Land Kehdingen


Approximately 264km²

Location - map:

Tidal river marsh of Lower Saxony and the federal state of Hamburg, Lower Saxony and Hamburg, Germany

Origin of name:

‘Old Land’

Relationship/similarities with other cultural entities:

Plantation landscape, rural house form, aligned settlement, parcel of land of the traditional Dutch cope size, swan-shaped gables as an architectural feature point to northern Flanders, brick works in the Elbe marshes

Characteristic elements and ensembles:

Marshland and Geest edge landscape, yardland settlement, brickworks, fruit-growing

2. Geology and geography

2.1 General
The Alte Land (“the Old Land”) is an approximately 33 km long and up to 8 km wide marsh strip south of the lower Elbe. The cities of Stade on the Schwinge, Horneburg on the Lühe and Buxtehude on the Este are located on its borders. Historically the area was divided between the Lower Saxony and Hamburg territories.
The First Mile lies between the rivers Schwinge and Lühe, the Second Mile comprises the area east of it between the Este and Süderelbe.

The area is characterised by the Elbe marshes. These alluviums were created following the end of the ice age in the glacial valley of the Elbe. The southern border of this is formed by moor land which was not settled until the late 19th century and which lies as a broad border strip in front of the geest, the latter rises up to 40 m in some places.

2.2 Present landscape
Today the Altes Land is a smoothly reliefed (does this mean gently sloping ? no, some kind of a slight relief) plantation landscape which owes its fertility to the alluvial marsh lands. The modern landscape is still dominated by its marsh yardland villages and the straight-lined drainage ditches. This historic pattern of land use with a settlement emphasis along the strongly meandering rivers Lühe and Este has hardly changed.
Geomorphologically the alluvial marsh land is enclosed by the Geest to the south. Along the Geest edge, through the Altes Land there used to run an important trade route leading from Stade/Hamburg over Hanover, Frankfurt to Basel, the course of which is now followed by the federal road B 73. Roughly parallel to it the Altes Land is crossed from the north-west to the south-east by the road leading from Stade to Moorburg. From this, roads branch off nearly at right angles, forming a north-south axis.

Important features of the Altes Land are the parallel running, straight-lined drainage ditches. They enclose the yardland estates which usually are positioned at right angle to the banks following the courses of the rivers. If there was enough room then each settlement entity comprised a 2,25 km long and 150m wide yardland estate which again was divided up by drainage ditches into ca. 20 m wide strips. The long narrow parcels in the area between Stade and the Lühe are orientated towards the Elbe. In the area of the Lühe and the Este however they are orientated towards the river bank.

3. Landscape and settlement history 

3.1 Prehistoric and Medieval Times

The wide-ranging study of the Northern German Wadden Sea is much advanced, not least due to the efforts made by the Institute for Historical Coastal Research and by communal and district archaeologists. As a comparatively young geological landscape the Elbe-Weser region is dominated by quaternary alluvials. Contrary to the Geest bordering on the Altes Land, the river marshes of the Altes Land and the peatlands which used to border the Altes Land towards the Geest are basically still growing.

Archaeologically speaking, the exact date of settlement in the Altes Land has only been indirectly documented. On the basis of comparison with the surrounding regions it can be assumed that the Altes Land has been occupied since the prehistoric period.

At the beginning of the Holocene today’s southern North Sea coast was firm land and the North Sea cost lay in the area of the Doggerbank. It can be presumed that the former river marshes of the Altes Land would have been frequented by Mesolithic foragers. Neolithic settlement in the area is demonstrated by two flint daggers. It is possible that the river marshes contain sites of this period, and this possibility should be considered when dealing with future maintenance works in the rivers. In particular it is possible that when extending or dredging waterways, occupation layers could be cut into and thus could erode without being noticed.

The Bronze Age in the Elbe-Weser region is represented by various sites, such as burial mounds and urn-cemeteries. Similar forms of evidence survive from the Roman Iron Age and the following Migration Period. Between the early 6th to the late 7th century reforestation appears to have taken place and former cultivated areas were given up.

In medieval times the area was resettled. The First Mile was dyked first and settled after 1140. The dyking of the Second Mile was completed at the end of the 12th century and that of the Third Mile was completed only towards the end of the 15th century, since the area was very much endangered by storm tides.

As an example of the resettlement of the First Mile, the parish of Hollern can be cited. It lies in the lower hinterland, the Sietland, which was systematically cultivated in the 12th century. From the place names such as Ditterskop, which has already been documented for the year 1140, the presence of settlers from the Netherlands can be deduced. The name Hollern only became common in the 17th century. The settlement of Hollern consists of a marsh yardland settlement, approximately four kilometres in length, which today is characterised by an unusually uniform impression of the combined dwelling and farming buildings. In Hollern itself, the church tower, is of probable 12th century date and is perhaps the oldest surviving building in the Altes Land.

The parish of Jork is sited within the Second Mile. It is first documented in the year 1221. The settlement was constructed systematically along a routeway, the present country road 140. Originally most of the farmsteads lay on the southern side of the road, with the settlement centre at the junction of the east-western road and Jork’s main drainage system (Hauptwetter) which flowed northwards. The church lay to the south-east and the double yardland of the manor on the north-eastern side of the junction. On the western side lay the farmstead of the Andreas monastery, the “Verdener Farmstead“, also consisting of two yardlands. This village centre was to be subsequently further consolidated around the church with the addition of craftsmen, shippers (does this mean sailors or ship-builders ? both of them as I know) and traders’ dwellings and businesses.

3.2 Early Modern Times
At the beginning of the early modern period, under Archbishop Christoph (1511-1558), the autonomy of the Altes Land ended with the introduction of the archiepiscopal county order. The associated privileges of self-administration remained in place into the 19th century.

The various military occupations of the area during the Thirty Year’s War put the region under a lot of pressure and the period after the Westphalian Peace of 1648 brought further impoverishment upon the population. The Swedish occupants built their seat of government in Agathenburg and strengthened Stade’s fortifications. In 1712 the Swedish sovereignty was replaced by the Danish dominion and 1715 the Danes sold the region to the electorate of Hanover.

From an economic point of view the Altes Land was largely agriculturally based. This was due to the fact that the Elbe marshes provided the agricultural goods for the markets along the coastal road. Decreasing crops and the competition with overseas producers lowered the yields and caused numerous closing downs (= farm closures) (?bankruptcies). The population often didn’t have another choice other than to emigrate. During this period there was a shift from arable production to pasture, particularly cattle and horse breeding, and the development of fruit production. In the 18th century it is known that the Altes Land was exporting fruit to the Netherlands.

3.3 Modern Times
The administrative reforms in the middle of the 19th century brought the institution of the Office of Jork with it, which was sited in the so-called Portau’schen Haus currently used as bibliotheca. In 1885 the Office was turned into the district of Jork, after the kingdom of Hanover had become a Prussian province. The political entity which had existed since the medieval land-taking ended in 1932, and the Altes Land became a part of the district of Stade. From the parish reform between 1969 and 1971 the Einheitsgemeinde (combined parish) of Jork and the joint community Lühe finally emerged.

The regional development of the Altes Land has long been influenced from the growth of the surrounding towns Stade, Buxtehude and especially of the free and Hanseatic city of Hamburg. This influence is notable in the architecture. Modern construction methods and house forms are spilling into the Altes Land from the Elbe riverside settlements Borstel and Grünendeich. This urban influence declines the further you move into the hinterland.

One important influential factor was the development of the brick making industry. This in the area of the Elbe marshes focussed on South Kehdingen, but it also influenced the historical development of the Altes Land in the 19th century. The principal requirements for this industry were the kley soils of the marshes used as brickearth and the proximity to the water courses. For a time brick production was the most significant part of the economy in the areas to the west of the Elbe. Production and demand was however dependent on the economic and building requirements of Hamburg. Demand was particularly high as a consequence of the rebuilding of Hamburg after the big fire of 1842. The foundation years and the joining of Hamburg to the German customs union with its associated building of the Speicherstadt (a quarter consisting only of storage buildings) in 1885 were also significant. During this period the number of brick works in the Altes Land rose from four to 32 workshops. However, by 1900 most of these sideline businesses had already vanished.

A further important branch of the economy was the spread of fruit-growing in the early 20th century. Fruit-growing in the Altes Land dates back as far as the 14th century and for the year 1657 there are 102 fruit farms documented which together covered some 51 ha. The Altes Land orchards expanded considerably following 1870, reaching their greatest extent in the 1960s. In effect, it completely displaced arable and stock agriculture, replacing it with a plantation landscape of fruit-trees and bushes grown in long straight lines. Together with the marsh yardland villages these orchards are the most dominant feature of the modern landscape. The growth of the orchards was accompanied by the foundation of the Jorker district fruit growing school in 1867, and of the fruit growing experimental station in 1935.

In addition to the rather poor road and path network, the waterways were the traditional means of transport and communication in the Altes Land. In 1863 the Altes Land was indirectly connected with the transport network by the Stade-Buxtehude (the present B 73) following the Geest ridge and in 1881 the railway line Hamburg Cuxhaven was also built on the Geest ridge. In 1893 the Moorburg-Jork-Stade road, which runs straight through the Altes Land, was built.

4. Modern development and planning

In its regional development report of 2005 the federal office for building and regional development attributes the Altes Land to the regions where the development of the population and employment is characterised by intense growth. This development is leading to an ever-growing demand for building land, and is accompanied by increased traffic volumes.

4.1 Land use
The Altes Land is a plantation landscape specialising in fruit-production. The northern areas in particular are characterised by rather unfavourable natural and business conditions of production. Some 9000 ha. of farmland are intensively farmed, and it is anticipated that this will expand further, impacting on other businesses. At present the percentage of employees in the agricultural sector lies below 14% and this could decrease even further.

The Altes Land also has a tourist role, largely based on the agricultural landscape of the area. In this context the historic field structures, agricultural buildings, dykes, drainage ditches as well as technological monuments such as sluices etc. are of particular importance.

4.2 Settlement development
The proximity of the Middle Order Center Stade and the High Order Center Hamburg has had a direct influence on the Altes Land. Since the beginning of the 1990s a steady population increase has been documented. In the Regional Report Northern Germany 2005 of the Institute for Economic Research of Lower Saxony this is mirrored in the intense rise in commuting from the Altes Land towards Stade and Hamburg. It can be anticipated that the extension of the A-26 is going to increase the commuting trend even further. In the long term this might pose the danger of the Altes Land turning into a mere residential area which could lead to a massive loss of identity currently based on economic traditions. Furthermore, continuing urban sprawl can be expected.

The Altes Land does not possess a district- or supra-regional museum. In Jork there are the regional museums Estebrügge illustrating the history of the Altes Land and the Museum Altes Land dealing with the technological history of the Altes Land. Then there are the Altländer Schiffahrts-Museum in Twielenfleth with its exhibition of ship models, and other attractions like the special event days offered by some farmsteads or public guided tours e.g. in Estebrügge, Hollern-Twielenfleth, Jork, and Steinkirchen. In the restored harbour of Steinkirchen the ferry „Lühe“ can be visited.

On the border of the Altes Land in Horneburg is the crafts’ museum illustrating the history of the coaching inn, carriers and related crafts and trades of the 17th to 19th century. In Buxtehude there are two points of interests to be found. On the one hand the Buxtehude museum about the regional history and art and on the other hand the Marschtorzwinger/ Liebfrauenkirchhof with changing exhibitions. In Stade itself the Maumhausmuseum (Alt Stade), the artillery fort Fort Grauerort, the open-air museum, the museum of local history, the Kunsthaus Stade, the museum for the adopted town Goldap in Eastern Prussia, the Schwedenspeicher (Swedish storehouse), the technology and traffic museum Stade/Elbe as well as the Naturkundemuseum (museum for natural history) Stade are to be found.

4.3 Industry and energy
The Altes Land is situated between the higher ranking industrial sites of Hamburg, Buxtehude and Stade/Bützfleth with its main focus on petrochemistry. In the city of Stade there is a nuclear power plant and there is a transformer station in Rollern. The gas and crude oil pipelines, leading from Hamburg across the Altes Land, should also be mentioned. There are no wind farms in the Altes Land.

4.4 Infrastructure
The traditional means of integrated transport in the Altes Land has always been waterways and streets (the long-distance road Stade-Buxtehude), with the Elbe providing a means of communication into regional and national economics. By 1863 the indirect integration of the Altes Land into the road network of Lower Saxony took place with the construction of the road from Stade to Buxtehude (today B 73) following the geest ridge and 1893 with the building of the country road 140 running straight across the Altes Land and leading from Hamburg over Jork to Stade. Before then, the paths and roads were not surfaced. Hence the custom of walking on stilts developed in this region. The district road 26, which crosses the country road 26 at right angle, offers a north-south connection between the northern Elbe to the southern geest border.

The planned Autobahn A-26 will clearly increase the commuting radius from commuters from the surrounding region or from Hamburg. At present the Altes Land is still characterised by a rather poor access to the Autobahn A-1 respectively A7.
Considering the proximity of the Elbe, the rivers Schwinge, Lühe and Este serve as access routes to its important function as a federal waterway.
The train network of the Altes Land is connected by the town of Stade. The rails run parallel to the B 73 along the Geest ridge and parallel to the Altes Land.

5. Legal and spatial planning aspects

The Altes Land is historically divided into three parts of roughly equal size which are aligned with the rivers Schwinge, Lühe and Este. Today the Third Mile lies on Hamburgian territory. Since 1972 the part belonging to Lower Saxony consists of the Einheitsgemeinde (fusioned parish) of Jork and the joint community of Lühe with the parishes of Grünendeich, Guderhandviertel, Hollern-Twielenfleht, Mittelnkirchen, Neuenkirchen and Steinkirchen. Jork takes up all of the eastern part of the Altes Land which belongs to Lower Saxony. The parishes of the Old or Lower Saxony Land fall under the regional authority of Stade.

With regard to the spatial planning for the area, the parishes of the Altes Land are subject to the land-use regulation program of Lower Saxony, and to the landscape framework plans and land utilisation plans laid down by the parishes. In addition, the regional development plan for Hamburg and the land use regulation framework for the coastal area of Lower Saxony will have to be considered in any further development or management plans.

6. Vulnerabilities

6.1 Spatial planning
The intense growth in population and employment is creating an ever growing demand for building land which in turn creates increased traffic flow. The establishment of extensive industrial estates and business parks (e.g. Industriepark Unterelbe), as seen in the example of Airbus on Hamburg territory, can seriously disrupt traditional small scale industries and have a significant impact on the landscape and buried archaeological deposits.

6.2 Settlement
The extension of the traffic network, with the construction of the Autobahn A-26 and possible extension of the A-22 will clearly increase the commuting radius, which could lead to an influx of commuters into Altes Land. The Altes Land could turn into a mere dormitory town and the identification of the residents with the traditional income structures and local identity might get lost. The pressure to increase agricultural production has lead to a significant decline in farmsteads in the Altes Land.

6.3 Agriculture
The change in agricultural production methods has meant that the Elbe marshes with its typical narrow long leas pose a problem because they are not designed to be farmed with large machines. The present landscape also makes it difficult to use the fruit production methods which are regulated by the EU (Ramsar-Convention). Consequently farms will have to increase their agricultural areas to remain competitive and there is the possibility of the Altes Land could change into an industrially farmed monoculture.

6.4 Tourism
The promotion of the Altes Land as a tourist centre could have two separate impacts. Firstly it could lead to an attempt to ‘freeze’ the region in its present state, thus preserving the entire cultural heritage, but with major economic problems probably arising as a result. Alternatively, it may lead to the abandonment of traditional buildings to adapt to the needs of modern mass tourism. The expansion of tourism infrastructure may threaten buried archaeological deposits.

7. Potentials

7.1 Spatial planning
The closeness of Hamburg brings economic wealth to the region, but it increases the demands for space, since the “Altes Land” offers high quality living in a rural setting. Spatial planning needs to take the opportunity to exploit the important surviving historic landscape within its sustainable tourism. The cultural identify of the area should be promoted via integrated strategic planning when developing new industrial and residential areas.

7.2 Settlement
The historic settlement pattern, as seen in the Marshhufendörfer (marsh yardland settlements) of the 12th century with their long narrow leas is mostly intact and the important connection between villages and the marshland survives. This provides an important resource to promote the cultural identity of the area both to the existing occupants and the increasing numbers of commuters relocating to the area.

7.3 Agriculture
Unlike many areas the historic landscape survives very well, characterised by the yardland settlements. This landscape and the settlements provide an important resource to base sustainable tourism on. The extensive orchard plantations are an important historical landuse and the industry could be promoted and protected in its present form.

7.4 Management of cultural heritage
Altes Land is characterised by a high density of surviving monuments especially in the region of the river marsh on both sides of the Lühe there are, early Neolithic deposits, combined residential and farming buildings which date from the 17th to the 20th century and the industrial brickworks of the 19th century.

7.5 Tourism
Altes Land is characterised by an important surviving historic landscape, numerous religious buildings and a network of historic road and path networks. There are numerous museums presenting the material culture and the history of the region. Tourism can take further advantage of landscape and cultural assets, e.g. via integrated tourism with the museums, nature conservation bodies and cycle/footpath routes.

7.6 Maritime history
The hamlet of Gründendeich, developed early into an important shipping centre on the lower Elbe thanks to its favourable situation on the Lühe estuary. The marine monuments (such as beacon, navigation school and shipyard) provide a source for potential promotion of the maritime history of the area.

8. Sources

Author: Ulf Ickerodt

Behre, K.-E. (1995): Kleine historische Landeskunde des Elbe-Weser-Raums. In: Geschichte des Landes zwischen Elbe und Weser I. Vor- und Frühgeschichte. Stade

Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung (BBR;2005): Raumordnungsbericht 2005. Berichte 21, Bonn

Denkmaltopographie Bundesrepublik Deutschland (1997). Baudenkmale in Niedersachsen Landkreis Stade. 26.1. Landkreis Stade ohne die Städte Stade und Buxtehude, bearbeitet von Heike Albrecht. Hameln.

Ehrhardt, M. (2003): „Ein guldten Bandt des Landes“. Zur Geschichte der Deiche im Alten Land. In: Schriftenreihe des Landschaftsverbandes der ehemaligen Herzogtümer Bremen und Verden 18. Geschichte der Deiche an Elbe und Weser 1. Stade.

Hoffmann, H.-C. (1986): Bremen, Bremerhaven und das nördliche Niedersachsen. Kultur, Geschichte, Landschaft zwischen Unterweser und Elbe. Köln.

Hofmeister, A. E. (1979): Besiedlung und Verfassung der Stader Elbmarschen im Mittelalter I. Dies Stader Elbmarschen vor der Kolonisation des 12. Jahrhunderts. Hildesheim.

Raumordungskonzept für das niedersächsische Küstenmeer (2005). Herausgegeben vom Niedersächsisches Ministerium für den ländlichen Raum, Ernährung, Landwirtschaft und Verbraucherschutz - Regierungsvertretung Oldenburg - Landesentwicklung, Raumordnung. Stand 2005.

Röper, C. (Hrsg.; 1988): Bilder und Nachrichten aus dem Alten Land und seiner Umgebung. Bearbeitet von C. Röper, I. Carstens und L. Zupp. Bd. 1-3. Jork.

Thieme, H. (1997): Älteres Paläolithikum aus dem Gebiet zwischen Weser und Elbe. In: L. Fiedler [Hrsg.], Archäologie der ältesten Kultur in Deutschland. Materialien zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte von Hessen 18, 328–356.

Wendowski, M. (1992): Landschaftsentwicklung und Besiedlungsgeschichte im Alten Land. Methoden und Ergebnisse. Herausgegeben von der Gemeinde Jork. Jork.

Full catalogue of historic maps used, survey evidence etc

Historische Übersichtskarte des Alten Landes. Handzeichnung des Drost und Gräfen von der Decken aus dem Jahr 1781 (Ehrhardt 2003, 2-3)