Cultural Entities 

Baltrum (under construction)

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1. Overview




Baltrum is one of the seven East Frisian islands. It is separated from Nordeney to the west by the Wichter Ee channel and from Langeoog to the east by the Accumer Ee, the southern side is bordered by the Steinplate mud-flats which belong to the National Park of Hamburgerisches Wattenmeer.


The island is 5km long, and 1.5 km wide. The overall area of the island is c. 6.5 km².

Location - map:

Baltrum is a sandy island offshore of the mudflat coast of Lower Saxony and belongs to the district of Aurich, federal state of Lower Saxony, Germany.

Origin of name:

Baltrum is first referred to as ‘Balteringe’ in 1398, a name deriving from the Old Frisian for ‘grassland’, alternatively it refers to the ‘Settlement of Balter or Baldur’.

Relationship/similarities with other cultural entities:

Frisian Islands, islands of Lower Saxony, of the Netherlands, dune landscapes, mudflats, national park of Lower Saxony, maritime landscapes and settlements.

Characteristic elements and ensembles:

19th century houses associated with the fishing industries.

2. Geology and geography

2.1 General
The process which brought the islands into existence began about 10.000 years ago. Unlike the North Frisian Islands on the coast of Schleswig Holstein and Denmark, the East Frisian Islands are not remnants of former mainland. Instead they were created by deposition of sediments by the tide and currents. These keep the water in constant movement, with the direction of the current changes with the tides. These bodies of water carry significant amounts of sand. In shallow water, when the carrying capacity of the current lessens, the sand is deposited and the waves shape it into barrier beaches and Platen (sandbanks) which are subsequently reinforced by plant growth. The result is a sandy barrier island which, if unprotected, gradually shifts position over the millennia, losing material on the seaward side and depositing it on the leeward side. The eastern end of Baltrum was approximately 4.5km to the west some 400 years ago (roughly located where the eastern end of the island of Nordeney is now sited).

2.2 Present landscape
The settlement is concentrated in the western half of the island, and comprises the villages of Westdorf and Ostdorf, which have practically merged. The eastern half of the island is entirely natural, with sand dunes, salt-marshes and tidal mud. The northern, North Sea face of the island comprises a large beach, which widens to the east and is stabilised by lengthy groynes to the west. The island elevation is 5m above sea-level.

3. Landscape and settlement history 

3.1 Prehistoric and Medieval Times
Geologically speaking, the island is quite young. Even though there are some prehistoric finds from the region of East Frisia there are no traces of prehistoric activity on the present island. However, since the island has repeatedly changed its shape and location over time any archaeological finds would be buried beneath meters of sediment or in the sea.

The island is referred to in the chronicle which describes the effects of the disastrous storm flood of 1362 (the Grote Mandrenke or Marcellus flood), “and Baltrum a spade of sand, slipped out of a Giant’s hand, swept by wind and waves”. Although there are no written sources for the earlier medieval period in Baltrum, it is believed that the first permanent settlements on the island were established during the 13th and 14th centuries. There is a documentary reference to Baltrum as ‘Balteringe’ in 1398. It is known that in the 1600s the western end of the was approximately 4.5km to the west, roughly where the eastern end of Nordeney now stands. Nordeney was some 5.7km shorter than its present length in 1650. Any settlement on Baltrum would have been very vulnerable to flooding events and would have severely damaged, if not lost altogether, during the 1362 flood. As the island shifted eastwards any settlement would also have had to move in that direction.

3.2 Early Modern Times
Around 1700 there were some 1400 inhabitants on the island. However, because of the storm floods in the 18th century, in particular the Christmas Flood of 1717, the islanders were forced to move their townships and churches further and further eastwards. In the 17th and early 18th century fishing remained the primary economy of Baltrum. However, by the second half of the 18th century the marine trade industry had grown in importance. This had become increasingly profitable by the mid-19th century, a fact that is reflected in the surviving houses from that period with their souvenirs from foreign lands, Delft tiles and ‘Buddelein’ (wall cabinets).
Baltrum was part of Prussia from 1744 to 1806. Following Napoleon’s defeat of Prussia in 1806 Baltrum, together with the rest of East Frisia, became part of the Kingdom of Holland. In 1866 Prussia annexed the Kingdom of Hanover and the island again became Prussian.
In 1876 Baltrum became a sea side resort, although initially visitor numbers were very low due to difficulties in accessing the island. In 1891 the Baltrum town council ruled that all sea-bathing was only permitted with the aid of a mobile beach cabin.

3.3 Modern Times
In 1925 Baltrum received an electricity supply and in 1935 a water supply. The number of visitors increased greatly after the Second World War. To-day the island has a permanent population of 600 and a visitor population of 3,500 in the summer months.
Developments catering for the visitor included a sea-water indoor swimming pool and a miniature golf course as well as the ferry terminal.

4. Modern development and planning

The eastern half of Baltrum is part of the national park “Niedersächsisches Wattenmeer”. This enables protection of the dunes, the saltmarsh, the beach and the tidal flats. The national park is intended to preserve and protect the special character of the nature and landscape of the dune and saltmarsh region, including the typical appearance of the landscape. By this means the course of the natural processes is supposed to be ensured and the biological diversity is to be preserved.

4.1 Land use
The economy of the island was traditionally orientated towards the sea: fishing and maritime trade. However, the economic structures of the island are now dominated by tourism.

4.2 Settlement development
The settlement on the island is architecturally a resort settlement, comprising a mixture of older resort buildings and more modern structures. Red-brick and red tiled roves predominate. The tallest buildings are 4-storey. The settlement is concentrated in the western half of the island in the villages of Westdorf and Ostdorf. There is very little in the way of buildings on the remainder of the island.

4.3 Industry and energy
Traditionally the transport connection to Baltrum is by ferry from Norddeich-Mole, near the German city of Norden. The status of the island as part of the National park has affected all kinds of traffic on the island, and vehicular traffic is subject to strict regulations.

4.4 Infrastructure
Water and electricity supplies were introduced to the island in the first half of the 20th century.

5. Legal and spatial planning aspects

Baltrum belongs to the district of Aurich in the federal state of Lower Saxony. In terms of land use planning the community of Baltrum is subject to the regional planning of the federal state of Lower Saxony respectively of the landscape framework plan and the land utilisation plan of the community. Additionally, there is the regional planning concept for the coastal sea of Lower Saxony. The territory of the community ends at the MThw line (line of the Average High Tide). The coastal sea below the MThw line is „community-free area“. Accordingly, the regional and building plan only applies to the land but not to the sea area.
The present regional plans for the federal state of Lower Saxony (LROP) contain only a few regional planning goals for the sea area. The area of the national park is registered at the EU for the Fauna Flora Habitat guideline (FFH) and therefore belongs to the biotope network system Natura 2000. The main part of the park lies within the territory of the EU water withdrawal guideline. In 1996 the Wadden Sea area within the borders of the national park was recognised by the UNESCO as biosphere reservation in the context of the program „Man and Biosphere“.
With regard to building regulations there are the NbauO and the Baugesetzbuch (the German Statutory Code on Construction and Building), also a Gestaltungssatzung (design statute) with its Gestaltungsfibel (design primer) of 1995; a preservation statute; tourism statute; a statute for the permission to subdivide land; various complementary statutes to ca. 15 land-use plans (inner, middle and outer area).
In the course of the village reformation these regulations are just being reviewed.

6. Vulnerabilities

6.1 Settlement
The historic settlement pattern on Baltrum comprises the villages of Westdorf and Ostdorf both of which are largely designed for the tourist industry. The settlements are vulnerable to expansion and conversion within the settlements.

6.2 Tourism
Tourism is the major economic factor on Baltrum and in itself provides both potentials and threats to the Island. The expansion of Baltrum clearly is a threat to any surviving archaeological deposits or surviving cultural heritage features.

6.3 Industry and energy
The major reliance on tourism for the economy of the island could result in the cultural heritage not being given appropriate protection in competition with the development of the islands tourist infrastructure.

6.4 Natural processes
Because of its exposed maritime location and the characteristics of a sandy island Baltrum is also threatened by natural forces. The sands in front of the islands and at the beach are continuously moved eastwards by the surf which rolls in mainly from the north-east. This dynamic island process is affecting the landscape and, in the long run, the settlement structure.

7. Potentials

7.1 Tourism
Baltrum already has a thriving tourism industry and there is potential to further promote the Cultural Heritage through the existing network of cycle routes, walking routes etc.

7.2 Nature conservation
There is potential for the cultural heritage to be incorporated within management plans for the nature conservation on the island. By creating integrated management plans for both the natural and cultural environment both elements can benefit.

8. Sources

Backhaus, H. (1943): Die ostfriesischen Inseln und ihre Entwicklung: ein Beitrag zu den Problemen der Küstenbildung im südlichen Nordseegebiet. Oldenburg

Buchwald, K., Rincke, G., Rudolph, K-U. (1985): Gutachtliche Stellungsnahme zu den Umweltproblemen der Ostfriesischen Inseln: Schlussbericht. Hannover

Niemeier, G. (1972): Ostfriesische Inseln. Berlin

Petersen, J., Pott, R. (2005): Nordfriesische Inseln: Landschaft und Vegetation im Wandel. Hannover

Pflüger, B. (1997): Gletscher- und Inlandeis in Polargebieten. Universität Hamburg

Pott, R. (1995): Farbatlas Nordseeküste und Nordseeinsel: ausgewählte Beispiele aus der südlichen Nordsee in geobotanischer Sicht. Stuttgart

Sindowski, K-H. (1973): Das ostfriesische Küstengebiet: Inseln, Watten und Marschen. Berlin

Streif, H. (1990): Das ostfriesische Küstengebiet: Nordsee, Inseln, Watten und Marschen. Berlin

Merian (Heft 3/XXV), Ostfriesland und seine Inseln, Hoffmann und Campe Verlag, Hamburg

Niedersächsisches Ministerium für den ländlichen Raum, Ernährung, Landwirtschaft und Verbraucherschutz (2006) : Landes-Raumordungsprogramm Niedersachsen, Ergänzung 2006, Hannover

Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Wirtschaft, Arbeit und Verkehr (2005): Bericht der Landesregierung: Entwicklungen an der niedersächsischen Küste, Hannover