Cultural Entities 


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1. Overview




North Sea mud flats, Leybucht (Ley Bay), inland marsh Brookmerland, Ems and Ems estuary, neighbouring entities: Norderland and Brookmerland


Approx. 275 km²

Location - map:

Marsh areas on the western edge of the East Frisian peninsula, administrative district Aurich, Lower Saxony, Germany

Origin of name:

The name Krummhörn, colloquially also called the Krummhörn, appeared in the 16th century for the first time, after which the East Frisian peninsula had developed into an enclosed landscape and can be roughly translated as ‘crooked corner’.

Relationship/similarities with other cultural entities:

Similar natural and cultural landscape to the neighbouring cultural entities around the river Ems (Rheiderland).

Characteristic elements and ensembles:

Agricultural use, fishing, coastal protection, rural house-forms, settlement mound-villages, detached farm-settlement mounds, churches, dykes and polders.

2. Geology and geography

2.1 General
The wide marsh landscape of the Krummhörn is located on the western edge of the East Frisian peninsula. In the south and in the west it is bordered by the River Ems or its estuary, in the north by the Leybucht (Ley Bay) and in the east by the cultural entity of Brookmerland.

Historically the whole geographical area between Greetsiel and Oldersum was called Krummhörn, comprising the present area of the boroughs of Krummhörn, Hinte, Emden and parts of Moormerland. Today the name of the former cultural entity is reduced to the area of Krummhörn borough situated in Aurich County. The area of the Krummhörn borders directly on the Wadden Sea National Park of Lower Saxony.
The Krummhörn is entirely comprised of former sea-marsh. Its present appearance is essentially the result of an increase in the sea level around 300 B.C., as a result of which the coast line shifted to the south and bays developed near Campen and Sielmönken. At the same time, mud-flat sediments were extensively deposited.

2.2 Present landscape
The present Krummhörn landscape is dominated by waterlogged lowlands, unfavourable for agriculture. These developed in areas where silt covered peatland shrank and subsided gradually under the superimposed load and/or by drainage. As a consequence today’s lowland surface, such as in the Freepsumer Meer, is in part up to 2 m below sea level. The bays of Campen and Sielmönken divide the Krummhörn into older marshland and newer marshland; the latter was only reclaimed piecemeal during the Middle Ages by dykes. In contrast to the former area it has chalky and fertile soil, which still offers favourable preconditions for farming and settlement. Drained marshes surrounded by dykes require an extensive system of ditches, whilst in the lower areas of the marsh pumping stations have to be used.

3. Landscape and settlement history 

The Krummhörn has a complex settlement history, and its marsh landscape reflects man’s continual struggle to gain and preserve the marsh for human habitation. Characteristic monuments of the process are the dykes and settlement/ dwelling mounds. The large scale investigation of the North German mud flats, as well as to a smaller degree the Krummhörn marsh, has been carried out by the Archaeological Service of the East-Frisian Association (Ostfriesische Landschaft) and the Institut für historische Küstenforschung (Institute for Historic Coastal Research) among others.

3.1 Prehistoric and Medieval Times

The large scale investigation of the North German mud flats and the Krummhörn marsh, by the Archaeological Service of the East-Frisian Association (Ostfriesische Landschaft) and others, has added considerably to our understanding of this area. As a geologically recent area it is marked by Quaternary deposits. The tidal river marshes of the Krummhörn have developed since the end of the Ice Age until today.

The exact date when the Krummhörn was settled can only be determined indirectly, on the basis of comparison with the surrounding areas. At the beginning of the post-Ice Age, today’s southern North Sea coast was firm land and the North Sea coast of that time was in the area of the Dogger Bank. It is possible that there are sites of this or later phases below the marsh and its layers of sediment deposits.

However, little is known about the beginning of settlement in the Krummhörn. From the 1st century AD and in the following centuries the presence of a number of lowland settlements has been established (e.g. near Emden-Nesserland, on the drainage-canal close to Wolthusen and on the Uttumer Escher). These settlements were apparently not significantly elevated above the marsh and were as a consequence abandoned when the sea level rose.

A large number of village- and farm-dwelling mounds dating from the Middle Ages and modern times are known. These were densely strung out along the embankments of the River Ems as well as along the former shores of the bays of Campen and Sielmönken. A dwelling mound-row stretches from Manslagt (size approx. 10 hectare), which was formerly sited offshore on a Hallig-like island near the bay’s coastline, across the northern edge of the former Sielmönken Bay up to Loppersum. On the southern edge of the bay a dwelling mound-row stretches from Groothusen as far as Suurhusen. On the bay of Campen there are the settlements of Rysum, Loquard and Campen. On the northern bank of the River Ems the dwelling mound-row of Wybelsum runs upstream along the stream course via Emden and Borssum. It is possible that there are remains of earlier settlement-phases under these medieval and modern dwelling mound-settlements. The size of each dwelling mound varies considerably, ranging from a small farm-dwelling mound with only one detached farm to a large village-dwelling mound with more than a dozen farms. A classic example of a village-dwelling mound is the round village of Rysum, formerly situated on the Bay of Campen. Even in the 19th century 15 big farms were still grouped concentrically around the church in the middle of the village, as well as the smaller houses of craftsmen and workers and the site of the former castle.

Apart from the round dwelling mound with their distinct settlement pattern, there were also linear dwelling mounds in the Krummhörn, which have a completely different character. These two dwelling mounds of Groothusen and Grimersum, each about 500 m long and 200 m wide, were trading-places, whose inhabitants mainly lived of crafts and service activities. Archaeological excavations in Groothusen have revealed that it was constructed as early as the 8/9th century in this form.

A comparable long dwelling mound, running from east to west, has been excavated in the centre of Emden. Today’s Emden developed very early, out of a number of closely situated settlements, as a trading-place with a grid road system. A number of finds of Rhenish imported ceramics and coins are evidence of active trading. During excavations in the Grosse Kirche in Emden two oak-posts were uncovered and dated to 966 by means of dendronochronology. This is evidence for the oldest church in East Frisia. From the early Middle Ages new areas of the region were developed, spreading out from the village-dwelling mound. Excavations on the dwelling mound in Middelstewehr and Alt-Damhusen revealed ceramics of the 8/9th century.

In the 12/13th century the building of dykes increased in momentum. Silting up and dyke building secured the bays of Campen and Sielmönken as settlement-areas. Inland colonisation was carried out by single farms. Inspite of the construction of dykes as protection against floods, these were still placed on small dwelling mounds of 1-2 m in height and 30 to 50 m in diameter. Finds from the 13th and 14th centuries have been found in these dwelling mounds, which were subsequently abandoned. The construction of dykes requires intensive draining of the land, which led to the characteristic drainage-ditches.

In the 14th century Greetsiel was founded. Here the Greetmer Sieltief drained the northern marshland. As a harbour it attained trans-regional importance and became the first residence of the East Frisian counts of the Cirksena family. Hinte and Pewsum were further economic and administrative centres. Nowadays the 15th century Manniga-Castle, which has been completely restored, still stands in Pewsum. Up to 1565 it was the seat of the chieftain’s family, the Mannigas.

3.2 Early Modern Times
Towards the end of the Middle Ages settling of the Krummhörn was largely complete. However its isolated geographic position and the lack of common- or fallow land made an influx from other cultural landscapes difficult.
Before 1600 severe storm floods led to repeated changes to the coast line and made the strengthening of the dykes necessary. The Christmas flood of 1717, which inundated the whole area of the Krummhörn, cost the lives of 215 inhabitants.

East Frisia had been elevated to the rank of an imperial county in 1464 and before 1600 had expanded to cover today’s region. In 1744 East Frisia, including the Krummhörn, was integrated into the Kingdom of Prussia. After the Napoleonic period of occupation from 1806 to 1813 it fell to the Kingdom of Hanover. With its end the Krummhörn was restored to Prussia.

Since the end of the Middles Ages the fertile marshy ground in the Krummhörn has formed the basis for the great wealth of the farmers. It made productive farming and dairy pasturage possible. The majority of farms in the Krummhörn were large or middle sized, so that the wealthy farmers required a great workforce.

3.3 Modern Times
The number of inhabitants in the marsh-villages remained relatively stable until the mid 19th century. The social structure of the Krummhörn was almost exclusively regulated by the size of land owned. The farmers thus were at the top of the social hierarchy, regardless of whether the land was owned or leased. Being able to vote also depended on the ownership of land, as did access to political and ecclesiastical offices. Workers and day labourers, who owned no property, were at the bottom of the social hierarchy. In many marsh villages the middle class was completely absent, being located instead in the coastal towns and in the administrative centres. It consisted mainly of business people, craftsmen and administrative officials.

Since 1950 a renewed increase of storm flood activity has been registered, thus the tide-levels of 1962, 1976 and 1994 are amongst the highest ever measured on the coast of Lower Saxony. The storm floods of 1953 and 1962 in particular led to extensive extension and reinforcement work on the coastal protection systems. The plan to build a dyke-ring around the entire Leybucht (Ley Bay) was not implemented in the 1980s on account of the changed social attitude towards coastal protection which now prioritises ecology. However the last extensive strengthening of the outer dykes occurred only a few years ago in Lower Saxony, when a dyke was built in Leybucht (Ley Bay). The severe incursions of storm floods from the North Sea up the river Ems made raising the dykes along the river essential. The severe March storm of 1906 led to a heightening of the dykes on both sides of the Ems, built between 1906 and 1913.

Pewsum, the administrative seat of today’s administrative unit of Krummhörn is about ten kilometres northwest of the municipality of Emden. The administrative unit of Krummhörn, which covers 159,2 km2 of the historic cultural landscape, emerged from 19 once-independent communities in the framework of Lower Saxony’s community reform in 1972. Today it has roughly 13.560 inhabitants.

The churches in the centre of round dwelling mounds, are of impressive dimensions, considering the size of their communities, and most have a higher architectural standard than for example the churches in Campen and Eilsum. The majority are originally late Romanesque or early Gothic buildings. In the church of Rysum there is the oldest playable original organ in Northern Europe of 1457.
The only two lighthouses in mainland East Frisia, are from more recent times. They were erected between 1889 and 1892 off Campen and Pilsum on the Ems-dyke.

Typical settlement of the historic landscape Krummhörn

Big farms are characteristic of the Krummhörn. Some date back to the 16th century and still play their part in shaping today’s landscape. Just as typical for the image of the Krummhörn landscape is the contrast between the compact village-dwelling mounds and the open marsh-areas with a small number of single farm-dwelling mounds scattered across the countryside. This settlement-structure was established in the Middle Ages and has lasted to present times. The village cores have kept the old settlement-character too. Due to the expansion of development areas with one-family homes, especially in the vicinity of Emden, the landscape is being more and more built-up and its typical character is being threatened.

Typical settlement of the historic landscape Krummhörn

In the 1990s the Leyhörn on the southern side of Leybucht (Ley Bay) was completed. The construction stretches as a spit of land into the mud flats and includes a reservoir as well as an approach road from the lake to the Greetsiel harbour. The use of the approach road to the harbour in Greetsiel is independent of the tides thanks to the integration of a sluice in its construction.

4. Modern development and planning

4.1 Land use
The marsh areas are still used traditionally for agriculture. The historic coast line in the Leybucht (Ley Bay) area is retained in the shape of the farm land. However in the Krummhörn, the structural changes in agriculture can be also seen in the growing number of farm-closures and the increasing farm size (scale enlargement). This also leads to a decrease in arable farmland-areas in the marshes and therefore to an increase in long-term meadowland. Here regional factors play a minor role; it is the influence of EU agricultural policy, which will lead to a further intensification of production.
Economically the role played by fishing is slight (there are still 28 shrimping boats at Greetsiel) although it is part of the culture of the Krummhörn and is of importance for the people of Greetsiel and for tourism as a constituent of their traditional environment. The long-term existence of this economic sector is questionable because of the de-population of fish stocks in the North Sea.

The role of tourism in the Krummhörn is important. Its quality is based particularly on the area’s historic land use structures and on its maritime characteristics. Here especially the fieldscape, the dwelling mound-villages, agricultural buildings, dykes, lighthouses and drainage-ditches should be mentioned. Every year there are about 400.000 overnight-stays and roughly 1 million day-visitors are registered, with the main emphasis on the fishing-village of Greetsiel.

A characteristic of the mud flats area of the North Sea coast is its high biological productivity, for instance as a spawning ground for many types of fish. Off the coast of the Krummhörn there are vital breeding and resting areas for many kinds of birds. Parts of the foreshore of the dykes of Krummhörn as far as the Ems-estuary are a part of Protective Zone I of the Wadden Sea National Park of Lower Saxony, which as rest areas may only be entered on marked paths.

4.2 Settlement development
The population of the Krummhörn is increasing due to immigration, while the city of Emden registers a drastic decline. This is reflected in an increase in one-family homes being built. Housing estates are expanding into the countryside along the edges of dwelling mound-villages, altering the historic village plans. This development can be seen in Upleward, Hamswehrum, Groothusen, Visquard, Eilsum and Uttum.

The north-side of the former dwelling mound-village of Manslagt is still clearly typical of its type, as are settlement structures of the village-dwelling mound of Rysum. To this day the landscape of the Krummhörn offers many possibilities to observe the way in which the development of the countryside was organised from the dwelling mound-villages throughout time.
Tourism is an important component of the economy of the Krummhörn and is characterised by the rising number of overnight stays. The number of visitors depends strongly on the season. In addition a great number of employed people only live partially off tourism. Part-time employment and seasonal employment play a big role.

Typical farmhouse building of the historic landscape Krummhörn. The building was used as a combined storage and residential building.

Apart from the harbour of Greetsiel, the national park house is also a tourist attraction. In the centre of Pewsum there is the Pewsum Castle museum. In addition there is a mill museum located in a three-storey gallery-windmill in Pewsum. The East Frisian Agricultural Museum is situated in Campen. The Krummhörn can offer a number of buildings worth visiting, such as the lighthouse of Pilsum (13 meters high, it is the smallest lighthouse on the German North Sea coast), the lighthouse of Campen (65 meters high – the highest lighthouse on the German North Sea coast), the Church of the Holy Cross from the 12th century in Pilsum, the church in Eilsum from the 13th century, as well as the church in Manslagt from the 14th century. The East Frisian Regional Museum is located in Emden.

Typical farmhouse building of the historic landscape Krummhörn

4.3 Industry and energy
Industrial installations and the processing industries are mainly sited in the city of Emden with its VW-works, shipyards and seaport. There is a large trading estate in Pewsum on the L 3, which attracts consumers from the Krummhörn, Hinte and Emden. In Greetsiel a new commercial estate in being built on the L 25.
The gas and crude oil pipelines are significant trans-regional structures. In addition gas is extracted at several places in the Krummhörn. There are two natural gas wells to the west of Greetsiel and gas wells in the regions of Uplewart and Campen. Close to the settlement of Rysum another natural gas power station exists.
Wind farms have been set up extensively in the Krummhörn to the west of Pilsum south of Visquard and southwest of Manslagt, as well in the Larrelter Polder. A number of single wind turbines are scattered across the entire cultural entity.

4.4 Infrastructure
From the point-of-view of traffic the Krummhörn is marked by its distinctly peripheral position. For a long time the ring roads around the village-dwelling mounds and the smaller roads branching off them, shaped the traffic-network which served the marshy areas. By 1863 a fully-developed road connection developed between Emden, Aurich and Norden (today’s B 210 and 72). Up to 1893 the Krummhörn was only linked to the trans-national road system by a number of country roads. Still today the Land roads follow the old course of these roads.

A highly branched road system is necessary to connect all the rural settlements and farms. The Krummhörn is linked via Emden by a number of Land roads (L 2, L 3, L 4, L 25, L 27) and by local roads. The nearest points of access to the motorway are near Emden, onto the A 31 (via the “Pewsum” interchange amongst others).

On the 27th July 1899 passenger- and freight transport on a narrow-gauge local railway, which was popularly called “Jan Klein”, opened on the line between Emden and Pewsum. From the 27th September 1906 the extension of the line reached as far as Greetsiel. All traffic however completely stopped on the 25th May 1963. The railway was dismantled and public transport transferred to buses. Today, the Krummhörn has no linkage to the national railway network. The nearest railway stations are in Emden and Marienhafe. Public transport is by bus.

The Krummhörn has access to shipping on the Federal waterways River Ems and the North Sea via the harbours in Emden and Greetsiel. The harbour of Greetsiel can be accessed from Emden by small boats. The Alte Greetsieler Sieltief and the Neue Greetsieler Sieltief connect the place with the East Frisian inland waterway network.

5. Legal and spatial planning aspects

In matters of regional planning the Krummhörn region is subject to the Land Planning Programme of Lower Saxony of 1994 with its supplements of 1998 and 2002, as well as Regional Planning Programme set up by the administrative district of Aurich. In the Land’s regional planning programme the city of Emden is categorised as the centre for this region. Apart from the shipping waterways of the River Ems, the entire area of the coastal waters has been declared as a priority-area for nature and landscape and belongs to the Wadden Sea National Park of Lower Saxony. In the regional planning programme of the administrative district of Aurich, Greetsiel is named as a recreation/ tourist area and therefore the community was assigned the special task of developing “recreation”.

The community of Krummhörn belongs to the administrative district of Aurich and thus to the Ostfriesische Landschaft (East Frisian landscape). This is the only upper communal association (Höhere Kommunalverband) in Lower Saxony. As an institution it is responsible essentially for tasks such as the areas of culture, science, preservation of historical monuments and education.

6. Vulnerabilities

6.1 Settlement
The continuously increasing population in the rural areas of the Krummhörn, as a result from the movement of people from Emden, will lead to the formation of further settlement areas, or expansion of existing settlements and thus changes in the historic settlement pattern. Careful planning will be required to protect and manage the surviving historic settlements.

6.2 Agriculture
In the Krummhörn, the structural changes in agriculture can be seen in the growing number of farm closures and the increasing farm size (scale enlargement). This leads to a decrease in farmland areas in the marshes and therefore to an increase in long-term meadowland. Here regional factors play a minor role; it is rather the influence of EU agricultural policy, which will lead to a further intensification of production. This will mean that both the present dispersed settlement pattern and the existing land use will be vulnerable to change.

6.3 Industry and economy
The building of larger wind farms with higher wind turbines lead to changes in landscape perception and thus in the character of the historically evolved landscape. Investigations will be needed into the extent natural gas extraction leads to a subsidence of the area of the Krummhörn, which is increasing the threat of inundation.

6.4 Infrastructure
The rise in population figures in the Krummhörn will lead to an increase in traffic on the Land- and Federal roads, as will the flow of commuters to Emden. Increased local public transport can only be road transport because of the lack of rail linkage in this area which will create pressure on the historic structure of the road system.

6.5 Natural processes
A main problem of the future, which is difficult to predict, is climate change which is progressing faster than expected. Since 1950 increasing storm flood activity has been observed. Reinforced coastal protection-measures with dyke heightening and dyke widening will be necessary, requiring the quarrying of clay and sand needed for construction purposes. The flooding danger is increased by the subsidence of land in the Krummhörn, possibly triggered by drilling for natural gas. The Ems-estuary is a specifically endangered area. It has become a “gateway” for storm floods due to the constant changes, straightening and deepening, as well as the building of dykes. Evidence for this is the drastically increased range of tides and the clear increase in extreme water levels. Any plans to protect the area will need to have the cultural heritage interests as an integrated part of the proposals.

7. Potentials

7.1 Strategic Planning
To both protect and promote Krummhörn overall planning beyond the boundaries of the single cultural landscapes has become increasingly necessary. The crucial basis for the East Frisian area has been set up with the establishment of the Regional Structure Conference East Frisia, which amongst other things led to the founding of the Integrated Traffic System Ems-Jade (EVS), and the Regional Innovation Strategy for Tourism. The advantages of Krummhörn and its neighbouring region, can be increased and its disadvantages decreased by the interlinking of the cycle tracks and footpaths, as well as a programme range covering the single cultural landscapes.

7.2 Settlements
In Krummhörn most forms of settlement and land use, adjusted to the lives of the people in the marshes of the North Sea coast, are preserved to a large degree. The relationship of the settlements with the natural landscape can be seen as the cultural and historic heritage in the landscape: farm-dwelling mounds, village-dwelling mounds, old and new dyke-lines (e.g. in the former Leybucht/ Ley Bay), areas of brackish water, colcs, clay pits, and drainage ditches reflect the interactions in the past and the present with the sea. This pattern provides great potential for the promotion of the area both in the production of traditional produce and for the tourist industry.

7.3 Agriculture
An important pre-condition for maintaining the traditional structure of the landscape and the buildings within it is the use of the land by private individuals, tourism and agriculture. A chance of linking the two economic branches, tourism and agriculture, could be the expansion of ecological agriculture, as well as the inclusion and encouragement of farmers in processes aimed at preserving the countryside.

7.4 Tourism
The great attractions of the landscape of the Krummhörn for tourism are a potential source of economic development. The preservation of the attractiveness of the landscape and the improvement of the tourist infrastructure (hotels, restaurants, footpaths, etc.) is vital for this. In view of the peripheral location of the Krummhörn on the mainland the possibility of intensifying co-operation with neighbouring cultural landscapes should be examined. At the same time care must be taken that the original character of the cultural landscape is not completely lost but is integrated in the development of the Krummhörn in accordance with future requirements. A decision to classify the whole Dutch-German Wadden Seas area as a “Place of World Natural Heritage” could open opportunities. This would protect this region of the North Sea better – up to now it has been only classified as World Culture Heritage with emphasise on “shipwrecks” – and prevent negative developments. Encouraging and promoting the historic settlements, landscape and museums of the area will increase the tourist industry and help in the protection and management of the cultural heritage assets.

8. Sources

Author: Wolfgang Scherf (Translation: Mai-Catherine Botheroyd)

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Full catalogue of historic maps used, survey evidence etc.

Karte des Nordwestlichen Teils von Ostfriesland. Herausgegeben vom Generalmajor Le Coq 1805, Sect. III. Nachdruck 1984.