Cultural Entities 

Land Hadeln

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1. Overview


Land Hadeln


River Elbe, Geest ridges Hohe Lieth, Wingst, Westerberg, Geest border Bederkesa, neighbouring entities Land Wursten, Land Kehdingen


Approx. 725 km²

Location - map:

Tidal river marsh south of the Elbe estuary in Cuxhaven district, in Lower Saxony, Germany

Origin of name:

The name Hadeln is derived from the early Saxon “Gau” (province) Haduloha, which at that time referred to the entire territory between the Elbe and Weser estuaries. In this context, Land Hadeln is known as the elder brother of Land Wursten. The oldest documentary record of Haduloha goes back to Widukind von Corvey, who was an enemy of Charles the Great.

Relationship/similarities with other cultural entities:

Moor colonies Teufelsmoor (Devil’s Moor) near Bremen, marsh farmland on the Dollart, terp-villages, Krummhörn, linear settlements near Aurich

Characteristic elements and ensembles:

Typical maritime character reflected by dykes and associated drainage-systems (ditches or canals) as well as strip fields, dwelling mounds, churches, farmsteads, pumping stations

2. Geology and geography

2.1 General
The Land Hadeln is a 22 km to 25 km broad marsh-area close to the estuary of the River Elbe near Cuxhaven on the North Sea. Embedded between the Hohe Lieth in the west, the Wingst and the Westerberg in the east, the Handeln Marsh stretches about 25 km in a southerly direction as far as the Bederkesa Moor Geest. Hadeln Bay belongs to the sea-marsh area of the Elbe-Weser region, which formed due to marine conditions.
A distinction is made between the landscapes derived from the different sedimentation levels before the establishment of the dykes; that is between the highland with its sandy, chalky soil in a 5 km wide strip close to the coast and the lower lying land with its clayey soil. The main focus of settlement is on the highland which is on average about 15 m above sea level. The Hadeln low lying land which roughly begins in Neuenkirchen, goes down to less than 0.5 m under sea level and, due to the lack of drainage, is very marshy, especially on the Geest edges. This area is surrounded by a ring of lakes, such as the Flögeln- and Bederkesa Lakes as well as the Balk Lake.
The geology of Hadeln includes areas of partial salt deposits dating from the Zechstein period. The sedimentations of the Eemian era beneath the Holocene deposits of the post-Ice Age are also geologically remarkable. Peats near Osterwanna provide information on climate and vegetation conditions during the Eemian interglacial era, and have become a European standard due to their completeness.

2.2 Present landscape
Essentially the Land Hadeln is limited to the marsh surrounded by dykes, south of the Elbe estuary. Here the prevailing agricultural land-use is traditional. In the highland part of the fertile sea-marsh, tillage and fruit growing are undertaken. On the low lying land located behind it, predominantly dairy cattle are kept on extensive pasturage.
Only after extensive drainage-measures, could the low lying land be settled continuously. Parallel, straight drainage-ditches running side by side, divide the Land into strip-shaped fields. Nowadays the strip fields are an essential characteristic of the Land Hadeln. With the aid of extensive canal-systems and pumping stations it was possible, in the 19th and 20th centuries, to conduct the water against the natural incline through the highland of the Land Hadeln into the Medem (Hadeln Canal, Neuhaus-Bülkau Canal), which flows into the Elbe close to Otterndorf. The problem of draining the Hadeln low lying land, which is crossed by the Aue, Gösche, Mühe and Emelke, can be traced back to the year 1219 in documents.

Today the mire and raised bog areas in front of the Geest-ridges are designated as nature reserves. Amongst them is the roughly 40 km2 large Ahlenmoor and smaller peatland-areas around Wanna, the only Geest-community in Land Hadeln. Like islands, the small sandbanks, up to 20 m high project from the low lying area of Ost- and Westerwanna. Comparable with the “Hohen Lieth“, the Westerberg, the Wingst and the Bederkesa Geest, they have developed in the course of the penultimate Ice Age. Some of these Geest areas have extensive woodland.

3. Landscape and settlement history 

The Land Hadeln has a complex settlement history, in the marsh landscape man’s continual struggle to gain and preserve his habitat can still be observed in the characteristic dykes and dwelling mounds.

3.1 Prehistoric and Medieval Times
The coast line of the North Sea has changed frequently in the course of the Earth’s history. Towards the end of the Ice Age, roughly 10.000 years ago, another low-land bay existed on the southern Elbe estuary. Due to the rising sea level, tidal change led to the flooding of Hadeln Bay at high tide. At low tides the materials transported by the water were deposited, so that the marsh grew slowly higher over the course of millennia.
The first settlement traces go back to the Palaeolithic Age and are restricted to single finds of flint artefacts, like the flint found in Wanna and from the Wingst. They are assigned to the Upper Acheuléan period, chronologically to the end of the penultimate Ice Age, and are found in connection with Neanderthal man.
Unlike the Palaeolithic, a number of Mesolithic finds are known in the Elbe-Weser area. They are partially from the neighbouring regions of the Land Hadeln, for instance from Neuenwalde and Hemmoor-Westersode close to the Wingst.

With the beginning of the Neolithic period (roughly 3000 BC) the human impact on landscape in the Elbe-Weser area increases. One of the discernible changes in the natural landscape is the introduction by the humans of farming and livestock breeding. This phase of land settlement in North Germany is most obvious in the Elbe-Weser area of Flögeln, north-west of Bederkesa on the Geest. Pollen diagrams from kettle-hole bogs indicate the existence of grasses and heather in a clearing in the forest suggesting that grazing went on. Spelt and hull-less barley as well as some emmer were grown as cultivated plants. At the site of Flögeln there are the outlines of houses from the Neolithic Funnel Beaker culture (Trichterbecher Kultur; TRB), which provide information about the settlements of that time. Today the Neolithic burial places stand out in the landscape, and numerous examples were erected in the Land Hadeln. including those of Wanna and the Ahlenmoor. The burial places there were partially covered by the moor and are therefore well preserved. The cause of the growth of peatland at this time was the rise of the ground water level, which made the formation of the raised bogs possible.
For the Bronze Age there are many archaeological sites in the Elbe-Weser region. In particular tumuli and urn cemeteries, as well as some settlement traces, are worthy of mention. Nevertheless, there has been a lack of major settlement excavations. The man-made landscape hardly changed in the pre-Roman Iron Age either. However, there is a considerable increase of settlement activity, which intensifies in the northern Elbe-Weser area in the following Roman Imperial/Migration Period. This is also apparent in the beginning of the terp (settlement mounds)-building in the marsh around Christ's Birth, as well as in the continued settlement in the Geest-areas, for instance, in Flögeln-Eekhöltjen. Up to that time the settlement of the marsh was subject to variations in the sea level. This also holds true for the first small Iron Age settlements on the sandy ridges, but only with the beginning of terp-building was permanent settlement possible in the flood-endangered areas.
There are large old village-terpen in the west of the highland of Hadeln between Lüdingworth and Dörringworth, as well as on the Medem between Neuenkirchen and Otterndorf, and to the east of Otterndorf in Westerwörden. The terpen were settled until the 5th century and today they still rise above the surrounding areas by a few metres. They reflect the coastline of the North Sea or the shoreline in the tidal-area of the particular river-system during its settlement-phase.

An early medieval re-settlement, like the one which is documented for the neighbouring coastal land of Wursten, by a new terp-building phase in the 7th/8th century, can probably also be assumed for the Land Hadeln. Similarly, the question is still open, as to when the low lying land was cultivated for the first time. An indication of this is in the setting up of linear settlements, starting in the 12th/13th century on the north and east edge of the Ahlenmoor, from which the moor was cultivated bit by bit by peat-cutting.
With the medieval dyke-building the terpen lost their function as a protection from storm floods. It is assumed that the first medieval winter-dyke in Hadeln was set up parallel to the coast in the 12th century (“Hadler Seebanddeich”). It was presumably planned by Dutch colonists. A comparable development has been passed down to us for the Hamme-Wümme depression near Bremen in a document from 1113. Today there are still sections of old dykes, in separated sections,preserved near Otterndorf. However, they did not belong to the continuous winter-dyke, but where water divides between areas of different drainage direction.
It was only after 1469 that dykes were built at the mouth of the Medem. The church of Otterndorf, founded in the 12th century, was up to the middle of the 15th century in the area beyond the outer dyke. All in all there were 12 parishes in the Land Hadeln. The town of Otterndorf had a prominent position in the Elbe-Weser area for several centuries. In the core of the old town the original arrangement of the terp of Otterndorf is still recognizable.

3.2 Early Modern Times
The Reformation asserted itself in the Elbe-Weser area in the middle of the 16th century and found quicker acceptance in the Land Hadeln, which was under the supremacy of the Dukedom of Saxony-Lauenburg, than in the lands under archiepiscopal rule. After the losses of the Thirty Years' War the need rose for ecclesiastical furnishings, which in the 17th and 18th century often came from farmers’ donations. The churches in Hadeln in particular reflect the economic prosperity of the large farmers, and this is also evident in the development of splendid buildings combining living and working quarters in the Hadeln highland. The churches of the Land are also called "farmers’ domes" (Bauerndome).

In the second half of the 17th century, further settlements were built on the peatland edges, and the intensified deforestation of the Geest led to an increase in peat-cutting so that heating-fuel could be obtained. In this cultivation-phase Westerende, Mittelteil, Steinau-Westerseite and Medemstade came into being. The development of new land improvement techniques also ameliorated the conditions for agriculture in the low lying land. Suitable meadowland could now be transformed into farmland. While the settlements in the low lying land, such as Bülkau, Oppeln and Steinau, mainly represented the type of closed marshland village with relatively closely positioned houses, the linear settlements of the northern highland, such as Altenbruch and Lüdingworth, take the form of a loose structure of detached farms.
From the early Modern Times the Land Hadeln was regarded as a granary, which supplied grain to Hamburg in particular. An important upswing in agriculture was closely connected with cultivation of rape-seed from the middle of the 18th century. Today there are remnants of the former field-use left in the low lying land.

3.3 Modern Times
In the mid 19th century the Hadeln Canal and the Neuhaus-Bülkau Canal were extended, which not only made for better drainage of the low lying land, but also ensured transport inland via the waterways. The marsh-clay, which was obtained by digging and canal construction, was turned into bricks and shipped to many flourishing industrial towns.
A crisis in the in marshland economy, caused by the fall in grain and oil prices, occurred in the second half of the 19th century. Despite a change in production to meadowland farming with livestock fattening, people emigrated from the region. Another possible reason for this was malaria, which was raging in the region. Between 1873 and 1892 roughly 10% of the population of Hadeln emigrated to America.
In 1881 the railway-line Cuxhaven-Hamburg was built and the extension of the Cuxhaven-Stade line via Otterndorf was progressing. Ottendorf, for centuries the economic, political and cultural centre of a farmers’ republic in the Land Hadeln, was thus relegated to the level of a small country-town within a very few centuries due to the up-and-coming developments in neighbouring Cuxhaven.

From 1824 onwards horse-breeding played a role in the Land Hadeln, and it is still carried on today, for example in the traditional competitions in Am Dobrock in the Wingst show.
With the appearance of machine-driven pumping works it was finally possible to protect the low lying land against the permanent threat of flooding. Since the 20th century numerous pumping works are responsible for the artificial drainage of the Handeln low lying land. In the 1960s the Oste dam was built. Here the course of the Oste had to be changed in this area. The old stream bed below the dam was filled in. Today the remaining old arm of the river has become a tourist facility for water-skiing.

4. Modern development and planning

4.1 Land use
The Hadeln highland is one of the few marshland arable farming areas in Germany. Due to the fertile ground, the annual harvests are rich in yield. In the low lying land with its marsh meadowland areas, dairy farming is undertaken. The region has remained an area of traditional farming land.
In the whole regional administrative area of Cuxhaven (the former areas of the Land Hadeln and Wesermünde; complete size: 201.000 inhabitants on 2072 km2) the number of workplaces in industry, including the processing industry, are below average. In agriculture the number of employees subject to compulsory social-insurance is twice as high as the average. In comparison to 1990 the numbers here decreased by 43%, whilst increasing by 38% in the service sector. Thanks to the fish processing industry in the city of Cuxhaven, the administrative district is one of the leading regions in German food production.

4.2 Settlement development
Over the last few decades the number of inhabitants in the region of Cuxhaven has been in decline. In general the Land Hadeln is thinly populated; the main settlement-areas are located on the highland. Today the town of Otterdorf, which is known for its 17.5 kilometre long beach, is a North Sea seaside resort and the seat of the administrative district of Hadeln. The approximately 10,000 inhabitants of the district live in a community with historically evolved central functions. Due to the variety of existing public institutions, the North Sea resort is a desirable place to live. Traditionally a great emphasis is put on culture. The communications-centre “Stadtscheune” with its museum of modern art, offers space for many events. Besides trade, business and agriculture, tourism has strongly developed during the last few years. Holiday home estates with more than 150 living units, two camp-sites, sports and play grounds on a bathing lake, the “lawn-beach” and a salt water indoor swimming pool are at the visitors’ disposal.
Fishermen can use the coast, rivers and lakes for their sport. The Hemmoor Kreidesee is a good example; it has also become important over the last decades for international scuba-diving. For recreational sailors too, the area on the Oste and the Elbe with its connection to the North Sea and many small and big harbours and ports (Cuxhaven) is interesting and much used.

Altogether, the administrative district of Cuxhaven has registered an exemplary upswing in tourism: the number of overnight stays rose in 1987 from 4.88 million to 5.87 million in 1998. 3 million overnight stays were in the town of Cuxhaven. Otterdorf and the medicinal bog spa Bad Bederkesa are among the successful North Sea bathing resorts. According to the information of the Integrated Rural Development Concept ILEK, the number of overnight stays in the Land Hadeln has stagnated recently.
It is not only in the administrative area of Hadeln that the cultural-managers are investing in cultural identity. Burg Bederkesa is a museum and the seat of the office for the archaeological preservation of historical monuments, Studio A - a museum known nationally for abstract art - and for the archives of the district Otterndorf are managed by specialists.

4.3 Industry and energy
The Land Hadeln is an area still largely untouched by industry; it has, however, got numerous wind turbines. Numerous industrial enterprises have located in neighbouring Cuxhaven. The fish-processing industry, the manufacturing of metal packaging, technical apparatus construction and machine factories for the pharmaceutical, cosmetics and food industries are of great importance for economic growth.
There are big deep freeze-depots for fish, meat and fruit in Cuxhaven/ Otterndorf. The production of mineral building materials and the concrete works are of national significance for the building industry. Poultry production and breeding are another main focus. In Cuxhaven, market-leading enterprises are represented in the areas of pharmacy and dental medicine, as well as in the environmental sector, such as in the area of wind-energy and ground rehabilitation, which are active nationally.
The net-company Ems-Elbe (Stade) is responsible for the electricity supply in the Elbe-Weser triangle. It provides the highest- and high-voltage overhead transmission-system with the levels of 380, 220 and 110 kV. A group-switch line, from which all means of production can be remote-controlled, belongs to the net-company.

4.4 Infrastructure
The motorway A 27 follows the north-south course of the westerly Geest ridge “Hohe Lieth“, and separates the Land Hadeln from the Land Wursten on the North Sea coast. Via the A 27 the region is connected to Bremen, Hanover and the Ruhr Area and via the B 73 to Hamburg and the former East German Länder (federal states). The port of Cuxhaven only few kilometres away – nerve centre between the North Sea and the Baltic - has gained importance since the opening of the Amerikahafen in 1997. Since 1999 there has been a car-ferry connection on the Elbe to Brunsbüttel in Schleswig-Holstein. Furthermore Cuxhaven is also connected to Hamburg and the European inland waterways network via the river Elbe.
Otterndorf is linked to the railway-line from Cuxhaven to Hamburg. From Cuxhaven a railway line runs to Bremerhaven. From there a link exists to the ICE high speed train network of the Deutsche Bahn AG. The rail passenger-traffic from Cuxhaven to Hamburg is heavier than on the stretch from Cuxhaven to Bremerhaven. The nearest large airports are in Bremen and Hamburg. The airport Cuxhaven/Nordholz was originally a military installation and was only very recently opened to civilian freight traffic.
The administrative district of Cuxhaven has numerous developed industrial-zones and estates, some of which are sited close to the motorway and to the Nordholz Airport. The prices for trade- and residential properties in the administrative district of Cuxhaven are amongst the lowest in the Federal Republic.

5. Legal and spatial planning aspects

In historic times the boundaries of the Land Hadeln changed several times, and a county of Hadeln continued to exist into modern times. In 1972 the administrative district of Hadeln came out of the merger of five administrative areas: Hadeln with its seat in Otterndorf, Sietland with its seat in Ihlienworth, Am Dobrock with its seat in Cadenberge, Hemmor and Börde Lamstedt. In 1977 the administrative districts of Land Hadeln and Wesermünde were merged with the independent city of Cuxhaven into one administrative district with its seat in Cuxhaven.

Regional planning is subject to Lower Saxony’s land planning programme as well as the regional area and land use planning programme put forward by the communities. The Regional Development-Concept for Hamburg as well as the regional structure concept for the coastal waters of Lower Saxony are integrated into this. Since 2006 an Integrated Rural Development-Concept ILEK task force is working in the Land Hadeln to develop systems to safeguard the future of the region. If suitable the implementation of the ideas can be supported by funding from the EC, the Federal Government and the Land (federal state).

6. Vulnerabilities

6.1 Settlement
There is a danger of the development of so-called dormitory villages which runs contrary to the intended stimulation of the town and village centres and the expansion of public services. Such dormitory villages will affect the historic settlement pattern of the area.

6.2 Agrciulture
Pressure from international competition, resulting from globalisation, to optimise agricultural land use will result in the intensification of agricultural production and stuctural changes. In order to remain competitive, farm sizes will inevitably have to be increased. The historic fieldscape, including the long strips of land typical of the Elbe marshes, and other landscape features, would be threatened due to increases in the size of farm machinery. The expansion of production areas could lead to monocultures and could destroy the historically grown settlement pattern with redundancy of some farms.

6.3 Tourism
Due to the steady increase in population in the conurbations, there will be a danger of mass-tourism affecting the recreational areas of the rural greenbelt bringing pressure on the cultural heritage.

6.4 Energy and industry
The lack of big companies and industrial estates in the area could lead to a further population drain and, through commuter movements, daytime de-population which could result in negative consequences for the maintenance of the historic landscape.

6.5 Infrastructure
The German seaports such as Cuxhaven are demanding a significant improvement to their hinterland connections for the future. This demand would signify a further extension to the infrastructure of the area causing interference with the cultural landscape of Hadeln, with a negative ‘knock-on’ effect on tourism.

6.6 Natural Processes
There is an ongoing danger of flooding in the coastal areas as a result of continuing global warming.

7. Potentials

7.1 Settlement
There are ongoing efforts to revitalise village centres in the area to improve future quality of life for the residents. In the meantime Hemmoor has become one of the central focal points in the region, on which the town-rights were conferred in 1982. The Land Hadeln offers favourable real estate and has comparatively inexpensive building land and stable rents.

7.2 Agriculture
In the agricultural sector the identity of “Milkland” Hadeln could be marketed even further as a means of branding the area and its produce. A possible alternative for farm incomes would be the strengthening of the traditional local horse breeding and ownership.

7.3 Tourism
The Land Hadeln has retained its rural character to a great extent. The scenery and settlement forms still clearly reveal the old structures in many areas, including: old dyke structures, marshes, marshland villages, drainage channels, peatland colonies and many raised terpen and banks. The regional administration is aware that the potential of the areas natural and man-made resources such as dykes, drainage-channels, peatlands, lakes, Geest ridges, agricultural working areas and technical monuments (e.g., pumping stations) can be used increasingly for tourism and thus create workplaces in the service sector. Numerous church buildings and other cultural monuments, often with maritime character e.g. lighthouses are equally tourist attractions. The Natureum close to Neuhaus/ Balje with its didactically presented exhibition concept is especially suitable for school classes. Here the meaning of the natural landscape with its local animal and plant world is clearly conveyed to the visitor. The museums and other cultural institutions of the area are headed by experts and mediate up-to-date research-results with their exhibition concepts and/ or emphasize cultural and regional identity (e.g. local museum, farmhouse parlour). The situation of the highland at the mouth of the Elbe and on the North Sea area, and the historic watercourses in the low lying land provide areas for soft tourism. Overall tourism concepts and a sharper focus of the profile of the region could stimulate the development of tourism in future. The campaign “German Ferry Routes“, which successfully demonstrates and markets the potentials of the maritime scenery of the Lower Elbe, is a positive start in this respect.

7.4 Industry and energy
The immediate proximity to the port of Cuxhaven is useful for trade and industrial estates. The varieties of trade and craft industries demonstrate strong medium-sized industrial activity. The strengths of the region in future will most certainly show in the quality of the location for the settlement of companies. The Land Hadeln has extremely low property-prices, has got sufficient land for industry and a favourable cost level for producing industry. There are attractive locations for the further expansion of wind energy and bio-energy.

7.5 Economy

With its expansion into a modern seaport, the harbour of Cuxhaven has triggered off a growth impulse which could affect the economic well being of its periphery in the future just as positively.

8. Sources

Author: Andrea Finck (Übers. Mai-Catherine Botheroyd)

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Ergebnisillustration der „Zukunftswerkstatt“ ILEK Hadeler Region, erstellt: Dr. Greiser und Partner

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Seedorf, H. & Meyer, H.-H. (1996): Landeskunde Niedersachsen 2. Natur- und Kulturgeschichte eines Landes. Niedersachsen als Wirtschafts- und Kulturraum. Neumünster.

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.