Cultural Entities 


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1. Overview




River Weser, river Lune, geest border, Bremen (Federal state of Bremen) neighbouring entity Land Würden


Approx. 90 km²

Location - map:

Tidal river marsh of Lower Saxony/ Germany, western bank of the lower river Weser

Origin of name:

Not known

Relationship/similarities with other cultural entities:

River marshes of Land Würden, Stedingen, Stadland

Characteristic elements and ensembles:

River marsh, dyke villages, dwelling mounds, churches, windmills, dykes, rectangular field plots (Hämme) and strip fields, ditches and artificial channels, lighthouses/navigation lights, North German bay hall houses, brickworks.

2. Geology and geography

2.1 General
Osterstade is a 4-5 km broad and 20 km long piece of marshland on the lower river Weser. The southern boundary is formed by the Geest and in the north there is a historically determined boundary with the neighbouring Land Würden. In the west, towards the Geest edge, there used to be a marshy depression, which delimited Osterstade. Two rivers flow into the Weser from the Osterstade: the Drepte on the Geest, still called the “Aue” (watermeadow), and since the shifting of the river-mouth in 1980, the Lune. Previously the Lune flowed into the Weser further north.

From a physical point of view the region is essentially marked by the river marsh of the Weser with it’s roughly 1 km wide embankment. To the east the Geest edge joins it. In between there is the Sietland, comprising low lying farmland. The embankment is about 1m higher than the Sietland and offers favourable conditions for farming as well as for settlement activity with its lime-rich, sandy soil. The marsh sediments of the Sietland are much more clayey, which together with the low levels and unfavourable drainage, have led to severe waterlogging and, on the Geest edge, to the emergence of peatland. Trees grow only in the villages and around individual farmyards.

Today Osterstade is split into two communities, belonging to two different administrative districts. Hagen belongs to the administrative district of Cuxhaven and Schwanewede to the administrative district of Osterholz. The population of both communities is largely located on the Geest, and the marsh settlements only represent a small percentage of land and people. Schwanewede was created in 1974 by the merging of a number of smaller communities. The island of Harriersand and parts of the foreshore had until then belonged to Oldenburg, and thus to the district on the other Weser shore.

2.2 Present landscape
Osterstade comprises an open marsh landscape with meadows, which are broken by large trees or groups of trees. Church-towers and mills function as landmarks. The Geest-edge here is very fragmented, appearing close to Hünnebeck and Meyenburg, as well as in Uthlede and Driftsethe. The areas where the Geest appears are separated by broad marshy channels. In the east the motorway connects the two major cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven (both in the Land of Bremen). Osterstade is located between these two centres, with their corresponding road systems and their economic, cultural and social requirements.

The old villages are arranged in a line along the banks of the river Weser. The houses are sited close to each other on artificially elevated dwelling-areas, so-called dwelling mounds. The dykes were built closer and closer together, until it was possible to strengthen the dyke-line against floods and erosion. The dyke-line has been stable since the 18th century. Today, the majority of villages are built directly behind the dykes, which are the most significant historic monuments of the region.
The marsh, spreading eastwards, has been used intensively since the 16th century for pasture, and is divided by ditches and channels into a fine-meshed net of rectangular plots, the so-called Hämme. However, the adjacent peatland to the east is made up of long narrow strips of land and there are virtually no farmsteads.

The boundary between Norderosterstade and Süderosterstade is at the Offenwälder Indiek, a canal surrounded by dykes. A storm flood in the 17th century hit the northern part of Osterstade very badly. Thereafter, the villages in the south decided to defend themselves against a similar occurrence by constructing their own dykes.
The villages in the north are: Büttel (a divided village, the other part belongs to Würden), Neunelande, Rechtenfleth and Sandstedt. The villages in the south are: Offenwarden, Wersabe, Rechtebe, Wurthfleth and Aschwarden. Uthlede and Hünnebecke are on the Geest border. The village of Rade and parts of Neuenkirchen are sited in the marsh. However, for historical reasons these do not count as belonging to Osterstade.

3. Landscape and settlement history 

3.1 Prehistoric and Medieval Times

After the last Ice Age the Geest was permanently settled. The tidal river marshes of the Weser are an outcome of the North Sea tides and have fluctuated considerably in extent and shape. However, well before the sea level reached its highest point after the last Ice Age, the Weser valley was used by humans. Today their remains are covered by marsh-sediments and partially by the peatlands on the Geest-border. During the excavation of the shipping-channel finds were regularly made, which suggest Stone Age activity in the area. Mesolithic stone-implements were discovered close to the Hünenberg at Uthlede, which indicate a settlement-place on the edge of the Weser lowlands. The peatlands on the edges of the Geest have only developed since the Neolithic period.

On the peatlands between Wersabe and Hagen there was a megalithic burial place, which was almost completely overgrown by the moor. From these two burial mounds of the Late Neolithic period, burials from the single-grave culture were recovered. Close to Uthlede, on the Geest, there were the remnants of a Bronze Age settlement as well as a number of burial mounds and urn cemeteries. The landscape of that time is not visible anymore and can only be reconstructed with the assistance of scientific investigations and archaeological excavations. As with other places in the Wadden Sea area, the rise in the sea level in the 3rd century BC forced the inhabitants to leave the marsh-settlements.

During World War II partially destroyed burial mound nearby Meyenburg

During the building of a new house on the village-mound of Sandtstedt ceramic sherds from the 1st century AD, as well as from the 3rd to 5th century BC were found. These settlements were built at ground-level. Finds of the Roman imperial period were also discovered close to Wurthfleth and at the Hogenwurt in the vicinity of Aschwarden. Indications of settlements were also uncovered on the northern tip of the river-island Harriersand. Whether the mound-villages and mound-chains on the banks of the Weser are all from this early age has not yet been investigated. The villages were first mentioned in the early and high Middle Ages: Rechtenfleth in 860 and Sandtstedt in 1050. In 1072 three villages on the embankment facing the Weser were lost due to storm floods and this occurred again in the 15th century. Dung and clay were used to construct dwelling mounds of impressive dimensions for the settlements, as can be seen near Aschwerden.

Archaeologically the erection of dykes cannot have been started before the 11th century and the written sources mention dyke-building for the first time in a document of 1113.
The first half of the 12th century saw the beginning of systematic dyke-building around the marshes. This enabled people to use this area more intensively for settlement and farming. The Sietland was largely unoccupied as late as the 18th century, and only with the assistance of massive drainage were a few farmyards founded there. The characteristic rectangular drainage-ditches are relics of this time. Up to the present day, grazing land dominates the landscape of the Sietland.

Since the Middle Ages the history of the landscape was defined by the city of Bremen. Officially it belonged to the Archbishop of Bremen, hence to the church. However, the citizens of Bremen had a strong influence on the church and thus secured free use of the lower Weser. During the battles of the Stedinger war, Osterstade was hit badly. A crusading nobleman murdered a large number of the local population. The farmers retained some rights afterwards but there were a number of castles along the Geest-border which were used to keep the country under control. In Hagen the Bishops of Bremen had their own castle but otherwise they belonged to dependant noblemen and estate officials.
In Meyenburg on the edge of the marsh, there is a manor, formerly a castle surrounded by water, which was founded in 1375. It was built by noble knights of Wersabe. Today the place is an ensemble of church, castle, farm and trees. In the church there are a number of gravestones and inscriptions of family van Wersebe.
The castle buildings of Kassebruch from the 13th and the 16th centuries do not survive, apart from the watermill, which was converted into a residential building.
The castle of Hagen, a building belonging to the Bishops of Bremen, lies further away, and was also developed out of a lowland-castle. It is however nothing more than a solid house made of stone, built on an artificial hill. The present building was constructed in 1501, some of the paint from the 16th century still exists. This castle was the seat of the Bishops of Bremen, who also stayed there periodically. It is one of the rare secular buildings of the Archbishopric of Bremen.

In the Oberstad Marsh five old churches can be visited, Sandstedt, Büttel, Bruch, Wersabe and Uthlede. The churches are often the oldest buildings in the community, although they have undergone later changes. The present building in Sandstedt was erected from 1420 and forms part of the hall church built between 1609 and 1613. In this church the oldest wall paintings of the region have been preserved (the 15th century Stoning of St. Stephen, The Arrest of Jesus, The Holy Family, Mary as the Queen of Heaven). The tower of the Sandstedt church is slightly twisted due to a mistake in its construction. It dominates the landscape from a distance.

3.2 Early Modern Times
From pre-Napoleonic times there are only a small number of remains of rural secular buildings left. In Sandtstedt the churchyard and the gravestones are worth a visit; they illustrate the wealth of the marsh-farmers. A house in Sandstedt (Osterstader Str. 28) has got an internal beam structure from the second half of the 17th century. According to its form, a warehouse built of brick, in Büttel, dates from the late Middle Ages or early modern times.

The construction of dykes along the western estuary of the Weser, the last was at Lockfleth in 1531, and the other reinforcements on the western Weser-banks were accompanied by heavy erosion on the eastern banks. Crenesse, Aligwarfen and other places were lost and, as in 1419, the church in Sandtstedt, was now beyond the dykes.
The Christmas flood of 1717 had catastrophic consequences. The watergates of Ashwarden and Offenwarden were destroyed and it was impossible to protect the land from regular spring tides for two years. The structural consequences in the case of Visbeck were clear: many non-local landlords, especially Bremen citizens, gave their land up because they could not, or were not, willing to bear the costs of dyke construction. The poorer people offered their labour and so were able to buy land.

The ditches were jumped across with the help of long sticks made from the ash-tree, called Kluwstock. The stick was 10 foot long and with the help of this a ditch of 10 feet broad plus the jumper’s height could be crossed. In this fashion all areas of the property where accessible. This means of locomotion is also widely spread in Friesland.
By the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries a trans-regional division of agricultural labour existed. Cattle were brought to the marshes by livestock dealers from Bremen, the farmers bought piglets and lambs in the spring from the Geest and sold them in autumn. The fieldscapes of the agricultural land are varied. Many are the outcome of the so-called “Hammen,” a re-parcelling of agricultural land in the 16th century.

3.3 Modern Times
The number of surviving historical monuments is small and these places are marked by continuous repairs and renewal of the buildings. The consequence is that houses with old cores have 19th and 20th century appearances and only experts can recognise the changes and extensions.
The typical building-form of the 17th and 18th century is the half-timbered “Zweiständer” hall-house with slanting or semi-slanting roofs on all four sides. In the 19th century houses with working quarters were more often built as “Vierständer” with saddle roofs. In the first half of the 19th century plain brick facades prevail. In the second half of the same century historicizing decorations are added to the gable facades. Most of the preserved buildings are from the late 19th or early 20th century and were partially remodelled externally.

In the street Deichstrege 11 in Sandstedt a so-called “Zweiständer” house from the 18th century still exists, the floor of which is made of stamped clay.
In the 19th century in particular there were brickworks in Osterstade. Some architectural remains belong to this industry, like a drying shed in Sandstedt. In Offenwarden there is a rare brick storehouse, which was built in 1820.
The mill in Aschwarden is a particularly dominant landscape feature. Its present form is quite new, built first in 1800 as a post-mill, it was changed into a windmill with a thatched roof in 1850. After a fire in 1896 the mill had to be largely re-built.
In the course of the first big Weser-correction (1887-1895) shipping-signals were set up, which are preserved in Sandtstedt (old tower light) and on the Herrierplate. They have a cylindrical basic form and are stabilised by means of three supports.

The Niederweserbahn (Lower Weser Railway), which opened up the marshland in 1911, closed its passenger-services in 1931 due to the Great Depression. The northern part of the line experienced a short post-war renaissance, however in 1964 freight traffic ended and the line was closed. In many places street names still exist which refer to the railway.
The storm floods of 1953 (Holland Flood) and 1962 (especially in the Elbe area) also led to extensive coastal protection-measures in Osterstade. The dike-line was slightly changed in position and straightened and the old dike was partially dismantled. The areas where building-material was taken from, especially near Sandstedt, are now full of water.

In Rechtenfleth there is a farm belonging to the local writer Hermann Allmers (1821-1902), which he had converted after a stay in Italy. He had an antique hall as well as a marsh hall added, and a diagonal living area. The garden was arranged according to Roman models. The house has been open to visitors since that time. The Allmers family are a family with a long tradition in Rechtenfleth, as the gravestones in nearby Sandstedt bear witness.

4. Modern development and planning

4.1 Land use
The main source of income is traditionally farming. In southern Osterstade cabbage is still grown and delivered to the conurbations. Fishing on the Weser is minimal and no longer undertaken in Osterstade. The land is protected by a straight dyke-line against the Weser. The foreshore of the dykes and the island of Harriersand are secured by low summer-dykes against minor floods. Close to the banks of the river the flow is regulated by groynes and the land thus protected from erosion. Today the tidal range is roughly 3.5 m.
Since 1969 a pumping station on the estuary close to Rade drains the marsh- and moor areas, as the Geest water could not drain off satisfactorily. Further sluices are located close to Aschwarden (flood ditch), the Indiek-sluice and the Sandstedt sluice, as well as the Depte sluice and the sluice close to Nenelande in the north. In earlier times there were wooden sluices and one vault-sluice made of sandstone originating from 1797/98 still can be seen in the vicinity of Rechtenfleth.
Nature reserves have been set up mainly in the areas of the moors on the edges of the Geest and in the areas of the outer dykes. East of Sandstedt the meadows on the inner side of the dykes, and to the west of Rade the foreland of the dykes as well as the island Harriersand have been included in the “Wet Meadowland Protection Programme” of Lower Saxony. These areas may not be disturbed or influenced to any considerable degree either in their function as an ecosystem or as part of the landscape.
The eastern branch of the Weser, is monitored by the biological-station of Osterholz. East of Sandtstedt on the edge of the Geest there is a dump for dredged material.

4.2 Settlement development
There has been no significant settlement expansion and there has only been a small increase in living area requirements. Property prices are moderate. The island of Herriersand is extolled as the “longest river-island in Europe” and has a number of holiday homes and bathing areas on the Weser. In Rechtenfleth and Sandstedt there are some camp-sites, which are located directly on the Weser, as well as a few small sports-boat harbours. As tourism mainly consists of day-visitors, it has had little influence on the building of settlements. Only Sandstedt has expanded to the northwest and south outside the historic settlement boundary. Cycling is marketed as a primary form of tourism and it is possible to take a bicycle on the buses through the Weser-tunnel.

4.3 Industry and energy
There are no big industrial estates in Osterstade. However, on the other shore of the Weser the industrial and harbour installations are visible. The harbours of Elsfleth, Brake and Nordenham as well as the nuclear power plant of Unterweser close to Esenshamm are particularly worthy of mention in this respect. There are wind parks in the vicinity of Uthlede and on the west shore of the Weser. Bigger estates are not planned at the moment. Power lines run through the extreme southeast of the area, and pipelines run from north to south through the Weser valley. While the old lighthouses of the 19th century only rise a little above the dykes, modern radar-stations mark the Weser as a traffic route for big ships. However the sky and the marshes still form the dominant landscape elements.

4.4 Infrastructure
Osterstade is accessible to motor traffic by a road running from the north to south connecting all the marsh-villages (K 50, K 49, K 2). Parallel to it the motorway Bremen to Bremerhaven runs in the hinterland. Osterstade has four points of access to this and so to the long-distance transport network.

The railway connection between Bremen and Bremerhaven is far away in the hinterland, and it only plays a minor role. As public transport is organised within the administrative districts, it is differently orientated: in the south towards Bremen and in the north towards Bremerhaven. Thus a journey from Sandstedt to Bremen in the south is only possible via Bremerhaven or via the other side of the Weser. All in all, the connections to both cities from the southern part are poor. At present the re-opening of the railway line to the most northerly edge of the city of Bremen is being planned, so that a public transport-connection would reach as far as the southern Osterstade. Reaching Bremen Airport by public transport takes a long time, but by car it takes only an hour.
The existence of the Weser ferry near Sandstedt is under threat, as the new Weser tunnel in the north of Osterstade offers a better linkage. Also the planned motorway A 22 will go through this tunnel, which is to link Hamburg with the Baltic area and northern Netherlands.

5. Legal and spatial planning aspects

As far as regional planning in concerned, the communities are subject to the regional planning programme of Lower Saxony, as well as a regional planning programme and utilisation- plans set up by the communities.
In addition the regions development concept Bremen-Bremerhaven and the regional planning concept for the coastal sea of Lower Saxony have to be considered.
The project “Integrated Rural Development Concept – Wesermünde-South” began in 2005. Here people of the communities Schiffdorf, Beversedt, Hagen and Loxstedt are to take part in the development of their region. They are also to be the motors for this development. The new master plan for coastal protection has not been published yet.
The creation of reserve polders in the area of Osterstade has been suggested by scientists in view of the climatic change. There, in the case of a storm flood, surfaces could be flooded selectively in order to reduce the flood level in the area of the Weser.

6. Vulnerabilities

6.1 Spatial planning
Osterstade belongs to two administrative districts and is surrounded by the cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven, which form another federal Land. Under these circumstances, uniform planning is difficult.

6.2 Agriculture
The changed conditions of production in agriculture, particularly the amalgamation of holdings, which involves a re-parcelling of agricultural land, will have massive consequences for the present forms of the fields and their traditional landscape value. The planned re-organisation of widely spread holdings will be of importance to Driftsethe on the Geest and Wersabe in the marsh in 2006- 2010. In the past this led to thoughtless destruction of elements in the cultural landscape. Cultivation of vegetables and other crops could result in ongoing damage to buried archaeological sites of prehistoric settlements.

6.3 Tourism
The ferry near Sandstedt is a centre of attraction for tourism, especially for cyclists. If this were closed for economic reasons it would be a severe blow to the area as there are only a few other tourist attractions.

6.4 Infrastructure
Further dredging of the Weser could damage unrecorded archaeological deposits and coupled with climatic changes, could make it necessary to raise the height of the dykes, affecting the most outstanding historical monument in the landscape. Poor public transport connections to the cities mean that inhabitants and visitors to Osterstade are reliant on car use. The existence of the Weser ferry near Sandstedt is under threat. Trans-regional interests are operating in the area, especially in case of the federal waterway Weser, which may influence local decisions. The planned motorway, the A 22, will only affect the periphery of Osterstade but will have an impact on the historic landscape and buried archaeological remains.

6.5 Economy
The economic context is problematical in this region. The unemployment rate in Bremen, Bremerhaven and also in Oldenburg is very high at approx. 20%.

7. Potentials

7.1 Settlement
The historic settlement pattern of the area is relatively unchanged, allowing the historic evolution of the area to be understood by visitors and local residents.

7.2 Nature Conservation
The creation and management of nature reserves offers opportunities for the management of cultural heritage features and the wider historic landscape through an integrated management planning approach.

7.3 Agriculture
Contract nature protection by farmers offers the potential to preserve historic landscapes such as the wet meadowlands east of Standstedt.

7.4 Tourism
The area is close to towns and is situated near big nature reserves. There is good potential for visitors; although the marketing and exploitation of these qualities of the area for tourism has not really begun yet, the priority given to bicycle tourism seems to be an adequate means of marketing the area. The Allmers-House museum provides a focal point for information and interpretation in the marsh. The distance to both cities is suitable for day-visitors.

8. Sources

Author: Julian Subbert

Hermann Allmers, Marschenbuch. In Auswahl durchgesehen und mit Angaben aus dem Leben des Verfassers sowie mit Anmerkungen ausgestattet von Dr. Kurt Krause. Breslau: 1930. (18581).

AUST, 1976
Hans Aust, Die Steinzeit im westlichen Elbe-Weser-Dreieck. Landkreis Wesermünde, Kreis Land Hadeln.
In: Führer zu vor- und frühgeschichtlichen Denkmälern. Bd. 29. Das Elbe-Weser-Dreieck I Einführende Aufsätze. 1976:90-104.

BEHRE, 1995
Karl-Ernst Behre, Kleine historische Landeskunde des Elbe-Weser-Raumes.
In: Hans-Eckhard Dannenberg und Heinz-Joachim Schulze (Hrsg.), Geschichte des Landes zwischen Elbe und Weser. Bd. I, Vor- und Frühgeschichte. 1995:1-59.

BÖKER, 1997
Doris Böker, Landkreis Cuxhaven. Baudenkmale in Niedersachsen, Bd. 19, 1997.

Konrad Elmhäuser, Der werdende Territorialstaat der Erzbischöfe von Bremen (1236-1511) I. Die Erzbischöde als Landesherren.
In: Hans-Eckhard Dannenberg und Heinz-Joachim Schulze (Hrsg.), Geschichte des Landes zwischen Elbe und Weser. Bd. II, Mittelalter, 1995:159-194.

Adolf E. Hofmeister, Der werdende Territorialstaat der Erzbischöfe von Bremen (1236-1511) II. Adel, Bauern und Stände.
In: Hans-Eckhard Dannenberg und Heinz-Joachim Schulze (Hrsg.), Geschichte des Landes zwischen Elbe und Weser. Bd. II, Mittelalter, 1995:195-240.

Hans-Christoph Hoffmann, Bremen, Bremerhaven und das nördliche Niedersachsen. Kultur, Geschichte, Landschaft zwischen Unterweser und Elbe. DuMont Kunstreiseführer. Köln: 1986.

PIEKEN, 1964
Heinz A. Pieken, Der Beginn eines neuen Kapitel in der Geschichte des Osterstader Deiches.
In: Jahrbuch der Männer vom Morgenstern 45, 1964:319-334.

PIEKEN, 1991
Heinz A. Pieken, Die Osterstader Marsch. Werden und Wandel einer Kulturlandschaft. Bremen: 1991

SCHMID, 1995
Peter Schmid, Archäologische Ergebnisse zur Siedlungs- und Wirtschaftsweise in der Marsch.
In: Hans-Eckhard Dannenberg und Heinz-Joachim Schulze (Hrsg.), Geschichte des Landes zwischen Elbe und Weser. Bd. I, Vor- und Frühgeschichte. 1995:221-250.

Karl-Heinz Sindowski, Zwischen Jadebusen und Unterelbe. Sammlung geologische Führer, Bd. 66, 1979.

Wilhelm Stölting, Die Geschichte der Niederweserbahn. Die ehemalige Kleinbahn Farge-Wulsdorf im Dienste wirtschaftlicher Erschließung.
In: Jahrbuch der Männer vom Morgenstern 61, 1982:341-376.

Johann Gottlieb Visbeck, Die Nieder-Weser und Osterstade. Hannover: 1798. Unv. Nachdruck: Leer: 1978.


Not printed sources:
Fahrrinnenvertiefung der Weser – Fachgutachten „Kultur- und sonstige Sachgüter“ - Teraqua CAP
Umweltverträglichkeitsstudie im Rahmen der Umweltverträglichkeitsprüfung zu den Korridoren der A 22 „Küstenautobahn“. Stufe I.,148,33
Lancewad Report 2001
Generalplan Küstenschutz 1973