Cultural Entities 


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1. Overview




The island of Wangerooge is situated in the Wadden Sea of Lower Saxony. The administrative border lies at the line of the average high tide (MThw).


Approx. 4.97 km² (administrative district of Friesland)

Location - map:

The most easterly of the seven islands in the Wadden Sea area of Lower Saxony. Its nearest neighbour is Spiekeroog.

Origin of name:

The syllable „Oog“ can be translated as island.

Relationship/similarities with other cultural entities:

Frisian Islands, Islands of Lower Saxony, dune landscape, maritime landscapes and settlements.

Characteristic elements and ensembles:

Barrier island, dune landscape, tree groves, Friesian building-types (Suderloog).

2. Geology and geography

2.1 General
Wangerooge is one of seven East Frisian Islands off the coast of Lower Saxony and is sited in the c. 2780 km² large national park Niedersächsisches Wattenmeer.
The island has a length of 8 km from west to east and a maximum width of about 1.4km.
Wangerooge is one of the barrier islands and has developed in the course of the interaction of wave energy and tidal range. Barrier islands originate from periodically flooded sand plates and develop first into flood-free beach banks and then into dune-covered islands. An important part of this process is the blowing of sand from the wet beach which initiates dune formation. The natural tendency is for the island to move in an easterly direction, with the loss of land at the western end and the deposition of sand at the eastern end. Thus much, and maybe all, of the earliest settlement has been lost.

2.2 Present landscape
At present, Wangerooge, is a dune-covered island affected by the steady interaction of low and high tide. To the south of the island are the mudflats of Lower Saxony. The islands are separated by deep tidal inlets, known as the Seegats.
The continuing destruction of the western part of the island shows that Wangerooge is still subject to constant change. The reason for this is the west-east sand drift which is induced by the interaction of the tidal currents on the one hand and the prevailing westerly winds on the other hand. The currents cause sand erosion in the west and sedimentary deposition to the east. In addition the sand reefs on the eastern Tipp of Spiekeroog break loose, and then move in an arc (Riffbogen) to the neighbouring island of Wangerooge to the east and deposit their sands in the middle or the east of that island. Efforts are being made on Spiekeroog to slow down this morphological process.
There are some trees on the island, chiefly within the settlement areas. Dunes, dune valleys and salt meadows are characteristic natural landscape elements of every East Frisian North Sea Island. The western and eastern ends of Wangerooge is covered by dune complexes and salt meadows, and the vast beach on the eastern end of the island; the settlement is located in the area between them the settlement is located.

3. Landscape and settlement history 

3.1 Prehistoric and Medieval Times
In the course of the post-glacial period and the melting of the ice sheet, the North Sea reached the present-day coastal line by c. 5500 B.C. The transgressive North Sea, under the influence of waves and tides pushed a seam of sand in front of it, which progressively increased in size. This barrier zone of sand supplied the material for the sand plates which largely evolved in the slipstream of Geest cores and later developed into true barrier islands, the predecessors of today’s dune islands. On the former beach bank systems and higher sand plates Wangerooge developed, as one of the barrier islands which align like a string of pearls from the west to the east. This process is still active today and induces a high natural dynamic to the natural space of the mudflats.
As a consequence of the geological development of Wangerooge, all remains of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic human activity, like settlement remains, burials etc., are covered by younger sediments and surface finds are not to be expected. But it can be assumed that the area now occupied by the island of Wangerooge was also inhabited in prehistoric times. Archaeological finds, however, would be buried deep beneath the sediments which would make it almost impossible to discover and retrieve them today.

Wangerooge is recorded first in medieval times, and it is thought that it was settled, in common with its neighbours, in the 13th or 14th centuries. In medieval East Frisia the influence of the Old Saxon language extended to the Geest ridge while in the marshes and on the islands the Frisian dialect prevailed. However these earliest settlements would have been very vulnerable to both the natural movement of the island eastwards and the occasional storm-floods; the Grote Mandrake Flood of 1362 was particularly devastating in this part of the coast.

3.2 Early Modern Times
To the first settlers of medieval and early modern times the island must have presented itself as a barren dune landscape with only sparse vegetation. They were caught in an incessant fight against a hostile environment. On the one hand there was nature with its storm floods and sand storms and on the other hand they had to defend themselves against attacks and pillaging which continued until the 16th century.
Next to fishing and some sheep farming, salvaging flotsam and jetsam was a further important source of income. The Western Tower was originally built on the eastern end of the island in 1597 as a navigational aid.

3.3 Modern Times
Napoleon’s Continental System of 1806, which was supposed to prevent trade between the continent and the British Isles, also disrupted the seafaring activities of the people of Wangerooge. Thus the main source of income of the island dwellers ran dry and the population quickly sank into poverty, leading to emigration.

A lighthouse station was established in 1830, the Old Lighthouse was constructed in 1856 as a 39m high round stone tower clad in metal plates. It was closed in 1969 and now houses the Local museum. The New Lighthouse has taken over its original function.

Little is known about the origins of Wangeroog’s development into a seaside resort, although it probably developed in response to the decline in the fishing industry and in emulation of the other spa-resorts on the neighbouring islands.
Wangerooge formed part of the Atlantic Wall defence system of the Second World War. It was extensively bombed in 1945. It is famous for the bizarre crash of two B-17 bombers in 1944, where the ball turrets of each plane impaled the chassis of the others. Most of the crew baled out leaving the pilots to successfully crash land the entangled planes.

4. Modern development and planning

The island of Wangeroog belongs to the district of Friesland and is therefore subject to the regional planning of the federal state of Lower Saxony. The basis for this is the Law for Regional Planning and Land Use Regulation (NROG) and its Supplemental Administrative Regulations (VV-NROG) of Lower Saxony. The aims and principles of the land use planning are defined in the Regional Planning Program of the Federal State of Lower Saxony (LROP). The LROP forms the basis of the Regional Planning Program of the Administrative Districts (RROP).
According to the regional planning report of 2005 of the federal office of building and regional planning Spiekeroog lies in a region in which the development of the population and employment is characterised by a significant growth. Since the middle of the 19th century this growth bases economically on the expansion of the tourism.

4.1 Land use
There is no intensive agricultural usage on Wangerooge. Neither does fishing play any longer any significant role for the island dwellers, having ended as a significant economic factor in 1900.
Since 1986 the island has been part of the national park Niedersächsisches Wattenmeer and divided into three different protective zones of varying intensity: Protective zone I (= quiet zone) has the strictest usage regulations. Here the protection of animals and plants takes priority. It may not be accessed „cross-country“ but only by hiking-, riding- and cycling paths which give visitors the chance to explore and enjoy nature without disturbing it. Protective zone II acts as buffer zone (= intermediate zone) enclosing the more strictly protected area. In the intermediate zone the main goal is to preserve the impression of the typical landscape. It may be accessed freely but like in the quiet zone it is prohibited to pick plants or take away any thing which is part of the natural environment. In the salt meadows of the intermediate zone protected bird species breed from the beginning of April till the end of July. These areas are specially marked. During the breeding season they may only be accessed by the paths. Protective zone III comprises the remaining parts of the national park with only slight regulations (= recreational zone). This quiet area acts as recreational area for human beings; e.g. no motor powered appliances are allowed here. Within the landscape the borders of the national park and the different protective zones are marked by blue signs with white writing.

In contrast to this is the role of tourism on the Wangerooge landscape. The main focus of tourism on the island is for recreation in close communion with nature. The village of Wangerooge has clinker-paved streets and red, usually low Frisian Houses, giving the impression of a self-contained island world which has managed to preserve its character. Cars are prohibited on the island.

4.2 Settlement development
There are c. 1,055 inhabitants, supplemented by a further 7,000 visitors on a dialy basis.
Tourism is overwhelmingly the principal source of income and the architecture and activities are largely geared towards that. There is no State- or supra-regional museum, however the island museum in the Old Lighthouse presents the history of Wangeroog and its surroundings.

4.3 Industry and energy
At present there are no industrial or wind energy plants on Wangerooge.

4.4 Infrastructure
There are no cars (apart from emergency vehicles) on the island and transport is by foot, bicycle or a small train. Currently Wangerooge can be reached from Harlesiel by ferry, depending on the tides. There is also a small air-strip, with flights to Harlesiel, Bremen and Hamburg.

5. Legal and spatial planning aspects

The community of Wangerooge is sited in the administrative district of Friesland and belongs to Lower Saxony. With regard to land use planning, the community is subject to the regional planning of the federal state of Lower Saxony respectively of the landscape framework plan and the land use utilisation plan of the community. In addition there is the regional planning concept for the coastal sea of Lower Saxony. It is part of the Regional Structure Conference of East Frisia.
The territory of the community ends at the MThw line (line of the Average High Tide). The coastal sea below the MThw line is a „community-free area“. Accordingly, the regional and building plan only applies to the land but not to the marine area.
The presently valid regional planning of the federal state of Lower Saxony (LROP) contains only a few regional planning goals for the marine 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“.

6. Vulnerabilities

6.1 Tourism
The promotion of nature-oriented ecotourism may create a situation which will alter the natural state of the island into an artificial-looking structure.

6.2 Natural erosion
The continuing erosion of parts of the island will result in areas of surviving cultural heritage monuments or buried archaeological deposits being lost to natural processes.

7. Potentials

7.1 Settlement
The historic settlement on Wangerooge still contains several of its historic buildings and provides the potential both for protection of the historic buildings and settlement layout and there promotion via the tourist industry.

7.2 Tourism
Tourism should be orientated in the direction of nature-related tourism, however, there is the opportunity to include the cultural heritage within this and develop further tourism via the cultural heritage assets. Since Wangerooge is part of the national park special emphasis is placed on the protection and preservation of these unique habitats and there is potential for this to be expanded to protect and promote the cultural heritage of the island.

7.3 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 the islands potential for carefully managed tourism can increase.

8. Sources

Author: Franziska Grieß

Gemeinsames Wattenmeer Sekretariat (Hrsg.; 2005): Das Wattenmeer. Kulturlandschaft vor und hinter den Deichen. Stuttgart.

Gutmann, H. (1990): Deutsche Nordsee-Inseln. In: HB-Bildatlas. Sonderausgabe 5. Hamburg.

Meyer-Deepen, H. und Meijering, M. P. D. (1970): Spiekeroog. Spiekeroog.

Maier, R. (1974): Ur- und frühgeschichtliche Denkmäler und Funde aus Ostfriesland. In: Wegweiser zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte Niedersachsens 8. Hildesheim..

Niedersächsisches Ministerium für den ländlichen Raum, Ernährung, Landwirtschaft, und Verbraucherschutz – Regierungsvertretung Oldenburg – Landesentwicklung,
Raumordnung (Hrsg.; 2005): Raumordnungskonzept für das niedersächsische Küstenmeer. Stand 2005. Oldenburg.

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

Roterberg, P. (1983): Die Nordseeinsel Spiekeroog. Vom Fischerdorf zum Nordseeheilbad. Hamburg.

Internet-Sources: Status: 13. 02. 2007 Status: 12. 02. 2007 Status: 09. 01. 2007 Status: 09. 01. 2007 Status: 09. 01. 2007 Status: 09. 01. 2007 Status: 09. 01. 2007