Cultural Entities 

Wilster Marsch and  Krempermarsch   

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1. Overview


Krempermarsch and Wilster Marsch, Störmarsch


River marshes of the county of Steinburg, bordered by entity of Süderdithmarschen with Kiel Canal as border line in the north-west and entity of Haseldorfer Marsch with Krückau River in the south-east, Elbe River in south-west, moraine Geest and bogs further inland in north-east


Location - map:

Elbe River marshes of county of Steinburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

Origin of name:

From towns of Wilster and Krempe, name of Wilster, probably derived from the river

Relationship/similarities with other cultural entities:

Structures of wetland colonisation like Dithmarschen and The Netherlands.

Characteristic elements and ensembles:

Rows of medieval dwelling mounds with adjacent elongated strips of land, intersected by parallel drainage ditches (Marschhufendöfer), irregular, medieval dike lines and canals, farmhouses of type Barghus and Husmannshus, drainage system with independent canals for sweet water and bog water 

2. Geology and geography

2.1 General
The geological basis of the area is formed by the high moraines of the Geest of Saale ice age origin. During the last ice age, it was levelled and cut by the estuary of the early Elbe River, covered by sand and debris emitted by the ice sheets in the east. The advancing North Sea formed, together with sediments from the Elbe River, a boggy zone in front of the higher moraines, which was increasingly cut off by high marshland banks along the river from recurrent flooding. This led to the formation of large bog areas along the steep moraine edge which merged with wetland areas farther in the hinterland where the glacial deposits were lowest. The marshes between the bogs and the elevated banks along the rivers remained under water saturated conditions. The protection from coast parallel sand ridges in Dithmarschen resulted in less compact, water soaked soil in the western Wilster Marsch, which after drainage began to shrink and therefore to lower the ground level. This process is continuing till today making this area the lowest in Germany with down to 3m under sea level (NN). These prerequisites also make the soil less fertile and therefore more convenient for stock breeding, whereas the soil in the south-eastern Krempermarsch is of high quality and well suited for farming. During the last centuries, the marine influence has generally withdrawn further towards the mouth of the Elbe River leaving only fresh water marshes along the Elbe River today. 

2.2 Present landscape
The Wilster Marsch between Kiel Canal and Stör River and the Krempermarsch between Stör and Krückau River are hardly above sea level or even some meters below. They have very little relief and are structured by winding roads along the courses of former dikes and irregular drainage canals. Fields are divided by rectilinear, parallel ditches into long and narrow strips or larger, elongated blocks, orienting towards lines of farmsteads. Some fields along the river banks of Stör and Krückau are more irregular, small scale enclosures. While most of the low marshes of Wilster Marsch are pasture, farming is dominant in the area of Krempermarsch. Many pastures are structured by a system of alternating parallel low ridges and ditches. Villages are also mostly arranged along roads but are densely built in the centre with adjacent new residential areas. The areas of Glückstadt, Krempe and Wilster are surrounded by modern residential areas with single houses, whereas in the historic centre urban houses dominate. Few trees have been planted along roads and ditches and around settlements as windbreak. Taller constructions are, besides churches and town houses, especially power lines, wind power generators and large industrial facilities like the nuclear power plant in Brokdorf. 

3. Landscape and settlement history 

3.1 Prehistoric and Medieval Times

Settlement began in the 1st and 2nd century AD, when sufficiently high salt marshes had built up along the banks of the Elbe and Stör River. Here people, who lived on stock breeding on the fertile, lower salt marshes around and on farming on the elevated ridges, erected their houses on bases of clay. The inland areas were largely covered by bogs and wetlands. These single farm mounds were later raised in order to protect against the increasing flood level. Some of these dwelling mounds, like Ivenfleth or Fiefhusen, are still extant alongside old irregular enclosures. Settlements were, however, eventually abandoned by the 5th century AD, as in all marsh land areas along the Wadden Sea coast of Schleswig-Holstein, when the high river banks mostly eroded in the Wilster Marsch. Occupation of the marshes set in again along the high banks of the Stör River in the 7th century at Ivenfleth, again as farmsteads on level ground, which were raised to dwelling mounds from the 9th century on. Stock-breeding was once again the predominant means of subsistence, probably followed by trade when the marshes became part of the Frankish kingdom, which set visible signs of occupation with several castles, consisting of earthworks on the near Geest. Farmsteads were later also erected on the higher ground of former tidal inlets, that had been filled in by compact sediments while the soft marshland of the Wilster Marsch around sank lower (Inversionsrücken). High banks of tidal inlets were preferred in the Krempermarsch. Some of these early and high medieval settlements like Wilster or Beidenfleth have remained occupied till today, but few of the mound settlements of early and high medieval time are actually known. Many of the watercourses, like the Kremper Au and Kampritt, which intersected the marshland, were turned into drainage canals in later centuries and have retained much of their irregular, winding course till today. Large areas of the low wetlands were covered by shallow lakes, as at Ecklack and Flethsee. The count of Schauenburg and the bishop of Oldenburg introduced Dutch colonists in order to drain and cultivate the land in the 12th century. They constructed a system of dikes starting from the river banks in the Wilster Marsch, which nowadays can only be traced by the sinuous course of some roads and villages like Dörferdeich near Brokdorf, Dammfleth and Krummdiek. The colonies were rows of low, single farm mounds with perpendicular narrow strips of fields, usually going off from either side of the farm (Marschhufendöfer). Often, these farms were not built along embankments or canals, as Wetterndorf near Nortorf. Other, low embankments (Sietwenden), like Landscheide west of Beidenfleth, and former tidal inlets, served as border between drainage systems and often also parishes. This led to an irregularly arranged system of allotments around villages with their adjacent rectilinear enclosures (Gewannflure).

Fieldscape in the Krempermarsch with medieval field strips in the west and modern scale enlargement in the east. © VermA-SH

Bogs in front of the moraine high lands were also shut off by separate embankments like Büttler Moordeich. Systematic occupation in the Krempermarsch did not start earlier than the 13th century. Settlement structures here are therefore more regular. Drainage canals were extended tidal inlets or artificially dug with the spoil used as material for dwelling mounds. The ensuing villages were located along canals or on dikes and are more densely built than the farm rows in the Wilster Marsch. Krempe and Wilster are typical villages of this kind, built along a canal and received town privileges in the 13th century due to their importance as harbour for agricultural products. A monastery in Ivenfleth of the same time was largely destroyed by the changing course of the Stör River. The earliest churches are, like at Beidenfleth, of a simple, late Romanesque type. The flooding after a storm tide in the 15th century resulted in the construction of a river flood barrier for the Wilsterau and new drainage canals.

Medieval or early modern dike near Borsfleth. © ALSH

3.2 Early Modern Times
Krempe became fortified in the 16th century, when also the town houses of Krempe and Wilster as earliest profane buildings were built in Renaissance style. A new wave of colonists from the Netherlands set in at this time, triggered by refugees from conflicts following the Reformation. Dairies were introduced as new means of subsistence. Land reclamation reached a new climax with a complex system of straight artificial canals, separating fresh water from bog water, and the employment of windmill powered pumps, which enabled the drainage of low wetland into higher situated, embanked canals (Wettern), especially in the Wilster Marsch. Two indigenous types of farm houses of the Wilster Marsch emerged at the time. The Barghus construction, like the Haubarg in Eiderstedt, originated in Dutch predecessors with focus on cattle breeding, whereas the Husmannshus was a design based on two central rows of post, best suited for farming. Both, however, often share common features like a barn or stables being attached at right angles to the living quarter and a thatched roof. Well preserved specimens can still be found at Beidenfleth or Dammfleth. Farm houses in the Krempermarsch were based on the Saxon bay hall house, like examples in Kolmar or Moorhufen.

Fieldscape of alternating ditches and ridges for drainage (Grüppen) near Beidenfleth. © ALSH

A new system of bog cultivation from the Netherlands, which was very common there and in Lower Saxony, arrived at the Krempermarsch only to a minor degree in the 17th century (Fehnkultur). The extensive bog areas in Wilster Marsch and Krempermarsch were still mostly uncultivated at the time. Some villages in the bogs in the south-east, like Moorhusen, are probably of this type, while other bogs were cultivated from the Geest at an even later stage. The bogs west of Eklack were only cultivated in the 18th century. In the Vaaler Moor patches of bog still exist. The Danish King and the duke of Schleswig and Holstein founded the town of Glückstadt, situated in front of the then outer dikes as trading port in competition with Hamburg in the early 17th century. The layout was oriented after Renaissance models of a polygonal fortification with radial streets from the central market place.

Town layout of modern Glückstadt with centre reflecting the old fortification and recent residential and industrial areas around. © VermA-SH

The Baroque church and several representative and bourgeoisie buildings of the time have survived a catastrophic storm tide, the Thirty Years War and other conflicts in the following decades, which otherwise destroyed large parts of the city and much in of the whole of the area. The fortifications in Krempe and Glückstadt were then taken down as a result and only parks as well as the Mühlenberg as remnants of the fortification have survived the vicissitudes of time. Storm tides have also caused severe dike breeches and even inundated the whole marshland area, also due to the destruction of unused old dikes. Some marsh areas along the river had to be abandoned, like during the 17th and 18th centuries in the area of today’s Brunsbüttel. The marshes in front of St. Margarethen have remained under tidal influence since.  

Unprotected river marshes in front of St. Margarethen with lighthouse and a view to the nuclear power plant of Brokdorf. © ALSH

3.3 Modern Times
The road system between the villages was improved during the 19th century, when many new roads connected farmsteads and older tracks were extended. A number of farmsteads in the Wilster Marsch were also abandoned, leaving only single farms where there were rows of farms before. Many of the long and narrow filed strips in the west of the Wilster Marsch were also divided and recombined to more block-like fields, whereas land consolidation resulting in even larger, rectangular enclosures in the rest of the area was deployed during the 1900. The ensuing boundary loss has blurred much of the originally strict arrangement of narrow field strips. A large number of half-timbered houses of 19th century origin have remained in the towns of Glückstadt, Krempe and Wilster, which have never been severely influenced by industrialisation. A nice example of a late classicistic church is located in Krempe. The area was connected to the railway system in the middle of the century with two different tracks, one to Glückstadt, the other one leading to Brunsbüttel via Krempe. The construction of the Kiel Canal in 1895 had a severe impact on the Wilster Marsch, which was cut off from a part which now belongs to Süderdithmarschen. The town of Brunsbüttel was founded as harbour and entrance to the canal and thrived especially in the 20th century, when it became the largest industrial agglomeration along the Wadden Sea coast of Schleswig-Holstein with chemical and petrol industry and even an atomic power plant. Especially the industrial areas occupy marshland on the side of the Wilster Marsch. Another nuclear power plant was built a decade later in Brokdorf. New residential areas on a large scale began to spread after World War II especially around Glückstadt, Krempe and Wilster, when many refuges from German areas in today’s Poland settled here. Infrastructure was further improved with new national roads and a motorway at Itzehoe which traverse the area without connection to the historic structures. The last severe storm tide in 1962 triggered the enforcement of the outer dikes, a new polder for a residential area and the ferry harbour in the north of Glückstadt and the construction of a river flood barrier at the mouth of the Stör River. 

4. Modern development and planning

4.1 Land use
Most parts of the Wilster Marsch are used for grazing due to their inferior soil quality, whereas the major part of the arable land in the Krempermarsch is farmland. Vegetables and fruits are grown predominantly in the vicinity of Glückstadt. Only few areas, notably outside the dikes along the Elbe River, are under nature protection or have priority status, although much, if not all, of the area is regarded as important landscape. Nowadays many low areas of former bogs and peat cutting are designated by spatial planning as suitable for becoming wetland again, underlining the grown awareness of nature protection. Nature protection aims at integrating agriculture further into sustainable landscape management through instruments like set-aside and contract-based nature protection. Areas are being purchased for nature protection purposes. Few dike reinforcement measures are envisaged.

4.2 Settlement development
The area is flanked by the three larger cities of Itzehoe and Elmshorn on the moraine hinterland and Brunsbüttel on the Dithmarschen side of the Kiel Canal and belongs, as a rural area, to the metropolitan region of Hamburg. An extensive industrial estate in the south-west of Wilster Marsch is part of Brunsbüttel and the county of Dithmarschen. Glückstadt, Wilster and Krempe are towns with extensive residential and business areas. Further extensions are to be expected in the east of Krempe. Many small new residential estates are in or adjacent to villages, often condensing the existing settlement structure. Developing areas around the towns with their function as centres of regional development are likely to further increase in the near future as result of the tendency to suburbanisation. However, population in the area is expected to decrease in the long term. Tourism is of low economic importance, except for Glückstadt, but has potential for development especially in the sectors of daily tourism and recreation. Tourism development is planned with low impact on landscape and integration of landscape assets is widely recommended.

4.3 Industry and energy
The area has two major industrial sites, the chemical industry in Brunsbüttel and an atomic power plant in Brokdorf.

Nuclear power plant built in the 1980ies near Brokdorf. © ALSH

Wind power generators are dispersed in some small groups across the area and are subject to further upgrading within their confines. Major power lines cross the area originating from the atomic power plants of Brokdorf and Brunsbüttel. A new business area is planned at the moraine fringe at Lägerdorf. Small-scale shipbuilding exists in Wewelsfleth. 

4.4 Infrastructure
Major road construction plans concern especially a new motorway across the marshland from the A23 south of Itzehoe to east of Glückstadt, were it will descend into a tunnel underneath the Elbe River. Bypasses for the national roads are planned for St. Margarethen, Glückstadt and Brokdorf. Archaeological investigations along possible routes for the motorway are under way. Surveys concerning cultural landscape and impact on cultural issues are not envisaged. The motorway will have considerable impact on the landscape, only comparable with the construction of the Kiel Canal over a hundred years before. 

5. Legal and Spatial Planning Aspects

The landscape framework plan characterises the landscape on a general basis and lists, not comprehensively, important landscape elements like settlement structures, farmhouse types and former areas of peat cutting. A map gives a broad idea of historic landscapes, defined as areas of historic fieldscape. The importance of the canal and drainage system is emphasised. Areas under different regimes of nature protection are the island Pagensand, the Elbe River banks and wetlands, remaining bogs at Vaaler Moor and Herrenmoor and the drainage system around Kollmar. Vaaler Moor also fulfills the requirements for landscape protection. Cultural landscape has only minor importance in landscape models of the framework plan but goals of development take account of structurally diverse landscapes, which are also mapped. Recommendations for protection of historic landscape include nature protection instruments, integration into spatial planning on municipal level and promotion of extensive stock breeding. Furthermore, it is suggested to raise the number of so-called typical landscape elements and to integrate existing elements into the network of biotopes and protection areas. Regional planning confirms the high potential of cultural heritage as unique selling proposition in connection with tourist mission statements. However, except for a list of characteristic landscape elements, cultural heritage issues are not an integrated part of the regional plan.

6. Vulnerabilities

Industrial development and especially the construction of a motorway through the marshes will destroy the picture and appearance of the existing traditional landscape to a high degree. Nature protection instruments like the plantation of large numbers of trees or renaturation can strongly influence landscapes and even destroy historic elements and structures if not used carefully.

7. Potentials

Landscape and cultural heritage issues are already recognized as important in landscape and regional planning. Further integration, especially in practical recommendations and instruments, is important to improve the sustainable development of landscape. Further knowledge and expertise is necessary for an appropriate dealing with heritage issues in spatial planning instruments like landscape framework plans and regional plans. Tourism, using landscape as asset, has a high potential for development in the area. For instance, the improvement of cycling routes or careful utilising of the intact canal system for canoeing are important factors in this respect. Existing information centres are well suited means for displaying and explaining landscape development for visitors. Co-ordinated and expert utilisation of nature protection instruments for agriculture have a high potential for conserving historic landscapes. 

8. Sources

Author: Matthias Maluck

General literature:
Angelin Isabell Piepke, Archäologisch-siedlungshistorische Landesaufnahme der Störmarsch im Kreis Steinburg, Schleswig-Holstein. Unpublished diploma thesis, Kiel 2004
Werner Prange, Die Bedeichungsgeschichte der Marschen in Schleswig-Holstein. In: Probleme der Küstenforschung im südlichen Nordseegebiet 16. (Hildesheim 1986) p.1-55
Claus Ahrens. Vorgeschichte des Kreises Pinneberg und der Insel Helgoland. (Neumünster 1966)
Innenministerium des Landes Schleswig-Holstein (eds.). Regionalplan für den Planungsraum V, Amendment File (Kiel 1998).
Ministerium für Umwelt Naturschutz und Landwirtschaft des Landes Schleswig-Holstein (eds.). Landschaftsrahmenplan für den Planungsraum IV, Amendment file (Kiel 2005)
J. Ohl. Hausformen in der Marsch. Steinburger Jahrbuch 1989, 139-150
R. Naudiet, et. al. Atlas des Kreises Steinburg. Innenansichten einer Region (Hamburg 1995)
Zeitschrift:  Archiv für Agrargeschichte der holsteinischen Elbmarschen
V. Arnold, U. Drenkhahn, D. Meier (eds.). Frühe Siedler an der Küste. Küstenarchäologie in Dithmarschen und Steinburg (Heide 1991)
Landesamt für Denkmalpflege S-H (eds.), Kunst-Topographie Schleswig-Holstein (Neumünster 1969)
Gebietsbezogenes integriertes Entwicklungskonzept für die LAG Steinburg. Bewerbung zur Aufnahme in die Gemeinschaftsinitiative LEADER+ (unpublished 2002)

Archaeological monument record of Schleswig-Holstein and gis mapping
Lancewad data base and gis maps
Royal Prussian ordnance survey of 1879
Topographisch Militärische Charte des Herzogtums Holstein (1789-1796)