Cultural Entities 


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1. Overview




Marshland at the Wadden Sea coast of Schleswig-Holstein, river of Eider in the north, Meldorf bight in the south, which separates the two parts of Norderdithmarschen and Süderdithmarschen, mainland moraines and dunes in the east, bordered by entity of Kremper Marsch and Wilster Marsch with the Kiel Canal as border line in the south-east and the moraine Geest, dune ridges and bogs in the east


Location - map:

Marshes of county of Dithmarschen, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

Origin of name:

The name is derived from the Saxonian name Thiatmaresgaho from around 800, which can be rendered as ‘land of the large bogs/waters’.

Relationship/similarities with other cultural entities:

Structures of wetland colonisation like Kremper and Wister Marsch 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 with dike mounds and canals

2. Geology and geography

2.1 General
The marshes of Dithmarschen at the Wadden Sea coast of Schleswig-Holstein are delimited by the rivers of Eider in the north and Elbe in the south while the Meldorf bight separates the two parts of Norderdithmarschen and Süderdithmarschen. The moraines of the mainland in the east are bordered by a north-south line of dunes of an early coastline before the marshland accumulated in the west in the last centuries before Christ. The land in-between, low-lying and cut off from the sea, developed into bogs, like near Lunden and Krempel. The marshland area west of the moraine Geest and the line of dunes can be divided into parallel zones of former raised bogs and wetland (Sietland), more elevated old marshes and comparatively high, young marshes, embanked only since Early Modern Timess. Last remains of the extensive bogs along the edge of the Geest, which have been largely drained since the Middle Ages, can be found in the Weißes Moor near Hemme. The area of modern Büsum contains the vestiges of a former Wadden Sea island in front of the old marshes of Norderdithmarschen, connected to the mainland only since the 16th century.

2.2 Present landscape
The marshes of Süderdithmarschen have very little relief and are structured by winding lines of coast parallel medieval and early modern dikes, roughly north-south and east-west running roads and drainage canals. The partly forested Geest forms a significant limit to the mostly treeless, level marshes. Fields in the old marshes east of Wesselburen are mostly divided by long and parallel ditches, orienting towards lines of farmsteads built on top of medieval dikes, and subsequent heavy boundary loss into rectangular, often irregular enclosures. The fieldscape in the adjacent younger marshes consist of irregular enclosures, delimited by course of former tidal inlets. The most recent polders in the west are characterised by more square and large scale fields oriented along a system of perpendicular roads within the polders. Former tidal inlets have only survived in few places and are visible as drainage canals with sinuous courses. Trees are only planted along roads and around settlements and limit an unrestricted view across the marshes significantly. Tall, vertical constructions are churches, few buildings in the villages, power lines and wind power stations with up to 100m height. Especially significant is also the huge petrochemical plant near Wöhrden.

3. Landscape and settlement history 

3.1 Prehistoric and Medieval Times

The first settlements on the edge of the moraine mainland and on the sand ridge of Lunden can be traced back to the late Stone Age demonstrated by megalithic tombs. The earliest traces of settlement on the marshes can be detected in early roman time by two long rows of low mounds parallel to the coast and even farmsteads on level ground in Tibensee. Muck was filled between the sod walls in order to raise the height of the settlement as protection against the rising sea level. These settlements had to be abandoned by the end of the 3rd century AD because of further rise of the sea level. But when the marshes fell dry again new, Saxonian settlers started to erect new farms on top of the earlier ones since the middle of the 7th century. Single, low farm mounds, similar to their predecessors in Roman Time, were later raised and connected. These large mounds on the high banks of tidal inlets in the old marshes provided enough space for villages, like a mound near Wellinghusen, abandoned again in the 14th century. Village mounds, like Hassenbüttel, were erected from the 9th century on also in lower marshland areas. Farm houses of the time have a similar construction as in Roman Time with sod walls. Subsistence was mainly based on extensive stock breeding on the often inundated marshes and fishing while cropping could only be carried out to a very limited extend. The Stellerburg near Weddingstedt is a circular embankment constructed as fortification for the northern part of northern part of Dithmarschen in the 9th century, when it was part of the empire of Charles the Great. Some villages like Wesselburen and Wöhrden still display their medieval, circular layout or were built in a rectangular pattern like Büsumer Deichhausen. 
In the 12th century Saxonian clans started to embank the old marshes with embankments parallel to the coast, thus skipping the creation of small, circular polders known from Eiderstedt or North Frisia. Remains of these dikes still exist near Schülp or like the Schweinedeich in Büsum. Fishery was part of their subsistence till new polders pushed the coastline further west. Since the embankment of the marshes agriculture became possible. Fields were privately owned while pastures were used as commons, mostly situated along roads, in low, wet areas and in front of the outer dikes. The bogs of the so-called Sietland between the moraine edge and the fertile old marshland was drained and settled by the 15th century by two long rows of dwelling mounds using the same patterns and locations as known from early Roman Times (Marschufendörfer). The elongated strips of fields and meadows, delimited by drainage ditches, were oriented along the linear clan settlements, like Jarrenwisch, and can still be perceived today. Most of the settlements founded at that time still exist nowadays, like the village of Neuenkirchen, first mentioned in the 14th century and situated along an east-west road connecting the two rows of mounds. Old roads in former bogs, like the Lundener Moorweg, originate in this time, when also the bogs east of Lunden and Krempel were increasingly drained and cultivated. Parts of a Romanesque tower in the church of Wesselburen and the gothic church of Hemme from the 14th century are remains of many new churches built in the course of parish formation since the 12th century.

The gothic church of Hemme from the 14th century was built in the course of parish formation since the 12th century. © ALSH

During the late Middle Ages, Dithmarschen achieved growing independency from extraterritorial powers like the archbishop of Bremen by accumulating more and more privileges, especially for the leading families. 

3.2 Early Modern Times
The division of Dithmarschen into the two so-called landscapes of Norderdithmarschen and Süderdithmarschen was manifested in 1559, after the end of a short period of total independency as farmer’s republic. The northern part was assigned to the duke of Gottorf. The mausoleums on the cemetery of Lunden, the Swyn-Haus built in 1568 and the storehouse in the Hafenstraße in Wöhrden, built in 1519, are witnesses of the wealth of the marshland farmers and of the time of independence. Pools protected by dikes, like the ones in the Wesselburener Koog and Preiler Koog, provided fresh water for cattle on the unprotected young marshes in the west before they were embanked in the following centuries. Settlement was placed on level ground in the new, fertile polders, as a consequence of the higher dike construction.
The modern town of Büsum originated in the village mound of Nordorp whereas two other villages had to be yielded to the waves that took away the southern part of the island until it was connected to the mainland marsh by a dam, the Wahrdamm, in 1585. The connection was completely closed by new polders in the 17th and 18th century which were built and financed by private investors or the nobility. This development marked a distinctive chance of the habit of cooperative dike construction. Some of these new, so-called imposed polders (oktroierte Köge), like the Hedwigenkoog and the Friedrichsgabekoog, still reflect the quite original landscape of the time with many irregular tidal inlets, alongside which the mounds were built before the embankment took place. These polders had suffered frequent dike breeches by the 20th century of which numerous wheels bear witness, like the approximately seven dike breeches near Westerdeichstrich.

Dike around pond from dike breech in Westerdeichstrich. © ALSH

The new embankments cut off villages like Wöhrden and Schülp from their direct access to the sea and made it necessary to build new harbours for shipping grain at a distance, as names like Schülperaltensiel and Schülperneuensiel indicate.

Sluice at site of former harbour of Schülp in Schülperaltensiel. © ALSH

The representative farm house type of Haubarg was introduced into Norderdithmarschen by East and West Frisian settlers from the 17th century on, who introduced their advanced dike construction technique and brought along with them also the type of the Gulfhaus later on.

Steep profile of early modern dike in Hellschen south-west of Wesselburen. © ALSH

Many barns were also built in the same way with four to six central posts. Genuine, so-called Dwer houses, like the one near Epenwöhrden, were derived from earlier, Saxon bay houses and more frequently in use in the area from the 16th to the 19th century.   

3.3 Modern Times
While most of the marshland was used for cropping, still existing common pastures were enclosed at the end of the 18th century by new drainage ditches and became the property of the farmers. The agricultural situation changed again considerably along with the industrialisation in the second half of the 19th century and especially after the constitution of the Deutsches Reich of 1871 when a remarkable economic boom brought along new wealth. The development led to larger farmsteads. Traditional house types were abandoned for more representative, brick built and tile-covered buildings of ‘Gründerzeit’-style as in Tiebensee, Wennemannswisch or Jarrenwisch. This ‘green’, farming industry promoted the establishment of the first factories in the area like the sugar factory in Wesselburen, still in use today for events and the introduction of the cultivation of coleslaw. Others factories for matches and wooden shoes were built in the town of Heide, having its origins in the 16th century as new central meeting point in Norderdithmarschen.
The village of Büsum, originally solely used for freight transport, flourished after the establishment of a spa around 150 years ago and after the rather late introduction of fishery in 1881. Trawlers, especially for shrimp, still leave today from the old harbour of 1905/06. The town hall, built in 19015/16 in a neo Baroque style, tells of the prosperity of the time. The new harbour with sea locks is tide independent.

Old fishing harbour in Büsum. © ALSH

Shipwrecks can still be found in the deep waters of the Süderpiep. One was even detected in a dike breech caused by a serious flood in 1696. The partly torn-off bridge in Neuensiel is a vestige of the time when the railroad first connected the area with Hamburg in the late 19th century. The change of the coastline and the creation of new polders came to an end with the straightening of the dike line and the embankment of the extensive Speicherkoog in the Meldorf bight, which is mostly used as water reserve and nature sanctuary, for coastal protection in the late 20th century, and the construction of the impressive flood barrier that cut off the river of Eider in 1973.  

Old tidal streams overlaid by early modern fieldscape after reclamation and modern wind power stations. © LVermA-SH

4. Modern development and planning

4.1 Land use
Agriculture has a strong economical weight. It is rather competitive due to intensive cultivation, specialisation in vegetables, and good quality of soil. More than half of all vegetable in Schleswig-Holstein are produced in Dithmarschen. The still existing shrimp fishery based in the harbour of Büsum works traditionally and therefore on a sustainable basis. Wöhrden has fish-processing industries. Besides the mud flat area and the large polder of Speicherkoog only few areas, especially along the Eider River and along the dunes at Lunden, are under nature protection or are of specific importance for nature. Aims of nature protection are pointing towards more extensively used pasturages in small-scale structured areas, which only exist to a small extend in the area. Few dike reinforcement measures are envisaged.

4.2 Settlement development
Norderdithmarschen as mostly underdeveloped rural area is close to the urban area of Hamburg with around two million people and part of its metropolitan region with around four million inhabitants. Büsum and Wesselburen have central functions and especially the former is surrounded by large modern residential areas with multi-storey apartment blocks. Developing areas will further focus around these towns with their function as centres of regional development, but are less likely to increase strongly as population is expected to decrease in the long term. Tourism is focused around Büsum. Facilities like a new storm tide display centre indicate the increasing emphasis on short-term visitors.  

4.3 Industry and energy
A petrochemical plant is situated near Wöhrden, highly visible from afar. Wind power generators are mainly dispersed in small groups all over the area and are subject to further upgrading within their confines. 

4.4 Infrastructure
The national road from Heide to Husum runs through the old marshes in front of the Geest. It is subject to extension to 4 lanes. A bypass for a national road is planned around Büsum. A railway connects Büsum to Heide. The promotion and extension of public transport and of a network of cycle tracks is envisaged. 

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. Focus areas for nature protection are mostly at the edge of the area, whereas the largest part of the entity and especially the old marshes are mapped as historic landscape and areas of historic fieldscape. Cultural landscape has only minor importance in landscape models of the framework plan but goals of development take account of structurally diverse landscapes. 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. The western part of the marshland is of specific interest for tourism with restricted possibilities for new development areas. 

6. Vulnerabilities

Most traditional farmhouses have been modernized with materials not genuine or have disappeared. Modern farm buildings strongly affect older ensembles of farm buildings. Frequent parks of wind turbines are highly visible from afar and diminish the impression of a horizontal landscape. Further intensification of agriculture can threaten the remains of historic field structures. 

7. Potentials

Some historical structures, especially lines of mounds, village mounds and medieval dike lines are still visible or even strongly influence the appearance of today’s landscape. Typical village types, polders and fieldscapes are rated worth protecting by the regional plan. Guiding principles for spatial planning include aspects by which landscape and cultural heritage can be promoted and utilised, like strengthening of regional identity or sustainable tourism. Development of long term and recreational tourism, especially around Wesselburen, can promote and preserve existing historical landscape features and environments. The historical landscape of Friedrichgabekoog can be integrated into a concept for sustainable tourism for the Speicherkoog. Unpaved agricultural roads can be adapted into a network of cycle tracks. 

8. Sources

Author: Matthias Maluck

General literature:
Vollmer, et. al. (eds.) 2001. Landscape and Cultural Heritage in the Wadden Sea Region – Project Report. Wadden Sea Ecosystem No. 12. Common Wadden Sea Secretariat. Wilhelmshaven, Germany.
D. Meier, Landschaftsentwicklung und Siedlungsgeschichte des Eiderstedter und Dithmarscher Küstengebietes als Teilregionen des Nordseeküstenraumes, 1999
M. Gietzelt (ed.), Geschichte Dithmarschens, Heide 2000
Ministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Landwirtschaft des Landes Schleswig-Holstein (eds.). Landschaftsrahmenplan für den Planungsraum IV – Kreise Dithmarschen und Steinburg Amendment File (Kiel 2005)
Innenministerium des Landes Schleswig-Holstein (eds.). Regionalplan für den Planungsraum V, Amendment File (Kiel 1998).
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)
Monika Waluga, Heinz Walter Kierchhoff. Regionales Entwicklungskonzept Kreis Dithmarschen. Endbericht. Bremen 2001 unpublished

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)

Agriculture is very strong in Dithmarschen, especially in post-medieval polders, which have the best soil quality. Here, industrial agriculture and wind generator farms are less harmful to historic structures or landscape aspects as in most of the medieval marshes or some modern polders like Barlter Sommerkoog or Friedrichsgabekoog. Extensive stock breeding and also measures in the context of the water framework directive should therefore focus to these areas. It is important to adhere diligently to original historic structures instead of creating new ones in these areas. Tourism is also centred in the modern polders in the west, where landscape assets are much harder to emphasise. The old marsh areas in the hinterland could fill that gap and offer attractive routes for cycling, walking and recreation and thus attract more daily guests. A local network and co-operation is therefore important to serve both areas. Cultural, natural and landscape values are not clearly defined and related in spatial planning. Thus, historic landscapes are not necessarily structurally diverse.