History of Europe

How the Emsland went from a poor house to a boom region

The state of Lower Saxony has existed for 75 years. No other region there experienced a structural change like Emsland after the end of the Second World War. With the help of the Emsland plan, the "poor house of the republic" blossomed into a boom region.

by Stefanie Grossmann

For centuries, a swamp landscape has shaped the Emsland:Typical for the region are extensive, often inaccessible, low-lying raised bogs such as the Bourtanger Moor and heathland - with the largest area around Papenburg. Until the end of the Second World War, the Emsland was characterized by wasteland. The rural population lives under the poorest conditions, people and animals often share a living space. To heat and cook, peat is burned directly on the ground. In the houses without a smoke outlet, the resulting smoke makes the air thick. There are no roads worth mentioning, no sewage system, no infrastructure and no industry.

The peat extraction alone is the only source of income for the inhabitants of this region. There is high unemployment. This is one of the reasons why the region in the western part of Lower Saxony was considered the most underdeveloped area in Germany at the time, as the "poorhouse of the republic".

Challenges from refugees, territorial claims and oil

From the 1950s, "nicker men" were part of everyday life in Emsland. The pumps bring the coveted oil from the ground to the surface.

Although the region was so inhospitable at the time, after the end of the war thousands of refugees fled from the former eastern regions to Emsland, around 150,000 preferred the wasteland to the bombed-out cities. And this despite the fact that there is no work, no living space, no food - and the land is not developed. In addition, the region faces further challenges:The Netherlands claims parts of the area as compensation for war damage. To do this, they submit an application to the Allies. Apart from a few border straightenings, however, there has been no significant land gain for the neighboring country. In addition, since 1942 there have been not inconsiderable discoveries of raw materials in the form of crude oil near Dalum, which arouse desire for extraction, especially among the Dutch neighbors. Ultimately, however, the foothills to the west of the Ems remain part of Germany.

Emslandplan:Largest reconstruction program of the post-war period

Until the Emsland was developed, the people here lived under the poorest conditions.

Due to the diverse problems in the region, those with political responsibility are forced to act. They are faced with the task of finally eliminating the backwardness of the Emsland comprehensively. And so, five years after the end of the war, on May 5, 1950, the Bundestag unanimously passed the motion to "develop the wastelands of the Emsland". The so-called Emsland plan is intended to open up the region for agriculture, industry and refugees. The financial resources for the gigantic infrastructure program are to come from the federal budget. Thanks to the Marshall Plan, an agreement between the USA and Europe on economic reconstruction aid and subsidies after the end of the war, the project can be carried out. On March 7th, the federal government, the state of Lower Saxony and the districts in the development area found Emsland GmbH in Hanover. It is to implement the ambitious plans in north-west Lower Saxony. These include the cultivation of the wasteland, the land consolidation, the construction of a transport system and the connection to the electricity grid.

Ottomeyer deep plows turn peat soil into farmland

Huge deep plows from the Ottomeyer company helped to cultivate the Emsland up until the 1970s.

In order to make the Emsland arable, powerful deep plows dig through the heavy, damp moor from the 1950s - pulled by plow locomotives, which are also called locomotives. Up until the 1970s, the 20 meter long and ten meter high Ottomeyer plow, the "mammoth" with its 480 hp, was in use in the region and transformed the peat soil into coveted farmland in a feat of strength. The plow, which was the world's largest and most powerful at the time, cuts furrows in the earth and fetches sand from the bottom up. The workers' shifts last up to 18 hours. In order to be able to work as effectively as possible, they spend the night in caravans on the construction sites. On-site catering is also provided. In a technical act of violence, the moors in north-west Lower Saxony are drained.

New settlements are created on the drawing board

River straightening went hand in hand with the development of the wasteland - as can be seen here at the Nordradde.

Little by little, completely new villages are designed at the drawing board, which are to consist of residential buildings, craft shops and farms. Old settlements are expanded again. Around 1,250 Neusiedlerhöfe and around 5,000 part-time jobs are created. The new industrial areas or settlement areas arouse desires beyond the Emsland. People from all over the country are interested in settling in Emsland. Because there are more applicants than vacant areas or settlements, a lottery is often used to decide. For this, a coin is sometimes tossed in a field, as old documents from this time show. When the people in Emsland finally got their power connections, they celebrated so-called petroleum festivals. This marks the end of the age of the kerosene lamp in this part of Germany.

Phases of development:agriculture, culture, transport

Around 800 kilometers of road network are being created through the development in the region in north-western Lower Saxony.

The Emsland Heimatverein, later Heimatbund, founded in 1952, forms the basis for the development of cultural life in the region. Traditions such as handicrafts, language and festivals have survived in the Catholic region up to the present day. Lean administrative structures and Emsland virtues are advantageous in the overall development - a lot of pragmatism promotes the modernization of the region. In the first phase, the improvement of agriculture is on the plan - by cultivating the wasteland, more land can be used and yields increased. Parallel to this, the land consolidation begins, the construction of a sewage system with improvement of the water supply and the planning of traffic routes. In 1966, the A 31 autobahn was included in the federal traffic route plan - it was to run from Emden to the Ruhr area. The first phase of Emsland development ends with the construction of a complete infrastructure.

Emsland GmbH promotes innovative technology projects

Since not all Emslanders find employment in agriculture, the focus in the second phase of Emsland development is on the settlement of industry and commerce. The region is constantly facing challenges. Those responsible at Emsland GmbH want to counter a feared economic downturn in the early 1970s with consequences for the employment sector by promoting innovative technology projects. It is the start of the third phase of development.

The Transrapid:Ambitious flagship project fails

In 1985, the Transrapid was still driving on the test track - the project has been history since the serious accident in 2006.

The maglev train ''Transrapid'' is one of the innovative technology projects of Emsland GmbH. The construction of the test track on five meter high stilts begins in 1980 in Lathen. In seven years of construction, a 31.5 kilometer section will be built. In 1984 the test operation begins. But in 2006 the ambitious project ended in disaster:the Transrapid crashed into a workshop vehicle at 170 kilometers per hour, killing 23 people. After the test operation was initially suspended, it finally ended in 2008. The technology memorial still stands in the midst of the flat landscape today. The high-tech project is history. Other companies are among the Emsland's prestige projects, such as the Meyer shipyard in Papenburg, Germany's largest shipbuilder. In Emsbüren, "Emsflower" is even the largest nursery in Europe. And in Spelle, the Krone company is one of the world market leaders in the production of agricultural machinery.

Emsland plan ensures gigantic restructuring

From the 17th century until the Weimar Republic, attempts to advance the Emsland failed again and again. Only the Emsland plan with the overall development leads to success. A total of around 128,000 hectares of land will be cultivated, a road network of 800 kilometers will be braided, 6,800 kilometers of receiving water and ditches will be expanded and 700 kilometers of rivers will be regulated. In larger centers, industrial and commercial areas are being built from the ground up. Overall, Emsland GmbH invested two billion Deutschmarks between 1951 and 1989. After all plans are implemented, the company will be dissolved.

75 years of Lower Saxony in the spotlight

Not every measure was sustainable and sensible

However, some plans from earlier times have to be revised later, such as the straightening of the Hase. Channeled rivers have a higher flow rate, which on the one hand has a negative impact on the biological diversity of fauna and flora, biodiversity, and on the other hand causes flooding. Peatlands are also important for a functioning ecosystem. Due to the peat extraction and the draining of the moors, too little CO2 and water are stored. This is one of the reasons why the state of Lower Saxony is currently reducing peat extraction and converting moors into nature reserves.

In Emsland there is almost full employment today

No other region in Lower Saxony went through such a structural change after the end of the Second World War as Emsland. The fact that the plan worked may also have contributed to the race:The Emslanders are considered to be down-to-earth and connected to their homeland. At 1.7 children, the birth rate is comparatively high compared to the national average of 1.3 children, while emigration is low. In addition, many young people return to their home country after their studies, bringing ideas and drive with them. The average age is a good 42 years, and with an unemployment rate of three percent, this part of Lower Saxony is well below the national average. Not bad conditions for another success story of the Emsland.