Cultural Entities 


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1. Overview




Rivers: Jümme, Leda, Ems; City border: Leer; Fehnjter Tief; Sanwater; Bagbander Tief, community border: Hesel; neighbouring cultural landscsapes: Lengerland, Overledingerland, Rheiderland


around 122 km²

Location - map:

Emsmarsch and Geest, rural district Leer, Ostfriesland, Lower Saxony, Germany

Origin of name:


Relationship/similarities with other cultural entities:


Characteristic elements and ensembles:

Dwelling mound settlements, Fehnsettlements (settlements along a canal on cultavate former moorland), rural houseforms, peat-cutting, dikes

2. Geology and geography

2.1 General
In the east of Ostfriesland and between Emden and Leer lies the region Moormerland. In its expansion it corresponds with the modern community Moormerland of the county Leer. In the past Moormerland has been much larger and covered also parts of the adjoining joint community of Hesel in the east and in the south the area down to the lowlands of the Leda and Jümme. The area of the city of Leer belonged to the former Moormerland also.
The glaciers of the Saale Iceage brought the sandy soils east of the river Ems in the county Leer, which lay on flags of boulder clay. The clay is local and comes near the surface, which is the reason for a lasting wetness. During the Holocene the bogs could grow intensively. Before the land was covered with a dense flora, sand drifts build layers of shifting sand and dunes. The valleys of creeks and brooks were filled by fluvial sand and clay during the Holocene. Because of the rapid rise of the sea level from the end of the ice age water was dammed up and created the marshes of the Ems and the Leda-Jümme low land. Therefore the only places to settle had been between creeks and rivers with their sometimes impassable low land areas and bogs. The rivers drained the waters of the surface and helped to dry some areas for proper settlements.

2.2 Present landscape
The Moormerland covered formerly the great flag of high and dry land (Geest) from Neermoor, Hesel, Holtland, Nortmoor and Leer. Today the cultural landscape covers only the area of the community of Moormerland. This cultural landscape is divided into different natural areas: a small, three kilometres in maximum wide border of river marsh along the Ems, lower bogs at the edge of the high and dry land – which enter deep into the high and dry land especially in the north – and the high and dry land which is sometimes widely covered with raised bogs. The bogs are mostly drained today and the peat has been cut, so they look almost like the marshes with their straight canals, the so called “Wieken”.
The main drainages of the Moormerland are the Bagbander and the Rorichumer Tief as well as the Sauteler Tief, which are all flowing into the Ems.

3. Landscape and settlement history 

3.1 Prehistoric and Medieval Times

The high and dry land was visited by hunter and gatherer groups already 9.000 years ago in the Middle Stone Age period. In the Neolithic period (ca. 4.000 BC) first farmers settled there. The few known megalithic burials in this region (Leer, Brinkum) are now almost all destroyed. In Westerhammrich (close to Leer) some cremation burials of the Trichterbecherkultur (Funnel Beaker Culture 2.900 – 2.700 BC) were discovered. These graves are the oldest reference for cremations in north-west Germany. Settlements of the Funnel Beakers are known from Nortmoor. The spreading of the finds show, that there had been settlers in Moormerland and Overledingerland in this early period, even though nothing can be said about the density of the early settlements. Already in this period the bogs were crossed over by plank ways, which were built with a high effort. At the same time the many water ways were also used for the local traffic. The using of the same tool inventory as well as occupying the same burial places and settlement locations by the Funnel Beaker and the Single Burial Culture (Einzelgrabkultur) show that there has been an adaptation of the local people to the cultural change of other regions. Indications of an immigration of foreign settlers were not found yet. For the period of the Single Burial Culture the many finds prove a high density of settlement, starting from the nuclear settlements of the Funnel Beaker people.
At the end of the Neolithic period the Bell Beaker Culture immigrated from the west into Moormerland. They introduce the knowledge of manufacturing metal to the northern parts of Europe. Two Bell Beakers could be excavated in Logabirum as grave goods. Mostly stone artefacts are known from the older and Middle Bronze Age, even though it is not sure yet if that means a lack in metal in general. Single bronze artefacts could be found in bogs from the older and Middle Bronze Age. That proves that there must have been at least some metal to produce bronze tools.
In the middle of the first millennium BC it seems that the occupation had come to an end on the high and dry land. A reason for this might have been the erosion of the soil resulting from an intensive agriculture, which could be archaeologically proved by layers of drifting sand. In this time the settlements were displaced into the marshes of the rivers along their borders, like Ems, Leda and Jümme. From there they could cultivate the fertile sandy soils of the marshes. From the periods of the Iron Age and the Early Roman Time the sources are mostly settlements and graves. A graveyard of the younger roman period was discovered at Nortmoor while digging for sand. The urns which could be saved date into the 3rd century AD.
Since the migration period (Völkerwanderungszeit/Dark Age), in the 5th century, the settlement activity in this region fell low. Only in the Karolinger period the occupation was growing again and even the high and dry land was settled again. This could be proved by finds from Hollen, Hesel, Loga and the area of Nortmoorer Hammrich. The finds of ceramic of Nortmoorer Hammerich indicate settlement activities since the late 8th or the 9th century. During the 12th century the settlement was abandoned again because of the high frequency of floods. The lower Sietland was cultivated not earlier then the 10th/11th century.
Around 1100 AD the building of dikes began along the coast of the North Sea and the mouths of the main rivers and streams, which was completed around 1300 AD. Since this time the natural draining-ditches (Tiefs) were used for the drainage. While flowing into the Ems their mouths were secured from high tides and storm tides by sluices.
Oldersum was presumably founded between 700 and 800 BC in the marshes of the river Ems on a long dwelling mound, only its foundation is documented 1381. It corresponds to the classical type of a long dwelling mound, with a church on one and a fortification on the opposite side of the mound. The location of the second, documented fortification is yet unknown. After the erection of the dikes, lower land could be occupied as well, so east of the dwelling mound a new village (Neustadt) was founded. In the 14th century Oldersum belonged to the chiefs “tom Brock”, since 1427 it belonged to the chiefs of Neermoor (Focko Ukena). Both fortifications of Oldersum were destroyed by the campaigns of Hamburg against the pirates of Ostfriesland in 1433. Only one was re-erected. 1438 Wiard Haiken became the new chief of Oldersum, while his descendants ruled the “Herrlichkeit Oldersum” (the Grandness Oldersum) until 1631.
Around 1000 AD the dwelling mound Rorichum is mentioned in the “Güter- und Heberegister” (a register for trading goods and toll) of the cloister Werden, situated on the right border of the river Ems. The church of Rorichum, which is a rectangular church of only one room and without an apse, was build at the beginning of the 14th century.
Already around 1000 AD Gandersum is mentioned in the “Heberegister” of the abbey of Werden. Hatshausen is documented 1439 and is mentioned around 1500 in the register of the rectory of Münster. Hatshausen might have only a little chapel, which were cared for by the monks of the Bockzelter cloister. After the consolidation of the two villages with an own church, Hatshusen and Ayenwolde, a, for this early time, wide parish was founded. The beginning of the village Veenhusen reaches back as far as into the 12th century, it was mentioned 1435 in the register of the rectory of Münster.
The centre of trading were situated during the middle ages almost completely in the marshes, while in the high and dry land there was mainly agriculture. By the introduction of the sod cutting economy (Plaggenwirtschaft or “Eschwirtschaft”) in connection with the cultivation of winter rye, living conditions improved because of the possibility of manuring. Now not only natural fertile soils could be used for agriculture and now settlements could stay continuously. Heather sods were cut and brought into the stables were it was mixed with animal dung and later on brought up to the fields as manure.

3.2 Early Modern Times
In the 17th century the beginning of the lack of fire wood in the bare costal regions and at the same time a raising population lead to a new form of using the bog land. The new type of settlement, the Fehncolonies of the northern Netherlands, was adopted. They were mainly founded to gain fuel. Therefore the bogs were drained by new build canals, which were used as transport system as well. From the main canal side-canals (Wieken) were dug into the bog. Subsequently peat was gained by workers which were soon followed by farmers who lived partly from the gaining of peat and partly from agriculture. Because the raised bogs not very fertile, the farmers used mud deposits from the Ems and organic waste, delivered by the peat boats, as manure for their fields and meadows. The colonists settled at both sides of the canals. The single row settlements are still characterizing the topography of the Fehnsettlements.
Since 1561 the family of Iherings is proved for Ostfriesland. Their members try to reclaim new land in the coastal areas by erecting dikes around the foreland. In 1772 Iheringsfehn was mentioned for the first time.
In 1726 the family of Warsing bought the manor Siewe in Rorichmoorer Meedlanden. At the edge of the raised bog, people were settled who suffered from the great flood on Christmas 1717. In 1736 the Fehn was founded, which name was then Warsingfehn. Because of the cultivation of the bogs and the dense form of settlements developed a not very typical way of closeness within this village. That is the reason why Warsingsfehn became a kind of a centre for the surrounding settlements.
1744 Ostfriesland, including Moormerland, became Prussian.

3.3 Modern Times
Closely connected with the economical usage of the high and dry land is the “ever lasting cultivation of rye”. Since the 10th century the undemanding rye was cultivated on the poor soils of the high and dry land. The ground was fertilized by adding sods. First grass- or heather sods were cut and brought into the stables. Later on they were spread on the fields. The results were the characteristic soils called “Eschauftragsböden”.
This was the way of agriculture was practised until the 19th century. Then, by the import of Guano-manure from South America, it was alternated. Sod cutting meant a lasting destruction of the soils of the surface. The cutting was followed by drifting sands as a meaning of the destruction of the natural environment.
Because the storm tides were entering into the Ems coming from the sea, the dikes along the rivers had to be elevated. After the heavy storm tide in March 1906 the dikes on both sides of the Ems had been elevated in the years between 1906 and 1913. Like the dikes along the coastline they had not just been elevated but also the slope was build more shallow. The low land in the Leda-Jümme area was often flooded by storm tides or swelling rivers through heavy rainfalls. Therefore in 1950 and 1954 a Leda barrier was erected to stop the entering of storm tides.
Until the middle of the 20th century in Oldersum the houses and shops lay densely along the church street, while some great farmhouses could be found along the side streets. Since the beginning of the 20th century further settlement activities started here like in the rest of Moormerland by building new houses. After the Second World War the grown topography of the villages changed massively by the immigration of refugees and expellees and therefore an extending of the settlement areas. In Rorichum the brick stone church of the 14th century, with its free standing belfry, the former rectory and the former school house are a valuable ensemble on the highest top of the dwelling mound. Even after the structural changes after the Second World War, the typical rural character of Rorichum is still preserved.
After the reform from the 1st of January 1973 the former independent communities Boekzetelerfehn, Gandersum, Hatshausen, Iheringsfehn, Neermoor, Oldersum, Rorichum, Terborg, Tergast, Veenhusen and Warsingsfehn were joint to the community Moormerland. Today approximately 23.000 inhabitants live in Moormerland. Residence of the administration is Warsingsfehn. Today the landscape is dominated by the drainage and the cutting of the bogs. Because of the spreading of trade and industry and therefore the extension of the living quarters, Moormerland had lost its characteristic topography in many places. The preserved hedge-landscape (Wallheckenlanschaft) in the south gives an impression of the historical landscape.
Moormerland was connected in terms of the traffic mostly by the water ways, because the road net was in a bad condition. Around 1863 the city Leer, and therefore Moormerland as well, was connected by a road from Aurich to Oldenburg. 1890 the road between Leer and Terborg was build. Since 1893 few roads were crossing Moormerland, including a road running directly to Emden. Since 1975 the motorways A 28 and A 31 were build which meant a national connection. In 1856 the city Leer was connected to the German railway system which includes also Moormerland. Since 1998 Gandersum is getting famous for the erection of the Ems-Flood Barrage, which is discussed controversially on behalf of the natural preservation. It is meant to save the Ems of storm tides.

4. Modern development and planning

4.1 Land use
In the past decades there had been a great change in the structures of the community of Moormerland, which is mostly dominated by agriculture. By the disbandment of smaller farms and new settlements of commuter, particular in Neermoor, Veenhusen or Warsingsfehn, there had been a change in the usage of the cultural landscape.
The ecological production of agriculture is not very important in Moormerland yet. Because of the development of the consumers behaviour with its tendency for high quality agricultural products, there is a wide potential for development on this sector.
In the area of Veenhusen a company is planning to dig for quartz sand in a huge style. High quality quartz sand can be used for gaining silicon, which is the main element for the production of photovoltaic plants. As areas of high priority for gaining the resources quartz sand in Moormerland are the industrial area Neermoor (north of the L 2 and west of the railroad tracks), an area at Neermoor/Veenhusen (east of the railroad tracks between the Suteler canal and the K 8), as well as an area at Veenhusen/Altschwoog (east of the B 75 and between the K 8 and the A 31). Because of these and two other areas county Leer can fulfil his supplying function within the region of Ostfriesland including the neighbouring counties like Friesland, Ammerland, Cloppenburg, Emsland as well as the eastern part of the province Groningen in the Netherlands.
Within Moormerland there had been a digging for quartz sand in different regions. In the area of Neermoor/Veenhusen, south of the Sauteler canal the former deposits of quartz sand are already completely finished. The cuts and pits will be refilled with mud deposits from the maintenance of the Ems. The digging for quartz sand north of the Sauteler canal was given up because of the quality went smaller. One pit is now re-used as an artificial pool for swimming while another is already refilled with mud deposits from the Ems. In the area of Veenhusen, east of the B 70 and south of the K 8, the quartz sand deposit is finished and refilled as well. The southern part is an area with a high priority for digging quartz sand within the Regional Program for Spatial Planning (Regionale Raumordnung) and will be dug up in the coming years.
Beside the river dikes along the waters of a first class standard (Ems, Leda Jümme), there is the Ems-Flood-Barrage at the lower Ems near Gandersum, which meant to protect the water system of the Ems from storm tides. It also is needed to backwater the Ems for transporting ships with a deep draught. The discussion about a possible offence of the Ems- Flood-Barrage against the European bird protection directive has now come to an agreement between the Federal State of Lower Saxony and the environmental associations.
The low lands, for example the Leda-Jümme low land, will be registered in the Regional Program for Spatial Planning of the county Leer, as a huge area for pasturage and its protection and development. Most of the waters of Moormerland are artificial or at least very much changed. Only the Bagbander Tief fulfils the characteristics of a “natural water” in the meaning of the European Water Framework Directive (WFD).

4.2 Settlement development
For settling the commuter, new houses had to be build, in particular single-family houses, which lead to a drastic change of the grown topography of the villages. A place of high priority for the commuter is the city Leer. After Hamburg, Leer is the second biggest city for shipping companies in Germany and is home for many trading companies and industrial enterprises.
In general Moormerland has a high potential for recreation and tourism because of its natural landscape. In the outline of the Regional Program for Spatial Planning of the county Leer, tourism should be developed especially in the village Warsingsfehn of the community Moormerland. This is emphasizing the village even though the whole community Moormerland is significance for tourism and recreation. Most important for the development of Tourism is the nearness to the city of Leer, which has a special function as a touristic centre of southern Ostfriesland. In Leer there are the headquarters of the Touristic ltd Southern Ostfriesland (Touristik GmbH Südliches Ostfriesland). One of twelve municipal partners is the county Leer.
Places of interest in Moormerland are the typical Fehnlandscape with its “Wieken” (canals) and flap-bridges, the sluices and the lake Boekzeteler Meer as well as the remarkable buildings like the windmill (Dutch gallery mill) in Wasingsfehn, few historical churches, like on the dwelling mound Rorichum, the graveyard of the former cloister Boekzetelerfehn and the harbour of Oldersum. In Warsingsfehn exists a little museum of local history. Rorichum has a “Paddle and Pedal Station” which is the starting-point for boat- and bike-trips.
Some points of touristic interest close to Moormerland have be mentioned the “German Fehn Route” (Deutsche Fehnroute), the town of Emden (Harbourtrip, art museums “Kunsthalle”, State Museum Ostfriesland), the historical town centre of Leer, the bog museum in Moordorf, an open air museums in Cloppenburg, as well as the water park in Hasselt. Since the Ems-Flood Barrage had been finished in 2002 the building attracts more and more tourists every year.

4.3 Industry and energy
Approximately 400 companies settled in Moormerland. The enterprises are spread mostly on two different areas – one in Neermoor and the other in Oldersum. The business areas Nermoor I and II are close to the exit of the motorway A 31. The area in Oldersum lies directly by the L 1.
Because of the strength of the wind parts of the Moormerland are economically interesting for gaining wind energy. Many companies are profiting from an extension of wind energy plants as well as from the production of the company ENERCON, which is a world wide leading producer of wind energy plants. In this region some wind energy plants had been erected, too, like in Neermoor-Memgaste. But until today there is no wind energy plant working, which is higher then 100 m.

4.4 Infrastructure
TThe region of Moormerland offers all kind of shopping facilities, service offers, equipments for medical supply, as well as kindergarten and schools. In the Lower Saxonian Land Use Regulation there is no High Order Centre (Oberzentrum) for the county Leer assigned. The nearest High Order Centres are in Oldenburg, Wilhelmshaven and Groningen. The city of Leer is fixed as a Middle Order Centre, so even the inhabitants of Moormerland use its locations of equipments and offers of the higher standard. The communities of the county Leer have one basic centre each, to ensure the basic supply.
Because of the nearness to the city of Leer, Moormerland in connected in terms of the traffic quite well. The A 28, which crosses the southern part of Moormerland from west to east, means a quick connection to Leer, as well as the A 31, a north-south connection, to Emden. Another north-south connection is the federal road B 70, which crosses Moormerland. This endures a direct connection to Aurich. Every single village of Moormerland is connected with regional road network by country roads L 1, L 2, L 14 and L 24, as well as by district roads.
Some improvement needs the railway connection in Moormerland. The railway line between Leer and Oldenburg in the very south-western part and the existing north-south- connection between Leer and Emden in the western region, offer at least the basic supply. A concrete improvement would be the re-activating of the railway station in Neermoor. The public transport works with busses. Moormerland is connected with the regional public transport service system “CallBus”. Because of its nearness to the railway station in Leer, the region is connected to the railway network, for example to the Emsland line from Münster via Rheine to Emden or to the line from Leer to Nieuweschans (Netherlands). The public transport system should be developed by the traffic association Ems-Jade.
From a tourist point of view, the possibilities for riding a bicycle are most important, because of the plain natural landscape.
In Leer the harbour gives access to the federal water ways Ems and North Sea, the harbour in Oldersum is mainly used for trading goods. Oldersum is one of the four places in the county Leer for loading goods from trucks to ships and reverse. The many water ways can be counted to the regional important sports grounds. Water sports are of a special importance because of the good conditions for sailing. There are three marinas in this region.

5. Legal and spatial planning aspects

For spatial planning all villages of Moormerland fall into the outline of the Regional Program for Spatial Planning (Regionaler Raumordnungsprogramm) of the county Leer (2005) and into the Lower Saxonian Program for Spatial Planning. Concrete regional planning show some differences in both programs for the region of Moormerland.
Moormerland belongs to the East-Frisian Association (Ostfriesische Landschaft). This is the only higher municipal association in Lower Saxony.

6. Vulnerabilities

Between 2005 and 2015 there will be an increase of the population of 4 %. Because of its nearness to the city of Leer the highest increase will be in Moormerland. This will endanger the grown topographic structures of the cultural landscape by urban sprawl, as well as by a higher density of traffic. Declaring new areas for settlements will endanger the grown structures of the villages.
Because of the special landscape of Moormerland for erecting wind energy plants – the plain, wide and open marsh land – the landscape is especially endangered by destroying the historical viewing axis by building wind energy plants. The dimension of the destruction is connected with the heights of the wind energy plants. The higher the building the more negative is the effect. Also the interests of bird protection (birds in the meadows, migrants) have to be considered. The Regional Program for Spatial Planning of the county Leer considers these problems. No wind energy plant should be higher then 100 m for to preserve the landscape.
The planning of the huge digging for quartz sand in the area of Veenhusen, with a total area of 150 ha and a volume of 25 million m³, could lead to a serious destruction of the landscape, because the area of the community of Moormerland is already considerable changed by the digging for quartz sand. The quartz sand will be exported into the Netherlands, where digging for quartz sand is very restricted. This intention will be a problem, because of the increasing significance for protecting resources. Especially if following generations should be guaranteed the supply of this region with this resource. Another problem will be the filling of the pits with Ems mud deposits. This can only be accepted if it is conformable to the interests of renaturation of the landscape and the gaining of the resources. While the pits are refilled with mud deposits there will be no more possibility to re-open the pits for digs on a higher technical standard.

7. Potentials

Moormerland has a varied landscape, with a high potential for recreation as well as a good basic supply (shopping, schools, doctors). Also Moormerland is well connected by roads (A 28 and A 31) and train (railway lines Leer – Oldenburg and Leer – Emden). The conditions in Moormerland for the development as a tourist region are quite well. Therefore the already existing co-operations should be deepened and the interests with the neighbouring districts, municipal communities and associations should be bundled and developed together. The main tasks should be, beside the development of the tourism and the public transport, the strengthening of the economical structures. In the meaning of the outline of the Regional Program for Spatial Planning of the county Leer, common strategies should be developed and realized with the counties Aurich, Friesland and Wittmund as well as with the cities of Emden and Wilhelmshaven. Some co-operations already exist, for example in tourism, rescue organisations and shop co-operations. That will bring positive effects into the region of Moormerland. The whole county Leer is classified by the Regional Program for Spatial Planning in the category “Rural Area” (Ländlicher Raum). That will mean that this region will have a special function for agriculture, forestry, the protection of the cultural landscape, natural environment (animals and plants, soil, water, air) and the recreation in this landscape.
The limited resource quartz sand should be carefully and economically used. There might be possibilities not only to gain the quartz sand but also to manufacture it within the region. While renewable energies are getting more important a production of silicon and photovoltaic plants in this region could possible.
For a further economical development of Moormerland it is important to find a balanced way between protection and furtherance of places to live and to work as well as offers for recreation. Basis for the activities in the landscape are the varied natural conditions, which should be endurably protected and developed. Agriculture as well as the aspects of natural protection should be considered for the conservation of the typical cultural landscape.

8. Sources

Author: Wolfgang Scherf

Bärenfänger, R. 1999: Wüstung Kloster Barthe bei Hesel. In: Führer zu archäologischen Denkmälern in Deutschland, Bd. 35. Ostfriesland, Stuttgart 1999, 197-199.

Bärenfänger, R. 1999: Der Plytenberg in Leer. In: Führer zu archäologischen Denkmälern in Deutschland, Bd. 35. Ostfriesland, Stuttgart 1999, 218-220.

Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung (BBR) (2005): Raumordnungsbericht 2005. Berichte 21, Bonn 2005.
JESCHKE, A. 2004: Raumplanung als vorsorgendes Instrument im Küstenmanagement. Oldenburg 2004.
KRAMER, J. 1992: Küstenschutz und Binnenentwässerung zwischen Ems und Weser. In: KRAMER, J. und ROHDE, H., Historischer Küstenschutz, Deichbau, Inselschutz und Binnenentwässerung an Nord- und Ostsee, Stuttgart 1992, 207-240.
Landkreis Leer 2005: Regionales Raumordnungsprogramm des Landkreises Leer. Entwurf. Leer 2005.

Schwarz, W. und Stutzke, R. 1998: Archäologische Funde aus dem Landkreis Leer. Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Nordwestdeutschland, Beiheft 21, Oldenburg 1998.

Wassermann, E. 1985: Aufstrecksiedlungen in Ostfriesland. Ein Beitrag zur Erforschung der mittelalterlichen Moorkolonisation. Göttinger Geographische Abhandlungen 80. Göttingen 1985.

Full catalogue of historic maps used, survey evidence etc.

Karte des Nordwestlichen Teils von Ostfriesland. Herausgegeben vom Generalmajor Le Coq 1805, Sect. I. Nachdruck 1984.