ERWG Letter Nr.15/Mai 2005
by Kenneth Anders and Lars Fischer, Bureau for landscape communication
Understanding our place´s place in a larger place helps us understand our own place in the world.
Lucy R. Lippard
Only landscapes whose users and inhabitants are able to articulate their home’s worth, peculiarities and problems can count on future public attention and solidarity. This is only possible if the different groups working and living in this landscape provide their specific perspectives, knowledge and social status, thus emphasizing the common bounds and increasing public awareness.
This especially applies to the Oderbruch because it has been defined as a landscape more culturally and technically than naturally and because it depends on subventions from the society.
The Oderbruch is a rather strange landscape: flat land enclosed by rolling hills it clearly differs from its environment. Intensive agriculture and melioration have coined it. Similarly the polders are permanently endangered by floods. In 2005, eight years after the last flood could only just be prevented; the landscape’s situation appears to be somewhat relaxed. The dykes are in better condition than ever before and the quality of the soil in the Bruch is predominantly good. In its oldest colonists` settlements Neulietzegöricke and Güstebieser Loose the area has just celebrated the 250th anniversary of the new Oder-Canal which forms the basis for using the land agriculturally.
In fact, however, the social cultural and social economic situation of the Oderbruch is tense. The structural change after the German unification has not come to an end. Many companies still have to deal with debts. Financial support for dyke maintenance and drainage threatens to decline, financial pressure on landowners and land users increases. As everywhere in eastern Brandenburg the migration of the native population is dramatic. The German agriculture is facing tremendous changes because of EU politics.
In 1997, observers not having a personal relationship to the Oderbruch have sometimes cynically raised the questions whether this landscape which only demands public money will still be needed; if one should cancel this great technical achievement of its dyking and give the Oderbruch back to nature? Even if these considerations will neither professionally nor politically realize, the Oderbruch is not likely to be able to count on subventions and official protection in the future.
In this situation the lack of interaction between the different social groups is a further decisive disadvantage. There are many activists who perceive the Oderbruch as a peculiar and worthy landscape. But they exchange very little with regard to perspectives of land using which have to be commonly developed. This seems therefore problematic because none of these groups will be able to solve the problems of this landscape on its own.
2. The Oderbruchpavillon
Despite these significant characteristics different views regarding the Oderbruch have come into being. Farmers´ differ from those of artists, new inhabitants´ have other attitudes than natives´, local politicians´ see the landscape in another way than environmentalists and dyke builders even different than cyclists, who enjoy the view from the top of the dyke. We think that all these standpoints and the contradictions which they might cause will play a part in the future of the Oderbruch. Therefore we try to focus these standpoints and views together with the land users in a common landscape exhibition – the Oderbruchpavillon.
Still the Oderbruchpavillon has not found a real place in the landscape. It only exists in the virtual reality of the internet under www.oderbruchpavillon.de. These are studies presenting portraits of various people involved and their views on the subject matter. People are welcome to take part in the project. Ways of presentation differs; texts and picture-orientated descriptions alternate. If possible, these people create their material by themselves; otherwise we are generating it together with them. The most important thing for us is to meet the demands of our partners.
figure 1 landscape near Zollbrücke
A view on the Oderbruch scenery near Zollbrücke might illustrate our method. In the distance one can recognize all elements of the landscape in a harmonic horizon. If one looks closer one sees the homesteads of native and later arrived colonists belonging to a village, a theatre, constructions belonging to the field of water economy, agriculturally-used areas, range of hills belonging to Poland as well as signs of personal, environmentalist and civil commitment.
figure 2 landscape elements near Zollbrücke
These elements of landscape create the components of the Oderbruchpavillon. They represent the above mentioned different modes of land use according to the landscape’s potential. The land use is based on people who perceive their natural and cultural environment from different perspectives and use it for their practical life.
Farmers are not like farmers. Whereas the ones go on working in a cooperative the others have founded agricultural private limited liabilities companies after 1989. A third group got back there land and returned to the Oderbruch in order to revive a tradition which had broken off some fifty years ago. Finally farmers come totally new in the landscape and establish their business having different knowledge and preconditions.
Settling in the Oderbruch means living on dangerous grounds – each flood can cost your house and farm and you probably have to witness that everything you have worked for your whole life will be destroyed in about no time. However, the people have decided to live here or their ancestors have. What does it mean to live in the Oderbruch?
Possibly it where the seventies when the Oderbruch was kissed by the Muse – for thirty years now more and more artists have been drawn to the region settling Loose and old homesteads. They have made the open skies of the Bruch popular. Which views on the scenery have they developed in their works of art, how do they picture their life and role in the landscape?
Nobody ever sees that the preservation of the Oderbruch as agricultural and living landscape demands permanent efforts. The dyks lie heavy at the river; the landscape radiates silence and reveals little traces these efforts at first sight. The inscription „Wahre und Wehre!“ („Keep and Defend!“) of the impressive emblem of the association of dyke and water management with is deeply rooted in the conscience of the inhabitants. Since the Oder flood of 1997 the work dyke builders and water engineers has increasingly gained public attention. But it is hard to understand how complex the daily work of water regulation actually is. The work of the dyke builders forms the spine of the Oderbruch landscape and a main aspect of the Oderbruchpavillon.
Many associations, federations and civil initiatives deal in one way or the other with the landscape and take responsibility for it. They are elements for a self-organized development of the landscape and mirror manifold interests of life.
In the country a mayor, a initiator of an art market or a chairman of a parish council mostly has quite a lot of influence on processes which affect the landscape: he influences the way the residents perceive their own landscape, supports certain decisions about its development and because of his commitment serves as living example that living in the region is not hopeless.
An industrially-formed agricultural landscape with fertile soils on enormous fields is far less blessed with ecological niches than for example the neighbouring Schorfheide. Most nature preserves are situated at the edge of the Bruch. Even though it is characteristically equipped by nature, it is historically an important site of the German conservation movement because of activists like Kurt and Erna Kretschmann, Alfred Böhme und Hans Ohnesorge. Perhaps it is because of the clash of man and nature, being so obvious in the Oderbruch.
Any landscape with its special characteristics is strongly determined by outer perspectives. What impact does the Oderbruch have on guests, residents of neighbouring regions and on people who only work here for some time? Does it appear like a dying or flowering cultural landscape, does it look well-kept, deserted or just usual? Which experiences did they make with inhabitants and their landscape?
The Oderbruch is subject of scientific interests because it has been technical developed and should be permanently preserved as it has created special cultural forms, for example the colonists´ settlements. We ask scientists who deal with the Oderbruch what they have found out about this landscape, how they picture its future and about their personal attitude to the object of their research.
These studies tell and show much of the people’s practical life and work and the social factors which cause special forms of land use and relationships to the potential of the landscape, thus illustrating that landscape is a product which develops with the acquirement of land by the people. In this process the term land means the natural characteristics of an area. People’s actions coin this area culturally. Both undergo changes characterised by complex processes of natural and cultural self-organisation. All this forms the material on whose grounds the social figuration of landscape can be described. Who deals where on which elements of landscape, what is used and in which way, whose are the partners, where does the agent come from culturally and how does the agent see his own future and the future of the landscape, what are the intersections with other land use practices? In one sentence: where is the place of the agents in the system of the landscape?
If this figuration because of economic, social and ecological reasons or as a result of changing cultural models like sustainable development gets under such a pressure, that not only single elements of landscape tend to change but the entire landscape, the future of this system depends on the common perspectives of development and the creative competence of those activists being important for the landscape. The still non-existent real Oderbruchpavillon as a workshop for land and people could provide an opportunity to inspire these competences.
3. The landscape workshop
The landscape workshop Oderbruchpavillon will be designed as a room for
- reflecting the social figuration of the landscape and the social group’s places within,
- imparting practical, scientific and academic knowledge about the landscape,
- developing future possibilities to deal with the natural and cultural potential of the landscape and
- presenting the landscape to the public in an attractive way.
Figure 3 the landscape workshop
A landscape exhibition is the tool to get these goals. This exhibition will be arranged in three steps together with partners from the social groups. First, the bureau for landscape communication compiles more studies about the social figuration of the landscape and asks people from the social groups to work for studies of her own. On theses grounds the exhibits for the show were developed. These exhibits include the modes of perception and the knowledge of each group of land users involved in the process of landscape development. The own working conditions in the landscape, for example economical requirements, difficulties of soil and water management, natural succession, less resources for landscape conservation, belong to these exhibits as well as the attraction and preferences of the landscape, for example openness, homogeneity, solidarity in the neighbourhood, friendships, the river Oder, the situation of the Oderbruch at the edge of Germany in the middle of Europe.
Second, a first model of the landscape exhibition will be worked out and discussed with all partners. The room created by this installation provides the place for a series of public events to impart practical, scientific and academic knowledge about the landscape. These discussions should be concentrated on common future possibilities to deal with the natural and cultural potential of the Oderbruch. Third, the landscape exhibition will be produced and opened to the general public. This exhibition – the real Oderbruchpavillon – provides a many-sided picture of the landscape. No views and standpoints will exclude from the final installation. Their interdependence is the focus as well as the contradictions and conflicts between the different land use practices. Last but not least the exhibition presents guests and tourists a lot of interesting information about the landscape of the Oderbruch in an attractive way.
The Oderbruchpavillon stimulates not only the local participation in the process of an integrated landscape development workshop and exhibition also improves the self-understanding of the landscape as living and working place.
4. Efforts towards environmental education
Besides the effects for a self-organised landscape development the workshop and especially the exhibition provides a new tool to improve environmental education in the region.
Visitors of the Oderbruchpavillon like tourists, school classes can learn that landscapes are complex systems which arose through the acquirement of land by people. They can see that the forms of this acquirement depend on a specific social figuration which is characterised by cultural as well as ecological interdependence and self-organization. Sustain and designed through people with different interests and ideas of living a landscape is more than a natural surrounding or scenery: it is a cultural setting.
Figure 4 every day perception
Figure 5 complexe landscape
Figure 6 landscape communication
If someone walks in a landscape like the Oderbruch and looks around he faces not at all the products of other people. Who wants to change the landscape in a more „natural stile“ or in a „total industrial“ one has no other chance as to deal with the people within.
The following three figures may illustrate the effect for environmental education which the landscape exhibition offers.
Landscape in the everyday perception is often seen only as a natural setting of meadows, trees, fields, waters, slopes, living beings and structures. The individual constitutes landscape as a holistic relationship to the environment. One can not communicate with trees and fields. The individual stands with his relationship alone towards the landscape. It perceive environmental changes and pollutions often only as an act of destruction and not as consequence of a specific relationship between the landscape elements.
Landscape as a complex system has a quality of its own. Its nucleus is the working relation between people and nature. An ensemble mixed by land users, inhabitants, visitors, landowner, scientists and so one forms a social figuration. This figuration produced in the natural space a landscape. As a system the landscape is both influenced by the outer natural and social conditions and structured by processes of natural and social self-organisation. The individual in the landscape stands not alone for itself; it stands in a space characterised by interdependences among social actors and natural resources.
One can communicate with the actors forming the land by using it. They should explain each other her environmentally attitudes. If they do so the agents can experience themselves as a part of the figuration which designs the landscape. That means the concept landscape communication. A participant of the landscape workshop or a visitor of the landscape exhibition should perceive the landscape as a complex product of many modes of appropriation and no more only as a natural setting and subject of protection.
Dr. Kenneth Anders and Lars Fischer are both cultural scientists. In 2003 they started the bureau for landscape communication and developed the concept of the landscape workshop.
For more information see www.landschaftskommunikation.de.
The virtual Oderbruchpavillon exists since July 2004 and is still a non-profit project.
If anyone wants to support the project please contact:
Dr. Kenneth Anders and Lars Fischer