The towns of Bitterfeld and Wolfen and the neighbouring communities of Holzweißig, Greppin, and Thalheim merged in July 2007. In 2009, the municipality of Bobbau also joined the young town of Bitterfeld-Wolfen. But the idea of a joint town had emerged ten years earlier. The merger process has been guided since 2003 within the context of the 2010 IBA urban redevelopment plan. The issues to be dealt with were: How can we bring about a shared identity? How can the council run efficiently without superfluous parallel structures? To deal with this, Bitterfeld-Wolfen coined the terms Network Town and Network Region, which rely on sharing the workload based on cooperative and networked activities in the districts and neighbouring municipalities.
The area of the new town encompasses nearly ninety square kilometres with approximately 47,000 inhabitants. The Bitterfeld-Wolfen Chemical Park, which is steeped in tradition, lies in the heart of the town. To the east is the large Goitzsche lake, formerly an open-pit mine, and which nowadays serves as a cultural and recreational spot. Europe’s largest solar industry location has developed to the west of Wolfen.
The region has been marked by lignite mining and the chemical industry for over one hundred years. Rapid growth and crises, shutdowns, dismantling, restructuring ,and resettling, but also toxic waste in the environment as well as structural and cultural legacies have changed the appearance of the town and its surroundings over and over again.
Coal, Chemicals, and Photovoltaics
The Bitterfeld chemical combine, the ORWO works in Wolfen, and the Bitterfeld lignite combine employed more than 45,000 people at the end of the1980s. Barely one hundred years before that, chemical companies such as the AEG and Agfa electrochemical plants had started to settle in the region. Lignite was mined near Bitterfeld as early as 1839. The war economies of the world wars I and II played a very important role in turning the region into one of Germany’s most significant chemical and energy locations. After the war, 50% of the manufacturing facilities were dismantled and taken to the Soviet Union. Before that, the Americans had first and foremost taken papers and patents from the film factory. The region also occupied a key position in the economic policies of the GDR, however there was hardly any investment in the modernisation of the production facilities. In her novel Flugasche, Monika Maron calls Bitterfeld the “filthiest town in Europe”.
The region of Bitterfeld-Wolfen received particular media and political attention following the collapse of the GDR. The stigmatisation of the region as an ecological catastrophe by the mass media led to a special programme for the environmentally friendly improvement and preservation of the industrial centres. Helmut Kohl, the Federal Chancellor at that time, supported Bayer AG in their decision to build a new plant in Bitterfeld. Nevertheless, the unemployment rate rose to 29% and currently stands at about 11%. Many people left the region. Meanwhile, 360 firms employing over 11,000 people have moved to the Bitterfeld-Wolfen Chemical Park. It is noted throughout Europe as a classic example of how to restructure chemical sites. Approximately 5,000 people are currently employed in the neighbouring Solar Valley, which developed as a result of the solar cell manufacturers Q-Cells establishing themselves there in 2001. For quite some time, the local population have not been able to provide all the specialists needed, which means that thousands of people have to commute to the region every day.
Bitterfeld-Wolfen’s next task is to persuade those people to stay in the region. Improved offers in leisure facilities, housing, and education are meant to improve the unfavourable location factors in the long term and thus communicate the image of a liveable and lovable town.
Network Town Forums
A planning workshop, under the guidance of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation on behalf of the organisation responsible for development and economic affairs in the district, discussed merging the communities back in 1998. For a long time, however, this undertaking did not seem feasible. Due to various developments along with the differing priorities of the partner communities, the subject of merging was pushed to the bottom of the agenda. Bitterfeld, for example, as the former district town, took over different public duties following reunification. The priorities regarding urban redevelopment also changed. Bitterfeld gained the Goitzsche lake, right near the centre of town, whereas in Wolfen-Nord, six thousand flats had to be demolished. It is here that the demographic changes in the region are particularly obvious. It was not until 2004 that the merger talks were back on the table.
The town planners’ interest in the merger in 2007 was the “joint integrated urban development concept” (GINSEK, 2006). This examined the housing sector and agreed on the priorities of urban redevelopment. In order to further the merger process and thus empower the town to act, numerous meetings and compromises were required of the communities’ negotiators. It was important for those affected to have a sense of their own identity and history in the joint town of Bitterfeld-Wolfen. The IBA office, faced with the demographic shrinking process, would have preferred an even stricter concentration of development resources on fewer selected focal points.
Even now, fierce arguments still ensue about the demographic development of the region as well as about the merging of the individual districts to form one town. At the end of 2007, the town and the IBA office invited experts from business, politics, education, and culture to a public network town forum. Apart from the question of how to manage the town efficiently without superfluous parallel structures, the main theme was the development of a joint vision of Bitterfeld-Wolfen for 2030. How will the town’s character change in the future? What can and must Bitterfeld-Wolfen offer to attract new residents and counteract the lack of qualified personnel? How can the young town build a shared identity?
They identified five sub-areas in differing fields of activity for cooperating with neighbouring municipalities: “Sonnenland” (= sun land) with the Solar Valley, lake land with the large Goitzsche lake, water meadow land on the banks of the river Mulde, the Goitzsche woodlands to the south, and the Chemical Park in the centre. Furthermore, they defined key projects for the development of the joint town, which would help support the merging of the districts. These include, amongst other things, the Bitterfeld town centre and its link to the town harbour and the Goitzsche lake. In 2008, the town held a competition for this urban development project. The Weimar-based architect’s office, Schettler&Wittenberg, won the competition and has since been commissioned to develop further plans. Another key project is the revitalisation of the original site of the film factory in Wolfen. This project received an important stimulus in January 2010 with the opening of the new joint town hall, together with the museum of industry and film and the arts centre.
Franziska Eidner, 2010