Relinquishing the Old Centre
Staßfurt has been dramatically shaped by its history of salt mining: it lost its historic town centre due to ground subsidence. The IBA process is dealing with the town’s loss and the secondary damage caused by mining.
Staßfurt developed in the Middle Ages as a small town by a ford through the river Bode. Salt was produced here by a process of evaporation and boiling. But the town only gained true significance with salt mining at the end of the 19th century. The technology of rock salt mining was revolutionised by the “von der Heydt” and “Manteuffel” mineshafts. The new extraction technology led to an entirely different revolution. The chemist Dr. Adolf Frank, working in Staßfurt, examined the coloured, bitter salts stored as a by-product in slagheaps. He found that this potassium-containing salt induced more luxuriant plant growth. It was quickly recognised that this salt could be processed to make mineral fertiliser. The era of the potash processing industry had begun. In its heyday, thirty-three chemical works prospered in and around Staßfurt.
Sometime later, the town was to pay a high price for this. A lack of knowledge concerning ground composition and underground water channels led to mistakes that had serious consequences. Water penetrated the salt mines, dissolved the salt, and the cavities collapsed. The salt shafts eventually had to be abandoned. Within the century, there was more and more ground subsidence in the town as well as in the surrounding areas. From the salt lake via the town centre to the area north of the river Bode, an area of subsidence with various depression centres formed. One of these is the “Große Markt” in the centre of Staßfurt. In other words: the historic city has sunk by approximately 6.30 metres since 1883. By the 1960s, about eight hundred buildings, including the town hall and the church, had to be demolished in an area covering two hundred hectares.
The lost centre remained a blind spot for a long time. Neither architecturally nor culturally could a way of coming to terms with the loss be found—not least because it related to a history of downfall. Staßfurt has become an empty town following the end of mining and the greater part of the chemical industry. Of the 26,833 residents who lived here in 1988, only 22,322 remained by 2007, even after the incorporation of surrounding communities.
In the course of the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010, Staßfurt is thematising the loss of its centre and creating a landscape zone in its place. It is also talking about its technical experience in dealing with mining damage. A decentred drainage system was developed that now keeps only the built-up areas dry. In 2005, a central town lake was formed by controlled flooding in the depression cone. This new town lake, a pivotal project of the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010, is an avowal to the lost historic town centre that, as formless wasteland, had long disappeared from people’s minds. The gravel fill on the lakeshore is a reminder of the crystal salt that led both to the prosperity of the town and the loss of its centre. At the same time, the stones can tolerate the expected variations in water level.
The whole subsidence area—the former town centre—was designed as a spatial unit related to the surrounding urban spaces. A few intact townhouses on the edges of the “Holzmarkt” were protected from crumbling and renovated, while the newly created landscape undeniably stresses the absence of an unharmed old town. The churchyard south of the lake, on which are located the remains of St. John’s Church and the so-called leaning tower and which lies 1.5 metres under the present ground level, will remain untouched for later generations and was left as a lawn. The outline of an area, lying slantwise in the grass, marks the former church tower that was Staßfurt’s symbol for over a thousand years.
The Großer Markt, which lies to the south, corresponds to its historical area and is marked by a smooth surface in a bed of small cobblestones.
A brownfield to the west of the lake has been planted with cherry trees, which could be removed again if the site were to be built upon. So-called potassium gardens have been laid on the northern shore around the former potassium mineshafts out. To connect the landscape zone with the surrounding roads, the most important thoroughfares were taken up and now lead past the lake, forming a western promenade.
The townscape of Staßfurt’s “extinct” centre presents the visitor not with an idyll, but with a clearly formed urban area. A certain brusqueness matches the history associated with the location. It is well accepted by the people as a public space. Here you can find children, cyclists, and people out for a stroll.
The regained centre has led to a gentle revival in the surrounding commercial streets, where empty premises are very evident.
Several vacant residential and commercial buildings very close to the subsidence area in Steinstrasse were renovated and have been newly let. A few restaurants have moved in. A striking corner building, long unused, that was an historic department store with two storeys, can now be used for residential and business purposes. In the immediate vicinity there is a mediaeval building, once the mayor’s house, where Count Tilly, the famous general, stayed during the Thirty Years’ War. Today this building is home to a theatre café with function rooms. Furthermore, a few gaps between buildings, resulting from demolition following subsidence, have been redeveloped and can be used.
Tina Veihelmann, 2010