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Exploring the Bourtanger Moor

Europe: Border and Encounter Regions Emsland Moormuseum

The Emsland Moormuseum presents exhibits on the history of the settlement of the Moor on the left and right banks of the Ems, of pre-industrial and industrial peat extraction, and of moor conservation in northwest Germany. These topics are also focal points for its collecting, research and educational programs. Museum events during the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 are meant to describe, present, and make on-site visits to the characteristic features of the natural environment and to the vestiges of the industrial culture of the German-Dutch border region of the former Bourtanger Moor.

The events, exhibitions, and walking tours will provide an inducement and aid to a better understanding of the historical development of our local countryside to everyone interested in culture or nature, because even historical industrial sites or natural geographical features of lesser significance can be important cogs in the “great machine” of the history of German, Dutch and European countryside.

Virgin moor as uncultivated nature and habitat has not existed in Germany for more than 90 years. We rarely pay attention to the diverse and far-reaching changes which 19th century cultivation - agriculture and peat extraction - has left behind. On the contrary, the landscape has been transfigured in art and culture by a historicizing, neo-romanticizing attitude which does not correspond to the moor’s natural environment.

Until the 20th century, the Northwest, above all the Emsland, was considered the poor house of Germany. Nearly impassable streets through miserable settlements, drifting sand, tuberculosis epidemics with more cases than anywhere in Germany, thousands of square kilometers of undeveloped wasteland, the country’s lowest population rate, and wretched economic performance generated almost exclusively by agriculture. The plight of the peasant classes led to high rates of emigration. The state of Prussia intensified wasteland cultivation beginning in 1866 in an attempt to boost economic performance. However, it was the Emsland Plan, passed by the German Bundestag in 1952, that bundled infrastructure measures of enormous proportions, provided financing, and within thirty years raised the living standards and economic performance of the northwestern German border area to the level of of other regions of the country.