Project Aschersleben

From the Outside to the Inside – Focussing on the Centre

In Aschersleben, the intention is to do something which is no longer possible in many towns with a shrinking population: considerably reduce its size from the outside to the inside. Aschersleben is to become the prototype of a town which has systematically planned reducing its dimensions by pulling things down on the outskirts of the town, while at the same time improving its architecturally valuable town centre.


Aschersleben, which is the oldest town in Saxony-Anhalt, is one of the only German towns with well-preserved medieval town ramparts and a relatively intact town centre. As early as in the year 1000, the marketplace around the Romanesque church resembled a town.


Towards the end of the 19th century, Aschersleben developed rapidly to become a medium-sized industrial town. The main reasons for this were the lignite beds to the north of the town as well as the rail link. The most important driving forces leading to this blossoming were the Billeter und Klunz machine tool factory, later the VEB (state owned enterprise) WEMA machine tool factory, which employed about 25,000 people in GDR times, and the Bestehorn paper factory, later known as VEB Optima. Aschersleben experienced another abrupt structural change in the 1990s.


Industries, which had hardly altered their structure since the beginning of the century, suddenly had to adapt to new conditions. The paper factory closed down. The machine-tool factory was able to hold its own in the market and today employs 350 people. A few new companies for non-woven woollen fabrics and for medical technology have established themselves. However, as the new production methods require fewer workers, many of the inhabitants have left. The suburbanisation process also resulted in urban decay. Of the 32,500 inhabitants living here in 1990, only 27,112 remained in 2008. A forecast predicts 22,266 in 2025.


Aschersleben must now face the most challenging structural adjustment since the industrial revolution: redesigning the town to suit new lifestyles and new working patterns as well as a shrinking population. To do this, the IBA followed the strategy of developing from the outside to the inside. It is supposed to happen while concentrating on the topics of education, business, and the design of urban space.

As part of the IBA’s strategy 1,200 housing units in the suburbs have been demolished so far, and at the same time the town centre has been restored and new building projects carried out on derelict sites in the old town. It was possible to make structural improvements to the historical centre, although in some places considerable work still needs to be done on some of the medieval building fabric.



The area near the main through-road is particularly problematic. Here there is a junction of three trunk roads: the B6, B180 and the B185. Seventeen thousand vehicles pass through every day. Homes were abandoned here because of traffic noise and exhaust fumes, leaving the town “frayed.” Gaps between buildings and boarded-up windows greeted visitors passing through the town.

One of the main objectives of the IBA is to transform this road, which forms a semicircle round the old town to the north, east and west, from a traffic slum to a “stabilising ring.”

On the one hand, some places were demolished because of the enormously high vacancy rate of 75%. On the other hand, new blocks have been set up containing logistical facilities like shopping centres or car dealers, and derelict sites have been mobilised for artistic purposes. In the road section called “Hinter dem Zoll,” the experiment with the first DRIVE THRU Gallery was begun. The objective was to use the road as a public space, to show art and culture to appeal to people, particularly the young, and to give Aschersleben creative impetus. “Hybrid walls” (huge steel frames covered with large transparencies) showed exhibitions such as Hitzefrei by Christopher Winter and Feierabend by Andre Volkmann.

Play Video A light installation Hinter dem Fenster lit up the windows of empty buildings. In a car park by the Steinbrücke bridge, a free “chip tank” was set up called A Light Smell of French Fries. This is a cooking oil collection point that serves as a filling station. The town’s general public reacted strongly but ambivalently to the DRIVE THRU Gallery. There were discussions and, following the official opening of Hitzefrei, cases of vandalism. Residents took offence at the content of the images. There was also criticism of the appropriateness of spending money on the DRIVE THRU Gallery in view of the structural and social problems in Aschersleben.

Blog about DRIVE THRU GALLERY (German)

Bestehornpark education centre

Play Video The inner-city industrial wasteland of the Bestehorn family’s cardboard factory is also located near the ring road. The IBA process will develop this into the Bestehornpark education centre. The main buildings of this industrial monument at 22 Wilhelmstrasse will be converted into school buildings and completed by a modern extension designed by Arno Lederer’s architect’s office. On the educational campus there will be two free primary schools and a secondary school which follows a reformed educational philosophy with the main focus on “world studies” and foreign languages. In addition, there will be a vocational training institute for the care of the sick and elderly.


The open areas of Bestehornpark, which join the campus with the surrounding quarters, will be set out as a school park within the framework of the 2010 State Garden Show. During the garden show, the modern extension will house the flower hall. After that major event ,the extension will provide space for open painting and other artistic classes. Printing or rehearsal facilities for bands, dance, and theatre are envisaged here. There will be a refectory on the ground floor with direct access to the park.

Course of the Eine river


To the south, the ring around the old town is closed by the river Eine. At the Steinbrücke bridge, the course of the river, previously tunnelled over, has been opened up, and cycle paths have been installed on the riverbanks. This has proved popular with the citizens of Aschersleben.

Tina Veihelmann, 2010

The DRIVE THRU Gallery in Aschersleben

A Film by Henry Mertens, by order of IBA-Büro GbR, 2009 (German, Flash-Video, 5'18)

More Pictures of Aschersleben


Info: Aschersleben