Project Hansestadt Stendal

Central Town in a Rural Region

The Altmark in Saxony-Anhalt is the most thinly populated region of the state, and the Hanseatic town of Stendal is its most important urban centre. Very limited diversity in economic structure, high out-migration, limited levels of employment, and a high proportion of commuters who work outside the area all characterise this rural region. This situation means that adequate and important public services such as education, healthcare, public transport, culture, welfare, and other services are no longer available in all places.


This has resulted in these things being concentrated on the central locations in the Altmark, such as the Hanseatic town of Stendal, which is a middle-order centre but also takes on some of the functions of a high-order centre.

The upheavals in 1989/90 had far-reaching consequences for Stendal and the Altmark. Many manufacturing firms, particularly in the fields of mechanical engineering and the steel industry as well as the industrial furniture industry, made workers redundant. Construction work at the Niedergörne nuclear power station, which had begun in 1974 and turned out to be the “largest building site in the GDR,” and which had led to enormous population growth in Stendal and the surrounding area, ceased in 1990/91. The large agricultural cooperatives (LPGs) were dissolved. As a consequence, the population fell by more than a quarter. Many people, particularly young ones, left the region, and the average population of the Altmark dropped to forty-six inhabitants per square kilometre.

Because of its historically significant town centre, the Hanseatic town of Stendal was admitted to the Urban Preservation of Historic Buildings and Monuments programme back in 1991. This enabled the systematic renovation of the ninety-four-hectare old town area to begin. The numerous old buildings in the old town are its architectural heritage and, at the same time, its best assets. With the careful renovation of its mediaeval secular and religious buildings, Stendal is linking up with its historic past. But at the same time, out-migration led to higher vacancy rates, making it necessary to rethink housing policy. In 2001, more than 50% of the prefabricated concrete slab houses in “Süd” were vacant, and 28% in the “Stadtsee” area.


Stendal became an IBA town in 2004. Its theme concerns itself with the fundamental questions raised by shrinkage both in towns as well as in regions such as the Altmark, which has a long history of having a low population. The most important issues are: How can the services of general public interest be maintained both in terms of quality and quantity? To what extent can the same quality be offered everywhere? Can this be financed? Where is rethinking necessary? In order to tackle these problems and solve them, the people responsible from both the Altmark administrative districts and the Altmark municipality met together specifically to discuss the concentration of educational services and public transport. No agreement could be reached on changing the educational system by concentrating schooling on a few centres, following school closures already carried out throughout the region in recent years.

The IBA shifted its focus starting in 2009. As the largest town of the region, Stendal had explicit tasks and a particular responsibility. Services of general public interest have be provided there which can no longer be made available in every community. For these reasons, for example, the restructuring of local public transport in the region became necessary so that people from the outlying smaller locations could reach the various authorities, service industries, and schools without difficulty. The reorganisation of the technical infrastructure and the strengthening of the town centre were discussed and new approaches proposed.


A further aspect relating to managing demographic change was worked on entitled “Kernige Altmark—zurück in die Mitte” (the nitty-gritty of the Altmark—back to the centre). In the cooperation with the towns of Arneburg, Stendal, and Tangermünde, the local authorities committed themselves to developing these urban areas in line with the predicted population numbers. That means in future a calculated reduction of the towns to their historic cores. The aim is to profile Arneburg as an industrial location, Tangermünde as a centre for tourism, and Stendal as a centre of service provisions and education. Stendal’s current educational infrastructure gives a good impression in both quality and quantity. However, deficiencies were found in the field of networking. In order to minimise these shortcomings, a meeting about education was held and an Internet portal for family affairs and education was developed. Cooperation between the various educational institutions and with business (hands-on learning) is the main focus.

Moreover, Stendal wants to attract its citizens to the town centre, particularly families with children. Living in the heart of town should facilitate providing services of general public interest and make them affordable. It should also make life in a functioning social network possible and, for example, make it easier to balance family life and career. The multigenerational house “Färberhof” has become an exemplary meeting place where both childcare and care for the elderly can be organised to meet today’s needs.


Another aspect is the new construction work in the town centre. The development of the district round Rohrstrasse/Karnipp and the so-called Winckelmann’s courtyards is such a project. The KARO*architect’s office from Leipzig has presented a design for flexible urban modules. This concept has the potential to develop urban space and encourage community-formation within a framework that makes sense economically.

The aim is to reduce the appeal of building land, especially in the suburbs, so as to further encourage this concentration toward the centre. This resulted in a review of all area development and building plans in force at the outskirts as well as the expansion of plans for further dismantling in the Stadtsee district. The reorganisation of the technical infrastructure was also given some consideration. For instance, there was the idea of charging differing rates for drinking water. Under this scheme, people living in residential areas further away from the centre, which usually have a lower population rate together with disproportionately large networks, would have to pay more for drinking water supplies than those living in the areas closer to the town centre. Can there be decentralised solutions for the sewage disposal system for example? Here, too, investigations were carried out and findings reported.

The Stendal example shows how important and yet, at the same time, how difficult it is to implement new concepts for services of general public interest. Innovative, financially feasible concepts do not always only meet with agreement; they must also overcome preconceived ideas in a long, drawn-out process.

Petra Frese, 2010

More pictures of Hansestadt Stendal


Info: Hansestadt Stendal

(Municipal Area of 2010)
1989: 57.200
2009: 41.353
2025: 33.313 (Future Prospect)

Municipal Area: 222,65 qkm

IBA-Website of Stendal