Project Merseburg

New Milieus – New Opportunities

Within the context of the IBA, Merseburg developed strategies for integration aimed at specific sectors. The town not only wishes to keep young people in the area, but also aims to open up to social groups and milieus which have so far been under-represented or not represented at all. The town aims in particular to attract people with a creative or experimental background as well as migrants and workers in the industries based in the Merseburg region. The town will do this by promoting appropriate building measures as well as an open integrative and social climate.


Particular attention will be paid to the historic cathedral and castle area and to linking urban redevelopment projects with establishing and developing academic institutions like the European Centre for Romanesque Art and to cooperating with educational institutions, the media, and the arts.

German reunification in 1989/90 brought with it a temporary stop to Merseburg’s industry. From 1906 onwards, lignite was mined here in the nearby Geisel Valley, and thanks to the Leuna works (since 1916) and the Buna works (since 1936/37), the region was a centre for the chemical industry. Thousands lost their jobs in the economic upheavals following unification. In 1989, massive protests by Merseburg’s citizens’ brought a halt to further widespread demolition of the historic centre, but it was almost too late. The town, which is over one thousand years old with a history of European importance, had all but lost its centre. However, in 1991 a conservation law was passed, and the remaining historic buildings were gradually repaired using both private and public funding—partly within the framework of the Urban 21 state initiative and also from the EU. Thus the city’s history received the recognition it deserved: after all, Merseburg was mentioned in the 830/850 Hersfeld tithe records and expanded to be an imperial palace in 919. The setting up of a bishopric in 968 preceded the building of the cathedral and castle, whose many towers still distinguish the town’s silhouette. In the meantime, the cathedral and castle with its orangery, gardens, Ständehaus (local government building), and the chapter house ( today the archive), the library and the cathedral museum have been renovated. The reopening of the Merseburg University of Applied Sciences in 1992 and the establishment of new companies could not, however, halt the economic decline caused by the privatisation and closing of the majority of the neighbouring industrial firms. The consequences were out-migration and empty buildings. In 1995, Merseburg had about 41,500 inhabitants, but by 2001 this number had dropped to only around 37,000. Meanwhile, companies and suppliers related to the huge chemical industry have settled in the five industrial estates of the town. The reasons for this are good infrastructure provided by several motorways and the Leipzig-Halle airport, as well as the proximity to several universities.


The IBA projects in Merseburg aim to take advantage of the town’s favourable location between the cities of Halle and Leipzig to attract groups who as yet have shown great interest in living in this medium-sized town. The aim is to encourage young people from creative jobs, top performers, and migrants to settle in Merseburg alongside traditional industrial workers. The Merseburg University of Applied Sciences and other partners from culture, academia, and the community triggered a discussion about housing, leisure, culture and educational opportunities, as well as about integrating new migrants.

In urban development terms, Merseburg is focussing on the old town and the castle hill. The urban development concept, first presented in the Urban Restructuring in East Germany competition, has formed the basis for the town’s participation in the IBA since 2005. There have been four IBA projects in Merseburg since that time.

One of the most important projects for the development of the cathedral quarter, The European Centre for Romanesque Art, an affiliated institute of the Halle-Wittenberg Martin Luther University, opened in 2008. The building sponsors of the international research centre were the combined cathedral chapters of Merseburg and Naumburg and the collegiate foundation of Zeitz. Furthermore, they supported the renovation of vacant listed buildings on the castle hill following the so-called Leipzig self-user model in order to encourage young families to live there. In 2005, the Willi-Sitte gallery opened its doors in the former “Nova” cathedral presbytery, showing works by the famous artist of socialist realism.


The renovation and upgrading of the Tiefer Keller district is another IBA project. The quarter is characterised by numerous buildings in need of renovation. It is to be revitalised and converted into a residential and artistic area. The Tiefer Keller art centre was opened in 2006. The original building complex dates from the 15th century, but was partially dismantled in the 1970s, and from 1980 the remaining barn was developed to form a youth club. Starting in 2005, the gallery owner, Holger Leidel, developed the cellars and buildings still standing to make a gallery. The historic vaults now house the exhibition spaces, which are complemented upstairs by a modern studio complex. The year 2005 saw the birth of the arts association MerKunst e. V., but further progress in the district appears difficult. Although urban development funding is available, the unfavourable financial situation of the building owners makes the upgrading of the quarter by, for example, the building of student and studio flats or the renovation of cellar buildings more difficult. The town has already commissioned the preliminary structural work such as surveying, archaeological reports, and preparatory work to stabilise the cellars. The objective is to attract interesting business ideas involving tourism to the quarter in addition to students, artists, and galleries.


The third IBA project is the upgrading of the mill island of Meuschau. The VEB Mühlenwerke Merseburg (a state-owned enterprise) formerly used the mills, commercial buildings, and the old manor house. The renovation work was carried out privately under the banner: “Work, live, relax on the mill island.. Work on constructing a hydroelectric generator was started in 2009. Tourist facilities have been developed for water sport enthusiasts and hikers. There are also plans to reopen the former white water canoeing course. A youth hostel and a ship’s chandler will liven up this impressive industrial architecture as well.

Converting the Petri monastery into a publishing house was a further IBA project. Merseburg wanted to re-establish its long book tradition (the first printer’s was here as early back as 1473) by moving the Cornelius GmbH publishing house from Halle to Merseburg. The private investor wanted to start converting the monastery in 2009 and to establish rooms for special events and exhibitions in addition to the publishing house. Unfortunately, the publishing house did not succeed in securing the funding for the ambitious enterprise, and so the 2010 IBA project can no longer be implemented.

Petra Frese, 2010

More pictures of Merseburg


Info: Merseburg

(Municipal Area of 2010)
1989: 47.232
2009: 35.894
2025: 28.704 (Future Prospect)

Municipal Area: 54,73 qkm 

IBA-Website of Merseburg