Project Schönebeck (Elbe)

Seventeen Seventy-Four

The town of Schönebeck in the administrative district of Salzlandkreis is located approximately fifteen kilometres southeast of Magdeburg on the river Elbe. Two important urban developments characterise Schönebeck today: 18th-century urbanisation and 19th-century industrialisation. The Kolonistenstrassen (colonists’ roads), finished in 1774, trace the old lines of communication and unite Schönebeck, Altstadt, Frohse, and Bad Salzelmen in one conglomeration.


A mid-19th-century map, kept in the town archives, illustrates this union. The far-reaching economic upheavals following German reunification in 1989/90 led to the demolition of buildings for which there was no longer any use and created empty spaces in the urban structure. In the context of the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010, Schönebeck is striving for a new arrangement of town and landscape, urban agriculture, and gardens based on the historic town layout.

Today’s Schönebeck, with approximately 35,000 inhabitants, was created in 1932 with the joining together of the towns of Schönebeck and Bad Salzelmen and the rural community of Frohse. The extraction of salt, or “white gold,” from brine has been one of the most important economic sectors in the area since the 12th century. From the late Middle Ages until the late 18th century, the private owners of the saltpans in Groß Salze determined the fortunes of the town. The Royal Prussian Saltworks, founded in Schönebeck in 1705, soon became one of the most important sources of income in the state. At the initiative of Prussian King Friedrich II, skilled labourers, preferably from other areas, were relocated here. They lived in the single-storey houses along the completely straight colonists’ streets that were set out between 1770 and 1774. These immigrants from other small German states, then thought of as foreign countries, were called colonists. Following the discovery of the therapeutic effects of brine, Germany’s first brine spa was established in Elmen near Groß Salze in 1802. Industrial salt production ceased in the Schönebeck saltworks in 1967, but the use of the natural resource of brine is even now the basis of the spa in Bad Salzelmen.


Besides salt extraction and the spa, the important economic sectors of Schönebeck included shipping on the Elbe, metalworking, the chemical industry, and munitions production. In 1959, the modern Schönebeck tractor factory was built on the former site of Junkers’ aircraft and engineering works in Barbyer Strasse, which was dismantled and demolished after 1945. Adjacent to this, in the former building housing the drilling management of Schönebeck in Barbarastrasse, diesel engines had been produced since 1946. Apart from that, the tradition of munitions production was continued in the explosives factory. Schönebeck boiler works produced boilers and radiators.

Following German reunification in 1989/90, the loss of industries led to a serious transformation process. Tractor production ceased, and in the mid-1990s the diesel engine factory (DMS) that had made engines for agricultural machines, lorries, and small ships also had to file for bankruptcy. The majority of the remaining firms also shared the same fate. The loss of workplaces and the associated out-migration of the population led to vacancies, demolition, and many new brownfield areas both in the industrial areas as well as in the historic centre of Schönebeck.


The urban structure that had been stable for centuries could no longer withstand these deep incisions. Although Bad Salzelmen and, to a degree Frohse, could keep their heads above water, Altstadt and the colonists’ streets required special support. In this situation Schönebeck applied to participate in the IBA Urban Redevelopment 2010. The IBA steering committee confirmed Schönebeck’s participation in 2008.

The aim of involvement in the IBA project is to strengthen the three core areas of the old town, Frohse, and Bad Salzelmen, a structure resulting from the colonists’ streets built in 1774. These form a unique feature of Schönebeck. Bad Salzelmen has promoted and consolidated itself as a spa. The historic centre is to gain a new image as a high quality residential and service location. Frohse will benefit from water tourism on the river Elbe due to the partial expansion of the harbour.


These landscape zones, based on a plot structure, will be developed further by the use of adequate land use management. A network of recultivated brownfield sites and urban allotments, which have joined together between the residential core areas and which are no longer used as a result of demographic change, will gradually grow around the urban areas, thus improving and greening the residential parts.

The participation of the population in the reorganisation and upgrading of the town has been promoted by multiple public “spring walks” and the opening of an IBA shop in the old town in 2009. The shaping of the abandoned plots in the development areas, which can be built on if required, will enhance the image of the historic centre as an attractive residential area. The landscape architects’ concept (Marianne Mommsen, Berlin) envisages high-quality interim usage as a park consisting of plots. Here, the brownfield in Steinstrasse will be improved by flowering meadows, structured by the planting of hedges between the plots, and marked by wooden elements. The marking of the historic plot structure makes the history of Steinstrasse visible and enables it to be experienced. This should encourage reconstruction on the required small-scale structure.


The colonists’ streets, once lined with lime trees, will have their historic colonist houses renovated and the plot structure preserved or redefined as well as embellished by tree-lined avenues. This design is to highlight the special quality of these streets as connections between the different parts of town.

Another priority is the reconfiguration of the three industrial brownfields at the turnip embark point, the boiler works, and the saline island. They will be opened up on a large scale and landscaped after the toxic waste has been removed. There are plans to transform the saline island on the river Elbe east of the old town into a part of the Elbe floodplain and a landscape area to be used by the public.

Ingrid Reuter, 2010

More pictures of Schönebeck (Elbe)


Info: Schönebeck (Elbe)

(Municipal Area of 2010)
1989: 46.589
2009: 34.504
2025: 26.419 (Future Prospect)

Municipal Area: 85,77 qkm