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The Teufelsmoor

Origin, first cultivation and colonization of the Teufelsmoor landscape.

In the North German lowlands, east of the city of Bremen, the Teufelsmoor landscape is located, with the artists' village Worpswede as its center.

painting: Teufelsmoor cottage of yesterdayAfter the end of the last Ice Age the sea level rose, and the rainfall increased. This caused a far reach of high tides of the North-Sea into the estuary delta of the rivers Hamme, Woerpe and Wuemme.

The temporarily reduced flowing rate of the rivers, and the reduction of organic substances carried by the flow caused a marshy flood area of about 360 square kilometers.

Approx. 3000 B.C., after a climate warming and decreasing rainfall, extensive oak forests expanded on the higher laying areas, and in the low laying areas grow dense mixed forests of alders, birches and pines.
But, approx. 500 B.C., the rainfall increased, and the low laying areas turned into marshland, moors and bogs.
The lowlands between the villages Worpswede, Fischerhude and Gnarrenburg, which were not flooded by rivers or by the tide of the North Sea, became all overgrown by green peatmoss, suffocating all other plants there.
Extensive swampy peat bogs spreaded out, where no grass and no tree could grew and no animal and no bird could exist; they became deserted places, silent as a grave.
Therefore these peat bogs were called "Dovelsmoore" (dead moors);
later the whole region was named "Teufelsmoor" (Devil's moor).

painting: High sky over Worpswede meadowsAround 5th Century, the climate warmed up with decreasing rainfall, and life in this area became more bearable again.
Farmers of the surrounding higher laying areas (Geest) drained parts of the peat bogs at the edges of the Teufelsmoor, primary for cutting and drying the existing peat for own and for profitable sales; mostly it was drained for getting an additional meadow given to low-ranking members of the family for nearby settling.
The Geest farmers considered to become owner of specific parts of the moorland, if they cultivated those parts for the very first time;
later their new possessions came under the customary law and were accepted by the local authorities.

The marshy ground of the Teufelsmoor area consisted of different layers:
The upper layer of the ground, called white-peat, consisting of almost dry, light brown rotten peat moss; it was mostly used as cattle litter and became farmland manure afterwards.
Under the layer of white-peat was a dark brown layer, consisting of rotten heather and peat moss, called brown-baker-peat. After cutting and drying, it was used for baking, cooking and heating, causing a lot of smoke when burning; this peat was also used as filling material for the sidewalls of the huts.
Sometimes, under the dark-brown peat was an additional black layer, consisting of muddy rotten wood, called black-peat or baker-peat; this was hardened and dried, and cut into convenient pieces and stored: Black-peat was best for heating and cooking, because of its high calorific value and nearly smokefree burning.
Underneath the marshy organic soil of the Teufelsmoor area, a watertight layer of clay and sand is located, which is above geological primary rocks of potassium salt.

painting: Farmhouses in WorpswedeStarting in the 12th and 14th century, the monasteries of Lilienthal and Osterholz founded the first moor villages along the Hamme river: Worpswede with its settlements
Teufelsmoor, Waakhausen and Viehland.

With respect to the fertile flooding meadows at the Hamme river, farmers settled down there and started rearing of cattle and dairy farming.

From the bordering moors they got the white-peat as cattle litter, and best black-peat as heating material. The surplus of black-peat and agricultural products they sold to traders, who shipped it down the Hamme river up to the city of Bremen.
Soon Worpswede became a blooming community because of this profitable trade. However, the other unapproachable moors remained deserted and untouched.

painting: Peaceful silenceIn 1750 commissioner Findorff began with the systematical colonization of the most deserted parts of the moorlands, which were not claimed by neighboring Geest-farmers.

The basic idea was, first to have colonists drain these moorlands in teamwork, and then to use the new drains and canals as additional traffic routes to support trade, and to achieve higher tax yields later.

As an incentive, colonists were promised their own land (12,5 hectars), which they had to homestead and farm, and a lifelong release from taxes and conscription.
The size of property was calculated in a way that one family could subsist sufficiently, if peat was cut and sold, and the land was cultivated as farmland simultaneously; but this could only be accomplished by the third generation of the colonists.

The plan succeeded: 69 moor villages were created until 1850.

The colonists, later called moor farmers, got a appropriate plot of land as property as well as timber for building a roof for a hut, rye for the first sowing and tree seedlings in order to protect the house against storm and to harden the ground.

The first primitive cottages originated in the Teufelsmoor area.
The roofs were covered with moss and heather and reached down to earth; the sidewalls consisted of piled dark-brown peat. After moving in, each colonist got a bonus of 5 talers.

But on the moorlands' oligotrophic fields neither grass nor grain could grow.
The colonists' survival depended on burning down the dried top layer of white-peat, called moor-burning, and on sowing the buckweat into the ash, which could be harvested 3 months later.
Thus buckwheat became the basic food of the moor farmers.

painting: Winter seclusionIn addition to colonist's daily work of producing own salable peat and
of cultivation the other part of his barren lot for food plants,
canals and roads had to be built in teamwork too.
There was no clean drinking water, but the brown moor-water had to be taken out of earth holes or drains; unknown illnesses spread out.
Many of the colonists gave up.

Decades later, as a result of an increasing density of population and the practised division of estate, the individual farms became too small to feed all their inhabitants.
This led to social tensions.

With beginning of the industrial age, the demand for heating material increased, and therefore the selling price of black peat escalated considerably. These circumstances caused many colonists to give up farming and to work exclusively on the production of peat; some worked as day labourer on behalf of the black-peat-owning farmers, others also undertook the transportation of own black-peat on own small boats and its lucrative sale in Bremen.
Before returning from sale, they purchased essential goods and hay for domestic animals, but they also transported organic manure to improve the moor soil for a grassland cultivation.

Beginning in 1872, industries and crafts started using hard coal instead of traditional black-peat;
the demand for black-peat and its selling price went down dramatically.
This trend caused a growing unemployment of farmhands; poverty spread out in the Teufelsmoor area; many people moved to the surrounding industrial cities like Bremen, or they emigrated to America straightaway.
The remaining moor farmers had lost their main income from selling black-peat, and the soil of their land mostly was too bad for successful and profitable farming.
The continued existence of many farms in the Teufelsmoor area became doubtful.

Traditional Teufelsmoor farm of todayIn 1883, agricultural results could be increased essentially by using improved soil cultivation methods and additional mineral fertilizer, introduced and supported by the Institute for moor research in Bremen and by Prof. Dr. Immendorff. This way, the economic survival of the Teufelsmoor farmers could be secured long term.
Down the years, these applied cultivation methods resulted in the present beautiful landscape of Teufelsmoor.

© 1996-2017
All rights reserved
Paintings of former Teufelsmoor landscape by Feodor Szerbakow
with friendly support by Gemaeldegalerie Neuenkirchen
and by Landschaftsverband Stade
Bibliography of used contributions