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Land Hadeln

—Where the Saxons began their journey

A guide to history and travel

By Jonny Meibohm, Bremerhaven, Germany, ©2007
This article appeared previously in Lowlands-L Travels

The old Latin School in Otterndorf

(Courtesy GoogleMaps)

I etween the estuary of the Elbe River and the mouth of the Oste River you will find a small area with great history: Land Hadeln. Its Old Saxon name is Gau Haduloha and today it is a part of the so-called Cuxland-Region.

It belongs to the extended regions of both the cities of Hamburg and Bremen but is distant enough from them (about a good hundred kilometres from both) to escape the “blessings” of a modern metropolis. Another name for the area is the Elbe-Weser-Dreieck (the triangle of rivers Elbe and Weser), or, a little tauntingly, Das nasse Dreieck (“the wet triangle”). (Don’t forget your rubber boots!).

The points of this triangle are Hamburg to the southeast, Bremen to the southwest and Cuxhaven to the north. Between Hamburg and Cuxhaven, the Elbe River is the natural border with the ancient Saxon region of Dithmarschen, and between Cuxhaven and Bremen (Bremerhaven being situated in between them) the Weser River is the natural border to the Frisian-influenced west.
The Fremantle Prison
Symbols of Old Saxony, horses graze near new wind turbines at Bülkau. Land Hadeln has a tradition of breeding fine Hanoverians. (Courtesy RaBoe and Wikimedia Commons)

Just three words are necessary to describe the landscape: Marsch, Geest, Moor; in English: very fertile clay land near the sea, some sandy hills (glacial end moraines) in the inner region and large areas of moor land between the two.

This combination constituted ideal conditions for early settlement: fish from the sea, grass and cereals on the clay land, timber on and around the sandy hills, and turf of the moor land for fuel.

So it might not surprise anyone that the region has always been a very coveted spot on the European continent—and no one really knows why so many Saxons left it westbound to hop onto that rainy island named Britannia.


To those among you able to cope with German I like to recommend two links in the German Wikipedia:

As for those that are not familiar with that “weird” language, I invite them on a short trip through the remarkable history of the land. (See also below under „Bad Bederkesa”.)
The old Latin School in Otterndorf
Early Saxon migration

First proof of human settlement dates back in the Neolithic Age (e.g. excavations in Flögeln), from about 4000 BCE. You find graves, stone tools and indications of camp sites nearly all over the region.

The next time period about which we have some knowledge is that of the Roman Empire or even before that. Although probably no Roman soldier had had set foot on this soil, a good number of places of discovery show Roman, Phoenician and Greek coins and trade goods. Presumably, Mediterranean traders sailed past Gibraltar, circumnavigated the Iberian Peninsula, crossed the Bay of Biscay and passed through the English Channel bound for Scandinavia’s west coast to buy amber, the so-called “gold of the north.” Since this voyage would have taken longer than one year, the traders are presumed to have spent the typically stormy, icy winters at places along the coast of the North Sea and the estuaries of the great rivers, the Elbe and Weser in this case.

The Roundhouse in Fremantle
Idyllic touches everywhere— Sankt Nicolai (St. Nicholas) in Nordleda (Low Saxon Lee) (Courtesy Geoz and Wikimedia Commons)
Although we do not know much about local Germanic or Celtic inhabitants of the time around the beginning of the Christian era, there is an old, never disproved theory that Germanic divisions of the Chaucian and Thuringian tribes had inhabited the region prior to the arrival of the Saxons. Saxons came from some area north of there, crossed the Elbe River and spread southward around 200 CE. They are not believed to have come as aggressive conquerors. (This happened during the Great Migration Period, which means that they came with women and children.) Much rather, there are indications that they had reached more advanced of social, agricultural and technological levels than those of the previous inhabitants. All archaeological relics suggest that they melted with the original inhabitants as they may have done with the Angles prior to that.
The Roundhouse in Fremantle
Altenbruch (Low Saxon Ooldenbrook) with its paternal twin spires (Courtesy RaBoe and Wikimedia Commons)

One fine day—by now we have reached the 5th century CE—some seafarers from the Saxon region brought home tales about a very large island in the west, where Roman influence was declining and large tracts of fertile soil lay ownerless. This appears to have triggered some sort of land rush. Within the following two or three centuries many people abandoned their homes and sailed across the wild and dangerous North Sea to the British Isles. The vacuum they left attracted some “poor and starving” Frisians. These settled in small groups along the coast, mostly with but sometimes without Saxon permission.

It must have been a relatively peaceful time then, until he came—he, the great Frankish king, butcher of Saxons, suppressor of freedom, augmenter and spreader of Christianity: Charles “the Great,” better known as “Charlemagne” (742/747–814).
Hadeln Canal at Bülkau
Hadeln Canal at Bülkau (Courtesy RaBoe and Wikimedia Commons)

After long, bloody battles during the end of the 8th and beginning of the 9th century he finally defeated the Continental Saxons and established his power and the influence of the (his?) church by enthroning numerous beholden and reliable vassals all over the Saxon region. Farewell, Saxon freedom! Farewell, heathen goddesses and gods!

Yet the Saxons remained the most powerful tribe of Northern Continental Europe, and meanwhile the Ascomannes, Danes or Vikings stood ante portas. The area on both sides of the Elbe River as well as along the Weser River became favourite destinations of these northerners’ forays. These uninvited guests had a great time plundering not only the new yet already wealthy monasteries but then newly founded and thriving trading posts such as Bremen and Stade as well. (It was also during this era that a small fortified settlement called Hammaburg was founded—the beginning of what is now Hamburg.)

The Saxon warriors had to defend their region all by themselves. This and their still working social class system may well have enabled them to retain more liberty along the coasts than deeper in the southern hinterland.

Serfdom never developed anywhere in the region. Instead, the area was under the more or less brutal sway of clerical and secular rulers, specifically under that of the Archbishop of Bremen and the Earls of Stade.

Not so in Land Hadeln, though. Due to certain circumstances the area came to be assigned to the domain of the Earl of Lauenburg whose main domicile lay east of Hamburg, far away from his little “gem” (German Kleinod) up there by the sea.
The windmill of Osterbruch
Windmill at Osterbruch (Low Saxon Osterbrook) (Courtesy RaBoe and Wikimedia Commons)

Rivalry between the Hanseatic cities of Hamburg and Bremen with the Archbishop of Bremen as the third player led to an extraordinary (maybe even unique) situation: the Hadelners were able to run their own show in a democratic system with elected leaders out of their own midst rather than under the tutelage of privileged aristocrats. And this turned out to be a very handy situation for the Earl of Lauenburg: milk and honey were flowing, which meant that a good deal of money was flowing into his otherwise virtually empty coffers.

And here is a curious twist: for a few decades Land Hadeln was owned by the mighty city of Hamburg, because the earl owed loan repayments to the wealthy Hanseatic merchants. But eventually he managed to repay his debt and became the owner of Hadeln once again.


The dominant language in the region today is of course Standard German.
The old Latin School in Otterndorf
The Latin School at Otterndorf (Low Saxon Ooterndörp) was founded in 1614. (Courtesy RaBoe and Wikimedia Commons)

In earlier times, the dominant language of the region was Low Saxon, more or less influenced by the language of Frisian settlers (especially in Land Wursten—See below). Already in the 13th century, the first Dutch settlers arrived in the region and brought with them their superior knowledge of dike building. This was followed by further waves of Dutch settlers “encroaching” upon the region and especially influencing the Low Saxon of the Sietland. (See below)

Aside from some limitations within the city of Cuxhaven, older people living in the region are well able to understand Low Saxon. The more isolated villages are the higher is the percentage of native Low Saxon speakers in them.

Nearly everyone in Northern Germany below the age of 50 is able to understand at least a little English, and particularly in the larger towns and cities with tourist scenes this language will help you get by.

A note for North American readers:
When Europeans say “village” they tend
to mean what you call “town,” and when they
say “town” they tend to mean what to you is
a smaller or medium-size “city.”

Travel Guide

Getting there

By aircraft and train:

  • International Airport Bremen

  • shuttle bus to railway station Bremen-Hauptbahnhof

  • train to Bremerhaven and then look for ...

  • train connection (and you might actually find one) to Cuxhaven


  • International Airport Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel

  • shuttle bus to railway station Hamburg-Hauptbahnhof

  • train to Cuxhaven via Stade

By motorcar:

If you come via Bremen (from southern and western directions) you’ll find a comfortable Autobahn A27 (with low traffic density) leading straight to Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven.

If you enter Germany from the north or east you probably should take a route via Hamburg, then try to find the stub of Autobahn A26 (which is still under construction at the moment), or at least follow the yellow signs along Bundesstrasse B73 that direct you to Cuxhaven via Stade.

By boat:
The Elbe estuary at Cuxhaven at low tide
The Elbe estuary at Cuxhaven at low tide (Courtesy RaBoe and Wikimedia Commons)

Until about two years ago we still had regular ferry service between Harwich (England) and Cuxhaven—the last relict of the Saxon’s exodus ... The Canal Tunnel put it out of business.

I am not aware of any current regularly running public cars and passenger ferry service between the United Kingdom and Germany. If there is none, you would have to travel across in your own boat. In that case I strongly advise you to seek more reliable information about navigation regulations and routes to Cuxhaven than I am able to provide. Sailing up the Elbe estuary is a very tricky undertaking and should only be attempted by experienced people and with excellent equipment.


If you like to travel off-season you shouldn’t have any trouble finding comfortable rooms (in hotels, pensions, etc.) anywhere in the area. If you want to stay for more than three days I’d suggest you rent an apartment. You’ll find them everywhere, even at the farthest end of the deepest countryside.

Being the centre, Cuxhaven offers the largest range of options of course.

The lower rate range starts off very reasonably. (I believe Northern Germany is at the lowest level in Central, Northern and Western Europe, with the exception of Spain and Portugal.). However, you always have the option of going for higher standards if you are willing and able to spend more money.

Things are different if you pick the main season (ca. June to September) for your trip. In that case I’d recommend having a travel agency organise it or just contacting me by mail or phone for specific information.


Generally speaking, I recommend visiting either in the spring, from the end of April to the end of May, or on the last sunny autumn days from end of September until the middle of October. There is little tourism during these times of the year, especially in Cuxhaven. As a result of reduced pressure, locals tend to be friendlier then, as do the prices.

A virtual tour in and around Land Hadeln


The largest town at Hadeln’s northern end is Cuxhaven (formerly Ritzebüttel), having been part of the City of Hamburg until 1937 CE. Cuxhaven isn’t a beautiful town at all but famous as a seaside resort with the greatest tidelands at the coast of the whole North Sea. Because of this you’ll find all kinds of tourist accommodation.

Old Name: Koogshave (preceded by Ritzebüttel)
Low Saxon: Cuxhoben
Missingsch: Cuxendorf
Established/first mentioned: 1872 (1394 as Ritzebüttel)
Inhabitants: 52,000
Climate: moderate, mostly cool and windy
The Elbe estuary at Cuxhaven at low tide
The historic HAPAG Halls at Cuxhaven— This is one of the centers at which emigrants used to be processed under Hamburg’s jurisdiction. (Courtesy RaBoe and Wikimedia Commons)

Places you must visit:

The Elbe estuary at Cuxhaven at low tide
Inside the historic HAPAG Halls at Cuxhaven in 1904 (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Places you might visit:

  • Wrackmuseum—the ship wreck museum

  • Fort Kugelbake—an old navy fortress

  • Fischereihafen—the fishing harbour

  • Neuwerk—a small island near the shore, getting there in horse-drawn carriages at low tide, and suddenly you’ll be on Hamburg soil, because this is a territorial enclave

Places you should avoid:

  • The tidelands outside of the marked and supervised areas

Places to eat:


Old name: Otteren Thorpe
Low Saxon: Ooterndörp
Established/first mentioned: 1261 CE
Inhabitants: 7,000
Climate: moderate, mostly cool and windy
The Kranichhaus in Otterndorf
The Kranichhaus in Otterndorf (Courtesy RaBoe and Wikimedia Commons)

If you go (and I recommend hiring bikes) some kilometres up along the Elbe river, always in sight of the huge dikes protecting the land and next to one of the most frequented waterways in the world, you’ll reach Otterndorf, the real and historical centre of Land Hadeln. It’s a beautiful little village. Not only tourist attractions but its historic facilities are worth looking at. If you feel like it you can stand on usually submerged soil at low tide even here and watch big ships going to and coming from Hamburg just some hundred meters away. But be careful and aware of the dangerous swell at all times!

Places you must visit:

  • the Elbe tidelands

  • the historic Amtsgericht (district court house)

Places you might visit:

  • Kranichhaus (a building that began in 1585, now a museum)

  • the old church

  • Schöpfwerk and Schleuse (Europe’s largest coastal pumping station) at the dike

Event you should avoid:

  • Altstadtfest (Old Town Festival, always on the last weekend of July)

Places to eat:

  • Ratskeller in the historic Rathaus (townhall)—excellent and expensive

  • Restaurant Leuchtfeuer—modern and good; semi-international

  • Restaurant Elbterrassen—panoramic view over the river

Places for drinks:

  • Haduloha in the village centre—a type of pub to meet people and tourists

Neuhaus on Oste, and Balje

Old name: Slickborgh, Dat Nyge Huus
Low Saxon: Neyhuus (Neehuus)
Established/first mentioned: (1371 Slickborgh) 1404
Inhabitants: 1,266
Climate: moderate, mostly cool and windy

Old name: Balko, Balgha, Balge
Low Saxon: Balje
Established/first mentioned: 13th century
Inhabitants: 1,108
Climate: moderate, mostly cool and windy
Burg Bederkesa
A thatched farmhouse at Balje (Courtesy RaBoe and Wikimedia Commons)

If you’re an experienced bicyclist and the winds are friendly you may want continue your trip from Cuxhaven via Otterndorf to this “rotten” little village called Neuhaus/Oste. (On your return trip to Cuxhaven you might catch a train from neighbouring Cadenberge—bike transport included in the fare.)

Although Neuhaus and Balje are not officially connected, they are de facto so by virtue of a project built in the 1960s: the Ostesperrwerk (Oste Dam), which is to protect the area along the Oste River against storm tides.

History has it that there used to be fights between the inhabitants of Nordkehdingen and the authorities of the Archbishop of Bremen who had their base in the above-mentioned Slickborgh.

Places you must visit:

  • the historic Deichstraße (Dike Street) in Neuhaus where many houses are connected with the dike and are equipped with a device (a reception slit in which coamings may be used if required) that stops water from escaping from a building in case of flood

  • and, as a matter of homage to the author  ... Natureum—not a part of Neuhaus but of Balje, the “Queen of Nordkehdingen” as well as the village where a certain J. Meibohm spent the greater part of his life—an interesting museum with much information about the region (water, land, flora, fauna). Enjoy the view of the Oste River mouth and, on the other side, the unique Nordkehdinger Aussendeich (Outer Dike) with the Hullen international airport (for birds only)
    www.natureum-niederelbe.de/ (German only)

Places you might visit:

  • Neuhaus Harbour

Places you should avoid:

  • Neuhaus Railway Station—where no train will ever stop

Places to eat:

  • Restaurant Zwei Linden in Balje-Hörne (cheap, modern and good)

  • Restaurant Armer Ritter in Balje-Süderdeich (moderate prices, good meals and nice ambience)

Places for drinks:

Cadenberge and (The) Wingst

Old name: (probably) Kadingbarg / Vingist
Low Saxon: Cumbarg (Cuddeldutt) / De Wingst
Established/first mentioned: 1148 / unknown, but very old
Inhabitants: 3,350 ~ 3,630
Climate: moderate
The Dove House t Cadenberge
The Taubenhaus (pigeonry) in Cadenberge (Courtesy RaBoe and Wikimedia Commons)

The entire region around Cadenberge is very different from the marshlands you have ever seen. A large forest—also called the Dobrock—protects the hills, which arose during the last glacier period. Settlement—I had better say, history—of the immediate neighbourhood began from here, as “tons” of archaeological relics and some Neolithic giant’s graves prove (find out more at Burg Bederkesa).

So it’s no surprise that the name Cadenberge means “hill at the border.” (We can find this Caden−, also Keden−, with this meaning as a part of other place names of the areas: Altkehdingen, Kehdingbruch, Kehdingen [formerly Kadingen], Cadewisch. Perhaps one of our interested “Lowlanners” will be the very first to find linguistic proof for relations with other Germanic words.) And the name Wingst (vingist) denotes something like “battle field.”

If you don’t want to visit The Wingst in person now you should at least have a look on the corresponding pictures of Google Earth. I think they’re fascinating.

Places you must visit:

  • Deutscher Olymp, a lookout point facing one of the hills in The Wingst. You’ll have a wonderful view of the whole region and, under good weather conditions, you can even see far across the Elbe River

Places you might visit:

  • the old church in Cadenberge

  • Gutshof im Park in Cadenberge

  • the Babyzoo in The Wingst

Places you should avoid:

  • the woods during a storm

Places to eat:

  • Hotel Peter at the Bundesstraße B73/railway station Wingst—very good at medium prices

  • Butt’s Gasthof in Wingst-Zollbaum—cheap, generous and good

  • Marc5 in the centre of Cadenberge—modern (international?)

Places for drinks:

(Samtgemeinde Sietland)

Low Saxon: Sietland
Established/first mentioned: between 1139 and 1370
Inhabitants: 5,683 (four villages)
Climate: moderate, wet
Heimatmuseum in Wanna
The Heimatmuseum (local history museum) in Wanna (Courtesy Geos and Wikimedia Commons)

The area called Sietland (Low Saxon for “lowland,” usually denoting a low-lying wet area) is, as its name suggests, the lowest-lying part of Hadeln. It covers an area including the region that begins about 8 km south of Otterndorf, going to it’s southern border down to Bad Bederkesa and west to Wanna. Until the middle of the 20th century it was badly drained, and in wintertimes the houses used to be regularly cut off or flooded with water. (You might be even better informed about this than I am after you visit the Schöpfwerk at Otterndorf as I recommended.)

Because of its relative isolation, the Sietland is the area with the largest number of native Low Saxon speakers. If you have an ear for it you’ll probably find out that their vocabulary is influenced by Dutch and Frisian, because many of the settlers that had enough courage to settle and to cultivate this poor, wet soil came from the west, namely from (Eastern) Friesland, The Netherlands and Flanders. That probably occurred, in various waves, between the 13th and 17th century.

The landscape is dominated by water ditches and moor land, still partly preserved as natural high moor.

Places you must visit:

I find it difficult to recommend any specific place here. I suggest you allow yourself to take in and be impressed by the entire area. Nevertheless, I suppose a two-hours trip by Moorbahn (moor train) should be obligatory.

Places you should avoid:

  • The moor by night. It’s where evil spirits roam about with their “friar’s lanterns” ...

Bad Bederkesa

Old name: Bederkesa
Low Saxon: Beers
Established/first mentioned: 1159
Inhabitants: 5,072
Climate: moderate
Burg Bederkesa
Burg Bederkesa (Bederkesa Castle) (Courtesy Geoz and Wikimedia Commons)

Bad (“Bath”) Bederkesa, as it is called these days, has always been an important place in the regional history. The Borough of Bederkesa at the junction of the Archbishop of Bremen on one and the Earl of Lauenburg on the other side often changed its owner, even up to the present.

Having been private property in the 70s of the 20th century it nearly was a ruin before the local government bought and then restored it.

Today it is the home of both—an interesting museum with a lot of regional history material and at the same time the domicile of two official archaeological organisations. I believe that this is the place to familiarise oneself with the history of the entire region.

Places you must visit:

Places you might visit:

Places you should avoid:

  • Sitting at the Bederkesaer See (Lake of Bederkesa) in the evening. Unless you are immune or otherwise protected, mosquitos will eat you alive.

Places to eat:

  • Burgschänke—medium prices and good food

  • China-Restaurant Peking-Haus—cheap and good

Places for drinks:

Feddersen Wierde and Land Wursten

If your visit of the museum in Bad Bederkesa kindles your curiosity for some more historical stuff about Saxons and Frisians you now should take a trip to Land Wursten.

Some people consider Hadeln and Wursten one unit, but I don’t agree with that at all. The region of Wursten, too, had been settled by Saxons but had been left by them during their exodus to England. Then it became occupied by Frisian settlers who called themselves Wurtfriesen, this being the origin of today’s name. The native inhabitants still consider themselves Frisians and remain members of the international Frisian organisation with different names depending on their nationality (Friesenrat in Standard German).

Further “compelling” proof for a significant difference between Land Hadeln and Land Wursten may be the fact that my own feeling of being at home abruptly stops at the border between those two regions  ... I’m not familiar with places around there, so I’m just able to give you some links that might help you get sufficiently informed. I hope this prevents your getting lost in the terra incognita of the wild Frisians ...

Resources and acknowledgements:

  • Erich von Lehe: Geschichte des Landes Wursten. Mit einem Beitrag von Werner Haarnagel. Bremerhaven 1973

  • Peter Kaempfert: Französisch im Küstenplatt

  • Willi Klenck: Heimatbuch des ehemaligen Kreises Neuhaus an der Oste 1957

  • WIKIPEDIA- Die freie Enzyklopädie de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hauptseite

Meinen Dank richte ich auch an meinen Nachbarn Amandus Ahlf, der mich in vielen Gesprächen und mit Hilfe seiner umfangreichen Bibliothek in die Geschichte des Landes Hadeln eingeführt hat sowie an Reinhard “Ron” Hahn for his support as well as for “Anglicising” this text by purging it of my most egregious linguistic transgressions, and also for formatting this page, including making maps and selecting and processing images.


Other sites:
 Land Hadeln (Wikipedia)
 Cultural Entities: Land Hadeln
 Cuxhaven (official site in German)
 Cuxhaven (in English)
 Otterndorf (official site)
 Otterndorf (in English)
 Neuhaus (non-official)
 Neuhaus (Wikipedia)
 Sietland (official)
 Sietland (follow links to specific pages)
 Moorbahn (official)

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