Stassfurt developed in the Middle Ages as a small town by a ford through the river Bode. The town gained true significance with salt mining at the end of the 19th century when it was recognised that this salt could be processed to make mineral fertiliser. The era of the potash processing industry had begun. Sometime later, the town was to pay a high price for this. A lack of knowledge concerning ground composition and underground water channels led to mistakes that had serious consequences. Water penetrated the salt mines, dissolved the salt, and the cavities collapsed. the historic city has sunk by approximately 6.30 metres since 1883. By the 1960s, about eight hundred buildings, including the town hall and the church, had to be demolished in an area covering two hundred hectares. The lost centre remained a blind spot for a long time. Neither architecturally nor culturally could a way of coming to terms with the loss be found—not least because it related to a history of downfall. Stassfurt has become an empty town following the end of mining and the greater part of the chemical industry. Of the 26,833 residents who lived here in 1988, only 22,322 remained by 2007, even after the incorporation of surrounding communities.
How much of a centre does a city need?
It became increasingly clear that a functioning and intact town centre, a presentable town centre as a mark of pride in past achievements, is crucial to the residents sense of identity. Stassfurt needs its centre as a pivot, and as a connecting link.
Within the scope of the International Building Exhibition Urban Redevelopment 2010, Stassfurt explored its theme of “Giving up the Old centre” with the aim of giving its lost town centre a new, fit-for-purpose image while at the same time finding strategies for the preservation of memories. Within the framework of the IBA and with citizens´ participation setting a precedent, the solution of the new “Staßfurt Centre”, found favour and was realised over the last few years.
In 2005, a central town lake was formed by controlled flooding in the depression cone. This new town lake is an avowal to the lost historic town centre that, as formless wasteland, had long disappeared from people’s minds. The gravel fill on the lakeshore is a reminder of the crystal salt that led both to the prosperity of the town and the loss of its centre. The whole subsidence area was designed as a spatial unit related to the surrounding urban spaces. A few intact townhouses were protected from crumbling and renovated, while the newly created landscape undeniably stresses the absence of an unharmed old town. The churchyard south of the lake and which lies 1.5 metres under the present ground level, will remain untouched for later generations and was left as a lawn. The outline of an area, lying slantwise in the grass, marks the former church tower, the so-called leaning tower, that was Staßfurt’s symbol for over a 500 years.
The Großer Markt, which lies to the south, corresponds to its historical area and is marked by a smooth surface in a bed of small cobblestones.
A brownfield to the west of the lake has been planted with cherry trees, which could be removed again if the site were to be built upon. So-called potassium gardens have been laid on the northern shore around the former potassium mineshafts out. To connect the landscape zone with the surrounding roads, the most important thoroughfares were taken up and now lead past the lake, forming a western promenade.
The townscape of Staßfurt’s “extinct” centre presents the visitor not with an idyll, but with a clearly formed urban area. A certain brusqueness matches the history associated with the location. It is well accepted by the people as a public space. Here you can find children, cyclists, and people out for a stroll.
The regained centre has led to a gentle revival in the surrounding commercial streets, where empty premises are very evident.
Several vacant residential and commercial buildings very close to the subsidence area in Steinstrasse were renovated and have been newly let. A few restaurants have moved in. A striking corner building, long unused, that was an historic department store with two storeys, can now be used for residential and business purposes. In the immediate vicinity there is a mediaeval building, once the mayor’s house, where Count Tilly, the famous general, stayed during the Thirty Years’ War. Today this building is home to a theatre café with function rooms. Furthermore, a few gaps between buildings, resulting from demolition following subsidence, have been redeveloped and can be used.