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Abandoned village of La Santa in the municipality of Munilla , La Rioja , Spain
Villa Epecuén , ruins of the old slaughterhouse
Church ruins of the Winnefeld desert

Wüstung (also desolation , misery or Outbound settlement ) is the name for an abandoned settlement or economic area ( Flurwüstung ) to which only documents , field names , residues in the soil , ruins or local oral traditions remember. This does not include individual archaeological monuments such as castles or individual ruins in the middle of cultivated regions. Occasionally, the term is also applied to places that have only been devastated since the 20th century .

Periods in which many settlements were given up due to population decline are called periods of desertification . Abandoned settlements from prehistoric times are not referred to as desert. In ancient times , too, there were desolations without being usually referred to as such. In contrast, ghost towns are settlements of the modern age, which are characterized by abandoned and largely preserved buildings.

In hard coal mining , desertification refers to the empty space created by mining or pit fires .

Scharlau desert scheme

The geographer Kurt Scharlau distinguished different types of desertification in the 1930s. Its scheme has since been expanded several times; But it is criticized because it does not do justice to the dynamic of settlement expansion and regression (= desertification processes). Scharlau distinguishes:

  • Deserted village
  • Deserted land
  • partial desolation (partial abandonment)
  • permanent desolation
  • temporary desolation (temporary abandonment and repopulation)
  • total desolation

Deserted settlements

Information board about the Golm desert in Prignitz

"Settlements" are completely abandoned village settlements. There were pronounced devastation processes in Europe in the early and late Middle Ages . Desolation is not only a phenomenon in European settlement history, it is found all over the world. In many areas the written tradition started late.

Many desolate areas are only discovered by chance because they are overgrown by forest or scrub or have been leveled out by erosion . Sometimes hidden or leveled desolations are noticeable in aerial photos when the sun is flat through their shadows. Other species can be recognized from the air or with satellite photogrammetry because they - like ancient foundations - cause color anomalies in the soil or in vegetation. Often documented mentions testify to places that were not mentioned anywhere in that region in the following years. Other indications of abandoned settlements can be special usage conditions, such as garden areas far outside of existing settlements or irregularities in the three-tier economy .

Basically, a distinction is made between deserted areas, which refer to the residential and farm buildings, and deserted areas, which refer to the abandoned fields and meadows. These devastations can be partially or completely devastated (partial / total local and field devastation).

Field relics such as long- striped corridor , vaulted bakeries and piles of stone piles , which can still be found under forests today, point to field desolation.

High phosphate levels in soil samples, sunken cellar pits, house podiums, remains of wall foundations or old former village wells indicate urban devastation.

High medieval desert

The High Middle Ages were basically a period of the establishment and growth of settlements, but occasionally desertions emerged. An example of a desertification that arose during this time is Freyenstein ( Freyenstein Archaeological Park ) in northern Brandenburg, which was rebuilt on an adjacent lowland after being destroyed as a result of a military conflict with Mecklenburg. Another well-researched example is the urban desert of Nienover , which emerged as a result of the struggle for sovereignty in the Solling .

Late medieval desert period and causes of desertification

During the late Middle Ages in the 14th and 15th centuries, an above-average number of settlements were abandoned, with differences in landscape being noticeable. When analyzing the causes for this desert period, it must be taken into account that numerous desertifications have already occurred before this, which is related to the high mediaeval restructuring of the rural social and economic structures (e.g. village genesis, introduction of the three-part economy ) and as a result of the 13. Century increasing city foundations can be seen. Factors of the late medieval desert period:

Ruin of the stone church in the desert of Dangelsdorf from the 14th century
Church ruins in the desert of Leisenberg near Gillersheim
Remnants of the wall in the town of Glanzenberg in Switzerland
Achterberg desert in the municipality-free district of Osterheide in the Bergen military training area

Late medieval deserted villages, for example, Beidenau , Buristsorpe , Cismerstorpe , Damsdorf , Dangel village , Domjüch , dirt Hausen , Düringerode , Eddessen (now Klus Eddessen ) Gendach , Hohenrode , Jahn Green , Jenschwitz , Landsberg in Hesse , Leisenberg , Neidlingen , Nossedil , Opritz , Pirkenreuth , Remmigheim , Schleesen , Vöhingen , Landstein

Modern devastation

The phenomenon is also known from so-called " ghost towns ", which often became deserted after a short boom (gold, precious stones, etc.) (such as Kolmannskuppe in Namibia , formerly German Southwest Africa ). In the combat zones of the First World War , some villages in the rouge zone have not been rebuilt to this day, for example Fleury and Ornes off Verdun . The old part of Oradour-sur-Glane , which was destroyed by German Wehrmacht units on their retreat in 1944, can also be described as a desert in this context.

Modern desolation as a result of technical disasters such as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster , where the radioactively contaminated area had to be evacuated and therefore not only the well-known ghost town of Prypiat came into being, but also several villages and the associated agricultural areas are also relatively seldom encountered . Some of these villages were demolished in order to prevent the return of the inhabitants and can therefore (unlike Prypiat, for example) be regarded as devastation in the narrower sense.

Devastation by Wehrmacht military training areas

With the designation of military training areas in the German Reich after 1933, large areas of land were depopulated. The population living there was partially compensated and relocated. Some of the villages are still recognizable today as fields of ruins, or they were preserved for house-to-house exercises .

Military training areas with numerous desolations are:

The expulsion of the German population from East Prussia resulted in several hundred devastation in what is now the Kaliningrad area between 1946 and 1948 . The completely depopulated province was repopulated with citizens of the Soviet Union , but this mainly affected the cities such as Königsberg , Gumbinnen or Pillau , while smaller towns and villages were left to decay. The same applies to many mountain villages in the Ore Mountains , the Egerland and the Bohemian Forest in the border area between the Czech Republic and Germany, where after the expulsion of the German Bohemia and German Moravian dwellings were not repopulated. The old town of Küstrin , which was declared a fortress in the Second World War, was also not rebuilt after the war and is now a desert.

Oberbolheim , located directly in the approach path of the Nörvenich air base , was relocated in 1969 to protect the residents from noise and possible crashes. The former place is still recognizable in the remains and streets.

Submerged places that fell victim to the opencast mines cannot be described as deserted according to Scharlau's definition. Such places are among others Alt-Inden , Horno , Lohn , Magdeborn and Obermerz . The same goes for places that have disappeared in reservoirs. Well-known examples are (Alt-) Fall in the Isarwinkel and (Alt-) Graun on the Reschenpass , whose church tower still protrudes from the water.

Desolations for the construction of military objects

Bunkers and command posts were built in strategically important and remote locations for the establishment of secret military objects

Desertification on the former inner-German border

Some places that were within the five-kilometer-wide exclusion zone on the inner-German border were forcibly evacuated and later razed . This fate overtook 13 places in the district of Northwest Mecklenburg. In total, more than 50 locations were destroyed on the border. An incomplete list:

Deserted corridors

In the case of desertification or desertification, the agricultural land is also given up - while otherwise it was still used by the neighboring towns when a settlement was abandoned. Regionally, the term “departed” describes a deserted settlement. In the 20th century, alpine pastures were abandoned in the Alps and other mountains as a form of desertification of cultivated land. There are a few examples where old corridor relics have been preserved under the forest - partly in connection with urban devastation , but partly also as abandoned areas of land that still exist today.

A definition of deserted land is problematic insofar as it is seldom a total abandonment of the farmland, but rather the conversion of an area. Former arable land can later be used extensively as pastureland or litter meadow. Even reforestation does not mean the end of human economic activity. In practice, desertification usually means giving up arable land.

In a broader sense, it also includes abandoned roads, railway lines, alpine pastures, military areas and industrial or craft facilities. Occasionally, terms such as "Wegwüstung" ( Altstrasse ), "Almwüstung" and "Anlagenwüstung" are used for this.


In Hesse ( January 2018 ) there are 3508 devastations recorded in the State Historical Information System of Hesse (LAGIS). Based on this, a conservative extrapolation for today's territory of Germany results in a number of at least 40,000 devastations.

It is seldom that desert areas have been "repopulated" in modern times, that is to say they have been re-established under the name of the desert. One example is Göttingerode , part of the town of Bad Harzburg in the Goslar district in Lower Saxony, which fell in the 14th century as the last Gotingeroht and was rebuilt in roughly the same location in the 1930s for economic reasons (mining).

See also


  • Heinz Pohlendt: The spread of medieval devastation in Germany. Self-published in the institute of the University of Göttingen, 1950.
  • Heinz Pohlendt: Levels of intensity of the medieval desertification process in the German area. Publisher and from edition of: Federal Office for Land Studies, 1950.
  • Achim Gercke : The structural change in agriculture in the 14th century. The cause of the desert period and the formation of the Meierhof in the Calenberger Land. Hildesheim 1972 (Lower Saxony Yearbook for State History, 44).
  • Wilhelm Abel : Desolations in Germany. G. Fischer Verlag, Stuttgart 1967.
  • Wilhelm Abel: The desolation of the late Middle Ages. 3. rework. Edition. G. Fischer Verlag, Stuttgart 1976.
  • Achim Gercke: Ignored questions in desert research in the Calenberger Land. Gotha 1990 ( Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen, 134).
  • K. Scharlau: On the question of the term "desert". In: Geographer. Number 39, 1938, pp. 247-252.
  • Angelika lamps, Armin Owzar (ed.): Shrinking cities: a phenomenon between ancient and modern. Böhlau, Cologne [a. a.] 2008, ISBN 978-3-412-20217-0 .

Web links

Commons : Desolations  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Desolation  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Meyer's Large Conversational Lexicon . 6th edition. Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig / Vienna 1909 ( [accessed October 9, 2018]).
  2. Pierer's Universal Lexicon of the Past and Present . 4th edition. Publishing bookstore by HA Pierer , Altenburg 1865 ( [accessed October 8, 2018]).
  3. Hans-Rudolf Bork et al. a .: Landscape development in Central Europe. 1998.
  4. ^ Norbert Klaus Fuchs: Billmuthausen - The condemned village. Greifenverlag zu Rudolstadt & Berlin, 2009, ISBN 978-3-86939-004-8 , pp. 8–9: List of 35 places and locations.
  5. Andreas Ziener: Grass grew over Christian green ... In: . February 20, 2016, accessed December 18, 2019.
  6. Ralph Giordano : "That was the end ..." - What remained of the German-German border . Rasch and Röhring, 1996, ISBN 3-89136-591-8 .
  7. ↑ Hit search .  Historical local dictionary for Hessen. In: Landesgeschichtliches Informationssystem Hessen (LAGIS). Retrieved January 22, 2018.