Located in the Brandenburg state in Eastern Germany, the Lusatia region has a long history of coal (lignite) mining. After the second World War, Lusatia bet its future on the lignite industry with extensive open-pit mining. As the Center of the Communist East Germany’s (G.D.R.) energy production, the Lusatia region based its economy on this single activity to become the world biggest lignite producer (40 open-pit mines, 6% of the global production). The G.D.R.’ s paranoia about energy self sufficiency led to massive exploitation of the land and coal resources. At its height, the region had 40 open pit mines and many villages were damaged or destroyed by these exploitations. Over the last century75,000 ha of land have been turned into slag dumps.
German reunification brought increased scrutiny of lignite’s environmental impact. Suddenly East Germany’s sole energy source was considered too sulphurous to burn and within months of the fall of Berlin Wall, most of the mines were closed. The result was a complete collapse of the regional economy. With no work available, 1/4 population left the region and its crippled economy attracted little to no investment. Lacking an economic foundation, the classic redevelopment schemes were no longer possible. For Lusatia, the fallout of reunification was a self perpetuating downward cycle.
The scale of Lusatia’s problems called for a different tool to restore confidence. Once which could give the region a positive image to attracts tourists, increase population and investments. Germany has experience with finding innovative solutions to contemporary living, building and urban planning problems. Known as the Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) or International Architecture Exhibition, its model has successfully transformed difficult regional and urban situations into new identities that att ract investment, tourism and residential development. Fundamentally I.B.A. is a spatial planning strategy acting outside planning authorities. Past exhibitions have redeveloped urban centers (Berlin 1987), neighborhoods (Stalinalle & Interbau, Berlin, 1952/57) and brown field areas (Emscher Park, Ruhr Valley, 1999), while the most recent focused on environmental remediati on (FurstPuckler Land, Cott bus, 2010) of post industrial regions.
The end of open cast mining created an opportunity to redesign the Lusatia region. Using the I.B.A. redevelopment framework, the idea of transforming the mining pits into a lake district emerged, fundamentally changing the face of the region and industrial legacy into a tourism oriented development. The region also embraced renewable energy and sustainable development to become the largest environmental restoration site in Europe.
Perhaps more importantly, people’s perception of Lusatia was changed. Once seen as a post-industrial wasteland, is it now associated with recreation and scenic landscapes. Lusatia’s image has evolved into an unique place to be discovered and a laboratory for innovati on that has successfully safeguarded the region’s identity while promoting a new outlook and future.