by Markus Kather
Döbern. Döbern? Optionally this is a small town in (Southern) Brandenburg // near Cottbus // in the Lausitz region // between Dresden and Berlin // near Forst // south of the Spreewald // nearly in Poland // in East Germany // in the Niederlausitz region …this list could be continued. Localizing a place and defining its region is not a simple question – the limits of a region are often not clearly definable.
A region is made of linkages and interrelations and based on spatial and institutional proximity. It’s a result of practices in the sense of “everyday geography-making”. Therefore regions tend to blur, they overlap and change constantly. They are dynamic but nevertheless they often have certain persistence. So when localizing a place we often deal with several layers of regions.
Let’s go back to Döbern: historically it’s a place in the Niederlausitz, a region in the south of Brandenburg. The Niederlausitz is part of the much bigger Lausitz region that stretches from the Lusatian Highlands at the Czech-German border to the wetlands of the Spreewald, only 50 kilometres south of Berlin. The Lausitz is situated in three states (Germany, Poland and the CzechRepublic) and has a population of roughly 1.35 Million. The Niederlausitz (= Lower Lausitz) today is divided by the Neisse river into a German and a Polish part. It is administratively not existent, but part of several German Landkreise (counties). Furthermore, as part of the Berlin-Brandenburg metropolitan region, it belongs to the German capital region. As a result one place in the Niederlausitz can be in many regions – it just depends on the context and your intention.
The Question is – if the (Lower) Lausitz still has certain persistence, what does it stand for, and is there a Lausitzian identity? Or has identification become impossible with changing conditions (like borders, languages, landscape) over time?
The region is characterized by rural areas, pine forests and the meadows of the rivers Spree and Neisse as well as by industrial open-pit mining, re-use of former mines and the urban and suburban areas of the Cottbus agglomeration. The landscape is highly heterogeneous therefore.
A distinctive feature of the Lausitz region is the presence of the Slavic culture and language of the Sorbian population. The sorbs came into the area in the 6th century AD and named it Luzica – swamp land – for the conditions they found in the area. The swamps and dense forests represented an obstacle to development, for a long time the Lausitz continued to be a remote area. In the 19th and 20th century, the region is starting to face industrial development. Especially brown coal mining is transforming the landscape as well as the structure of the population. With the changing landscape and the new sources of income the regional identity shifts: the Niederlausitz is no longer a remote periphery but becomes the heart of the energy industry of the GDR.
The industry is a major source for prosperity and identification but its perception is double-sided: the negative consequences of mining (pollution, destruction of villages for new pits etc.) are experienced, too. After the German reunification drastic changes in the region’s economy and employment market – especially the decline of the brown coal industry – result in the vanishing of place identification.
Today identification with the region is relatively weak. People rather tend to identify with their town or village, with the “strong” Spreewald image or with the local football club. The Niederlausitz today is a region in transition: the outflow of people (especially in the rural parts), changing economic structure with relatively high unemployment and the transformation of former open-face mines into lakes and recreational areas are forcing the region to define a new position. But in shaping the landscape and restructuring the industry there is the chance for redefining a Lausitzian identity. Thinking across borders might help meeting that challenge.
 Weichhart (2000): Designerregionen – Antworten auf die Herausforderungen des globalen Standortwettbewerbs.