“Landscape Diagnosis” and Landscape Planning

The “landscape diagnosis” project was a research effort headed by landscape architect Reinhold Lingner, head of the Landscape Department at the Institute for Civil Engineering, Berlin Academy of Sciences, and his colleague Frank Erich Carl. Both men had been carrying out preliminary studies of land degradation in the Soviet occupation zone since the autumn of 1948. The “diagnosis” was conducted for the most part in 1950 and, after a period of inactivity, was brought to an end in 1952. Although not directly related to nature conservation, it later served as a model for approaches to research and planning in other fields, including nature conservation (Hiller 2002, 277). The project was part of an attempt to carry out large-scale landscape analysis and planning under the new sociopolitical conditions in the GDR, in particular centralized state planning and de facto state control of the land. It was also intended to create jobs for unemployed or underemployed landscape gardeners and landscape architects; at the time, it was the “only job in the field that was done throughout the country” (Kirsten 2002, 274).

Over the course of the project, more than 90 map makers, divided among five groups representing the East German Länder still extant under the federal system, created an inventory of the most egregious cases of land degradation in the GDR:

–     crop and pasture land stripped of protective trees and shrubbery to an extreme or advanced degree

–     extreme degradation of arable land due to mining

–     extreme imbalances in the water budget

–     extreme contamination from industrial particulate and gas emissions

The original plan had called for these issues to be addressed in an initial phase of the project, to be completed by the end of August, 1950. The agenda of this first phase was driven by food shortages and natural catastrophes in the late 1940s (such as floods in the Oderbruch), a “bark beetle calamity” in Thuringia and Saxony, land degradation in lignite mining areas, and erosion problems in croplands in Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg that had been stripped of protective windbreaks (Lingner 1952). The food shortages, together with difficulties in restarting agriculture after land reform, led to the inclusion of a passage in the 1949 Constitution of the GDR (Article 26, Paragraph 3) stating that the “stability of crop yields shall be maintained and promoted by, among other things, landscape conservation and management.”

The plan had also called for a second phase of the project to study forest monocultures, clearcutting, damage to selection-cut forests, peat-cutting sites (started after the end of the war in 1945 in the face of severe fuel shortages), and climate change resulting from the construction of buildings and infrastructure.

The data gathered by the project was intended to be used for subsequent large-scale landscaping measures. In the end, these hopes remained unrealized. The study was discontinued on August 14, 1950, because of concerns that it would endanger state security. It was argued that there was no guarantee that the extensive information it collected would be “used solely for the purpose of building up [a Socialist state and society].” It was due in large measure to Lingner’s commitment and dedication that it was possible to complete at least the initial phase in 1952 (Hiller 2002, 86, 92).

At the same time, however, ambitious measures were being initiated to protect existing hedgerows and plant new windbreaks, and considerable thought and planning were being devoted to programs and organizations for landscape management. As early as 1949, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MLF) had formed a 60-member landscaping committee tasked with protecting fields. A number of landscape architects sat on this committee, including several who, prior to 1945, had belonged to “Organisation Todt.”[1] On August 29, 1950, the MLF issued a directive implementing Section 30 of the February 8, 1950 Law Concerning Measures to Achieve Peacetime Levels of Crop Yields per Hectare.[2] The directive called for the “organization and implementation of a landscaping program to protect fields and thus stabilize and improve crop yields per hectare.”[3] On February 12, 1951, a Central Government Committee for Landscape Management was established in the MLF Forestry Division. The minutes of the Committee’s founding meeting state that the second item on the agenda was the “planning and development of a five- and possibly twenty-year landscaping plan” (called a Generallandschaftsplan, or general landscaping plan), which was to apply to the entire GDR. In 1951, landscape management committees were gradually established in all Länder and in numerous Kreise with the purpose of developing general frameworks for their particular areas. The plan was to establish such committees throughout the GDR. However, there was no systematic follow-up on these initial steps toward creating a general landscaping plan for the whole country.

Two regulatory measures should be mentioned with reference to the developments described above. The first is a decree issued by the Council of Ministers on October 29, 1953, which addressed erosion problems and called for the protection of hedgerows. This was followed by an initial implementing order that laid out the terms under which the decree was to be implemented. These regulations had significant consequences, as they called for a record to be made of all the small thickets, hedgerows, small woodlots, groves, and copses that were located outside town or village borders and were smaller than 10 hectares. The resulting lists were sent to the conservation officers responsible for the respective areas, who sent them on to the relevant branch of the Institute for Land Research and Nature Conservation (Institut für Landesforschung und Naturschutz, ILN), founded in 1953.[4]

The last hopes for a large-scale landscaping program were raised by a resolution adopted by the Council of Ministers on February 23, 1954, calling for the National Planning Commission to create an action plan for the protection of fields via the planting of natural windbreaks. The resolution had virtually no practical consequences, however.

In 1956, landscape architect Werner Bauch described what the landscape diagnosis project had accomplished: “For the first time, we had an overview of the most striking damage to the [country’s] landscape and environment. It was documented in the form of maps, texts, and photographs. The state of [the nation’s] farmland was illustrated primarily by a calculation of the total area of croplands that have been stripped to an extreme or advanced degree of natural windbreaks (bushes, trees). The study also produced standardized maps that revealed water pollution and pronounced water budget imbalances. Findings of extremely high pollution levels drew attention to the considerable impacts of industry, human settlement, and traffic on air quality. As far as mining areas were concerned, research focused on mining-related changes to landscapes, in particular the state of spoil banks and large areas of barren land. In the extensive brown coal fields, reclamation and reforestation of the spoil banks and barren lands is being conducted with care and diligence. The study was able to quantify mining-related changes in soil quality through comparisons with soil values in selected areas. Of particular importance for the continuation of this work in the future is the fact that research priorities were defined.”[5]

In the end, the landscape diagnosis project only produced a few pilot schemes, such as those in the Huy-Hakel area of the Harz foothills and in the greater Leipzig area (Heinrichsdorff 1959; Krummsdorf 1963). The project’s methodological approaches and the data it collected were used in the reclamation of large mining sites in Lower Lusatia and in the tri-state area of Saxony, Thuringia, and Saxony-Anhalt. The data was also used later in support of attempts to establish a cross-border national park in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains and also in general land use plans, for example in the Bezirk of Erfurt (Wübbe 1999, 73).[6]


Heinrichsdorff, G. 1959: Erkenntnisse und Erfahrungen aus den Forschungs- und Entwicklungsarbeiten im Huy-Hakel-Gebiet. Naturschutz und Landschaftsgestaltung im Bezirk Magdeburg. Sonderdruck aus der 3. Folge. Herausgegeben vom Rat des Bezirkes Magdeburg. Magdeburg 1959.

Hiller, O. (Hg.) 2002: Die Landschaftsdiagnose der DDR. Zeitgeschichte und Wirkung eines Forschungsprojekts aus der Gründungsphase der DDR. Materialien zur Geschichte der Gartenkunst. Berlin.

Kirsten, R. 2002: Diskussionsbeitrag. In: Hiller, O. (Hg.): Die Landschaftsdiagnose der DDR. Zeitgeschichte und Wirkung eines Forschungsprojekts aus der Gründungsphase der DDR. Materialien zur Geschichte der Gartenkunst. Berlin: 274.

Krummsdorf, A. 1963: Über die natürlichen standörtlichen Grundlagen im MTS-Bereich Taucha im Hinblick auf die Zweckmäßigkeit und Wirkung meliorativer und landschaftspflegerischer Maßnahmen: Habilitation. Leipzig.

Lingner, R. 1952: Landschaftsgestaltung. Herausgegeben vom Kulturbund zur demokratischen Erneuerung Deutschlands. Berlin.

Wübbe, I. 1999: Landschaftsplanung in der DDR. In: Institut für Umweltgeschichte und Regionalentwicklung e. V. (Hg.): Landschaft und Planung in den neuen Bundesländern – Rückblicke. Berlin: 33-56.


[1]     Organisation Todt was a civil and military engineering group responsible for a huge range of engineering projects in Nazi Germany. The landscape architects in Organisation Todt were called Landschaftsanwälte or "landscape advocates."

[2]     The original German title of this law is Gesetz über Maßnahmen zur Erreichung der Friedenshektarerträge.—Trans.

[3]     The original German title of the directive is Anweisung des Ministeriums für Land- und Forstwirtschaft zur Organisation und Durchführung einer planmäßigen feldschützenden Landschaftsgestaltung zum Zwecke der Sicherung und Steigerung der landwirtschaftlichen Hektarerträge in Ausführung des § 30 des Gesetzes über Maßnahmen zur Erreichung des Friedenshektarerträge g.—Trans.

[4]     The name of the institute was later changed to Institute for Landscape Research and Nature Conservation (Institut für Landschaftsforschung und Naturschutz).

[5]     BArch DH 2/21626 (Prof. Werner Bauch, TH Dresden, Entwicklung der Landschaftsgestaltung in der DDR (probably 1956)). Concerning the use of landscape diagnosis data in the Bezirk of Dresden, see BArch DH 2/21627 (Landschaft und Planung, various manuscripts).

[6]     The more than 900 maps and record books that were created in the course of the landscape diagnosis project are now housed in the archives of the Leibniz-Institut für Raumbezogene Sozialforschung (IRS), located in Erkner.

Erinnerungen von Zeitzeugen

Literatur zum Weiterlesen

Lingner, Reinhold: Landschaftsgestaltung. Kulturbund zur demokratischen Erneuerung Deutschlands (Hg.). Berlin 1952.

Lingner, Reinhold; Carl, Frank Erich: Landschaftsdiagnose der DDR. Deutsche Bauakademie. Schriften des Forschungsinstituts für Gebiets-, Stadt- und Dorfplanung. Berlin o.J.

Hiller, Olaf (Hg.): Die Landschaftsdiagnose der DDR. Zeitgeschichte und Wirkung eines Forschungsprojekts aus der Gründungsphase der DDR. Technische Universität Berlin. Materialien zur Geschichte der Gartenkunst. Berlin 2002.

Wübbe, Irmela: Landschaftsplanung in der DDR. Aufgabenfelder, Handlungsmöglichkeiten und Restriktionen in der DDR der sechziger und siebziger Jahre. Bund Deutscher Landschaftsarchitekten e.V. (Hg.). Pillnitzer Planergespräche. Bonn 1995.