Lower Saxony ( ) is a German state (Bundesland) situated in northwestern Germany and is second in area, with , and fourth in population (8 million) among the sixteen Länder of Germany. In rural areas Northern Low Saxon, a dialect of Low German, is still spoken, but the number of speakers is declining.
Lower Saxony borders on (from north and clockwise) the North Sea, the states of Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia, and the Netherlands. In fact, Lower Saxony borders more neighbours than any other single Bundesland. The state Free Hanseatic City of Bremen forms two enclaves within Lower Saxony, one being the city of Bremen, the other, its seaport city of Bremerhaven. The state's principal cities include the state capital Hanover, Brunswick, Lüneburg, Osnabrück, Oldenburg, Hildesheim, Wolfenbüttel, Wolfsburg and Göttingen.
The northwestern area of Lower Saxony, which lies on the coast of the North Sea, is called East Frisia and the seven East Frisian Islands offshore are popular with tourists. In the extreme west of Lower Saxony is the Emsland, a traditionally poor and sparsely populated area, once dominated by inaccessible swamps. The northern half of Lower Saxony, also known as the North German Plains, is almost invariably flat except for the gentle hills around the Bremen geestland. Towards the south and southwest lie the northern parts of the German Central Uplands: the Weser Uplands and the Harz mountains. Between these two lie the Lower Saxon Hills, a range of low ridges.
Lower Saxony's major cities and economic centres are mainly situated in its central and southern parts, namely Hanover, Brunswick, Osnabrück, Wolfsburg, Salzgitter, Hildesheim and Göttingen. Oldenburg, near the northwestern coastline, is another economic centre. The region in the northeast is called the Lüneburg Heath (Lüneburger Heide), the largest heathland area of Germany and in medieval times wealthy due to salt mining and salt trade, as well as to a lesser degree the exploitation of its peat bogs up until about the 1960s. To the north, the Elbe river separates Lower Saxony from Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Brandenburg. The banks just south of the Elbe are known as Altes Land (Old Country). Due to its gentle local climate and fertile soil it is the state's largest area of fruit farming, its chief produce being apples.
Most of the state's territory was part of the historic Kingdom of Hanover; the state of Lower Saxony has adopted the coat of arms and other symbols of the former kingdom. It was created by the merger of the State of Hanover with several smaller states in 1946.
Regional history prior to foundation of Lower Saxony
The name of Saxony derives from that of the Germanic tribe of the Saxons. Before the late medieval period, there was a single Duchy of Saxony. The term "Lower Saxony" was used after the dissolution of the stem duchy the late 13th century to disambiguate the parts of the former duchy ruled by the House of Welf from the Electorate of Saxony on one hand, and from the Duchy of Westphalia on the other.
Period to the Congress of Vienna (1814/1815)
The name and coat of arms of the present state go back to the Germanic tribe of Saxons. During the Migration Period some of the Saxon peoples left their homelands in Holstein about the 3rd century and pushed southwards over the Elbe, where they expanded into the sparsely populated regions in the rest of the lowlands, in the present-day Northwest Germany and the northeastern part of what is now the Netherlands. From about the 7th century the Saxons had occupied a settlement area that roughly corresponds to the present state of Lower Saxony, of Westphalia and a number of areas to the east, for example, in what is now west and north Saxony-Anhalt. The land of the Saxons was divided into about 60 Gaue. The Frisians had not moved into this region; for centuries they preserved their independence in the most northwesterly region of the present-day Lower Saxon territory. The original language of the folk in the area of Old Saxony was West Low Saxon, one of the varieties of language in the Low German dialect group.
The establishment of permanent boundaries between what later became Lower Saxony and Westphalia began in the 12th century. In 1260, in a treaty between the Archbishopric of Cologne and the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg the lands claimed by the two territories were separated from each other. The border ran along the Weser to a point north of Nienburg. The northern part of the Weser-Ems region was placed under the rule of Brunswick-Lüneburg.
The word Niedersachsen was first used before 1300 in a Dutch rhyming chronicle (Reimchronik). From the 14th century it referred to the Duchy of Saxe-Lauenburg (as opposed to Saxe-Wittenberg). On the creation of the imperial circles in 1500, a Lower Saxon Circle was distinguished from a Lower Rhenish–Westphalian Circle. The latter included the following territories that, in whole or in part, belong today to the state of Lower Saxony: the Bishopric of Osnabrück, the Bishopric of Münster, the County of Bentheim, the County of Hoya, the Principality of East Frisia, the Principality of Verden, the County of Diepholz, the County of Oldenburg, the County of Schaumburg and the County of Spiegelberg. At the same time a distinction was made with the eastern part of the old Saxon lands from the central German principalities later called Upper Saxony for dynastic reasons. (see also → Electorate of Saxony, History of Saxony).
The close historical link of the domains of the Lower Saxon Circle now in modern Lower Saxony survived for centuries especially from a dynastic point of view. The majority of historic territories whose land now lies within Lower Saxony were sub-principalities of the medieval, Welf estates of the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg. All the Welf princes called themselves dukes "of Brunswick and Lüneburg" despite often ruling parts of a duchy that was forever being divided and reunited as various Welf lines multiplied or died out.
To the end of the Second World War
Over the course of time two great principalities survived east of the Weser: the Kingdom of Hanover and the Duchy of Brunswick (after 1866 Hanover became a Prussian province; after 1919 Brunswick became a free state). Historically a close tie exists between the royal house of Hanover (Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg) to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as a result of their personal union in the 18th century.
West of the River Hunte a "de-Westphalianising process" began in 1815: After the Congress of Vienna the territories of the later administrative regions (Regierungsbezirke) of Osnabrück and Aurich transferred to the Kingdom of Hanover. Until 1946, the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg and the Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe retained their stately authority. Nevertheless the entire Weser-Ems region (including the city of Bremen) were grouped in 1920 into a Lower Saxon Constituency Association (Wahlkreisverband IX (Niedersachsen)). This indicates that at that time the western administrations of the Prussian Province of Hanover and the state of Oldenburg were perceived as being "Lower Saxon".
The forerunners of today's state of Lower Saxony were lands that were geographically and, to some extent, institutionally interrelated from very early on. The County of Schaumburg (not to be confused with the Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe) around the towns of Rinteln and Hessisch Oldendorf did indeed belong to the Prussian province of Hesse-Nassau until 1932, a province that also included large parts of the present state of Hesse, including the cities of Kassel, Wiesbaden and Frankfurt am Main; but in 1932, however, the County of Schaumburg became part of the Prussian Province of Hanover. Also before 1945, namely 1937, the city of Cuxhaven has been fully integrated into the Prussian Province of Hanover by the Greater Hamburg Act, so that in 1946, when the state of Lower Saxony was founded, only four states needed to be merged. With the exception of Bremen and the areas that were ceded to the Soviet Occupation Zone in 1945, all those areas allocated to the new state of Lower Saxony in 1946, had already been merged into the "Constituency Association of Lower Saxony" in 1920.
In a lecture on 14 September 2007, Dietmar von Reeken described the emergence of a "Lower Saxony consciousness" in the 19th century, the geographical basis of which was used to invent a territorial construct: the resulting local heritage societies (Heimatvereine) and their associated magazines routinely used the terms "Lower Saxony" or "Lower Saxon" in their names. At the end of the 1920s in the context of discussions about a reform of the Reich and promoted by the expanding local heritage movement (Heimatbewegung), a twenty-five year conflict started between "Lower Saxony" and "Westphalia". The supporters of this dispute were administrative officials and politicians, but regionally focussed scientists of various disciplines were supposed to have fuelled the arguments. In the 1930s, a real Lower Saxony did not yet exist, but there was a plethora of institutions that would have called themselves "Lower Saxon". The motives and arguments in the disputes between "Lower Saxony" and "Westphalia" were very similar on both sides: economic interests, political aims, cultural interests and historical aspects.
Post World War II
After the Second World War most of Northwest Germany lay within the British Zone of Occupation. On 23 August 1946, the British Military Government issued Ordinance No. 46 "Concerning the dissolution of the provinces of the former state of Prussia in the British Zone and their reconstitution as independent states", which initially established the State of Hanover on the territory of the former Prussian Province of Hanover. Its minister president, Hinrich Wilhelm Kopf, had already suggested in June 1945 the formation of a state of Lower Saxony, that was to include the largest possible region in the middle of the British Zone. In addition to the regions that actually became Lower Saxony subsequently, Kopf asked, in a in memorandum dated April 1946, for the inclusion of the former Prussian district of Minden-Ravensberg (i.e. the Westphalian city of Bielefeld as well as the Westphalian districts of Minden, Lübbecke, Bielefeld, Herford and Halle), the district of Tecklenburg and the state of Lippe. Kopf's plan was ultimately based on a draft for the reform of the German Empire from the late 1920s by Georg Schnath and Kurt Brüning. The strong Welf connotations of this draft, according to Thomas Vogtherr, did not simplify the development of a Lower Saxon identity after 1946.
An alternative model, proposed by politicians in Oldenburg and Brunswick, envisaged the foundation of the independent state of "Weser-Ems", that would be formed from the state of Oldenburg, the Hanseatic City of Bremen and the administrative regions of Aurich and Osnabrück. Several representatives of the state of Oldenburg even demanded the inclusion of the Hanoverian districts of Diepholz, Syke, Osterholz-Scharmbeck and Wesermünde in the postulated state of "Weser-Ems". Likewise an enlarged State of Brunswick was proposed in the southeast to include the Regierungsbezirk of Hildesheim and the district of Gifhorn. Had this plan come to fruition, the territory of the present Lower Saxony would have consisted of three states of roughly equal size.
The district council of Vechta protested on 12 June 1946 against being incorporated into the metropolitan area of Hanover (Großraum Hannover). If the State of Oldenburg was to be dissolved, Vechta District would much rather be included in the Westphalian region. Particularly in the districts where there was a political Catholicism the notion was widespread, that Oldenburg Münsterland and the Regierungsbezirk of Osnabrück should be part of a newly formed State of Westphalia.
Since the foundation of the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Hanover on 23 August 1946 the northern and eastern border of North Rhine-Westphalia has largely been identical with that of the Prussian Province of Westphalia. Only the Free State of Lippe was not incorporated into North Rhine-Westphalia until January 1947. With that the majority of the regions left of the Upper Weser became North Rhine-Westphalian.
In the end, at the meeting of the Zone Advisory Board on 20 September 1946, Kopf's proposal with regard to the division of the British occupation zone into three large states proved to be capable of gaining a majority. Because this division of their occupation zone into relatively large states also met the interests of the British, on 8 November 1946 Regulation No. 55 of the British military government was issued, by which the State of Lower Saxony with its capital Hanover were founded, backdated to 1 November 1946. The state was formed by a merger of the Free States of Brunswick, of Oldenburg and of Schaumburg-Lippe with the previously formed State of Hanover. But there were exceptions:
The demands of Dutch politicians that the Netherlands should be given the German regions east of the Dutch-German border as war reparations, were roundly rejected at the London Conference of 26 March 1949. In fact only about 1.3 km² of West Lower Saxony was transferred to the Netherlands, in 1949.
→ see main article Dutch annexation of German territory after World War II
History of Lower Saxony as a state
The first Lower Saxon parliament or Landtag met on 9 December 1946. It was not elected; rather it was established by the British Occupation Administration (a so-called "appointed parliament"). That same day the parliament elected the Social Democrat, Hinrich Wilhelm Kopf, the former Hanoverian president (Regierungspräsident) as their first minister president. Kopf led a five-party coalition, whose basic task was to rebuild a state afflicted by the war's rigours. Kopf's cabinet had to organise an improvement of food supplies and the reconstruction of the cities and towns destroyed by Allied air raids during the war years. Hinrich Wilhelm Kopf remained – interrupted by the time in office of Heinrich Hellwege (1955–1959) – as the head of government in Lower Saxony until 1961.
The greatest problem facing the first state government in the immediate post-war years was the challenge of integrating hundreds of thousands of refugees from Germany's former territories in the east (such as Silesia and East Prussia), which had been annexed by Poland and the Soviet Union. Lower Saxony was at the western end of the direct escape route from East Prussia and had the longest border with the Soviet Zone. On 3 October 1950 Lower Saxony took over the sponsorship of the very large number of refugees from Silesia. In 1950 there was still a shortage of 730,000 homes according to official figures.
During the period when Germany was divided, the Lower Saxon border crossing at Helmstedt found itself on the main transport artery to West Berlin and, from 1945 to 1990 was the busiest European border crossing point.
Of economic significance for the state was the Volkswagen concern, that restarted the production of civilian vehicles in 1945, initially under British management, and in 1949 transferred into the ownership of the newly founded country of West Germany and state of Lower Saxony. Overall, Lower Saxony, with its large tracts of rural countryside and few urban centres, was one of the industrially weaker regions of the federal republic for a long time. In 1960, 20% of the working population worked on the land. In the rest of the federal territory the figure was just 14%. Even in economically prosperous times the jobless totals in Lower Saxony are constantly higher than the federal average.
In 1961 Georg Diederichs took office as the minister president of Lower Saxony as the successor to Hinrich Wilhelm Kopf. He was replaced in 1970 by Alfred Kubel. The arguments about the Gorleben Nuclear Waste Repository, that began during the time in office of minister president Ernst Albrecht (1976–1990), have played an important role in state and federal politics since the end of the 1970s.
In 1990 Gerhard Schröder entered the office of minister president. On 1 June 1993 the new Lower Saxon constitution entered force, replacing the "Provisional Lower Saxon Constitution" of 1951. It enables referenda and plebiscites and establishes environmental protection as a fundamental state principle.
The former Hanoverian Amt Neuhaus with its parishes of Dellien, Haar, Kaarßen, Neuhaus (Elbe), Stapel, Sückau, Sumte and Tripkau as well as the villages of Neu Bleckede, Neu Wendischthun and Stiepelse in the parish of Teldau and the historic Hanoverian region in the forest district of Bohldamm in the parish of Garlitz transferred with effect from 30 June 1993 from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern to Lower Saxony (Lüneburg district). From these parishes the new municipality of Amt Neuhaus was created on 1 October 1993.
In 1998 Gerhard Glogowski succeeded Gerhard Schröder who became Federal Chancellor. Because he had been linked with various scandals in his home city of Brunswick, he resigned in 1999 and was replaced by Sigmar Gabriel.
From 2003 to his election as Federal President in 2010 Christian Wulff was minister president in Lower Saxony. The Osnabrücker headed a CDU-led coalition with the FDP as does his successor, David McAllister. After the elections on 20 January 2013 McAllister was deselected.
Between 1946 and 2004, the state's districts and independent towns were grouped into eight regions, with different status for the two regions (Verwaltungsbezirke) comprising the formerly free states of Brunswick and Oldenburg. In 1978 the regions were merged into four governorates (Regierungsbezirke): Since 2004 the Bezirksregierungen (regional governments) have been broken up again.
On 1 January 2005 the four administrative regions or governorates (Regierungsbezirke), into which Lower Saxony had been hitherto divided, were dissolved. These were the governorates of Brunswick, Hanover, Lüneburg and Weser-Ems.