Productive wasteland in Cottbus

Productive wasteland in Cottbus


Cottbus is a town surrounded by one of the most incredible landscapes to be encountered in Europe: a huge, massive, open-air carbon mining area. The area seems incredibly clean, at least for the standards of people used to live in other European industrial towns. In fact, if we consider the case of one of the other project venues, Taranto (, the difference is clear. Indeed, while Taranto’s industrial neighbourhoods are literally covered with the polluting red powder produced by the mineral parks of its iron and steel factory, the area around the carbon mines at the outskirts of Cottbus appears well maintained and green (at least at a first sight).
The mining area, however, is going to be replaced by an artificial lake as soon as all its resources are soiled. An abandoned power plant will be the only surviving sign of the past, a kind of industrial cemetery keeping the memory of those places alive. Notwithstanding its good environmental management, however, the mining industry in Cottbus will leave thousands of workers unemployed. They will be forced to decide between mobility – namely, to migrate in order to follow the mining industry in other unexploited German districts – or unemployment.
This discourse takes us to the other important aspect that characterizes Cottbus and its surroundings: their history as former DDR territories. Here we face a dichotomy that one might define under the following slogan (like every slogan, it clearly simplifies a reality that is far more complex): the former right to have and to work under the DDR state vs. the right and the freedom to speak and to move under the contemporary, unified German nation-state. In other words, centralizing socialist regimes vs. market driven democracies. Differently said, pre-1989 East vs. “the West”. Of course, this dichotomy is stretching. Furthermore, it has been disintegrated by History. The result, however, is that former eastern Germans today experience, generally speaking, higher standards of living, freedom of speech and, at the same time, growing risks of unemployment and precariousness.
This is the background that Landscape Choreography wants to interpret at both the artistic and social levels together with its territorial partners, the University of Lausitz and its INIK Centre (Institutfur Neue Industriekultur). They have mobilised their students and asked them to provide sustainable ideas for the town urban planning to come. The results of this exercise are visible in the website (
The students have mapped the town by underlining sites characterised by different status, use and property structures:
the ancient city walls;
a former political prison used both by the Nazi and the Socialist regimes;
a water tower next to the rail station;
an unused public area next to the Spree and surrounded by house blocks, a school, an hospice and a youth centre;
a parking area sided by an abandoned factory in the heart of the city historical centre, once a space of socialisation and a market place.
Any of these spaces was selected by taking into consideration its inner potential for being re-appropriated and reused by the citizenry. All these places are devices that, according to the project vision, should support the construction of an horizontal partnership for enhancing mechanisms of active citizenship as well as for setting up a shared memory of what Cottbus has been, and how and what it should be for the next generations.
Actually, our project can support the development of just one project among the five presented by the Lausitz students. It doesn’t mean that the others may not be implemented as well, with or without the Landscape Choreography team. This is something that everybody is invited to discover by following the project next phases, “To Seed” and “To maintain”.

Giancarlo Pichillo

Areas of inspection:

JVA, Spremberger Vorstadt

E. Wolf Ufer, Sandow

Platz, Ostrower

Stadtmauer, Altstadt

Wasserturm, Spremberger Vorstadt

Tagebau, Cottbus-Nord

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