Germany – Case study 1: Zeitz


Zeitz is a medium-sized town (29 000 inhabitants) in the district Burgenlandkreis in Saxony-Anhalt, about 40 km south-west of Leipzig. Although the town has an over 1000 year long history as residence of bishops and dukes it is particularly marked by its industrial legacy of the 19th and 20th centuries. The development during this time is closely connected to the lignite mines between Zeitz and Leipzig of which two are still active today. Main industrial branches until 1990 were mechanical engineering, piano manufacturing and the sugar production. Furthermore, the local stroller factory Zekiwa was one of Europe’s biggest stroller factories and exported its products to both East and West of Europe. The former importance of this industry which led in the past to some discussions to use the byname “Town of strollers” (Stadt der Kinderwagen) for marketing purposes is still visible today with the German stroller museum in Schloss Moritzburg and some former industrial buildings.

After 1990 – Loss of economic and political importance and demographic change

After the German reunification, Zeitz was severely hit by processes of deep deindustrialisation. Almost all big enterprises closed down leading to massive unemployment in the town and the surroundings (more than 30% in the mid-1990s). Only Südzucker (sugar and bioethanol plant), Goldeck/Zetti (food manufacturing) and MIBRAG (lignite mining – with its 2000 employees being one of the most important employers of the region) survived until today; the location of the former hydrogenation plant has become the “Zeitz Chemical and Industrial Park”. In the core town the number of industrial enterprises decreased by more than 50% from 52 in 1995 to 25 in 2001. Since then, the number is stagnating.

One bigger enterprise, which restarted its activities in 2007, is the ZGG – Zeitzer Guss (metal processing plant). In contrast to a massive decline of industrial production, the number of handicraft businesses is considerably more stable. Handicraft and service-oriented enterprises are today the backbone of Zeitz’ economy. However, industrial heritage sites such as the coal briquette factory “Hermannschacht” and a high number of industrial brownfields which have witnessed the times of Zeitz’ industrial prominence leave the hope for a new industrial future of the region.

One of the biggest disadvantages of the town which became apparent in the 1990s seemed to be its location at the borders of the three Central German federal states Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony, and Thuringia. A number of towns of comparable size (i.e. Weißenfels, Naumburg, Altenburg, Borna) in all three states has competed for economic investments and political importance. Major decisions about restructuring of the chemical industry in Central Germany (including the purchase of Leuna by Elf Aquitaine) were taken on federal and state levels affecting economic development prospects in Zeitz where the chemical industry closed down.

In addition, Zeitz lost its status as district capital (and with it its administrative importance) after the territorial restructuring of the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt. In 1994, the districts of Zeitz, Naumburg and Nebra merged to Burgenlandkreis with the capital in Naumburg and in 2007, the (old) Burgenlandkreis merged with the district of Weißenfels to the (new) Burgenlandkreis. Zeitz has long struggled to redefine its role and identity in this constellation (as also stated by the urban development report of 2010). This included also the integration of the surrounding villages, which were administratively incorporated in the town in 2009 and 2010, and partially still struggle with the central administration in the core town.

The decrease of Zeitz’ political and economic prominence has been accompanied by a considerable shrinking of the local population from almost 50.000 inhabitants in 1989 (at this time the biggest town of the current district) to 27.003 in 2021 (now only the third biggest town of the district after Naumburg and Weißenfels). Since 2012, the decrease rates have lowered with a positive migration balance in recent years but net population development is still negative. The shrinkage of population is also paralleled by a considerable ageing of the population. Today already one third of the overall population is 65 years old or older.

One consequence of this severe population loss is a great number of vacant and dilapidated houses especially in the inner city (in the urban development plan from 2010 described as “Schrottimmobilien” – “junk properties”). Although the housing stock has been reduced during the last decades, especially in the quarters with GDR-built panel houses (i.e. Zeitz East), the need for redevelopment and refurbishment is more than visible in the urban landscape. Moreover, also the retail sector in the inner city needs to be supported as it lost much of its importance in the 1990s when bigger supermarkets and retail centres were built at the outskirts of the town.

Seeking a new identity – Zeitz between industry and culture

Following the loss of its industrial importance Zeitz has been searching for a new identity and orientation since the mid-1990s and even stronger since 2002 when the process of urban restructuring („Stadtumbauprozess“) started. In this regard, the town has pursued a two-fold strategy: on one hand, it emphasises the importance of the economy and especially the still existing industries and, on the other hand, it aims at promoting the historical and cultural assets of the town, such as Moritzburg castle, its surrounding garden, the cathedral, the old Franciscan monastery, the subterranean passageways “Unterirdisches Zeitz” and the old Benedictine monastery Posa.


Figure 1: Moritzburg and cathedral of Zeitz
Figure 1: Moritzburg and cathedral of Zeitz

In 2004, a first step of revalorising Zeitz’s cultural heritage was taken by organising the first Landesgartenschau of Saxony-Anhalt (State horticultural show) which improved the area around Moritzburg considerably. Not only the garden and park around the castle was affected by this event but also six historical buildings, which could be renovated and are used nowadays for different purposes (culture, sports, administrative). However, the touristic effect of the Landesgartenschau and the other touristic sites has remained rather limited. Up to now, most of the guest-nights in the region are stays of technicians and business people working here rather than touristic stays.

In contrast to this top-down driven development of the cultural assets, cultural bottom-up initiatives emerged in recent years that want to valorise the proximity of Zeitz to Leipzig being a hotspot of the creative industries in Eastern Germany. In 2013, a group of young people (some returning residents, others coming from elsewhere) took the monastery Posa on a 30-year lease to establish it as a place for education and culture and revive the cultural life of Zeitz. During the last 6 years, the monastery has become a node for different bottom-up cultural activities in the town and the whole region (i.e. Open Space Zeitz, Art House Zeitz in the old library, Kulturwerkstatt Burgenlandkreis). As such, it has gained even national attention, i.e. through funding by the German Federal Cultural Foundation or the Robert-Bosch-Foundation or by media contributions, i.e. in the German public broadcasting radio station Deutschlandfunk or in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit.


Picture 2: The monastery of Posa
Picture 2: The monastery of Posa

Economically, the town aims at taking up an industrial development path with biochemical and manufacturing industries glancing also at the chances of the creative industries. Still today, the administration aims at attracting major investments in industries with a high added value and qualified employment opportunities which would keep the youth in town, albeit with limited success. One strategic thought is to develop the chemical and industrial park further but also to cooperate with other municipalities and benefit from spillover effects from Leipzig.

A new chapter: the lignite phase-out and structural change debates

Against the background of the German lignite phase-out by 2038, discussions about Zeitz’s future development have gained further momentum. Due to its prominent location in the middle of the Central German lignite mining area and with the headquarters of the MIBRAG company, the city has been given special consideration in the process of structural change. Since 2019, strategic development processes such as the elaboration of the mission statement or the renewal of the Integrated Urban Development Plan have taken place.
With the decision on the Structural Reinforcement Act for Mining Regions in 2020, the legal basis for structural aid in the affected regions was created at federal level. Zeitz has become the scene for several development projects.
For instance, the funding call “Altstadtsanierung Burgenlandkreis” (Old Town Redevelopment Burgenlandkreis) was launched by means of Structural Funds in 2021, with which, among other things, a multigenerational house is to be built in the ill-famed Rahnestraße.
Moreover, it was announced at the beginning of 2021 that the structural change office initiated by the Burgenlandkreis will take up residence in the newly redeveloped railway station in Zeitz. As a further measure, the project office “City of the Future” has been commissioned with the implementation of concrete projects. Among those is a master plan for the city of Zeitz, which will contain concrete project proposals that correspond to the visions and goals of the city as well as to the funding criteria of the Structural Reinforcement Act for Mining Regions.
Since September 2020, the digitalisation centre in Zeitz has existed under the municipal auspices and has been tasked with developing a digital strategy for the city of Zeitz and the surrounding region.

In summary, Zeitz has been particularly confronted with negotiating possible futures since the beginning of the ACORE project. This made the analysis of spatial narratives and imaginaries that fundamentally influence visions of the city’s future particularly productive.