Project part-financed by the European Union (European Regional Development Fund)

The Interreg IVB North Sea Region Programme

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The tidal Elbe - a people's perspective

2. 2. Regional Identity and Heimat at the Tidal Elbe

Are local people attached to the tidal Elbe? To what degree do they identify with the river and the region? Is there a sense of belonging on the Elbe estuary?

The survey reveals a comparatively weak sense of regional identity along the tidal Elbe. The metropolitan area of Hamburg attracts people from other parts of Germany and abroad, indicated by the fact that 45.3% of all interviewed persons were not born within the region. Furthermore, people frequently move within the region. 48.6% of all respondents represent the first generation living in their current home towns or villages. The high degree of mobility may be one reason for primarily defining Heimat emotionally and socially and less so spatially. For the greater part of respondents, Heimat constitutes a place where they feel at home and comfortable (45%), a place where family and friends live (36%), or a place for living and working (19%) (see Fig. 1). These answers have no direct connection to the Elbe region and are spatially interchangeable: Come the next move, respondents can simply take this kind of Heimat with them. Answers referring to typical landscapes (13%) or specific locations and regions (6%) within the research area are comparatively rare.

When asked “Where is your Heimat?”, over 60% of the respondents mention their current place of residence. One might conclude that the residents on the tidal Elbe feel at home and comfortable even though their emotional attachment to the region is not as strong as in other regions where similar surveys were conducted. The river Elbe, connecting the whole region and serving as element of common regional identity is only mentioned by 3.4% of all interviewees. In other German river valleys 9% to 23% of all respondents said their river meant Heimat to them (RATTER 2005; RATTER & TREILING 2008; FRANKE, RATTER & TREILING 2009).

The proportion of active members in clubs and associations is also comparably low in the Elbe region. However, there is a considerable difference between rural and urban areas. People living in rural areas show greater readiness to engage in clubs than those in the more anonymous atmosphere of urban societies. Active involvement in clubs and associations enables greater connectedness with the region and fellow citizens and can therefore help to contribute to developing solidarity.

Weak regional identity on the tidal Elbe can be seen as challenge for authorities on their way to implementing integrated estuary management. In order to actively involve the public in regional planning and management processes it is useful to raise public awareness of the region and the challenges it is faced with now and in the future. Stronger regional identity in both rural and urban parts of the region could reinforce people’s intrinsic motivation for becoming involved, as other studies and literature show (comp. EISSING ET AL. 2003).

In order to strengthen the common sense of belonging within the region, it is helpful to know more about local perception of the region. What mental image do people have of their region?

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