Oberndorf, Niedersachsen, Germany

The municipality Oberndorf with its some 1350 residents is located in the very North of Germany, in the Lower Saxon county Cuxhaven, close to the Elde outlet between Hamburg and Cuxhaven. The village spreads along both sides of the natural river Oste, a bascule bridge connecting both settlements. The village and the landscape are influenced by its altitude, located only one meter above sea level, as well as by the Oste dike and numerous drainage canals.

Oberndorf began a new village development process in 2010, aiming not only to implement infrastructure projects, but also to find new methods to make the village and its community sustainable and resistant. This included a radically participative approach including numerous workshops and support from experts. Many issues were covered, especially internal development, local economy, agriculture, tourism and the social sector, and innovative and creative solutions were found. It was also discovered that a municipal concept was needed to ensure lasting resilience and stability in the village.

The strengthening of the community is central to all measures. Concepts like the establishment of the “forum”, a monthly assembly of those involved, an info-café and a website ensure continuous engagement and communication. The restaurant “Kombüse 53°Nord” serves as a meeting space and is central to interactions and exchange between residents. It was established in 2013 in the former, now vacant community center, and also serves as a venue for cultural highlights drawing in local and regional guests alike.

In order to promote an energy transition while simultaneously generating village funds through ecological and low-risk projects, the cooperative “Die Oberndorfer eG” was established in 2012. It counted 180 members when it was founded, and has successfully installed three photovoltaic plants. Accrued dividends were used to fund other projects, such as the social action Kiwitte, a free educational afternoon program for children, youth and adults.

The project “Hello neighbor!” invites residents to open and easy-access meetings, aiming to quickly include new residents, form new connections and regularly connect the community. These outdoor meetings offer no seating, last up to 90 minutes, there are only three choices of drinks and all participants bring their own glass.

A former grocers shop became an interactive museum boasting an extensive and impressive collection of exhibits. The village’s history can be experienced interactively. The museum tells a personal history and offers insight into locally typical professions such as brickmaker or ferryman.

To promote biodiversity, unused spaces were accounted for and used to plant appropriate flora. Currently, the builder’s yard is responsible for their care, but a sponsorship/adoption-programme is in planning.

There is a variety of associations, one of which serves as a coordinator and hosts large events and celebrations, such as the regionally recognized Christmas market. Also noteworthy are the exceptional child care landscape and the community-run school “LernArt”, which was established in reaction to the closing of the local elementary school, despite great efforts to keep it open. The pedagogic concept emphasize community, entrepreneurial self-organization and participation.

Municipal development in Oberndorf is proactive, bold and innovative; its residents are dedicated and adaptive. Openness, a culture of community and self-empowerment as well as the strong sense of responsibility make up a strong foundation for the sustainable village whose people face global challenges with exemplary local answers.

Evaluated: 2020