Near Hamburg: A novel kissed the old country awake

AIn the moat, where the cattle used to drink, there are now wrought-iron benches on the cobblestones. Behind it an imposing house wall juts out into the autumn sky. Red brick, white wood, gray-brown thatch. What a roof! What a gable! What a place!

“Dit Huus is mien un noch nich mien, de no mi kummt calls ook noch sien” is written above the door of Harmshof, an originally preserved Lower Saxony hall house from the 17th century in the Altes Land: “The house is mine and yet not mine, the one who comes after me calls it his “. They are currently the Stölkes, actually for centuries, albeit under different names.

At the weekend they serve self-baked butter or apple cakes in the small courtyard café or under old oaks, otherwise they are fruit growers. And that’s how it should stay, the family hopes. You are a bit queasy at the thought that your farm in Jork is becoming too well known and attracting too many fans because of the ZDF two-parter “Altes Land”.

The film is set very close to Hamburg

Of course, it is no wonder that the production company chose exactly this farm as a location for the film adaptation of Dörte Hansen’s novel “Altes Land”. After all, it is a place where time seems to stand still, the idyll hugs visitors like a warm blanket, although the metropolis of Hamburg is only a few kilometers away.

In the film, little Vera (Emilia Kowalski, left) and her mother Hildegard von Kamcke (Birte Schnöink) arrive at the farm in the Altes Land after fleeing

Source: ZDF and Boris Laewen

The film, starring Iris Berben, Nina Kunzendorf, Peter Kurth and Matthias Matschke, tells the story of three women from three generations. In 1945 an East Prussian refugee family was quartered with a long-established fruit farmer who was largely spared from the war.

Old wounds and conflicts break out again later when a young mother leaves her trendy district of Hamburg, moves to the Alte Land and looks for her roots there. Home, escape, lust for the countryside and frustration with the countryside, the longing for security and stability – these highly topical issues are touchingly negotiated.

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Main actress Iris Berben, who grew up in Hamburg, knew the marshland on the Lower Elbe from childhood: “It was a nice ritual to go to this special region on weekends to climb trees and pick apples and cherries,” she says . “Of course, a lot has changed, adapted to new circumstances. But the people seem unchanged. You are calm, grounded and direct. “

The old country is characterized by over 20 million fruit trees

People and their courtyards – a special connection that makes up a lot of the magic of the 30-kilometer stretch of land between Hamburg-Francop and the Hanseatic city of Stade. It is one of the largest contiguous fruit-growing areas north of the Alps, characterized by magnificent farmhouses, magnificent gateways and old churches.

Typical of the Alte Land: a half-timbered courtyard with a thatched roof and a magnificent gate

Typical: a half-timbered courtyard with a thatched roof and magnificent gate

Source: Altes LAnd Tourist Association

In spring, fragrant white and pink flowers cover the old country, when over 20 million fruit trees bloom here. In autumn the trees bend under their glowing red load.

Ulrike Schuback’s family has lived in the Altes Land since 1408. The trained fruit gardener is the boss of her fruit paradise farm in Jork. A lot of work, a lot of responsibility, that’s how she describes her everyday life. But there is also plenty of room for ideas.

Due to Corona, almost the entire event business broke away. But another offer is working very well right now: a picnic in the garden. “I got to know this concept on the vineyards in South Africa. You get a nicely filled picnic basket and can sit in a nice place as long as you want, ”says Ulrike Schuback.

The Alte Land is one of the largest contiguous fruit-growing areas north of the Alps

The Alte Land is one of the largest contiguous fruit-growing areas north of the Alps

Quelle: Getty Images/imageBROKER RF

She will be offering the picnic until Christmas, also with a warming fire and in cozy rooms, as soon as this is allowed again, but until then it is also possible to distribute the basket. “And then hopefully at some point I’ll have a day off,” she says with a laugh.

Where every dig is manual work

Schuback’s ancestors once wrested the pasture and farmland from the water. Each of the tens of thousands of drainage ditches in the three dike associations (two belong to Lower Saxony, one to Hamburg) is dug by hand. Perhaps that explains why people are so attached to the country.

Everyone who wanted to settle here was given a Dutch Hufe of land, that’s around 20 hectares. “It says everywhere that the old country was originally settled by the Dutch, but that’s nonsense,” says tour guide Dieter Schilling. Dutch drainage techniques and units of measurement were used.

The old country in Lower Saxony near Hamburg

Source: WORLD infographic

Sure, the Dutch also settled here – but so did other people who wanted to escape the servitude and serfdom of the late Middle Ages. The many white wooden bridges are still reminiscent of the Dutch heritage.

The area that had already been reclaimed and traversed by ditches was called “old land” by the settlers, and “new land” that had not yet been worked. And at some point the entire area was just “old country”.

Dörte Hansen’s novel became a bestseller

Dieter Schilling comes from Grünendeich, the place in whose neighborhood the author Dörte Hansen also lived for a while. “We didn’t even notice that with the novel at first,” he says. But then the sales went through the roof, the book was at the top of the bestseller lists for months.

Over a million copies of the novel have been sold since its publication in 2015. Suddenly the literary spotlight of an entire country was turned on the rugged landscape and its idiosyncratic inhabitants. Are we really as described in the book, some long-established Altländer have asked themselves. So proud and so stubborn?

Some say that the novel literally kissed the region awake. The others say that he exposed people. But not necessarily those who live there. But also the townspeople who want to fulfill their longing for the idyllic countryside, for the simple, natural with self-picked apples or a life that looks like one of the many “Landliebe” glossy magazines.

That is why they should eat apples raw as much as possible

A typical apple contains more than 100 million bacteria. The seeds and the pulp are hot spots for bacteria. They temporarily colonize our intestines and are therefore important for a healthy intestinal flora.

Source: WELT / Nicole Fuchs-Wiecha

Happiness can be a jam jar with a nostalgic label. Or an apple pie, served on a casually decorated wooden table. People here are used to losing their hearts to this vastness, to the constancy that the old houses exude. To the many cyclists, flower-gazers and harvest festival visitors anyway.

But it is also too nice to cycle between stubborn sheep on the dikes, to see the big pots pulling on the Elbe towards the North Sea and to keep an eye out for the farm garden in which the next stop could take place.

Apples with a heart to pick yourself

The Lühs family has therefore transformed their generational business into an adventure farm. “There was a time when apple prices were very bad. My father had the idea of ​​putting a heart on the fruit – with the help of a heart-shaped stencil so that the peel would not turn red at this point, ”says junior manager Meike Lühs. Template off, heart below – the Herzapfelhof was born.

“The self-pickers don’t just want to harvest organic apples, they also want to eat a soup, walk around the yard, take a tour and learn about apple varieties,” says Meike Lühs. Experiences in nature and old types of fruit, this is where she sees the current trends.

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Kerstin Hintz also deals with old varieties at her organic farm Ottilie. She grows Renette or Goldparmäne. For her café she bakes vegan cakes, but also classics such as apple-sour cream cake. Her summer pop-up restaurant “Farm to Table”, which she opened in her garden together with star chef Jens Rittmeyer from neighboring Buxtehude, was also innovative.

Yes, the people here can preserve the land and make something out of the farms. You may be proud and stubborn. But they are also smart about it.

More and more farmers are switching to the tourism business

Farm holidays are called agrotourism. In the meantime, every fourth farmer earns more than half of his annual turnover with holidaymakers on his farm. A second mainstay that is worthwhile.

Source: WELT / Stefan Wittmann

Tips and information

Getting there: The most convenient way to explore the Alte Land is by car (via the A-7 exit HH-Hausbruch), and the most beautiful way is by bike. From Hamburg-Landungsbrücken, Blankenese and Wedel ferries go to Finkenwerder, Cranz and Lühe.

Accommodation: You can spend an idyllic night in the guest accommodation that many courtyards offer, such as “tomDiek” in Jork-Kingdom or the Altländerhaus “Zur Post” on the Elbdeich in Cranz (apartment from 65 euros / night, There are only a few hotels in the region, a good address is the “Navigare” in Buxtehude, where star chef Jens Rittmeyer also has his restaurant, double rooms with breakfast from 114 euros, (

Taste & discover: Ulrike Schuback offers her yard picnic until Christmas, filled basket for 26 euros per person, basket distribution is also allowed in lockdown ( Kerstin Hintz sells delicacies made from old apple varieties in her café and farm shop ( Attention, many courtyard cafés are only open on weekends, the operators will inform you about corona-related restrictions. The Harmshof, a location for “Altes Land”, is already in the winter break.

Further information:

TV Tip: The two-part “Altes Land” will run on November 15 and 16 at 8:15 p.m. on ZDF (

This text is from WELT AM SONNTAG. We are happy to deliver them to your home on a regular basis.

Source: Welt am Sonntag


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