the vechte: a cross-border lifeline

The Vechte is a formative element for the County of Bentheim and the Province of Overijssel. The flat landscape in the Vechte Valley comprising forests, grasslands and fields, heather and bogs, accompany the course of river over a distance of 182 kilometers through the local county in a northwesterly direction towards Zwolle in the Netherlands. The river flows there as the Overijsselse Vecht into the Zwarte Water (»Black Water«), accessing Ijsselmeer and thus the North Sea via the Zwarte Meer and the Zwolle-Ijssel Canal.

human uses
The higher-laying planes along the Vechte had already been settled more than 10,000 years. Time and again, the river has changed its course since then. Regular floodings in the 300 to 500 meter valley necessitated a continuous struggle for survival involving land and life, simultaneously providing the inhabitants with fertile pastures. From the beginning, the Vechte was used as a waterway and to produce energy for the mills. The navigable trade route played a decisive role until well into the nineteenth century to transport local Bentheim sandstone, peat, rye and wood to the Netherlands as well as cattle, American cotton and consumer goods back to the county. The river’s importance as a means of transportation gradually decreased with the construction of the highway and railroad systems in the twentieth century. In parallel, river regulations substantially altered the Vechte’s appearance. Since the nineteen thirties, it was also the target of human interventions, specifically being used for the irrigation and drainage as well as the fertilization of the nearby fields. Industrial agriculture’s use of artificial fertilizer after 1945 made this function superfluous. The regulation of the Vechte, the construction of a wide-ranging network of canals, the increasing sealing of the soil surface and area drainage additionally affected the water level. The river was widened further and stemmed in the nineteen sixties. So-called side arms remained that now function as biotopes and are in part protected nature reserves or are to be joined with the Vechte again.

natural planning
As a consequence of this long history as well as the populace’s close attachment to the river, the idea of returning the Vechte to local cultural memory as a natural space developed. It is modeled on the far-reaching »Vechte Vision« in the Dutch part of the Vechte Valley that creates ecological spaces for the river. The transformation into a natural Vechte as well as a living flood plane has been worked on there since 1997. The goals comprise the adherence to the European Water Framework Directive (since 2000), the safeguarding of a continuity for flora and fauna as well as the partial return of the river to its old meanders. With the »cross-border Vechte Valley Strategy«, similar plans are thus also deeply embedded in the administration and politics on the German side since 2008. The programmatic renunciation of the river as a purely commercial landscape is intended to provide plants and animals with an improved natural environment while simultaneously taking the interests of the inhabitants in flood protection and recreation into consideration in addition to enabling the vivid Vechte Valley to be experienced by means of »gentle tourism«. The sculpture project for raumsichten will artistically reflect these design characteristics.