About 90 kilometers southeast of Hamburg, at the B216 between Lüneburg and Dannenberg, the small village of Hitzacker is situated on the west bank of the Elbe. For decades, this river was dividing between East and West Germany. The river bank here is an archaeological reservation, with many remains from the Bronze Age.
The Archaeological Centre Hitzacker (AZH), founded thanks to the engagement of Dr Arne Lucke, is part of this reservation and counts 1.5 hectares. It counts three ‘Bronze Age’ longhouses of which one burnt down 2008 but will be replaced in 2009. Besides that, there is a house for the dead, a labyrinth, a well and a pedagogic environmental path. One of the longhouses contains a modern exhibition.
Visitors get a clear view on the Bronze Age and how “we know what we know” – i.e. some appreciation for archaeology. The words “understanding” and “experiencing” are keywords with the public. A lot is explained about the characteristics of the region in prehistory – it is worth mentioning that continuous habitation has been proven from Stone Age up to the present day.
The AZH goals are:
• Continuation of excavations in the area;
• The involvement of tourists through active participation in the excavations;
• The reconstruction and presentation of archaeological finds from the direct vicinity;
• The “experiencing” of the recreational area with the AZH by different public, university and school focused actions, following the trends of living and experimental archaeology.
Themes presented are for example transport, stone tools or textile techniques, always with a clear starting point in local archaeological finds.
Contacts between archaeologists in the area and the AZH itself are close, mainly because the centre was founded by the regional archaeologist himself in the early nineties. Public interest in excavation is rising, but this does not necessarily lead to more investments into archaeology as a profession.
The amount of schools attending education programs is under stress already for several years, due to changes in policy for such out of school educational offers for Hamburg and Niedersachsen. Both for pupils and adults who registered before arrival, there are guided tours and an “action program” taking two and a half hours – not only about prehistoric techniques and ways of life, but as well about the theory behind the centre and archaeological methods. After the guided tour, one can try in small groups different tools and techniques.
Despite the fact that the region does not count many other tourist attractions, there is not much local interest in developing the AZH to better fit the tourist public. One of the other attractions is the lake next doors. For any kind of visitors, the entrance fees remain at a very reasonable level. The AZH is for its tourist income dependent on its main events of the year under the phrase “days of living archaeology”.