“What makes the Verein Naturschutzpark quite unique, however, is the composition of its members. The King of Württemberg and numerous princes of all ruling houses belong to it. But also day laborers and cottagers are represented in its lists. Next to the university professor in white hair stands the youthful Springinsfeld of the Volksschule. Both Reich Germans and the Austrians shake hands in him.”
Wilhelm Bode (1914): Die Heimatschutzbewegung. In: Lüneburger Heimatbuch Bd. II, S. 848
The men of the publishing house Kosmos-Verlag
After the foundation of the association in 1909, Kosmos-Verlag declared that the publishing house would carry out all organisational and other preliminary work free of charge until further notice. This created a solid foundation for the establishment and further development of the VNP, which was now registered in Stuttgart, the headquarters of Kosmos.
For five decades Stuttgart was the sole office. The members and the newsletter were still handled from Stuttgart until the 1980s, after the office had moved to Hamburg.
For many years, Kosmos-Verlag made its leading men available to the VNP as honorary members of the board, namely Dr. Curt Floericke, Friedrich Regensberg, Euchar Nehmann senior and, from 1950, Rolf Keller as secretaries, and Euchar Nehmann senior, Richard Holzwarth, Rolf Keller and Euchar Nehmann junior as treasurers.
Hofrat Walther Keller chaired the association for one year after the death of Friedrich Roselius in 1941.
Dr. Curt Floericke (1896 – 1934)
An article published in April 1909, “Umschau über die Naturschutzbewegung” (Review of the Nature Conservation Movement), drew the attention of many people to the need for nature conservation. The author of this article was the scientific director of Kosmos, Dr. Curt Floericke.
Floericke published some 100 smaller and larger books as well as around 400 essays and smaller publications in magazines. This is how he inspired many people for nature. He and his wife were founding members of the VNP.
Hofrat Walther Keller (1869 ‐ 1952)
Walther Keller, the founder of the Kosmos publishing house, took up the idea put forward by Dr. Curt Floericke in 1908 and committed himself with his whole person to its realisation.
Walther Keller was born in Stuttgart on 30th April 1869. At the age of twenty-four, he and his friend Euchar Nehmann acquired the Franckh’sche Verlagshandlung in Suttgart, which had been founded in 1822.
Kosmos was founded at his initiative in 1904. Walther Keller had set himself the task of using this magazine to familiarise all those interested in the natural sciences with the progress of research and to show the many relationships between the individual fields.
In this way, he hoped not only to make the findings of science accessible to nature lovers, but also to give them the opportunity to create their own view of the world.
From the founding of the association until his death, Walther Keller managed the Stuttgart office of the Verein Naturschutzpark. In accordance with his character, he worked more in private than in public, but he was the great driving force throughout his life and knew how to transfer his enthusiasm for the idea of nature conservation parks to all the members of the board and all the staff.
As vice-chairman of the association he took over in 1941 after the sudden death of the then first chairman Friedrich Roselius, until Hans Domizlaff was elected as the new first chairman in 1943. He himself had proposed this election, out of the realisation that an effective supervision of the Heidepark from Stuttgart was not possible.
County Administrator Fritz Ecker
In Winsen, county administrator Fritz Ecker, born in 1859, was an important man with political connections. He liaised with the Prussian authorities and the Prussian House of Representatives. This was of inestimable importance to the VNP. Ecker was a member of the VNP’s select working committee from 1910 – 1924.
As a great friend of nature and local history, he was concerned about the increasing destruction of nature. Lively correspondence proves his acquaintance with Wilhelm Bode.
Shortly after the VNP was founded, Ecker proposed the Lüneburg Heath area to the VNP as a North German nature conservation park. After an appraisal by Dr. Curt Floericke, Wilhelm Bode and Fritz Ecker travelled to Stuttgart for a meeting of the VNP’s working committees. The meeting then decided to purchase a heath farm which also included the Wilseder Berg.
The decisive factor here was certainly the possibility of being granted an annual subsidy from the state as well as a lottery, which Ecker mentioned. These were also granted in 1911 and enabled further purchases in today’s nature reserve.
Ecker was a friend of the Hapag director Albert Ballin, who let him take part in a North Country trip on the German Emperor’s yacht. This enabled Ecker to report to Wilhelm II. on the VNP’s endeavours and concerns. The VNP received permission from the Emperor to launch a 2-million lottery. These proceeds were used to make the first major purchases in the Heide and thus to shape the basic features of the Heidepark.
Ecker continued to promote the Heide in the Prussian House of Representatives and was able to draw the attention of members of all parliamentary groups to the Heide, so that many donations supported the work of the VNP.
Pastor Wilhelm Bode (1860 – 1927)
A name that belongs to the nature reserve like heather to juniper: Wilhelm Bode, pastor in Egestorf from 1886 – 1923.
He was strongly committed to preserving the heath and, together with County Administrator Fritz Ecker, was finally able to convince the VNP to purchase the Wilseder Berg. Later he was appointed by the VNP as administrator of the association’s own land on the heath.
Wilhelm Wolfgang Dietrich Friedrich Bode, born in Lüneburg in 1860, became pastor in Egestorf at the age of 26. His work went far beyond the tasks set by the parish office. Among other things, he founded one of the first savings and loan associations in the province of Hanover in 1888, following the ideas of F. W. Raiffeisen. Thanks to his work, Egestorf received a central water supply at an early stage.
From 1905 onwards, his efforts to protect the Lüneburg Heath became more and more the focus of his life. Later, not least because of this, he came into conflict with his ecclesiastical superiors and was dismissed from his office in 1923.
Wilhelm Bode claims to have received the impetus that made him the initiator of nature conservation in the Lüneburg Heath from his father. During a hike to the Wilseder Berg in 1887, his father is said to have told him: “Whoever preserves this picture for future generations would be doing a great, good work.” He knew how to use his contacts with the Administrator of the Winsen county, Fritz Ecker, just as he knew how to use his contacts with the Lüneburg District Committee.
In 1906 he was able to persuade Prof. Thomsen to buy the Totengrund, and he also convinced the VNP to buy the Wilseder Berg in 1910. Thus the cornerstone was laid for the North German nature conservation park.
He was appointed by the board as custodian of the so-called Heidepark. After his death on 10th June 1927, his ashes were scattered from the Wilseder Berg, as he wished.
“The history of the association could not have been written 100 years ago if the idea of volunteering, solidarity and private initiative had not dominated the thinking and actions of the association members, especially the members of the management bodies, from the very beginning. Without the members’ willingness to donate, without their regular membership fees, without the generous patronage of individuals and without the considerable endowments from bequests of association members, the conservation of the Heath would not have succeeded in the past and would not have been secured for the future.”
Hans Joachim Röhrs, Chairman from 1993 – 2008 and current honorary chairman of the VNP
The Chairmen of the Association and the Foundation
Erwin Bubeck, chairman from 1909 – 1927
The first chairman of the VNP was Erwin Bubeck, who held his office from its foundation in 1909 until 1927.
He was a landowner in Württemberg, came from an upper middle-class background, had received professional training in the metallurgical industry, but was nevertheless, or perhaps precisely because of this, a passionate advocate of the idea of nature conservation.
Although he came from and lived in southern Germany, he loved the heath landscape above all else and fulfilled his task in the difficult initial phase of the association with determination and assertiveness, but also with the ability to reconcile opposites.
Dr. Henrich Wilkens, chairman from 1927 – 1940
Bubeck’s successor in 1927 was the district court director Dr. Henrich Wilckens from Bremen. During his term of office, he acquired the Tütsberg estate in 1928 (today the association’s landscape conservation farm with an attached hotel) together with the Benninghöfen farm. The acquisition brought about a considerable increase in the amount of farmland.
Parts of the German Wehrmacht cast an eye on parts of the VNP’s territory in the Heide at this time. However, the military training areas were then established in Munster and Bergen. Dr. Wilckens succeeded in convincing the Wehrmacht not to use the Heidepark itself for military purposes of any kind.
Friedrich Roselius, chairman from 1940 – 1941
After Wilken’s death in 1940, the Bremen merchant Friedrich Roselius was elected as the third chairman. One year later he died in an accident.
Hofrat Walther Keller, chairman from 1941 – 1942
In 1941 and 1942, Hofrat Keller from Stuttgart, who was a partner in the Kosmos publishing house and an active supporter in years of board work and at the same time also the managing director for the association’s activities, took over as chairman of the board.
As the best expert on the entire development of the association from the beginning, he now took on the overall responsibility in the most difficult time of the war.
He was one of the personalities who, as a member of the Executive Board, had borne responsibility for the association’s management for the longest time.
Due to his publishing activities, he had many connections, especially to the circle of people for whom nature conservation was a matter of the heart. And he was also one of the main financial supporters of the association.
As long as he was in charge, the headquarters of the association and the administrative office were in Stuttgart.
Hans Domizlaff, chairman from 1943 – 1953
In 1943, Hans Domizlaff (born 1892, died 1971) took over the office of the first chairman.
Through his efforts, the establishment of a military airfield within the protected area was prevented and British tanks were pushed back from the Central Heath, the Totengrund and Wilseder Berg to the Wintermoor – Haverbeck – Behringen road. Domizlaff conducted business from his residence in Egestorf.
The hardships of the war and post-war period did not permit any major development initiatives. His work was determined by the need to preserve with all his strength what had already been achieved.
In Austria, he prevented the destruction of the Krimml Waterfalls through industrial exploitation. Disputes with the British led to Domizlaff’s imprisonment for several months and the loss of old files and documents of the association due to British confiscation.
Hans Domizlaff was voted out of office as chairman in 1953, but remained associated with the VNP as honorary chairman.
Dr. Alfred Toepfer, chairman from 1954 – 1985
After taking over the chairmanship of the association in 1954, Alfred Toepfer (born 1894 – died 1993) steered the political discussion in a direction that raised the issue of nature conservation and environmental protection in the public’s consciousness much earlier than any political party would ever have understood.
Right at the beginning of his term of office, he published the “Nature Park Idea”, which has developed into more than 100 nature parks all over Germany almost 50 years later.
In the course of his years as chairman, he enlarged the acreage, intensified the keeping of Heidschnucken and founded his own operating company in order to be able to offer an efficient gastronomic structure to the Heide’s restarting tourism.
For years he conducted intensive legal disputes about military exercises in the heath areas of the nature reserve. With the foundation of the Alfred Toepfer Academy in Schneverdingen, he was able to realise the idea of training people for nature conservation with state support at the end of his term of office.
Fritz Kellinghusen, chairman from 1985 – 1993
A great success of the Kellinghusen era (1984 to 1994) was the conclusion of the Public Law Agreement with the State of Lower Saxony.
When the later President of the Hamburg Administrative Court took over the chair, the association was poorly secured financially. The only financial support came from lease payments by the federal government for the military use of the association’s land.
The agreement with the state assured the association annual financial support for the implementation of heathland management. This was a big step towards better economic security for the association, at least in the area of landscape conservation, which was also geared towards sustainability.
Hans Joachim Röhrs, chairman from 1993 – 2008
In 1993, Hans Joachim Röhrs, then chief county director in the district of Harburg, was elected chairman.
He had to overcome a difficult phase of internal instability of the association, where the objectives of the association were at stake. The uncertain financial situation of the association also led to the heath landscape being endangered, as no permanent management could be guaranteed. The renaturation of the ravaged former military training areas also had to be initiated.
With the help of television, financial and advertising resources were activated and public attention mobilised in a “Save the Heath” campaign. As a result, in addition to an increase in the number of Schnucken herds, a fundamental rehabilitation of all heath areas was brought about according to plan and with new technical resources.
In the office of the association, an administrative organisation was formed that was able to cope with the demands and requirements of the digital age in terms of personnel and office technology.
Other cornerstones of his chairmanship are the establishment of the Stiftung Naturschutzpark Lüneburger Heide in 2002 and finally, in 2008, the transfer of the German association’s assets to the foundation, so that the implementation of the association’s purpose is secured in a lasting way.
He was elected honorary chairman at the 2008 general assembly.
Wilfried Holtmann, chairman of association and foundation from 2008 – 2018
Wilfried Holtmann, a business graduate and retired department director of the former district government of Lüneburg, took over the chairmanship of the Association at a time when improved state funding policies, the establishment of the association’s own foundation and a targeted liaising with all institutions of the federal government, the state of Lower Saxony and the municipalities have changed the general conditions for the fulfilment of the Association’s tasks in the long term.