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The formally independent municipality Rethen is part of the municipality Vordorf in Northern Germany. First documented in 1301, it now has a population of about 1,200. Rethen is part of the Samtgemeinde Papenteich at the administrative district of Gifhorn (Lower Saxony). Together with the villages Vordorf and Eickhorst it forms the municipality Vordorf which is situated halfway between Braunschweig and Gifhorn.


Geographical position[edit]

Rethen is situated north of Braunschweig, between the Harz and the Lüneburg Heath. However, administrative it belongs to the district of Gifhorn. The village is part of the municipality Vordorf and is around 3 km northeast of the central village Vordorf. Rethen is around 4 km to the west to the German highway 4 (near Meine) and around 7 km to the north of the interchange Brunswick North (A2 /A391). Other bigger towns nearby are: Wolfsburg, Salzgitter, Wolfenbüttel, Gifhorn, Peine and Celle.


Map of the Papenteich

* distance from downtown

City of Gifhorn (16 km)
Municipality Rötgesbüttel (8 km)
Municipality Adenbüttel (2 km) Brosen windrose.svg Municipality Meine (4 km) City of Wolfsburg (22 km)
Municipality Schwülper (5 km) Eickhorst (2 km) Vordorf (4 km)
City of Braunschweig (14 km)


Rethen is located centrally on the sandy-clayey plateau of Papenteich. The ground moraine originated from the deposition of rubble and stone of the defrosting glacier at the end of the last Ice age about 12,000 years ago. Out of this a fertile Loess developed. The scenery around Rethen shows only extremely low height differences. A specialty in the Rethen area and the neighbouring areas of Meine and Vordorf sedimentary rock of marl penetrating the surface and increasing the farmland quality.


Year Inhabitants Houses Year Inhabitants Houses
1821 328 37 1950 848 91
1848 365 55 1961 687 119
1890 386 75 1970 725 134
1900 420 unknown 1980 843 unknown
1905 473 unknown 1990 879 unknown
1925[1] 499 89 2000 1222 ~310
1933[1] 478 unknown
1939[1] 503 unknown

It is not possible to find any exact population figures for the time before the year 1821. The only reliable dates are sporadic documents, mentioning the number of different farms and buildings in Rethen. In 1489 a document listed 3 Hufner (full farmers), 4 smallholdings and 13 Kötner (small Prussian house owners). This didn't change much until the next notification in 1773 with 6 Hufner, 14 Kötner and 4 Brinksitzer (lowest level farmers). An enlargement of the village started after the end of the 18th century. As a result of these sparse notes, scientists believe that between 200 and 250 people were living in the village during the middle ages.

The next enlargement was triggered by refugees of World War II. Many of them removed later further to the west. This was mainly because of the nonexistent possibilities of housing space within the village. The latest enlargement started during suburbanization in the 1990s, activated by new preparations of land for building and the vicinity to several larger cities and highways. Model calculations shows a further growth of population figures during the next decades based on the facts named above.[2]



The first signs of settlement within the boundaries of Rethen go back more than 5000 years. In 1995 megalithic tomb remains were found near the village. The settlement, belonging to the tomb, is assumed within 3 km.

Abandoned villages[edit]

In the vicinity of Rethen several abandoned villages were assumed or already found. Most of them are out of Rethens boundary nowadays. All villages has been deserted between 13th and 16th century.

  • Algesbüttel was mentioned first time in the year 1022. The place had around 7 farmes and one church. The last documentary mentioning was in 1480 as a fiefdom of Lüneburg.
  • Ossenrode (Asenroth) was mentioned first time in the year 1112. The place had around 4 farms and was situated in the north-east of Rethen. Archaeological records belongs to the 12th and 14th century.
  • Zinsrode (Sinesrode) was situated between Rethen and Vordorf. The place is located but not ascertained. At the surface area several arranged stones can be seen. The last documentary mentioning was in the end of the 15th century.
  • Wendenbüttel (Wendenbutle) was mentioned first time in the year 1007 and was situated in the south of Rethen. Archaeological records belongs to the 10th and 14th century.

Other abandoned villages around Rethen are: Dudanroth (1000 n.Chr), Bromhorst (1007 n.Chr.) and Arnsbüttel (never documentary mentioned).

Founding of Rethen[edit]

The history of places names is, besides documents, the most important indicator to explore the exact time of founding. In older research papers, Rethen (Rethene, Rethen, Rethne, Reten, Rethenne) was deduced from Rietheim. Within this word, Riet means a swampy area. The so-called –heim is mostly linked to some of the earliest settlements, partly going back up to the Cherusci. But no continued settlement is proved about that long time.

In the latest Scientific published papers (1994), Rethen is considered as a frankish founding, related to the founding of Meine. It is believed, that the Franks founded several settlements while they subdued the Saxons in the 8th century. In that century, an important road crossed the, in that time existing, Northforest in east–west direction, supposable in the vicinity of Rethen and Meine. A number of examples were already explored, where several Frankish settlements where assigned to one central village. However, this relation continued just short time. Already in the 11th century, the border between the Bishopric of Halberstadt and the Bishopric of Hildesheim divided both villages. Several tryouts of the different Bishops of Hildesheim to take over the Rethen area failed. The border existed for around 500 years, up to the Protestant Reformation.

The first documentary mentioning of Rethen was in the year 1301 by the name Rethene. The document evidence a sale of estate in Rethen. Knight Balduin von Wenden sold his estates in Rethen to the Monastery St. Crucis in Braunschweig. In this era, Rethen was an only agricultural village.

The masters of Rethen[edit]

The old church of Rethen before its demolition in 1901

Already around the year 1211 "Heinrich Bethman from Chur in the land of Rhetia" received the feudality about court, jus patronatus about church and the right of hunting. The documentary mentioning of these rights was firstly found in a document from the year 1383/85. Based on his long-standing experience in the war service Bethmann built his house in the kind of a water castle on a small island in the village pond. During the following decades the village was attacked several times by robber barons. In the years 1308, 1380, 1381 and 1388 they destroyed Rethen nearly completely. At one of these raids (presumably on 13 July 1381) the water castle was also destroyed.

Consequently the masters of Rethen left the village after about 150 years of presence and relocated in Braunschweig. Also the left Rethen, they kept the patronage right about Rethen. The family became extinct presumably in the 18th century. After the connection of the parishes of Adenbüttel and Rethen in the first half of the 16th century, the master von Rethen and the Freiherr von Marenholz (patronage right in Adenbüttel) concerted the patronage right in the combined church municipality. Nevertheless, in the course of the time the right went over more and more to the family of Marenholz. This exercised it up to the death of the last patron (baron of Marenholz-Nolte) in 1969.

Early modern period till modernity[edit]

Map from 1600, showing the villages in the region Papenteich

In the year 1625, during the Danish intervention in the Thirty Years' War, troops of Emperors Ferdinand II troops made their winter camp near Rethen. Houses and Church were looted and the citizens had to work at sconces construction near Wolfenbüttel. Also in the 1640s lootings are reported more than once, mostly by Swedish soldiers.

The village was spared by the Seven Years' War as well as during the French Revolutionary Wars and was charged only by taxes and war loans. Only worth mentioning is the murdering of a shepherd by French Dragoons in 1758. During the Austro-Prussian War in 1866 as well as during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870/71 people from Rethen were drawn and returned home without worse injuries.

Living in the village was mainly affected by the changes in agriculture during the 19th century. These concerned several reorganisations of the local surface as well as the intensification of husbandry linked with strong deforestation. In the second half of the 19th century an intensive cultivation of sugar beets starts, strongly favoured by the construction of the sugar beet factory in Meine.

World War I[edit]

In common with many Europeans, the people of Rethen expressed a great enthusiasm for World War I at the start of the conflict in 1914. In all, 78 citizens were drawn into the German Empire's army; 14 of them died during the war. In the winter of 1914/15, refugees from Russian-occupied territories were quartered in Rethen. French prisoners of war were brought to Rethen to help in road construction and agricultural work. By the end of war, especially during the “Steckrübenwinter” (Rutabaga winter) in 1916/17, ordinary life became difficult for the people of Rethen as it did for their fellow countrymen throughout Germany. In spite of food rationing, high unemployment, and a generally poor economy, no revolution took place. In the last days of the war, a workers and soldiers council arose, but after a short time it collapsed and was followed by a parish council.

World War II[edit]

During World War II no big war enthusiasm took place in Rethen. The agricultural work had to be done by women and old people. They were partly supported by foreign workers and Prisoners of war, mainly from France, Poland and Russia. The treatment of the different ethics was quit unequal. While the Russians remained in prisoner-of-war camps, the Polish and French were accommodated with the villagers. However, even this accommodation was mostly rather inadequate cause the villagers feared denunciation and announcement by other inhabitants loyal to government in case of a friendly treatment of the prisoners.

The heaviest bomb attack Rethen experienced on 23 August 1944 at 11:30 o'clock. Four gravity bombs came down close-by the village. Besides, a larger amount of incendiary bombs were thrown down directly above the village and caused several conflagrations. The community building, two stables, three wheat stocks and four residential buildings were burned down completely. Fires in other buildings could be extinguished by the inhabitants themselves. Fire brigades from the whole Papenteich and Braunschweig appeared. In spite of the massive attack, no people were injured.

On 10 April 1945, American soldiers, coming from Peine, occupied Rethen peacefully. The military order to the Volkssturm to defend the village was refused, and the weapons were sunk in the village pond. Most American soldiers stayed just a few days, and only a small part remained for one quarter.

Culture and sightseeing[edit]


Linguistically Rethen belongs to the German language area around Hannover. However, a part of the population still use German combined with phrases from the old Brunswick and the Papenteich Low Saxon. In former times the everyday speech of Rethen was an Eastphalian Papenteich dialect, whereas the speech in school and church was Standard German.

With the changes of the 20th century, the Low Saxon dialect disappeared more and more. After World War II it was displaced completely by standard German.


Denomination People Percentage
Protestantism/Lutheranism 740 61%
Roman Catholicism 114 9%
Atheism and others rest 30%

Since the Protestant Reformation the people in Rethen were part of the Lutheranism church and highly affected by the ecclesiastical life.

The first changes were noted in the early 19th century. Until then 350 people visited the worship in average. This number reduced during the next decades (1938: 100 people) to the present-day level of 70 (1990s). Likewise the percentage of Protestant interest in the whole population decreased from 91% to 61%.

Voluntary association[edit]

Fire Brigade Rethen

The following voluntary associations and institutions are situated in Rethen:

  • Skittle Clubs: founded 1928 (“Morgenstern – Morning star) and 1954 (“Gemütlichkeit”) the members of both Skittle Clubs: meeting regularly every week.
  • TSV Rethen: founded 1947 the club had about 637 member in the year 2000. The club offers volleyball, tennis, gymnastics, dance and t'ai chi ch'uan. The football department had been outsourced in 2006.
  • FSV Adenbüttel Rethen: founded on the 29. April 2006 as a merger of the football departments of TSV Rethen and MTV Adenbüttel.
  • Schützenverein: founded 1962 the Schützenverein had about 637 members in the year 2000. The club owns an air gunshooting range and organises the yearly Schützenfest
  • Youth Club Rethen: founded 1973 is the youth club Rethen the oldest self-governing youth club in Northern Germany. In 1998 the club had more than 90 members.
  • Choir „Polyhymnia“: founded 1895


Megalithic tomb[edit]

The megalithic grave of Rethen

In 1995, during farming activities, a Megalithic tomb (Dolmen) was found within the Rethen district (near the Maaßel forest). Six (rather small) stones form an arrangement, straightened in east-west direction. Based on investigations of the local archaeological department, the tomb is dated on 3,000 B.C. It is assumed, that the arrangement was a collective grave, build as a kind of cottage. The Neolithic settlement belonging to the grave is supposed in a vicinity of about 3 km.

The grave is probably a disturbed arrangement, which was covered earlier with wood or stones. Some bigger stones as well as the cover were probably removed in former times and used, e.g., for the building of a house. The arrangement was made accessible and handed over to the public in 1996. The Rethen Dolmen was the first known megalithic tomb in the district of Gifhorn.[3]

Economy and infrastructure[edit]


  • Road network: The nowadays road network was constructed in the second half of the 19th century. The streets names was established in 1976. Previously the houses were just numbered.
  • Freah water/sewage: Although Rethen ever has more than enough clear groundwater, the village was attached to the public water supply network in 1963. In 1977 Rethen was connected to the sewage system as well.
  • Energie: The electric power supply was installed in 1916.
  • natural gas The grid gas supply was installed in 1996

Public facilities[edit]

Kindergarten Rethen

Kindergarten: In the year 1992 a kindergarten was established opposite to the sports field. During the preceding centuries children from Rethen visited the kindergartens in the surrounding villages and cities. The operator of the kindergarten is the “Kindergarten Vordorf e. V.“. The kindergarten offers places for up to 50 children in two age-mixed groups.


In its early times Rethen belonged to area of the Welf dynasty, but changed a lot between the House of Brunswick and the House of Lüneburg. With the construction of the Gifhorn District in 1549, Rethen belongs to the Gografschaft Rötgesbüttel. Up to 1972 Gifhorn belonged to the region of Lüneburg (formally principality Lüneburg). After the district reform of 1972, Gifhorn was affiliated to the region of Braunschweig. In the short era of the Kingdom of Westphalia it belongs to the Canton Rötgesbüttel and with that to the Département Oker.

In 1970 Rethen and 14 other municipalities formed the Samtgemeinde Papenteich with the administrative centre in Meine. In this time Rethen was still an independent municipality. The union with Vordorf and Eickhorst followed under the new name “Gemeinde Vordorf” (Municipality Vordorf) with the election of the first municipality council on June 28, 1974.

Further reading[edit]

  • Falk, Michael (2001), Geschichtliches aus Rethen – Namen, Zahlen und Daten, Dokumente und Fotos; Adenbüttel 2001
  • Der Landkreis Gifhorn. Hrsg. von Niedersächsischen Landesverwaltungsamt. Bremen 1972. (Die Landkreise in Gifhorn, Bd. 26. ISBN 3-87172-327-4.)
  • Klose, Heinz (1983) Geschichtliches aus dem Papenteich; Meine 1983; ISBN 3-87040-029-3.
  • Meibeyer, Wolfgang (2004) Siedlungskundliches über den Papenteich; Schriftreihe des Landkreises Gifhorn; Gifhorn 2004; ISBN 3-929632-70-5

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Administrative history district of Gifhorn, 1939 (German)
  2. ^ Contribution for research project City 2030 (German)
  3. ^ The Megalithic tomb of Rethen (German)