As the glacier tongues of the last Ice Age melted away, the original glacial valley of the River Elbe resulted. The melted water left an alluvial area between higher lying dry geest landscape. The Hamburg street Elbchaussee runs along the edge of the northern geest, and one looks over the glacial valley from the Süllberg in Hamburg Blankenese to the south up to the Harburg mountains: these are today's River Elbe and the cultivated landscape of the Altes Land. Older Saxon settlements are traceable at elevations by the river where the inhospitable marshland exposed to the tides was cultivated on the initiative of the archiepiscopal rulers about 900 years ago. Dutch settlement contractors and new settlers built dykes and ditch systems and shaped today's structures of the 170 square kilometres of this large marsh region. The reward for the hard work of the settlers who dug hundreds of kilometres of ditches and dykes with shovels and wheelbarrows was the life as a free farmer on one’s own land.

Favoured by the naturally fertile marsh soils, the mild maritime climate on the Elbe river banks and the proximity of customers through waterways to the Hanseatic towns of Buxtehude, Stade, Hamburg and towards Berlin the three prime economic sectors developed: growing fruit, trading fruit and shipping. In the early 1990s, fruit-growing in the Altes Land became based on the guidelines for controlled integrated production. Scientific research and support for integrated and biological cultivation is provided on location by the orcharding centre Obstbauzentrum Esteburg. The cultivated landscape Altes Land is today the largest unified fruit-growing region of Northern Europe. About 2000 fruit-growing enterprises, fruit marketing organizations, traders, developers and subcontractors for fruit-growing and storage technology generate turnover of about 120 million euros annually here by the Lower Elbe river.