Germany: History of their fascination and love of forests and trees

Throughout their history, Germans have had a fascination and love of
forests and trees. The country’s woodlands and glades have been an
inspiration to writers, philosophers and everyday citizens alike. In
the works of such poets as Rainer Maria Rilke, trees stand undaunted
in the mysterious German forest, permanently providing shelter and
succour, wilderness and nature. Virtually every German town has woods
on its outskirts, originally planted to provide timber for

As one forester put it: “The woods are not some remote
ideal to be approached in literature or hiking boots, but an intimate
part of even the most urbanized life.” Mythical glorification of trees
first reached its zenith in the songs, prose and paintings of the
Romantic period. The Nazis were likewise obsessed with the concept of
the forest. In 1935, Hitler’s deputy and later war criminal Hermann
Goering, from his forest hunting retreat, said: “We have become used
to seeing the German nation as eternal. There is no better symbol for
us than the forest, which has and always will be eternal. “The eternal
forest and an eternal nation — they belong together,” he said before
the defeat of the totalitarian Nazi state. But in a Germany decimated
after World War II, Germans still kept heading to their beloved
forests. “It was there,” argued Berlin journalist Klaus Hartung, “that
the German soul was able to exhale everything that it had inhaled
during the history of Germany.”

By the late 1970s the decline of the
forests had become apparent. In the 1980s in Bavaria alone, 2.5
million hectares of woodland had been visibly damaged by pollution.
Vast numbers of trees in the fabled Black Forest of Baden-Wuerttemburg
were under threat. The German word for it is “Waldsterben,” or forest
death. One-third of the western part of the country’s surface area is
forest land. The shock ran deep when reports became commonplace that
the spruce and fir were dying. Acid rain, an airborne poison that
originates in factories, power plants and automobile engines was
blamed. Groups such as the German Association for the Protection of
Forest and Woodlands campaigned to save the woods. Dozens of other
environmental groups, including Robin Hood, the Black Forest Union and
the Freudenstadt Action Unit Against the Dying Forest, were dedicated
to saving trees.

Since then, an environmental revolution has taken
place. Power plants’ smoke is filtered, and catalytic converters have
been installed in cars, reducing emissions. Germany’s Greens party has
also helped bring about change. Now, Germany is the global market
leader in wind and solar energy, and is a pioneer in climate policy,
hosting regular, lively debates on environmental policies. That does
not mean the nation’s forests are now suddenly glowing with health.
The latest tree vitality measurements in German forests reveal that
the picture remains grim due to the influence of climate change and

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