Natural Monument to Contemporary History: The “Green Belt”
Ms Kreutz, the “Green Belt” extends for nearly 1,400 kilometres in Germany alone. How can it best be described?
The “Green Belt” is a wildlife habitat that stretches the length of the former Iron Curtain through Europe and also Germany. Because this was a restricted military zone for nearly 40 years, a biotope network has evolved there along the border strip.
As a result, a natural environment has developed and been preserved which is unlike any other in today’s cultivated landscape. Many endangered species of animals and plants have found refuge there, among them kingfishers, otters, black storks and whinchats.
Protection from extinction
What sort of habitats are we talking about here?
The “Green Belt”, in other words, comprises a broad variety of habitats which snake their way along the former inner-German border. It is estimated that it is home to at least 1,200 plants and animals that are on the Red List of Threatened Species.
The Green Belt is a German-wide conservation project that was initiated in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. What problems do the conservationists face?
The single biggest threat to the biotope network is agriculture. Following the collapse of East Germany, these areas were to all intents and purposes occupied by farmers, mainly from the West, who simply extended their existing fields by ploughing up adjacent stretches of the Green Belt.
Road-building was also a huge problem, especially after reunification. There is no doubt that this was necessary, but because large swathes of the former border strip belonged to the Federal Government, motorway slip roads were often built in the Green Belt. This resulted in some biotopes being cut up or largely destroyed.
Land for everyone
What steps have BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany) and other conservationists taken in recent years to preserve the “Green Belt” as completely as possible?
Virtually unknown natural monument?
The “Green Belt” project has been up and running for over 20 years. How come it is still not very widely known in Germany?
What is BUND doing to get people interested in the Green Belt and learn more about it?
For one thing, public relations work is very important and must be conducted on a huge scale. We also organize projects which are less directly related to conservation, such as a tourism project entitled “Experience the Green Belt”. Besides protecting the environment, another aspect plays an important role in this project: ultimately, the Green Belt is a living monument to German and European contemporary history that needs to be preserved.
A landscape to keep history alive
In what sense?
This landscape is a reminder of Germany’s division, which is precisely why it is of interest to many people. For many of those who come to visit, the “Green Belt” has a direct and personal relevance: perhaps they had relatives or friends who lived in the former GDR, or themselves grew up close to the border.
We are also noticing that the younger generation is gradually losing touch with this aspect of history. The project is a very good way to grab their attention again and show them the traces and relics of history in the landscape.
The “Green Belt Germany” was the model for the “Green Belt Europe”, which extends along the Iron Curtain from the north of Norway all the way to the southern Balkans – stretching 12,500 kilometres through 24 countries.
Initial ideas were put forward in 2002, and the project itself took concrete form two years later. What happens in these countries differs considerably, but all the initiatives have agreed that the former Iron Curtain should be preserved as a lifeline, a landscape of memory and a monument to the overcoming of the Cold War – also as a way of helping to eliminate prejudices between the different countries and cultures.
conducted the interview. She is a journalism graduate who works as a freelance author, among other things for broadcaster Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) in Cologne.
Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
Any questions about this article? Please write to us!