Tag Archives: Germany

#Germany: Life after #lignite: how #Lusatia has returned to #nature

A landscape wounded by coal mining is being transformed into Germany’s lake district.

By Peter Mellgard in Pritzen.
A flooded Lake Zwenkau in Zwenkau, Germany.A flooded Lake Zwenkau in Zwenkau, Germany. Photograph: Jan Woitas/Corbis

Down a single lane road lined by oak trees, about 90 minutes southeast of Berlin, the tiny village of Pritzen sits on a peninsula that juts into Lake Altdöbern. It’s something of a miracle that Pritzen still exists.

Neighboring villages were demolished in the 1980s to make room for an expanding lignite strip mine and Pritzen was slated to be swallowed up next. By 1987 almost all of the 500 or so residents had packed up and left, chased away by the suffocating dust and noise from the mine and the threat of the imminent destruction of their homes.

But then in 1992, after three quarters of the town had already been bulldozed or dismantled, including the centuries-old church and its cemetary, the decision was made to close the mine.

Pritzen still stood, barely, clinging to the edge of a precipice that dropped 70 metres into the mine. Sensing a miraculous change of fortune, villagers began to return. They rebuilt their demolished homes and began replanting their fields and gardens. The steeple from the vanished village of nearby Wolkenhain, its beams dating back to 1485, was erected where the old Pritzen church once stood.

The Vattenfall lignite mine and cooling towers of the lignite-fired power plant in Jaenschwalde, Griessen, Germany.The Vattenfall lignite mine and cooling towers of the lignite-fired power plant in Jaenschwalde, Griessen, Germany. Photograph: Patrick Pleul/DPA/Corbis

“It is a prominent example of a wounded landscape,” said Katja Sophia Wolf, the head of the Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) student house in nearby Großraschen and one of the leaders of the Pritzen revitalisation project. “Many houses were destroyed by the mine. The character of Pritzen was changed completely.”

Lignite mining has a long history in this region, called Lusatia. The first mine was started in 1844, along with briquette factories that compacted the lignite into burnable bricks, and related manufacturing and metallurgy industries. A flood of workers arrived for new jobs. Under the East German government, the mines were nationalised and expanded. By 1975, Germany had become the world’s largest coal producer, and by the time the country was reunified the industry employed 140,000 people. With the mines came environmental destruction and pollution of the air, ground, and water on a massive scale.

Lignite mining also wreaked havoc among the region’s small villages. According to the Archive of Lost Places, a museum, 136 small and medium towns have been swallowed up by the mines, their residents resettled or evicted. 25,000 people have lost their homes over the years. Just last month, thousands of people protested at Kolkwitz, forming a human chain four-mile long in protest at plans to demolish the Lusatian village for a new lignite mine.

Nevertheless, Lusatian lignite was essential to the German economy and a vital source of regional pride and jobs in the region. “Prior to industrialisation, Lower Lusatia was desperately poor. Only with the energy industry did modest prosperity arrive in our area,” said mayor Holger Kelch of university city Cottbus.

Then came reunification. Almost all the mines in southern Lusatia were closed. A pressing question arose: what to do with the deep, expansive open pits that scar the area and other messy leftovers from decades of rampant lignite mining? And how to repair the environment? It was a puzzle, but also an opportunity.

A young woman skates past an explanatory sign that shows what adjacent Bärwalder See lake, near Boxberg, once looked like.A young woman skates past an explanatory sign that shows what adjacent Bärwalder See lake, near Boxberg, once looked like. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

To solve it, the government set up the Lausitz and Middle Germany Mining Administrative Company, or LMBV, in 1994. “Our duty is to rehabilitate all the former state-owned mining areas from the GDR period,” said Jörg Schlenstedt, an engineer at LMBV. “The mines were closed down but their legacy was not finalised. Recultivation, rehabilitation, transformation. That’s our job.”

LMBV floods the old mines, turning them into lakes. It treats and cleans water polluted by mining. It replants forests, sells land to be used for fields of solar panels and wind turbines, and encourages agriculture. Even the fish are returning, colonising the artificial lakes by way of new canals that didn’t previously exist or were too acidic to support life. “We can’t bring the area back to its former state, but our aim is to create a useful, natural landscape that provides new chances to the people living here, and also for the next generation,” said Schlenstedt. “All the old natural functions of this area, from before mining, will work again.”

LMBV created 24 artificial lakes in this part of Lusatia and 140 sq km of water surface is newly available for swimming and boating. “That’s one-third more lake area than there was before lignite mining,” said Uwe Steinhuber, a spokesman for the company. The Lusatian lake district is now Europe’s largest artificial lake area.

It has been a long and difficult process. “When we first went to look at one of the mines, it was like a journey to Mars,” said Wolf of IBA, a century-old organisation that deploys artists and architects in formerly industrial areas around Germany. Photos of the excursion show Wolf and her colleagues trudging through an alien landscape, obscured by swirling clouds of grey dust so thick it blocked out the sunlight.

Like LMBV, IBA also works to help this region recover from mining, but in different ways. “IBA didn’t want to hide the industrial heritage, but to show it,” said Sören Hoika, who now runs tours to the completed IBA attractions. “The idea is to build a connection to the past and to the environment.”

An aerial view of Zwenkau lake in Zwenkau, Germany. Flooding old mines have created huge network of lakes in Lusatia.An aerial view of Zwenkau lake in Zwenkau, Germany. Flooding old mines have created huge network of lakes in Lusatia. Photograph: Jan Woitas/EPA

IBA came to Lusatia in 2000 and stayed 11 years; 30 projects for new landscapes appeared across the region. They include marinas and sandy beaches that offer incoming tourists boating and watersports opportunities, a former power plant restored for art exhibits and techno parties, towers where tourists can gaze over the former mines, and a former mine purposely left untouched, its low ridges and basin floor slowly being retaken by grass, marshland, insects, and birds.

The rehabilitation process has not been free of hiccups and opponents, and decades of lignite mining have left scars that will take many years to heal. Recently, parts of the River Spree turned rust-orange, a result of the increased iron hydroxide dislodged from the soil by years of mining. The river flows north through the Lusatia mining areas, collecting harmful chemicals along the way. There are fears that the polluted water could reach the protected forest and river haven of Spreewald, and even all the way to Berlin.

Some residents, especially those who have lived here for many years, dislike the changes. “They are very conflicted,” Höika said. “They want to be proud of their past. That was one of the most important things IBA had to learn. How to work with locals, how to celebrate the mining history and at the same time create a nice and interesting new area.”

“Their whole lives they believed this was an area where work is important,” Wolf added. “It was dirty and polluted because it had to be. When they first learned that IBA had brought people to see the mess and the destruction, they were ashamed.”

Still, most residents hope the future belongs to tourism. 500,000 tourists stayed overnight last year in the lake district , according to Marcus Heberle at the tourism board. Beside the new lakes there are hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, and theatres; guides offer tours along an industrial heritage route, showing off the vast briquette factory in Knappenrode and an 11,000-ton conveyor bridge in nearby Lichterfeld. Coal may have scarred this land, but its legacy is driving new life into the region. “By 2025, we hope to have a million guests per year,” Heberle said. “The people want to come.”

Bathers enjoy the water at a beach at Bärwalder See lake near Boxberg, Germany.Bathers enjoy the water at a beach at Bärwalder See lake near Boxberg, Germany. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

For Pritzen, where these changes are less noticeable, the fact that the town is still here – and now a scenic lakeside village – is remarkable. The flooding of the old mine began in 1998 and the water level is still rising. For now, the village remains a sleepy place, as if the trauma of its close brush with destruction still lingers.

“We don’t get too many visitors,” said Ute Dabow as a few Pritzen residents gathered around her mobile bakery, parked at Pritzen’s only intersection, to buy bread and baked goods on a chilly late summer day. The fragrant smell of pine and tilled earth wet from the previous night’s rain wafted across the silent streets, mingling with the aroma of Dabow’s fresh brotchen and pastries. Oak trees shadowed a soccer field overgrown by weeds.

“It’s much better than it once was,” said Herbert Glatz, a retired farmer and lifelong Pritzen resident who was born here in 1935. “The mine was extremely loud. The dirt and dust was so thick it would block out the lights of cars on the streets.” Some people are returning and building new houses, said Herbert’s granddaughter Michaela. “This” – she gestured across the street – “all this is new.”

Around the village, IBA installed a handful of sculptures, turned one of the only old barns that survived the mining era into a place for art exhibits and performances, and set up “The Hand,” a Stonehenge-like circle of concrete pillars built atop a small hill overlooking the lake. Defaced by graffiti and overgrown by waist-high weeds, the sculpture looks somewhat forlorn. But it provides a picturesque panorama of the new landscape.

In the distance, across the glinting waters of the lake, windmills turned slowly. Beside a bike path at the bottom of the hill, the dancing leaves of aspen trees shivered in the breeze. All was quiet except for a faraway rumble of construction machinery, as the lake silently continues to fill, obscuring the scars of the area’s exploited past.

Families enjoy landscape art near Pritzen.Families enjoy landscape art near Pritzen. Photograph: IBA Archive

Environment | The Guardian.

Merkel’s Empty promise: Failure to treat Ukraine’s most critically wounded soldiers #Germany #Ukraine #Wounded

by Katya GorchinskayaOleg Sukhov.

Injured Ukrainian soldiers waiting for their flight to Germany on Sept. 2. Ukraine's chief military doctor Vitaly Andronaty said they were expected to be sent to the best German clinics, but were eventually transferred to military hospitals. © Olga Bohomolets

Injured Ukrainian soldiers waiting for their flight to Germany on Sept. 2. Ukraine’s chief military doctor Vitaly Andronaty said they were expected to be sent to the best German clinics, but were eventually transferred to military hospitals. © Olga Bohomolets

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel came to Ukraine the day before Independence Day, she brought a promise that 20 of the most severely injured soldiers would go to Germany for treatment at her government’s expense.

An elated President Petro Poroshenko announced the offer at a briefing on Aug. 23, the day of her visit, and said that Germany was “a friend in need” and “a friend indeed.” But as 20 Ukrainian soldiers flew off to foreign hospitals on Sept. 2,  Ukrainians were left fuming because Germany did not fully meet its commitment.

German doctors who arrived to Ukraine to help transport the soldiers rejected 17 seriously wounded candidates for treatment abroad. Instead, they picked those who were less seriously wounded and who required shorter rehabilitation periods, according to Vitaly Andronaty, Ukraine’s chief military doctor.

“German doctors came and said ‘We won’t take them’,” Andronaty says. “So, it was not us (Ukrainians) who dictated the terms.”

Merkel’s chief press officer Steffen Seibert did not respond to multiple requests for comments.

Ukraine’s doctors had selected 22 candidates who were “most severely wounded,” as per agreement,  including some who were injured in a recent battle of Ilovaisk, where Ukraine’s army and volunteer battalions were trapped for days under Russian shelling. More than 100 died in that trap.

Olga Bohomolets, a recently appointed medical adviser to Poroshenko, said on her Facebook page that the soldiers who had been picked by Ukraine’s doctors for the offer “need urgent treatment and surgery that cannot be provided in Ukraine.”

According to Andronaty,  the German doctors said that the servicemen chosen by Ukraine required excessively expensive and difficult treatment, so they opted for those with lighter injuries. He said that the German doctors only accepted five of the soldiers proposed by Ukraine and selected the rest themselves.

But the head of the German medical team, Col. Dr. Axel Hoepner, said Germany simply chose those soldiers who do not require a long rehabilitation period. “They had to fit an adequate timeframe – from three weeks up to six to 12 months,” he said.

Lev Golik, deputy head of the the Kyiv Military Hospital, where the soldiers had been treated before Germany,  confirmed by phone that the chosen patients did not require long rehabilitation.

There were other criteria for selection, Col. Dr. Hoepner said. The injured soldiers also had to be matched with the skills of doctors working at the hospitals to which they were sent, he said.

Boris Nannt, a spokesman for Germany’s Defense Ministry, elaborated on the criteria.

“The selection criteria for (the soldiers’) transportation to Germany were the severeness of the injuries in conjunction with the availability of compatible treatment and the capacity of Ukrainian hospitals,” he said by e-mail.

The German military hospitals where the servicemen are being treated are specialized in handling emergency cases and plastic surgery, Nannt said.

Andronaty, Ukraine’s chief military doctor, complained that the German doctors had changed the locations to which the servicemen were to be transferred.

“We were first told that they would be sent to the best clinics, but they were sent to military hospitals,” he said, adding that these were located in Berlin, Hamburg and Koblenz.Kyiv Post+ is a special project covering Russia’s war against Ukraine and the aftermath of the EuroMaidan Revolution.Kyiv Post+ is a special project covering Russia’s war against Ukraine and the aftermath of the EuroMaidan Revolution.

Kyiv Post staff writer Oleg Sukhov can be reached at reaganx84@gmail.com.

Kyiv Post deputy chief editor Katya Gorchinskaya can be reached at katya.gorchinskaya@gmail.com.

Kyiv Post.

Putin the modern day Hitler; Russia his Reich #PutinHitler #RussiainvadedUkraine

Putin the face of a madmanIs this the face of a mad man or the face of a fool?

Vladimir Putin has demonstrated to the world that sanctions will not stopped him rebuilding his ‘glorious’ Soviet Union, today it is the invasion of Ukraine, tomorrow Poland, Romania and possibly even Germany, after all who is going to step up to the plate to stop him?

The world needs to stop him now before it is too late, because if they don’t we can all say goodbye to democracy and freedom, not since Hitler’s Germany has a country invaded another to increase it’s own territory.

Russia, Like Nazi Germany have made increasingly aggressive territorial demands, first Crimea and now eastern and south eastern Ukraine, Hitler attacked the Jews, gays and others deemed undesirable were persecuted or murdered, Putin attacks the Tatars and gays (LGBT) and others deemed undesirable are persecuted and probably murdered or made to ‘disappear’.

Are we simply going to sit back and let history repeat itself, because we are all afraid of, dare I say it… the ‘nuclear’ war!

Action needs to be taken and it needs to be taken NOW!!

#Klimkin: #Russia still wants to make #war, not peace in #Ukraine

French Foreign minister Laurent Fabius, Ukraine's Foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a meeting on the situation in Ukraine on August 17, 2014 at Villa Borsig in Berlin. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Sunday he hoped a French Foreign minister Laurent Fabius, Ukraine’s Foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a meeting on the situation in Ukraine on August 17, 2014 at Villa Borsig in Berlin. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Sunday he hoped a “roadmap” for a sustainable ceasefire in Ukraine will emerge from talks in Berlin with his counterparts from Moscow, Kiev and Paris. AFP PHOTO / TOBIAS SCHWARZ © AFP

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin acknowledged on Aug. 18 that Russia is not meeting conditions needed for an internationally monitored peace and ceasefire in Ukraine’s east. Kremlin-backed insurgents have waged war on the nation since mid-April, particularly in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, where violence has claimed more than 2,000 lives.

“The Russian side today is not ready to take all the commitments…” Klimkin said, including controlling the Russian-Ukraine border to stop the flow of mercenaries and military equipment to the Kremlin-backed insurgents in Ukraine. Klimkin said Russia is also not willing to “recognize the facts” that Ukrainian forces are being shelled and fired upon from Russia in border areas.

Without such commitments, Klimkin said, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe cannot work.

Klimkin’s press conference comes a day after he met in Berlin with three other foreign ministers, including Russia’s Sergei Lavrov, Germany’s Frank Walter-Steinmeier and France’s Laurent Fabius.

Klimkin also said that Western allies have not agreed on a military assistance package for Ukraine, but said they have not refused to offer one either.

He also confirmed the Aug. 23 visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Kyiv, a day before Ukraine celebrates its national independence.

Kyiv Post.

Over a Quarter of a million #students descend on #Germany each year

By Inês Almeida.international-studentsOver 300,000 students making their way to Germany

Most of the incoming 300,000 students prefer not to leave the country once they have finished their studies. For Education Minister Johanna Wanka the reality in Germany is certainly “better than the reputation”.

Germany is becoming more attractive to foreign students, with nowadays more than 300,000 of the 2.6 million students in Germany hailing from other countries. No tuition fees, more job opportunities and technological development are the main reasons for the increasing number of foreign students in the country, according to Education Minister Johanna Wanka.

There are already in place some measures to ensure Germany continues to be a favourite destination for students from all over the world. Wanka explains the German Ministry of Education is implementing an “Africa-strategy” to attract more african students (which represent only 10% of the incomers). A greater number of classes taught in english is also being offered in most german Universities to ensure foreign students choose Germany as the place for their studies.

More than 1,000 master degree courses in English are already being offered at German universities. However studies show that many of these young foreigners are not only keen on studying in Germany, but also on learning the German language. Quite often, it seems, English gives them an entry to Germany, but after a while they show an interest in German. Both the universities and the Goethe-Institut offer a wide range of German courses.

Wanka describes academia as an international pursuit. “There isn’t a single academic field that can afford to seal itself off and exist autonomously in one country. That’s why we cannot do without international networking and cooperation. Besides, spending some time abroad strengthens the students’ intercultural and linguistic skills, which will help them during their professional careers. A small country such as Germany is particularly dependent on international networking, which means both getting involved in other countries, and getting more people worldwide to develop an interest in Germany so that they will stay with us at least for some time.”

(Ines is a recent journalism Graduate from the University of Coimbra (Portugal). She also has a Graduate Degree in Journalism from ISCTE-IUL – Lisbon, Portugal  ines.almeida@themunicheye.com).

The Munich Eye.