22 Sep 2020, 14:00
Benjamin Wehrmann

Germany turns former East-West border strip into national natural monument

Clean Energy Wire

The former inner-German border that divided the capitalist West from the communist East during the cold war will become a permanent natural monument to protect biotopes that developed along the 1,400 kilometre long strip. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of German reunification (3 October 2020), the federal government and the nine bordering states agreed on protecting the so-called "Green Belt" as a national monument, the environment ministry (BMU) said. Minister Svenja Schulze called the border strip "one of the outstanding natural treasures the peaceful revolution (in the former eastern German Democratic Republic - GDR) bestowed upon us”. During the 40 years of German separation following World War II, the heavily guarded border strip remained largely unaffected by human intervention, allowing nature to reclaim a narrow but vast contiguous territory previously lost to agriculture or construction works and that has flourished in absence of human activity. "The former death strip has turned into a true lifeline," Schulze said, adding that the Green Belt initiative within Germany should initiate closer cooperation on the European Green Belt. "Nature knows no borders. That's the key message this monument sends out not only nationally but also to Europe."

Germany's Federal Environment Agency (UBA) said the German reunification could generally be regarded as a success from an environmental perspective, especially in the eastern states. "Many rivers that were ecologically dead at the time are now teeming with life again. The air that used to be caustic in some regions has regained pollution levels below limit values almost everywhere," UBA head Dirk Messner said, cautioning, however, that this should be no reason for complacency. "After the transition to a market-based economy and democracy, we're now facing many challenging transitions once again," as energy production, agriculture and transport need to be made more sustainable, Messner argued. Many lignite plants and old industrial production sites were shut down in the former GDR after 1990, leading to a rapid drop in emissions in Germany and improved air quality in many regions.

The unprecedented reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in eastern Germany after reunification coincided with rapid growth rates in the region thanks to economic modernisation and support payments from the more affluent west. However, mining regions in the East are still often highly dependent on the coal industry and will receive high support payments in the context of Germany's coal phase-out to avoid a collapse of local economies.

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