Wind of Change.


I’m thinking back to the town of Lauchhammer, Germany in August of 1991.

Socio-politically speaking, the greatest hit by Scorpions was still on regular rotation in the former “East Bloc.” As we know by now, the physical environment there took a beating, seldom as badly as in locales where strip mining for dirty brown coal forced ancient towns out of existence and denuded entire regions.

This is being rectified at considerable expense, and you can read about it here.

From Mining Hellscape to Holiday Paradise, by Megan Gannon (Atlas Obscura)

How Germany’s Lusatian Lakes District is remaking an entire region through broad-scale landscape re-engineering.

Over two centuries, coal mining completely changed the face of Lusatia, which straddles the states of Brandenburg and Saxony southeast of Berlin. The region was once largely rural, dotted with villages dating back to the Middle Ages and known for its population of Slavic-speaking Sorbs, an ethnic minority in Germany. But then strip mines consumed about 60 percent of the land. As the region became a moonscape, it supplied 90 percent of East Germany’s electricity and heated the country’s homes. Now, more than 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Lusatia is in the midst of another radical transformation. The coal-mining industry is on the path to extinction—not without controversy—and tourism is being touted as one of its hopeful economic replacements. Inside the biggest exhausted Lusatian strip mines, there are now more than 20 new artificial lakes like Großräschen Lake, many of them connected by canals, covering around 60 square miles. Surrounding those waterways are a variety of new biomes—wet heaths, sandy grasslands, pine forests—as well as new cycling trails, hotels, campsites, harbors, dive shops, and all the other trappings of a German holiday hotspot. The Lausitzer Seenland bears the weight of a lot of superlatives—Germany’s largest lakes district, Europe’s largest artificial waterscape, the biggest landscape-construction site in Europe.

It transpires that I saw these moonscapes up close and personal in 1991, the town of Lauchhammer being the home of my friend Suzanne’s parents, whom we visited as I made my way toward Dresden, Prague and the beginning of my teaching assignment in Košice.

My 1991 trip files remain in a banker’s box downstairs, but the Atlas Obscura essay tells the tale. Suzanne’s dad drove us around, and we viewed farmland, wasteland and reclaimed land.

I was told at the time that the restored strip mine pictured below was the GDR’s showpiece reclamation project. That’s good, but unfortunately it also was about the only reclamation project.

I didn’t take photos of the actual mine we viewed, although I recall being told that the railroads ran on specially-designed movable track, a reality aptly depicted in the photo below at the web site of World Coal, which explains the challenges of keeping a scraper like this one, built in GDR times, working 28 years after the country ceased to exist (the article was written in 2018).

When Suzanne’s father drove us around the countryside near Lauchhammer, landscapes like this were painfully common. I’m elated to learn that Germany has prioritized the creation of the waterscape.

However, I do not recall seeing these.

If we did, it has been forgotten. Then again, the towers probably were still working in 1991.

bio towers in lauchhammer, germany (designboom)

the bio towers in lauchhammer, germany were built around a central staircase in sets of four. originally the towers were used to purify wastewater from the town’s coking plant by way of internal trickling filters. the IBA and the country’s monument preservation authorities believed that demolishing the bio-towers would represent a huge and irreplaceable loss to lauchhammer’s identity and to the memory of the first lignite coking plant in germany.