What Stories Can a “National Nature Monument” Tell? Lessons from the German Green Belt

Authors: Sonja Pieck*, Bates College
Topics: Environment, Cultural Geography, Europe
Keywords: Conservation, restoration ecology, wilderness, memory, borderlands
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Zulu, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

For four decades, Germany was ground zero of the Cold War, cut in two by an 870-mile long wall and sophisticated military infrastructure that separated the capitalist west and the communist east. This border region, shaped by demographic and economic decline, became an ecological refuge for over a thousand of Germany’s endangered plant and animal species. In 1989, when the wall fell, West and East German conservationists launched an effort to convert the borderlands into a protected ecological corridor called the “Green Belt.” This paper takes a closer look at the on-the-ground implications of such a project by examining what, and whose, stories it tells. As a case study, it looks at the German federal state of Thuringia’s recent decision to create the country’s first “national nature monument,” a new protected area category, out of the section of the Green Belt that runs through that state. Through an examination of the Thuringian case, this paper seeks to understand the traces of war and memories left in this landscape and how they interlace with conservation politics. What might the messy imbrications of memory, culture, and ecological restoration mean for the protection of what Bill Cronon has called “storied wilderness,” both in Germany and beyond?

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