Contemporary Ideas in a Traditional Mind-Set: The Nature Conservation Movement in Post War West-Germany (1945-1960)

  • Astrid Mignon Kirchhof
Keywords: West-Germany, Heimat, forest, post-war, nature conservation

Abstract

In winter 1947 the Association for the Protection of the German Forest was founded to prevent the eradication of the forest across Germany after suffering wartime destruction, overuse and firewood logging. Especially the occupying forces faced harsh criticism from the German people for their widespread deforestation even though it seems that the Allied Powers used the wood resources quite responsibly. This article argues that the uproar by nature conservationists, politicians and “normal people” reflected a German sense of powerlessness, and revealed images and convictions of the forest as a national symbol that was supposedly endangered in post-war Germany. These post-war discussions referred back to the discourse of the 19th century, when German intellectuals declared the forest to be the myth of the German people and developed a notion of “Heimat” that saw a close connection between nation and nature. The post-war discussions involved many of those images and convictions. Nevertheless, the discussions were not only retrospective: they also reacted to the contemporary political situation and adapted their answers and solutions accordingly.

En el invierno de 1947, se fundó la Asociación para la Protección de los Bosques Alemanes  para prevenir  la destrucción de los bosques en Alemania después de la guerra,  la sobre-explotación y la extracción de leña. Especialmente las fuerzas de ocupación fueron duramente criticadas por el pueblo alemán por la deforestación que causaban, a pesar de que, al parecer, las autoridades alidas explotaban los recursos de madera responsablemente. El presente artículo postula que las quejas de los ambientalistas, políticos y “gente de a pie“ indicaban que el pueblo alemán se sentía impotente y sacaba a relucir imágenes e ideas de los bosques en tanto símbolos nacionales supuestamente en peligro en la Alemania de la posguerra. Estas discusiones de la posguerra reflejaban los discursos del siglo XIX con que los intelectuales alemanes elevaron los bosques a la categoría de mito representativo del pueblo alemán y desarrollaron en la idea de “Heimat” [“Patria”] una íntima conexión entre nación y naturaleza. Las discusiones de la posguerra trataron de muchas de esas imágenes e ideas decimonónicas pero no se limitaron a tener de ellas una mera visión retrospectiva, pues hicieron que respondieran a la situación política del momento y aportaran soluciones de acuerdo a la nueva coyuntura.

 

 

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Author Biography

Astrid Mignon Kirchhof

Dr. Astrid Mignon Kirchhof

Education: History, American Studies and Cultural Studies in Berlin and Sydney.

Dissertation: On women in the public municipal and ecclesiastical  arenas from the German Empire to National Socialism.

Current Position: Research Associate and Lecturer at the Humboldt University Berlin, Institute of Modern and Contemporary History. Head of a project on environmental history in the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic 1945-1989.

Current Area of Research: Politics and Environmental History of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic since 1945.

Further Areas of Research: Australian environmental history, Women’s and Gender Studies, History of National Socialism, History of Migration, Urban Studies, Welfare Studies.

Further Activities:  Freelance work for the German Resistance Memorial Center (Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand).

Published
2011-05-21
Section
Literary Landscapes and the National Imaginary