For all the Ateneans reading this, I am aware this is a reference to our Alma Matter, which been very much on my mind lately.
“Down from the hill, down to the world go I; rememb’ring still, how the bright Blue Eagles fly. Through joys and tears, through the laughing years, we sing our battle song…”
It has been five weeks to the day that I had my rendezvous with a parachute and the wind and fractured my shoulder. A weaker, cowardly, frail, and self-pitying person would have remained at home, on the safety of a couch, and healed. It probably would have been the saner thing to do, but I have never been one to follow that path. I am, after all, a True Blue Atenean, an Eagle who soars high. Well, I went up to the mountains instead, the Harz mountains to be exact, deep in the national forest part of the tri-state area of Niedersachsen, Sachen-Anhalt, and Thüringen (Lower Saxony, Saxony Anhalt, and Thuringia). I was not conditioned for this, had not trained for the hike, and hell, haven´t even done any sports since the injury. All things considered, I went up the Brocken like a blind man crossing the street in Mumbai. And it almost cost me the friendship of a lifetime.
I am not supposed to be carrying any weight on the injured shoulder either, but I had my camera equipment, snacks and jacket along as well. So I was in pain the whole time, and the torn ligament in my knee reminded me with every step that I was doing something very unwise. But the time outdoors gave me time to mull a few things over, in an effort to refocus my life pattern.
The Harz region is completely unfamiliar territory, pretty much like my life at the moment, and the altitude allows the visitor some spectacular views over the mountain range, assuming of course that you have no problems with heights, after going up with cable cars, hiking, or even the little steam engine (Brockenbahn). As I ascended to the top of the Brocken, my initial thoughts were “who needs the Swiss or Austrian Alps of you have the Harz?” Wrong. There are 600 Billion Euros worth of reasons to need the forests around Germany and the rest Europe. The coniferous forest of the Harz is dying.
Currently referred to as the (German) disaster of the century, the decline began in 2017 after the tri-state area was ravaged by three hurricanes: Xavier, Herwart and Friedericke. The open tree stumps that resulted from the fallen trees became the perfect breeding grounds for the bark beetle (Borkenkäfter) and they multiplied at a vicious rate before anyone realised what was happening. There are 120 known breeds of the bark beetle in Germany, and all it takes is 200 beetles to kill one tree.
We are talking about an area of 2226 square kilometers of dying forest.
The hurricanes were followed by a period of drought, which not only increased the damage by 375 Million Euros, but also sped up the bark beetle breeding. From a “problem” that became an “infestation” and is now a “plague”, the bark beetles are out of control and on the loose.
The state governments are at loggerheads with the forestry associations on this matter. The government and their consultants have implemented the non-interference policy, claiming that the forest is not dying, but transforming and thus should be allowed to self-regenerate by allowing the firs and other coniferous trees die a natural death. They even initiated an information campaign on the beetle, making it sound as if this was the best thing to ever happen. The Berti Borkenkäfer (Bert the Bark Beetle) campaign has people up in arms, especially the private landowners of some parts of the affected forest.
The forestry associations and experts are livid, and warn of irreversible damage if assisted re-forestation is not implemented. The coniferous monoculture government reforestation projects that began almost 100 years ago have always been criticised by biologists and environmentalists alike. A healthy forest, they say consists of a variety of deciduous trees interspersed with coniferous ones, so that a natural system of checks and balances can develop in each biosphere. Political stubbornness has to face the accountability, while the tax payers and landowners are picking up the tab.