View Full Version : Drought Uncovers Historical Treasures in Germany

Friday, August 22nd, 2003, 07:49 PM
Drought Uncovers Historical Treasures in Germany

The unexpected hot spell in Germany this summer has dried up many of the country’s lakes and rivers, revealing not just parched riverbeds, but in some cases sunken historical treasures.

A year after the worst floods in a century filled up the country’s lakes and rivers to bursting point, Germany has been setting a new record on water levels. This time, on the lower end.

The unprecedented scorching heat of the past weeks has reduced formerly abundant rivers and lakes to mere trickles with even the river Rhine recording historically low water levels in Düsseldorf.

But it’s not just rocky riverbeds and silt that the receding waters are uncovering. At the Edersee, Germany’s largest reservoir in the state of Hesse, falling water levels have exposed remnants of forgotten villages, submerged during a deluge in the Eder valley in 1914. At the time some 700 people who lost their homes were relocated and the villages of Asel, Bringhausen and Berich, heavily eroded by the floods, eventually sank into the waters.

Now, a former cemetery of Bringhausen is visible through the shallow waters. In addition, two islands close to the village, the tips of which are normally visible, can be crossed by foot and a former bridge in the village of Asel serves as a jumping point for kids.

Water levels to fall further

Experts warn the 27-km-long Edersee, located in the heart of the country between the Rhine-Ruhr, Rhine-Main and Hanover region and surrounded by thickly wooded mountains, is losing some 1.5 million cubic meters every day. With a capacity of 202 million cubic meters, the reservoir currently holds just about 70 million cubic meters.

Uwe Borges of the Water and Shipping Authority in Münden, Hanover said he could hardly remember a time when the Edersee was so empty and way below normal August levels. "It’s really extreme that the water level falls so deeply in so short a time," he told news agency dpa.

But despite the heat and dry spell, Borges said water from the Edersee reservoir had to be directed into the nearby Weser river, in order to guarantee the necessary water level required for ship traffic.

" We only begin to stop water flow into the Weser at 40 million cubic meters," he said. Borges added that 20 million cubic meters was the absolute limit. "That’s our iron reserve. At that level, we only allow the amount to go out that’s already flown into the reservoir." Borges said he expected the lowest level in October. "But from experience, the possibility of rain usually then rises and with it the water level."

Discovering underwater heritage

Until then, experts are predicting further submerged historic relics to be uncovered as waters evaporate and reveal more about the area’s former residents.

Sunken railway tracks are expected to show up near Rehbach further up the Edersee when levels fall to 64 million cubic meters, old horse stables at the foothills of the mountains in front of the Waldeck castle at 38 million cubic meters and a boat lock at a further fall of three million cubic meters.

Contrary to fears that the usually thriving tourism in the Edersee region would peter out by the prospect of dried-up lakes, the popular holiday destination is experiencing something of a boom this summer. "The people are coming to see what usually can’t be seen," Hans-Joachim Busch, a member of the Edersee Tourism office said.

And it’s not just outsiders, but even residents of neighboring Neuberich near Bad Arolsen, who are driving out in droves to the region to see for themselves what the original homes of their ancestors looked like.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the village of Alt-Berich, which was submerged in the 1914 floods, was relocated further north to make more space for the Edersee lake. Now organizations in New Berich are organizing tours to the region. The local representative Hans Komm said, "with it we want to show the children and young people of Neuberich where the roots of their village lie."


Friday, August 22nd, 2003, 11:15 PM
Shrinking Danube Unveils WWII Relics

Friday August 22, 2003 10:29 PM


Associated Press Writer

BATINA, Croatia (AP) - As the mass of tangled iron emerged from the water, wide-eyed townspeople marveled at the catch, a World War II German military jeep, coughed up by the drought-shrunken Danube River.

Batina fire chief Josip Valkai ran an expert eye over the so-called Kuebelwagen just dragged out by a truck. ``The Volkswagen insignia and motor in the rear make it a dead giveaway,'' he said. ``So does the faintly visible Nazi swastika on gasoline cans we found tucked inside.''

Until now, the leftovers on this pivotal battlefield have been small - spent cartridges, the occasional skull. But as months of drought have drained the Danube to its lowest level in a century, larger relics are coming to light.

Among the items awaiting recovery this week are a tank whose turret surfaced several days ago and an armored personnel carrier.

Smaller items recently dredged from the river bottom include Schmeisser rifles and a crocodile-leather wallet, its contents soaked past recognition.

Downstream, in Serbia, the rusty remnants of warships believed to belong to Nazi Germany's Black Sea Fleet have begun protruding in recent days 110 miles east of the capital, Belgrade. Authorities on Thursday warned ships to steer clear because of live ammunition believed still to be on the ships.

The river depth, normally as much as 50 feet in some places, has fallen to barely 10 feet.

The vessels are believed to have been deliberately blown up by retreating German troops to impede Soviet forces in the final stages of World War II.

War relics are no novelty in the Batina area of northeastern Croatia. Up to 60,000 soldiers perished here as Soviet troops caught up with German forces retreating toward Budapest in late 1944.

The Red Army triumphed after 12 days of fighting in one of the pivotal battles in the allied liberation of the Balkans.

Batina's old-timers still remember cavalry soldiers trudging back across the river on horseback, with one or two bare horses reined in along their sides - their riders dead or missing.

``It's no wonder skeletons and various war artifacts keep surfacing in our region,'' said Ivica Prakatur, a retired hospital nurse.

Moscow, which funds a memorial at Batina, plans to send experts to the scene to investigate some of the finds.

``The river was wide and deep and certainly holds many mysteries,'' said Anatolij Calisev, a military attache at the Russian Embassy in Zagreb, the Croatian capital. ``Maybe there are documents that could help identify victims.''

The heat wave gripping Europe, described by experts as one of the worst in 150 years, is slowly moving southeastward after killing scores of people across the continent.

In Bulgaria, shipping officials warned earlier this week that navigation on the Bulgarian stretch of the Danube could be suspended by the end of the week. Water levels in some places had fallen nine feet to their lowest in 100 years.

In Romania, the Danube had its lowest flow of any August since measurements began in 1840, the state news agency Rompres reported. A nuclear power plant in eastern Romania may have to close one reactor if the water level falls another 28 inches because too little water would be drawn to cool it, the government said Friday.

In Croatia, a Ukrainian barge, the Fyodor Ryabinin, briefly ran aground Tuesday.

None of this mattered to kids in Batina, who waded through the ordinarily mighty river, now barely knee-high.

``I feel like Moses,'' Laszlo Kovacs said as plodded to the other side.