People taking strolls usually cannot deduce that the acidic ground is responsible when beech seeds do not germinate or when trees gradually rot from the inside, age faster, or lack resistance to pests, storms, frost, or drought. Urbanites living far away from nature, who can hardly distinguish a fir tree from a spruce, also do not usually notice that the inconspicuous, highly sensitive lichens are disappearing from the trees and that the bark is detaching from the trunk, the needles are yellowing, and the crowns are gradually thinning.
[ . . . ]
What is perceptible even to laypeople, however, is the final phase of forest death, when the stock of trees is totally destroyed by a combination of air pollution, ground quality, weather conditions, and pest infestation that varies from tree species to tree species, from individual tree to tree, from place to place, and from year to year.
This is the situation in the Czech Erzgebirge, in the area around the brown coal power plants and hydrogenation facilities: dried up, gray wooden skeletons that are hardly recognizable as former spruce trees stand on tens of thousands of hectares, only an hour’s drive from the Bavarian border. At the top of the Erzgebirge, once one of the most lushly forested landscapes in the heart of Europe, the vegetation, after ailing for a decade and a half, all but toppled –apparently irreversibly – within no time. In the contaminated mountains, where hardly a bird sings, no tourists stroll, and the spring-water is unfit for drinking, reforested areas die after a short time and only rarely do potatoes, rye, or vegetables survive on fields and in gardens.
BUND, which organized an observation tour through the expansive environmental ruins in the Erzgebirge, warns that “over the next few years, a similar fate threatens the higher altitudes of the Bavarian Forest, the Upper Palatinate Forest, the Fichtelgebirge, the Black Forest, and the Harz mountains, as well as the irreplaceable forests of the flatlands.” As early “as the year 2000,” says Gerd Billen of the BBU, there “might be steppes covering vast areas” of West Germany.
Source: “Wir stehen vor einem ökologischen Hiroschima” [“We Are on the Verge of an Ecological Hiroshima”], Der Spiegel, February 14, 1983, pp. 76-84.
Translation: Allison Brown