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Interview with an East German Environmental Initiative in Schwerin (1980)

Acting under the auspices of the Protestant Churches, East German youths began to address environmental problems by planting trees, creating discussion circles within official organizations, and exploring alternative lifestyles to live healthier and freer lives in spaces that were gradually opening within the SED-dictatorship.

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It’s about More than Planting Trees . . .

Question: You’re a group of young people who’ve been especially engaged with environmental problems in the past and who’ve also taken some concrete action in this area. A while ago you organized a so-called tree-planting action. What did you do there?

Answer: The idea for a tree-planting action originated in 1979; it grew mostly out of our basic stance, but also out of our sense of Christian responsibility toward the environment. We started organizing this action together with a state-owned company in Schwerin, the VEB Grünanlagen [Parks]. It’s one of the companies that we, as a church youth group, had already built up good contacts with. We had our first tree-planting action in Schwerin in November 1979. We planted about 5,000 shrubs and trees along a new streetcar line that runs into the industrial complex near Schwerin. We gave these barren slopes a green landscaping. Our goal – and this is one of the ideas out of which this tree-planting action grew – was not just to talk a lot and complain about [the lack of] environmental protection, about how bad everything is, etc., but to do something about it. We’re not just complaining about the fact that so many trees get cut down, that so many are dying from toxins, that so many get damaged; rather, we’re planting new ones.

[ . . . ]

Question: What problems [have you dealt with]?

Answer: For example, in the district of Schwerin, problems relating to sewage treatment and disposal play a special role. It’s a big problem. Not all of the sewage is treated; it’s released into the environment filled with pollutants. We’ve also dealt with the powerful chemical fertilizers used in agriculture – to what extent this will cause problems in coming years, also with respect to yields or in the discussion on monocultures, which we have here. So those were some of the main points.

[ . . . ]

The following Sunday we held a service, together with a pastor from our city. It was a beautiful service, with some acted scenes, a lot of music, and then the symbolic planting of a tree that we’d received as a gift from VEB Grünanlagen. The company had given it to us as a thank you, and we planted it in front of the church in Lankow, a district in Schwerin, as a symbol of life and the preservation of nature. This first tree-planting action had a very positive resonance, also in other parts of the GDR, so we decided to organize a second one, which took place in March 1980, this time with 100 participants, whereas the first one only had about fifty.

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