Gorbachev Promotes Green Belt During Germany Visit | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 19.06.2002
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Gorbachev Promotes Green Belt During Germany Visit

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev visited the former no-man's land that once separated East and West Germany on Wednesday to unveil a public artwork that "leads us into a new world."


Protecting the land that once divided Germany is a top priority for environmentalists.

More than a decade ago, Germany’s east-west border stretched 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) between Hof in the south and Lübeck in the north. It was secured with 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) of fencing, 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) of convoy roads and a 200-kilometer (124-mile) wall.

It was a no-man’s land. But, as it turns out, it was also a place where plants and animals flourished.

On Wednesday, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev visited Germany’s so-called "Green Band" in his role as president of the environmental group Green Cross International to introduce the "West-East Gate."

The gate consists of two 12-meter high oak trunks connected on the ground by a steel beam that mirrors the tree trunks and the sky. Situated on a hill between Ecklingerode in Thuringia and Duderstadt in Lower Saxony, the gate was sponsored by the Union for Environmental and Natural Protection in Germany (Bund).

A new world

"This gate leads us into a new world," said Gorbachev in a speech that was repeatedly interrupted by applause. He urged people to remember history and use it as a "lesson for all Europeans."

German Environmental Minister Jürgen Trittin called the gate, created by Hanover landscape architects Anka Förster and Robert Schätzle, a "symbol for east and west growing together throughout Europe."

A warning from environmentalists

While Wednesday’s gathering was a celebratory occasion, environmentalists cautioned that the ecological treasure is far from secure.

Efforts to protect the Green Belt began in earnest soon after the wall fell in 1989. At that time, environmentalists counted 131 species of birds, including 59 endangered species, in the area. Six hundred plant species were also documented.

Liana Geidezis, who oversees the Bund’s efforts to protect the Green Band, believes that protecting this region is Germany’s biggest environmental challenge. About 70 percent of the land in question belongs to the Bund, but the rest remains unprotected. She urged private citizens to consider buying pieces of the remaining unprotected land and donating it to the Bund.

Bund Chairwoman Angelika Zahrnt called the area an ecological gem and said that at the same time it "reminds people of the division of Germany and of Europe."

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