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Drought Uncovers Historical Treasures in Germany

August 20, 2003

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.

Deutschland Aufgegebene Dörfer auf dem Grund des Edersees
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Pförtner

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.

Deutschland Aufgegebene Dörfer auf dem Grund des Edersees
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Pförtner

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.

Deutschland Aufgegebene Dörfer auf dem Grund des Edersees
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Pförtner

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."