Monday, July 20, 2015

Above All Tree-Tops There Is Poison

Damaged fur trees in the Harz Mountains near Goslar (©dpa)
Über allen Wipfeln ist Gift *(Above all summits there is poison ...) With this title Germany's news magazine Der Stern stoked up German angst about the dying of the woods in 1981. Nothing is more dramatic for a German than Waldsterben: Erst stirbt der Wald, dann stirbt der Mensch (When forests die, men/women will follow).
*This is is a persiflage on Goethe's poem Wanderes NachtliedÜber allen Wipfeln ist Ruh ... (Wanderer's Nightsong: Above all summits it is calm ...). Below you will find the full text of the poem.

What happened since 1981? Have the trees died? Recently some newspapers took up the topic. There is good news with respect to oak trees. While in 2012 50% of their tree-tops were sick the figure had dropped to 36% in 2014. Germany's agricultural minister commented on the positive trend: Es ist schön, sagen zu können: Viel Laub auf Deutschlands Eichen (It is nice to be able to say: Much foliage on Germany's oaks).

The German Oak was the tree of the year in 2014. As a national symbol it figured and still figures on German coins.

Following the Second World War: there was hope for the German people with a new currency.
Planting an oak tree on a 50 pfennig coin (©Wikipedia/Raphael).

Oak leaves on the one pfennig coin
(German mark)(©Wikipedia/Turmenistan)
Oak leaves with acorns on the German
one cent coin (euro) (©Wikipedia/Nightflyer)

Red Baron remembers his school days when rather casually the teacher mentioned the oak tree and I trumpeted in class: Die deutsche Eiche. She told me that she was going to teach me about the German oak; and she really did. Oh, that's history.

The positive development with respect to oak trees is not mirrored in the case of beech trees for which the status of the tree-tops has dramatically deteriorated. On the other hand, today 11.4 million hectares (28.2 10acres) of Germany's surface are covered by woods, that is, one million more than in 1980. Thanks to built-in filters in coal-fired power stations the sulfur contamination of the soil has dropped from up to 30 kilograms per hectare and year to one tenth of the value. Today it is no longer acid rain that stresses trees but instead climatic change.

The new enemies of Germany's trees are bark beetles, oak processionariy carterpillars and other new pests wandering north following the climatic change. As one expert said: The situation of the forests is not life-threatening but we'd better keep an eye on it.

Be assured: more than 150 million German eyes will be watching.

Healthy deer in healthy Taunus woods (©dpa)

Wanderers Nachtlied
Style censors will teach you that adjectives are verbiage, are evil. I do not know whether Goethe had this rule in mind when he wrote Wanderer's Nightsong on the wall of a wooden cabin on the evening of September 6, 1780. No adjectives! Some Germanists regard Wanderers Nachtlied as the most perfect German poem although, as you already know, it is not the most popular one.

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch
O'er the hill-tops
Is quiet now,
In all the tree-tops
Hearest thou
Hardly a breath;
The birds are asleep in the trees:
Wait; soon like these
Thou too shalt rest.

My mentor and lector Professor James Steakley made me aware of Henry W. Longfellow's beautiful English translation.


A different, rhymed English translation in the now famous wooden cabin near Ilmenau (©Wikipedia/Fewskulchor)
*

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