Behind the flat, lake-rich landscape in the Biosphere Reserve Schorfheide-Chorin in north-eastern Brandenburg, a hilly, heavily wooded landscape suddenly rises up shortly before Angermünde. A uniquely preserved beech forest comes into view – in 2011 the Grumsin was awarded the title of World Natural Heritage by Unesco along with four other beech forests in Hesse, Thuringia and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. But this precious piece of nature is in danger.
Dense clouds hang over the Grumsin on this day, but again there is no rain. Michael-Egidius Luthardt, until recently head of the Eberswalde Forest Competence Center, is still fascinated by the 590 hectares of Grumsin landscape after three decades of working in the region. A few years ago, he successfully campaigned for the award of the World Heritage title at the Ministry of Agriculture in Potsdam. But Luthardt is now also concerned about preservation.
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He came here for the first time in May 1990, he says. “I was surprised there was something like that here.”
Until the fall of the Wall, the area was a state hunting ground for Stasi boss Erich Mielke and was not open to the public. “Here is tree to tree, and the landscape is very hilly and canyons. For Brandenburg, that’s very significant,” notes Luthardt.
There are around 110 trees in the forest on one hectare, there are around 50,000 in total.
A little later, the forester points to a withered tree – dead due to dry infestation due to excessive solar radiation. “Actually, the beech trees need at least 600 millimeters of rain a year. In recent years, it has been around 300 millimeters.” The huge trees pump up a good 200 liters of water every day, explains the forest ecologist. However, due to climate change, there is not enough water.
This is also evident elsewhere. Luthardt points to a small pond that is hardly recognizable at first glance. “A few years ago the water was still standing up to here,” he points to the upper edge of the depression with his hand. The difference in water level is clearly visible. In the medium term, Luthardt is convinced that the persistent drought could endanger the existence of the world natural heritage.
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The Brandenburg Nature Watch sees the situation less dramatically. “So far we haven’t noticed any areas where the drought is clearly visible on the trees,” says ranger André Schwuchow. He works with his colleague Tilly Schönlebe in the Schorfheide-Chorin biosphere reserve, which includes the Grumsin with the World Heritage title.
But it’s about much more than getting a title and a tourist attraction. According to the Brandenburg Environment Ministry, 349 higher plant species have been identified in Grumsin, 17 percent of which are on the “Red List” of endangered species. In addition, the beech forest is a breeding area of national importance for endangered large bird species such as white-tailed eagles, black storks and cranes.
For the forest ecologist, however, the tranquility of the forest is at risk for the animals. In addition to climate change, humans are also affecting the natural world heritage, reports Luthardt. The beech forest may actually only be entered on four marked hiking trails, which are marked in different colors with a beech leaf and a “G”. “But you can see that people don’t stick to it,” he says. One reason is the numerous websites on which private individuals can enter their individual routes – these sometimes lead through the middle of the forest.
Last year he even caught visitors who would have made a fire in the core zone by the lake, says the forester. Luckily there have not been any forest fires lately. The deciduous wood is often too damp for this, as it carries a lot of water.
The nature guard ranger André Schwuchow, on the other hand, sees no major problems with tourists. According to his assessment, most visitors stick to the specified hiking trails. The core zone in the forest is difficult to walk on anyway, and an attempt is also being made to enable beautiful views or photo opportunities by means of a suitable route. He has not yet found any fireplaces or grills within the zone.
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In Altkünkendorf, a district of the small town of Angermünde, next to the church is the visitor center for those interested in Grumsin, set up by the association “Weltnaturerbe Grumsin e.V.”. The international title brings streams of tourists to the village, which not all residents like.
The viewing platform below the church tower with a view of the Grumsin could only be opened in 2019 after residents withdrew their complaint. A citizens’ initiative under the name “We are Grumsin” advertises at the entrance to the village with the slogan “10 years of tragedy are enough”. She criticizes, among other things, fully parked streets, what she sees as insufficient protection of the core zone against unauthorized entry and a division in the village community into supporters and opponents.
For Michael-Egidius Luthardt, these arguments hinder the development of the region. “Through tourism there is added value, people haven’t understood that yet,” says the forester, who was a member of the state parliament for the Left Party from 2009 to 2014 and is now a member of the Greens.
Due to the dispute over the valuable beech forest around the Grumsin, there are hardly any restaurants or snack bars, and a large car park in neighboring Groß-Ziethen is hardly used because it is far too far away from the beech forest, says Luthardt.
Despite the many tourists, the visitor center is still run exclusively by volunteers. This is unacceptable for the former mayor, Hans-Jürgen Bewer, who worked very hard for the World Heritage title to be awarded. Although the current coalition agreement states that the Grumsin World Heritage Site should get its own budget title, he criticizes that it is still a long time coming and appeals to the state to assume its responsibility.