Germany witnesses the greatest biological loss of forests in history. It is said to be caused by the overpopulated bark beetle. However, climate change, planting of spruce monocultures, war reparations, political decisions and eventually human neglect and ignorance have all played a major part.
Spruce tree as commercial artefact
Visiting my grandparents close to Cologne, I was observing and capturing the forest catastrophe from a young age on. Over the years, the green landscape turned light brown. And today, it turned into kilometre-long spruce log piles. It is said to be caused by the overpopulated bark beetle. However, climate change, planting of spruce monocultures, war reparations, political decisions and eventually human neglect and ignorance have all played a major part. The forest was transformed into a factory with the tree being the product - a product prone to diseases and natural events, such as the bark beetle infestation. To give an idea of the scale, the commercialised spruce tree is by far the most used and thus the most important wood in Europe.
Spruce tree as political issue
The history falls decades back into the time after WW2, when Germany had to pay war reparations. Cologne is located in the west of Germany, which is a former British zone. The British cut down forests in the western part of Germany to cover their wood shortage, which the newspaper article header Mehr Holz für England (more wood for England) stresses. This falls back to the political agreements made at the Yalta Crimea Conference in 1945 by the "Big Three”.
Since Germany’s economy was down, fast revenues were needed. Growing fast and densely, the spruce tree seemed like a wooden saviour to grow Germany out of its misery. But because many men died in war or were still prisoners of war, women were pulled to the front to clean debris and reforest the robbed land stripes in geometrically arranged spruce monocultures, each with a distance of 75 cm, identical with the sculptural arrangement on the wall. Later on, the women were called culture or debris women and were acknowledged on a 50 pfennig coin, equivalent to their hourly rate, when the new currency in Germany was introduced in 1948. The two-step aluminium casts turn negative space positive and are evidence of today's condition.
Spruce tree as global seal
The three yellow protruding container seals on the wall with the signatures of the "Big Three" (Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill) symbolise the decisions made on which the forest dieback is based. The heap of seals below them stands for the shipping of the beetle wood. Because around 80% of the spruce is packed in containers and sent for export. More than 50% of it goes to China, where it is processed and shipped back. The reason: the industrial effort to adapt the machines to the new mass of logs is too great. The ventilation tubes on the wooden pallet represent the commercialised tree trunk. The bark beetle trace under the pallet shows the prevalence as well as the utility of the wood, which is the essence of this catastrophe.