Green Germany

Suzette Marquette
March 01, 1994

With the reunification of Germany, have come the expected disagreements: Who will lead the reunited country? Where will the capital be? How will the eastern economy be restored. But one battle is being fought within a group not expected to split—the environmentalists.

"While other political parties united, the Green parties remained divided," said Anke Wessels, a graduate student in geography at Penn State. "The East Germans are willing to activate a dialogue with politicians, scientists, and planners, but the West Germans have fought against the existing system and wonder if they should even have a green party. They are, essentially, an anti-party party.

"One point of tensions in the new environmental politics of unified Germany—and the focus of Wessels-Bayer's research—is the modernization of eastern Germany's infrastructure.

"Policy makers in Bonn have emphasized the importance of well-built rail, road, and water ways if eastern markets are to be made accessible to the west. They are using the assumption that this is what a country needs to be wealthy."

"But", she adds, "this newly built infrastructure will create different physical and social geographies due to the changing uses of natural resources and environmental deterioration. A modern infrastructure is key to industrial investment decisions, fluctuations in land value, the tourist trade, as well as the very structure of cities, rural communities, and the modes of transportation that connect them. A car-based transportation system is also blamed for increased carbon and nitrogen dioxide levels, German deforestation, and the dissection of vibrant eco-systems."

Her research looks specifically at three German communities—Berlin, Leipzig, and Halle—to see how rebuilding the infrastructure will change the physical and social environments and to see how environmentalists are challenging the process.

"It's a theoretical exercise," Wessels says. "Our concept of nature is constructed through our interactions with a wide range of social institutions. As these institutions change, so does our experience and understanding of nature. Reunified Germany is a great way to look at this process."

"Political and social cultures are changing. What does that mean to the environment? What kind of new geography will be created? What kind of new patterns of nature will there be?"

After decades of industry-based pollution threatened East Germany's urban areas, strict regulations have been enforced and a clean-up process has begun. Now, however, environmentalists worry that the improved infrastructure will not only reverse the clean-up projects, but destroy the pristine countrysides.

"Cities in what was East Germany are self-contained," Wessels explains. "Everything is within walking distance.

But with an improved road system, stores and businesses are going to move outside the cities.

"Look at State College, or practically any town in the United States. If you want to go shopping, you drive a couple miles out of town to K-Mart or the mall, to areas that used to be farm land. To go anywhere, you have to have a car. Since the 1970s, West Germans have also become reliant on the car. And that's what the Green party in eastern Germany doesn't want to have happen. They don't believe we should be so dependent on cars."

Anke Wessels will receive her Ph.D. in geography in May 1994 and is on a tenure-track postion at Syracuse University. Her advisor, Diana Liverman, Ph.D., is associate professor in geography, 325 Walker Building, University Park, PA 16802; 814-863-7004.

Last Updated March 01, 1994