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Synopsis (english)

Transformations in Brandenburg

Synopsis of Sapucaiu no Samba for the Carnival of Cultures 2023

For decades, scientists have been warning about the consequences of overexploitation of our planet’s natural resources. The Silent Spring, Limits to Growth, das Waldsterben (Forest Dieback), and the Earth Summit are just some of the earliest and best-known warnings. The list could go on with the many conferences, crises, and catastrophes that have taken place since then. Even as the problems have become ever more apparent, they have been deliberately talked down, ignored, and brushed aside, as if the economy and socio-cultural conflicts were more important. In addition, a reductionist view has prevailed, treating each problem in isolation, as if climate change, species extinction, migration, and war would have nothing to do with each other. Such a view ignores the fact that we are part of the global ecosystem, and only a systemic approach can grasp these problems and uncover real solutions.

In the worsening climate catastrophe and global heating, the world’s forests have a key role to play in mitigating the most severe impacts. The ability of forests to influence their environment for their own good and thus for the good of so many species – not least us humans – is both amazing and humbling. However, for forests to be able to do this, they need to be intact and well-functioning ecosystems. It’s concerning to see the  ongoing destruction of the world’s great rainforests. But, we should also look to our own doorstep. Here, the once-mighty forest is only a shadow of its former self.

Today, there is not a single square metre of virgin forest left in Germany. The oldest patches of forest have been left unexploited for a little more than 100 years and they are tiny compared to the total forest area. It is said that the concept of sustainability was coined 300 years ago in Germany and is supposed to have originated in forestry. Yet, like foresters and forestry science, it is the child of the greatest scarcity, namely of the raw material of wood, and is therefore simply a matter of quantity. With respect for the hardships of our past and the achievement of reforesting huge areas of land, the established practice of forestry that was founded in those times, can be more accurately described as ‘wood farming’ or ‘timber mining’.

As early as the 19th century, warning voices were raised and alternative ideas put forward on how to enable a wood harvest while respecting the laws of the ecosystem. These ideas culminated in 1922 in the concept of Permanent Forestry (Dauerwald) – a new model of close-to-nature forestry to replace the practice of maximum timber yield. Unfortunately, despite all the glossy brochures of the state forestry administrations, nothing has changed. The same technocratic understanding has prevailed to this day, and even worse, is considered by most foresters to be essential for the public good.

Brandenburg has been especially affected. On the one hand, there are still relatively large contiguous areas of trees here, thanks to the poor soils, which often make agriculture unprofitable. On the other hand, most of the forest is monoculture plantations of exotic Scots pine, far from natural in this area. Another problem is the luxury pastimes of the political and capitalist elite, for which the forest serves only as a backdrop. Through history, the powerful and wealthy class of Berlin, the political centre of the Prussians, the Nazis, and the SED elite, have all enjoyed hunting game in the forests of Brandenburg. They cultivated huge stocks of deer and wild boar for their sport, and their spirit of ‘hunting justice’ and the ‘trophy cult’ is still present in the heads of today’s wealthy hunting elite and their political cronies. Unfortunately, this misguided hunting culture has led to such high populations of game, that without a drastic a reduction, natural forest regeneration is simply not possible in a period of time that meets the demand of climate change. The return of the wolf and lynx is a reason for great joy – although the hunting lobby may disagree. Whether they will affect the population of wild game remains to be seen.

Foresters, long accomplices of the hunters, have been tasked with providing the wood needed for the economy and they have so far done this over a huge area according to the motto „clear-cut, plough, plant“. They chose the Scots pine because it is undemanding, grows comparatively fast and straight, its cultivation can be standardised, and it is usually not eaten by wildlife. However, monoculture problems have come to light, such as the mass occurrence of so-called large pine pests, mainly certain species of butterflies that eat the crowns bare and can thereby kill the trees. They are the counterpart to the bark beetles of the spruce, and are sure to have an impact, because the unnatural timber plantations, with their equally old and stressed trees, are their perfect food. Instead of recognising the vulnerability and diversifying, the forests are simply sprayed with poison. Such forests are also particularly susceptible to forest fires. The forest in Brandenburg has so far been spared major losses, if compared with the more than 500,000 hectares forests laid bare in Germany since 2018. However, with climate change accelerating, it is only a matter of time. Instead of exercising caution, however, forestry is being further industrialised – new exotic miracle-species trees are being planted, more and more wood is being harvested, soils are being irretrievably compacted with giant harvesting machines weighing tons, and species are being destroyed.

So, is it all too late? Is the forest lost? Are we lost? No, it is still in our hands! Much will change, but the worst can be prevented. A major socio-ecological transformation is necessary, and one of its building blocks is the development of forests that are as close to nature as possible. It won’t take much to achieve this, because the forest wants to reach its optimum state all by itself: made up of deciduous trees, it is dusky, cool and damp, hardly a breath of wind can be felt inside it. It can make its own rain and new groundwater forms beneath it. Heavy rains seep away instead of swelling into torrents and sweeping away human dwellings. It not only oxygenates the air, but also purifies it. It is home to thousands of animal and plant species, not to mention the countless fungi, lichens and bacteria.

What we can do for the forest is this above all: Leave it alone. Let it grow. Watch, learn, and marvel. Use less wood and paper. Keep a critical eye on the industrial forestry and old-fashioned hunting interests, ask them hard questions and don’t be afraid to punish them if necessary. Listen to ecologists and climate researchers. Because who will watch the statetly watchmen of the forest?

In 2019, Sapucaiu no Samba brought the theme of the cultural and biological diversity of the tropical rainforest in Brazil to the streets of Berlin. That year, Jair Bolsonaro had been sworn in as president, under whose rule there was an unprecedented rise of rainforest destruction and discrimination against Brazil’s indigenous peoples. As early as 2020, we wanted to turn our attention to the forest on our doorstep, but the Corona pandemic caused the carnival to be cancelled year after year. A virus, by the way, that presumably found its way to us humans due to the ongoing overexploitation of nature. Today, in 2023, we have learned to deal with the virus and can celebrate our carnival again. Lula, the new, old president of Brazil, wants to stop deforestation. After five years of extreme weather events, the importance of the climate catastrophe seems to have finally reached the masses of society, but the political decision-makers still do not act. Our forests are worse than ever, they are dying. We will follow them if we do not change our lifestyle. It’s time for a change!