A brief history of environmentalism in Germany
There are strict rules governing environmental protection in Germany. Natural areas are protected in different degrees of importance. For example, there are areas of international and national importance related to the value of the habitat, their value for (migrating) birds or just areas with a great landscape, which are protected with varying strictness.
Destroying nature (like cutting down trees, polluting the soil or damaging water quality) in protected areas is penalized harshly when somebody notices. In a recent case at my work the perpetrator is looking at about hundred thousand euros and more in fines for building over protected grassland with a gravel road.
Animals are (on paper) similarly protected. It’s illegal to torture animals in any way, which means they need to be stunned prior to killing them. There are exceptions if the exercise of religious freedom is impacted by not torturing animals (for example kosher slaughtering like Shechita in Judaism or Halal meat in Islam). It’s complicated and the exact regulations are still debated.
The German and his forest
To get to the bottom of environmentalism in Germany we have to do a little history first.
Germany has only been a somewhat united country (with interruptions) since 1871 when the Preussians convinced the Southern states to join under the banner of the German Reich. Humiliatingly, the proclamation happened in Versailles, France… sorry! The budding national identity tried to utilise earlier romantic (from romanticism) currents to cultivate a common German identity. People should see themselves as Germans first, not Preussians, Bavarians, Saxonians etc.
The constructed commonalities focussed on the German forest (going back to the defeat of the Roman legions in the battle of the Teutoburg forest in 9 AD by Germanic tribes) as origin of a German soul, cultivated by the German ground in the German forest.
Fun Fact: The Germanic tribes were led by Arminius (Latin for Hermann), there is a massive statue of him, which, because of its awesomeness, gets struck by lightning over 200 times a year. Real!
Nude and organic racists
With the ever prevalent antisemitism in Germany this quickly degraded into a rascist ideology. Everyone not stemming from the German forest supposedly didn’t belong. Fighting for the protection of the environment during this time was also about politics. Especially being anti-modern, anti-capitalist and anti-establishment, but also often anti-semitic.
A weird offshoot of this is the Lebensreform-movement, with prominent adherents like Rudolf Steiner or Sebastian Kneipp. They promoted sexual liberation, organic agriculture and alternative medicine.
There were also a bunch of influential racist nudists like Richard Ungewitter associated with the movement. Ungewitter liked to run around naked in the forest to cultivate his German connection with nature and gain health benefits. He thought the rays of the sun contain “metals”. And that’s a good thing, surely!
All these jumbled ideas coexisted in the Weimar republic and got fully instrumentalised after the rise to power of Hitler and the NSDAP. The responsible minister for environmental protection was my namesake Hermann Göring, the forestry minister, because he liked hunting (he didn’t like being nude or running, evidently). The second Hermann in this story.
Göring then basically founded the official national regulation for the environment and protection of animals with the Reichnaturschutzgesetz in 1935 and the Reichstierschutzgesetz in 1933. Both these moves were political schemes to win over the many (probably nude) environment lovers to the NS ideology and stifle jewish cultural life with restricting availability of kosher meat. Care for the environment was subsequently connected to their ideology with the “blood and soil” slogan.This policy was used to justify occupation of the Eastern regions and enslaving the slavic peoples that lived there on their ancestral soil… Don’t worry, it needn’t make sense.
That the nazis didn’t care that much about animals or the environment is evidenced by their continued animal ( and human) testing of biological weapons and unfettered construction of infrastructure which could be used for the war effort, like ze Autobahn.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get more twisted, we enter the post WWII times and things get even more confusing. Blood and Soil is still very much a thing. The leftover fascists are still promoting “back to the land” and “rural values” that are befitting for a proper sedentary German people (as opposed to the allegedly “nomadic” jews). Now the new fascists started adopting formerly green topics like post-growth, organic agriculture and infecting it with their ideology. They believe that the limits to growth can be countered by focussing on small regional economies. It’s really hard to read between the lines of some of these statements in right-wing magazines like “Umwelt & Aktiv” because I would also totally support them. For them it’s a profoundly anti-immigraiton stance though. Some of the topics that regularly get attention in right-wing magazines, political parties and speeches are genetic engineering, neobiota (exotic weeds), post-growth, animal rights, living in touch with nature, population growth, bioregionalism and more.
The German greens were founded after the war by right and left wing politicians. The lefties later threw the right-wingers out (they had to purge again a second time after reunification in 1990). Those were then founding their own right-wing eco-green parties, like the ÖDP (ecologic democratic party).
And then there is also the Anastasia movement. Nazi homesteads are sprouting up everywhere in Germany and get increasing media coverage. Disguised as esoteric hippies, they revive rural areas and spread anti-semitic and racist ideologies. But they also farm organically and believe in mother nature.
What to believe?
In a post-truth world, there are no easy answers and definitely no black and white (green and brown) anymore.
The lesson I took from studying the history of environmentalism is that things are not always what they seem to be and questioning the motivations behind certain ideas and ideologies matters.