What stories should a ‘national nature monument’ tell? Lessons from the german green belt

Publication Title

Cultural Geographies

Document Type


Department or Program

Environmental Studies

Second Department or Program

Latin American Studies

Publication Date



Biodiversity conservation, Borderlands, Environmental history, Germany, Narratives, Restoration ecology


For four decades, Germany was ground zero of the Cold War, cut in two by an 870-mile-long wall and sophisticated military infrastructure that separated the capitalist west and the communist east. This border region, shaped by demographic and economic decline, became an ecological refuge for over a thousand of Germany’s endangered plant and animal species. In 1989, when the wall fell, West and East German conservationists launched an effort to convert the borderlands into a protected ecological corridor called the ‘Green Belt’. This essay takes a closer look at the on-the-ground implications of such a project by examining what, and whose, stories it tells. As a case study, it looks at the German federal state of Thuringia’s recent decision to create the country’s first ‘National Nature Monument’, a new protected area category, out of the section of the Green Belt that runs through that state. The article argues that there are three deftly interwoven narratives: the story of German Democratic Republic oppression, of ecological resurgence, and of the rural idyll. All are powerfully evocative of some of the historical meanings of this border space and together they manage to craft an intriguing, hopeful, and pragmatic story of nature–culture hybridity. In the process, however this storyline silences others, including that of local farmers, some of whom reject what they see as an overreach of conservation. Rethinking the audience and in turn developing narratives about protected areas that more accurately represent local histories could be one component of creating ownership and increasing the acceptance of these spaces among local communities. Conservation and restoration, both in Germany and beyond, may well require plurivocal narratives.


Original version is available from the publisher at: https://doi.org/10.1177/1474474018815911

This document is currently not available here.