The Germans and their Forest

written on 09/11/2020
by Guido Schmuck

Did you know… 

… one third of the entire territory of Germany is forested (total forest area of about 11.4 million hectares). About 48% of this area is privately owned according to the third National Forest Inventory.

Since the 1990s there has been a steady increase in German forest due to a controlled, responsible forest management. Climate Change impacts (e.g. heatwaves, droughts) and energy policies are threatening the forest today.

For Germans, the forest is more than the sum of its trees – it is a central part of German identity and culture that has also become a symbol of a sustainable future.

The principle of NACHHALTIGKEIT (Sustainability) – established by the Hans Carl von Carlowitz, 1713 – continues today to be the guiding principle for forest management in Germany, respecting the multifunctional role of forest (e.g. forming groundwater, wood production, filtering the air, CO2 reduction, biodiversity conservation, human relaxation). 

The German’s special relationship to the forest is expressed in several documents, poems, music, paintings and legends across the ages, from the time of Ancient Rome, via the Romantic period to the 20th century.

Examples are the description of “Battle in the Teutoburg Forest” by the Roman historian Tacitus, some fairy tales by the Gebrüder Grimm, the opera “Der Freischütz” by Carl Maria von Weber, and poems by Josef von Eichendorff.

The special mythological, even spiritual identification of the Germans with their forest has changed over time, specifically after its misuse by the nazi ideology.

But even today, the German national self-image is still nourished by the forest: “The Germans are the people of the forest par excellence”, Albrecht Lehmann expressed in 2001 in his essay Waldbewusstsein und Waldwissen in Deutschland.  

While not all Germans would want to subscribe to this, a certain emotional/cultural relationship is still in place -  the book, “Das geheime Leben der Bäume” by Peter Wohlleben 2015, did succeed in climbing to the top  of the bestseller lists in Germany.

Not surprisingly, there are also a number of German proverbs referring to “forest”.

Holz in den Wald tragen

“To carry wood into the forest”, is to do something pointless; to undertake a task that is redundant.

Den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht sehen

“Can't see the forest for the trees" expresses a situation in which someone is so concerned with the details of something that he fails to grasp the situation as a whole. Sometimes being too preoccupied with the smaller things can mean missing the bigger picture.

Pfeifen im Walde

“ Whistling in the forest” means to try and stay brave or convince yourself that everything is alright in a bad situation. 

Ich glaub', ich steh' im Wald

 "I think I'm standing in the woods" is a colloquial form of expressing astonishment.

Wie man in den Wald hineinruft, so schallt es heraus

“The way you shout into the forest, is the way it echoes back out”. If you treat someone badly, you'll eventually be treated badly yourself.

Sich wie die Axt im Walde benehmen

“Acting like an axe in a forest” -   describes rough, boorish or destructive behavior.

Es herrscht Schweigen im Walde

"There is silence in the forest," describes a situation in which no one dares to say anything out of embarrassment or fear.

Peter Wohlleben landed a bestseller with his book „Das geheime Leben der Bäume“ (ISBN-10 : 3453280881), now also available as movie, have a look at the trailer:

Do you want to know more about Peter Wohlleben? Click here

Read all about two of Germanys Nationalparks: Hunsrück-Hochwald and Bayrischer Wald.

Finally, want to discover  - or simply enjoy - the sounds of the forest? Click here for the immersive experience.