Trees and Forest: A Mystery

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Reschke is actually a fan of his native Uckermark region of northeastern Germany, extolling its gently rolling hills, lakes and woods, as the "Tuscany of the north.

Reschke chartered a plane to fly over the area, and indeed, a neatly delineated swastika was clearly visible. By measuring the trees, he came to the conclusion they had been planted in the late s. That means that for decades, during every spring and autumn, a massive swastika took shape in the Kutzerower Heath -- surviving the Russian occupation, Communist rule in East Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall without ever attracting notice. The fact that it went undiscovered for so long was in part due to the short period of time each year that it was visible.

Furthermore, it could only be seen from a certain altitude, and the airplanes that headed north out of Berlin were already much too high for passengers to see the swastika in the forest. Private planes, on the other hand, were forbidden in East Germany. It didn't take long for rumors to spread about how the swastika got there in the first place. A local farmer claimed that he had planted the trees as a child, with a forester paying him a few cents for each seedling he put in the ground.

Others reported that it was put there as a sign of loyalty after a nearby villager had been taken to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp by the Nazis because he had secretly been listening to the BBC. Still another version holds that a local Nazi leader ordered the trees planted on the occasion of Hitler's birthday. Finally, the Berliner Zeitung newspaper reported that it was planted in gratitude to the Reich Labor Service for building a street in Zernikow. Whatever the truth may be, the story began to make waves well beyond the region.

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French reporters suddenly appeared in Zernikow, eager to fly over the heath to see the swastika for themselves. Soon thereafter, the German president began pressuring the local forestry office to get rid of the offensive symbol. The effects were immediate. In , forestry workers armed with chainsaws made their way to the copse of larches and cut down 40 trees.

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They reported back to their supervisors that the symbol was now unrecognizable, and the commotion surrounding the Kutzerower Heath quickly subsided. But the forestry workers were badly mistaken. It took five years before their error was discovered, but in , the news agency Reuters published photos of a bright yellow and clearly visible swastika in the forest near Zernikow -- even if the edges were a bit frayed. And the media response was once again immense.

Even the Chicago Tribune wrote about it, noting that the swastika forest was not helpful for a region that had already become notorious for racist violence. In fact, officials started becoming increasingly worried that the place could become a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis.

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This prompted the Agriculture Ministry of the eastern state of Brandenburg to plan drastic measures. In , Jens-Uwe Schade, a ministry spokesman, told Reuters that the intention had been to cut down all the trees in the area.

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But the BVVG, the federal office in charge of property management, blocked the plan because ownership of some of the property was in dispute and only gave the green light for state forestry officials to cut down 25 of the trees. This was done on the morning of Dec. Forestry workers had to be very careful about choosing which trees to cut down and about making sure that the swastika was no longer visible. They also had to cut the stumps just a few centimeters above the ground so that they could no longer be viewed from the air.

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  • However, planting swastikas in forests wasn't something that only happened in the Uckermark. As Jens-Uwe Schade already explained in , this had become "a fad among National Socialist foresters" during the Nazi period.

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    For example, already in the early s, US soldiers complained to the government of the state of Hesse after finding not only a huge swastika on the southern slope of a spruce forest near a place called Asterode, but also the year "" formed by larches. A similar symbol reportedly caused a major stir in Jesberg, in northern Hesse, when it was discovered in the s. And, in , a professor of folklore found a swastika of evergreen Douglas firs planted backwards in a deciduous forest in Wiesbaden.

    In fact, reports soon started emerging about tree swastikas all over Germany. In Sept. The origins of this swastika in reverse measuring some meters feet across were also shrouded in legend and uncertainty. One villager claimed that an ethnic German forest supervisor, who had been exiled to the east but was a Nazi sympathizer, directed the planting of the forest in the s. Another reported that the trees had been planted by a mysterious "professor" in the s before he was taken away by the KGB.

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    A local guide said the trees had been planted in the late s as a sign of German-Russian friendship when Hitler and Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact. Reporter C. Chivers also found legends the forest had been planted by German POWs pressed into forestry duty. The Motel Trees is located next door to the Forest Cafe.

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    If you plan to stay in the area for more than a single day, there is no more convenient or comfortable place to do so than Motel Trees - a "vintage" roadside motel that's well kept and attended to with pride. Motel Trees is not one of those bland and nondescript places, it has a character, charm and a style all its own. The beds are all comfy and given the location, you can look forward to sleeping like a log.

    We do have several pet rooms available, so the whole family can travel together. For information call Forest Cafe. Experience the Forest.

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