Photo. Refugees waiting to be admitted to the Marienfelde Refugee Center, August 14, 1961
© DHM-Schirner

June 2017

The 1st (East) Berlin Environment Day

The 1st East Berlin Environment Day
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Although the GDR included environmental protection in its constitution in 1968, in reality this was neglected in favor of the state planned economy. Its obsolete power plants and increased use of brown coal following the oil crisis of 1973 made the GDR one of the worst air polluters in Europe. The consequences of this trend could be seen visibly in industrial areas and cities: residents could not easily overlook the environmental damage, but this was not addressed publicly.

This is why many environmental protection groups were founded in the 1970s. The environment also became an important issue for GDR opposition groups during this time. The movement organized regional protests against core areas of GDR industry, such as uranium mining, agriculture and chemical companies. The state-owned company "Wismut," which extracted uranium ore in Thuringia and Saxony and disposed of the uncleaned production waste in dumps, became relevant here. Not until June 2017, 25 years later, was an intermediate cover completed for the radioactive slurry that contained arsenic.

The first autonomous environmental group was founded in 1979, following the "tree-planting action" organized by youth church groups in Schwerin. As demonstrated by this invitation to the 1st Berlin Environment Day from the Treptow Confessional Parish, the Church was from the very beginning closely connected with the environmental movement in the GDR. In the 1980s, people under political pressure met in the Confessional Church in Treptow and organized peace circles and other workgroups independent of the state. For this reason they were usually under observation by the Stasi. About 700 people from Berlin, the GDR and abroad accepted the invitation to attend the 1st Berlin Environment Day, at least the first one held in East Berlin. In West Berlin the annual bike rally has been taking place on Environment Day since 1972 and is still held today along different routes that lead to the Grosser Stern monument. With the invitation under the motto "City - Building - Ecology," the environmental movement in East Berlin participated in the day of action with a broad informative program for adults and children.