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College of Arts & Sciences
Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute

Hazardscapes in Reunified Germany

Mark Wesley Corson

Advisor: Dr. Julian Minghi



This dissertation examines the hazardscapes in reunified Germany. The dissertation specifically addresses the partition and reunification phases in Germany's recent history. The purpose was to examine the spatial distribution and attributes of technological hazards such as industrial facilities, military bases, and power plants that contain or emit substances harmful to humans and the environment. Two research questions provided the focus: 1) Were hazardscapes different in the FRG and GDR prior to reunification, and if so, what changes occurred after reunification; 2) What factors or processes explain these changes.

In order to understand the differences between partition (1945-1990) and reunification (1990+), the dissertation examined the historical evolution of the German hazardscape from the industrial revolution until 1990. In addition, the evolution of the German environmental consciousness and current German environmental policy were examined to provide the necessary context for this study. The industrial revolution was a catalyst for the production of hazards and the initial development of the German environmental consciousness. As industrial productivity increased so did the level of environmental awareness of its adverse impacts. By the 1970s environmental concerns were sufficient to stimulate environmental protection laws in the west. In the GDR, environmental consciousness was minimized in favor of industrial production. The result was the differential production of the hazardscape and the public's response to it.

To further clarify the differences in the hazardscape between the FRG and the GDR, an empirical analysis of selected environmental indicators (SO2, NO2, O3, dust) was undertaken. A GIS was used to assess changes occurring in ambient air quality between selected partition years (1985 or 1988) and reunification (1992). Dust and SO2 were substantially worse in the GDR during the partition era. NO2 and O3, on the other hand were more of a problem in the FRG during this same time period. Reunification produced a change in the atmospheric concentration with a significant reduction in SO2 and dust in the former GDR, but a concomitant rise in NO2 and O3. Atmospheric concentration of the indicators in the western Lander remained unchanged. A qualitative assessment of forest and biological river health found that during the partition era forest and river health were worse in the GDR. In the chemical triangle (Halle-Leipzig-Bitterfeld) river quality was significantly worse, bordering on biological death. After reunification, significant improvement was detected. The pattern of forest damage also indicated declining quality in the east with improvement after 1990.

The second research question examined the factors and processes that contributed to these environmental changes in the landscape. Using Renn's social arena metaphor as the conceptual framework, the study examined the key actors and institutions responsible for the hazardscape change. The primary explanation for hazardscape change was the national effort to privatize the former GDR industrial base. This resulted in massive factory closings, reductions in production, and a minimal introduction of environmental protection technology. In other words, the hazardscape improved because many of the industrial facilities ceased to function. With respect to military hazards, the change was a function of the withdrawal of foreign forces from reunified Germany.

To further explore these causal relationships, two case studies were undertaken representing very different hazardscapes. The continued military use of the Colbitz-Letzlinger-Heide provided a unique opportunity to study a land use conflict between the federal (who wanted a military training area) and local governments (who wanted a nature park). The military hazardscape was severely degraded during the partition phase. Some improvement has occurred because of less use by a more environmentally-conscious force. The second case study examine the city of Leipzig's effort to transform itself from a twentieth century industrial center to a post-industrial service center. While the hazardscape has changed (primarily through industrial closures and rapid suburbanization), the progress toward the post-industrial transformation has been slow. In this respect, Leipzig validates the macro-level changes in atmospheric concentrations.

This study provides insights into the historical evolution of hazards and the role of political restructuring on the hazardscape. The hazardscape did change for the better, not because of improved environmental consciousness, but rather because of economic changes occurring during the reunification phase. The second major conclusion is that disparate power relationships between new state governments and the federal government led to improved hazardscapes at the cost of severe economic and social dislocation of the eastern population.

KEYWORDS: Hazards, Germany, Reunification, Borders