Photo by Catalina Escalona/The Gazelle

Germany: Sustainability and the Teutoburg Forest

BERLIN — Provoked by events like Fukushima, Chernobyl and the oil crises of 1973 and 1979, the world is reaching a consensus: When it comes to energy, ...

Photo by Catalina Escalona/The Gazelle
BERLIN — Provoked by events like Fukushima, Chernobyl and the oil crises of 1973 and 1979, the world is reaching a consensus: When it comes to energy, searching for alternatives is a necessity. Sustainability has become a buzzword of our generation, and several countries have stepped up to the challenge. But one country in particular has become a central figure: Germany.
Through the influential policies of Energiewende, or energy transition, Germany has taken strides in developing this technology. As a leader in solar and wind power, Germany plans to shut down all nuclear plants by 2022, focusing its efforts toward conserving energy and switching to renewable sources.
But why is sustainability such an important issue for Germany, and why have such transformative policies been implemented? Perhaps the policies are not so farfetched for Germans, and the reason for valuing sustainability takes its roots from far beyond just a reaction to recent environmental events.
From its dense forests, endless rivers, Bavarian Alps and coastlines along the North and Baltic seas, nature is strongly intertwined with the German identity. It could be said that Germany’s relationship with nature began during the time of the Roman Empire.
At the beginning of the first century, the scale of the Roman Empire was vast, spanning from Spain to Asia Minor and all along the Mediterranean Sea, but the Empire’s border stopped just before the Rhine. On the western side of the river, the Roman Empire thrived, developing roads, coins, trade routes and more. Just beyond the river on the east lived the so-called barbaric Germanic tribes, governed by independent chiefs and dispersed throughout the dense forests. Although their civilization was not as developed as the Romans, the Germanic tribes established a close relationship to nature, valuing nature because it directly affected their survival.
In 9 C.E. one of the most important battles in German history took place — the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. The Roman Empire wanted to expand its territory beyond the Rhine, and Roman General Publius Quinctilius Varus had just been falsely informed of an uprising of distant Germanic Tribes. With the Germanic tribes supposedly weakened through their dispute, Varus saw this as an opportunity to conquer the land, sending three Roman legions into the Teutoburg Forest. 
But within the forest, the Germanic tribes, led by the legendary tribal leader Hermann, were awaiting the legions and attacked brutally. The gruesome battle lasted three days, resulting in the total defeat of the three Roman legions — more than ten percent of the Roman Imperial Army.
Hermann’s victory in the Teutoburg Forest is believed to have prevented any further conquest by the Roman Empire east of the Rhine. It can be said that this is the first formation of German identity: The Germanic tribes came together to protect their lands from outsiders, but more importantly they demonstrated that they are strongest when united in nature. With nature at the core, perhaps sustainability is not such a foreign concept for Germany today.
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