The Tree Cathedral

Until 10.000 years ago, northern Germany bordered the glacial margin of the Nordic ice cap. At this time of the Pleistocene, so much water was stored in the form of ice in the glacial system up to three kilometers thick, that the sea level was about 130 meters (427 feet) below the present-day level. As a result, the North Sea fell dry and the Baltic Sea gave way to the thick ice sheet. The Scandinavian ice sheet reached as far as Hamburg and Berlin. In the south, the glaciation of the Alps bordered the area of Munich.

The rest of Germany was covered by either subarctic tundra or small-growing shrubs. The latter include the dwarf birches and polar willows. The highlands of the low mountain ranges were covered with snow and ice. Among the most conspicuous animals of the Ice Age were the mammoths, cave bears, and saber-toothed tigers. Humans roamed the terrain as hunter-gatherers.

During the ice ages, the central European forests retreated into the Mediterranean region and began their reconquest about 10.000 years ago. As the ice masses retreated toward Scandinavia and the central Alps, the age of the Holocene began. As the tundra retreated further to the north, numerous lakes formed in the hilly northern German moraine landscape with its meltwater streams, sands, boulders and erratic boulders.

The first pioneering trees of this landscape were the mountain pines, followed by birches, willows and hazel bushes. As temperatures continued to rise and rainfall became abundant, oaks, linden trees and elms increasingly mingled with the tree population. About 9.000 years ago, vast oak forests covered the land, and with the immigration of beech and fir, the final competition of trees for sunlight began. Thus, initially sparse oak forests became dense beech forests about 6.000 years ago.

This raises the question of how fast trees can move. Whether and how fast forests can establish themselves with which tree association depends sensitively not only on the mean annual temperature and the amount of precipitation, but also on their extreme values. Even more important than rainfall itself is the difference between rainfall and evaporation. This value controls the available water budget and thus the soil moisture. Only when the warmest month of the year, July, exceeded the 10°C (50°F) mark and sufficient moisture was available for the soil, the first forests could grow. Beech trees managed to migrate northward at a rate of 20 km (12 miles) per century during the post-glacial climate warming period.

Then, about 6.000 years ago, humans became the primary shapers of the landscape by radically and systematically harvesting the existing primeval forests. Due to their immense demand for wood, the complex ecosystem of the forest disappeared completely. The remaining forest patches were later replanted with fast-growing spruce and pine trees. As a result, today’s forest ecosystem is severely disturbed because it is interspersed with atypical and non-native tree species. All of Germany’s forests today are commercial forests and resemble plantations. Even the natural-looking tree stands of the mixed forests in the few national parks no longer correspond to the original appearance of the primeval forest.

It is all the more magnificent when small forest areas are withheld from human influence and left to develop on their own, or are simply forgotten. Then semi-natural habitats slowly re-emerge for a variety of forest inhabitants, from owls to badgers and wolves. The forest then returns to the impression of naturalness and primordial growth. Such powerful places of nature are rare in Germany but they exist in isolated places. This small forest in northern Germany belongs to these magical places, where you get the impression to stand in the middle of a primeval forest. The wooden circle on this glade in the middle of the forest is a ritual place where people regularly connect with nature and celebrate their love for the planet.

I discovered this place on my hikes through the woods in the very last light of an autumn evening. The setting sun was just touching the horizon and sent its red rays deep into the forest for a few minutes. The already colorful autumn forest lit up intensely for just a fleeting moment. The impression of this landscape was so overwhelming that it carried me back to the time of the hunter-gatherers. It must have looked very similar everywhere in Central Europe when the forests reconquered the ice-age tundra and people held their rituals in these forests.

November 2020
Canon 5DSR, Canon EF-L 16-35 mm @ 17 mm, f/16, 1/2 second, 8688x2190 pixels, 19 megapixels, ISO 100, Manfrotto 055B tripod with Manfrotto 410 3D geared head.
Germany Gallery » The Tree Cathedral