Forest Swastikas Shaped by Tree Plantings Still Mystify Germans

Monday, 08 Jul 2013 01:34 PM

By Alexandra Ward

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More than 20 years after it was discovered, the mystery of the swastika forest continues to plague Germany as local experts attempt to trace its origins.

It was an intern at a landscaping company that first noticed the strange formation of trees in a Brandenburg forest in eastern Germany in 1992. The boy had been poring over aerial photos in search of irrigation lines, but instead noticed an unusual pattern among the trees.

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The forest was made up of hundreds of evergreen pines, but about 140 larch trees stood out — they change color in the fall, first to yellow and then to brown — because they were planted in the design of a swastika.

A local forester determined that the trees were planted sometime in the late 1930s, according to a retrospective published in Der Spiegel.

"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," the retrospective read. "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."

After the swastika forest's discovery, rumors began to spread about how it came to be. A local farmer claimed he had planted the larch trees; others said Nazi leaders ordered villagers to plant them as a tribute to Hitler on his birthday one year.

Attempts were made to chop down the swastika forest, once in 1995 and then in 2000. The trees grew back the first time, and officials only allowed foresters to take down 25 of the larches the second time.

Other swastika forests have been reported, including in Kyrgystan and in other parts of Germany.

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