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Archive for the ‘United Land of Germany’ Category

Merkel ally proposes Europe entry ban for serious crimes

November 09, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — A close ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel is proposing a lifelong entry ban to Europe for asylum-seekers convicted of serious crimes. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told daily FrankfurterAllgemeine in an interview published Friday that such a sanction should be considered for migrants who are deported after serving their sentences.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, the general secretary of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, is one of three high-profile candidates vying to succeed her as party leader next month. A former state governor, Kramp-Karrenbauer suggested the entry ban should cover Europe’s entire 26-nation Schengen zone, where passport-free travel is possible.

Kramp-Karrenbauer cited the case of an alleged gang rape in the southwestern city of Freiburg last month, in which several Syrian men are among the suspects. The main suspect in the case was also wanted on drugs charges.


Hitler in war, Merkel in peace: A train car for history

November 07, 2018

COMPIEGNE, France (AP) — Adolf Hitler went in wartime for revenge. Angela Merkel plans a pilgrimage in the name of peace. Two German chancellors, with opposite aims and the same destination: a train car in a French forest.

Hitler tried literally to rewrite history in 1940 when the Nazi leader commandeered the dining coach to serve France the same humiliation Germany suffered there on the last day of World War I. This time, Merkel will have the French president by her side as she visits what remains of the Wagon of Compiegne, the carriage-turned-office where the Allies and Germany signed the armistice on Nov. 11, 1918.

An unusual journey took Wagons-Lits Co. carriage 2419D from serving sauteed veal and boeuf bourguignon to passengers in the seaside town of Deauville to serving as a crucible for world peace while stopped in the middle of a forest in Compiegne.

Puzzled tourists often ask Bernard Letemps, the curator of the Armistice Museum, why the Allies signed the cease-fire agreement that ended the atrocities of the Western Front in that humble setting instead of a grand military building or a glittering palace.

At the time, the official headquarters in Senlis of the Allied commander, French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, would have been the expected place to sign a cease-fire. But the town had endured a brutal German assault. Its inhabitants were taken hostage and its mayor shot in September 1914, before the first Battle of the Marne. How the bruised townspeople would react to the presence of a German delegation, even one coming with the goal of peace, was a serious concern.

“It was out of the question to receive the plenipotentiary Germans in (such a) town,” Letemps said. A moveable train carriage in the nearby Compiegne forest was deemed ideal: The isolated location would deter intruders and the calm and secrecy offered a measure of respect to the defeated Germans.

As it happened, Foch had fitted out a mobile office just the month before — a dining car chosen at random from the French passenger train fleet. And so 2419D became known as the “Wagon of Compiegne.” The Armistice was signed just after 5 a.m., but officials held out six hours to put it into effect out of a sense of poetry — the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. That delay, rather unpoetically, cost lives on both sides at the end of a war that had already left 17 million dead.

“The train car represents the end of fighting. The end, when people found peace,” Letemps said. He added, smiling: “It fulfilled its role of dining car before becoming famous.” The Armistice Museum lays on the train tracks on the site of the signing in the middle of forest.

Foch was immortalized in statues ubiquitous across France and gave his name to one of the broad, leafy avenues radiating out from the Arc de Triomphe. The same reception was not reserved for the losing side: One of the Germans to sign the document, Matthias Erzberger, was vilified for his role in the surrender. He was assassinated in 1921.

The story of dining car 2419D and Compiegne didn’t end with the war. For throngs of French mourners in the post-war years, the dining car became a shrine to peace and catharsis. The car was taken to Paris for display in the courtyard of the Invalides, the final resting place of Napoleon, before it went back to Compiegne in 1927 to sit in a specially-made memorial constructed on the site of today’s museum.

Letemps said the wagon received over 190,000 visitors in one year alone in the 1930s as it became a focus for mourning France’s 1.4 million fallen soldiers. For Hitler in those same years, it became a rallying cry during his ascent to power as he exploited the German public’s contempt for the punitive terms of surrender.

The Nazi leader visited the site in 1940 when his armies conquered France. The Fuhrer ordered the dining car brought out of the memorial and returned to the tracks in the spot in the forest it occupied in 1918.

What ensued was Hitler’s surreal theatrical restaging of the 1918 armistice, one of history’s most famous events, with literally the tables’ turned. The 1940 Armistice was dictated in that train — with Germany the victor and France the loser.

“General (Wilhelm) Keitel read the conditions for the Armistice in the car, with Chancellor Hitler sitting in the place of Marshal Foch,” Letemps said. Hitler then ordered the car to be hauled to Germany and displayed, like a notorious prisoner of war, at the Berlin Cathedral.

The dining car was destroyed at the end of World War II, though how that happened has been lost to time. Some accounts blame members of the Nazi SS, others a random airstrike. In 1950, French manufacturer Wagons-Lits, the company that ran the Orient Express, donated a car from the same series to the museum — 2439D is identical to its ravaged twin from its polished wooden finishes to its studded, leather-bound chairs. It is parked beside the display of the original car remains: a few fragments of bronze decoration and two access ramps.

On Saturday, Merkel becomes the first German chancellor in 78 years to visit the forest clearing where the end of the globe’s first conflict was written. She will be joined by French President Emmanuel Macron in a scene reminiscent of 1984 when Chancellor Helmut Kohl poignantly held President Francois Mitterrand’s hand at an ossuary near Verdun.

On the centenary of the conflict’s end, this visit will make for soul-searing images of its own.

Former Nazi SS camp guard, 94, goes on trial in Germany

November 06, 2018

MUENSTER, Germany (AP) — A 94-year-old former SS enlisted man went on trial Tuesday in Germany, facing hundreds of counts of accessory to murder for alleged crimes committed during the years he served as a guard at the Nazis’ Stutthof concentration camp.

Johann Rehbogen was pushed into the Muenster state court trial in a wheelchair, a wooden cane at his side and briefcase on his lap. He appeared alert and attentive as presiding judge Rainer Brackhane asked him questions, answering in slow, concise sentences.

Rehbogen is accused of working as a guard at the camp east of Danzig, which is today the Polish city of Gdansk, from June 1942 to about early September 1944. There is no evidence linking him to a specific crime, but over 60,000 people were killed at Stutthof and prosecutors argue that as a guard, he was an accessory to at least hundreds of those deaths.

The retired civil servant showed no reaction as prosecutor Andreas Brendel read the accusations against him, detailing the horrific way prisoners at Stutthof were killed. Some were given lethal injections of gasoline or phenol directly to their hearts, shot or starved. Others were forced outside in winter without clothes until they died of exposure, or put to death in the gas chamber.

“Anyone who heard the screams from outside the gas chamber would have known that people were fighting for their lives,” Brendel said. Rehbogen, a former SS Sturmmann — roughly equivalent to the U.S. Army rank of specialist — does not deny serving in the camp during the war, but has told investigators he was unaware of the killings and did not participate in them.

No pleas are entered in Germany and Andreas Tinkl, one of Rehbogen’s attorneys, would not comment on his client’s defense. He said Rehbogen would address the court at some point during the trial, which is scheduled into January.

Rehbogen lives in Borken, near the Dutch border. In deference to his age and health, the trial is being restricted to a maximum of two hours a day, on no more than two non-consecutive days a week. At the same time, because he was under 21 at the time of his alleged crimes, he is being tried in juvenile court and faces a maximum 10 years in prison if convicted.

Seventeen Stutthof survivors or relatives of victims have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs, but Brendel said it was unclear whether any would testify in person due to their ages. In one of several statements read by their attorneys, survivor Judy Meisel remembered being forced by the Germans into a ghetto at age 12, where she said she endured hunger, daily humiliation and terror.

“But I was not prepared for what came next,” said Meisel, who today lives in Minneapolis. “Next came Stutthof and I experienced the unimaginable, the hell organized and executed by the SS.” Rehbogen, who was given headphones so he could clearly follow the testimony, showed no reaction as Meisel said the last time she saw her mother, they were both standing among a group of naked women about to be forced into the gas chamber, before she herself was able to break away.

“Stutthof was organized mass murder through the SS, made possible through the help of the guards,” she said. Ben Cohen, Meisel’s grandson who came from New York to attend the trial, said hearing her statement with one of her former captors in the same room was both important and moving.

“I know her story so well it is emotional every time I hear it, but it takes on more importance than my own emotions now,” he said. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which helped locate Stutthof survivors for the case, stressed that even more than 70 years after the end of World War II it is not too late to pursue justice.

“The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of Holocaust perpetrators and old age should not afford protection to those who committed such heinous crimes,” said the center’s head Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff.

Even though the number of suspects is dwindling, the special federal prosecutor’s office that investigates Nazi war crimes still has multiple cases ongoing. The legal reasoning that being a camp guard is itself enough to be found guilty of accessory to murder, even without specific evidence of a crime, was first used successfully against former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk in 2011.

Demjanjuk was convicted on allegations he served as a Sobibor death camp guard. He denied the accusation and died before his appeal could be heard. The 2015 conviction of former Auschwitz guard Oskar Groening using the same argument, however, was upheld by Germany’s top criminal court on appeal.

The Stutthof case is the first use of this reasoning for a concentration camp guard instead of a death camp guard. But prosecutors have expressed confidence it can be applied, since tens of thousands of people were killed in Stutthof even though its sole purpose was not murder.

Stutthof was established in 1939 and was initially used as the main collection point for Jews and non-Jewish Poles removed from nearby Danzig. From about 1940, it was used as a so-called “work education camp” where forced laborers, primarily Polish and Soviet citizens, were sent to serve sentences and often died. Others incarcerated there included criminals, political prisoners, homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

From mid-1944, it was filled with tens of thousands of Jews from ghettos being cleared by the Nazis in the Baltics as well as from Auschwitz, and thousands of Polish civilians swept up in the brutal suppression of the Warsaw uprising.

Merkel won’t seek a 5th term as German chancellor

October 29, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Angela Merkel set off Monday on what could be a three-year countdown to the end of her leadership of Germany, a stint that has made her the European Union’s longest-serving leader and a key figure in facing the continent’s many crises.

Merkel announced that she will give up the leadership of her conservative Christian Democratic Union in December and won’t stand for a fifth term as chancellor — signaling the beginning of the end at the helm for the woman many had labeled the “leader of the free world.”

That’s a title she herself objected to, saying leadership is never up to one person or country. But she has been a stalwart face of Western democracy through turbulent times, including the European debt crisis, the migrant influx of 2015, Britain’s decision to leave the EU and escalating trade tensions with the United States.

With her announcement, she indicated she has no intention of shirking from the “major foreign policy challenges” ahead, suggesting by taking the question of her future out of the picture her often rancorous coalition might govern better.

“With this decision, I am trying to contribute to allowing the government to concentrate its strength, finally, on governing well — and people rightly demand that,” Merkel said. Merkel, 64, has led the CDU since 2000 and Germany since 2005. She governs Germany in a “grand coalition” of what traditionally has been the country’s biggest parties — the CDU, Bavaria’s conservative Christian Social Union and the center-left Social Democrats.

She announced her decision the day after voters punished both her CDU and the Social Democrats in an election in the central state of Hesse. It came two weeks after a similar debacle for the CSU and Social Democrats in neighboring Bavaria.

Her announcement comes amid growing concerns about far-right nationalist parties making inroads in Europe, including Germany. Sunday’s result in Hesse means that the Alternative for Germany party now holds seats in every state legislature and federal parliament.

Many in Europe also have looked to Merkel as U.S. President Donald Trump has increasingly called into question traditional trans-Atlantic ties with his announcements of trade tariffs, repeated criticism of European contributions to NATO, and other issues. Merkel has walked a fine line, criticizing some of Trump’s decisions while emphasizing that a good relationship with Washington is “central” to her government.

At the moment, it is still too early to tell whether she will be able to govern effectively as a lame-duck chancellor, or if it will strengthen her coalition, said Thorsten Faas, political science professor at Berlin’s Free University.

“The pressure obviously was so great that there was no other solution left,” he said. “It will be interesting to see what happens now, because this is initiating a dynamic, the outcome of which is unforeseeable today.”

For her part, Merkel said she sees “many more opportunities than risks for our country, the German government and also my party” in setting a transition of power in motion. She said she hopes to open the way for “new success for the CDU” by letting it prepare for her departure as chancellor, and she won’t interfere with the choice of a successor.

Carsten Brzeski, an economist at ING-DiBa in Frankfurt, said Merkel’s move “holds the potential for positive developments.” “Not so much because new is always better but rather because it could give Merkel the freedom and the tail wind — freed from party ties — to put a final stamp on her legacy, possibly with bolder steps to reform the German economy and the monetary union,” he said.

Merkel will now concentrate on smoothing over the differences in her government to keep it running until the end of the parliamentary term in 2021, which is far from guaranteed. The Social Democrats only reluctantly joined her coalition in March, and another crisis or an already-agreed midterm review next fall could spell its end.

The Social Democrats’ leader, Andrea Nahles, said she hopes the CDU leadership contest will end arguments within Merkel’s bloc about its direction and leaders. If things go well, “it could have a positive effect for us and our work together.”

Two prominent candidates immediately threw their hats in the ring: Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, the party’s general secretary, who is viewed as a Merkel ally and largely backs her centrist approach; and Health Minister Jens Spahn, 38, an ambitious conservative who has talked tough on migration and has criticized Merkel.

Another more conservative figure, Friedrich Merz, also reportedly planned to seek the leadership. Merz lost his post as the party’s parliamentary leader to Merkel in 2002 and has been absent from front-line politics in recent years.

It had been widely assumed this would be Merkel’s final term in office, but the comments were the chancellor’s first public confirmation. Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, stepped down as leader of his Social Democrats in 2004 but remained chancellor until narrowly losing a re-election bid 18 months later.

Merkel said she has been mulling her decision for months. Her one-time mentor, Helmut Kohl, sought a fifth term in 1998 and lost power after 16 years. Merkel has dragged the CDU to the political center, dropping military conscription and abruptly accelerating the shutdown of Germany’s nuclear power plants following Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011.

She swung her conservatives behind bailouts for Greece and other struggling eurozone nations, striking a balance between calls for a strict approach at home and more generosity abroad. In one of her most debated moves, Merkel allowed large numbers of migrants and asylum-seekers into Germany in 2015, many of them fleeing the fighting in Syria, before gradually pivoting to a more restrictive approach.

That decision has led to lasting tensions in her conservative Union bloc, particularly with Bavaria’s CSU, and helped the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party gain support. At the other end of the spectrum, the traditionally left-leaning Greens also have gained.

WWI centenary to be marked in London and Paris, not Berlin

November 04, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I on French soil, and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will be in London at a ceremony in Westminster Abby with Queen Elizabeth II.

But while the leaders visit the capitals of Germany’s wartime enemies, at home there are no national commemorations planned for the centenary of the Nov. 11 armistice that brought an end to the four-year war that killed more than 2 million of its troops and left 4 million wounded.

Next week, German parliament is holding a combined commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the declaration of the first German republic, the 80th anniversary of the brutal Nazi-era pogrom against Jews known as the Night of Broken Glass, and the 29th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Almost as an afterthought, parliament notes there’s also art exhibition in the lobby called “1914/1918 – Not Then, Not Now, Not Ever.”

More than just being on the losing side of the World War 1, it’s what came next that is really behind Germany’s lack of commemorative events. For Germany, the Nov. 11 armistice did not mean peace like it did in France and Britain. The war’s end gave rise to revolution and street fighting between far-left and far-right factions. It also brought an end to the monarchy, years of hyperinflation, widespread poverty and hunger, and helped create the conditions that brought the Nazis to power in 1933.

The horrific legacy of the Holocaust and the mass destruction of World War II simply overshadows everything else in Germany, said Daniel Schoenpflug, a historian at Berlin’s Free University’s Friedrich-Meinecke-Institute. His new book, “A World on Edge,” explores the immediate aftermath of the war through individual perspectives.

“One can’t reduce it to the simple fact that one country won the war and the other lost,” Schoenpflug said. “Germany is a country that draws practically its entire national narrative out of the defeat of 1945” — and not the defeat of 1918.

By contrast in Turkey, which was also on the losing side in World War I, the war’s end produced a similar collapse of the Ottoman empire and a war of independence, but also gave rise to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the modern Turkish republic.

In Germany, even though the end of World War I is now viewed through the prism of Hitler and the Holocaust, in the immediate postwar period there actually was a period of utopianism, with movements promoting idealistic visions of peace and democracy, Schoenpflug said.

Yet on the other side of the political spectrum, utopianism on the right also gave birth to fascism, he said. And as initial euphoria over the end of World War I faded, hopes for the future quickly gave way to feelings of resentment at the reparations and conditions imposed on Germany by the victorious axis powers. The Nazis and right-wing nationalists were able to garner support by propagating the “stab-in-the-back” myth, which held that Germany’s civilian leaders sold out the army by agreeing to the Nov. 11 surrender.

“There was a war of dreams, a clash of utopias” between the right and the left, Schoenpflug said. Although there aren’t any national commemorations in Germany marking the war’s end, individual events are planned, including an exhibition at the German Historical Museum in Berlin. A special World War I religious service is also being organized by the German Bishops Conference at the Berliner Dom cathedral.

And in addition to German officials taking part in the events in London and Paris, the Foreign Ministry said they and their British counterparts have worked together to coordinate the ringing of church and secular bells around the world on Nov. 11 to mark the war’s centenary.

“The bells will ring at midday to commemorate the more than 17 million victims of World War I and as a call for understanding and reconciliation across borders,” the ministry said.

Germany’s governing parties punished in state election

October 29, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s governing parties lost significant support in a state election Sunday that was marked by discontent with infighting in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s national government and prompted calls for her coalition to get its act together quickly.

Merkel’s conservatives emerged with an extremely lackluster win from the vote for the central Hesse region’s state legislature. Her center-left governing partners’ dismal performance left them level with the resurgent Greens in second place, while the far-right Alternative for Germany entered the last of Germany’s 16 state parliaments.

Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union was defending its 19-year hold on Hesse, previously a stronghold of the center-left Social Democrats, the chancellor’s coalition partners in Berlin. Speculation has been widespread before the vote that a disastrous result for either or both parties could further destabilize the national government, prompting calls for the Social Democrats to walk out and possibly endangering Merkel’s own position. On Sunday, government leaders appeared keen to try and keep the show on the road.

Andrea Nahles, the Social Democrats’ leader, said that “the state of the government is unacceptable.” She said her party would insist on Merkel’s governing coalition agreeing on “a clear, binding timetable” for implementing projects, adding that its implementation ahead of an already-agreed midterm review next fall will show “whether we are still in the right place in this government.”

The CDU’s general secretary, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, said the coalition needs to identify “three concrete projects for the coming months that we implement.” She didn’t specify what they might be. Hesse’s conservative governor, Volker Bouffier, told supporters that “the message this evening to the parties in the government in Berlin is clear: people want less argument, more objectivity, more solutions.”

Merkel’s CDU won 27 percent of the vote Sunday and the Social Democrats 19.8 percent. When Hesse last elected its state legislature in 2013 — on the same day that Merkel, at the height of her power, won a third term as chancellor — they won 38.3 and 30.7 percent, respectively. It was the worst result in the region for the Social Democrats since World War II.

There were big gains for the Greens, who took 19.8 percent of the vote, compared with 11.1 percent five years ago. And the anti-migration, anti-establishment Alternative for Germany won 13.1 percent. The pro-business Free Democrats won 7.5 and the Left Party 6.3 percent of the vote.

Voters have appeared generally satisfied with Bouffier’s outgoing state government. It was the first coalition between the CDU and the traditionally left-leaning Greens to last a full parliamentary term, and an unexpectedly harmonious alliance.

But only the Greens, who are in opposition nationally, benefited at the polls. The result left Bouffier’s outgoing CDU-Green coalition with a one-seat parliamentary majority. A CDU-Social Democrat coalition, or a combination of the Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats, would also have a one-seat majority, but neither appears very likely.

The election campaign in prosperous Hesse, which includes Germany’s financial center of Frankfurt, has been largely overshadowed by the woes of a federal coalition in office only since March. The state is home to 6.2 million of Germany’s 82 million people.

Two weeks ago, both Merkel’s partners in the federal “grand coalition” of what have traditionally been Germany’s strongest political forces — the Christian Social Union, the Bavaria-only sister to the chancellor’s CDU, and the Social Democrats — were battered in a state election in neighboring Bavaria.

The Social Democrats, who were badly beaten in last year’s national election, only reluctantly entered Merkel’s fourth-term national government in March. Many are dismayed by what has happened since. The government has been through two major crises, first over whether to turn back small numbers of migrants at the German-Austrian border and then over what to do with the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service after he was accused of downplaying far-right violence against migrants. It has failed to convince voters that it’s achieving much on other matters.

Karl-Rudolf Korte, a political science professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen, predicted on ZDF television that its leaders “will do everything to save the ‘grand coalition’ for the next three years.”

Being able to keep Bouffier, a deputy CDU leader, as governor would stabilize Merkel in the short term, he said. Germany’s chancellor of the past 13 years has indicated that she will seek another two-year term as CDU leader in December.

Cry me a river: Low water levels causing chaos in Germany

October 27, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — A new island in Lake Constance. A river in Berlin flowing backward. Dead fish on the banks of lakes and ponds. Barges barely loaded so they don’t run aground. A hot, dry summer has left German rivers and lakes at record low water levels, causing chaos for the inland shipping industry, environmental damage and billions of euros (dollars) in losses — a scenario that experts warn could portend the future as global temperatures rise.

The drought-like conditions have hit nearly 90 percent of the country this year. In Magdeburg, the Elbe River has been so low that no ships carrying goods south to Leipzig or on to the Czech Republic have been able to pass through since the end of June, said Hartmut Rhein of the city’s waterways and shipping department.

The river’s down to a depth of about 50 centimeters (less than 20 inches) there, when at least double that level is needed for normal shipping traffic, he said. “At the moment the only possibility is to completely unload ships and transfer their cargoes to other means of transportation,” he said.

The situation is similar across Germany. The mighty Rhine has hit its lowest water levels ever at several points, and other major rivers like the Danube, the Weser and the Main are all far below normal.

On the waterways that are still navigable, the lower water levels have actually led to increased shipping traffic, as companies pack less weight onto boats so they don’t ride so low in the water. That means they must send more vessels out to carry the same amount of freight.

“All the ships on the Rhine are going around the clock to transport goods that would normally be on fewer ships,” said Rolf Nagelschmidt of Cologne’s waterways and shipping office. “At the moment, everything that can float is being loaded up.”

That has sent freight prices skyrocketing, and some costs are already being felt by consumers, with higher prices at gas pumps and for home heating oil. Chemical giant BASF has been forced to cut production due to a lack of transportation. On Friday the company lowered its yearly profit forecast after a slowdown in the third quarter partly from the extra costs incurred due to the low levels of the Rhine, which flows past its headquarters in Ludwigshafen.

Germany’s Economy Ministry said Friday it had taken the unusual step of authorizing temporary access to Germany’s strategic fuel reserves in areas where supplies have not been able to get through due to the shallow waters.

With such widespread drought, Germany’s agricultural industry is also struggling. There have been shortages of feed for livestock and the country’s grain harvest is forecast to drop to 36 million tons this year compared to an average of 47.9 million tons over the last five years, according to the Center for Disaster Management at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

“If you look at the overall economic effects, we’re talking certainly in the double-digit billions,” said the center’s Michael Kunz. Northern and eastern Germany saw their warmest summer ever recorded in 2018, and central Germany had its lowest rainfall ever, according to the German Weather Service, or DWD.

“Climate change means not only an increase in average temperatures, but also in the increase of extreme events,” said DWD Vice President Paul Becker. “This year’s summer has been exceptional with its intensive drought and prolonged heat, but we expect an increase in such extreme periods in the future.”

From April through August, a high-pressure zone sat over northern Europe and a low-pressure zone blanketed the south. That created a “blocking situation” that produced the unusual weather, said Freja Vamborg, a senior climate scientist with Copernicus Climate Change Service, a European Union information service.

“During that whole time, most of northern Europe was warm and dry and the Mediterranean was wet,” she said. Most of Germany has been right in the middle of the dry zone. While there has been some relief from the drought in the British Isles and Scandinavia, the drought is still plaguing Germany.

Sandbanks have appeared on the Rhine River that have not been seen before in modern history. On the Austrian part of Lake Constance, which is shared by Germany, Austria and Switzerland, a 10,000 square meter (108,000 square foot) silt island has appeared.

Unexploded World War II munitions are also popping up, most recently with a 1,000-kilogram (2,200-pound) American bomb being found on the exposed bottom of the Rhine near Neuwied this week. Experts say some 3,000 bombs were dropped in the area as the allies sought to destroy a railway bridge, but only a few actually hit their target.

In Berlin, the Spree River, which normally flows into the Havel River in the western part of the city, has been taking water in from the Havel instead, said Derk Ehlert, with the city’s environment department.

“It’s flowing backward, so to speak,” he said. A family of beavers living in the German capital’s central Tiergarten park has attracted a lot of attention for taking matters into their own paws. They built a new dam about six weeks ago to keep the area wet — but that just dried other areas up.

“They wanted their old water level back,” Ehlert said. Other wildlife has been less able than the beavers to cope. Hundreds of tons of fish and countless freshwater mussels have been dying as waters have receded, said Magnus Wessel, head of nature conservation policy for the environmental group BUND.

Causes for the die-offs include greater concentrations of pesticides and other toxins due to the lower volume of water, boat traffic riding closer to the riverbeds, the increased number of boats on the rivers and less oxygen in the water, Wessel said.

And, of course, the obvious. “If you live underwater and you don’t have water above you, you’re dead,” he said.

Frank Jordans in Berlin and Daniel Niemann in Cologne contributed to this story.

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