Soviet Legacy: Widespread Pollution in Eastern Germany
FUERSTENBERG, Germany (AP) _ After the Soviet army left a base in Fuerstenberg last spring, East Germans stripped the buildings of sinks, radiators, light fixtures and tiles.
But there were some things villagers didn’t haul away: soil contaminated with motor oil and diesel fuel, hand grenades discarded by Red Army soldiers.
″For those of us who grew up with the Soviets, that kind of environmental damage comes as no surprise,″ said Mayor Wolfgang Engler.
The mayor can hardly contain his resentment against the departing Soviets, who still number between 10,000 and 20,000 at other sites in this community 35 miles north of Berlin.
″We can only determine the full extent of the pollution after the damage from the discarded ammunition and grenades has been taken care of,″ Engler added.
Eastern Germany is an environmental basket case, and the Soviets are turning out to be among the top offenders.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s government is insisting that the Soviet military brass help curb the damage before the last of the Red Army pulls out in 1994.
But the list of Soviet offenses seems to grow every week.
In Rosslau, 60 miles southwest of Berlin, one former training ground was declared an off-limits danger zone. The land is filled with open tunnels and crumbling buildings.
Ammunition and treacherous mines are believed to be scattered about.
Oil and fuel have contaminated the water near the Polenz-Brandis Soviet military air field in the southern city of Leipzig, according to the newspaper Der Morgen.
Dresden is fighting against possible contamination of its drinking water from leaking oil products, Der Morgen said, citing a report by former East German officials.
In fact, the threat to water supplies is the most frequently mentioned Soviet transgression.
After months of grumbling by local officials, the federal government has stepped in with a strong lecture to the Soviet military leadership in Germany.
Bertram Wieczorek, a top-ranking official in the Environmental Ministry, told Soviet officers on Saturday that about 125 sites have been targeted for immediate cleanup.
Wieczorek urged the officers to ″avoid all further pollution, investigate environmental damage at the bases, pinpoint contaminated areas and evaluate the potential danger for people and nature.″
That was blunt talk for a government seeking improved ties with Moscow. Bonn expects nearly 100,000 of the 338,000 Soviet soldiers to be be gone by the end of this year.
Wieczorek said a treaty signed by the Soviets shortly after German unification last October obliges them to abide by Germany’s environmental laws.
In the end, however, the Germans will wind up footing the bill for the cleanup. They have promised an initial payment of $42 million.
In many cases, buildings on Soviet bases are in such disrepair that they will have to be torn down just to keep them from collapsing.
″The people are furious, but what does that change?″ said Heinz Herbig, a worker clearing the site in Fuerstenberg.
In his view, the Soviets knew all along they would one day leave Communist East Germany and thus did the minimum to keep their bases in repair, to say nothing of protecting the environment.
Adding insult to injury, the Soviets demanded - and got, in writing - a promise of nearly $5 million for the return of the first base in Fuerstenberg.
Mayor Engler proudly says that so far nothing has been paid for the 123- acre site, which the Soviets gave up on May 20.
It is now being turned into an industrial park.
Soviet forces occupy more than 4,500 acres of land in Fuerstenberg, meaning the years-long cleanup job has just begun.
The mayor says he understands why many among the 6,000 townsfolk, hungry for anything to spruce up their homes, stormed the base last year.
″I don’t want to make any excuses for our people,″ Engler said.
But he added: ″They also wanted to show how happy they were that the first Soviet base was cleared out.″