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A chemical landscape transformed: Bitterfeld, Germany since 1980

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The essay uses the transformation of the chemical landscape of Bitterfeld, Germany, since the 1980s to explore successes and limitations of two state-driven modernisation projects - one socialist and centrally planned, the other liberal democratic and market-based - both expressing optimistic visions of using technology and industry to harness nature's productive potential and build a healthier, more prosperous, society. Under the East German socialist regime the chemical industry that had developed over a century lost its technological momentum because the state was forced to rely on brown coal that was technologically outdated and ecologically and economically unsustainable. After rapid unification, Germany scaled back and modernised Bitterfeld's chemical industry and stopped the mining of brown coal. Within two decades, the toxic chemical landscape was bought, sold and engineered into an ecologically and economically healthier condition, although unemployment increased temporarily and out-migration continues to be a concern. Over the last two decades an envirotechnical landscape has emerged in which chemical manufacturing is natural and the surrounding nature is highly engineered. The most recent chapter in Bitterfeld's story reveals a new modernisation project that aims to make the area ecologically healthy and economically competitive in the global market, an undertaking requiring extensive economic investment and environmental engineering.
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Keywords: Bitterfeld; East Germany; brownfield management; chemical pollution; environmental cleanup; environmental restoration; envirotechnical landscapes; manufactured landscape; modernisation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 April 2017

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  • The half-yearly journal Global Environment: A Journal of History and Natural and Social Sciences acts as a forum and echo chamber for ongoing studies on the environment and world history, with special focus on modern and contemporary topics. Our intent is to gather and stimulate scholarship that, despite a diversity of approaches and themes, shares an environmental perspective on world history in its various facets, including economic development, social relations, production government, and international relations.
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