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20 years ago: Landscape of the year “Oder Delta“ – what is left?
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Photo: Ingeborg Pint

by Ingeborg Pint
In 1993 and 1994, the Oder Delta in the border region of Germany and Poland was proclaimed “Landscape of the Year” by Naturefriends International (NFI). On 17 May 2014, 20 years after the official end of the NFI project, leading members of the project group organised an anniversary meeting.

About 25 of the actors from 20 years ago had accepted the invitation, amongst them Herbert Brückner, honorary president of NFI and, at the time, project manager of the NFI Landscapes of the Year. I was working at the NFI office in Vienna at the time and responsible for the Landscapes of the Year − so I was pleased to go to the region again.

The main item on the agenda of this meeting was the visit of the bridge over the turf canal in Kamminke/Wydrzany, on the border between Germany (Usedom island in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania) and Poland (hinterland of the city Świnoujście/Swinemünde).

This was where in May 1993, at the opening event of the Landscape of the Year, a temporary bridge was built after overcoming enormous red tape. The Polish participants were thus able to take the shortest way possible to reach the venue of the event. The German and international participants were allowed − within a strictly determined period of time − to go to Świnoujście/Swinemünde after which the bridge (or, more precisely, the gangplank) was removed immediately.

Naturefriends then promised "to build this bridge again and again, until it would be here to stay", as Herbert Brückner put it in 1993. This was one of the aims in the list of demands of the Landscape of the Year.

After several futile tries over the years, this bridge has finally been built permanently, thanks to German-Polish cooperation and EU funds. It is a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists and always busy, as we could see on our short stay. Two ash trees that were planted in 1993 on both sides of the border as well as a commemorative stone still bring to mind the proclamation event of the Landscape of the Year.

 

The Landscape of the Year gives ideas
Not everything that was triggered by the Landscape of the Year is as visible as the bridge in Kamminke/Wydrzany. People who remember the times however say that these important initiatives in the fields of tourism, transport, nature and environmental protection had come at the right time.

They feel that this commitment had been necessary at the time: initiatives for cross-border work in a historically sensitive region, coming from an international organisation − at a time when the "walls" between East and West had not long been gone.

The foundation Stiftung Odermündung Verein für nachhaltige Entwicklung e.V., founded after the termination of the project Landscape of the Year, completed its work in 2007. From then on, its work was continued and intensified by authorities, associations, organisations and initiatives. Naturefriends' work continues within the associations Inselfreunde Usedom, Deutsch-Polnische Gesellschaft Vorpommern e.V., Transnationales Netzwerk Odermündung e.V. and other organisations in which actors from the Landscape of the Year are still active.

Apart from the fact that on the island Usedom, at the famous seaside resorts on the coast of the Baltic Sea, there was investment into mass tourism offers, sustainable tourism was overall successfully developed a little further into the country as well as in the Oderhaff region.

A lot of the things Naturefriends had wanted to establish within the Landscape of the Year have now become self-evident: the Usedom Bäderbahn and Bäderbus (train and bus), the bicycle rental system Usedom-Rad which enabled infrastructure further into the island, two- and three-language information boards at natural and cultural sights or sustainable fishery, to cite just a few examples. Polish descriptions of bicycle tours around the island Usedom were elaborated by Naturefriends Poland, PTTK, and published by the city of Świnoujśćie; a bicycle tour guide about Świnoujście and its surroundings was published in German.

The tourism prize "EDEN Award 2010" awarded to the project "Vorpommersche Flusslandschaft" (Western Pomerania, an area which partly overlaps with the LoY 1993/1994) shows that the region is on the right path following the ideas and suggestions of the Landscape of the Year. The European Commission honours rising, little-known travel destinations with the "European Destination of Excellence" (EDEN) Award.

Not all developments have been transboundary, but, as says Renate Hilbert for Naturefriends Greifswald, "a barrier has disappeared, and people can approach one another, because it is desirable and convenient for both sides".

The current Landscape of the Year 2013/2014 Upper Rhine Valley aims to 'build bridges, both real bridges and mental ones, to promote long-term cross-border cooperation and exchange especially in the areas of environment, sustainable tourism and civil society'. Even after 20 years, the Landscape of the Year Oder Delta is an outstanding example that this can be achieved.

 

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