As we look at the 40th anniversary of the Great Blizzard that crippled northern Europe and brought both Germanys to a complete standstill, one factor that should not be left out is the role of photography. Prior to the storm, the only way to get a clear picture of the storm was from the ground. There is an advantage and a disadvantage to that. The advantage is one can get a close-up of the places that are snowed in. Whether it is a house that is covered with meter-high drifts, as seen in many examples in villages in Schleswig-Holstein, or getting a sniper view of an iced-in bay as seen in the picture above, taken by Georg Gasch, one can get an at-level view to see the damages up close. The disadvantage of such an approach is the problems of obstruction of view by unwanted objects and in this case, the cold weather. But furthermore, it misses the big picture, meaning one needs a good bird’s eye view in order to see how bad it really was.
Enter Kai Greiser.
Working for the Spiegel magazine based in Hamburg, Greiser was appointed to take the camera and film the scenes from this wild storm, which was tauted as the worst of all time when it happened in 1978/79. Together with the TV crew from German public television ZDF, Greiser took off in a helicopter and took a trip north to Schleswig-Holstein. His mission was to get a bird’s eye view of the snow disaster in the region. What he got in the end was more than what he had bargained for. Because of him and his crew, he saved many lives of those who were stranded in cars drifted in meter deep snow. Because of him and his crew, he got the best picture for the front cover of Spiegel magazine (as seen in the first picture of the gallery), which later appeared in other books on the history of Schleswig-Holstein. Because of him and his crew, his photos, combined with the filming we got a round-look at what the great Blizzard left us from a bird’s eye view. We would have many more ariel photos, but Greiser pioneered it with a series on the great disaster.
There is a video with him narrating about his experience, which can be found here:
An article on his experience, albeit in German, can be found here. And the collection of the créme de la créme can be found here. The first picture in the gallery was the one that entered the cover page of Spiegel.
There are several literary pieces and documentaries that focus on aspects of the Great Storm of 1978/79, and the catastrophic winter that followed, which brought the northern half of West Germany and all of East Germany to a complete standstill. The majority of the pieces have focused on the hardest hit areas of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein- in particular, the areas of Kiel and Flensburg.
Der Große Schnee (in English: The Big Snow), written by Helmuth Sethe of the Husumer Nachrichten (Husum News, part of shz, Inc.) focuses on both the Great Storm that started right before the New Year, plus the winter that followed, which included the winter storm on 13 February- a month and a half later. All of them affecting Schleswig-Holstein, but with a focus on the North Sea coastal area (Dithmarschen and greater Husum), as well as the cities of Flensburg and Kiel and the surrounding areas. It was originally written after the winter storm in February that same year, but has been edited and republished multiple times, with the last edition having been released in 2011.
There are several photos and stories that were in connection with the great winter disaster and were graphic in detail- with reports of people and animals both freezing to death while being snowed in, collapsed roofs because of the thickness of the snow, capsized boats and people treading through icy waters along flooded streets of coastal cities. Yet there were some glaring facts that are worth mentioning about this storm according to the writer. Here are the top five worth mentioning:
Power outages- Many towns and villages were without power because of downed power lines due to ice. But no area was as bad as the districts of Schleswig-Flensburg and Nordfriesland. There, as many as 111 villages were without electricity for days, many of them were cut off from the rest of the world. Many had to make due with cutting up wood and creating fireplaces to keep warm.
Stranded vacationers- Many vacationers were returning from Scandanavia when they were greeted by barricades at the German/Danish borders in Krusau and Ellund. Reason: The storm forced an executive order by the West German and state governments to shut down all traffic (rail and vehicular) on the German side. Traffic jams of more than 10 kilometers on the Danish side, plus stranded drivers seeking shelter were the result.
Field Landing-When the state prime minister Gerhard Stoltenberg was finally informed of the current weather situation in Schleswig-Holstein (he and his family were on vacation at that time), he did not realize how bad it was until his helicopter had to land in a nearby field and he had to go by truck and sleigh to visit the hard hit regions. Reason: The snow had drifted in at the airports and with drifts as high as 6 meters, it was impossible for any aircraft to land even.
The Sleigh as Transportation-With no possibilities with the car, many people had to make do with sleds, sleighs and even skis. It was not a rarity to watch people cross-country ski in the countryside during this time as the snow was thick enough to warrant it. Sleds were not only used for downhill fun, but also for shopping. It was a site to watch people pull their groceries home on an open sled.
Flensburg as Little Venice- The storms produced a series of high tides (up to four meters) which flooded much of the city center and Roter Strasse, as well as everything along the Fjorde. Many people had to use boats to get by. These tides left another mess though- erosion, especially along the areas near Wassersleben near the Bridge of Friendship at the border.
There are many more examples to mention in the book, yet these five came to mind when reading this book myself. There have been countless other winter storms afterwards that crippled the region and brought with it high snow drifts, ice and flooding, including the last big snow storm in Flensburg in early 2018. But none was as glaring and captivating as the one from 40 years ago, especially when reading the accounts written by the editor. The book did bring back some memories of snow storms that I dealt with as a child growing up in Minnesota and a snowstorm of similar proportions happened shortly after this one, which left a big drift of a meter to the door of our house on a lake. Yet for those who lived through this harsh winter in northern Germany of 40 years ago, this book will bring back some memories of how one survived one of the worst of all time. So read it, share your stories, ask others about it. You’ll be amazed at the stories they will share about this event.
You can also watch some of the documentaries that were from the last entry by clicking here.
A while back, I wrote an essay on the American Dream and how it has changed over the past half decade to a point where it has become diverse in many ways, shape and form. In theory one can achieve the dream through hard work. In praxis, however, it is a totally different league. And especially within the last decade, this American Dream has become more and more materialistic, divided based on money, power and even social, ethnical and cultural backgrounds, and especially since Donald Trump has taken over, more dysfunctional than at any time in American history.
No wonder why these dystopian variants are leading to the breakdown of families and friendships, the rise in violence and in many cases, as we can see in this documentary below, the rise in the rate of suicides. Nobel prize-winning economist Angus Deaton, and his wife, fellow Princeton Prof. Anne Case, have traveled together with Wall Street Journal’s Jason Belini from coast to coast to find out what is leading to the disappearance of the American Dream, and how it is impacting other countries in many ways, shape and form. In this 10-minute documentary, produced by Moving Upstream, the three take a look at this and whether suicide and other social pathologies are causing this almost seven-decade long dream to become a memory.
Watch this clip and have a look at the questions you can discuss below. For the American expatriates residing overseas, like yours truly, this is definitely worth watching and discussing for elements of the American Dream are impacting other countries, including those you are living in.
What has changed in the American Dream over the past decades?
What variants could benefit keeping the American Dream alive?
Aside from the suicide rate, what variants are contributing to the death of the American Dream?
If there was a luxury that you had growing up as a child (be it 30 years ago or more) that you miss in today’s society, what would it be and why?
If you were the president of the US and had to look at the problems facing America, especially in this clip, what would you do to make the lives of Americans better and help them fulfill their happiness?
How is the American Dream affecting other countries?
How is social media affecting American society?
Is it true that the high rate of suicide in the US is negatively affecting the American Dream? If not, what other factors are contributing to its demise?