Schneekatastrophe 1978/79 In Pictures

Kieler Fjorde covered in ice in 1978. Photo taken by Stadtarchiv Kiel [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D
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.

 

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From the Attic: Blizzard 1978/79

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December 28th of 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the Blizzard that brought the World to a total standstill. It also marked the start of the Long Winter, whose combination of blizzards and high tides created havoc in both sides of Germany. Both of which have broken records and have remained in the top ten ever since.

On 28th December, 1978, a combination of a low pressure system from the Mediterranean Sea, which brought moisture and mild temperatures, and a high pressure system from Scandinavia, which featured frigid temperatures, collided over the Baltic Sea, unleashing what was considered at that time “The Blizzard of the Century!” Winds of up to 160 kph, combined with snow drifts of up to 7 meters (20 feet) and high tides that were half the height, literally brought everything to a standstill beginning on December 28th, 1978 and ending on January 3rd, 1979. An average of 70 centimeters of snow fell in most of the affected regions while 30 centimeters of thick ice were reported! The entire northern half of West Germany and all of East Germany were affected- from Flensburg and Hamburg to Brunswick and Cologne; Rostock and Neu Brandenburg to Leipzig and Erfurt. All were affected. The island of Rügen was cut off from the rest of the world for days until help arrived. Snow blocked transport of coal from the Lausitz region to the burning plants, thus bringing blackouts in electricity to wide areas in East Germany. And motorways were littered with stranded cars from Frankfurt/Main all the way to the Danish border near Flensburg and beyond.  Hundreds of people lost their lives in that storm.

This blizzard was just the beginning of the winter that crippled everything in Germany, for another round of snow and ice of similar proportions fell later on February 18/19, 1979. The total amount of snow that fell during the entire period was over 100 centimeters, double the amount the region receives per year.

And while the government was late in response to the New Year storms and have since improved on providing emergencies in cases like these (and the numbers have increased over the last 10 years), many documentaries have been produced to describe the events in detail from eyewitness accounts. Three of which have been dug out of the attic for you to have a look, to see how powerful the storm really was. It still ranks as one of the ten worst winter storms on record since 1949.  The first documentary looks at what happened in West Germany. The second is how the storm affected the eastern half. The third one looks at the storm from a photographer’s perspective, as he did a series of aerial photos of the regions of Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg after the first storm hit the region. Both West German-states, combined with the coastal areas of Mecklenburg-Pommerania (and especially the islands of Usedom and Rügen) were the hardest hit regions by this New Year’s storm.

So sit back, have some hot cocoa and popcorn ready and be prepared to watch how 1979 entered both Germanys with a lot of ice and snow. Enjoy! 🙂

Documentary 1:

Documentary 2:

Documentary 3:

Documentary 4:

And to point out, the photos presented here were from the Winter storms that pummeled Europe and the US in 2010/11, which was half as bad as what happened here. Nevertheless, especially in the top picture, you can imagine the height and thickness of the snow drifts that left many land regions looking like those under water. Just to point this out. 🙂

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