Postcard from... Berlin


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The Independent Online


The evidence was indisputable. Along the soggy banks of the wide and wooded Havel river which runs through western Berlin, the cone-shaped tree stumps looked as if they had just been put though a giant pencil sharpener.

A bit further on several saplings had been felled overnight. Others had acquired freshly gnawed “waists.” Proof enough that the Eurasian beaver is alive and well in Germany. But now the flat-tailed, dam-builder has begun setting up shop in the environs of major cities.

In Frankfurt, naturalists recently held their first “beaver watch” in the city’s northern suburbs where the animals have started a community on the banks of the Nidda river. In Berlin there were thirty of the animals at the last count.

In Britain, the beaver had been hunted to extinction by the 16th century because of an insatiable demand for their waterproof pelts and beaver musk which was used as a remedy for cramp and hysteria.

But in Germany, a total ban on hunting coupled with environmental campaigns for cleaner river water have induced the comeback. In Berlin the reappearance of a beaver’s lodge on the Havel prompted one sailing club to post a joke “beaver warning” to wooden boat owners. It suggested that their yachts could be at risk from beavers because the animals are biologically compelled to gnaw wood.

The warning caused alarm – until it was established that beavers prefer trees to boats. Just as well that Berlin is among the world’s most wooded cities.