Underwater history: the fight to preserve Germany’s Atlantis

Goeran Gehlen –

The mythical island of Atlantis is famous for disappearing beneath the ocean. But the German version of Atlantis — a cluster of villages in the Edersee reservoir — has become famous for reappearing. The ruins, which were only recently rediscovered, have now become a tourist attraction. But water and sun threaten to damage them, and nearby residents are attempting to preserve them in various different ways.

Every year, 3 to 4 million day trips are made to the Edersee. Most people simply come to enjoy the water. “The Edersee is our brand,” says Claus Guenther, director of the local tourist board.
But these days, it’s not just the water that is drawing visitors. In the summer, the lake must be drained to ensure that there is enough water in the Weser river to allow the smooth passage of shipping traffic.
When the levels sink, the ruins of the villages of Berich, Asel and Bringhausen, which were submerged in 1912 when the Edersee Dam was built, also reappear. The villages have now become an important attraction for the reservoir.
“If the local climate continues as it has done, with less and less rain, we’ll have to start thinking about how we’re going to deal with it,” says Guenther.
The ruins are relatively well preserved. Abel’s old bridge is in excellent condition and has become the emblem of “Edersee’s Atlantis.”
Berich has also taken on a special role, after a friends’ association decided to rebuild it in 2012. “We’ve decided to reconstruct the foundation walls bit by bit,” says the association’s co-chair, Uwe Neuschaefer.
While some of the old walls are too far gone to be rescued, the club has managed to rebuild the outlines of four buildings. It was only possible because the village is in a diving zone.
After all, they still spend a large part of the year submerged in water — and that is not likely to change any time soon, according to the local waterways and shipping office in the town of Hann Muenden, which is responsible for the reservoir.
And the government sees the securing of the waterways for shipping traffic as its primary function — not the preservation of old ruins.
Finances are also a problem for the association. An EU grant will be gone soon, says Neuschaefer. “Then we can only do as much as we can with the money we have,” he says.
But an archaeology group in another local community, Edertal, is taking an entirely different approach. They want to rebuild Bringhausen virtually.
The group wants to install little boxes on the reservoir bed which can then be accessed with an app on a smartphone or tablet. The app could then be used to access pictures, as well as films and texts about the ruins.
But the group is still looking for donors for the project, says Heinz Hilberg, who has helped develop the idea.
In the meantime, with the decrease in rainfall, the ruins may also become an attraction in winter — at the beginning of this year, they could be seen poking out of the water topped with a sprinkling of snow. — dpa