Leipzig’s prodigious green turnaround

Stream daylighting on a possibly unprecedented scale

 

The city of Leipzig, once home to Bach, Wagner and Mendelssohn and in 1989 a crucible of sorts for the Peaceful Revolution that led to the reunification of East and West Germany, has made itself a world leader in urban stream restoration over the last two decades, very much under the radar. Since the late 1990s the city has been systematically reviving streams and canals that have been buried in underground pipes and paved over for the last 50 years, or simply silted up with mud, both in the city center and surrounding countryside. The massive turnaround from sooty, crumbling city core and toxic, industry-scarred countryside to lush green and blue 21st-century urban region is on a scale hard for us Americans to comprehend.

Outside the city, no less than 26 lakes created by the closure of all but one of the area’s open-pit coal mines are being natur-ized (it’s not restoration per se because they were never natural lakes) and connected by natural and artificial waterways and locks to create a region-wide network entirely passable by small boats and, it is hoped, fish.

Elstermühlgraben von Friedrich-Ebert-Str(Westbrücke) auf Carl-Maria-von-Weber-Str 14 d

Elstermühlgraben Carl-Maria-von-Weber-Straße 5 09 85pt

Elstermühlgraben Stadthafen 1 10 aElstermühlgraben Stadthafen 4 Vom Blüthnersteg 13a

elster Buntgarnwerke an der Elster 02Marina-Gracht an der Weißen Elster. 24

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncovering paved-over streams – known as daylighting – is prohibitively expensive. In the U.S. there is much interest in it but it is rarely realized. For example, the New York City metropolitan area has only one daylighted stream reach (jargon for ‘portion’), the Saw Mill River in Yonkers. Leipzig on the other hand has daylighted a dozen or two reaches across a good handful of streams and canals.

Much of the restoration has been in the city center which is crisscrossed by canals, small rivers, and former mill races. Channels have been restored, modernized and landscaped, with emphasis on public access to the water in the form of bankside esplanades, parks, walkways and boat launches, creating a sort of modern, leisure-oriented Venice.

Click to enlarge…

Vegetation on artificial islands and in the channel beds, and fish ladders, are initial stages of creating aquatic habitat for migratory fish.

Recreation and tourism on the 26 lakes and their connecting rivers and canals is being emphatically promoted.

Karl-Heine-Kanal von der Luisenbrücke auf die künftige Gewässerverbindung 22 Karl-Heine-Kanal 3 21

Outside the city, streams and rivers are being restored to more natural states, with shallow-sloped, vegetated banks and floodplains that serve as natural flood prevention; meandering courses; and a diversity of flow characteristics and in-stream habitats created by such features as large woody debris and a healthy diversity of pebble and boulder sizes and arrangements. Of course, renaturing along these lines is impossible in wholly concrete former mill races lined by buildings in an urban center. However, in these waterways the city has installed fish ladders and vegetation – both in the channel and on artificial islands – in preparation for the longer-term possibility of restoring migratory fish passage as the region-wide restoration becomes more complete.

 

Links

Tourism information – English and German

Great photo tours of the streams (German-only but it doesn’t matter – there are countless good photos)

Luppe River restoration – German-only

Photos: leipzigerneuseenland.de, leipzig-dasdorf.de

 

 

 

 

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