Wildlife conservation and Nazis are two things that don’t usually go together. But that’s exactly what happened at the Schorfheide-Chorin UNESCO biosphere reserve in northern Germany.
About 40 miles northeast of Berlin, on the Polish border, lies the Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve. This forested area of more than 300,000 acres contains hundreds of lakes, vast forests, countless meadows, and for years was the private hunting ground of the Nazi elite. Today, Schorfheide is a UNESCO biosphere reserve and remains one of the most untouched, and biologically diverse, wildlife areas in all of Europe. Plants and animals that have long disappeared in other areas of Europe still thrive in the Schorfheide wilderness.
Schorfheide has a rich history. In the early middle ages, the area was cared for by the Cistercian Monastery of Chorin who meticulously developed farming land within the forest. During the Thirty Years’ War in the 1600s the German population was heavily decimated. In the centuries that followed, the Prussian army used the forest for weapon production and as occasional royal hunting grounds but the area remained largely preserved and wild.
During the rise of the Third Reich in Germany, the Nazi leader Hermann Goring chose Schorfheide as the site of his hunting estate – Carinhall. Goring hosted elaborate hunting parties in the forests surrounding Carinhall with European elk (moose) and European bison (Wisent) released and managed by rangers for these elite Nazi hunting excursions. The area was declared an environmental protection zone by the Third Reich and Goring was appointed as the forest superintendent. During the final stages of WWII, Goring ordered the Nazi air force to bomb Carinhall.
After the division of Germany, Schorfheide once again became a popular elite hunting grounds. Just like the Nazis had before them, the socialist leaders of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) enjoyed the immense wilderness and thriving wildlife of Schorfheide. The GDR state security completely closed off the entire area so the Socialist Unity Party leaders could preserve and keep Schorfheide for their own private use. The socialist leaders hunted in Schorfheide right up until the reunification of Germany in 1990. Afterwards, Schorfheide was declared a national park and UNESCO protected area.
Today, the Schorfheide wilderness remains a special place for plants and animals and is keenly managed by Germans under the protection of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve Program. Many forest animals, and several small towns, call the Schorfheide reserve home. Responsible human engagement is encouraged with preference given to organic farming, forestry, and pastureland. A core sector of Schorfheide is still managed as undisturbed wilderness. Several species, like the European swamp turtle, thrive in the reserve that are extinct throughout the rest of Germany. Several eagle species and cranes rely on Schorfheide as breeding and resting grounds.
Select hunting is encouraged as a tool of wildlife management in Schorfheide. Red deer are prolific across the reserve and wild boar, fallow deer, roe deer, and mouflon sheep also exist in Schorfheide – to name a few. Many of the natural lakes are available for fishing as well.
The Nazis, and the regimes before and after them, have come and gone. A positive outcome of their obsession with this secluded corner of Germany is that Schorfheide-Chorin remains one of the most biologically diverse areas in Europe.