In A Nutshell
A forest in Germany, not too far outside Berlin, had a group of larch trees planted, sometime during Hitler’s reign, among pines that formed a swastika when they changed color in the fall. They could only be seen from the air but not if you were too high, like in a commercial plane. Thus, they went unnoticed until the 1990s.
The Whole Bushel
When Ökoland Dederow began with Reschke, a landscaping company, he was an intern. One of his tasks was to go through aerial photos of the forest in the Uckermark region of Northeastern Germany. He was looking for irrigation lines, but when he got to photo 106/88, he noticed what could only be an intentional arrangement of 140 larch trees. Larch trees turn yellow in the fall. Pine trees, which surrounded the larch trees, of course, stay green all year. In a 60 meter by 60 meter (200 ft by 200 ft) area, someone had planted a swastika that could only be seen under very specific circumstances.
Dederow informed his boss, who chartered a plane to fly over the area just to be sure it wasn’t some kind of mistake. It wasn’t. The symbol was still there and clearly not a random trick of nature. A forester was contacted next to determine the age of the trees. What he found was even more surprising: They were definitely planted sometime during the 1930s.
Remember, this was Eastern Germany, which had been initially occupied by the Russians after World War II. Communist rule came next, followed eventually by the reunification of East and West. A giant swastika would have been eradicated the second it was discovered. So how did the authoritarian governments miss it? By being authoritarian, of course.
As we mentioned earlier, the swastika could only be seen from a certain height in the air, much lower than an average commercial plane would fly, but typical for smaller aircraft. Smaller aircraft, private planes in particular, however, were banned under the communist government; they were a little worried about people fleeing East Germany at the time. It also had to be the right time of year or else the swastika larches would be green and perfectly hidden among the treacherous pine trees.
But none of this answers the real question: Who planted them and why? It wouldn’t be completely surprising if Hitler, in his crazy mind, thought it’d be cool and simply had it done, but there’s no evidence that he had anything (beyond the original inspiration) to do with it. After the symbol was discovered and the media heard the story, journalists received all kind of stories regarding the origin of the trees.
A farmer in the area claimed he personally planted them as a child because a forester paid him to. Another possibility was that the symbol had been made by a village whose loyalty to the party had been called into question. Or it could have been a personal gift to Hitler on his birthday from one of his senior officers. The last and seemingly accepted origin story, however, was that it was a planted in honor of the Reich Labor Service.
Whatever the case may be, the obviously offensive symbol has since been destroyed by chainsaws and even the stumps dug up. Yet, a few other swastika trees have been discovered elsewhere and the possibility remains that there may yet be more hiding, nervously, waiting for the day the chainsaw comes for them.
Show Me The Proof
Horticultural Hate: The Mystery of the Forest Swastikas