zondag 23 juli 2017
Some 10 millennia ago, during the last Ice Age, so much water was stored in huge polar ice caps that sea levels were 120 m lower than today. The North Sea consequently wasn’t a sea, but a land bridge between Britain and Europe. Geologists call this Doggerland, after the Dogger Bank, the shallowest, largest sand bank in the North Sea today. In all probability, this now sunken land land of once undulating prairie was quite densely inhabited by Stone Age humans. These must have been their hunting grounds, their prey the mammoths whose bones fishermen sometimes still dredge up from the sea floor.
In September 1930, there existed at least one wild plan to reclaim this particular piece of sunken real estate from the seas and increase the size of Europe by linking the British Isles to the Continent. The new one would be called…DOGGERLAND, ore maybe only in the pages of Modern Mechanix, an American magazine (1928-2001) that ran under a variety of titles.
Under the title 'North Sea Drainage Project to Increase Area of Europe', a caption reads:
“If the extensive schemes for the drainage of North Sea are carried out according to the plan illustrated above, which was conceived by a group of eminent English scientists, 100,000 square miles will be added to the overcrowded continents of Europe. The reclaimed land will be walled in with enormous dykes, similar to the Netherland dykes, to protect it from the sea, and the various rivers flowing into the North Sea will have their courses diverted to different outlets by means of canals.”
Conspicuously absent are the scientists’ credentials. The logistics of building a 450-mile-long dyke connecting Norfolk (England) to Jutland (Denmark), rising 90 feet above the sea level, seem daunting enough for our own age, let alone for the 1930s. A similar dyke at the North Sea’s south end, barely 150 miles long, would only leave Antwerp and London with direct sea access, depriving the whole of the Netherlands and much of Germany and Denmark of a coastline.
The “Atlantropa” scheme proposed to form land bridges between Africa and Europe by damming and partially draining the Mediterranean
Perpetual war, grinding poverty and a time bomb of overpopulation resulting in millions of refugees crossing continents. A fitting description perhaps for the emergency facing Europe today – but those problems also fuelled a German architect’s extraordinary 1920s scheme to resettle millions of Europeans in Africa.
The “Atlantropa” scheme proposed to form land bridges between Africa and Europe by damming and partially draining the Mediterranean, allowing millions of Europeans to find a new life in what would become the southern zone of a Eurafrican supercontinent. It would, of course, lead to European domination of Africa – a fact deemed acceptable in an era scarred by racism and colonialism.
Map of proposed dams in the Strait of Gibraltar. From Herman Soergel, Lowering the Mediterranean, Irrigating the Sahara. Panropa Project (1929)
The plan contained some fantastical details with dams across the Strait of Gibraltar, the Dardanelles, and eventually between Sicily and Tunisia, each containing gigantic hydroelectric power plants, would form the basis for the new supercontinent. In its final state the Mediterranean would be converted into two basins, the western part lowered by 100 metres and the eastern part by 200 metres and an area larger than France reclaimed from the sea.
Subsequent engineering works included in Sörgel’s proposal were an extension of the Suez Canal, a new canal connecting Venice to the sea (the Adriatic Sea would have disappeared) and the creation of enormous lakes in Central Africa, which he hoped could be used to irrigate the region
Map of Herman Sörgel’s Atlantropa
A more modern map of Herman Sörgel’s Atlantropa
In line with the colonial and racist attitudes of the times, Mr Sörgel envisaged Africa to be entirely at the disposal of Europe, a continent with plenty of space to accommodate Europe’s masses.
While his proposal may sound absurd to our ears, it was taken seriously by architects, engineers, politicians and journalists at the time. The extensive Atlantropa archive in the Deutsche Museum in Munich abounds with architectural drawings for new cities, the dams and bridges of the future continent as well as letters of support and hundreds of articles about the project, which appeared in the German and international popular press, as well as in specialised engineering and geographical magazines.
What made Atlantropa so attractive was its vision of world peace achieved not through politics and diplomacy, but with a simple technological solution.
Atlantropa would be held together by a vast energy net, which would extend from the gigantic hydroelectric plant in the Gibraltar dam and provide the entirety of Europe and Africa with electricity. An independent body would have the power to switch off the energy supply to any country that posed a threat to peace.
Moreover, Mr Sörgel calculated the construction of the supercontinent would require each country to invest so much money that none would have sufficient resources to finance a war. He dedicated a large part of his work to the promotion and dissemination of the project through the press, radio, films, talks, exhibitions and even poetry and an Atlantropa symphony.
(YouTube) Clips from the 1951 Atlantropa film (deutsch) - Gibraltar Dam project
(YouTube) Atlantropa a new continent
However there were a few drawbacks to all this, in 1977 Popular Mechanics reported that Atlantropa would have shut some of the world’s busiest seaports, disrupted the economies of countries in Southern Europe and North Africa and possibly changed the ecology of the entire area.
The reduced weight of water over the volcanic Mediterranean sea floor could have caused violent eruptions and earthquakes while the ocean level in other parts of the world would have risen, causing flooding in low-lying areas.
Sörgel’s hope was that Atlantropa might satisfy Germany’s desire for Lebensraum as he calculated the construction of the supercontinent would require each country to invest so much money that none would have sufficient resources to finance a war.
Instead, under Hitler, it invaded Eastern Europe.
The Nazis never took Sörgel seriously, but who knows? In an alternate world, where the Axis won World War II, they might well have reconsidered in order to satisfy their thirst for expansion.