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Forestry

The forest once covered not only vast parts of the Hunsrück mountain range region, but also the entire Nahe region, including the river meadows. At the higher altitudes, the forests are mainly beech, whereas below 400 metres they consist mainly of oaks. Interspersed with these are maple, ash, birch, beam, and in wetter areas along the river, alder and willow can be found. After the ruinous phase of commercial exploitation, about 160 years ago, more productive types of trees were introduced, mainly the spruce tree. However, in the area where a dryer wine-growing climate predominates, the spruce has only limited space. Brushwood played an important role in the Nahe valley and on most of its steep side valleys up until 60 years ago. This type of forestry called for cutting down oaks when they reached twenty years of age but allowing the stump to produce shoots in order to create the next generation of trees. The bark was used as a basis of tanning agents for leatherworking, while the wood was prized for burning.

For centuries, Loh- und Rotgerber (specialized tanners) tanned the pelts of local fur-bearing animals and made these pelts into leather. Out of this, a new and important leather industry has developed during the past decades in Kirn.

Today "natural forestry" aims to construct forests that contain mixed tree species, which are altitude dependent and are of different ages. Additionally, rare and endangered animal- and plant species should not only be preserved, but increased in the long term by intentional resettlement. The previously frequent deforestation of entire areas is being replaced by a rejuvenation of the forest through seeding in the protecting shade of the mixed forest canopy. Once felled, the use of the wood is determined by the average diameter of each individual tree. The use of chemical treatments is avoided, except where they are necessary to protect the economically valuable wood. According to the new sustainability concept, dead wood is the beginning and end of all forest life. When a tree dies, it attracts new life; for example, the hundreds of bugs, fungi, lichens, mosses, ferns, spiders, woodlice, slugs which depend on dead wood, as well as numerous birds and animals. In natural forests, dead wood also contains a huge amount of valuable nutrients, which flow back into the forest ground after the dead wood inhabitants have done their work. A dead wood deficiency therefore means a reduction in habitat and nutrition for its inhabitants, and ultimately a less nutritious and fertile forest floor. This is why today the relicts of old forests are increasingly encouraged by forest administrations to increase diversity in species. In contrast to the "tidy" commercial forest, so-called "natural" forests contain 50-300 cubic meter of dead wood, providing a healthier environment for both the forest species and people seeking recreation.

For centuries, leather was manufactured from the animal skins of Loh- and Red tanners in the Nahe area. This developed Kirn into an important leather industry which continues up to this day. In the old days, ground oak bark was used as the tanning agent. It was obtained from 12 to 18 year old oaks by peeling the bark from the trunk and branches. The dried bark was then put through a mill to finely grind it. The actual tanning process itself took place in a pit, the bottom of which was strewn with a layer of the ground bark. On top of this, the tanner spread the cleaned and prepared skins. This layer was covered with the tanning agent, and another layer of skins was laid upon it. These alternating layers would build up until the pit was full. Boards were laid across the topmost layer and weighted with heavy stones. Finally, the tanner would saturate the pit by running water into it. After 2 to 3 months, the tanning agents were fully absorbed into the skins. This process would be repeated until the leather was "sated". Oak bark gave a brownish red colour, which is the basis for the name "Rotgerber" ("Red tanner"). In Kirn there is a Rotgerber guild, which was founded in 1612, and still exists today.

For further information: Kennzeichen KH, Heimatkunde für den Landkreis Bad Kreuznach, Ernst Klett 1986
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