The First Art Newspaper on the Net   Established in 1996 United States Tuesday, August 20, 2019

'Hunger stones' tell Elbe's centuries-old tale of drought
In this file photo taken on August 29, 2018 the so-called "Hunger Stone" is pictured in Decin, Czech Republic on August 29, 2018, by the low water level of the Elbe river. Once an ominous harbinger of low water and hard times for rafters on the Elbe river, this summer a massive boulder known as the "Hunger stone" in the Czech city of Decin has warned of the record drought spanning much of Europe. Michal CIZEK / AFP.

by Jan Marchal

DECÍN (AFP).- Once an ominous harbinger of hard times and even famine due to critically low water levels, a massive "hunger stone" embedded deep in the Elbe River has reappeared in the Czech Republic after Europe's long, dry summer.

The boulder in the town of Decin, north of the capital, Prague, is roughly the size of a van and bears the foreboding inscription, "If you can see me, then weep".

Boatman and riverside innkeeper Franz Mayer etched the words in German -- "Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine" -- during a period of low water in 1904 in the days when the country was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

"Over the centuries, many people earned their living on the Elbe as rafters, and when there wasn't enough water to float their rafts, they lost their livelihoods," Vlastimil Pazourek, head of the museum in Decin, told AFP.

"The rafters engraved the dates of those bad years on the soft sandstone boulders typical for this region, hence the name 'hunger stone'," Pazourek said.

About 20 such boulders, engraved with markers and dates going back centuries, can still be found on the banks of the Elbe, a major central European waterway running from the Czech Republic through Germany to the North Sea.

Marked "1616", the hunger stone on the river's left bank in Decin, which lies 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the German border, bears one of the oldest dates.

Changed river
A lot of water has since flowed under the bridges on the Elbe, which is no longer the same river that Franz Mayer knew when he left his etched lament.

The riverbed has been deepened to ease navigation and its flow has also been altered by nine dams built during the 20th century on the Vltava, its main tributary.

At three metres (10 feet), its average water level in Decin today is about 1.5 metres lower than in 1904, according to Pazourek.

Parts of the hunger stone are usually visible for more than 100 days a year when the water level on the Elbe drops to 160 centimetres, he said.

'More than historical curiosity'
"The hunger stone is certainly more than just a historical curiosity," said Jiri Petr, head of dispatching at Povodi Labe, the state-owned company managing river traffic on the Czech stretch of the Elbe.

The water level plunged to just 90 cm at the end of August after the long, hot and very dry summer, making large-scale river transport impossible.

Prague experienced its hottest summer since records started in 1775, the weather institute said last week.

"Complications arise when the level of the Elbe in Decin is down to around 250 cm, and if it drops below 115 cm, river transport is no longer viable," Petr said.

"A similar situation occurred in 2015 and 2016, but this year, the water level has fallen more rapidly in a way that hasn't been seen in the last two decades," he told AFP.

Experts predict ebbing river levels will become the norm in coming years.

"Due to climate change, low river levels will be even more frequent," the Prague-based Arnika environmental NGO quoted a hydrology specialist in Germany, Tobias Conradt, as saying in a statement.

"What we consider extreme today, will become an everyday reality in the decades to come," he added.

This year's drought has affected around 94 percent of the Czech Republic, causing crop damage estimated at nine to 11 billion koruna (350-427 million euros, $408-500 million), according to the Agrarian Chamber.

Farmers across Europe, including those in usually wetter northern regions like Sweden and the Baltic states, have also suffered from record drought, with many forced to slaughter livestock due to severe shortages of fodder.

Ebbing transport
Up until the 1990s, around five million tonnes of goods were transported on the Elbe each year, but the figure has dramatically fallen to under one million in recent years due to low water.

Controversy surrounds plans to build a new weir on the Elbe in Decin, designed to raise its water level and thus improve navigation.

While it has government support, environmentalists question its viability and fear an irreversible environmental impact.

"Since 2013, transporting goods has been paralysed by low water levels on the Elbe in Germany for up to seven months of the year," argued Nikol Krejcova, of Arnika.

"Reliable transport on the Elbe up to Hamburg is an unrealistic idea," he insisted.

If the project goes ahead, the hunger stone will vanish under water, but Decin has no plans to move it to higher ground.

"Certainly not, we won't lose it. It'll still be there, just beneath the surface," said a smiling Pazourek.

© Agence France-Presse

Today's News

September 11, 2018

Andrew Jones Auctions in Los Angeles announces highlights for its inaugural auction

Christie's to auction five artworks to launch new Bennington College initiative to fund scholarships

Jeanne Bucher Jaeger Gallery honors the Russian artists that it showed on its walls between 1925 and 1955

'Hunger stones' tell Elbe's centuries-old tale of drought

Yasufumi Nakamori appointed Tate Modern's Senior Curator of International Art (Photography)

Phillips Auctioneers announces its inaugural Day Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art and Design in Hong Kong

Steve McQueen's heist movie 'Widows' premieres in Toronto

First comprehensive retrospective in the U.S. devoted to the work of Siah Armajani opens in Minneapolis

Old Masters/New Scholars: Works of art to benefit Rugby School

Almine Rech Gallery announces representation of Estate of Vivian Springford

Exhibition features artworks portraying relationship between U.S. & Australia from WWI to present

Freeman's Books, Maps & Manuscripts Auction debuts new department head

Newly discovered masterpiece by Foujita offered at Bonhams Impressionist and Modern Art Sale

Final exhibition of the Making Things Happen cycle opens at The Merchant House

Compton Verney Director leaves for overseas role

Exhibition at Aperture Foundation spotlights work of midcareer photographers

Powerful artist's compelling works confront important societal issues

Rare Tiffany Studios floor and table lamps will headline Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers sale

Magnum Print Room opens exhibition of works by Carolyn Drake, Bieke Depoorter and Susan Meiselas

Gabrielle Wyrick appointed as Deputy Director for Learning and Engagement at New Orleans Museum of Art

Intricate pieces from the 1700s on display at Walker Art Gallery

Clark Art Institute names Larry Smallwood as Deputy Director

Christie's announces new initiative with Global Wildlife Conservation

Tai Kwun Contemporary stages: Cao Fei's first institutional solo exhibition in Asia

Most Popular Last Seven Days

1.- Conservation reveals Wellington Collection work was painted by Titian's Workshop

2.- New dinosaur discovered after lying misidentified in university's vaults for over 30 years

3.- Unseen Texas Chainsaw Massacre outtakes and stills sold for a combined $26,880

4.- National gallery reveals conserved Italian altarpiece by Giovanni Martini da Udine

5.- London's Tate Modern evacuated after child falls, teen arrested

6.- Bavarian State Minister of the Arts restitutes nine works of art

7.- Boy thrown from London's Tate Modern is French tourist visiting UK

8.- Child thrown from London gallery has broken spine, legs and arm

9.- £10 million Turner masterpiece may leave British shores

10.- Tourists banned from sitting on Rome's Spanish Steps

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. The most varied versions
of this beautiful prayer.
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful