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Drought In Central Europe Reveals Cautionary ‘Hunger Stones’ In Czech River

August 26, 2018

By Paul Homewood


We are familiar with flood markers, which record high points of floods. Apparently droughts also have their own version, hunger stones as NPR reveal:


A lengthy drought in Europe has exposed carved boulders, known as "hunger stones," that have been used for centuries to commemorate historic droughts — and warn of their consequences.

The Associated Press reports that hunger stones are newly visible in the Elbe River, which begins in the Czech Republic and flows through Germany.

"Over a dozen of the hunger stones, chosen to record low water levels, can now be seen in and near the northern Czech town of Decin near the German border," the AP writes.

One of the stones on the banks of the Elbe is carved with the words "Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine": "If you see me, weep."

A team of Czech researchers described that stone in detail in a 2013 paper about the history of droughts in Czech lands.

The stone is also chiseled with "the years of hardship and the initials of authors lost to history," the researchers wrote:

"It expressed that drought had brought a bad harvest, lack of food, high prices and hunger for poor people. Before 1900, the following droughts are commemorated on the stone: 1417, 1616, 1707, 1746, 1790, 1800, 1811, 1830, 1842, 1868, 1892, and 1893."

That particular stone is now a bit of a tourist attraction; it’s one of the oldest hydrological landmarks in central Europe. Also, because of a dam on a tributary of the Elbe, it’s seen more often now than it used to be, according to a Decin tourist site — although the current river levels are still exceptional.

The Elbe is the place where American and Soviet troops famously met in April 1945 as they advanced from opposite directions on Nazi Germany during World War II. The dropping water levels on the river have also exposed munitions from that conflict, Deutsche Welle reported earlier this month.

And the levels on the Danube in Hungary have reached record lows in three sections, causing headaches for cruise ships and freighters, Reuters reports.

Europe has suffered repeated intense droughts in the past few years.

Of course, as the record on the hunger stone indicates, this region of Europe has seen plenty of of devastating droughts before.

Tree-ring research in north-central Europe has found evidence of repeated "megadroughts" in the 15th through 19th centuries.

And an article in Nature earlier this summer compared recent droughts in Europe to droughts over the last 250 years. The scientists found that the 21st century droughts were indeed extreme, but not as long-lasting or as massive as the worst of the historic ones.

However, the same study noted that the more recent droughts are also linked to record-breaking temperatures. That appears to be causing "unprecedented drying trends" for the soil, which hurts crops.

This trend "raises concerns about the consequences of extreme meteorological droughts" as the climate continues to warm, the researchers note.

The drought in northern and central Europe this year is "one of the most intense regional droughts in recent memory," The Guardian wrote in July, and it is paired with abnormally hot temperatures.

  1. August 26, 2018 3:15 pm

    Before 1900, the following droughts are commemorated on the stone: 1417, 1616, 1707, 1746, 1790, 1800, 1811, 1830, 1842, 1868, 1892, and 1893.

    Some of those dates are close to the dates of record flooding at Passau in Bavaria, where the Danube and Inn rivers meet, not far from the Czech border.

  2. August 26, 2018 3:39 pm

    Curious to be talking about drought in Europe when the news is about flooding. As for Passau, two years our river cruise barely squeaked through on low water levels. On board was a couple who were cancelled from the same cruise two years previously on account of high water. Anyway, from Daily Mail today:

    Flooding of Europe continues

    Flooding spread further through east Germany today, leaving emergency crews scrounging for sandbags to shore up crumbling dikes as the country faced its biggest relief effort since World War II.

    In Hungary, the Danube River peaked at a historic high in Budapest without causing major flooding after relief workers spent a frantic night bolstering dikes. The capital’s high flood walls, built at the turn of the last century, held off the floodwater in the city center, though one barrier gave way in a northern suburb.

    The Czech Republic, facing a staggering cleanup bill after nearly two weeks of devastating flooding, said it is reconsidering plans to buy 24 new air force fighter jets. Heavy flood damage “has changed priorities for everyone,” Defence Ministry spokesman Milan Repka said in Prague.

  3. Ian Wilson permalink
    August 27, 2018 10:02 am

    Totally off topic (can’t find a ‘contact’ box on the site), I received an e-mail from 38 Degrees trying to persuade me to support their campaign against fracking.
    Their main objection seems to be the number of lorries supporting drilling. I suspect, though I have no means of doing the calculations, that the number of lorries needed to extract the equivalent energy from a wind or solar farm would be far higher (the farm next to us has invested in solar and it seemed to take a mighty number of lorries)
    Any thoughts on this please?

  4. August 27, 2018 12:38 pm

    Does anyone remember The Dust Bowl period? I do not, personally, but the rest of my family did. It was a period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the agriculture of the American and Canadian prairies during the 1930s. A severe drought came in three waves, 1934, 1936, and 1939–1940. Some regions of the high plains experienced drought conditions for as many as eight years. Subsequently, throughout the 1930’s many farmers lost their livelihood and land prompting a mass migration from rural America in search of employment in urban areas. This was a contributing factor to the Great Depression.

    • dave permalink
      August 27, 2018 1:09 pm


      I remember umpteen propaganda effusions about it! Usually juxtaposed with pictures of shiny new machines reaping on huge collective farms in Russia.

      The Left Wing used to LOVE to dwell on the 1930s and the Great Depression. They blamed the Dust Bowl on Capitalism raping the land. Their present obsessive interest is now a little larger in scope – Capitalism choking the whole Planet with carbon dioxide. Never mind that the biggest emitter is a Communist country – China. I am sure that, somehow, we corrupted them.

      • August 28, 2018 12:51 pm

        It is interesting that Communist countries are usually the dirtiest. When you own nothing, why clean it up?

      • Reisen permalink
        August 29, 2018 7:41 am


        It wasn’t socialism that caused the Great Depression, but a multitude of factors. I’m not sure how socialism factored into this. Besides, droughts affected Russia at that time, too. Climatic conditions occur no matter the economics of a country.

        To play Devil’s Advocate, one may ask why America, then the world’s largest GDP, suffered as much as it did when it was a capitalist country.

  5. Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen permalink
    August 31, 2018 2:13 pm

    I remember the Elbe as a very small child, perhaps almost a baby still….. all mud and no river! This was near Dresden,,.below the Weisse Hirsch near where the Stasi headquarters later stood. But when? I was born in 1942 and still remember the sight.

  6. Sonja A Boehmer-Christiansen permalink
    August 31, 2018 2:39 pm

    Please forward to Paul Homewood. He might find its useful to summarise.

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