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Lonely, free-standing and recognizable from a distance, the old chestnut tree lives in the bend of the Rhine in Himmelgeist, a nature reserve in the south of Dusseldorf.
“Experts” and locals estimate the age of the horse chestnut tree between 150 and 200 years.
We spent our youth on the bend of the Rhine at Himmelgeist. The chestnut tree gave us many a hiding-place in its branches in the sixties and seventies and the Rhine bend was a wonderful playground. During the 1st and 2nd world wars the tree remained undamaged, while the air defence and the bunkers thundered and the artillery bombs from the allies landed in the fields around the tree. What kind of things did the tree experience and suffer during this time? How many stories could the chestnut tree tell us?
In 1940/41 a tube plant and a harbour were planned in the Himmelgeist bend of the Rhine. Because of the invasion of Russia the plans were rejected. Plans for building a satellite town for more than 20,000 people in the 1950s were fortunately also shelved. Also, a barn fire in the immediate vicinity of the tree on 23 November 1972 at around 5 o’clock did not do much damage to the chestnut tree. The fire brigade even put out the flames which sprang on to the tree. Two small boys from Dusseldorf-Wersten died in the fire under mysterious circumstances. Will this ever be explained?
The chestnut tree could tell a lot.
In June 1982 it was intended that the chestnut tree be chopped down to make way for a tank road and we demonstrated with a big painting campaign on the Kölner Weg with the peace movement in Dusseldorf against the building of the tank road through the Rhine bend.
At the beginning of the 90s we protested with a signature campaign against the building of three 18-hole golf courses in this area. Thousands of golf balls would otherwise have flown through the branches of “our” chestnut tree every day and it would have been impossible for people looking for somewhere to relax to go onto the Rhine bend.
For many people the tree is a symbol, a work of art, a place of energy, an attraction and meeting point.
Photographers and painters enjoy its ideal solitary position.
People meet there for meditation, for walking, for sport and find relaxation from daily stress.
In the summer the tree gives protection against sun and rain. Animals use it as a “natural food supermarket” and birds nest in its branches.
Children call it “miracle or magic tree”, people say for generations “our friend the tree”.
The people from Itter/Himmelgeist also called the tree “gallows tree”. It seems as if particularly during the war years bad things happened. But the tree cannot do anything about this, because it was people who did this.
Since 1998 the Himmelgeist chestnut tree has been certified as a natural monument. In April 2006 workers from the gardening department of the city of Düsseldorf removed the two benches and the fence around the tree with the comment that the tree had to be felled, because its stability was in danger. A fungus had apparently infected the tree and it now endangered people’s safety.
Thanks to Otto Kieker, our former forester, we informed the local media at once and at Easter 2006 collected over 2,300 signatures for saving the tree which should on no account be felled, even if it was ill. We also demanded a second independent expert’s on the condition of “our” tree.
On 8 May 2006 we passed the signatures to our citizen, the Mayor, Joachim Erwin, who was very impressed by the tree, which was in full blossom. The second expert’s opinion showed that the tree was not so ill and its stability was secured. We agreed on a compromise with the city of Dusseldorf that the two benches which had been removed would be placed once again in the immediate vicinity, the receipt of the signatures and assured us in writing that we would be immediately informed about any action taken against the Himmelgeist chestnut.
In the spring of that year, 2006, we particularly took our tree into our hearts – and the tree probably, too.
This is how we put together this homepage, with which we show our solidarity with nature, animals and our local area. Nature does not need us, but we need nature. Every tree felled means one branch less, on which we people and animals can sit.
With this homepage we want to motivate young and old to creativity, activities and self-initiative. With our actions “we knock on wood” and strengthen the awareness of the environment and society.
The tree spirit “Jüchtwind”, who lives in the tree, is glad to receive post from young and old. More than 2,500 letters from Germany and the whole world have been received by “Jüchtwind” and his tree spirit secretary. All of them have been individually answered by a nice postcard. Among them are many amusing, sad, imaginative, poetical, advice seeking letters about such topics as “relationships, marriage, life, death, saying goodbye, illness, environmental and climate protection, old trees, social activities”. The broad spectrum of our lives can be found in the contents of the letters, which could fill a whole book. Old and current photos, films, paintings, poems, stories, press cuttings, simply everything, which has to do with the chestnut tree and old trees, is published on this page.
Our chestnut tree survived the hurricane “Kyrill” on 18 January 2007 without losing any branches. While in the evening everywhere in Dusseldorf the trees fell over, the chestnut tree survived the gusts of more than 140 km/h which were blowing through the Rhine bend. Both, a little earthquake on 3 August 2007, at 4.58 a.m. and the snow storm “Daisy” couldn’t damage “our” tree.
Since 25 April 2007, the German national day of the tree, a letter box, belonging to the tree spirit “Jüchtwind” has been placed immediately next to the tree. The letter box was officially opened on 25 April 2007 in the presence of the media and the local politicians. Camera teams of SAT 1, WDR and Center TV and many newspapers reported about our action. A report by the German press agency brought about nation wide coverage. More than 100 press reports appeared. Since this day the Himmelgeister chestnut tree has an official postal address. Our inquiry at the Deutsche Post AG was successful. Every day the postman, Ekrem Dönder, cycles to the Rhine bend and delivers the post to the letter box.
If you enclose a 45 cent stamp to the letter, the tree spirit secretary will also reply to the numerous letters from young and old from near and far.
On 17 April 2007 the chestnut tree got a little “sister” in the immediate vicinity planted by the Düsseldorf gardening department, which we christened “Kastaniellchen” or “little chestnut tree”. So there will always be a Himmelgeister chestnut tree, even if one day the big old chestnut tree should die.
A discussion with Mrs Bärbel Höhn (MdB) in the state parliament in Düsseldorf on 8 February 2008 brought success for the tree protection and the Brühler initiative “50TausendBäume”.
The tree spirit “Jüchtwind” was even a guest in Bernd Stelter’s quiz programme “Das NRW Duell” in the WDR studio in Cologne-Bocklemünd.
On 20 May 2008 our Mayor, Joachim Erwin, passed away after a long illness. We will never forget our first citizen and his efforts!
In cooperation with the well-known music producer, Achim Wolf, in the summer of 2008 we produced the song “Stark wie ein Baum” (strong as a tree) and a music video with the support of Nupa Gibbens from Aachen. On 16 August 2008 we celebrated at the Himmelgeist chestnut tree, we created some scenes for the music video and admired the partial eclipse of the moon to Didgeridoo music and the sounds of violins.
On 25 April 2009 we carried out the charity event “Gemeinsam stark wie ein Baum” (together strong as a tree) with over 300 participants, the patron major Dirk Elbers and the district chairperson, H. Leo Schuth. We were able to achieve donations of more than 5,500 Euros for the mobile children’s hospice in Dusseldorf. Afterwards the first German tree wedding took place and the chestnut tree married the “bridegroom oak” in Eutin.
In May 2009 the Japanese national TV company made an extensive TV report about our project. The film was shown a number of times in the Japanese national TV station (NHK) and the chestnut tree received a lot of mail from Japan. Many events followed.
In September 2009 we were awarded with the environmental prize of the city of Dusseldorf.
Under the headings “current news” you discover a lot about the activities of the tree spirit in recent days, weeks, months and years. It is not possible to list everything in this space. In 2009 and 2010 we supported the “Emma” project of the Verein Sterntaler e. V. from Düsseldorf and the mobile children’s hospice Düsseldorf. Out of a tree-rescue campaign a wonderful, creative, non-commercial project developed, which in 2010 will be even awarded with the prize from the competition “Germany – land of ideas – 365 places”.
Since 2006, the chestnut tree and its sister received cosmetic treatment, each time in November. More than 600 kilos of leaves were collected and disposed of in cooperation with the gardening department of the city of Düsseldorf.
Unterschriften Sammlung von 2006
Artikel aus der Rheinischen Post vom 25.03.2006
For 2010 an extensive (re-)construction of the dyke in the Rhine bend is planned. We will keep an eye on this, so that the chestnut tree will not be affected. It is our motivation to do good things on a voluntary basis. Good things for the nature, old trees, the environment, for people and animals. That is fun and gives you a good feeling.
We present the Himmelgeister chestnut tree as a symbol for tree protection, as a representative for all old trees.
We wish all the friends of the Himmelgeister chestnut tree a lot of fun with the homepage about the chestnut tree, the tree spirit “Jüchtwind” and his friends.
We would be glad to receive suggestions, ideas, feedbacks, photos, links, criticism etc.
Andreas Vogt (tree spirit secretary)
Status: January 2010