The summer of 2018 will be engraved in our memories as one of the hottest ever in recent decades in Europe. ‘Engraved’ just as the rocks that line the banks of the River Elbe, a river which crisscrosses Central Europe, were centuries ago.
With the drought and receding water levels, strange rocks have resurfaced. On the disturbing inscriptions can be seen, which could be ominous messages from an ancient time. When these ‘hunger stones’ reemerge, it is also all of the calamities of the past that are resurfacing.
Last year, more than a dozen of them were found on the shores of Děčín, a city in the Czech Republic located 50 miles from Prague, and established at the confluence of the Elbe and the Ploučnice rivers. The warnings made by these stones can not be more clear.
‘When you see me, weep’
The most famous of them, called ‘the hunger stone,’ bears an inscription engraved in 1616 which sums everything up. ‘When you see me, weep.’ An injunction that refers to the context of an alarming drought, during which it was engraved. This same rock commemorates other episodes of the same nature, such as water shortages, the oldest of which was recorded in 1417.
This exceptional drought that struck the region in the early fifteenth century seems to have extended well beyond the country's borders. In Germany too, another ‘hunger stone’ reports the same meteorological episode. It reads ‘When you see this stone again, then you will weep, so shallow was the water in the year 1417.’
The many other ‘hunger stones’ bordering the Elbe carry several other tearful inscriptions. Some examples among many others are ‘We wept - We weep - And you will weep,’ or ‘Whoever saw me one day, he wept, and whoever sees me now will weep.’
Weeping as if to ward off bad luck
Crying was indeed the only escape for the populations of the time when it came to coping with the dramatic consequences of a drought. They suffered poor harvests, famine, soaring prices, but also transportation difficulties for families dependent on fluvial axes to trade.
Although current technologies make it possible to mitigate some of their deleterious effects, droughts are nonetheless still serious threats for the populations concerned, and sometimes have unexpected consequences elsewhere.
At the lowest levels of the past fifty years, the Elbe has also revealed many vestiges of the Second World War, such as shells, bombs and grenades corroded by both time and humidity, but still ready to explode at any time. Ticking time bombs just as dangerous as current climate changes…