From Battleground to Oasis: Germany's Teutoburg Forest | Forest of Heroes | Full Nature Documentary
Shrouded in legend and mysterious. Like a green band, traversing Germany. The Teutoburg Forest is a refuge for both plants and animals. A low mountain range with fascinating rock formations... ...and a valuable habitat... ...with an animal world that surprises... ...and impresses. A forest full of history.
Made famous by the Varus Battle, two thousand years ago. And, of course, its hero: Arminius, the Cheruscan. Whose monument still towers high above the forest to this day. The Teutoburg Forest covers an area of some 100 kilometres. The narrow, elongated low mountain range can be perceived as a defensive border between West and Northern Germany.
It's winter - temperatures fall at the Extern Stones - a million-year-old sandstone formation. It's just below freezing point, calm and damp. Perfect conditions for a rare phenomenon: Fine frost flowers are growing from dead branches on the forest floor, pushing their way through the deadwood like frozen threads.
Fungi in the wood press water out of the branch pores, thereby creating this transient work of art. As soon as the first sunrays reach the ground, the magic that was last night disappears. In the Teutoburg Forest, very few trees are taller than 400 metres. Nonetheless, the forest was a barrier for a very long time.
For the most part, the cold season sees very little snowfall. Usually, winters are short and mild. Spring begins in March and this is when it starts to get loud in the Teutoburg Forest. The year's first singers have company. A wild boar is searching for food in the thawed ground.
The wild sow is not alone. Their young are barely a week old and don't dare to enter the clearing until their mother has done so. They collect tasty titbits beneath the foliage: acorns, beechnuts, but also their first beetles and worms. The piglets do everything their mother does when eating.
More than anything else, they remain close to her, as she knows only too well, where to find the best food. The Spring warmth stimulates the urge to play. The little wild boars test their limits and practice for the coming years, when they will have to fight for a female once they reach adulthood. A little later, the sow returns to the depths of the forest. This is the signal the youngsters have been waiting for: the wrangling for the best places begins.
Milk is more plentiful up front, which is why the strongest always secure this place. A minute is usually enough for the mother. It's time for a nap after suckling. The young wild boars keep themselves mutually warm until they are able to regulate their body temperatures themselves.
The Teutoburg Forest is riddled with valleys and canyons. Water collects here in streams, that often lead to small forest ponds. Humidity and rising temperatures signalize a special event. Close by Iburg Castle, the forest comes alive in the twilight. The rustling on the ground has not gone unnoticed by the eagle owl.
The migration of the common toad has begun. And the owl is on the hunt... Fortunately for the toad, the owl has a mouse in its sights. The big owl has become numerous again in the Teutoburg Forest. It breeds in the equally numerous quarries of the low mountain range. Owls begin breeding in February.
Once Spring begins, the offspring are already three weeks old. The male toad is on his way to the body of water from whence he once came into the world. The mating season has arrived. A little later and the females also leave their winter hideaways.
Their route to the spawning waters is full of males who have just one thing on their minds... The male toads attempt to climb on to the backs of their chosen partners, so that they can carry them to the water. Once docked, a common toad male never lets go. The fight for the ladies is conducted energetically. Competing “singles” are deterred by a hefty kick in the nether regions.
At long last, the couple arrive at the pond. In the following nights, countless couples follow suit. The female lays the spawn in four to five long strands that are fertilised by the male. This can take up to twelve hours.
During this time, the couple swims around the pond. These movements cause the spawn strands to wrap themselves around the aquatic plants, ensuring that they will not drift away. Toads are so-called 'explosion spawner', that lay all of their eggs in water in one fell swoop.
Despite the idyllic surroundings – the Teutoburg Forest is not a jungle. Spruce trees make up at least a third of the wooded area. Even since the Middle Ages, cattle have been sent to graze in the forests.
The so-called grazing forests have disappeared with the modernisation of agriculture. They were obliged to make room for the economic forests of spruce and beech. In the Wistinghaus Senne, scientists want to rebuild a species-rich grazing forest.
With a little help from Scottish Highland cattle. The shaggy giants are undemanding and spend the entire year outside. They graze until the ground is bare, thus creating free spaces for animals and plants that need forests flooded with light. A rare project by German standards. In matters of nature conservation, Exmoor ponies are also active. The horses received offspring just two days ago.
The mare has only just rejoined the small herd. The fowl drinks mothers milk several times per hour. The boy will soon eat grass and play his part in maintaining the open areas of the Senne. In the Spring, a race for light begins for the plants in the forest. Wild garlic grows where it is shadowy, humid and the soil calcareous.
Toads too love humid mixed forests in which they can find food and hiding places. The wild garlic forest serves as their summer quarters. The sun reaches the forest floor as long as the trees have no leaves. The early blossoming plants use this short time slot for their appearance. Ferns compete with the wild garlic for light. Wild garlic not only radiates white – it also exudes a distinctive smell that earned it its name.
In the Teutoburg Forest, there is room too for ancient beech trees. A paradise for woodpeckers. The sun warms the forest and lures insects from their hideaways. Ideal conditions for birds that now need to feed their offspring. Black woodpeckers feed their young on protein-rich insects. After 17 days, the crow-sized woodpeckers appear for the first time in the entrance to their cave.
Someone is bringing up their young in a cave here too. A challenge for this little mite of just eleven grams! The crested tit is dependent on near natural forests. Her delicate beak can only handle rotten wood. Now the Teutoburg Forest glows in various green hues. The leafy blanket closes. Yet still, enough sunlight reaches the small forest ponds.
Supplying warmth, that the toad eggs most desperately need. In the meantime, they have developed into tiny larvae. Just how long the transition period will last until they become free-swimming tadpoles, depends on light and temperature. The toad's offspring are busy searching for food the entire day. Initially, they are satisfied with the leftovers of an eggshell, later they enhance their menu with algae and plankton.
Predators are attracted to the commotion in the water. Dragonfly larvae. Patient hunters, just waiting for something to move. Should a tadpole swim by close enough, the larvae mouthpiece snaps shut as fast as lightning.
This helps to keep troublesome rivals at bay. The majority of tadpoles survive the dangerous period in the pond, thanks to the security that life in a swarm provides. After two or three months, the transition begins: the gills disappear and the tiny amphibians grow legs and lungs.
Now the miniscule toads can leave the pond. They will return here as adults in three years at the earliest. Since 2011, cattle and horses keep the Wistinghaus Senne Forest open. The rare tree pipit benefits from their deployment.
As a ground nesting bird, apart from trees and bushes, it needs a protective herb layer to be able to rear its young successfully. Here, stocks have risen from five to almost 80 breeding pairs – thanks to the four-legged “lawnmowers”. The herd of Highland cattle has been behaving restlessly for the past few days. One cow holds itself apart and keeps disappearing into the forest.
She has hidden something in the dense undergrowth. It's the first calf of the small herd to ever be born in the Teutoburg Forest. After two days, the time has arrived and the mother takes the small bull with her to the herd. The first contact takes place under her watchful gaze. From now on, mother and calf remain in the safety of the herd. The familiar peace and tranquillity returns.
Cattle spend a major part of the day ruminating. Large parts of the Teutoburg Forest comprise beech trees, that grow exceptionally well in the calcareous soil. And there is more than enough lime in the low mountains. Until 65 million years ago, there was a sea here. The mussel and snail shells formed extensive layers of calcium.
The stone has been quarried here for centuries. Roman snails also need calcium in order to build their homes. They feed mainly on plants.
The 40,000 teeth on their tongues rasp effortlessly through leaves and grasses. Romans snails are hermaphrodites – they produce both eggs and sperm. But they still require a partner to propagate as they cannot fertilize themselves.
Their mating ritual is somewhat unconventional: They align themselves against one another, feel one another and then skewer one another with gypsobelums, or so-called love darts. In doing so, hormones are transferred, which boost reproductive success. Eventually, mutual fertilisation takes place. Once mating is over, they go their own ways.
A few days later, each snail digs a small pit in the forest floor and fills it with up to 60 eggs. The procedure takes around 30 minutes per egg – snail pace. In around three weeks, the mini-snails hatch. Their shells are still thin and soft.
They harden due to the absorbance of calcium. And the damp soil ensures that the tiny creatures don't dehydrate. Damp, uneven terrain – this is how the entire Teutoburg Forest looked roughly 2,000 years ago. No one was keen on spending any time in the eerie, dark forest of the Teutons. Especially not the Roman troops.
To this day, the Arminius or Hermann's Monument, serves to remind us of the legendary battle that took place in the 9th year AD. The dense forest led to disaster for Roman proconsul Varus and his legions. The German forces, led by Hermann, or Arminius the Cheruscan, dealt the Romans a devastating blow. It was the beginning of the end of the Roman occupation.
Today, Hermann stretches his sword some 53 metres toward the sky, making it Germany's highest statue. The Cheruscan prince has a fantastic view from here, with one of the most beautiful cities of the Teutoburg Forest as a backdrop. The old royal seat was capital of the Free State of Lippe until 1947.
The castle is at the centre of the old town, with an adjacent marketplace. The castle has been inhabited for 500 years; and even today, it is still the family seat of the Princes of Lippe. The magnificent rooms, such as the Red Hall and the Hunting Room, illustrate the eventful history and the long tradition of nobility of the Lippe region. It is early summer. Led by an experienced sow, the wild boar mothers form a pack, together with their young.
They all gave birth to their shoats at different times. The older ones already have their adult fur, the latecomers, their coloured stripes. Upbringing a la wild boar: whoever doesn't know his place, is reprimanded. A simple shove is all that's needed with the little ones, the sows sometimes resort to muscle power for the older animals. The mothers accept no nonsense in regard to hierarchy at meal times.
There is, however, a hierarchy, in which each member has to find his or her place. Whosoever asserts himself now, is later on above the others in the rank order. In the Forest of Heroes, opposites attract: nowhere else in Germany do such contrasting landscapes come so close to one another. The low mountain range, made of lime, meets sandy lowlands.
Home to the little dragon. Sand lizards. A female. The little reptile basks in the warmth of the morning sun. The green-coloured male has his territory here.
He already has the female under surveillance. At first, she keeps him at a distance. But in the end, his wooing is successful: for the time being, he is allowed to remain in her company. A rival. Under no circumstances can the male allow this on his territory.
The intruder gives up – peddling with the front legs is a sign of subservience. At last, the male can concentrate on his lady friend again. At first, he grabs the females tail, then sinks his teeth into her flank. The pairing takes about 5 minutes. The wryneck also lives in lizard territory.
Like the red-backed shrike, he too feeds on insects. And he has also found a cave. The shrill calls reveal: The wryneck belongs to the woodpeckers.
He's a rarity here, only to be found at the edge of the Senne. The Teutoburg Forest is a rain catcher. The wind drives the clouds to the mountain ranges, over which they empty their contents. Not a single drop goes lost in the forest. Moss sucks in the surplus rain like a sponge.
They are the forests reservoir and protect it from erosion. Moss can absorb many times its own weight in water. The green labyrinth is an almost impenetrable jungle for the ladybird larvae. She has her sights on aphids that are absorbing plant sap in a small maple. But unfortunately, they are being observed by ants: aphids excrete so-called honeydew.
This sugary juice is a delicacy for ants. Once at the top, the larvae wastes no time. It has to hurry before the custodians take notice. The ants form the majority and are well armed.
They sink their formidable 'teeth' into the bodies of the larva. Faced with this superiority, the ladybird larvae has just one possibility... Saved. Several insect species live under the leaf canopy of the forest. It's a different story outside of the forest. Modern agriculture makes life difficult for them.
Insects rarely find habitats like these. In the summer, the daisy meadows bloom and exude their typical fragrance. But their nectar is more appealing to insects like flies and bees.
Wherever one finds multitudes of insects, the red-backed shrike operates stockpiling. He is not known for his benevolence when it comes to sharing. In the well hidden shrike nest, offspring have hatched. The parents are continuously in search of food.
Both parents have to hunt in order to satisfy all five of their hungry chicks. The power sustenance ensures that the young are fully grown within two weeks. Shrikes prey on animals up to the size of a mouse. The freshly-hatched sand lizards live precariously, so close to the hungry birds. Two things help them to survive: their camouflage and their speed.
Even without the lizards, the little shrikes still grow quickly. The edges of the forest provide insects galore. In midsummer, the shadows of the trees and the abundance of water promise a welcome cooling off for the forest animals. During the greatest heat of the day, the wild boars regularly visit their mud pools. The animals cool off in the murky puddles.
Skin parasites are encapsulated in the mud and mosquitoes have no chance of even getting close to the skin. Dragonflies are also attracted to the ponds and pools of the Teutoburg Forest. The male banded demoiselle is out searching for a bride. As soon as it has discovered a suitable female, courtship begins. If she is convinced by him, mating can begin. This begins with the male seizing his partner behind her head.
But this togetherness is soon history. The second male sees his chance, but is forced to give up. Shortly afterwards, the female pierces some aquatic plants and lays the fertilised eggs inside. The next generation has been taken care of. The Scottish Highland cattle are also keen on a cooling bath in the ponds.
For a short while, the water even dispels the annoying flies. A region full of stories and history – the Teutoburg Forest has always fascinated people. Especially many legends surround the Extern Stones, a 35-metre-tall sandstone formation.
Whether they served a Celtic or Germanic sanctuary is still subject to conjecture. We do know that they originated over 120 million years ago. Every year, more than 500,000 visitors come here and make the Extern Stones one of the most popular attractions of the Teutoburg Forest. Whereas the animals appreciate their practical value.
Dormice find ideal living conditions in the vicinity of the sand stones. They sleep through the day in old tree hollows. At night, they head off in search of food – juicy berries, flower buds, bark or leaves. And the droppings of the wanderers are a welcome diversion. The dormouse manages to eat the apple in one summers night. Midsummer slowly draws to an end.
The Exmoor ponies in the Wistinghaus Senne spend the final hot days beneath the trees. The grass in the shadows is especially juicy. The foal has grown well and is hardly distinguishable from his mother.
The days grow shorter, the nights cooler. Rutting season for the deer begins. The young stags are not yet strong enough for the contest for the females. They can use the autumn to collect power food for the coming winter. With any luck, perhaps they will be able to defy the top dog.
The first cold nights transform the Teutoburg Forest. Autumn begins with fog and coloured leaves. Green chlorophyll is harvested, whilst the less valuable yellow and red leaf pigments remain. It's time to take precautions. The squirrel has to eat enough to build fat reserves for the winter. Additionally, it replenishes stocks and hides acorns and nuts.
For a short period, the forest glows in an abundance of colour. The beech trees discard of huge amounts of beechnuts. This is a fat-rich food concentrate that finds many consumers. The wild boars also benefit from the weeks of surplus. They are faced with turbulent times, as autumn also marks the opening of the mating season. The older males, who have spent the entire year roaming the forest alone, now rejoin the pack.
The wild sow shows little enthusiasm initially – she alone decides the moment of intimacy. He has to follow her patiently and attempt to impress her. His repertoire is nothing short of spectacular: pulling out all of the stops includes grinding his teeth, spraying urine and constantly chewing to form saliva – an irresistible mixture for the female. Wild boars are true powerhouses, up to 1 metre 80 long and 200 kilograms in weight. The big male tries to find out, which sows are receptive.
A second boar joins the pack – he too fancies his chances. But the colossus tolerates no competition. He sports his broadside and grinds his teeth.
If that's not enough, he threatens with his sharp canines. The fight has a contagious effect – and all males experience increased hormone levels. So much so, that this young fellow on the fringe of the pack, seizes his chance.
The ranking order amongst the larger animals is restored. The superior male will mate with as many sows as he can in the coming days and weeks and in doing so, ensure a new generation of wild boar. The wild boar mating season continues throughout winter and doesn't end until the following February. Autumn also colours the leaves surrounding the Arminius monument. The last tourists of the season visit the scene, where, according to legend, the Teutons brought the Roman legions advance to a halt. It is, however, more likely that the battle took place near the town of Kalkriese, some 100 kilometres to the north of here.
Nevertheless, Hermann will retain his magnetical attraction. Cold winds initiate the winter. The situation has changed for the ponies. Now they have to search beneath the snow for anything edible.
The next few months will be very testing for all of the forest animals. The days in which everything was in abundance are now over for the wild boars too. The best feeding grounds are now vigorously defended. Other animals benefit on days like these. This wild boar failed to survive the hardships caused by winter. This is music in the ears of the buzzards.
But peace is not eternal. Food jealousy has broken out amongst the birds of prey. The buzzard wants the carcass all to himself. But the competitor is in no mood to climb down and challenges the host.
The fight appears brutal, however, serious injuries are rare. Apart from the fact that the carcass is big enough for all. Tension between the two brawlers soon dissipates. Then, for a short while, peace returns to the vast woods and hills of the Teutoburg Forest. Until a new, wild year begins – at the feet of old Hermann.
The undisputed hero of the Teutoburg Forest.