This summer, drought hit Central Europe hard. Spain endured record-breaking temperatures. Polish authorities banned beach swimming because of warm-water bacteria. And in Germany, 2018’s April to July was the hottest and driest on record. As water levels on the continent fell, observers spotted giant boulders along the banks of an important central European waterway. Their emergence was part commemoration—and part warning.
The 678-mile Elbe River runs through parts of the Czech Republic and Germany. Hundreds of years ago, Germanic peoples throughout Europe began placing large stones at the water’s edge. People carved dates, sayings, and images into them. When the water receded enough to reveal the boulders, people knew that crop failures, water rationings, and worse would likely follow. They called them Hungersteine—“hunger stones.”
Hunger stones are memorials—similar to the stones Joshua set up honoring God for saving the Israelites from Egypt. (Joshua 4) But instead of good memories, Hungersteine recall times of famine. Through the 1800s, people added dates whenever the stones reappeared. Dates on one stone near Decin, Czech Republic, include 1417, 1616, 1707, 1746, 1800, 1811, 1830, 1842, 1868, and 1893. One bears a chiseled warning: “When you see me, cry.”
This summer, over a dozen hunger stones became visible in the Czech Republic and Germany.
Like much of Europe, Germany has seen little rain and long spells of very hot weather since April. According to the German Meteorological Service, the country experienced the highest temperature anomalies (variations from the norm) since the start of official records.
Droughts like this make some scientists worry that the Earth is getting hotter and drier. Yet the hunger stones prove that serious droughts are nothing new. A June article in Nature reveals that modern-day droughts—including this year’s—are neither as severe nor as long-lasting as some earlier ones.
Still, the 2018 drought has much of Europe suffering. German officials have declared the drought an “event of national extent.” That verdict releases millions in aid from federal and state governments. Thousands of farmers will receive payment from the German government. That will help make up for the poor crop yields.
But more than money, the president of the German Farmers Association, Joachim Rukwied, says, “We urgently need rain.” Of course, only God can send that.
Can the heavens grant showers? Is it not You, O Lord our God? — Jeremiah 14:22, NASB