The low water levels in the river that begins in the Czech Republic then crosses Germany into the North Sea has exposed stones on the river bed whose appearances in history used to warn people that hard times were coming.
“Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine” (If you see me, weep): this menacing warning is engraved in a rock, popped up from the bed of the Elbe river, in Czech Republic, after months of prolonged drought. This inscription is found on one of the numerous so-called “hunger stones” re-emerged from the Elbe river, visible again thanks to the consistent lowering of the water level.
In past centuries, when these rocks surfaced, people began to worry: the drought would bring hunger and famine. The “hunger stones” are engraved with lines that signaled the low level reached by the river, along with the corresponding year. Since the 15th century, they were used to remember the years of drought, when there were still no meteorological stations. The oldest inscription still visible dates back to 1616, in a stone that is located near the town of Děčín, but there are testimonies that speak of engravings dated 1417, and then, recurrently, through the centuries, up to the present day.
It seems that in the city of Pirna (in Saxony, Germany) there must have been a rock that showed the drought line of the year 1115, but its position is unknown today. Stones of hunger are not only found on the river Elbe, but also in the rivers Reno, Moselle and Weser. The messages that have been engraved express the same concept. Another hunger stone in Germany records the conditions that year in no happier terms: “If you will again see this stone, so you will weep, so shallow the water was in the year 1417.” Others say things like “We cried – We cry – And you will cry”, and “Who once saw me, he cried. Whoever sees me now will cry”. The reasons for such ominous bouts of weeping could be numerous. When drought came, it was signal not only a bad harvest, but a lack of food and higher prices. And as the water level sank, river transportation became harder, threatening the livelihood of families living along the shore. As if to say that, when the writings could be read, the level of the river was so low that it could provide for hard and difficult years, marked by hunger.
In addition to the “hunger stones”, unexploded World War II bombs and hand grenades that have been corroding in this waterway for over 70 years were found, while in other parts of Europe drought has led to surprising discoveries: thanks to a drone and to the unusually dry soil, in Ireland have been identified signs of a large megalithic temple, dating back to 4500 years ago. And if the discovery of the Irish Stonehenge, which occurred only thanks to the prolonged drought, is certainly an important fact…..it’s a fact that the “stones of hunger” aren’t a sign only about dark times!