(19 Jun 2018) LEADIN:
Germany is celebrating the opening of a new lake this summer, one of dozens created by filling former coal mines.
The goal of this massive environmental project is to create Europe's biggest artificial lake district, transforming a former industrial area into a tourist destination.
A sweeping view of these vast lakes shows little sign of what this region used to be.
But this was once mining country, and these lakes are all man-made.
It's a huge project that's transformed the old industrial landscape into a new lake district.
The open cast Meuro mine that once dominated the landscape, providing jobs to thousands of workers, has vanished.
Only a floating excavator plucking sunken trees out of the water hints at the effort that's gone into reshaping this corner of eastern Germany over the past decades.
It's part of a massive environmental clean up in Lusatia, a region that once provided much of the coal which heated German homes and powered the country's industrial rise.
Lignite is a soft brown coal that often lies close to the surface, meaning it is easiest to just remove layer upon layer from above rather than dig underground shafts.
"This is a region that was shaped by strip mining for hundreds of years," says Kathrin Winkler, a native of Lusatia197, who is the head of Lusatia Lakes Tourism Association.
"That means we had gigantic open-cast mines here. We have extracted the coal from the deeper layers in the area. We have broken down gigantic open pit mines."
As a young woman growing up in communist East Germany, Winkler worked in the Meuro mine for a year.
Now it's her job to promote Lusatia as the next big tourist destination, billing it as a tranquil lakeside retreat for weary city dwellers from nearby Berlin and Dresden.
The idea would have seemed outlandish to anyone looking at the alien, lifeless landscape not so long ago.
But over the past two decades the man-made craters have been slowly resculpted to create 26 lakes connected by 13 canals and hundreds of miles of cycle track.
Instead of coal-fired power plants, the horizons are now dotted with wind turbines and fields full of solar panels.
Much of the task of turning brownfield sites into the kind of "blooming landscapes" Germany's late chancellor, Helmut Kohl, promised East Germans shortly before reunification has fallen to a state-owned company, LMBV.
"It's a unique task we've been given here," says spokesperson Uwe Steinhuber.
"Among other things, we are creating 25,000 hectares of new blue eyes, i.e. new lake landscapes in the two districts in Lusatia and central Germany. You could say that it's the biggest landscape reconstruction in Europe that we're operating. There's no script for this job, no complete task description and also no experience that you can rely on."
Steinhuber had just begun a career in the East German diplomatic service when the Berlin Wall collapsed, and with it the life plans of millions who had grown up in the knowledge that, if little else, the communist regime would guarantee them work for life.
Of the more than 90,000 jobs that existed in Lusatia's coal mines three decades ago, only a few thousand remain.
Some former miners have found work in restoring the depleted countryside, a task German law requires mining companies to set money aside for.
So far, the company has spent 10.6 billion euros (12.5 billion US dollars) removing the legacy of industry and creating 25,000 hectares (61,775 acres) of lakes.
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