Do not touch: Heatwave exposes German Second World War munitions in low waters of Elbe

Authorities in Germany have warned people to exercise caution around the river Elbe after exceptionally low waters exposed grenades and ammunition left over from the Second World War.

The current heatwave gripping Europe has reduced the Elbe, one of Germany’s three great rivers, to its lowest level in decades, and walkers exploring its banks have stumbled on ordnance that has lain undisturbed since 1945.

There were finds at five separate locations over the last week, and in total 21 pieces of ordnance have been discovered so far this year in the state of Saxony-Anhalt alone, including tank shells, hand grenades and rifle bullets.

“Even after decades under water, ammunition can still be dangerous,” Grit Merker, a spokesman for the Saxony-Anhalt police said. 

Sediment can form on the outside of unexploded shells and grenades, hiding the danger beneath, she warned. 

Parched: the dried out riverbank of the Elbe in Magdeburg, eastern GermanyCredit:

Large quantities of unused ammunition were disposed of in the Elbe at the end of the Second World War, and have lain there undetected ever since. 

But the Elbe is fast approaching its lowest level ever recorded in the state capital of Magdeburg, and the unusually low waters have exposed some areas of bank for the first time in decades.

Doemitz, where the original course of the river has almost dried out completelyCredit:
Barcroft Images

Upstream in Dresden, the tourist boats that usually ply the river are confined to their moorings because the river is too shallow for them to pass.

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Most of the ammunition finds have been by walkers who stumbled upon ordnance accidentally. But police said they were also aware of people deliberately searching for the munitions.

Drei'd out: A man walks his dog along the DreisamCredit:

“This is forbidden and dangerous,” the spokesman said. “Any finds should not be touched. It’s better to inform the authorities immediately.”

The water level in Magdeburg is currently around 55cm (21 inches), just a little above the historic low of 48cm (18 inches) recorded in 1934.

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