Notes from the von Salisch Symposium

By Guest Contributor on August 6, 2010

Walter Cook shared with us his notes from a recent trip to Poland to attend a symposium on Heinrich von Salisch. Cook and Doris Wehlau translated the 1902 edition of von Salisch’s book Forest Aesthetics, which is available from the Forest History Society.

Heinrich von Salisch was a forester who lived in Postel, a hamlet north of Breslau, Silesia, in what was then Germany. In his book, Forest Aesthetics, published in 1885, with revisions in 1902 and 1911, von Salisch argued that forestry was about more than economics. Rather, there was room for not only protecting the forest’s attractiveness, but through simple compromises, land managers could enhance the beauty of the forest without forgoing income.

The English-language edition of Forest Aesthetics.

Last year, Prof. Jerzy Wisniewski, the recently retired head of the Department of Forest Protection at Poznan University, began preparations for a symposium on the life of von Salisch, on the occasion of the 90th year of his death. I was invited to the symposium, which was held on June 18-19, 2010, in Goluchow and Postelin; the former is a village in central Poland and is the site of the Polish government’s Forest Culture Center. (Following World War II, the province had become part of Poland.)

The program began with a tour of the Center, which has several components. A museum of forest history and forest-related and inspired art occupies the “castle,” the palace home of the 18th– and 19th-century owners. Another museum exhibits forest ecology, rare plants and animals, and an especially comprehensive collection of forestry equipment, from a sub-soil ripping plow to tree calipers, dibbles, and transits. A large area of the property is an arboretum, designed in the English landscape style. Animal pens house the rare European bison, the Polish horse, fallow deer, and wild boars. After lunch, the forty attendees, mostly German and Polish foresters, gathered in the classroom of the education building. This building, a converted 19th-century barn, also houses administrative offices and modern guest rooms.

The first speaker, Albrecht Milnik, retired forester from the forest center at Eberswalde, Germany, described the forests of Silesia, and von Salisch’s 625 hectares of forest at Postel. Von Salisch managed his forests for income, wildlife, and aesthetic quality by several adaptive silvicultural practices.

Monika Graulich, a retired librarian from Giessen, Germany, described the genealogy of the von Salisch family from 1769 to the present. She introduced Gisela Ludwig-Roese, a descendent of Heinrich’s uncle. Monika has also provided a new edition of Forest Aesthetics in German but in modern script. Monika had met me in Frankfurt before the symposium and drove me on a tour of the area of Hesse where I was stationed in 1952-54.

The third speaker was Prof. Wisniewski, chief organizer of the symposium. He told of the four interests of von Salisch—landowner, forester, politician, and benefactor. He owned and managed 925 hectares of land, of which 625 were in forests. He also observed the management of the adjacent Katholisch-Hammer state forest. He practiced a variety of silvicultural techniques, always noting the results in term of production and aesthetic quality. He was elected to the federal Reichstag and was known as a conscientious public servant. In 1892, he donated lumber and money to build the church in Postel.

The last speaker was Dr. Dariusz Gwiazdowicz, the current head of the Department of Forest Protection at Poznan University. He discussed the importance of beautiful forests to all people. The book by von Salisch is important to inculcate appreciation of beauty to forestry students early in their career. According to von Salisch, beauty can be created or increased by silvicultural techniques, and by ensuring visual variety. This includes leaving or creating openings (meadows) within the forest.

A discussion followed. Salient points included the benefit of foresters from different countries sharing information. Forestry is changing as to its important objectives, and the recognition of a variety of benefits, in addition to income. Prof. Wisniewski showed paintings that reflected the beauty of forests.

The second day of the symposium was spent at Postelin (formerly Postel). We attended services in the church founded by von Salisch, originally Protestant but Catholic since 1945. Services were conducted in Polish and German, by the priest and a Protestant minister. Gisela Ludwig-Roese was honored as a member of the von Salisch family. She unveiled a beautiful oak panel with an image of Heinrich von Salisch carved in relief, and the words: Landowner, Forester, Politician, and Benefactor; Founder of the Church, and Author of the Book, Forest Aesthetics—all in German and Polish.

The church service was followed by a walking tour of the “Park,” the 5.2 hectare area surrounding the site of the von Salisch manor house (which was destroyed by the Russian army in 1945). The tour was led and narrated by Marek Grobelny, the forester whose area of responsibility included the forests in the Postelin area (and who was the guide during my visit in 1993). He had recently improved the foot trails and forest roads, and installed some interpretive signage.

After a light lunch, we boarded small buses to visit sites in the former von Salisch forest. We visited “Johanna’s Height,” a hunting tower built in 1849 by his father for his mother (left). The tower is no longer open for public use due to structural weaknesses; a restoration project is expected to be completed in 2011.

Near the tower, we watched as Gisela Ludwig-Roese, Prof. Wisniewski, and Albrecht Milnik planted three oak trees in honor of von Salisch. We went to the graves of Heinrich and his wife, Susanna. Grobelny had restored the site and set the headstone upright. Also on the driving tour, he described the examples of silviculture used in the forest. A group dinner in nearby Milicz ended the Symposium. Prof. Wisniewski, Albrecht Milnik, and others spoke about the legacy of von Salisch and how his ideas are still very much appreciated.

Walter Cook Jr. is a retired professor from the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Resources. You can read more about his first trip to the von Salisch property and the book in Forest History Today.