Pastoral landscape now covers a grim Cold War site

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BERLIN -- Deep beneath the earth of Ronneburg, under a radiant carpet of daffodils and yellow rape fields, lies one of the deadliest secrets of the Cold War: the uranium mine that supplied the Soviet nuclear arsenal.

From today this unhappy corner of eastern Germany becomes a tourist attraction with the Federal Garden Show 2007, expected to draw up to 1.5 million visitors. It features a newly planted meadow and landscape area scattered with art installations, including a flock of blue sheep.

The contrast could not be more stark. The region around Gera and Ronneburg, close to the Czech border, used to be dominated by slag heaps and a one and a quarter (2km) hole. East Germany was the world’s largest producer of uranium: 231,000 tonnes were excavated, often at terrible human cost, and delivered to the Soviet Union. The local rivers were irradiated and, as miners died of lung cancer, those in the know began to call it the Valley of Death.

The Darmstadt Institute of Ecology has —- to the relief of the garden show organisers —- pronounced it safe.

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