DBG History

Ilka Engell

History of the German Soil Science Society

The origin

The German Soil Science Society (DBG) was founded in Berlin on 24 February 1926 as a section of the International Soil Science Society (IBG), now IUSS, which had been founded two years earlier in Rome. Until the Second World War, it was largely characterised by the Berlin agricultural chemists O. Lemmermann and F. Giesecke and the soil geologist F.W. Schucht, particularly in the context of conferences. Together with A.E. Mitscherlich (Königsberg i. Pr.), P. Ehrenberg (Breslau), E. Blanck (Göttingen) - editor of the "Handbuch der Bodenkunde", the soil mapper H. Stremme (Danzig) and the forest soil scientist G.A. Krauss (Tharandt, Munich), these personalities contributed to the international reputation of the DBG. At that time, the focus was on the characterisation of basic soil features such as texture, the creation of soil maps of Germany and Europe, collaboration on the "Reichsbodenschätzung" (soil assessment), the vascular experiment to determine the nutrient requirements of cultivated plants and the role of soil colloids. Also worth mentioning is Margarete von Wrangell (Hohenheim), who was the first woman appointed to a professorship in Germany to work on the plant availability of soil phosphates. The most important publication was the Zeitschrift für Pflanzenernährung und Düngung (Verlag Chemie), which was founded in 1922 and is still the member journal of our society today as the "Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science".

The period between 1933 and 1945

With the Nazi takeover in 1933, soil research increasingly served the primary purpose of increasing yields to make Germany self-sufficient in terms of food production. The NS synchronization policy and the "Blood and Soil" ideology also affected the DBG and soil science in research and teaching. This period was marked not only by a gradual loss of scientific freedom but also by dehumanizing persecution for political and racial reasons. This chapter in German history was characterized by a gradual loss of scientific freedom and inhumane persecution for political and racial reasons. The self-destructive hubris of the totalitarian state ultimately led to a world war with unprecedented consequences. In preparation for the 100th anniversary in 2026, the DBG is actively addressing its Nazi past.

The early post-war years

After the military defeat in 1945, which also meant liberation from the Nazi regime, the DBG, like many other associations, was dissolved under Allied occupation. The re-establishment took place on December 7, 1949, in Wiesbaden. In the first two decades of the post-war period, F. Scheffer, the long-standing president, significantly shaped the new DBG. International renown was gradually restored, with significant contributions from foreign colleagues. Notable among them were corresponding members G. Barbier and P. Duchaufour (France), M. Gračanin (Yugoslavia), R. Tavernier (Belgium), A. van Baren (Netherlands), and later L. Wiklander (Sweden), R. Dudal (Belgium-FAO), and D. Yaalon (Israel). The growing annual meetings, numerous commission and working group sessions, and diverse excursions facilitated intense knowledge exchange and rapid scientific progress. A highlight was the 1986 meeting of the International Soil Science Society (ISSS) in Hamburg, with K.H. Hartge (Hannover) as conference president. International commission meetings were held in 1958 in Hamburg, 1966 in Braunschweig-Völkenrode, 1971 in Stuttgart-Hohenheim, and 1981 in Berlin. The most recent IUSS Division meeting took place in 2013 in Ulm. In the early post-war period, the focus was initially on questions of soil development, distribution, and land use suitability. Later, soil ecological, biological, and fertility issues dominated. Since the 1980s, soil protection aspects have steadily gained importance, leading to the establishment of the soil association "Bundesverband Boden", which is still associated with the DBG as a partner today. The number of members rose rapidly from approx. 150 in 1950 to 800 in 1975 and approx. 2,200 in 2023, whereby a high proportion of young members was and is a special feature of the DBG.

The division between West and East and the reunification

Between 1967 and 1990, an independent soil science society (BG) existed in the GDR, whose foundation on 21 December 1967 as a separation from the West German DBG was strongly influenced by the regime. Despite difficult political realities, the BG became a well-functioning home for its members. However, the DBG membership of East German members was not deleted but continued as "dormant." Despite significant travel restrictions and a lack of foreign exchange, a certain level of contacts and communication was maintained. After the self-dissolution of the BG in 1990, many reactivated their dormant DBG memberships. The special knowledge and expertise of colleagues from the former GDR, especially the good connections to soil scientists from the former Eastern Bloc countries, were valuable and favored the establishment or intensification of cooperation with eastern neighbors, such as in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. For their contributions to this cross-border collaboration, J. Němeček, Prague, and A. Kowalkowski, Kielce, were appointed corresponding members of the DBG in 1991.

International relationships and networks

There are diverse and close collaborations with other soil science institutions nationally and internationally. The reputation of German soil science was promoted, among other things, by the involvement of German scientists as IUSS commission chairs, such as W. Flaig, U. Schwertmann, K.H. Hartge, E. Schlichting, J.C.G. Ottow, H.-P. Blume, R. Horn, K. Stahr, and W. Burghardt, and by the IUSS honorary memberships of W. Kubiena (Hamburg), F. Scheffer (Göttingen), W. Flaig (Braunschweig-Völkenrode), E. Mückenhausen (Bonn), P. Schachtschabel (Hannover), K.H. Hartge (Hannover), W. E. H. Blum (Vienna), K. Stahr (Hohenheim), M.H. Gerzabek (Vienna), and R. Horn (Kiel). R. Horn served as IUSS president from 2014 to 2016, and W. E. H. Blum (Vienna) served as General Secretary of the International Society of Soil Science (ISSS) from 1990 to 2002 and later the IUSS from 1998. P. Schad (Weihenstephan) played a significant role as chair of the WRB working group from 2010 to 2022.

Current developments

Recent soil science research is characterized by an increased emphasis on research collaborations at national and international levels, as well as tremendous methodological progress. Frequently, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary questions, such as those related to the sustainability of land use or resource and climate protection, take the spotlight. This is associated with large and complex datasets and modeling on diverse spatial and temporal scales. The "Soil of the Year" campaign, which has been running successfully since 2005, has achieved particular publicity in dialogue with politicians and the public. The campaign also supports the DBG's broad environmental communication programme, which also includes literature and art.
In addition to the regular smaller meetings of the commissions and working groups - increasingly with institutions from neighbouring disciplines - the large annual conferences are held every two years at various locations in Germany. The Austrian city of Vienna has also hosted the DBG twice. In cooperation with the Austrian Soil Science Society, the conferences were held there in 1961 and 2011. The 2019 DBG conference was organised in Bern together with the Swiss Soil Science Society. Around 10 % of our members work abroad or are based there. In recent years, the Young Professionals in Soil Science (YPSS) have developed a wide range of activities within the DBG.

Present and future

The DBG, celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2026 with currently around 2,200 members, is an extremely active professional society, well-connected both nationally and internationally. Soil sciences are distinguished by a particular research strength, reflected in funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG) and publication achievements. We are also present in the public and political spheres, thanks to strategic partnerships such as the one with the Soil Association (Bundesverband Boden, BVB) e.V., and we engage in a diverse dialogue addressing current challenges.

Further details on the history of the DBG (in German):
Blume, H.P. (2001): 1926 - 2001: 75 years of the German Soil Science Society. - DBG-Mitteilungen 97, 382 pp.




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