|Died||30 January 2021 (aged 97)|
Wilhelm Knabe (8 October 1923 – 30 January 2021) was a German ecologist, pacifist, civil servant and politician, remembered as a founding member of the Green Party in Germany, and a pioneer of conservation of the environment who shaped the party for decades.
Knabe studied forest management in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and, as an assistant at the Humboldt University, focused on the recultivation after brown coal mining. Knabe left East Germany in 1959, settling in Mülheim, West Germany with his family, where he worked for a state agency for ecology. He had been a member of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) from 1946, because it represented his Christian ethics, but left the party in 1966, unwilling to support its belief in economic growth and nuclear energy. In 1978, he was a co-founder of the Green Party in Germany, standing for conservation of the environment and world peace. He was party speaker on a federal level, a member of the Bundestag from 1987 to 1990, and vice mayor of Mülheim from 1994 to 1999.
Knabe was born in October 1923 in Arnsdorf, near Dresden, the seventh of nine children of a Protestant theologian. His father directed a facility for children with learning difficulties. He died trying to protect these children from the Nazi euthanasia programs in 1940, when Wilhelm was age 16. The younger Knabe joined the Luftwaffe after his Abitur at the Fürstenschule St. Afra in Meißen, and served for three years. After World War II, he became a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from 1946. He studied forest management (Forstwirtschaft) at the Forstliche Hochschule in Tharandt near Dresden, and completed his studies with a doctorate in agrarian science at the Humboldt University in Berlin. During his studies, he founded a group for preservation of the environment in 1949, together with other students, but the SED government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) soon suppressed it. As assistant at the Humboldt University, he focused on plans for the recultivation after brown coal mining, the topic of his dissertation, but they were not put into practice.
Knabe left East Germany in 1959, with his pregnant wife and three children. The family settled in North Rhine-Westphalia, West Germany, where he joined the Christian Democratic Union, as it represented his Christian ethics. He left the party in 1966 because he could no longer support its belief in unrestrained economic growth, building of highways, and support of nuclear energy. Knabe worked from the mid-1960s in a leading position for the Landesanstalt für Ökologie, a state agency for ecology, in Recklinghausen, moving to Mülheim in 1967. He headed a project developing strategies to fight Waldsterben (death of the forests). In the 1970s, he supported oppositional groups in the GDR, such as ecological groups, initiatives for international development, and especially the Umwelt-Bibliothek (ecological library) in Berlin and the Ökologischer Arbeitskreis (ecological work group) in Dresden.
Knabe was a co-founder of the Green Party in Germany in 1978. He stood for conservation of the environment and world peace, and against nuclear deterrence and the arms race in the East and West. In 1979, he was a co-founder of the party in North Rhine-Westphalia, where he was the party's first speaker. He served as one of three speakers of the Greens at the federal level (Sprecher des Bundesverbandes) from November 1982 until December 1984. In the 1980s, he developed a system for the analysis of forest health by monitoring data from 26 areas over a long period. The concept became a standard in Germany. Knabe was a Member of the Bundestag from 1987 until 1990. Beginning in 1991, he collaborated with a students' ecological initiative (Umweltinitiative) at the Technische Universität Dresden. He was vice mayor of the city of Mülheim from 1994 to 1999, where he formed the first black-green coalition in Germany. He focused there on projects of culture and education.
Knabe was married, and the couple had four children. Their son Hubertus Knabe became a historian. In 2019, Wilhelm Knabe published an autobiography titled Erinnerungen – Ein deutsch-deutsches Leben (Memories − a German-German life). He read literature to children at the Kloster Saarneducational facility. He joined Friday For Future demonstrations showing a poster "Opa for future – ihr seid nicht allein" (Grandpa for future – you are not alone).
Knabe died in Mülheim an der Ruhr at age 97 from a COVID-19 infection during the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany.
Knabe's publications are held by the German National Library:
Knabe was honorary president of the Kreisverband Bündnis 90/Die Grünen in Mülheim an der Ruhr.