WWII bomb scare leads German police to heavy zucchini

An elderly man in southern Germany thought he had found an unexploded World War II bomb in his garden. Police were relieved to find something quite different.

Police in Bretten in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg received an alarming phone call on Thursday. An 81-year-old man told them he had found an unexploded World War II bomb in his back garden.

After arriving on the scene, police were surprised to find a 40-centimeter-long (15.7 inches) dark zucchini that, in the officers' own words, "really did look like a bomb."

Read more:

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- 50,000 evacuated in Hanover, Germany, over World War II bombs

Concluding the 5-kilogram vegetable presented no threat to the public or the immediate vicinity, police decided to call off deploying its Explosive Ordnance Disposal Service.

Unexploded ordnance in Germany - a legacy of the Allied Forces

What is unexploded ordnance?

Unexploded ordnance (UXO or sometimes also abbreviated to UO), unexploded bombs (UXBs), or explosive remnants of war (ERW) are explosive weapons such as bombs, shells, grenades, land mines, naval mines and cluster munitions that did not explode when they were deployed. Unexploded ordnance still poses the risk of detonation, even decades after they were used or discarded.

Unexploded ordnance in Germany - a legacy of the Allied Forces

Why does Germany have a bomb problem?

Between 1940 and 1945, US and British forces dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs on Europe. Half of those bombs targeted Germany. Experts estimate that close to a quarter of a million bombs did not explode due to technical faults. Thousands of these bombs are still hidden underground, sometimes a few meters down and sometimes just below the surface.

Unexploded ordnance in Germany - a legacy of the Allied Forces

How big is the issue?

The industrial Ruhr area and the Lower Rhine region were heavily bombed, as were the cities of Dresden, Hamburg and Hanover. So this is where most of the unexploded ordnance is found. Bombs are usually unearthed during construction work or are discovered during the examination of historical aerial images. Experts say it could still take decades to clear all of the remaining unexploded ordnance.

Unexploded ordnance in Germany - a legacy of the Allied Forces

What happens when an unexploded bomb is found?

When confronted with the discovery of an UXO, UO or a UXB, bomb disposal experts have to decide whether to defuse it or to carry out a controlled explosion. Many have lost their lives on the job. German authorities are under pressure to remove unexploded ordnance from populated areas. Experts argue that the bombs are becoming more dangerous as time goes by due to material fatigue.

Unexploded ordnance in Germany - a legacy of the Allied Forces

How many bomb disposal experts have died?

Eleven bomb technicians have been killed in Germany since 2000, including three who died in a single explosion while trying to defuse a 1,000-pound bomb on the site of a popular flea market in Göttingen in 2010.

Unexploded ordnance in Germany - a legacy of the Allied Forces

Which was the biggest evacuation?

A 1.8-ton bomb dropped by Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) was found in the city center of Augsburg on December 20, 2016. The find prompted a large-scale bomb disposal operation and consequently the evacuation of over 54,000 people on December 25. To date, this remains the biggest evacuation for the removal of World War II unexploded ordnance in Germany.

Unexploded ordnance in Germany - a legacy of the Allied Forces

What’s the latest?

Authorities conducted another big bomb disposal operation in May 2017, with 50,000 residents in the northwestern city of Hanover forced to evacuate their homes. Thirteen unexploded ordnances from the 1940s were removed. Hanover was a frequent target of Allied bombing in the latter years of the war. On October 9, 1943, some 261,000 bombs were dropped on the city.

But what had caused the nutritious legume to land in the man's garden?

Read more: "My Life as a Courgette" is an Oscar Hopeful

In a statement, the police said they believe "an unknown person — concerned with independently disposing of the product — might have thrown the zucchini over the garden hedge."

Related Subjects

Though World War II ended in 1945, German authorities still occasionally find unexploded bombs throughout the country.

Berlin's Tegel Airport was forced to close in August after the discovery of a Russian-made dud. In March, a major motorway in Dusseldorf was closed after a British bomb was discovered by construction workers.