Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Little Things: Earth Day Everyday

I’ll admit it. I was fully prepared to be an eco-snob when we moved to Hamburg from San Francisco. I even thought about donating my kitchen recycling bin in our pre-move reduction of stuff, but took a quick peek online first. 

All of the waste disposal
details were cheerily laid
out in this 48-page booklet
we received in the mail.
Turns out I should have gotten a couple more bins.

The San Francisco Bay Area is great about recycling—glass, plastic, paper, bio waste, electronics, hazardous household substances, etc. But Germany takes it to a categorical level. 

Most public trash cans have a
speech bubble on the outside.
This one says, "I don't want
chocolate, I prefer paper."
Like San Francisco, most plastic bottles can be returned for refunds, and there are recycling centers for electronics and hazardous materials.

But here glass bottles are recycled in large public bins, separated by color. And curbside (or binside, in the case of our complex), you separate your paper/cardboard, worthy/valued recycling, mixed trash/recycling, bio waste, and trash for burning.

It’s a good thing recycling is popular here, because German companies seem to love using paper. If you sign up for a service (any service) you receive a 2-3 page letter, the first page of which welcomes you and congratulates you on your wise move. I think I’d like a little more of the directness you get in verbal interactions, and save more paper upfront instead of having to recycle it.

Fresh air, fresh flowers--fantastic!

There are a couple of things that have taken/still take some adjustment. One is the run time for appliances. Saving energy is good, but waiting two hours for my laundry to dry is annoying.

Another point of departure is air flow. Coming from the land of vents and ducts and piped-in temperatures, I prefer things here, where I use open windows and fresh air as regulators instead.

That’s fine for me, I’m alone at home during the day. In, say, an open office (or small classroom) full of people, it quickly becomes a stifling issue to have no circulating air. 

The problem is easily solved when the weather is agreeable and outside noise is at a minimum. But this is Hamburg, which means there's usually construction somewhere and the weather is changing constantly, making an open window a heavily negotiated option in a group of people.

Eat local!
Speaking of options, we have a great array of fresh produce available to us. There's a lot of farmland around Hamburg, and, in fact, Hamburg and the neighboring state of Schleswig-Holstein share the largest fruit-producing region in central Europe. 

Like the Bay Area, that means a strong commitment to locally grown food. Unlike the Bay Area, availability is highly seasonal here, and import options are fewer. (Spargel Saison--asparagus season--is a cultural phenomenon. Really. There should be a movie about it.)

And that focus on local productive lands leads me to the Gartenverein / Schrebergärten/ Kleingärten (garden club) culture. The concept is similar to the community garden plots in San Francisco, but the execution is quite different. 

First off, these are plots of land big enough to place a small house on. Which makes them more like miniature estates. And together they take up significant chunks of geography around the city. 

It’s amazing to walk through the alleys of these areas to see the different approaches to gardening (traditional lawns, rock gardens, flower fields, fruit trees and veggies) and the houses, ranging from one-room weekend shacks to two-story domiciles. 

Of course, few things these days are without their political aspects, and even these garden plots are no exception

But I'm happy that I've been repeatedly disabused of any notion of life in Hamburg as a step back on a green path. It's one more way the city is familiar, even if the particulars are different.

I see this banner every time I ride the bus. Since me riding my bike would frustrate most "real" cyclists,
I figure using public transportation still counts as doing my earth-friendly duty.
Outdoor art installation of plants in front of a panoramic of downtown Hamburg

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