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Maiken's adventures

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on January 31, 2008 at 12:03:01 am
 

Ich schreibe das auf Englisch, damit auch unsere Englisch-sprachigen Besucher mitlesen koennen.

 

 January 26, 2008

 

Have you ever tried to type on your laptop in a plane while the person in front of you leans all the way back? Honestly, I had to stick my elbows out almost onto my neighbors nose to be able to reach the keyboard.  I sure envied those rich guys in first class! So, after a short night on the airplane during which I reordered and cut and animated and fixed up my talk with my elbows sticking into my neighbors face, I arrived at 5 am in Frankfurt, at 8 am in Berlin, took the bus for 30 minutes to the train station, caught the train from Berlin to Dessau, had a 40 min layover in some deserted town WITHOUT a bakery close to the train station (tragic!!), and finally arrived around 12 am in Dessau.  A short walk got me to my very fancy hotel .  After re-ordering my talk, I first slept for 2 hours, before re-ordering and cutting my talk some more. 

 

I gave my talk in the Bundesumweltamt (UBA), the National Environmental Agency, a large new, very fascinating building. 20% of its energy is derived from renewable sources (the roof is covered with solar panels), it has geothermal heat, lights that automatically turn on and off, depending if anybody is around, lights that adapt their brightness to the amount of natural light available, ,..I was very impressed.  The Bundesumweltamt wants to practice what they teach, so they are trying to have as little a footprint as possible. 

 

My presentation took about 1 h 10 min. The first one in German is always hard, especially since I had just arrived that morning (and, as I mentioned, I had reordered and cut and added and fixed up my talk until 1 minute before the presentation). In spite of the length, hardly anybody of the ca 120 people attending left after the talk, but stayed for ca 40 minutes of heated discussion on what needs to be done: If we are still talking way too nicely, and ought to tell people to sacrifice; if our governmental system works for a global crisis like climate change; if technology is the answer;  if our politicians are doing enough; what’s happening in Antarctica; if nuclear power is one way for a solution; if there is a way to reverse the bad events coming;  and , of course, the usual skeptic, what evidence is there that it is NOT the sun?  Some frustrated feelings came out of people who are tired of politicians just talking. Great wonderful sowing ground for political action! A newspaper report of my presentation is here - but it has some wrong cittations.

 

The audience was very involved, one of the best I have ever had. I was quite nervous about this talk, because first of all, I had reorganized it so much, that I wasn’t 100% sure of where which slide was.  Second, I’d love to have a job with the UBA. Third, the UBA has published a lot of research and statements on climate change, and is thus much more aware of the German side of things.  Fourth, Dessau has a 20% unemployment rate, and I wasn’t sure how frustrated people might be, and how they would react to my talk.   All that made me a lot less confident during the entire talk. Still, I feel it was a much bigger success than I had hoped for, even though I did not get a job offer – yet  ;-)

Out of 42 people who filled out the TCP questionnaire (unfortunately I hadn’t copied more – I didn’t expect so many people), 28 are interested in TCP, and 31 are highly concerned and believe we need immediate action.  11 are somewhat concerned. Nobody was NOT concerned.

 

What better thing to do than lying in a bubble bath and sauna in the Wellness area of my hotel -  after a presentation that urges everybody to save energy…but I must admit, it does feel very good to relax in a nice warm bath after a long day. One talk down, 20 more to go.  Time to sleep after, a long, good day.

 


January 27, 2008.

 

I woke up starving, so I went to have breakfast in the hotel – finding an array of 4 different types of muesli, with 10 types of covering, ranging from nuts and prunes and seeds; a spread of fresh buns and all kinds of marmelades; Joghurts, Quark, cheese, …I felt like a queen, or at least close to one.  After a good long breakfast with 3 cups of coffee (I have to get my energy from somewhere!), I went off for a walk through a drizzly and grey Dessau. 

 

Fist, I walked by several Bauhaus buildings from the 1920’s and 1930’s.  I am not a connoisseur of architecture, I guess, but I couldn’t find those buildings very attractive. They sure have straight corners and lines.  However, I did love to hear the Great Tits, European Robins, and European Blackbirds singing in the park close by.  Those birds are one of the main things I am missing in the states.

 

Walking through downtown, I was amazed and shocked to see the number of dilapidated buildings, and the number of buildings that clearly need fixing up.  After 19 years it seemed time still hasn’t caught up with the eastern part of Germany.  I had a very interesting talk about the old and new eastern Germany with one of the hotel employees, a “native.”

 

He said that many people would like the wall to go back up.  Why? Take Dessau: whereas it used to be a striving city of 130,000 inhabitants during DDR times, it now has about 75,000 inhabitants. The former steel industry, with Russia having been the main export area, has collapsed after the reunification, and lots of jobs were lost.  People still get paid less in eastern compared to western Germany. Even governmental employees get paid lower rates in eastern Germany, even though living expenses are comparable. So, even though people are now free to travel, many still cannot do so because they cannot afford to.

 

Or take the school system.  Whereas in former eastern Germany, all students went to the same school (as they do in the states), they now are divided into different school systems, depending on their performance, dividing society into different social groups from a very early age (about 10 years) which are hard to overcome later.

When I asked how life used to be in a society in which one couldn’t trust one another, because a lot of people would spy on each other, he dismissed my comment, saying that it isn’t much better nowadays.

 

It will be interesting to talk with more people, and to get more of an understanding how people in the east feel about the west, and to learn how we can improve the situation.  If people are discontent with their lives in general, it will be hard to motivate them to act on the planet’s behalf.  Or, maybe to the contrary, it will give them a goal, somewhat to work for in a society where the future seems so insecure and unstable for many.  If we can instill people with a belief in the worth and ability of themselves as actors in our planets largest ever endeavor to avert a global catastrophe, then, maybe, we could actually empower people to create a strong grass-root movement especially in the eastern part of Germany.

 

With that positive thought and hope in my mind, I am now traveling from Sachsen-Anhalt to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, changing trains in Berlin.  If you love trains, you will love the new Berlin main train station. It is absolutely stunning.  Instead of having the train tracks next to each other, they are next to each other AND on top of each other.  A huge building of stacked train tracks.  How anybody was able to create such a monstrous building, AND have it make look pretty, is amazing.

 

I am staying in an amazing beautiful house with solar panels and wood water heating, and stayed up way too long discussing initiatives to oppose coal plants, the differences between east and west (easterners stand in line close together than others, and shake hands with EVERYBODY in the room when coming in), had a bit too much of good German white wine, and lay awake for ours that night considering how to meet Angela Merkel.

 

January 28

 

Today I have been quite deadly tired and dizzy.  All the new impressions and way too little sleep are catching up.  Now I am sitting in the NABU office in Schwerin, the capital of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Actually, I am starving, so I am going to go see what bakery I can find. My talk for tonight was not reported by the local newspaper, so it will likely just be a small crowd, which can actually be more fun than many. Well, either way it is always fun to have the opportunity to make a difference.

 

Schwerin is quite a beautiful city. Lots of old houses, many of them renovated, a huge church (which unfortunately was closed), a Schloss, lots of water around.  I now better understand why there are so many houses that need renovation. During the time of the DDR, rent was fixed at a very low price, not giving land-lords enough money to keep up with old buildings. So houses would just not get renovated – leaving lots of houses to be fixed up after the re-unification. Another problem is that a lot of houses are in private ownership, but the owners do not have the money or care enough to fix up the houses. At least, this is how I understand the matter. Lunch was a Mecklenburg-Vorpommern potato soup with prunes.  Well,  do like prunes. But you know, I rather have them with something else but potatos..

 

Because the newspaper had not announced my presentation, unfortunately not many people showed up to my talk – about 12. However, it was a great group of people, some of which stayed afterwards sitting around a large table with wine and cheese and bananas (I guess east Germans still like them after all those years ;-) ), discussing what needs to be done, covering anything from politics and economics and the Global Marshall Plan;  our misunderstanding of what is happiness, our complete misjudgment that people in Africa who “are used” to loosing children, but instead that a child’s death there is as bad as for any other mom on the globe;  the need to truly understand climate change instead of just knowing about it, and how to go about it from here;  the problem of over-information and people getting tired of the subject, the role of media,…

 

There were some great ideas: making a CD of my talk and dispersing it to schools together with information material for teachers.  Not as an alternative to Al Gore’s movie, but as an additional, different way of presenting the matter.  I am excited about the idea, because it might actually be a great way to reach out to people in a more German way. Now the question would be – who would pay for such a project? I am doing all my activities for free so far, but at some point I just can’t keep doing that without payment.

 

Another idea that I have had for a while, and that we discussed again, is to organize a training such as the training of The Climate project, but with Germans for Germans, using a version of my slide show without any of Al Gore’s slides, so it can be passed on to anybody who wants it.  That way we would greatly increase the number of people we can reach. We would need to find people with high authority and respect in German society who would participate in the training, such as Franz Alt, John Schellnhuber, etc pp.  Again, how could such a project be financed? Please send any ideas you might have to me at mw267 at cornell.edu.

 

We didn’t leave until after 23:00, a fun stimulating evening, increasing my belief that we here in Germany CAN be the place that can cause the tipping point in climate policy.  The facts are clear, the arguments are easy, the necessary actions are straight forward. Now we just need enough people who understand  enough to act and help create the movement we need to truly show our politicians that we care. Once the politicians realize we care, they will follow what will most likely cause their re-election.

 

It’s passed midnight, tomorrow I will be giving 2 talks. Time to sleep. It was a great day after a slow start. I am excited what tomorrow will bring.  Thanks to all who might be reading this. And please pass on the message: We absolutely ought to act right now if we have any sense of wisdom and responsibility and love for ourselves and our friends, family, and nature.  And we, Germany, can be the leader in the step that might truly safe our entire civilization.  Please, take the time – which of course nobody has – to do your part.  Really, every single person matters, even if it doesn’t seem so in the beginning. Believe me, it does, it makes all the difference in the world, and it’s incredibly fulfilling, exciting, and absolutely worth it.

 

January 29, Wednesday

 

It’s 23:30, I am deadly tired, and I should go to sleep. But I ought to tell you shortly how the day went – also for me to remember this wonderful day forever.

I gave the a talk at the Werkstattschule in Rostock, an amazing beautiful school of 500 students from preschool to highschool.  I have never given a talk in front of students who really did NOT chat!! It was stunning – and very much fun. They dared to ask questions in between, and they dared to ask questions in the end, even though this talk (and the questions) were in English.  There were abut 80 9’th to 11’th graders, and they all were as well behaved as anybody could dream of. Thank you!!

 

I am afraid, the facts can be a bit, well, depressing, and I felt horrible to look into some young beautiful faces that were a bit stunned; not because they didn’t know before. I know they know. But, as I always mention at the start of my presentations – there is an enormous difference between knowing and truly understanding.  Some of these students understood. And it is important to realize that that is a GOOD thing, even though it leaves you feel quite in uproar. Just remember to turn that energy into positive action, use it to make the world a better place, and then we WILL succeed.

 

Lunch were hard-boiled eggs in a mustard sauce. I won’t comment if that was better than potoatoe soup with prunes..;-) There is sure interesting food over here, but still better than herring in Schleswig Holstein, or interesting inner organs in Bavaria. I‘ve just got to experiment less..

 

The NABU gave me a great tour of Rostock, a harbor city with beautiful old houses and large fat orld churches, and a delicious bakery in which at long last I found my favorite baked good of all: poppyseed cake.  There is just one thing that always disgruntles me walking around anywhere in Germany – you have to spend more time looking down than up. The reason: dogpoop.  It’s really a shame to have to miss half of the views that way – but it sure is worth it to look both ways..

 

After my way too huge suitcase made it miraculously up all the 4 floors to the guest room of my host, I got to ret for 30 minutes (during which I did NOT reorganize my talk), before walking off for my evening talk at the university in Rostock.   Was very amazed to find more and more people poor into the room, even once it was full, filling the ca 180 capacity room with about 200.  This was my best talk yet; it is wonderful to feel that I can make a difference, my work IS important, and it does move some people to action.  If we just could motivate enough people in time – imagine, if we really were to make it – and you and I were part of the movement, we helped to make t happen, what an amazing wonderful feeling that will be.  Something to be more proud of than yet another publication, a clean house, even a job. We must not forget why we are working on climate change issues. Compared to what could come if we would not act, any of our efforts and “losses” in time and in our career in our profession are nothing and absolutely worth it.

 

January 30

 

I got to see the Baltic Sea today! My "guide" Rica and I walked for almost 2 hours along the sandy seashore of the NaTional Park, seeing only a few birds, no seals, but lots of gray sky. But it was gorgeous to finally just be outside and walk away from people and away from cities.  When we got to Greifswald, I tried to take a short nap, unsuccessfully, and then joint my new host to a habilitation seminar on the philosophy of species protection. Quite a fitting subject for my talk, bt  must admit, I was a little lost in that kind of thought process. Maybe I take it too much for granted that we should not have to argue why we need to protect species; of course we need to protect them, out of a moral responsbility. But I guess morality and awe are no good reasons ina  world governed by special interests of big businesses who believe money is worth more than nature.

 

I gave a talk in the biology faculuty of the Uni Greifswald - a very fitting location, because one of the many coal plants are planned to be built just north of it.  There is already a "Buergerinitiative" againstt he coal plant, an upcoming demonstration against it, even the Bshop is speaking up against it. Good.  It was nice to have had a highschool student at my talk, the first one that ever came to a talk outside of a highschool. hanks for coming! And great that your school is so progressive to teach you how a photovoltaik cell works. I wished I could go back to school to learn that myself!

 

Tomorrow will be my first time in Usedum. It is wonderful to get to know all these beautiful places in Germany.

 

 

 

 

 

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