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Maiken's adventures

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on February 2, 2008 at 10:23:06 pm
 
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 pm 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.

 

January 31, 2008
I always thought that Usedom was spelled Usedum. That’s why my audiences laughed the days before when I couldn’t figure out why they found it funny that temperatures are going to rise in the Baltic region – I had misspelled the name of this beautiful island on the slide that accompanied that information. Sorry!! 
I finally learned how to spell this name, because I spent the day on a little part of this island, Karlshagen. My wonderful host took very good care of me and my “guide”, Rica. We got a tour to the beautiful sandy beach, around the NABU house with all its exhibitions on birds and plants, and a very good lunch in an Italian restaurant. Unfortunately, the water temperature was just 2 C, otherwise it sure looked like a great place to go swimming. I should have done my trip in the summer! Bad planning in my part…
At 14:00 I gave a talk at a school in Karlshagen. Amazingly, the room was filled with about 60 students (and ca 10 adults) who chose freely to come to my talk! So far I have only given presentations to students who HAD to listen to me (except for  that amazing exception in Greifswald yesterday). I was deeply impressed, also by the fact that those young kids (from 5’th to 10’th grade) dared to ask and to answer questions. The discipline was stunning – hardly any student chatted in between – what a difference to some other highschools in have been in last year! 
I greatly enjoyed having coffee and cake in the nice café of my hotel afterwards. I love the comfortable coffee and cake culture in Germany. It reminds me of outings with my grandparents around Lueneburg when we would stop in one of the favorite restaurants of my grandma and be treated to a special something. 
I had about 2 hours to myself, during which I had to go find an alarm clock since I had forgotten mine at my last host’s home, and at the same time my watch had stopped working. And, unfortunately, a trip like this without a watch is, well, hard to do.
The evening talk in the senior’s people meeting place was very well attended – 48 people of not only seniors came to listen and discuss mostly coal plants and what we can do to stop them. I was very heartened by the fact that many people do seem to have understood what is at stake. Some people seem to loose hope – but many seem quite enthusiastic to fight and do what they can to stop the coal plant that is being planned in Lubmin. I am optimistic that they will be successful to stop it and I hope I will be able to help a little bit.
Tomorrow I will move away from Mecklenburg Vorpommern. I already feel sad to do so. I like this part of Germany a lot. People seem to be very much down to earth, knowing what is at stake, open to talk about it without being afraid to offend, speaking their hearts and minds, truly caring for their land. I am not surprised. Their land is absolutely beautiful. Maybe this could be the state that could start the movement that is necessary within Germany? It seems that the people here are of the right kind to be able to get things moving. Good luck! And thank you all for your wonderfully friendly welcome. It was amazing to me to be able to feel home in a part of Germany I have never been before, with Germans that to me were still complete strangers until now. For the first time I finally experienced eastern Germany, and I finally truly feel very glad that Germany got enriched by such wonderful people and such gorgeous nature. Thank you all for your help in organizing this trip, and for attending my talks. I hope it made a little difference. It definitely made a huge difference to me.

1 .2.2008

That was quite a trip – it took altogether 8.5 hours from Usedom to Chemnitz took. Crazy – no wonder many Germans prefer to drive, even though public transportation is available. I sure would have preferred to fly in my private jet – especially with the dozen drunken juveniles in the train who commented on every female person passing by. Not much fun, and impossible to concentrate on anything but on considering the pros and cons between Germany and the states. But in spite of some difficulties in Germany, I just am German and love the people here, their openness, their directness, the ability to jump right into the most interesting discussions about anything.
One fascinating thing traveling through Mecklenburg Vorpommenr as well as Saxony is the large number of modern windmills. It is very heartening to see that they spring up everywhere, especially along streets where the landscape is already not that pretty anyway. But actually, I find such windmills wonderfully positive to look at, they encompass the feeling of forward technology, a sustainable future, progress.
I arrived just in time to dump some water into my face, and set up my computer. The talk was well visited, about 80 people; I could have been more concentrated, but for whatever reason I was a little tired. The discussion was very interesting, but I realized that there is still a lot for me to learn about the specific technology of renewable energies. As a biologist I just don’t know that much about technology. Luckily, there were very well-informed people in the audience who helped to answer questions.
The usual skeptic was present again – 3 in the first row. I don’t know what it was, maybe the way they already posed the questions in an aggressive way, the fact that they were right in my face, that there were 3 together, or that I was completely exhausted; but it was quite a challenge for me to stand my ground. Sometimes the ability of people to deny such clear facts, the ability to disperse insecurity and disbelief is so unbelievable, so extremely irresponsible and short-sighted, that I loose my ability to respond. They wondered for whom I work, and unfortunately I didn’t understand his question until later, and realize that I ought to make clear that all my work is completely voluntary. Even the flight I am paying by myself. Just travel and some food is paid, but not always. But those are such ridiculous things, such useless discussions, so completely beside the point. I more and more am convinced that the basic problem is our inability to cope with global problems. I wonder if we will have enough time to what we learn in time?
After the discussion a few of us went to an Italian restaurant. I was stunned by some things I learned: In Chemnitz, 15,000 houses have already been demolished, another 15,000 are planned to be demolished soon. These are to a large part houses that were built about 100 years ago, beautiful old buildings of very good quality. The only thing they do not have is people that live in it, because after the reunification about 100,000 people have left the area of Chemnitz (as in most eastern cities). The fact, that Europe will have millions of climate refugees in the next decades who will need housing is not considered at all. A photographer showed us his grotesque pictures of demolished buildings, big gaps in between buildings, large dust clouds during the demolishment. It seems quite completely insane to destroy these beautiful buildings. Hopefully, his exhibitions will raise awareness in time to stop this short-sighted practice.
Another – to me – surprising development in Germany is that entire villages are being relocated for coal extraction. Ground water is being lowered by 100 m in some areas to be able to extract the coal. Considering the predictions that drought will increase and the simple fact that we cannot afford any more burning of coal, such practices are a crime to humanity.
If I were not an optimist and an idealist, the many people that seem to believe that humanity is too slow and too focused on short-term goals could make me loose hope. The fact that politicians are often just puppets of energy companies and other large industry, the fact that there average citizen just doesn’t care until it might be too late, the fact that ina city of about 100,000 80 come to my talk,… But there are those who know better, and the numbers are constantly growing; which convince me that we will be able to make the necessary changes in time. Still, it will be a hard struggle for which we need every single person who does understand the issues at stake. If we all work together, who knows, maybe we can create the large0scale movement in time that will be able to make the changes we need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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