The problem with keeping a travel-cum-research blog is that it’s sometimes hard to integrate research material into my travel posts. So I may start separating out my “travel” and “research” posts from time to time… like right now.
Interesting Reading 1: Freiburg’s Smart Green Tower Project
This project is a planned residential/commercial building in Freiburg outfitted with solar PV panels for energy production and lithium-ion batteries for energy storage. Even cooler, though, is that the building’s energy management systems will optimize power flows and renewable energy usage on the local and municipal grid. I have SO MANY questions about the project — about the privacy and security implications of exchanging the information necessary for “smart” optimization, about whether any of the tower’s apartments will be (or could be) affordable housing, about how generalizable the building’s design and technologies are to other parts of the world.
Unfortunately, the architects in charge of the project don’t have time to talk to me, but their secretary made me aware of a conference in London in mid-September (theme: “How Digitalization Impacts Cities”) at which they’ll speak about this project. There’s no conference website (I have the program from the secretary, but that’s it), so I don’t know whether or not the conference is public. I’m dying to find out.
On Wednesday (July 29) and Thursday (yesterday), people started responding positively to my appointment requests! Having a working phone definitely helped, but others just responded to my emails without prompting 🙂 I did, however, get a somewhat stern email from a member of Freiburg’s sustainability office. I’d emailed one branch of Freiburg’s government a while back, the email got forwarded to her, and she’d responded kindly that nobody was available. However, it looks like at least two of my later queries to different parts of government also got forwarded to her. Oops…
On Wednesday, I got lunch with Theresa, a student at PH Freiburg I met through Jennifer Schmidt. Theresa was extremely warm and welcoming. She showed me around the town center, including Freiburg Münster (Cathedral) with beautiful stained glass, the farmer’s market, and Town Hall (pictures below). She also confirmed for me that falling into the Bächle means you’ll marry a Freiburger; she actually knows an old couple in which the husband proposed to the wife by pushing her into one. So adorable!
It’s funny how open-ended projects like this one go. There have been times in the last few days when I’ve felt my project is full of promise, with many people to talk to and many places to explore. There have been other times when I’ve found myself wondering if I even came to the right city, or if I’d ever get anyone to respond affirmatively to my emails or phone calls. There have been days when I’m full of energy and ready to do things, but also days when I couldn’t imagine moving. I’m hoping I’ll get more comfortable with this up-and-down feeling as the year (and life?) goes on!
On Friday (July 24), I hung out with Sebastian Müller, one of Freiburg’s city councillors. (Huge thanks to Dustin Zubke — a previous Watson Fellow from Harvey Mudd — for the introduction!) In the morning, we met up at Sebastian’s parents’ house for breakfast, and he made a ton of phone calls on my behalf. Afterwards, he took me on a car tour of the city (because of my temporary bike issues). I learned a lot!
First, a little background about Freiburg. Freiburg is both a city and an independent district in the state of Baden-Württemberg. I picked it as a starting point because it’s known globally as a Green City and there’s a lot of sustainable energy research going on there. I found out later from a contact at the Green City Office that Smart Grids were the topic of their Local Renewables Conference in 2012. Cool!
I arrived at my apartment in Freiburg on the evening of July 23 after about 4 hours of train travel (Marburg –> Frankfurt –> Freiburg) and a 20-minute tram ride. Fun fact: you can purchase the “Umwelt-Plus” train ticket option, in which the Deutsche Bahn (train company) purchases some extra green power for the journey, for just a Euro extra. Cool option!
Throughout my train journey, I was impressed by how nice everyone was. I speak approximately three words of German, and although that count is slowly growing, I needed lots of translation help. People translated German train announcements for me at various points of the journey (it turns out my first train was delayed for 15 minutes due to technical difficulties… but it’s okay, because my second train was too). On the second train, the person sitting across from me offered to alert me when my stop approached (delays threw off the timetable, and long-winded German announcements are hard to follow). I didn’t have the correct small change at the tram station, so someone just gave me 20 cents without me asking. I was extremely grateful to all these people for helping me get from point A to point B.
[Sorry for the delay in posting! Getting settled in can be exhausting (in the best of ways). There’s no way I could possibly fit the last few days into one cohesive post, so I’m going to go ahead and split them up a bit.]
After landing at the Frankfurt Airport in Germany, I spent the first two days of my trip (July 21 and 22) in Marburg. Marburg is about an hour north of Frankfurt by car or train and, like Frankfurt, is in the German state of Hessen. It’s home to a couple of fun attractions, including the Church of St. Elizabeth (whose presence prevented the area around it from being bombed during WWII), old Brothers Grimm dwellings, Marburg Castle, and Marburg University.
Hello from the T. F. Green Airport in Warwick, RI! I never thought I’d start my Watson Fellowship adventure at this completely unfamiliar airport (I assumed I’d fly out of Boston) or that I’d write my first blog post from my phone, but I have a feeling “I never thought I’d”s will feature prominently throughout my trip.
After a busy morning of repacking and trying to stuff my belongings into smaller and smaller spaces, it feels surreal to finally be starting my yearlong journey to study the people and policies behind Smart Grids. I have many, many people to thank for the fact that I get to pursue this amazing opportunity, but I’d like to give a shout out to my Amma and Naanna (mom and dad) in particular. They spent the whole morning helping me pack/getting me to the airport, and they’ve had my back for my entire life. Love you both!
So what am I doing on my trip, anyway? I could go into a lot of detail, but given that my plane will take off rather soon, I’ll keep it short.