Meandering around Freiburg’s Center

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!

IMG_20150729_123210541 IMG_20150729_124329611 IMG_20150729_150403641

I also ate my first ever hot dog… a vegetarian one, of course. Apparently sausages are the thing to eat in Freiburg’s city center, and of course eco-friendly Freiburg had a vegan sausage food truck among all the “real” sausage food trucks. It was delicious!


Theresa let me formally interview her for my project, and we also talked informally while walking around. (The formal interview is at the bottom of this post.) Theresa once did an exchange program in Connecticut, so we talked a lot about the differences between living in the US and Germany. She said that Germans are far more aware of sustainability; apparently, Theresa’s American exchange program peers didn’t recycle and were opposed to taking the bus (“only weird people take the bus here”). Theresa also once went on a date where her date just drove her around for four hours… and then tried to convince her that he cared about nature. Oops. On the other hand, Theresa loved how open American society is. She was at first shocked that complete strangers would stop her on the street to tell her they loved her boots (for example), but she grew to love it. She now smiles at strangers on the street here (which isn’t at all normal) with the mindset that although some might think she’s weird, she might make someone else’s day. When I asked her why she thought German culture is so closed, she thought it might have something to do with the amount of spying that citizens did on each other during Nazi Germany and the Cold War. I’ll have to look into that.

The weather was quite dismal, and it started pouring after Theresa and I parted ways. I luckily had an umbrella, but I was pretty wet at the end of the 20-minute walk back to my apartment. The good thing about the weather was that clouds were swimming through the evergreens visible from my window. It was probably one of the most mesmerizing things I’ve ever seen. (Top right in the not-nearly-good-enough picture below.)


That evening, Kadda and I spontaneously ended up making dinner together (we were both making spaghetti, so we decided to make it together!). Kadda told me a little bit about when she took two years off medical school to train as a dancer. Apparently she had to feed herself on 40 Euros a month!

Thursday was a much calmer day. I mostly stayed in and read (project literature and the next novel on my reading list), and left the house once to get gelato. I was pretty proud of myself, though; I ordered my gelato without using any English! (Including a trip to the supermarket and the baker’s the day before, that makes three purchases in a row using only German and supplementary hand gestures.) I’m either getting just a little more comfortable with common German phrases, or I’m getting better at faking it 😛

Interview with Theresa
(Theresa’s answers below are paraphrases, not direct quotes.)

Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Theresa: I go to PH Freiburg, with a speciality in bilingual teaching. My four subjects there are English, German, Art, and Maths. I’m 25 years old. I’m originally from Baden-Württemberg, from a little village of 800 next to Ulm (which has the biggest cathedral in the world) in the region of Schwaben (English: Swabia). I grew up on a farm. My parents are dairy farmers with 100 cows.
Q: Is that common?
Theresa: No, it’s not common. It’s a family business, started by my grandfather and then run by my father, and then next will be run by my brother. (Actually, my parents wanted him to try to get an apprenticeship elsewhere, but he wanted to run the farm.) I have three siblings, so a family of six — two brothers and one sister. Oh, and both my parents didn’t go to college.

Q: When you vote, what issues matter most to you?
Theresa: Their values. What they do for immigrants — I don’t like parties that try to stop immigrants. That they try to increase renewable energy. Culture — that they don’t tear down old buildings, museums, and places that get you to understand yourself better.
Q: What do you mean by “their values?”
Theresa: That family is important, that women are given pregnancy leave from work, that you have equality in school education no matter what your parents earn.
Q: How is the equality in school education now?
Theresa: College is free. You also get something called a Bafög from the government, a loan of which you only have to pay 50% back. The amount depends on your parents’ income. The highest is 700 Euro a month for your whole studies. You can also hold a job, but as a student, you’re only allowed to earn 450 Euros a month.
Q: Do most people your age share these values?
Theresa: Most of my friends my age do, yeah.

Q: Do you participate in any citizen’s groups or political movements?
Theresa: I don’t like to be too active politically. I do things on my own — volunteer a lot for families and those with disabilities. I just don’t want stuff online where my students or other people can find it.

Q: What do you think of when you hear the word “sustainability”?
Theresa: Protecting Mother Earth. That we’re not the only people living on the planet — life goes on without us. Conserving resources for our kids and grandkids. Nature is important for people to relax and calm down, and without it oxygen levels will go down. Not wasting — reusing, recycling, upcycling. Using resources respectfully. With water, don’t leave the tap on. Think before you open the fridge. Don’t buy so many clothes.

Q: What do you think of when you hear the phrase “renewable energy”?
Theresa: Windmills — there are lots all over Germany. (My sister was working on offshore wind parks in the North Sea!) Dams and hydroelectric power. Solar panels. In the villages at home, you can see the solar on the roofs. We have a solar panel on the farm, and my father says it was the best decision we ever made. We installed it in 2006 and got back the money in 5 years, so now we’re just making a profit. Many in the village got one 5-10 years ago through state subsidy. By the way, more people in California should know about their solar panel subsidy… there’s so much sun! When I asked people when I visited, they didn’t seem to know about it.

Q: If it would save power, how receptive would you be to having a smart meter in your home? (A smart meter would track your energy usage periodically throughout the day and report it back to the energy company.)
Theresa: Did you say it would save power? Of course I’d get one! Saving power is important. I have this gadget in the freezer that beeps when you have the door open for longer than 15 seconds. You can save a lot of energy through devices that limit how hot the water in your home can get, since you use a lot of energy heating water. In the winter, don’t turn your heater on and leave the windows open. (There’s not so much of a problem with AC here because lots of homes don’t have it. But in the US, those portable ACs — you have to stick the tailpipe out the window, so the window is partially open! It doesn’t make sense!)
Q: And it’s okay that information gets sent back to the energy company?
Theresa: The energy companies can already figure out what you’re doing, whether you’re on your laptop or running the washer or whatever. They wouldn’t know what websites you were on, right?
Q: Right.
Theresa: Yeah, I’d get one. Though I guess it would also depend on the cost. But with the tracking, it’s like when they ask you with your mobile phone plan whether it’s okay for them to track what phone numbers you called. I say yes, because it’s so useful to see where my money went and who I called when I get my phone bill.

Q: What would you prefer? 1) Being asked to save energy through behavioral changes? or 2) Letting technology save energy for you, even if it means losing some privacy?
Theresa: Technology is the quicker option because it helps you save energy without thinking about it. The first option is smarter because you have to think about it and you learn more. With technology, I’d want it to make me aware, and I should be able to ask it “why” doing something would save energy. Some kind of numbers would be helpful, like if you stop doing something for one week, then you’ll save a certain amount of energy. It’s important to make it visible.

Q: What kind of house do you live in?
Theresa: A really old house, built in 1907. It used to be a big horse farm, but the landlords bought it 15 years ago and made it into a flat. Four of us live on the first floor (though in the US you’d call it the second floor), and four girls live on the floor above us. Since it’s an old house, it’s under the protection of the state for culture reasons. The windows are old and wind comes through, and it would be better if we could put some insulation around the window. Still, the temperature is very stable — not too hot in the summer, not too cold in the winter.

Q: How do you generally get from place to place, both from day-to-day and also when you go on vacation?
Theresa: Around Freiburg, I use a bike, or the tram in severe rain or when it’s really cold. Around Germany, I use the bus or the train. I don’t have a car. Most students don’t have one, because we can’t afford it. Petrol and car insurance are expensive. Maybe 1/10 or 1/20 students has a car. At home in the countryside, we have a car because we need one. The bus only comes once per hour, so that’s okay. I travel a lot, but I try not to fly as much as possible. My CO2 footprint was high this year because I flew back and forth between the US, but within Europe I use the bus and train. It’s more normal to do so, and it’s comfy. Most of my friends travel like this; you can go everywhere using the train or bus. In the US there’s Greyhound or Peter Pan, I guess, but it’s not the same. The bus system in the EU is actually relatively new, and at the beginning, a lot of young people used the bus because it was advertised in schools. Now, lots of older people use it too. It’s very easy to return or rebook your ticket, so it’s very user friendly. And food and drink on board are 1 Euro.

Miscellaneous thoughts that were prompted by something other than the questions above:

Theresa: The city [Freiburg] is very extreme about recycling. When I studied in Connecticut [at CCSU in New Britain, CT], they put everything in one big bag. They didn’t separate their recycling. When I told them about composting, they were like, “Compost… what?” I wanted to cry… it hurt. They do have separated recycling, but people don’t use it. Here in Germany, we grow up recycling. Growing up, we drove to the recycling station (though things are changing). We also get a bottle deposit, and people make a lot of money by collecting bottles. Also, at the start of the semester in CT, people would buy, buy, buy and then throw things out at the end of the year (blankets, etc.) Other people could use those! It’s not really their fault, but some Americans just aren’t aware/don’t know that they can reuse the bottle, or make something else out of the bottle. They also use their cars all the time. Some people just don’t know it’s bad for the environment. Once I went on a date and we drove in the car for four hours. He asked me what I cared about, and I said nature. And he said he cared about nature too. Okay… Also, you’ll have noticed the cars here are a lot smaller than in the US. The cars in the US are big.

Theresa: The city in Connecticut had 180 thousand inhabitants, but it was spread out. There was only one bus an hour (infrequent) and I was told only weird or poor people ride the bus. If you can afford not to ride the bus, then you don’t ride it. Connecticut actually introduced a fast transit bus while I was there. For one week you could take the bus for free, but nobody used it! One of my friends actually did start to use it, but she was always late and had to learn the planning process of accounting for the time to get to the station, looking at the timetable, etc. It’s something I’ve never thought about, because it’s so natural for me. Energy is also a learning process, and I hope it becomes more natural in the US soon.

Theresa: The Bündnis 90, die Grünen (Green Party) started for green energy. There’s also a lot of green stuff going on. For example, Kleiderkreisel is an online shop where you can buy and sell secondhand clothes. I buy almost no new stuff anymore; I buy it online from other people. The political parties are not stupid. They move to a more green agenda because that’s what people want.

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