Berlin switching on to energy savings | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 23.12.2013
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Berlin switching on to energy savings

In Germany's capital, where recycling is an art form and organic markets are sprouting up everywhere, saving energy is becoming serious business. It's something city authorities want to encourage.

Berlin is determined to show that even its flashy hotels can be environmentally-friendly. The Mövenpick Hotel, close to the city's famous Potsdamer Platz, is putting in an effort to boost its green credentials. General manager Frank Hörl says the hotel intends to decrease carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent by the end of this year.

Hörl says his eco-friendly efforts come in response to customer demand - demand that includes sourcing products regionally. "We want to work with local suppliers, people who are trading in this region and not always getting the food from far away."

Trend or long haul?

Thanks in part to tourism, Berlin is slowly climbing out of more than 60 billion euros ($82 billion) worth of debt. International guests often make sure that the city is one of the first stops on their European tour.

Hotwl maid picking up folded towels

Hotel customers are becoming more eco-aware

Berliners themselves have a reputation for being thrifty and eco-friendly. The city government has also been fostering this - recently, its environment and urban development department launched a one-week initiative during which residents were able to visit about 100 environmental projects. These ranged from private homes to hotels, industrial sites, public institutions, exhibits and even environmentally-friendly nightclubs.

It was called "Berlin Saves Energy" and was also intended to showcase just how far the city has come in reaching its environmental goals.

Robert Volkhausen, from the energy consulting company EUMB-Pöschk, helped plan the project. "Berlin is very interested in energy efficiency and in finding new ways to solve the upcoming problems with energy prices," Volkhausen said.

The week-long series even offered expert consulting to answer questions from citizens who were looking for help to reduce their electricity bills. "If I want to build a new building or refurbish an old one, where can I find some money, state programs, et cetera," Volkhausen explained.

Berliners do love saving money. For many of them, replacing old windows, insulating hot water pipes and sealing up old attics is all about helping the bank balance. But with 85 percent of Berliners renting their homes, organizing such renovations becomes complicated. It can also be an expensive procedure - in Germany, a complete energy-efficient retrofit for a home can cost up to 70,000 euros ($96,000).

Long-term investment

However, it seems Berliners are becoming more receptive to the idea. During the energy week, when Berlin-based environmental consultancy ENEO offered customers free advice on energy efficiency, consultant Christine Heuer said locals were hungry for information. But she added that for the average citizen, these are long-term investments.

"Full modernization of a house can take up to 10 or 15 years - in many cases, it’s the next generation that profits from it," Heuer pointed out.

While existing homes are being refurbished in order to save energy, building a new, more sustainable home is also something that Berliners are gaining interest in, local architect Jochen Zinke said.

Those who want to build houses these days are considering financial aspects, aesthetics, and construction trends, he said. "We create houses with interesting architecture, but also good quality windows, high-end components and insulation materials."

Ambitious goals

Person handing car keys to another person

In Berlin, car sharing is a huge trend

Berlin plans to reduce its CO2 emissions by more than 40 percent by the year 2020, in comparison to 1990 levels.

That's an ambitious goal - which might just be reached. Car-sharing has become a huge trend in Berlin. The city has just 324 cars per 1,000 inhabitants - a remarkably low rate for such a metropolis. A well-developed public transport system is also helping to reduce CO2 emissions.

For Mövenpick Hotel manager Hörl, the greatest challenge lies ahead, as ever more people stream to the city. Berlin gets about 60 million visitors a year - "that means a lot of traffic," Hörl said.

But in the German capital - where creativity is a way of life - Berliners will surely come up with a solution.

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