Tag Archives: Berlin

Faced with a resurgence of coronavirus cases, Berlin institutes new, tough restrictions

Germany’s capital city is issuing a new set of restrictions in a bid to contain a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

Image via Pixabay.

Starting next Monday, unvaccinated citizens in Berlin will have to contend with a new set of restrictions. Due to a growing number of coronavirus cases in the city, they will be denied access to indoor dining areas, bars, gyms, and hairdressers.

Although the decision is bound to be unpopular among the public, officials explain that they are the best preventive measure at their disposal in order to avoid another full-blown epidemic. Fully-vaccinated individuals, and those who can show proof of recovery from COVID-19, will be able to enter leisure facilities and a list of other selected venues—a system known as “2G” in Germany.

Old foes

The decision to reinstate access restrictions for the unvaccinated is a response to “the rising number of coronavirus cases and the increasing pressure on intensive care units”, the Berlin senate said in a press release on Wednesday evening. Under Germany’s political organization system, Berlin is a ‘city-state’ — a state that consists of only one city.

These new restrictions were imposed by the local government, not the Federal government, and as such will only affect Berlin.

Under the new restrictions, theaters, museums, and outdoor events with more than 2,000 visitors will be off-limits to unvaccinated adults. Minors and those who have medical exemptions from receiving a vaccine will only need to show a negative test result.

Companies operating in Berlin have also been encouraged to transition as many employees as possible to work-from-home schemes, and limit office attendance to 50% of staff.

These measures are among the most — if not the most — restrictive yet in the whole of Germany. However, other areas and states might follow suit sooner rather than later; the country has been experiencing a rapid increase in new daily coronavirus infections over the last week. The states of Saxony, Bavaria, and Baden-Wuerttemberg are also in the process of increasing restrictions to deal with their own coronavirus flare-ups.

Germany’s adult vaccination rate sits at around 67%. Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, who still retains her office until the new government is set up, warned that this percentage is “not high enough to prevent a rapid spreading of the virus”.

So far, she seems to have been right. Some hospitals in Germany have started postponing non-urgent surgeries to make resources and personnel available to deal with the increase in coronavirus cases.

Berlin universities cut meat from menus to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

It’s time to say goodbye to the currywurst and the schnitzel at universities in Berlin — and say hello to vegetables and meat replacements.

Students eating at campus canteens will have make to big cuts to their meat and fish options, as universities turn to more climate-friendly menus. The move marks a big shift for Germany, with companies such as Volkswagen also changing menus at the office.

Image credit: Flickr / Word Ridden

There are almost 200,000 university students in Berlin, who regularly visit 34 canteens and cafes throughout the day. From October, each of these sites will have to offer a menu 68% vegan, 28% vegetarian and 2% fish-based – with only one meat option four days a week. It’s a big change, as cafeterias now offer 30-50% vegetarian options (which is still far more than in places like the US). 

“We developed a new nutritional concept mainly because students have repeatedly approached us with the request for a more climate-friendly offer at their canteens,” Daniela Kummle of Studierendenwerk, the organization providing economic, social, health and cultural support to students at Berlin’s universities, told The Guardian.

In fact, there’s already a critical mass of students in Berlin following a meat-free diet. A 2019 survey showed that 33% of the university students in the city were vegetarian, while 13.5% said to be vegan. From October, they will have even more food options to choose from, such as pasta bakes, buckwheat and spelt bowls and marinated beetroot. 

Berlin’s Free University opened in 2010 a canteen selling vegetarian food called Veggie 1.0. Then, in 2019, it opened a vegan-only canteen, called Veggie No 2. Both are run by the Studierendenwerk, which described the canteens as an experiment and said they didn’t want to change people’s diets. It was the first of its kind at a German university.

“The great success of the vegetarian and vegan canteens has made it clear that students’ consumer behavior is changing. There’s a clear trend towards fewer animal-based products,” Kummle from the Studierendenwerk organization told The Guardian.

Such a move doesn’t only apply to universities. Employees at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg in the north of Germany used to be so keen on sausages that the car maker started making its own, with a team of 30 people making them every day. Now, the company has decided to cut out its production because of carbon emissions.

Germany recently introduced a rule that forces companies with office and factory canteens to start introducing one meat-free day per week to cut down emissions. Volkswagen decided to take it a step further, not making any more sausages. Still, not everybody is on board, with a former German chancellor recently complaining about it.

What’s the deal with beef?

Meat is one of the main global contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Red meat, in particular, takes up more land, uses more water, and produces more carbon dioxide than non-meat alternatives.

In addition, cows and other ruminant animals like sheep emit methane in a process known as enteric fermentation, which is the origin of cows’ burps. Methane is a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than CO2 and its concentration in the atmosphere is now higher than at any moment in at past 800,000 years, as climate experts have recently warned. 

A study by the UN found that annual emissions from animal agriculture, including production and land-use change, account for 14.5% of all human emissions – with beef contributing to 41%. And they could grow even more in the future, as the growing middle classes in developing countries shift their diets towards higher meat consumption.

Demand of beef would grow by 88% between 2010 and 2050, according to the World Resources Institute, with pastureland expanding by about 400 million hectares. The resulting deforestation would make it very difficult limiting temperature rise to 1.5ºC or 2ºC, the overall objectives in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. 

This is where diets shifting away from beef come in handy. As in Germany, several countries are making progress. Per capita beef consumption has dropped a third in the US since 1970, with growing alternatives of plant-based burgers that are competing with conventional meat products thanks to their similar taste and price.

It’s unsurprising that university campuses would bring a change in sustainable eating, but whether or not this catches to other social groups (and other countries) remains to be seen. If we are to limit greenhouse gas emissions and avoid catastrophic climate change, this is the type of action we need to take.

Berlin bus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Germany wants to make all public transit free to cut back on pollution

In a bid to tackle air pollution in some of its most important cities, including the capital Berlin, the German government wants to make all public transit free.

Berlin bus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Berlin bus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Germany and eight other fellow EU states risk legal action at the European Court of Justice, the EU’s highest tribunal, for failing to meet EU limits on nitrogen dioxide and fine particles. Germany missed a January 31 deadline for complying with these guidelines, which was extended by the EU’s Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

The EU takes air pollution very seriously, which causes 400,000 preventable deaths and incurs $24.7 billion in health spending per year in the bloc.

In a letter to Commissioner Vella, three German ministers, including Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, wrote that they are “considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars.”

This proposal will be tested in a pilot program by “the end of this year at the latest” in five cities across western Germany: Bonn, Essen, Herrenberg, Reutlingen, and Mannheim.

This surprising plan comes to light just two years after Volkswagen, a German can manufacturer, was dragged into the so-called “dieselgate” scandal. At the time, experts proved that Volkswagen was cheating emission ratings by purposely using software that toned down emission readings. At the same time, Germany is by some distance Europe’s leading production and sales market of automobiles.

In light of all this, it is even more commendable that the German government wants to prioritize its citizen’s health over industry interests. In fact, Volkswagen, BMW, and Daimler — all German automakers that have been caught up in the dieselgate scandal — agreed to pay €250 million ($310 million) for a billion-euro fund meant to upgrade local transport.

Public transport is already very popular in Germany with over 10.3 billion journeys clocked in over the past 20 years. Public transit is also much cheaper than in many other Western EU countries; for instance, a single ticket in Berlin costs €2.90 ($3.60) while the equivalent on the London Tube costs €5.50 ($6.80).

It’s unclear how a country-wide rule for free public transit would pan out in Germany. Most local public transport in Germany is owned by municipalities, so the federal government would have to take on the burden of financing all of the country’s public transit. What’s certain is that it will take a number of years of planning and acquisitions before this can happen. For instance, the government would have to buy thousands of extra electric buses to serve the expect heightened demand.

BVG sneakers.

Walk right in: Berlin’s transit authority and Adidas create unique, wearable shoe-passes

Try walking a mile in these shoes, and all of Berlin’s public transportation will be at your feet — because these kicks double as a universal pass for all of the city’s public transport fleet throughout 2018.

BVG sneakers.

The sneakers on Berlin’s distinctive upholstery.
Image via Overkill shop.

Just two days ago, Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG, Berlin’s transit authority) released its first-ever, limited-edition line of sneakers in a unique project. The shoes were manufactured by Adidas Originals and bear slivers of the city’s character which any Berliner will instantly recognize: the heel counters are tailored with the distinctive upholstery patterns installed on the city’s public transport vehicles, while their laces will be colored in Berlin’s subway colors — yellow and black.

Walking pass

Berlin’s subway upholstery was designed in a squiggly, multicolored, almost camouflage-like pattern to dissuade people from painting graffiti on it. Given the exuberance of color, it’s not surprising that this pattern will only cover a small portion of the new sneakers, lest anyone get dizzy. Combined with the black-and-yellow laces, however, and complemented by other small embellishments and the simple black-white pattern on the front of the shoe, the end result is quite appealing.

But the shoes’ true uniqueness comes from a tiny piece of fabric sewn in their tongues: a cloth version of BVG’s annual season ticket. And that’s because the city wants anyone wearing these sneakers to travel for free on any subway, tram, bus, or ferry anywhere within Berlin’s public transport zones A and B (which cover most of the city) throughout 2018.

Here BVG turned expectations on their heads. While an annual transit pass currently costs up to €728 ($869) for the same zones, the shoes are a comparative bargain at only €180 ($215) a pair. Pass and kicks for less than a traditional pass? Sold! However, the shoes will probably sell like hotcakes and BVG are keeping their numbers low — only 500 pairs will be available for sale at only two locations in Berlin.

That low price does seem to have a well-defined goal in mind — to counter the obvious inconvenience of having to wear the shoes whenever using public transport for the whole of 2018. Still, I imagine you can bring them along in a bag should you want to wear something else. Just make sure to bring both sneakers!

Right now, these 500 pairs of pass-shoes are hitting the pavement and the floors of public transport throughout Berlin. Time will tell how well they work and how much people appreciate the idea — if they do, we’re bound to see similar functional fashion projects pop up all over the world.



Cosmic dust identified on cities’ rooftops for the first time in history

Space dust is all around us — if you happen to be in Paris, Oslo, or Berlin, at least. New research has identified such tiny particles for the first time in urban environments.


Image credits Unsplash / Pexels.

Space has the unusual property of being void and full of stuff at the same time. Part of that stuff — including some that’s left over from the formation of the Solar System 4,6 billion years ago — coalesces in tiny bits of matter known as cosmic dust. A new study now proved that this dust is still falling on Earth today, and has isolated them from urban samples for the first time ever.

“We’ve known since the 1940s that cosmic dust falls continuously through our atmosphere,” says planetary scientist Matthew Genge from Imperial College London in the UK. “[But] until now we’ve thought that it could not be detected among the millions of terrestrial dust particles, except in the most dust-free environments such as the Antarctic or deep oceans.”

Previous attempts to find cosmic dust in cities have proven unsuccessful because of the sheer quantity of dust, grime, and industrial pollution we have in our cities. But Dr Matt Genge from Imperial College London’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering working together with Jon Larsen, a science buff who runs micrometeorite site Project Stardust, found some 500 cosmic dust particles after sifting through more than 300 kilograms of gutter-sediment from three European cities: Paris, Oslo, and Berlin.

The duo knew they were looking for a needle (only smaller, cause it’s a speck of dust) in a huge haystack (which was also made of dust.) So they turned to the oldest trick in the book: magnets. Cosmic dust particles contain magnetic minerals, so the two separated magnetic particles from the rest of the sediment then identified cosmic dust by composition.

Fastest moving dust on Earth

They found S type (silicate-dominated) cosmic spherules which were melted into disk and other non-spherical shapes — an effect of the extreme temperatures they experienced during atmospheric entry. Cosmic dust specks are usually incredibly tiny, measuring around 0.01 millimeters (0.003 inches) in size, but the ones the team found were larger, measuring about 0.03 millimeters. Based on the shape and size, Genge believes they fell to Earth with speeds around 12 km/s (7.5 miles/s), which would make them the fastest-ever dust particles on Earth.

While they’re the fastest, they’re probably not the oldest dust specks we’ve seen. The crystal structures found in these samples resemble those of particles dating from medieval times — by contrast, older samples that date back millions of years which were found in Antarctica show a different crystal make-up. Exactly why these differences arose is still unknown, but the team speculates it’s the effect of planetary orbit changes in the Solar System. Over millions of years, gravitational fluctuations cause planets to shift their orbits around the sun slightly, which in turn affects their gravitational effect on the matter around them.

They could in fact be the most recently-crashed bits of cosmic dust on Earth. Since the rooftops of commercial buildings are cleaned regularly and there was little rusting of the dust’s metallic content (which only started after they got to Earth,) the team estimates that they fell down sometime within the past six years.

The team points out that while they found these particles only in cities, they could be found anywhere on the planet. And the more of it we can collect and analyze, the more we’ll understand about how the Solar System and Earth evolved from birth all the way up to today.

“This find is important because if we are to look at fossil cosmic dust collected from ancient rocks to reconstruct a geological history of our Solar System, then we need to understand how this dust is changed by the continuous pull of the planets,” says Genge.

“The obvious advantage to this new approach is that it is much easier to source cosmic dust particles if they are in our backyards.”

The full paper “An urban collection of modern-day large micrometeorites: Evidence for variations in the extraterrestrial dust flux through the Quaternary” has been published in the journal Geology.