Tag Archives: germany

German top court hands climate advocates important win

As the effects of climate change worsen, citizens are taking their governments to court to ask for more effective action. Following favorable rulings across several European countries, now it was the turn of Germany – with the country’s highest court recently siding with a group of young campaigners in a landmark climate case.

A climate protest in Germany. Credit: Flickr / Campact

Germany’s Constitutional Court has called current official climate plans “incompatible with fundamental rights” as they lack specificity and “irreversibly offload major emissions reduction burdens” onto the next decade. It gave the government until the end of next year to set clearer targets to reduce greenhouse emissions starting in 2031. It

“These future obligations to reduce emissions have an impact on practically every type of freedom because virtually all aspects of human life still involve the emission of greenhouse gases and are thus potentially threatened by drastic restrictions after 2030,” the court wrote. “Therefore, the legislator should have taken precautionary steps to mitigate these major burdens.”

A group of nine climate activists brought the case to court, with the backing of environmental organizations, including Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) and Fridays for Future. Luisa Neubauer, one of the plaintiffs, described the decision as a “huge win for the climate movement”.

Following the announcement, German organization Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) tweeted a letter written by an 11-year-old girl (in German) in 2019, which had led to its own involvement in the case. “Politicians aren’t taking the impending climate catastrophe seriously enough. I want people in 100 to 150 years to still know what snow is,” she wrote.

The main issue at stake is Germany’s 2019 Climate Change Act, which commits the country to reducing its emissions by 55% by 2030 (relative to 1990 levels). While it sets upper limits for emissions in various sectors, it doesn’t provide specific targets in line with the longer-term goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

Germany’s emissions are slowly decreasing, but not fast enough, many are arguing.

By not setting specific-enough targets for the following years, the act violates the fundamental right to a humane future, the plaintiffs argued — and the court agreed, arguing that the provisions to reduce emissions from 2031 onwards aren’t “sufficient to ensure that the necessary transition to climate neutrality is achieved in time.”

It’s a landmark decision that could have important repercussions in the country.

“Tomorrow’s freedom and fundamental rights must not be burned up by our emissions today — there is an obligation to ensure this protection through a science-based climate protection law,” Christoph Bals, executive director of the Germanwatch environmental group, said in a statement. “This ruling will be a key reference point.”

The court rejected other arguments filed by the plaintiffs, claiming they couldn’t prove the German government had violated its constitutional duty to protect them from the risks of climate change. Still, it acknowledged that the planet’s current generation “must not be allowed to consume large portions” of the carbon budget.

The German government will now have until the end of December 2022 to implement legislation that specifies clearer reduction targets for the period after 2030. German Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier told The Guardian the ruling was “big and meaningful” and anticipated a draft bill will soon be presented by the government.

“To ensure that we do not lose any time, I will present the cornerstones for a climate protection law that is further developed along these lines and creates long-term planning security before the end of the summer,” Environmental minister Svenja Schulze, said in a statement. “This decision is a clear boost for climate protection.”

Activists in other countries have attempted to fight climate change through the legal system, some with more luck than others. In 2015, campaigners in the Netherlands filed a lawsuit arguing the government wasn’t protecting its citizens. In 2019, the Supreme Court asked the government to cut emissions by at least 25% by 2020.

Huge stash of abused Iron Age weapons discovered in a German hill fort

Researchers have just uncovered one of the largest stashes of Iron Age weapons ever discovered in Germany. Around 100 different artifacts have been recovered from the site.

Image credits LWL-Archäologie für Westfalen / Hermann Menne.

The advent of the Iron Age was an important stepping stone in our technological history. It was marked, quite unsurprisingly, by the introduction of iron as a material for tools and weapons. Iron-carbon alloys (what we refer to as ‘iron’) generally have similar properties to properly processed bronze (the metal it replaced), but iron has the huge advantages of being more abundant and simpler to produce, while having the downsides of requiring higher temperatures and more complex ore processing techniques.

At first, the use of it was quite limited, but as the know-how of smelting iron spread, so did its use. In Germany, the (early) Iron Age spanned between 800 to 45 BC, followed by the late Iron Age up until 1 BC, when the area became a Roman province. It was probably during the fighting for this transition that the stash was deposited at the site.

Stashed for a rainy day

The site is close to the German city of Schmallenberg, on the top of mount Wilzenberg. A press release by the Westfalen-Lippe Landscape Association, which made the discovery, explains that around 100 Celtic Iron Age artifacts were unearthed here.

This isn’t the first time the Wilzenberg site attracts academic interest. Work has been ongoing here ever since the 1950s. Prior digs have revealed a series of features suggesting that the site served as a hill fort back in the day, most notably ramparts. But there were some artifacts recovered over this time, as well.

Hillforts were relatively small fortifications made of local materials — from stone or wood to clay or soil — that were meant to discourage foreign incursions, or slow them down enough for a response to be mustered; hence, the ramparts. And, according to the findings, the Wilzenberg site also served as a weapon stash, most likely for locals or the soldiers manning the fort.

What prompted the discovery was the association’s use of metal detector devices to search for iron artifacts hidden beneath the structure’s former floor. Around 100 spears, swords, lance tips, belt hooks, and iron harness elements were discovered. Although dating them directly with sufficient accuracy proved impossible, the team explains that context cues would place the artifacts somewhere between the years 300 and 1 BC.

What was really peculiar about the finding is the condition the weapons here were uncovered in. Most of the swords here were severely damaged or deformed, being bent into halves or thirds, for example. Both the spears and lance tips were blunted. The team explains that the sheer scale of the damage seen here suggests this was an intentional, sustained effort. It was most likely carried out following a battle, as the victorious army wanted to prevent these weapons from being used again.

It’s also important to note that the weapons and artifacts were found piled up, not spread around, which indicates that they were carried to and deposited on the site. This suggests that the battle was fought elsewhere, and the weapons were then recovered, transported to Wilzenberg, damaged, and deposited here.

It’s very likely that the battle occurred around the city of Wilzenberg, and that the winners took these items as their trophy.

The original press release (in German) is available here.

As Germany relaxes its quarantine, the number of cases starts to increase again

While it’s undoubtedly annoying to be at home for so long, lockdowns are actually one of the most effective ways to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Credit Wikipedia Commons

A gradual reduction in the number of cases and a solid health system are excellent prerequisites for easing lockdown restrictions, but they’re no guarantee against a new rise of infections.

Not long after the country relaxed its lockdown restrictions, Germany is once again reporting that coronavirus infections are growing again in the country. The reproduction rate of the virus is above 1 – suggesting infections are again on the rise after having declined.

The reproduction rate (R0) indicates the number of secondary infections generated from one infected individual, on average. If R0 is 1, then every infected person passes the infection to another person, and the number of new cases remains stable. If it is under 1, then the number of new cases is decreasing, and if it’s over 1, it’s increasing. R0 tells experts the extent to which the coronavirus is being spread among a population. The higher it is, the higher the risk.

It is important to keep the reproduction rate to less than 1, as this means that each person infected is likely to infect less than one person on average. Germany’s rate is now at 1.13 after being below 1 for most of the last three weeks, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

Nevertheless, the current reproduction rate involves “a degree of uncertainty” and the rate would have to be observed closely over the coming days, RKI said in a statement. It’s still too soon to draw any definite conclusions, and it could be just statistical variance or simply an anomaly. When we look at data averaged over 3 days, it’s still only a very small bump, so we need to wait a bit before we can draw any conclusions linking quarantine relaxation with an increase in infections.

Germany has the seventh-highest number of confirmed cases in the world. According to RKI, the number of people infected has reached 169,218, with a reported death toll of 7,395.

Chancellor Angela Merkel announced last week a broad relaxation of national restrictions, in agreement with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states. When the announcement was made, the reproduction rate was 0.65. If communities see a rise of 50 or more cases per 100,000 people, lockdowns would have to be reimposed, she said.

Thanks to Merkel’s decision, all shops were allowed to reopen (with social distancing measures), students will gradually return to class and the Bundesliga — Germany’s top football league — will restart next weekend, although without any spectators on any games. Authorities also started lifting restrictions on religious services, which led to a few full churches over the weekend.

“The service was like a fresh start, it was very moving,” Susanne Romberg told the AFP news agency as she exited the Berlin Cathedral, which had held its first mass since lockdown measures when into effect.

Despite many celebrated going back to normal, for others the government’s decision wasn’t sufficient. The fact that not all the restrictions were lifted and that for some activities will take a bit more to restart led to protests in cities across the country, including, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Munich.

Berlin police said 86 people were detained after bottles were thrown at officers during a demonstration in Alexanderplatz, a large central square in former East Berlin. In the western city of Dortmund, police said a man attacked a TV crew during a protest — the third such attack in Germany in the past two weeks.

In line with the protests, German celebrities and influencers have questioned the lockdown in their social media networks, claiming the virus is harmless of part of a global conspiracy. Vegan influencer Attila Hildmann wrote that Germany will soon abandon democracy and that secret forces will install “a new world order.” But aside from conspiracy theories, there are very valid reasons to be concerned about lifting the lockdown too early.

We’ll know soon enough whether Germany’s relaxation is safe or not. In the meantime, it pays to be cautious.

Germany starts coronavirus vaccine trials in humans

Experts are racing across the globe to develop an agent that might stop the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected 2.5 million people in the last four months.

Credit Flickr

With research already underway in the US and the UK, just to name a few countries, Germany just took a big step, authorizing the first clinical trial of a vaccine in humans. The first tests will begin before the end of the month, following the official green light by the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI), the regulatory authority which helps develop and authorizes vaccines in Germany. They will initially include 200 healthy participants, expanding the group at a later stage.

“Trials of vaccine candidates in humans are an important milestone on the road to safe and efficacious vaccines against COVID-19 for the population in Germany and internationally,” the PEI said in a statement.

The vaccine, known as BNT162b1, was developed by cancer researcher and immunologist Ugur Sahin and his team at pharmaceutical company BioNTech. It is based on their prior research into cancer immunology.

Sahin said BNT162b1 constitutes a so-called RNA vaccine. Innocuous genetic information of the virus is transferred into human cells with the help of lipid nanoparticles. The cells then transform this genetic information into a protein, which should stimulate the body’s immune reaction to the novel coronavirus.

PEI head Klaus Cichutek said testing would be completed by June at the earliest. After this stage is complete, the PEI will determine if the vaccine can progress to further trial stages. Cichutek warned, however, that an approved vaccine was unlikely to be ready for the general public in 2020.

There are currently no approved vaccines or medication for the COVID-19 disease. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said a vaccine was the only thing to return “normality” to the world and called for development projects to be accelerated.

Aside from BioNTech, four other clinical trials on humans have been approved worldwide since mid-March, with Chinese and US developers among the first to start. Beijing approved in mid-March the first trial for a vaccine developed by the military-backed Academy of Military Medical Sciences and Hong Kong-listed biotech firm CanSino. Meanwhile, US drug developer Moderna also started tests on the same date.

In the UK, volunteers in a trial at the University of Oxford were recently given the first dose of a potential vaccine based on a virus found in chimpanzees. The Oxford trial, run by the university’s Jenner Institute, will involve 510 volunteers aged between 18 and 55 in the first phase.

How Germany sees an eventual relaxing of the lockdown

No large meetings, no parties, and only some open shops — Germany envisions the pandemic lasting into 2021, and while it is already making plans for eventually relaxing the quarantine, it will be a long time before things go back to normal.

Our society’s efforts to stay home, socially isolate, and flatten the curve is an unprecedented effort. It’s never been done before in human history, and no quarantine has ever come close to the current scale of things.

But this is just the first step.

This is not about destroying the virus or making sure that it never causes massive problems. This whole massive effort is only meant to ensure that our medical systems don’t get completely overwhelmed — but the virus won’t just go away.

It will take 12 months to have a vaccine (on an optimistic timeline), and after the first wave is hopefully quelled, we need to ensure that we’re not getting a second wave that will be even worse. So when the quarantine is eventually eased, the local and national governments will need to take measures to limit the almost-inevitable spread of disease. Simply put, we need to make sure we don’t ruin everything by going out and spreading the disease once again.

So how do we do that?

According to a draft document seen by Reuters, Germany’s plan sounds something like this:

  • protective masks will be compulsory in key areas (public transit, factories, etc);
  • borders control will not be as strict as they are now, but will be stricter than before the pandemic;
  • only some schools in some areas will open;
  • non-essential shops will open, but social distancing measures need to be in place.

These ideas are not singular to Germany. Decisionmakers have one eye on enforcing the quarantine now and the other on how the quarantine can be eased up at some point in the future, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer that things are not going back to normal anytime soon — possibly not even for the rest of the year. Germany’s core ideas are something that all countries need to consider and implement with great care to ensure that the second wave of coronavirus infections isn’t worse than the first.

Other ideas have been discussed as well, such as mandating that pubs/restaurants have 2 meters of space between patrons, or ensuring mass-testing for a substantial part of the population.

Antibody tests might also play a role as they can show who has had the disease and has developed immunity to it (and therefore not being at risk to contract or pass it forward). However, it’s still a while before any reliable such test hits the market.

For now, the key objective, priority zero, is ensuring that we limit the spread of the disease. But there’s still a society to live in afterward, and there’s still a society to manage, while keeping a coronavirus resurgence in check. It won’t be easy, that much is for sure.

Germany recruits migrant medics to battle coronavirus

Even if you supplement the number of hospital beds and ventilators, one shortage is impossible to complement: qualified staff.

It’s impossible to train medical workers on short notice so, instead, Germany is turning to one untapped resource that many other countries can use: qualified immigrants.

Image credits: Sangga Rima Roman Selia.

During the 2019 elections in Saxony, the right-wing nationalist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) won 9.7% of the votes, as the anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic rhetoric won AfD surprisingly many votes.

But now, the medical board in Saxony has turned to immigrants to help tackle the COVID-19 outbreak.

In Saxony, the heartland of the nationalist , the regional medical board is advertising for migrant doctors to help tackle an expected rise in cases.

Foreign doctors who do not yet have a license to practice medicine are asked for help through an advertising campaign.

Merkel’s 2015 decision to open Germany’s borders to some 1 million migrants fleeing war is a very polarizing decision, but in this case, it might yield advantages. Many of them were qualified workers that still struggled to find a job in Germany due to language or cultural differences.

Now, those migrants who have medical training are called to help. According to Reuters, Shadi Shahda, 29, is one migrant medic ready to help. He has already reportedly jumped at the opportunity.

“I am waiting for their call … I was very happy when I saw that I could do something in the country where I am living.”

Shahda has three years of experience as an ENT (ear, nose, throat) medical resident in Syria, but the language exam he needed to take was canceled due to the coronavirus.

The situation Shahda is in is not unique. Thousands of immigrants in Germany have medical qualifications and over 300 have already responded to the ad in Saxony.

It might be wise for other areas to consider similar schemes. The immediate, most acute shortage, is that of safe hospital beds and respiratory ventilators.

But this is not a short fight, it’s a marathon. Health workers, the ones in the first line of action, are our vital assets, and, in addition to protecting them as much as possible, we need to supplement their ranks as much as possible. The US is now recalling retired doctors and easing immigration for any health workers willing to help the country. Immigrants can potentially serve as a valuable pool of qualified health workers.

In Germany, despite cases surging, the case fatality rate remains remarkably low — a very encouraging sign in what is overall a pretty bleak picture.

Germany unveils $54 billion aid package for cultural sector hit by coronavirus

Under a lockdown to stop the spread of the virus, activities have stopped in many countries as people are asked to stay at home. This is having a strong impact on all sorts of businesses, now closed down, and has led to governments to provide different types of financial support.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

In Germany, all cultural institutions will remain closed until April 19, including cinemas, theaters, and concerts, just to name a few. Trying to help out the sector, the national government has decided to step in with a $54 billion aid package that will be available for small businesses and self-employed workers.

“We know the hardships, we know the desperation,” said culture minister Monika Grütters in a statement. “The cultural sector, in particular, is characterized by a high proportion of self-employed people who now have problems with their livelihoods. The government is aware of the importance of the creative industries.”

The aid package will come in the form of grants, designed to help with overhead costs such as venue rentals and artists studios. There will also be loans to help businesses bridge financial bottlenecks. The funding will support not only arts-related individuals and organizations but also media organizations.

As well as providing them with funding, the German government will give freelancers social security benefits for six months, including unemployment insurance. Expenses for housing will also be recognized with an extra 11 billion in support. Tenants will also be protected from eviction if they can’t pay rent and loans.

The government already opened applications for the aid package, which is estimated to have a positive effect on the whole cultural sector. Other countries and cities are following the same path. England’s art council announced a $190 million aid package, for example.

“Our democratic society needs its unique and diverse cultural and media landscape in this historical situation, which was unimaginable until recently,” said Grütters. “The creative courage of creative people can help to overcome the crisis. We should seize every opportunity to create good things for the future.”

So far, Germany has 36.000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 198 fatalities. Chancellor Angela Merkel said that 60 to 70 percent of the population could contract the disease. The government imposed strict lockdown measures last week in an effort to contain the virus. Berlin has closed theaters, state operas, and concert halls until further notice. Many clubs — including hotspot Berghain — are closed until mid-April. Museums in Germany have also closed, with major public programs canceled.

Coronavirus cases in Germany: maps, charts, stats, and news — Germany starts to flatten the curve

Coronavirus in Germany public health information

The SARS-CoV-2 virus that first appeared in January in Wuhan, China, has spread to Germany, along with over 150 other countries. The virus causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19, which causes flu-like symptoms such as dry cough, fever, runny nose and fatigue. There have also been reports of difficulties breathing, an itchy throat, headaches, joint pains, nausea, diarrhea, and shivering.

The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 spreads from person to person through infected respiratory droplets, such as saliva or mucus. Transmission can take place indirectly through contact between hands and the mucous membranes of the mouth, the nose or the conjunctiva of the eyes. 

Individuals in Germany who have had personal contact with someone confirmed as carrying SARS-CoV-2 should immediately, and irrespective of symptoms, contact their competent health office in Germany, get in touch with the doctor or call 116117 – and stay at home.

People who have spent time in a risk area as identified by the Robert Koch Institute, or in regions where COVID-19 cases have occurred, should avoid unnecessary contact with others and stay at home, if possible. Should you develop symptoms within 14 days, you should visit a doctor after calling in advance to announce your visit.

Also see:

Coronavirus daily updates and news from Germany

March 26, 2020

  • Could Germany be the first European country to have flattened the curve?
  • Part of Germany’s high coronavirus survival rate: its patients are more youthful.
  • School-leaving exams will go ahead despite coronavirus.
  • Germany still in calm before coronavirus storm says the country’s health minister.
  • Germany offers EUR50 billion package for artists.
  • Germany’s stimulus plan is one of the most ambitious in history.

March 25, 2020

  • Germany to take in more patients from Italy for treatment.
  • Germany sends first batch of diagnostic test to the US.
  • Number of coronavirus cases in Germany rises to 31,554.
  • First hopes emerge of Germany flattening the curve — it’s still to early to draw any definite conclusions, but the extreme containment measures seem to yield rewards.

March 24, 2020

  • Coronavirus cases leap by a fifth to 27,000.
  • Survival rates remain intriguingly high in Germany.

March 23, 2020

  • Angela Merkel tests negative for coronavirus.
  • The first signs of levelling the curve emerge in Germany: social distancing seems to be paying off.
  • Still too early to say whether Germany is better prepared than other countries — high survival rate might be owed to methodology.
  • Analysis: Germany has hoarded so much money that it is well-prepared to deal with the upcoming economic crisis.
  • “I am optimistic,” Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute, said at a press conference earlier, about the flattening of the curve. It is far too early to tell, but Germany might be starting to turn the tide.
  • Germany supports move to postpone the Olympics.

March 22, 2020

  • Angela Merkel goes into quarantine after her doctor tests positive for COVID-19.
  • Germany bans gatherings of over 2 people.
  • German coronavirus cases rise by 2705 to 16662.
  • German states close to total lockdown.

March 21, 2020

March 20, 2020

  • Germany might decide on possible lockdown this weekend.
  • Extra financial package of 150 bln EUR announced. de ce ar Germany might decide on possible lockdown this weekend.
  • Extra financial package of 150 bln EUR announced.
  • Renewable energy brought to a standstill in Germany.
  • Germany and EU working closely to limit economic damage.
  • Germany’s high survival rate continues to inspire.

March 19, 2020

March 18, 2020

March 17, 2020

Coronavirus precautions

  1. Wash your hands.

    You’ve heard this a million times, and there’s a reason for it: it works. Soap and water is your best option, but sanitizer also works if applied correctly. Wash hands thoroughly for 20+ seconds.

  2. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.

  3. Disinfect commonly touched objects — especially your phone, but also things like doorknobs.

    Clean your room and bathroom. This is is good hygienic practice in general, but a preliminary study suggests that disinfecting your room is effective at removing the virus. Here is a list of EPA-approved disinfectants.

  4. Cough and sneeze in your elbow or in a tissue that you immediately dispose of safely.

  5. If you can work from home, do that.

  6. Practice (temporary) social distancing.

    Avoid large gatherings, try to stay 1+ meter (3+ feet) away from people.

  7. Plan ahead, but be considerate.

    Consider some preparations in anticipation of social distancing or supply chain shortages, but don’t take more than you need and be considerate of others in your community. Your best chance of not getting sick is if your local community doesn’t get sick.

  8. Be aware, prepared, but don’t panic.

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Insects in Germany have declined by up to two-thirds in ten years

In 2017, researchers sounded the alarm when they found that the number of flying insects had dramatically fallen in recent times in Germany. A new study that analyzed a broad range of species in three protected German areas confirmed these fears, finding that some populations had declined by up to two-thirds in the last decade.

Two years ago, an international team of researchers reported that over the last 27 years, flying insect biomass has plummeted by 75 percent in Germany. Land use or changes in weather could not alone explain this dramatic drop in insect biomass.

Insects, be they land-loving or wind trailing, are essential to ecosystem functioning and health. They’re responsible for pollinating 80 percent of wild plants and provide food for a wide range of species, including 60 percent of all birds.

In a new study, researchers led by Sebastian Seibold and Wolfgang Weisse, both professors of terrestrial ecology at the Technical University of Munich, analyzed data on flying insects from 290 sites within forest and grassland habitats. The sites were surveyed by biologists between 2008 and 2017, who counted flying insects, as well as arthropods like spiders and millipedes, using nets and traps.

The results suggest that both in meadows and in forests, the number of species decreased by about a third during the study period. Their biomass, which indicates population size, decreased by 67% in grasslands and 40% in forests.

Among the factors that may be responsible for the decline, the researchers have identified deforestation, invasive species, urbanization, global heating, wetland and river alterations, and agriculture. The latter is believed to be responsible for roughly half of the impact.

The German researchers found that insect decline was particularly enhanced in grasslands surrounded by arable land. Species that did not cover long distances shrank the most in such areas. Meanwhile, in forests, it was mainly species that traveled long distances that suffered the most, possibly because they come into contact with agriculture during their migration.

“The decline affected rare and abundant species, and trends differed across trophic levels. Our results show that there are widespread declines in arthropod biomass, abundance and the number of species across trophic levels. Arthropod declines in forests demonstrate that loss is not restricted to open habitats,” the authors wrote in the journal Nature.

These frightening findings suggest that insect decline is very much real and just as bad as previously reported by other studies. And, this certainly isn’t happening just in Germany.

Earlier this year, a metastudy found that half of all the world’s insect species are in decline and a third are already endangered. The orders Lepidoptera, Hymenoptera, and Coleoptera (butterflies, bees, and beetles, respectively), are the worst-hit groups. One of the studies included in the analysis shows that the number of widespread butterfly species on farmed land in the UK fell by 58% between 2000 and 2009. Bees are also struggling: Oklahoma lost half of its bumblebee species between 1949 and 2013. The number of honeybee colonies in the US was 6 million in 1947, but 3.5 million have been lost since. Beetle species are also declining, especially dung beetles, according to this meta-analysis.

“Our results suggest that major drivers of arthropod decline act at larger spatial scales, and are (at least for grasslands) associated with agriculture at the landscape level. This implies that policies need to address the landscape scale to mitigate the negative effects of land-use practices,” the German researchers wrote.

Since agriculture is the main driver of this decline, policymakers, farmers, and conservation efforts have to work in sync in order to coordinate a reversal of this dire trend. There is some progress in this respect. This year, Germany’s Farmers’ Association voluntarily ceded arable land back to nature, creating a 230,000 km-long and 5-meter-wide flower strip corridor. Insecticides such as neonicotinoids and the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) have also come into scrutiny for their potential ill effects on biodiversity. Measures that restrict their use may also play a major role in reviving insect populations.

The 150-year-old Prosper-Haniel mine was closed down last week. It was the black coal mine in Germany. Credit: Flickr, Gunnar Ries zwo.

Germany shuts down its last black coal mine, ending almost 200 years of history

On December 21st, Germany closed down its last black coal mine.

The 150-year-old Prosper-Haniel mine was closed down last week. It was the black coal mine in Germany. Credit: Flickr, Gunnar Ries zwo.

The 150-year-old Prosper-Haniel mine was closed down last week. It was the black coal mine in Germany. Credit: Flickr, Gunnar Ries zwo.

For almost two centuries, miners have been extracting coal from pits in Germany’s Ruhr valley, which the country used to power its once-burgeoning steel mills and produce electricity. It’s largely thanks to coal that Germany stepped out of the Industrial Revolution as an industrial powerhouse. Today, the country is the wealthiest in Europe, by a high margin, and the 4th largest economy in the world.

But coal has long been on the tail-end of its lifecycle, bleeding money from subsidies and poisoning an environment that is chocking on its fumes. Just a few days ago, Germany closed its last coal exploitation.

The closing ceremony of the Prosper-Haniel mine involved the transfer of a football-size chunk of coal — the last lump of black coal mined from the facility — by a group of miners to Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s President. The gift was joined by the words “Glueck Auf,”  a traditional miners’ greeting, which roughly translates as “good luck”, alluding to the uncertainties and perils that miners face every day.

“A piece of German history is coming to an end here,” Mr. Steinmeier told an audience during the closing ceremony. “Without it, our entire country and its development over the past 200 years would have been unthinkable.”

The Prosper-Haniel mine in the western city of Bottrop used to be part of a network of mines that fed the Ruhr Valley’s hungry steel mills and various other industries. At its peak, during the 1950s, coal mining in the Ruhr employed half a million people. Today, just a couple of thousand people are active in the industry.

In time, however, imported coal proved to be more economically sound and, one by one, the Ruhr’s mines shut down. Since 1998, the coal mining industry received 40 billion euros ($46 billion) in federal funds. In 2007, the government decided that this huge money leak had to be plugged and ordered the gradual phase-out of German coal mines. Miners themselves were promised early retirement or retraining for work in other industries on the government’s dime.

To ease the post-coal transition, the city of Bottrop is offering subsidies to companies and workers who would like to do business there. Already, Bottrop is making good use of local attractions, including a horror maze with a haunted coal shaft, a movie-themed amusement park, and the world’s longest indoor ski slope.

Coal will still be strong for decades in Germany

This isn’t exactly the end of coal mining in Germany. The 150-year-old Prosper-Haniel mine was the last deep-shaft coal mine operating in the country. However, there are open-cast lignite, or brown coal, mines still in operation in Germany. These will ultimately be shut down in the coming years.

And while no more coal mines in Germany sounds like an environmental victory, the reality is that this doesn’t change much — not if you measure progress by fewer carbon emissions. Germany still gets two-fifths of its power by burning coal — a resource which it now shuttles from Russia, the U.S., and Colombia. This coal will likely continue to arrive in Germany for at least two decades, which is the time the government estimates it will take to shut down its last 120 remaining coal-fired power plants. It might take even longer if the country goes forward with its plan to close down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022.

In order for Germany and other countries in its position (i.e. the United States or the United Kingdom) to fully jump off the fossil fuel bandwagon, renewable energy (currently 35% in Germany) needs to grow a lot — and fast. The biggest challenge right now is storage, namely finding a way to make huge batteries at scale cheaply enough to compete with conventional baseline power. Only when energy generated by the sun and wind can be reliably stored and delivered will coal and oil disappear for good.

Coradia iLint.

Germany rolls out the first hydrogen-powered trains in the world

Germany can boast running the first hydrogen-powered trains in the world.

Coradia iLint.

Image credits Frank Paukstat / Flickr.

As of this Monday, passengers from the towns of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervoerde, and Buxtehude (all of them just west of Hamburg) can embark on a unique experience — on a train. Two Coradia iLint locomotives — designed and built by Alstom, the same company behind the bullet train — will ‘burn’ through hydrogen fuel cells to take these passengers for a ride.

Trainspotting

People like fast trains. At the time of their unveiling, trains such as Japan’s bullet train and the French TGV made headlines, set records, and captured the public’s imagination. But going fast isn’t the only desirable quality in a train. For example, the TGV imposed itself, along with its electric transmission, during the 1973 oil crisis in France.

As Europe works to decouple its economy from fossil fuels, French company Alstom wants to provide them with trains made to measure. The company is now working to replace Germany’s old diesel-powered trains with hydrogen ones. Alstom CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge inaugurated the first pair of such trains — christened Coradia iLint — at a ceremony in Bremervoerde, where the trains will undergo hydrogen refueling.

“The world’s first hydrogen train is entering into commercial service and is ready for serial production,” he said during the event.

The trains, painted bright blue, will run along a 100-kilometer (62-mile) long stretch of track. However, they can travel up to 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) on a single tank of hydrogen, the company reports.

Hydrogen engines draw on fuel cells to produce electricity. Hydrogen in these cells is combined with oxygen in the atmosphere to generate power, and their only exhaust product is pure water and steam. The engines in the Coradia iLints are very efficient, so the vehicles come equipped with banks of ion-lithium to make sure no charge is wasted.

They’re much quieter than their diesel-fueled counterparts, more eco-friendly, and have the upper hand on electric trains as they can run on any stretch of track, electrified or not. Their only down-side is a higher initial cost.

“Sure, buying a hydrogen train is somewhat more expensive than a diesel train, but it is cheaper to run,” says Stefan Schrank, Alstom’s project manager.

For their part, Germans seem to really dig the trains. Alstom reported that it has already signed a contract to deliver 14 trains in the Lower Saxony (northern Germany) region by 2021. The trains will be delivered to the local transport authority of Lower Saxony (LNVG), which will, in turn, lease them to a contracted train operator, the Eisenbahnen und Verkehrsbetriebe Elbe-Weser GmbH (EVB).

France is also working to acquire hydrogen-powered trains, which it plans to have ready by 2022. Other European countries, including the U.K, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, and Italy, have also expressed an interest in such vehicles, as did Canada.

The Coradia iLint was first showcased at the rail industry trade fair InnoTrans in 2016, where the company boldly named it “train of the future”; we can only hope that their boast proves true.

Archaeologists discover Germany’s oldest known library

The remains of an ancient library dating 1,800 years ago were unearthed in central Cologne. The library, which was built by the Romans, would have housed up to 20,000 scrolls.

The Roman library was discovered in Cologne. Photograph: Hi-flyFoto/Roman-Germanic Museum of Cologne

The walls of the library were first discovered in 2017 during an excavation on the ground of a Protestant church –the Antoniter Church — in what is now a modern shopping area in the city of Cologne. The rest of the library was discovered after additional excavation work on the grounds.

Initially, the find was surprising. Not because of its age — Cologne is actually one of Germany’s oldest cities, and was founded in 50 AD under the name of Colonia — but rather because the structure of the library was unusual.

“It took us some time to match up the parallels – we could see the niches were too small to bear statues inside. But what they are are kind of cupboards for the scrolls,” said Dr Dirk Schmitz from the Roman-Germanic Museum of Cologne. “They are very particular to libraries – you can see the same ones in the library at Ephesus.”

It’s not clear  how many scrolls the library would have contained, but Schmitz believes the number could have been around 20,000. This would make it slightly smaller but still on par with that of Ephesus — one of the most impressive archaeological finds.

The Façade of the Celsus library, in Ephesus, in what is today West Turkey. Image credits: Benh Lieu Song.

The building was likely two stories tall, measuring 20 by 9 meters, and featuring an extension which was added at a later date. Archaeologists praise it as the oldest library ever found in Germany.

“It dates from the middle of the second century and is at a minimum the earliest library in Germany, and perhaps in the north-west Roman provinces,” he said. “Perhaps there are a lot of Roman towns that have libraries, but they haven’t been excavated. If we had just found the foundations, we wouldn’t have known it was a library. It was because it had walls, with the niches, that we could tell.”

What will happen to the library

According to builders, the archaeological remains will be integrated into the new church building, with some of them remaining available for visitation. Other parts of the structure will be preserved for future archaeologists to study.

Cologne is mostly known for its impressive gothic architecture, but the city also boasts a Roman history and is riddled with Roman structures like walls and aqueducts. More delicate structures like villas and mosaics have also been found in the city.

Cologne was first described as a military settlement in the year 38 BC. It has since grown and flourished, being given colony status by Emperor Claudius. Today, it is the fourth most populated city in Germany and a thriving urban settlement.

War relics become valuable heritage in Finland

For some Finns, piles of rusting metal from World War II have a special significance.

The war relics stand in stark opposition to Lapland’s pristine nature. Image credits: Oula Seitsonen.

 

Finland’s involvement in WWII was rather unusual. Initially, they sided up with Nazi Germany, leading to what is called the Winter War — where Finland fought against Soviet Russia. Despite having only 32 tanks against Russia’s 6,000, and 114 aircraft compared to almost 4,000 Soviet units, the Finns held their ground. In Lapland, Finland’s northernmost region, there were more German troops and prisoners of various nationalities than local inhabitants.

But when Finland struck a cease-fire with the Soviets in 1944, war broke between the one-time allies, and Germany had to retreat. As they did so, the Germans left behind hundreds of tons of war material in various states of repair. Everything from tractors and gun carriages to bottles of alcohol and canned food was left behind, and many can still be found in Lapland. In the country’s blistering cold, this war junk was left in stark opposition to the pristine nature.

But for locals, this isn’t really the case.

Surprisingly, locals — who see themselves as the custodians of their own history — want to control outsider access to wartime and other cultural heritage sites. They cherish these remnants of the distant war as their own history, disliking the dismissive attitude that the Finnish government exhibits towards them.

To them, these traces are a symbol of the differences between north and south Finland, as well as the marginalization of the north. They are the relics of their own past, and they don’t want to get rid of them.

“The differences between approaches to German relics from the Second World War seem to originate from fundamental differences between worldviews and the manners in which landscape is interpreted,” says archaeologist Oula Seitsonen.

“Those who advocate clearing Lapland’s environment of ‘war junk’ appear to perceive the subject from a ‘western’ perspective, drawing a line between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’. This viewpoint also labels the historical cultural landscape of the region as empty, natural wilderness, whereas the northern concept of nature does not differentiate between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’. Instead, landscape with its various layers forms a whole that ties together the past, the present and the future.”

In her doctoral studies, Seitsonen carries out the first comprehensive and informed study of the archaeology and heritage of the material remnants of German troops in Finnish Lapland.

She believes that these objects can be turned into touristic objectives, generating additional income for the locals, as well as raising awareness about their culture. At the very least, she says, these objects should be classified, studied, and understood in a local context, before they disintegrate into nothingness. They represent not only a local value, but also sites and events that people actually remember — including traumatic events.

“Personally, I would like to see the wartime materiel documented on some level before it decomposes entirely. Then again, the slow merging of wartime structures and objects with nature creates a special atmosphere at these sites, emphasizing their role as part of the local cultural landscape. The significance of war-related sites as part of the long cultural continuum of the region is underlined by supernatural stories and experiences associated with them. For one, they portray the sites as locales of memory and remembering, including related, unprocessed traumas,” Seitsonen said.

Remains of a German POW camp. Image credits: Oula Seitsonen.

In a broader sense, this raises an important question about heritage and culture. What exactly is heritage? Is it necessarily something nice or esthetically pleasing? That’s hardly the case. Heritage is a form of cultural legacy, and it has the value people attribute to it. If the people of Lapland believe WWII relics are their heritage, we should appreciate and cherish that — and why not, learn the stories that they can tell us. I don’t know about you, but hiking through pristine woods and discovering the stories (and tragedies) that unfolded there sounds like an interesting pastime.

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.

flying-insect

Flying insect biomass decreased by 75 percent over 27 years in nature reserves

Dutch researchers at Radboud University report that over the last 27 years, flying insect biomass has plummeted by 75 percent in Germany. The findings serve as a wakeup call given the current climate of accelerating decline in insect populations reported all over the world.

flying-insect

Credit: Pixabay.

Insects, be them land loving or wing buzzing, are essential to ecosystem functioning and health. They’re responsible for pollinating 80 percent of wild plants and provide food to a wide range of species, including 60 percent of all birds. Previously, scientists have identified a pattern of decline in insect diversity and populations. These studies, however, tend to focus on single species or taxonomic groups, which can fail to grasp the bigger picture.

Caspar Hallmann and colleagues at Radboud took a different route by assessing flying insect biomass, which indicates if the number of insects in a given area rose or fell, regardless of the species involved. The team measured flying insect biomass collected using Malaise traps from 63 natural reserves in Germany over 27 years. Malaise traps were deployed through the spring, summer, and early autumn, operating day and night. The catch was emptied at regular intervals, on average every 11.2 days.

The team found that flying insect biomass declined by 76 percent on average in just 27 years and by up to 82% in midsummer. The dramatic decline took place everywhere, regardless of the habitat type. Land use or changes in weather could not alone explain the steep drop in insect biomass. These depressing figures underscore how the entire flying insect community has been decimated over the last few decades, as reported previously by papers which found declines in vulnerable species such as butterflies, wild bees, and moths.

A malaise trap in a nature protection area in Germany. Credit: Hallmann et al (2017).

A malaise trap in a nature protection area in Germany. Credit: Hallmann et al (2017).

Since 2006, honeybee populations have drastically declined at the hand of a peculiar phenomenon called colony collapse disorder (CCD). Today, most bee species are in decline, with annual regional losses as high as 60 percent. Nobody is completely sure what causes CCD, but studies seem to point towards neonicotinoid pesticide use. Earlier this month, researchers reported that neonicotinoids were found in 75 percent of honey samples collected from all over the world.

Monarch butterfly populations have also been declining significantly, reaching the lowest count ever recorded during 2013-14 as a result of habitat loss, particularly the loss of milkweed (the species’ only food source), and mortality caused by the use of pesticides. West North America lost 95 percent of its Monarch butterflies over the last 35 years, according to a distressing recent report.

While the Dutch researchers focused on flying insect biomass in protected areas around Germany, a similar pattern of population decline is happening all over the world. Rodolfo Dirzo, an ecologist at Stanford University, developed a global index for invertebrate abundance that showed a 45 percent decline over the last four decades. 

“Although invertebrates are the least well-evaluated faunal groups within the IUCN database, the available information suggests a dire situation in many parts of the world,” says Dirzo.

Hallmann says that more work is required to investigate the full range of climatic and agricultural variables that might impact insect biomass. Whatever’s the case, evidence so far points towards humans interfering with insect habitats, foraging, and diet. We caused this mess and it’s up to us to clean it up.

“There is an urgent need to uncover the causes of this decline, its geographical extent, and to understand the ramifications of the decline for ecosystems and ecosystem services,” the authors concluded.

Scientific reference: Hallmann CA, Sorg M, Jongejans E, Siepel H, Hofland N, Schwan H, et al. (2017) More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areasPLoS ONE 12(10): e0185809. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185809

Congrats Germany! Credit: Pixabay.

Germany produced 85% of its electricity demand from renewable energy

Congrats Germany! Credit: Pixabay.

Congrats, Germany! Image Credits: Pixabay.

For the most part of April 30, about 85% of Germany’s consumed electricity came from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, or hydroelectric. According to a spokesman from the Agora Energiewende Initiative, a fortunate mix of sunny weather and strong winds in the south and north of the country, respectively, made this year’s Labour Day celebration even more eventful.

“Most of Germany’s coal-fired power stations were not even operating on Sunday, April 30th, with renewable sources accounting for 85 per cent of electricity across the country,” Patrick Graichen of Agora Energiewende Initiative said in a statement. “Nuclear power sources, which are planned to be completely phased out by 2022, were also severely reduced.”

Days like April 30th might turn from sensational into mundane by 2030 as the massive investment deployed by the German federal government steadily accrue energy dividends. By 2050, there will be no more energy derived from fossil fuels in Germany, if the government’s Energiewende initiative is to become successful. In other words, you won’t be able to call solar or wind alternative energy sources in Germany — they will be the energy sources. Even on uneventful days, Germany is still able to deliver 41% of its consumed electricity from renewables for the whole month of March.

Another recent development that lends confidence such a scenario is possible was last week’s announcement of the final bid for one of the world’s first subsidy-free offshore wind projects. Far exceeding everyone’s expectations, a company called DONG Energy was awarded the right to build three offshore wind projects in the German North Sea for an average of 0.44 cents per kilowatt hour. Again, that’s without any kind of government subsidies.

Germany is not the only European nation trying to wean itself from nonrenewable energy sources. On April 21st, for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, the United Kingdom went a whole day without coal-fired energy, though truth be told the current cabinet is not very fond of renewables. 

Archaeologists and brewers recreate 2,500 year old funeral drink from residues found in a tomb

Archaeologists recreated an Iron Age brew buried with the dead 2,500 years ago, and it tastes “very cool”.

Image credits Bettina Arnold.

Image credits Bettina Arnold.

Back in 2000, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee archaeologist and anthropologist Bettina Arnold was examining a burial plot from 400 or 450 B.C. in what is today Germany. Inside, she stumbled upon a portly bronze cauldron. After analyzing the remnants on the vessel’s walls, she and a team of local craft brewers brought the drink back from the dead.

Dig first, drinks later

The plot Arnold was investigating is called a tumulus from the Latin word for “little hill”. It looks like a mound of earth and cut stones built over a grave, and they’re usually indicative of a noble or rich person’s burial place. It was built sometime in the 7th to 5th centuries BC in today’s Swabia, Germany, and by the time Arnold began investigating it the skeleton was nowhere to be found, likely dissolved by the acidic soil. It was most likely a male, though, as the archaeologists found an iron sword, a helmet, and two long iron spears buried inside the tumulus.

Archaeologists also found a bronze pot or cauldron inside, which Arnold chalks up to one of the best reasons for having a drink handy I’ve ever heard.

“The dead man in Tumulus 17 Grave 6 had been sent into the afterlife not only with his weapons but with about 14 litres of an alcoholic beverage that he could have used to establish himself as an important person in the next world as he had been in this one,” she explains on her blog.

Turns out the afterlife is a lot like college. Arnold says the cauldron contained roughly 14 liters (3.7 gallons) of fairly high-quality liquid — but it’s had a few thousand years to age, so it had a particularly un-drinklike form when she found it. A paleobotanical analysis of the vessel’s contents created a basic run-down of the ingredients in the brew’s recipe.

“Luckily for us, they didn’t just send people off to the afterlife with [weapons] — they also sent them off with the actual beverage. It’s a BYOB afterlife, you know? You have to be able to sort of throw a party when you get there,” she told Bonnie North at the NPR.

“We actually were able, ultimately, to derive at least some sense of what the contents were in a bronze cauldron,” says Arnold. “The honey, which is definitely present … and then as a bittering and preservative agent — not hops … but meadowsweet,” she explained.

Paleobotanist Manfred Rösch and conservator Tanja Kreß sample the ancient cauldron in Tübingen, Germany.
Image credits Bettina Arnold.

Besides yeast, the brew is made up of barley, honey and meadowsweet. Mint was also identified in the drink.

But science is all about getting to know the great unknown. So Arnold enlisted the aid of Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery to try and re-do the brew, using the ingredients identified in the cauldron. Lakefront cellarmaster Chad Sheridan’s expertise in home brewing meads and similar drinks helped re-create the process. As he explains, the drink was likely a braggot — “a blend of barley and honey as the two sugar ingredients to create the beverage.”

“I got to sip the final product,” writes Bonnie North at the NPR. “The result was smooth and pleasant — almost like a dry port, but with a minty, herbal tinge to it. It also packed an alcoholic kick.”

 

Sadly, it’s unlikely we’ll find this ancient pick-me-up on grocery shelves anytime soon.

“[While the drink is] very cool to taste … I don’t think people would be interested in purchasing it to drink,” says Lakefront Brewery’s Chris Ranson. “But it sure was a fun experiment.”

“[Our] version would have been significantly cleaner than the prehistoric one, but we did succeed in producing something that provides those of us with jaded modern palates with a very different flavour profile,” her blog post reads.  “The mint actually came through first, which was unexpected, followed by the slightly astringent meadow sweet, but the honey was barely in evidence (having been almost completely converted to alcohol).”

With all that honey converted into alcohol, the drink also packs quite a sizable punch.

“With an [alcohol by volume] of over 8 percent, this is not your grannie’s braggot,” Arnold goes on to say, “and although adding honey at this stage would probably make it more drinkable for [today’s] mead imbibers, we decided to leave it as is.”

But the braggot seems to have done the trick for Arnold, who hopes this is just the first re-creation of many to come. She said the UWM’s College of Letters and Science is working on a program focusing on the cultural and scientific elements of fermentation. In the future, she says, she’ll be developing a course where ancient recipes and archaeological evidence are used to brew up different drinks. Cheers to that!

Hydrogen-powered train to start making trips in Germany by the end of 2017

Last week, French company Alstom showcased the first hydrogen-powered passenger train in the world. The vehicle will begin real-world testing on one line in Germany in 2017.

Image credits Alstom.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology allows engineers to create powerful transportation vehicles that emit only water — condensed, or as steam. Now the tech has finally been used to create a working train. Named Coradia iLint, the vehicle was unveiled at InnoTrans, an annual trade show in Berlin last week.

This super-quiet passenger train holds a hydrogen fuel tank on the cars’ roof, supplying fuel cells that generate electrical energy for the engine. Alstom hopes that this system will replace Europe’s fleet of diesel-burning trains, which are still seeing heavy use across the continent despite wide-scale electrification projects.

In the last months of 2017, the train will start running on the Buxtehude-Bremervörde-Bremerhaven-Cuxhaven line in Lower Saxony. The German Federal Railway Authority Eisenbahn-Bundesamt will start testing in fall 2016 and is expected to release a report on the vehicle by end of 2017. While yet unapproved by the Eisenbahn-Bundesamt, Lower Saxony’s local transportation authority has ordered 14 trains of the type from Alstom.

The iLint is the first train to power along railroads through hydrogen cells alone, but the idea is about a decade old now. Former AT&T strategic planned Stan Thompson coined the term “hydrail” in 2004 to describe any rail vehicle that uses hydrogen fuel cells. There have been several prototype hydrails in the past, most notably in Japan.

Hopefully, now that we have a working, commercially successful example of a hydrail, the technology will gain traction much faster — on rails and roads alike.

Germany to shut down several coal plants to lower CO2 emissions

Germany is taking some serious strides in its attempt to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent until 2020: the European country announced that it will shut down several coal-fired plants and move towards more sustainable energy sources.

“Coal-fired plants with a capacity of 2.7 gigawatts will be shut down,” said the government sources, who declined to say how many plants will be closed. “The affected power plants will not be allowed to sell electricity on the normal energy market,” they said, adding that with this step Germany would manage to reach its goal to curb CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels.

Germany wants to move to a green-energy economy, relying massively on wind and solar energy. Image via Clean Technica.

This is a very ambitious goal, which will require significant effort, but Germany seems committed to this goal. Furthermore, Angela Merkel and the leaders of her two junior coalition parties addressed not only the issue of energy generation, but also energy transport, settling a dispute over high-voltage power lines which are planned to carry green energy from the breezy north to the industrial south.

Coal plants have heavily protested and lobbied against this move, demanding compensation for an alternative reserve option. It’s unclear whether or not compensation will be given for the workers.

Germany’s renewable energy sector is among the most innovative and successful worldwide. Net-generation from renewable energy sources in the German electricity sector has increased from 6.3% in 2000 to about 30% in 2014 and for the first time, wind, biogas, and solar combined accounted for a larger portion of net electricity production than brown coal. Germany is often called “the world’s first major renewable energy economy”.

Bronze Age Priestess Traveled Huge Distances

In 1921, archaeologists found the remains of a Bronze Age priestess, dubbed the Egtved Girl. Now, a new study reveals that the priestess, who was found in Denmark, likely traveled hundreds of kilometers and was born somewhere in Germany.

Image via Wikipedia.

The Egtved Girl was, according to all clues, an extraordinary person. She only lived to be 16-18. She was slim, 160 cm tall (about 5 ft 3 in), had short, blond hair and well-trimmed nails; her remains were found alongside the cremated remains of a child in a barrow, buried in 1370 BC. Now, isotopic analysis has revealed another remarkable fact about her – she seems to have traveled a lot throughout Europe, and was likely buried far away from her birth place. Even isotopes in the wool from the ancient girl’s clothing, the blanket that was used to cover her originated form outside Denmark.

Researchers used strontium analysis, an element found in bedrock throughout the world.  Living creatures and plants absorb this element through food and water. What makes strontium isotope analysis especially interesting for archaeologists is that the parts of the human body where the isotopes collect–tooth enamel and bone–are formed at different stages of a person’s life. So if you see different strontium ratios in enamel or bone formed at different stages, you know that the person you’re analyzing traveled quite a lot. Furthermore, to an extent, you can infer where he or she traveled.

“I have [analyzed] the strontium isotopic signatures of the enamel from one of the Egtved Girl’s first molars, which was fully formed/crystallized when she was three or four years old, and the analysis tells us that she was born and lived her first years in a region that is geologically older than and different from the peninsula of Jutland in Denmark,” said Karin Margarita Frei, from the National Museum of Denmark and Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen.

The results showed that the girl was likely born in the Black Forest, in southern Germany, which is consistent with some theories that Denmark and Germany had commercial connections all the way back in the Bronze Age. Denmark commonly traded amber for bronze, with Germany serving as a middle man.

“Amber was the engine of Bronze Age economy, and in order to keep the trade routes going, powerful families would forge alliances by giving their daughters in marriage to each other and letting their sons be raised by each other as a kind of security,” said professor Kristian Kristiansen from the University of Gothenburg.

As for what the Egtved Girl’s role was, it was likely quite important. Archaeologists believe she basically served as a contract, tying two powerful families together. Sadly though, her fate wasn’t so fortunate.

“We find many direct connections between the two (regions) in the archaeological evidence,” said Cristiansen. “My guess is that the Egtved Girl was a southern German girl who was given in marriage to a man in Jutland so as to forge an alliance between two powerful families.”