08 June 2006

sustainable berlin.

While Berlin's past is a history nerd's Graceland, its sustainability movement gives hope to idealistic environmentalists everywhere. Last year, I walked off a train in Friedrichstrasse only to be greeted by the oversized diamond-shaped trash can pictured. With compartments for glass, metal, paper, and other waste, Berliners couldn't make recycling any easier if they tried. As a tree-hugger who cringes when I watch UF students throw a soda can away when the recycling bin is only twenty yards across Turlington Plaza, the German solution makes perfect sense. By making sustainability as easy as polluting, Berliners have made environmentalism a part of their national consciousness. Watching people walk through train stations, taking the extra half second to reach around to the glass receptacle warms my idealistic little heart. For those who laugh at my seeming obsession with insignificant trash cans, they're symbolic of a national commitment to a sustainable future. And I'm not the only one in love with German trash cans - they also contributed to a small fortune in graduate school at Cambridge. If saving our planet begins with something as small and inexpensive as trash cans, we owe it to ourselves to make the effort. If the Germans could do it in less than a generation, why can't we?

But it's not just the trashcans. For Berliners, environmentalism is a way of life. Berlin's public transportation system rivals the best in the world. Between busses, two subway systems (the U-bahn and S-bahn), and in the East, a network of electric trams, you'd be hard pressed to find any location in Berlin more than a five minute walk from a public transportation stop. And it's not just for the young or the poor - everyone, from artists to diplomats, uses it. It's hardly even worth your time or money to drive and park in the heart of the city. And if all else fails, Berlin's wide, flat streets are a biker's paradise. Even yours truly, who didn't learn to ride a bike until middle school, thoroughly enjoyed a bike tour of the former east led by the lovely Enda, everyone's favorite Canadian-Irish ex-pat of Fat Tire Bike Tours. Public transportation is also bike friendly, for those extra long trips or to avoid the frigid Berlin winters/cold rainy spring. As a long time Floridian, home of the constitutional amendment to build a high-speed rail from Tampa to Orlando, public transportation enthralls me. Since my first forays onto the Paris Metro (whose logo still adorns my keyring) five years ago, I've been in love with subways, homeless musicians playing for spare change, and all things related to such. Berlin's paving the way for a close relationship between modern democracy and sustainable development, it's up to us to follow in their wake.

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