10 Things Germans do to pinch a penny and save the planet that Canadians will find absolutely awkward – Part 1

  1. The anti-idling law

It is a beautiful summer day and you are waiting at a railroad crossing (and there is many of them in Germany!) for the barriers to open. It is hot outside, so naturally you idle to keep the air-conditioning going. You are just singing along to your favorite song on the radio, when a policeman approaches and hands you a ticket. You may ask… WHY??? The officer will promptly inform you, that according to the German Traffic Code § 30 it is “prohibited to let vehicle engines run unnecessarily”, for the reasons of avoiding noise, reducing exhaust and saving energy.

  1. The rainwater-collection-installation

gutter in GermanyDrinking water is limited and therefore expensive in Germany, so naturally Germans will go out of their way to conserve it. Next time you visit Germany, have a closer look at a residential house. Follow the gutter system and you’ll see that instead of disappearing into a drain it leads to a barrel, where rainwater is collected. This water is then used to irrigate lawns and gardens. In fact, sprinkler systems fed with tap water were frowned upon until not long ago.

  1. The haunted hallway

Imagine that during your visit in Germany you’re staying in an apartment which you rented on one these famous ‘home away from home’ websites. When coming back late one night you’re startled to find the hallway is pitch black. You’re lucky that one of the neighbors is coming home right after you and explains the situation. Most hallways in German apartment buildings have windows and are well light in the daytime. But for night hours, Germans have come up with yet another strategy to conserve energy. The hallway lights are connected to a timer. So once you hit the switch, you have about 3 minutes to get to your door – or you will be stranded in the dark once again. Although those light switches have some fluorescent quality, it usually wears off during the night. Every German knows how it feels to fumble for the light switch in a pitch black hallway after a long night out – although cell phone flashlights have made that job somewhat easier.German hallway light switch

  1. The haunted children’s room

Talking about not leaving the lights on when no one’s around… if you left the light on in your room as a kid when going somewhere else (even if it was just a little trip to the bathroom) you were in BIG BIG trouble. This is one of the very first energy conservation rules Germans will learn, and they do so at a young age. Never, ever, leave the light on when you are not using it. I don’t know anyone who has not gotten in trouble for doing it as a child. And although I am grown up now and my own boss in respect to matters of illumination, I still find myself running back to a room I just left to turn off the light.

  1. The reverse vending machine

reverse vending machine for bottle depositBottle recycling is serious business in Germany. While there is a deposit on a range of bottles in Canada, not many people care about the couple of cents they could regain. Therefore, lot of bottles will still end up in the garbage, to be collected and returned by the homeless. Not so in Germany. Living by the motto ‘Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves’, bottles will be returned by the dozen. Hence, German supermarkets have come up with a nifty idea to avoid long delays at the cash register due to obsessive bottle returns: the reverse vending machine. I have been asked by foreigners before, if this is actually a real thing. Yes, it is. You stick a bottle in the machine, it reads the barcode and adds the bottle deposit to your credit. Once you have fed all your bottles to the mighty machine, you hit a button and it will print a receipt, which you can cash at the till.

The reverse vending machines are connected to a nation wide system, making it possible to return your bottle at any store. Not long ago, a greedy shop manager in Cologne found a way to manipulate the system and return the same bottle over and over again, snatching over 44,000 Euros. (He got convicted later – so don’t even think about spending a night in front of a reverse vending machine to pay your bills.)

To be continued.

Pictures: Pixabay, Wikicommons

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