The BBC’s Mark Mardell about Freiburg

Mark Mardell is the BBC’s Europe Editor and he wrote in his Euroblog about Freiburg, Germany – the town where I was born, and where I went to college. Mardell seems very impressed by how green and clean Freiburg is.

It’s possibly my imagination, but the air here seems to taste cleaner. This pretty city nestling between the green hills of the Black Forest definitely does sound different. You can hear birdsong and the skittery clatter of bikes on cobblestones. The noise of a delivery lorry pulling up outside the rather magnificent town hall is a startling intrusion.

What is missing is the constant low thrum of traffic in the background. It’s not that cars are completely banned from the city, but most of the centre, rather than the odd street, is a pedestrian zone. You pedal or walk to trams or trains. Freiburg can lay claim to being the greenest city in the world, and it’s all rather pleasant.

But it is a political act. The city is the largest in Germany where the Green Party are in power. The Greens currently have 43 members of the European Parliament, two of them from Britain, and feel somewhat under pressure with so many other politicians putting the environment near the top of their priorities.

Like many Southern German towns, Freiburg is heavily invested in tourism. So maintaining a “pretty and clean” image is essential. Strict building codes, and a plethora of rules and regulations are instrumental to that end.  But it is more than that – people in Baden also do take pride in cleanliness. Keeping the town looking neat is not just a matter of obeying the law; it’s also deeply ingrained in the local culture.

Combine a tidy Southern town’s drive to neatness with a major University’s cultural diversity and creative prowess and throw in a strong tradition of entrepreneurship, and you end up with a pretty, touristy green city that’s  bristling with solar panels and sports a tight web of public transportation. And it’s run by the Green Party.

(And a football club that’s playing in the Bundesliga again, next season!!!)

On the other hand, the green movement here in the US is still very much grassroots and messy. We talk about cooking biodiesel and building with strawbale or old shipping containers. Yet, due to the relative lack of rules and regs here, we can do all kinds of things environmentalists in Germany cannot do – like setting up a biodiesel reactor in the basement or building a straw-bale structure. Not that it’s always easy, but we can do a lot of things here Germans just cannot do legally.

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