Columnists Features

Berlin: Tourist city with rich transport mix

Benedict Tembo during the tour of Euref campus. Behind is the electric bus currently being tested.

BENEDICT TEMBO, Berlin
TO navigate around the German capital Berlin, one needs to have a map all the time as well as an ear to the weather men.

This is due to the fact that people in this vast city are too busy to pay attention to anyone seeking directions. For English language speakers, this is compounded by the fact that few Germans speak English.
With a map, one would expect the few who speak English to pay attention to a request for directions.
Berlin has a fully-fledged transport system and the mode you choose to use is determined by where you are going-where it may not be feasible to use the bus, the commuter has the option of using the train – regular or electric.
Travel by railway usually entails changing trains along the way to get to your destination and this is where maps become useful as well as paying attention to detail as to where you interconnect.
Buses, too, have well-articulated routes and one has to be on top of things to ensure that one does not miss the right stop.
In this advanced transport system, there are no bus conductors or call boys to shout or advise where the bus is going. Drivers stop for about two-three minutes to either pick up or drop off passengers and proceed.
The same applies to train stations, where there are no conductors or guides.
The only people you find selling tickets on trains are those who conduct random checks on some truant passengers who decide to abuse the lack of inspectors on the trains and opt for a jolly ride.
Those found without tickets are fined failure to which they are handed over to police for prosecution.
Like in any society, there are always people tempting the law and it is common to see conductors talking to youth who did not pay.
On three streets, you enjoy watching Germany’s top of the range vehicles as well as cyclists.
In Germany, like most Schengen states, people across all strata of society like cycling.
It is amazing to find bicycles parked at most public places.
Most hotels have bicycles parked outside their premises which they rent out at €12 per day.
Coming from a country where petty thieving is the order of the day, it is pleasantly surprising to find motorists parking their vehicles outside their residences without fear of having either the batteries, carburetors, tyres or indeed mirrors and other parts stolen.
I never saw a house in a wall fence although I saw underground garages in some neighbourhood.
For the first time in several years, I was able to walk at night without fear of being mugged or threatened. You walk the streets of Berlin with such a free mind, giving you a picture of heaven.
Like anywhere else a few people will be found begging on the streets. There are also musicians who play in the streets as some passers-by drop coins to appreciate their effort of entertaining for free.
As one walks on the streets, they will find scenes reminiscent of Lusaka’s Kabwata township, where people drink on the streets. If there is any German trait that competes favourably with Zambia, it is beer drinking.
Germans like their drink but the difference is that there are no scroungers – people who just patronise bars to beg for beer.
Restaurants, found in almost every corner of Berlin, including chains of them are some of the signs of prosperity of this great city.
They also epitomise the German culture of eating and drinking out.
However, Germans beat Zambians when it comes to smoking because there are more women puffing cigarettes in public than in Zambia.
Restaurants are seemingly patronised more by pensioners as most of the people found in these places are elderly.
Family bonds are also evidently strong because people move as couples and sometimes with their children – either for strolls or eating out.
There is a strong presence of Chinese nationals in the restaurant business.
I have been to Berlin three times since 2007, but the city does not cease to amaze me.
Although it has a huge population, the city is not crowded and its rich transport mix of bicycles, vehicles and trains makes it unique.
While the first trip to Berlin was orientation on newsroom management, the second in 2009 and most recent were on climate change.
Berlin, once split into two cities – east and west after the Second World War, is a hive of tourist activities as local and international tourists throng the city to learn about its 800-year history.
With the Petersburg Climate Dialogue insight, German Ministry of Environment found it wise to bring 17 journalists from all over the world to discuss climate change.
The May 23 and 24 Petersburg Climate Dialogue was attended by representatives from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia and Malta.
Other representatives were from Fiji, France, Germany, Grenada, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Maldives, Mali, Marshall Islands and Mexico.
The dialogue also had representatives from Morocco, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, St. Lucia, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States of America.
We converged in Berlin a week before the Petersburg Climate Dialogue to review the various climate change protocols and then set out on field trips, starting with Euref campus, where a gasometer, built in 1910, was abandoned after the Second World War.
However, Euref now hosts several research projects since its creation. Euref is a project where the working-living relations of the future are being prepared.
Several projects in the fields of mobility and energy are currently taking place.
We shuttled between buses and trains to get to Mobisol, where Paula Berning, the corporate sustainability manager, talked about a paradigm shift from grid to off-grid energy solutions in Sub-Saharan Africa, where about 70 percent of households do not have access to electricity.
Mobisol is currently rolling out solar energy products in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.
It is not only solar where the Germans are leading in energy transition – the country has embarked on a systematic cutting down on production of fossil fuels such as coal mines in the Lusatia region, where lignite and hard coal are being mined.
The starting point of this tour was Cottbus, a city in Lusatia where we visited a lignite power plant at Jaenschwalde before making the first stop at Griessen village on the fringes of Jaenschwalde, then another stop in the Taubendorf village, where I had a chat with a villager, Karl-Heinz Handreck.
The third stop was the solar power plant in Lieberoser Heide (Lieberose Heath) and later the wind farm at Drehnow village.
Germany has also embarked on a systematic phase-out of nuclear reactors, which it is replacing with renewables such as solar and wind energy.
Sebastian Zoe, whose Spree Academy in Cottbus is involved in knowledge transfer and sustainable development, says as renewable energy is becoming more efficient, installation costs are getting cheaper as research intensifies.
Germany, which chairs the G20 think-tank dialogue, is proposing a policy package of low carbon growth stimulation through a steep increase in sustainable infrastructure, removing barriers to sustainable investment and introducing carbon pricing to simultaneously achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.
As I left Berlin to board the Lufthansa plane for Frankfurt to Lusaka via Addis Ababa, my thoughts went to our hosts at Ecologic Institute for bearing with  my lack of pace during field trips.
The multi-cultural group of journalists was also fantastic.

 




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