Freiburg Green City

 Holland Cathey is a current 4th year student who studied abroad in Germany for Environmental Studies and Sustainability in the spring of 2017. Check out her experience below!

Okay, I know I’ve said this about a million times, but Freiburg is SO GREEN!  My first impressions were very positive—I knew that the culture here was much more centered about environmental stewardship and protection, but I had no idea exactly how far ahead Freiburg was until we started my class, Freiburg Green City.

Hotel Victoria’s rooftop solar and wind panels

My classes here are formatted in three-week modules, so we really have a chance to focus on one at a time.  For the first part of the day, we have lecture and in the afternoon we usually go out and see the things we talked about in lecture!  A few days ago, we went to Hotel Victoria in the city center of Freiburg, one the most sustainable hotels in the world!

 This hotel has been green since before being “green” was good for business.  The energy used to power the hotel is renewable—from wind and solar mostly.  To heat the water, they burn the byproduct of the local logging industry—further preventing the creation of waste.  There are multiple parking spots under the hotel, all with the capability to charge electric cars.  And, to promote the use of the fantastic public transportation that Freiburg offers, the hotel provides guests with a free unlimited pass to the regional public transport while they are in town in addition to bike and electric car rentals.

Landfill covered in solar panels!

The next day, we visited a landfill that’s been sealed for years now, so that the city can harvest the methane gas that’s produced by the decomposition of the waste.  This gas is burned and used to heat an entire district of Freiburg! I find it absolutely amazing that waste is used so often to create energy here. Oh, and the entire mound is covered with solar panels, because why not??
My favorite part of sustainable Freiburg is a district called Vauban.  The former French military barracks were turned into an ultra-sustainable and Hotel Victoria’s rooftop solar and wind panels autonomous housing community; it’s super unique.  The citizens of Freiburg decided that they wanted to rebuild this area as a relatively dense, urban area that feels like a forest oasis.  There are trees and playgrounds everywhere.  Bikes and playing children dominate the streets because very few people that live here even own cars. Those that do, must park their cars in one of the three parking garages on the periphery of the district, so that more space is left open for living!
The result is a gorgeous, cohesive, and friendly district where citizens have had a significant say in the planning and upkeep of their community. It’s practically impossible not to fall in love with Freiburg after seeing the kind of autonomy the citizens have and the standard of life they enjoy.  Now, I just need to

The streets of Vauban

figure out how to bring this back to the states.  One of the biggest differences is that the community is the driver of environmental change in Freiburg.  The citizens of Vauban are the ones that asked for parking to be limited on the periphery.  In fact, people overwhelmingly support laws that make it more difficult to own and drive cars in the city.  Most of the downtown area is a pedestrian zone, so cars have been replaced by efficient trams, safe bike paths, and good walking paths.  For those rare times where a car is necessary, you can easily participate in car-sharing and use an electric car.

When I come home, I think I’ll have an interesting perspective and critical eye for city planning.  I didn’t even realize how much space cars took up until there were no cars to be found! I’d love to try and implement some of the ideas that I’ve observed here in Freiburg and especially try to get the community involved.  People often have this antiquated idea that “green” energy and lifestyle is more expensive. But if done right, it can save a significant amount of money in the long run!  Our lifestyles are often unnecessarily wasteful, and living here has made me realize just how many things we could change to make a difference.