Opinion: I’m not the only German office worker who wears a headscarf indoors

Editor’s note: Paul Hockenos is a Berlin-based writer who focuses on renewable energy in Europe. He is the author of four books on European issues, including the most recent “Berlin Calling: A Story of Anarchy, Music, the Wall and the Birth of the New Berlin”. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. See more opinion at CNN.


When I walked into my neighborhood gym recently late afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice that the lobby and weight room were unusually dark.

Usually bright overhead fluorescent lights illuminate every nook and cranny of the place, including my own sweaty reflection in the full-length mirrors.

Upon investigation, the trainer told me that the fitness center had taken several energy-saving measures: switching to LED lighting, using only half of it at all times, as well as lowering the thermostat to 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit) and reducing the sauna schedule by a few hours.

The measurements of my small gym are strictly not just in Berlin, but all over Germany and much of Europe these days as energy prices soar two to 10 times those from a year ago.

With cold weather on the way, many Germans are already skimping on small comforts to survive an energy crisis that experts and politicians say is just beginning and could lead to blackouts, rationing and cold apartments. , if the winter be punitive.

Russia’s war on Ukraine and its embargo on most energy supplies from the West have thrown Europe into perilous and uncharted waters, which economists predict will trigger a recession across the world. the whole continent.

Since the start of the invasion, Germany has steadily reduced its gas imports from Russia – from 55% of its total gas imports in 2021 to 26% at the end of June 2022, according to the World Economic Forum.

Then in early September Russia cut off the gas supply to Europe through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline indefinitely, citing an oil leak. (Although in the case of Germany the gas reserves are filled to more than 90% ability.)

Yet the energy crisis is not being resolved, with a European Union embargo on Russian fuel oil entered into force in February.

In Germany, where the energy crisis is particularly acute – due to the reckless measures of the successive governments of former Chancellor Angela Merkel to increase gas imports from Russiaincluding after Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea – Berlin has already enforced energy conservation ordinances.

These regulations – which came into force on September 1 and will last six months – also apply to private households, public establishments and the private sector. (Although the measures are binding, there is no penalty for energy wasters.)

Under the new measurestemperatures in public office buildings must not exceed 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit), cities in Germany must extinguish nightlights at landmarks, monuments and important buildings, and retail stores are required to close the starters when they heat up inside.

Private pools can no longer be heated by gas and electricity, and public pools must be below 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Fahrenheit). The ordinances also apply to electricity consumption, as the price of gas in Germany is closely linked to the cost of electricity.

Walk into my Berlin office today and you’ll find that everyone is wearing sweaters – I wear two, with woolen socks and sometimes a scarf. There’s an unofficial contest between families to see who can last the longest without hitting the thermostat.

At home, my little family has given up on baths (quick showers please), and the lights are only on in the rooms we occupy. We invested in a woolen curtain inside the front door of our apartment to prevent drafts.

My friend Bill, a local translator, echoing the sentiments of many people, told me he was worried that a gigantic energy bill would blow their household budget. As such, Bill has yet to turn on his heating this year – no one I know has – and is wearing a sweater at home. It also has a new shower method: one minute under lukewarm water, turn off, lather, then rinse.

Of course, open a local newspaper or browse German media online and you’ll be inundated with even more energy-saving tips.

One thing is certain: the cute little Christmas markets in Germany are going to be a lot less numerous.gemütlich– “joyful” – this year, with some cities unplug seasonal lighting.

Among my social circle and neighbors, there is not much grumbling about the adjustments yet. That said, I hear radio reports from students at Humboldt University in Berlin complaining that 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) is too cold for serious study. The temperature of public swimming pools is so low that swimming teachers describe children coming out of the water with blue lips.

Green Party politician and German Economics and Energy Minister Robert Habeck, anticipates that these new measures will reduce gas consumption by approximately 2 to 2.5%. It represents what Habeck is calling a “small but indispensable contribution” to the government’s stated goal of reducing usage in Germany by 20% compared to last year.

Although not everyone agrees with the government’s energy policy and the sanctions against Russia. Thousands of people turned out in the streets several eastern German states last month to protest against soaring energy prices.

Elsewhere in Europe, tens of thousands of Czech citizens unhappy with their government’s handling of soaring energy prices, inflation and supply chain disruptions have also taken to the street.

So far this year, Germans have done a noble job of reducing their gas consumption, which has fallen by almost 15% in the first six months compared to last year’s figures, according to the German Association energy and water industries. But, experts say, much of that is due to cutting production, not implementing the range of longer-term energy efficiency measures that experts recommend – from insulating walls to the rescheduling of the time of use of industrial energy and the installation of smart thermostats, among many others. others.

“There are many energy optimization and saving strategies that are affordable and in the long run will save everyone a lot of money,” expert Stefan M. Büttner told me. in energy at the University of Stuttgart. The problem, he says, is that many of them are unfamiliar and involve breaking old habits.

“We are all in the same boat and every kilowatt saved is useful,” says Büttner.

Meanwhile, in my gym, the next step is to lock the radiator valve – as the members have apparently turned up the heat on their own. Obviously, even energy-conscious Germans have a limit.

James R. Rhodes