Germany’s Icarus turn: How a cloudy country became the world solar power leader — and got burned

The story of Germany’s ascension to world leader in solar energy — and subsequent crash — is a fascinating one. So fascinating that I wrote 4,000 words about it. Check it out.

Oh, and a bonus photo of the scene on which the curtain rises:

Everyone: ‘Germany’s the greatest!’ Greeks: ‘No, actually, we’re the greatest.’

A new poll out from Pew today shows that despite Germany’s insistence on austerity and reluctance to deepen its financial exposure to its neighbors, it remains by far the most respected country in Europe. Citizens of every European country rank Germans as the hardest-working Europeans — well, every country but one:

The British, Germans, Spanish, Poles, and Czechs all see Greece as the laziest country and Germany as the most industrious. The Greeks say they’ve got it backwards. (And to be fair, they’ve got some evidence on their side: In 2010, the average Greek worker worked 2,109 hours, to just 1,419 for the average German worker.)

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Merkel bumbles her way through

This is a very well-written take on Angela Merkel’s clumsy approach to the euro crisis and politics more broadly.

The joys of Düsseldorf — no, really!

This weekend, I traveled to Düsseldorf to hang out with a band of pirates.

The occasion was the state of North Rhine-Westphalia’s election for state parliament. And the upstart Pirate Party was set to secure enough votes to enter its fourth consecutive statehouse — this time, in the country’s most populous state.

My story on the Pirates will appear in the LA Times in the next few days. But I thought I’d give you a quick visual preview of my experiences in Düsseldorf.

It may surprise you to learn that Düsseldorf, which I’d previously thought of as an airport, was named the city with the fifth-highest quality of life in the world last year. And it turns out to be a rather lovely place.

Unfortunately, it’s a convention city, and I was there during convention time, which meant I had to overpay for an under-quality hotel. But even funky Hotel Fürstenhof was on a gorgeous little square. The view from my window:

The city lies on the Rhine River, and is best known for the area along its waterfront:

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Occupy Metzer Straße

Just now, as I was sitting in my room, I heard a blast of German reggae outside my window. I peeked out, and whaddaya know, an Occupy Berlin march was coming down my little street:

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And the Günter Grass debate’s all around, all around

The concept of the public intellectual is, for all intents and purposes, pretty much dead in America, but it’s still got a few last breaths here in Germany. Likewise, authors and critics and such are able to create a much bigger stir here than they could manage in America without resorting to mass murder.

And so while a novelist’s publication of a poem critical of Israel’s nuclear program might not get much notice stateside, here in Germany even graffiti artists feel compelled to weigh in on it.

From the Friedrichstraße S-Bahn station last night:

The Little Sluice That Could (But Maybe Can’t Anymore)

A week and change ago, I hopped a train (OK, a series of trains) to the northwest German village of Kleinensiel. I was the only person who exited the regional train in Kleinensiel. I could see why. The town’s sole restaurant was closed; its kiosk had a “back in 20 minutes” sign in the window that, I can assure you, was there for more than 20 minutes; and no one answered the door at the two guesthouses I found.

So what was I doing in this little backwater*? Actually, Kleinensiel’s diminutiveness was the reason I was there. That, and the fact that its nuclear power plant had been shut down a year earlier.

I’ve written before about Germany’s complicated relationship with nuclear power. Now, for the one-year anniversary of the government’s initial shutdown of half the country’s nuclear plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, I was working on a piece for the LA Times on the effects the shutdown has had — on both the German energy mix and towns like Kleinensiel.

To give you a sense of just how central the Unterweser nuclear plant is to life in Kleinensiel: The town has a population of 700. The plant, until the shutdown last month, employed 700 — not to mention all the contractors and inspectors and such who relied on Unterweser for their livelihoods. When Unterweser went online 33 years ago, it was the largest nuclear plant in the world, allowing tiny Kleinensiel (trans: Little Sluice) to supply three million homes with power.

This is the plant that looms over the single-story houses of Kleinensiel:

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