Der Spiegel Tackles Wind

By Paul Gipe

Klaus Kaiser has posted the text and pages from a recent Der Spiegel article that examines wind energy in Germany. The article has caused something of a stir in Germany and Klaus has posted a reply. The text of both is in German–and it’s not school book German either–but you can get some idea of it by identifying the cognates. For example “Muhlen Monstern” and “visuellen Emissionen” give you a good idea of the author’s topics. The article’s deck or summary asks whether the wind turbines in Germany are the beginning of a green utopia or the Republic is wasting its money.

 We won’t attempt to translate the piece, but here are a few other tidbits Nancy and I could glean from the article. We can’t tell you what Tuddelmasten is, but we know it’s not complimentary.

My thanks to Nancy Nies for wading through her Cassell’s German dictionary. “Parade der Tuddelmasten”

 The article opens with a Frisian farmer calling good morning in dialect “moin.” Klaus can correct me if I am wrong but Friesan dialect is viewed by southern Germans much like Americans view “howdy folks” from someone in the hills of Appalachia. (Is this a setup? Frisian hick–who doesn’t know any better–buys expensive windmill at public expense? Our German isn’t up to the task of discerning nuance but that’s my gut sense.)

 The farmer has just installed a Micon 43 meter, 600 kW machine which he expects will generate 1.2 million kWh per year and pay for its 900,000 DM cost in six years. The farmer believes that his new windmill will reduce the effects from coal and greenhouse gases and atomic power.

The prime minister of Niedersachsen says “whoever has windmills . . . will earn electricity,” but the author retorts “or wrath” and goes on to say that the windwheels, which were once welcomed as the signal of a turning point in energy politics, are now becoming increasingly hated. The troublesome mills are pitting one ecologist against another: anti-nuclear activists against landscape preservationists.

 Opponents fear that the Muhlen Monstern will spoil the horizontal lines and quiet of the landscape. So-called “star journalist” Stern (“star” in German) calls them “scarecrows” which cause birds to “take to their heels.” (At least he didn’t call them Cuisinarts.)

 (We should note here that the reporter gets carried away with his play on words. This is common in German and French journaistic writing, but less so here in the states and may strike us as a little too cute.)

 The site, on a peninsula with a wind speed of 7 m/s, is so good, says the author, that electricity farmers think they’re in a kind of German heaven (where the rivers run with wine and beer, and the piglets run around already baked with a fork in their back–at least that’s the Austrian version).

 Painter Thomas Kosbab lives in Wasserkoog. Poplars and elms border his cottage. The sky curves high an blue; the sea murmurs from afar. A scene like a Nolde painting. And now? White rotors saw up the air above Eidestedt (a peninsula jutting into the North Sea from Schleswig-Holstien). “What an offense,” says the artist, “the landscape is spoiled.”

 Dieter Schoenfelder (pretty fielder in German), 67, a vetenarian fro the village of Emmelsbull, is also moved by melancholy, when he shouts out of the second floor window of his house: “Tuddelmasten.” His voice sounds monotone. “I see 89 Tuddelmasten.”

 Dietrich Storm (yep, that’s his name), the construction planning director for Husum, has a map of his district with 400 pins in it, each representing a wind turbine. He says that “they will ruin us.”

 As soon as these “electric asparagus” shot out of the ground the opposition was aroused claiming that “the windmillers are landscape killers.”

 Artist Edgar Henning complained of the dismal view of the forest of wind turbine masts. A welfare worker who moved to the coastal area has to look out on six Enercon turbines from her window and says she installed heavy curtains in her children’s room to keep out the shadow flicker.

 But Niedersachsen’s environment minister Monika Griefahn finds the “grumbling” “tiresome.” And she suggests that people need time to adjust to the turbines. But don’t expect the propeller masts to provoke pleasure either she warns. (Why don’t we have environmental ministers like her? We could use a few over here. Maybe Germany could loan us Monika?)

 These turbines may be a noble way out of climate catastrophe. But they are much bigger than the clattering 20 kW Aeromans that Ecofreaks once put in their front yards.

 And they’re getting even larger. Nordtank’s 1.5 kW bean pole is taller than Berlin’s Siegessaule column (the German Arc de Triomphe, or the German “Nelson’s column” may be closer).

 With so many guarantees, many are rewarded a “blow-job” in the interior provinces. 20 windmills puff away in Odenwald, 30 in Erzgebirge.

(I am sorry, it says “blah, blah, blow-job.” We can’t figure it out. Klaus will have to explain what that means in German. Our dictionary isn’t up to the task. For those non-native English speakers on this list, “blow job” isn’t something we use in polite correspondence. We might find it in Playboy or Penthouse magazines but never in a general circulation magazine. We suspect that the author got overconfident with his knowledge of English and put together “blow” for its wind connotations and “job.” This is an excellent example of how one can get into trouble using foreign words they’re not truly familiar with. We think the writer was too clever for his own good.)

 As a 27 year old wind pioneer in Bavaria walks up the to the mountain top where his Enercon turbine is turning, the birds are heard chirping. He sees his turbine and asks the reporter, “doesn’t that look aesthetic?”

 Most are farmers who join operators associations. But also dentists are installing the mills on the middle mountains of the interior. It’s rewarding.

 The easy financing has also brought real Ecolos into the wind business. This is the beginning of the sun era, laughs one person.

 And it should now also be wrong? One of the leaders of an industry and ecology group says that enviros have gone astray and will transform the German landscape on a large scale into gigantic techno parks.

There is something to that says the reporter and points to a “dreadful example that concerns the opponents” of the Pressen Elektra Aeolus II at Wilhelmshaven. The giant 3 MW turbine painted with stripes so airplanes won’t run into it.

 Today the blades are still says the reporter. “A problem with the yaw brakes says a local engineer.” As the climbing hoist rattles about they ascend the lift then climb over an oil-smeared ladder into the nacelle.

 (This is rare peek inside a German-utility operated wind turbine and it reveals that they are doing a poor job of housekeeping–so poor the reporter comments on it!)

 “Huuup, huuup” as the 9 ton blades pass the concrete tower. The nacelle sways strongly as the engineer says “we must pass through the tower resonance.”

 At the foot of the the tottering wind god 500 meters away, lies the typical Ostfriesland village of Memershauser. It has a cowshed and 3 inhabitants, the Pictsch farm family. “When they drove the piles for the foundation,” says Father Manfred, “the cows almost collapsed.”

 Three times PE has come out to measure the noise. They have installed triple glazed windows, but the farmer still wants compensation. “The farm has become sub-standard,” says the farmer. “I am just muddling along.”

 >From the standpoint of observers, wind turbines can have arbitrarily high or low estimates. They can meet 0.1% of total energy requirements or up to 5% of Schleswig-Holstein. In principle these electric asparagus are slack fellows. Only in mass can they reduce carbon dioxide perceptibly.

 Many communities are no longer granting building permits. But along the coast where many permits were long ago given out there are proposals for another 1000 permits.

 In 1994 the Federal government decided that wind energy would no longer be considered a privileged use under German planning law. Many districts are now preparing new land use plans for wind energy. But must are acting too stringently and thrusting wind turbines into wind ghettos.

 Will wind energy be suffocated in the stranglehold of provincial bureaucracy? The Bonn parliament is against them (the provincials we think). The ruling coalition has proposed a statute that will change the provincial building statutes to free wind energy from these restrictions.

 These proposals generate high tension along the coast. Angered, building inspector Storm rams another peg into his map. “We’re not talking about getting approval for a hen-house here,” disparages the official. “But should you be allowed to indiscriminately put 50 meter towers in the country? That is insanity.”