Thursday, August 6, 2015

Don't Start Asking Questions

You could do worse as a 15 and 17 year old boy than to choose an all girls school in Germany to attend as an exchange student. Of course, I never actually made the choice. That decision was made by virtue of the school my high school, Albermarle High School, partnered with as part of the German-American Partnership Program, St. Ursula's School for Girls in Freiburg, Germany.  But still, all girls.  So of course I went on exchange twice, both times for approximately a month, staying with different families each time. Unfortunately, I was an ill mannered youth who failed to keep in touch with his hosts, which is too bad because we just passed through Freiburg and it would have been fun to have friends on the ground.

I did find the school, although it did not look at all like I remember it. It wasn't even where I pictured it relative to the rest of the city. There are two possibilities: 1) the school has been renovated and/or moved; or 2) my memory is shit. I'll leave it to you to guess which is the more likely.

C and I met our good friend Tina in Freiburg, who had travelled over from France, and immediately went to the doctor's office. That is what you do in a new town, right? To get to know the people? And the culture? No? Well, it is what we did, but mostly because Tina's arm was starting to blister and swell from an insect bite. The doctor wrapped her up good and prescribed a steroid. So fortified, we explored the town for two nights and one day before heading into the countryside to stay with the family of a mutual friend from Fairbanks.

As we continue to make our way through Germany, we've been puzzled by the volume of bottled water we (and everyone else) consumes. Unlike other countries—the U.K., France—you cannot get tap water in restaurants. It is only served sometimes (I've seen it twice) as a very small glass on request to accompany espresso. I've seen no drinking fountains. Although the water is safe to drink, everyone relies on bottles at home. No doubt the bottled water tastes good, but all of the packaging and transportation comes at an energy cost, even if the Germans reuse or recycle all of the bottles. And in every other facet of life, the Germans are fanatics about sustainability. It doesn't add up.

I asked Margret, our friend in the rural Black Forest, for her take, but I'm not sure she understood my point and I didn't press the issue. Because the bottled water—from springs—tastes better, has not been treated chemically, and has minerals that are believed to be healthful, she equated drinking bottled water as an extension of sustainability. Clean living = clean environment. While there may be the perception of purity with spring water, that seems to me independent of any question as to the energy costs of transportation.  I wonder if the added energy costs are worth the benefits.

I raised the same question with another friend we stayed with in Reutlingen, Olaf, a professor of ice physics who I first met in Fairbanks. He understood my point, but didn't have a good answer. He pointed out that most of the water is transported a short distance—towns and regions have a “local” water of choice. Germany has plenty of water. And, again, there is the perception that the spring water is much better for you than tap. At the end of the day, it seemed tradition trumped sustainability, at least in this instance. Probably for the best. If you start looking too hard at sustainability you start to question beer. I've read that anywhere between 8 and 24 gallons of water is required per pint of beer once you take into account water used to grow the ingredients, etc. And any analysis that questions the reasonableness of beer, particularly as we move east to Munich, is an analysis best swept under the rug.

(Seen in a shop in Freiburg, the REAL reason we come to Europe at all.)

(Freiburg Munster.)

(Wall detail, Freiburg.)

(Wine detail, Freiburg.)

(Blogger detail, Freiburg.)

(Path through the Black Forest.)

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