Having lived in Bremen for two years, when I first arrived in Freiburg, I found so many similarities – stone roads, street trams, narrow passages, lots of bicycles, a market at the church plaza, etc. The Weser River went through Bremen, and the Dreisam River goes through most of the Freiburg city center. But, there is a huge different between Bremen and Freiburg. According to a scientific survey, there are around 1800 hours of sunlight in Freiburg and it is the most “Sunny” city in Germany. Meanwhile in Bremen, according to my personal experience, the summer starts at 31 July and ends at 1 Aug. Other days were either cloudy, rainy or foggy.
Freiburg claims itself as a “Green City”. I thought this was because it was close to the Black Forest, plus there are a lot of trees in the city, that’s why it was “Green”. But the “Green” is actually coming from the use natural resources, on the other hand, environmentally friendly. With its high amount of sunlight, Freiburg took an innovative step forward by using solar energy. It was not hard to find photovoltaics (PV) on building’s walls or root tops. They also studied how to reuse the existing energy in a way reduce the consumption. For example, setting curtains outside of the window instead of inside, because once the heat or cold air hit the window, it had already affected the room temperature. Ends up more energy would be wasted by the air-conditioner or heater. It is better to prevent the loss in advance by shading the outside of the building.
I took a bike tour in Freiburg to have a better understanding of the green; visiting an institute, an industry and a “low energy consumption” neighborhood called Vauban. There were around 5000 inhabitants in Vauban. It was around 3km to the Freiburg city center and well-connected with public transport. Therefore, most of the inhabitants didn’t have a car, or chose to give up their car after moving there. The car sharing system was well established in Freiburg, it was as convenient as renting a city bike.
At the end of the tour, I reached the house of an architect and solar energy pioneer, Rolf Disch. He built his “Heliotrope” in 1994, which produced more energy than it consumed. And to reserve as much sunlight as it could, the whole building is able to rotate 360 degrees.
I stood there and I asked “Is this guy living on the moon?” In 1975, Disch was an environmental activist in the anti-nuclear movement. Later on, he simply proved that by action, starting with the “Heliotrope” concept. Everybody thought he was crazy back then. Even now, I was standing in front of the building in 2015 and I couldn’t believe it was built over 20 years ago. In Hong Kong, we are still talking about the plastic bag levy lately. Also, don’t forget that there are more sunlight hours in many other places than in Freiburg, like France or Spain. I am sure if it could happened in Freiburg, it could happen in many other towns and cities in the world. But most importantly, it is because the Freiburg city council believes in the institutes. And they are daring to execute new policy and willing to educate and assist citizens.