Archive for the ‘Innovations’ Category

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On Green Living And Ecotourism

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

As I’m sitting here at the computer my attention is a bit distracted. I keep looking out the window to a veggie garden—grown totally organic. Yup, they didn’t use any chemicals or anything harsh to come between us and the corn, radish, lettuce, and tomatoes.

They’re just like a lot of folks in Germany who have taken to organic and “gone green.” And it’s not just amateur farmers.

Tell me that that yummy food bought at a local Farmers Market or picked right from a local orchard doesn’t taste delicious? Yeah, I thought so. ;-)

It’s more than just eating Bioprodukte (organic food) that makes Germany a leader in the green movement. Eco-tourism is big business here—in a totally environmentally friendly way.

Ever heard of a climate neutral hotel? No? Me either. That was, until recently. They’re popping up all over these days. So if you’re hell bent on saving the Earth one vacation at a time, consider staying at accommodations that strive for ZERO emissions and no carbon footprint whatsoever.

A night or two at a German farm or eco-friendly campsite would work just as good, I would think? You’d tell me if I was wrong, wouldn’t you?

I’m torn on the next part of being environmentally friendly. We Germans have a love of the automobile not seen by the likes of many others around the globe (I say it’s a healthy obsession). So, before hopping into your sleek, sexy, gas-guzzling ride, think about the impact of all the gasoline and emissions.

Yikes, did I just say that? OK, you can always ask for a hybrid instead.

I just hope they’ll bring out energy and/or hydrogen powered cars sooner rather than later.

For you diehard Greenies, don’t worry about the car; take public transportation, the train, or your own two feet for that matter (like I often do myself). There are hundreds of nature parks in Germany, not to mention over a dozen National Parks—all meant to be enjoyed on foot or bicycle.

Yeah, I guess I need some more of those organic veggies to keep me going.

Teaching your kids to be nice to our planet is another adventure. Good thing Germany’s got museums like the Klimahaus, an interactive museum in Bremerhaven that’s all about the weather and climate.

Munich has got an exhibit at the Deutsche Museum that details the horrid effects of our non-green ways. Even the car maker Volkswagen has jumped on the green bandwagon (or, should I say green Volkswagon?) with its Level Green exhibit in the city of Wolfsburg.

Do you think it would be bad form me to drive to the Level Green exhibit by car?

On second thought, maybe I’ll walk…

Is Your Writing Full Of Hot Air?

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Germany has been a leader in innovations for centuries, but now there’s a meter to measure whether you’re full of manure. Oh, isn’t that just a nice way of saying that you very well might be full of…

Nevermind, this is a family-oriented website.

Writers (of German or English) beware, because leave it to us no-nonsense Germans to come up with a website (www.Blablameter.com) that’ll “rate” your words for its level of bull.

If you’re used to using big words (I call them dollar-fifty words), or “bombastic phrases” then you’re sure to score over a “1.” That just a nice way of saying you’re full of hot-air.

Yeah, that’s a nice way to put it.

I did a little homework myself, just so you know, copying a number of articles on German Cities that I scanned through the website. I’m happy to report not a one that I submitted scored the dreaded 1 (or higher). YES!

Blablameter isn’t the only new thing to come out of Germany lately. Lufthansa, Germany’s national airline, is testing a new biofuel on flights from Frankfurt to Hamburg. And the Technical University Munich is working on an affordable electric car (called the Mute).

Innovation that’s eco-friendly. I like it.

The Mute and biofuel aren’t the only ways that innovation and earth-responsible behavior come together. The Deutsche Bahn just signed a renewable energy deal. Even better!

Did I mention that Google’s funding (more than 4 million Euro) a new institute in Berlin, get this, on the Internet’s impact?

OK, maybe this isn’t eco-friendly, but it very well be socially-responsible.

Don’t laugh at all these new gadgets, websites, or studies—Germany’s been at the forefront of inventions for over 500 years.

Did you know that toothpaste, teabags, and coffee filters were all invented by Germans?

I know I’ll be giving thanks to these folks after I’ve brushed my minty fresh teeth and have a cup of grindless filled coffee (which I have time to drink since I don’t have to worry about my words here at MyGermanCity.com being full of hot air). ;-)

Origins Of The Prowess Of Germans And German Engineering

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

The other day, Harald Wolf from Canada contacted & asked me a very interesting question about us Germans, our German History, and why we are the way we are.

However, because I’m a greenhorn when it comes to the topic of history (who would’ve believed that… but my favorites in school were Mathematics, English, Geography and Sport), I had to ask our history buff and German History expert, Lisa Keller, in terms of what could be an accurate answer to Harald’s question.

So here it comes… Harald’s question first, Lisa’s response next, and then some final thoughts from yours truly…

Here’s something for you to pick up on, or keep in mind. I’ve been searching for many years for the origins of the prowess you talk about in “German Engineering Is A Leading Engine In Our World.”

Studying the origins of civilization in general is a bit of a hobby of mine, as is early German history. Of course, German history is rather swamped by more recent events, and I get the idea few Germans like to spend a lot of time thinking about the past.

There seem to be several black holes — between the Völkerwanderungen and the rise of the Frankish Empire and during the Dark ages. What events may have contributed to the intense “can-do” National pride that put the Germans among the top technical innovators — and kept them there for longer than any other nation?

Having learned that Germans are at least as much a mixture of races as any other country, I certainly don’t buy Hitler’s Ayrian superiority concept.

How did we get from a bunch of feuding Barbarian tribes to a nation that refuses to play second fiddle to any other nation in innovation and engineering?

If you have any suggestions of where I could find such information, I would appreciate that too. (And yes, I can read German, though with a bit of a struggle when it gets technical.)

Again, excellent question. Here’s Lisa’s response…

I’ve thought long & hard about this question–and you’re probably better able to answer some things better than I could.

But, from a historical standpoint, Germany wasn’t really a technological leader until around the mid-19th century. The country had been in the midst of wars (Peasants’, 30 Years, even the Reformation itself for that matter for the better part of two centuries).

What Germany did have was location, location, location. The country was located on some old major trade routes, it had resources (silver, etc), rivers for navigating around to trade with other countries. And it had food, as much of the country was used for agriculture.

If you ain’t worried about eating–you got time to think about other things, right?

Too bad the church hierarchy and the “guilds” wielded too much power for the common man to change much of the status quo. It wasn’t until Wilhelm II came to power, and wanted to at least be on par with countries like England–wanting to build a navy like the Brits–and a chance to get away from the bureaucratic way of thinking of his father, grandfather, and Otto von Bismarck. He kicked off much of the industrialization that propelled Germany into a technological marvel.

Of course, education comes in to play. Men like Copernicus & Kepler are only two of the brilliant minds that came from Germany educating its population–plus the 20 year battle of the French Revolution helped to bring around changes of equality and liberty to the people–even though all this took place before Wilhelm’s day.

Women were another resource, they made great strides for themselves in the Weimar Republic–until the Nazis came to power, that is.

The Nazis might have used the phrase “Aryan superiority”, but they ostrasized many brilliant minds–forcing the likes of Einstein and others to flee the country. So, no–I don’t “buy” into that either.

My opinion there wasn’t one catalyst event that caused German to become a technological leader. It was (and still is) a combination of events, people, education, and location that leads (and led) Germany from barbaric tribes to all the technological advances it’s made and will continue to do so.

I hope this helps!

Thank you very much, Lisa!

Thinking about it myself, four characteristics usually come up in my mind that could explain how we Germans are and why, and be reasons for the prowess of German Engineering — in addition to what Lisa said above…

Perfectionism — Probably a prime reason, we have a distinct sense and desire for perfectionism. We simply go an important step further and discover and fix flaws where others give up or think it would be “good enough.” It’s not. It’s never good enough.

Discipline — Discipline helps us focus and stay on track. I’m not sure where our tendency towards discipline stems from. Perhaps due to all the wars we had and the “trainings,” “camps” and “drills” we went through and experienced?

Seriousness — Yeah sure, after all those wars (and we really don’t want any other war anymore, ever!) we lost happiness and joy and now go through live in a serious manner — looking down on earth when walking. Kidding aside, our seriousness helps us “get down to business” and focus on the task at hand (rather than get sidetracked by distractions or delayed by dull chatter).

Climate — Germany is ideally located in Central Europe. The climate is not as warm or hot as in, say, Greece or Portugal, nor is it as cold as in Island or Canada. This, too, helps us focus and concentrate to deliver top (and perfected? ;-) products.

A possible fifth reason just popped up in my mind… Silence. We love silence and a quiet environment that helps us relax, enjoy, think, consider, contemplate, focus (again), and concentrate.

70% of our population lives in smaller (& quieter) towns and villages with less than 100,000 inhabitants. With 82 Million people living in 14,000 German towns, they are scattered all over the country — something rare in our world. And these smaller towns and municipalities provide a quieter environment which, again, helps us focus and concentrate on what’s important.

And focus and concentration ultimately leads to better performance, productivity, and products.

(This does not mean Germans don’t love to party. Yet still…)

And speaking of silence, ever noticed that windows in our houses are usually so thick and insulated, they eliminate noise from the outside almost completely?

Again, thank you very much for this excellent question, Harald. Really something to chew on… (although my own response was probably more about the current state rather than historical roots… ;-)

—Marcus

Take A Factory Tour Of Germany’s Famous Automobiles

Monday, October 11th, 2010

If there’s something that Germany is famous for — apart from its delectable sausage and excellent beer — it’s cars! And when you visit Germany, even if it’s not to buy a new Mercedes or BMW, you can still take in the car culture with a factory tour at one of the famous manufacturers.

BMW

Visit the BMW factory in the city of Regensburg, which is in the Upper Palatinate. About 10,000 people work at this plant where they have produced 3 million of some of the finest series of BMW, since 1986, like the Series 1, 3, M3 and even some specialized cars for police use.

There’s a two-hour tour for visitors and car-enthusiasts to see the inner workings of the BMW plant. The tour will take you along the assembly lines, as you watch the different pieces of the car be melded by the robots on the conveyor belts.

And, if this isn’t enough BMW action for you, then be sure to visit the official BMW Museum in Munich. The building is shaped like a huge bowl and features interesting facts about the past, present and future of this famous machine.

Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes-Benz factory can be found near Stuttgart, in the lesser-known town of Sindelfingen. The plant offers a two-hour tour of its facilities where you can see the making of a Mercedes with a front-row view. There’s more robots and assembly lines here, building incredible machines at an unbelievable rate of speed.

This factory has a reputation as one of the world’s most reliable auto plants. Whereas most factories report 118 errors per 100 cars, Mercedes-Benz in Sindelfingen had just 33 errors.

Like BMW, there is also a museum dedicated to everything Mercedes. The Mercedes museum in Stuttgart houses some of the world’s oldest cars, including (naturally!) the first-ever Mercedes. Race cars, limousines and sports cars from throughout the 20th century are all on display here.

Volkswagen

This other world-famous car company has two factories that can be visited on your tour to Germany. And both are certain to leave you not only better-informed but also impressed. Volkswagen has one of its factories, the Autostadt, in Wolfsburg. This auto plant is the largest of its kind in the whole world (according to VW)! With 23,000 employees, 75 km (46 mi) of road, 4,000 cars produced a day and well over 1,000 robots, their claims seem to be well-founded. Volkswagen says that the entire country of Monaco could fit within its borders.

In addition to size, it also boasts some excellent amenities, including a large butcher shop that reputedly produces over one million currywurst every year. You can take a 50-minute tour via panorama train to learn more.

Not to be outdone by the behemoth Autostadt, Dresden’s Transparent Factory is equally impressive but in an entirely different way. The Transparent Factory aims to be elegant and beautiful as the plant where the VW Phaeton is produced. With glass walls and a location right next to the Botanical Gardens, the Transparent Factory combines aesthetics with quality vehicles.

Both this factory and the Autostadt were designed by the same architect, Dr. Gunter Henn.

Porsche

Porsche’s web site offers virtual tours of its manufacturing plants on its Web site. You can visit the real factory in Leipzig as well but you must make an advanced booking in order to go.

If you don’t have the foresight to make a reservation, you can still get the fast-paced experience with a visit to the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen. There are over eighty different interesting cars on display here, including the world’s first hybrid car produced in 1900. You can catch a glimpse of the Porsche production line here with a visit to the museum’s workshop.

Audi

Head to the city of Ingolstadt to visit the headquarters of Audi. This Audi plant has the distinction of being their biggest facility, as well as the corporate HQ.

The tours here are given in German as well as English and are about two hours long. You’ll get a great idea of the behind the scenes workings of a car manufacturing plant and you can choose which part of the plant you’d like to tour. Decide among the body shop, paint shop or the production line when you book your tour.

—Marcus

New Alternatives To Traditional German Garden Allotments

Monday, July 19th, 2010

It’s been a beautiful summer in Germany, and I have certainly enjoyed the fresh fruits and vegetables of the season. The farmer’s markets are full, as are the pantries of those lucky enough to have small garden plots.

Getting a small garden plot in Germany can be a bit of an adventure for those who don’t live in the countryside. Urban dwellers can try and join a Kleingartenverein, the Small Garden Associations which provide land for gardens. However, these well-established systems have long waiting lists and holdings are often kept by members for decades.

This doesn’t mean that German city dwellers have stopped looking for fresh greens and organic gardening options. Quite the contrary! Into this hungry market has stepped Meine Ernte (site in German), a company offering rental gardens for those who want to try their hand at having a garden.

Meine Ernte, which means “My Harvest,” isn’t a traditional garden co-op. Instead, they cater specifically to would-be organic farmers without a lot of time or even gardening experience.

The company has set up cooperative agreements with organic farmers near some of Germany’s largest cities, including Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Bonn, and Dortmund. The farmers provide swathes of land, which are planted by professional gardeners at the beginning of the season. A small bit of land is left for customized plantings, but the rest has a mix of 20 popular edible plants.

Renters have their choice of section size. Small gardens are for 1 – 2 people, standard gardens cater to 3 – 4, and large gardens cater to large families and groups. Prices range from €149 to €433 per season, with renewable subscriptions and the option to change as your needs change. Meine Ernte estimates that even small sections produce at least €600 of produce per season.

Each of the locations has a professional gardener on site to offer consultations and aid. Renters should plan to spend 1 – 2 hours a week tending to their garden allotment, which does make it rather easy to have a summer hobby garden.

Meine Ernte plans to expand to new cities in 2011 — so plan ahead for your garden share. Those Meine Ernte doesn’t have waiting lists like the Kleingartenverein, there is still just a limited amount of space available for those who want to try their hand at gardening in Germany.

—Marcus

Local German Honey Growers Now Have Online Market

Monday, June 21st, 2010

We Germans have a serious sweet tooth. From our morning muesli to our afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen, we like things to be well sweetened, and our favorite sweetener is honey.

However, demand and supply for honey in Germany is a little interesting. Although there are more than 85,000 beekeepers in Germany, most supermarket honey is imported. This is because the majority of German beekeepers are hobbyists or small family operations not much interested in a big marketing push.

To get the fine local honey we really want, in the past we had to hunt it down at farmers’ markets. Now, a new company has worked to unite local beekeepers and make our delicious domestic honey available online.

Heimathonig (in German) provides an online marketplace for honey and beekeepers. It does all the marketing and coordinates the placement of online orders. However, it keeps some farmers market elements by letting you order online and pick up directly from the beekeeper if you are in the area.

For me, the best thing about this site is that I now have access to honey grown in different parts of Germany that would never appear at my local market. There are also honey varieties that are quite rare, like acacia, white fir, blueberry, organic cherry blossom, and seasonal forest flowers.

The prices are very reasonable, too — the typical jar of all natural, locally grown honey is less than 10 euros. A sampler of mini jars in different flavors is just under 8 euros, and the Heimathonig blog announces when new varieties are available.

Heimathonig is also searchable. You can look for beekeepers by zip code, or by the type of honey you would like. This can help you search out the rare varieties, like Black Forest honey, and also control what is in your honey if you like a specific taste.

Even just exploring the site will make your mouth hunger for a taste of something sweet!

I’m off to get my own little honey pot, and happy to say good bye to imported supermarket stuff in favor of local — and delicious — German honey.

—Marcus

Solar Power Solves Public Transport Problems In Germany

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

We Germans are some of the most environmentally conscious citizens on the planet. We recycle more than other developed nations, invest millions of euros in green energy expansion, and actively protect our green spaces from pollution. The country leads the world in solar power production, and is the world’s top photovoltaics installer — if planet Earth holds still, we Germans will try to put a solar panel on it! ;-)

As an example of this in action, you need look no further than the way solar power is used to solve transportation issues in Germany. It goes far beyond simply installing solar powered roadside lights and road signs. Instead, we Germans use solar power to run some of our largest and most notable ferries.

In Hamburg, for example, the solar powered shuttle has been operating since 2000. It can move up to 120 people across the river at speeds of up to 15 km/hr. The sleek needle shape is 42 meters long, and has a pontoon style layout with bench seating.

Many people compare it to the famous Serpentine shuttle in Hyde Park, completely unaware that the 14.5 meter British ferry is a miniature of the Hamburg model constructed by Christoph Behling!

Further south, a catamaran style solar shuttle operates on Lake Constance. With a spiraled translucent top, you can enjoy the beautiful shorelines of the lake as you make your transfers between Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Although the shuttle holds up to 60 people, with the clear sides you will feel as though you are floating alone on the water, and be able to get some stunning photographs.

These are just a few of the green innovations in use in Germany as solutions to the pollution many public transportation systems cause. Thus, when you explore Germany using public transport, you get the satisfaction of supporting some of the world’s most cutting-edge installations of solar power. :-)

—Marcus

Listen To German Authors Read Their Work To You With Zehnseiten

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

While many complain that the Internet is killing the written word, here is an example of German organization who is using the power of the web to distribute good literature. Knowing that many people would love to find more good books to read, they have arranged a system for authors to read their work directly to you, presented via the Internet.

Zehnseiten was created by five friends from Munich while they were out having drinks.

I know that many people dismiss German beer hall culture as simple drunkenness, but the truth is that while we are drinking we Germans discuss everything. Literature, art, science, politics . . . there is no better way to really work through an idea than with your friends and some good German beer by your side. :-)

In this case, the discussion was pointing out that when you go to a book reading by an author, you are usually very familiar with their work. However, due to work schedules or unfamiliarity with the format, many people never go to book readings. This is unfortunate, because there is no better way to really connect with a writer and their work.

To solve this problem, the friends arranged for German and international writers to read ten pages from their newest novel aloud. The format is simple. The authors are presented in black and white, sitting at a table and looking straight at the camera. You get to see them as well as hear them read you their favorite sections of their latest work.

The recordings are available through an iPhone application as well, so you can take your favorite readings with you. Shorter recordings are about ten minutes, while some of the longest videos are thirty minutes in length.

Presently, Paul Beatty, Norbert Niemann, Tim Parks, Thomas Meinecke, George M. Oswald, Stephanie Geiger, and Andreas Neumeister are among the authors featured. New recordings are added weekly.

I’ve already found several new authors to enjoy through Zehnseiten, as well as gotten to see some of my favorite writers read aloud.

There are select recordings in English, but most of them are in German. So why not practice your German listening skills while discovering some truly interesting writers? :-)

—Marcus

German Photographers With Bottles On The Brain

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Leave it to Munich to give birth to Germany’s only photography service devoted exclusively to bottles. With Oktoberfest in its midst and the wine country all around, it’s no wonder that the locals have bottles on the brain. ;-)

The specific locals are Moritz Wurfbaum, Catharina van Delden, and Veronika Wurfbaum. Moritz Wurfbaum and Catharina van Delden are a part of innosabi, a Munich based consumer innovation and product development company. Veronika Wurfbaum is the main photographer.

The company they’ve launched together is called Flaschenfotos, and the premise is simple.

They shoot bottles.

Their goal is to provide outstanding service in their niche, so the only other product they offer is Flaschenfotos T-shirts.

The company was founded in August, and the online site was launched in September.

If you’ve been reading my writings on business in Germany, you know that you really can start a company that quickly, and that Germany is very friendly to start ups like this.

It has a straightforward pricing structure based on the number of bottles shot. Each bottle shot against a white background in high resolution. The bottles are then retouched (airbrushing is not just for models anymore! ;-) so they are ready for print and online media uses.

There is a discount for organic and fair trade products, and the target market is retailers, bloggers, and journalists looking for graphics to go with their products.

Given that Germany has more than 40,000 wine producers alone, the company certainly has plenty of bottles to go after even before starting in on the local beer masters!

It’s always interesting to me to see what my fellow Germans are coming up with for business ideas, especially when they target off-beat markets like this. It’s just another example of how creative German people really can be, and the possibilities available to you if you want to start your own business in Germany.

—Marcus

The Trabant Is Getting The Phoenix Treatment

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

The Trabant is a vehicle with a quirky place in the German culture. I remember them very well from my youth. They were everywhere in the East in those days, although it is rare to see them on the roads now.

People loved them and hated them. On one hand, the cars didn’t always work very well, and they came in ridiculous colors. On the other hand, the waiting lists were always long, and owners of “Trabis” often nicknamed them and treated them like beloved if eccentric family members.

However, after the Wall came down, the East German cars were outmatched by Western competitors that were faster, more reliable, and easier to get. The last Trabant was manufactured in 1991.

Since then, Trabi lovers have had to make do with museums and car rallies.

There are surprisingly large number of them. The most famous Trabant museum is the August Horch Museum, located in the Detroit of East Germany, Zwickau. It was totally updated in 2004 to feature more information on the history and culture of the Trabant, along with other German classic cars.

A rising tide of visitors and enthusiasts holding rallies led to a quick survey at the 2007 Frankfurt motor show. Out of 11,500 people surveyed, 93% were in favor of reviving the Trabant. Many even volunteered that they would buy one, prompting companies to look at bringing the suddenly beloved Trabi back from the dead.

Out of all this chatter have come rumors, whispers, and suddenly… official plans. The Trabant NT should be arriving in showrooms in 2012. A prototype will be shown at various auto shows around Germany this fall — including the Internationale Automobilausstelling (IAA) or Frankfurt Motor Show (TODAY!).

The cars will be made by the East German manufacturer Indikar, also based out of Zwickau. They are hoping to seriously improve on the old Trabants, without compromising the features that made them popular. The new version won’t spew diesel and sputter — Indikar is planning to make them all-electric cars with solar panel roofs (great!).

We’ll see if its enough to make a bright new Trabant loving culture spring up from the ashes of the old one! :-)

—Marcus

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