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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Fracking, nuclear waste and wolves: The West in Europe

Sometimes, sitting here in downtown Berlin, listening to American classic rock on the radio, I feel like I never left the American West. And it's not just the radio, or even Randy Rudd's Lucky Star Western Store in a nearby neighborhood. No, it's the news -- the environmental news, even. Some recent am-I-in-the-West headlines:

LONE WOLF ATTACKS 15 SHEEP. Wolves had been systematically exterminated in Germany by the early 1900s, much as they were in the U.S. West. But those crazy wolves ignored borders, and over the years continued to wander over from Poland into East Germany. When East and West were reunified, the government gave wolves protected status. Now, about 60 are in the country, mostly roaming around military training grounds and old strip mines, occasionally having a sheepy feast. And it's causing the same sorts of conflicts as in the U.S. Hunters are upset. Ranchers are scared (though, as in the U.S., they get reimbursed by the government for any livestock they lose), and some residents are pretty sure the wolf's going to eat their children. Yesterday, Das Bild (the sensationalist tabloid) ran the first photo of "der Killerwolf von Brandenburg."

EUROPE GETS FRACKED, TOO: That's right. That zany method of drilling and then "fracturing" the shale in which natural gas is trapped by shooting thousands of gallons of water -- mixed with a mysterious soup of chemicals -- into the ground is coming to Europe. It's been common in the West for a long time, and news outlets like High Country News have been questioning it for just as long. But it wasn't until fracking headed east, to Pennsylvania and New York, that most of the nation actually started noticing. Now, the practice is about to hit Europe (actually, Halliburton has already done it in Poland), and the rest of the world's getting a taste of that sweet and fizzy fracking soda. Of course, as the CEO of Cuadrilla energy, a UK drilling company, said: It's not fracking that's unconventional, it's the source where the gas is found that's unconventional. Which means what, exactly?

THOUSANDS PROTEST NUCLEAR WASTE SHIPMENTS: Germany actually has more nuclear waste dumps than the West (though certainly not more contaminated sites, in general, i.e. abandoned uranium mines, mills, etc.). But, like the West, they take nuclear waste from other countries. Still, when did you last hear about thousands of Americans protesting against all that nuke waste headed across the region to WIPP in southern New Mexico? That's right, you didn't. You gotta hand it to the Germans: They know how to protest.

Now, what happens when the wolves hang out in the nuclear waste dumps?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Linguistic bigotry, Western stores in Berlin, and more

On a recent Friday afternoon here in Berlin, the sun was shining and the temperature actually rose above freezing for once. It was enough to put Wendy and Elena and me into especially high spirits as we waited for the bus in well-heeled Zehlendorf, eating some treats from the nearby bakery. We talked about how the Germans have a talent not only for making good cake, but also for creating really healthy and tasty baked goods, like the sunflower-seed thing we were eating. As we were speaking amongst ourselves we were, naturally, speaking in English.

Apparently, that's an offensive act around these parts.

Also waiting for the bus was a lumbering woman, perhaps in her sixties, who looked as if she had eaten just a few too many cans of offal. She glared at us and, finally, as we were getting on the bus, she muttered to Wendy, in German: "When you are in Germany, you must speak German!"

Finish reading this, along with a post about a Western store in Berlin and more at gin & gelato...