Like other cities around the world, Berlin began to install gas lamps along boulevards and alleys in the early 19th century. But as other countries long ago began to switch to sodium, halogen and LED lights, the German capital still uses about 23,000 old gas lamps to light the city.
For years, local governments have sought to phase out gas-powered lighting in favor of more sustainable technologies. But lovers of the warm light from the artfully carved lampposts have managed to hold back these efforts.
Today, the conflict in Ukraine is accelerating the transfer of technology. City official Benedikt Lux of the Green Party said: “Gas is too expensive and wasteful. The lights should have switched to LED a long time ago.”
The changing of lights on the streets of Berlin underscores the transformations taking place in Germany. The conflict is threatening the energy supplies that fuel Europe’s largest economy.
Since February, Germany has reduced its oil imports from Russia by two-thirds and no longer accepts natural gas and coal. As the prices of gas, electricity and gasoline soared, Berlin had to turn off the lights at monuments such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Cathedral and the Victory Column in the Tiergarten. The city also implemented a series of energy-saving measures such as turning off office air conditioners, limiting the temperature in swimming pools to 26 degrees Celsius and turning off street lights.
Prime Minister Olaf Scholz told reporters in August: “We are facing serious times. I think all Germans know that.”
Berlin started installing gas lamps in the early 19th century. Photo: Felix Bruggemann/Bloomberg Businessweek.
Berliners are preparing for a cold, dark winter. They scrambled to buy alternative materials for heating, especially wood. Across the city, many homes still have centuries-old wood and coal fireplaces that have not been demolished. The flats that don’t have them have also purchased new fireplaces. But the delivery time extended to nearly 8 months, instead of just 1 week like last winter.
If anyone can buy firewood for heating, they have to pay the price that has nearly doubled in the past year. The seller of pellets, coal and oil, Peter Engelke, in Berlin’s Tempelhof neighborhood, said customers were calling him in droves. Although he usually sells goods on demand, this year he has to limit the maximum volume of wood pellets that customers can buy to 500kg. “I can’t take any more guests,” he said.
Chimney cleaners say they keep getting calls from residents asking if they can burn things like horse manure, vegetables or rye pellets. The Federal Association for Chimney Cleanup warns that unorthodox fuels can damage stoves and release health-damaging fumes.
Chimney cleaner Markus Schlichter said the use of these fuels would endanger the user and those around him, as well as add an additional burden to the environment. He expected that this winter, chimney cleaners would be much busier.
However, the change that has the most lasting effect is changing the street lights. Over the past decade, Berlin has switched over 20,000 gas lamps to LEDs. But thousands of gas lamps are still working. Each lamp consumes gas equivalent to a single-occupancy apartment.
Fixed light poles usually have up to 9 bulbs. They often burn out in less than a year and can only be replaced by a single supplier in India. About 1,000 lights work day and night because the valve fails. Nina Lerch, another city official, said: “In the face of gas shortages and the risk of power outages, Berlin must save as much energy as possible.”
Some gas lamp enthusiasts have suggested shutting off fuel temporarily until supply is restored. Photo: Felix Bruggemann/ Bloomberg Businessweek
Lovers of the old lights of the German capital say that the glow from the antique lamps creates a romantic, nostalgic and worthwhile atmosphere. Gaslicht-Kultur is a group of citizens who are fighting to preserve gas lamps. They proposed that the city simply shut down the gas grid temporarily and attach solar-powered LEDs to them. When the shortage subsides, they can reactivate.
The second option is to reduce the amount of fuel supplied to the lamp. This action can save millions of cubic meters per year, but will cause the lights to become dim. “We shouldn’t use the gas crisis as an excuse to tear down the lights,” said engineer Berthold Kujath of the Gaslicht-Kultur group. Berlin should not get rid of them and replace them with electric lamps with no cultural value.”
City officials support the value of gas-lit lampposts. They say that traditional light poles can be preserved and still use LEDs more efficiently. Officials say the city uses thousands of new lamps that produce light close to the color and warmth of antique lamps, with 10% lower fuel and maintenance costs.
Lawmaker Lux said leaders are working to preserve the lamps as a legacy, but gas is not.
According to Bloomberg
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