Give me two


Find what you do not expect to find

Generation Nachhaltigkeit


“Look, two avocados at the price of one!”, — I say to my colleague Hanna during our lunchbreak in a supermarket. “Yes, but they are packed in cellophane”, — she retorts and buys one avocado, which is more expensive but is unpacked. Hanna is a student, who saves money for her summer vacation by skipping cafe lunches but she does spend money buying more expensive foodstuffs having a mark of 'Bio' and natural makeup.

Such an approach to consumption is typical of today’s 20-year-old Germans, who are named Generation Nachhaltigkeit. This German word, which has been a stumbling block for many translators, is translated, depending on the context, as ’sustained development’ or ‘environmentalism’, meaning the lifestyle which the future generations will not be ashamed of. The German youths living in big cities prefer a bicycle or a car-sharing service to a personal car. Some people consciously refuse to travel with low-cost planes and buy more expensive train tickets, because this kind of transport is less damaging for the environment.

Taking care of not only the nature but of the personal budget


Germany became a pioneer in the matter of conscious consumption not accidentally. Conscientious and thrifty, Germans willingly return plastic bottles to be recycled, carry food in cotton bags and, of course, sort out their garbage (and will instantaneously indicate to you how to do it properly, if you, God forbid, confuse the yellow container for packing materials with the container for paper).

Since 2016, the National Program for Sustained Consumption has been in action in Germany (‘Nationales Programm für nachhaltiges Konsum’), one of the main goals of which is to ensure maximum possibilities for ‘green’ consumption. For example, a year ago, large grocery chains introduced a 30 cents payment for a plastic bag. That was a feast of German thriftiness! Over a year, consumption of polyethylene decreased on average by 50 %, and in some groceries, even by 90 %. The environmentalists are happy.

The other goal of the National Program is to funnel the ‘green’ lifestyle from the luxury niche to the mainstream, affordable for all the strata of the society. It is easy to adhere to this concept if you earn at least 5,000 Euros per month and live in, say, Kollwitz Strasse, which is within the gold square mile of Berlin. However, if you are a single parent and live in the city outskirts, you probably have enough problems to worry about without global warming.

Yet, now two-thirds of Germans are convinced* that environmental protection may bring about long-term results only if the entire society switches over to resource-saving consumption. The task of the state is to arouse interest in the subject and to prove that environmental protection is not a hype, hobby or the entertainment for well-off gentlemen but an inevitable step forward which all the people should take.

New things are forgotten old things


Many Germans satisfy their consuming hunger by playing a national game ‘Find what you do not expect to find’. It is customary in Germany to leave the unwanted things outside next to people’s homes marked ‘zum Mitnehmen‘ — that means, any person may take this thing home. There is such a ‘portal’ near my friend’s home in the Berlin district Prenzlauer Berg: it is a wide window sill on which new juice squeezers, printers, toasters and other useful things get materialized, often in boxes, sometimes accompanied by shop checks. You go out to buy some bread and get yourself something really good!

Another trend is a repair-cafe, where it is possible to get a broken item, like a television, a bicycle or a vacuum cleaner, totally for free. On average, 17 kilograms of ‘electric junk’ are discarded per each German citizen, and the purpose of this initiative is to persuade the Germans not to throw out old equipment but to try to prolong its service life.

Nobody knows why Germans have become so 'green’. Their concern with climate changes and with environmental problems has become a feature of the German nation, just like the German love for beer, good football, birkenstocks and a vacation in Mallorca. I like the explanation that after the Second World War Germans wanted to do things well and properly, to take care of not only their personal interests but also to take responsibility for the world around them. It seems they are coping with it quite well.

*According to the survey of the Federal Ministry of Environmental Protection, Construction and Nuclear Plant Safety of Germany.
© Irina Mikhailina

Irina Mikhailina


Irina was born in Moscow. She graduated from the Maurice Thorez Linguistic University and received her master’s degree from Berlin Humboldt University. She is a linguist specializing in Germanic languages. Lives in Berlin.

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