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Green Munich

Words: Paul Wheatley
Jun 13, 2019

Green Munich

Word: Paul Wheatley
Jun 13, 2019

Bavaria’s capital, Munich, is on its way to becoming a leading city in the fight for a more sustainable future 

Encompassing two almighty month-long festivals in summer and winter that attract in total 1.5 million visitors annually, even to the casual observer Munich’s Tollwood festival appears impressive. That, however, is only half the story. Tollwood is a genuine sustainability trail-blazer, from the electricity it uses to the food it sells. 

Of course, being located in the affluent capital of Bavaria, southern Germany, helps. With hundreds of kilometres of cycle lanes, an integrated public transport system, underground geothermal energy heating thousands of homes and some of the best parklands in Europe, Munich has excellent sustainability credentials of its own. That it’s also consistently named as one of the world’s best cities to live in adds an extra allure to visitors from near and far.

Sustainable, from the bottom up

Stephanie Weigel has led Tollwood’s environmental department for more than a decade. Sitting in the Tollwood offices at the end of a 2000-metre-long straight canal that leads to Munich’s baroque Nymphenburg Palace and gardens, Weigel casually mentions some of its biggest sustainability achievements: ‘100-per-cent green catering’; the whole festival is powered by ‘green electricity’; and performers’ flights are carbon offset (fabulously, half is paid by performers). From the bottom up, it’s a real green deal.

Tollwood is above all an international cultural bonanza, with a focus on people and the environment. Indeed, big names in music and activism love its environmental and ethical focus: activist and singer Bob Geldof and primatologist Jane Goodall have appeared on the festival’s World Salon discussion stage; and Amy Macdonald, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Marianne Faithful and Emerson, Lake & Palmer have performed there. 

Around 80 per cent of all Tollwood events are free, and then there are the 200 stalls selling handicrafts from across the planet that adhere to fair trade criteria. A similarly diverse organic food offering is described as a ‘culinary journey across the world’. 

 

Taking sustainability seriously 

Fabian Norden, a political advisor to a Green politician in the Bavarian parliament, acknowledges the vast efforts Munich makes in maintaining an integrated network of trams, buses, bikes, underground trains (U-Bahns) and suburban trains (S-Bahns). Munich currently has a ‘bike usage of around 18 per cent’, he says – below smaller cities with lower populations, such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen. But, ‘It’s up near the top for a city of more than one million people.’ He points to the preponderance of much-loved green spaces in the city, though fully recognises that there is room for improvement. This is reflected in a host of initiatives to transform cycling infrastructure. 

Aiming for zero

A decade ago Munich announced it aimed to reduce CO2 emissions per person by 50 per cent by 2030 (compared to figures in 1990) and in 2017 it announced that it would be climate neutral by 2050. The city-owned Stadtwerk München (SWM) produces increasing amounts of renewable energy. Munich’s district heating network (Fernwärme) stretches 800 kilometres around the city, making it one of the largest in Europe. It is derived from different sources, including efficiently using heat from power-station generated electricity, saving one million tonnes of CO2 a year. The city aims to use 100-per-cent renewable electricity by 2025 and heat by 2040. 

Nobody would claim Munich is a perfect model for sustainability. Smaller cities, particularly Copenhagen, could certainly teach the Bavarian capital a thing or two. It has, however, an impressively integrated climate protection plan with admirable aims. And on top of this, it has Tollwood – Munich’s very own sustainable festival beacon. International in its focus, the fact that it also provides fabulous entertainment, events and food just makes it that much better.

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