During my time in Germany I have definitely had the opportunity to see a lot of the great outdoors. The University of Freiburg is situated in a valley in the Black Forest, so hiking, skiing and mountain biking are pretty normal weekend activities here. The area around Freiburg is paved with expansive well kept hiking and bike paths to make the outdoors accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Germany keeps the Black Forest and the rest of its natural resources beautiful by keeping very environmentally conscious. Recycling programs are commonplace here and most homes participate in a recycling technique called “Mülltrennung” or waste separation. Basically what they do here is that each home has several different trash cans into which the trash is sorted. For example, our apartment has three: One for plastic packaging, one for paper and one for the rest of the trash, which mostly comprises of food waste. Glass is also separated by color (brown, green and clear) into another set of cans outside of our building. This is something I truly wish to take back to the US with me when I leave. At first it is a little tedious, but once you get used to what goes where (the helpful signs many apartments hang over their trash cans help) it is really easy and it feels good to be doing something environmentally conscious.
Germany is also in the process of shutting down all of its nuclear power plants and switching to renewable, green energies, with wind energy and solar energy being a large part of the production. This decision came about after the Fukushima reactor disaster in Japan in 2011, but protests against nuclear energy (and weapons) have been happening in Germany since the 1960s and especially since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Many cities in Germany already use solar or wind energy as a large part of their power supply. For example, Vauban, a part of Freiburg, is famous for being completely powered by solar energy and being a car-free neighborhood. The world’s first house which produces more energy than it creates, called the Heliotrope, was built in by Rolf Disch in Freiburg in 1994. (It looks really awesome, too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Heliotrop_Freiburg.jpg) It even physically rotates so that its solar panels face the sun for optimum energy production. How cool!
Although Germany is known for its car companies, such as BMW, many Germans commute to work and school via public transportation such as buses or street cars or by bike. Many parts of large cities, such as Freiburg, are pedestrian only zones, encouraging the people to walk or bike. When driving long distances Germans often opt for bus or train travel over driving a car, as the prices of owning a car, gas and even getting a drivers license are much higher than in the US. The train system in Germany, and even most of Europe, is fairly well connected and relatively cheap, making it a great, green travel option. Many of my German friends here opt to walk, bike or take public transportation instead of driving their cars.