Umweltzentrum is an Ecology Center outside of Hamburg that we visited for an afternoon. Hamburg was recently named as the European Capital of Europe for 2011 for the many initiatives it has undertaken as a city and for the ambitious plans that are on the horizon. The Ecology Center is owned by the city of Hamburg and will play a role in helping to support the city’s sustainability initiatives.
Situated on nine hectares, Umweltzentrum includes a pasture for sheep and goats, a wastewater treatment plant, organic gardens, forests, a bee-keeping program, barn, orchards and an Integrative Housing Association. The Ecology Center is currently undergoing a modernization process and in the coming years will also include a special area for children, restaurant that serves local products, greenhouse, more environmentally friendly technology and nature trails.
One project currently underway is an upgrade of the barn. The barn will be remodeled and upgraded using the same materials that are taken out. Silvia Schubert served as our tour guide for the afternoon and she told us that it’s very important that the remodel of the barn is done in this way because a large part of sustainability is to reuse materials that are still good rather than throwing them away. The roof of the barn is covered with solar panels that produce enough energy to power 4-5 homes.
In the very near future the center will have an exhibition that will demonstrate the biodiversity of Hamburg, allow visitors to take a walk through the different seasons and provide a foresight into the year 2080, based on scientific predictions.
One aspect of Umweltzentrum that stood out to the Social Work majors in the group was the Integrative Housing Association. Similar to group homes in the United States, this housing association is for people with disabilities. Contrary to the models that we often see in the states, this housing development fully integrates individuals into the daily workings of the ecology center. People who live in the center help out in the gardens, maintain trails and are very much a part of the community.
There is an Eco-Village located within the Ecology Center and it houses hundreds of people. Homes have composting toilets and are powered by the sun.
The center does a lot of environmental education with small children and we had the great opportunity to engage in a very fun activity in the woods. Students were handed a sheet that indicated a rhythm that they were to tap on the trees with a wooden stick. They were told that there was someone else that had the same rhythm and that they were to listen to see if they could identify their “mate.” This activity led to lots of laughter and was enjoyed by all. Woodpeckers apparently find their mates by listening for a special rhythmic tapping that attracts them. This could be a very fun activity to do with children back in the United States.