Energy crisis: will the Germans sit in the theater without taking off their coats? | Culture and lifestyle in Germany and Europe | DW

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Will the Germans go to concerts in winter without taking off their outerwear? Should I wear a hat and gloves to go to the museum? Will the audience freeze in an unheated theater hall? Or maybe cultural institutions will be closed for the whole winter? The German Council for Cultural Affairs (Deutsche Kulturrat), which is the head association of all cultural unions in the country, warns against such scenarios. However, even if you do not succumb to gloomy moods, the issue remains relevant. What are the implications for culture of the reduction in gas supplies from Russia? Who will bear the financial burden due to a possible energy crisis? Who will pay for rising gas and electricity prices?

Olaf Zimmerman

Olaf Zimmermann, head of the German Cultural Council, says this is the most pressing issue for German culture at the moment. Olaf Zimmerman has been warning about possible threats for quite some time. Now it’s time to sound the alarm: as Russia reduces gas supplies to Germany due to the war in Ukraine, museums, theaters, concert halls, archives, libraries are under threat, the head of the German Council for Cultural Affairs believes.

Saving energy has become a national challenge

A revival is noticeable throughout the country: many cultural institutions are already actively working on energy saving issues. If the small German city of Troisdorf has only just thought about this issue, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz) is already developing an action plan within the framework of the Taskforce strategic group created to solve energy saving problems.

The call for energy conservation was also made by Claudia Roth, Minister of State for Culture and Media of Germany. She demanded that the cultural sector make a significant contribution to reducing energy consumption. At the beginning of August, the German minister, after consultations at the government level, stated that energy should be saved wherever possible, without compromising the performance of cultural institutions. Recall that in June a nationwide energy saving campaign was launched in Germany. It was officially proclaimed on June 10 by the German Ministry of Economy and Climate Protection (BMWK).

Who and how much gas receives in Germany is determined by the Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur, BNetzA), which is a government agency. According to his current estimate, gas consumption will have to be cut by 20 percent to get through the winter, says Helmut Dedy, head of the German Cities Association (Deutscher Städtetag). “This is a volume that will require a lot of effort from us,” he told DW.

Measures are already being taken: the air conditioners are not turned on at full capacity, the consumption of hot water is reduced, the backlight is turned off. Speyer Cathedral – the largest Romanesque church in Europe – decided to abandon night lighting. Cologne Cathedral followed suit: to save energy, this temple will not turn on the lights at night. The Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne, which has one of the largest collections of medieval paintings in the world, as well as the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, has already launched the first energy saving package.”

Can the lights go out?

Despite all the measures taken, this is unlikely to be enough. “In a situation of great stress, we are now not only trying to save money, but also updating our contingency plans,” says Gero Dimter, Vice President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. Headquartered in Berlin, this foundation manages the Berlin state museums, libraries, archives, and research institutes. A specially created group (Taskforce), which included engineers, technicians, energy conservation specialists, is now working on optimizing energy consumption, discussing actions in case of a crisis. The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation wants to achieve energy savings of 20 percent.

Museums need air conditioning systems. After all, to preserve works of art, you need the so-called technical conditioning, which takes into account many nuances. Is it even possible to reduce the amount of energy consumption when such complex systems are required? “The general trend is to bring the climate curve more in line with the seasons,” says Gero Dimter. This means that in summer it is necessary to cool the room less, and in winter the air temperature in the rooms must be cooler. Short-term changes and jumps should be abandoned.

Gero Dimter

Every saved degree is already a real economy, experts are sure. But how will art objects, exhibited paintings, archival documents, old canvases behave when the air temperature in the rooms is changed? “This issue should be studied in more detail,” says Gero Dimter, vice president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. “But now we must react quickly, try and take some risks.” Therefore, despite the haste, the German Foundation, which oversees museums, archives, and libraries, still relies on the help of scientists in developing adequate measures.

People are thinking about how to save energy at the local level as well. Rainer Land, head of the cultural department of Troisdorf Township, is currently working to ensure energy savings for music schools, a concert hall and other cultural institutions. Rainer Land knows that energy costs will rise significantly this winter. The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation also focuses on such a scenario. A rise in price of energy by 20 percent is also expected in Berlin.

Gero Dimter, vice president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, says: “This will be a big burden on households, in addition to inflation.” The head of the German Cultural Council, Olaf Zimmermann, warns: “In many small cultural institutions in the provinces, the lights can go out quite quickly – literally.” The energy saving initiative of Claudia Roth, Minister of State for Culture and Media of Germany, has been welcomed, but the question of who and how will financially support cultural institutions during the energy crisis remains open. “It’s not enough to just save energy,” Olaf Zimmerman told DW, “we need an emergency fund.”

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