Tropics project promises Bavarian bananas

Very soon, palm trees and exotic fruit will grow and flourish in a remote part of Bavaria known for its long winters. Christine Madden reports on the Klein-Eden project.

Tropics project promises Bavarian bananas
Project Eden in Cornwall. Photo: DPA

A tropical microclimate will defy the snow and ice that normally grip the frozen winter landscape of this part of Germany. Upper Franconia will never be the same again.

But this is not an attempt to put a pleasant spin on global warming. Instead, an ingenious new project to siphon heat from a glass factory will be doing its bit to save the atmosphere.

Called Klein-Eden – Tropenhaus am Rennsteig (Little Eden – Tropics House on the Rennsteig), the project envisions the construction of an enormous, 3,500-square-metre greenhouse near the town of Kleintettau along the popular, historic hiking path that snakes along the Thuringian-Bavarian border region.

Work on the collaborative project Klein-Eden began in August, but the concept of creating a tropical paradise in the heart of central Europe has been years in the making, explained Wolfgang Feuerpfeil, architect and project developer.

With the creation of a forward-thinking regional development association in the Rennsteig area, he said “it was time to consider how to use the superfluous heat” generated by Heinz-Glas, the third-largest producer of perfume bottles in the world. If you buy a bottle of exclusive scent, there’s a 70-percent chance it originated in this factory.

During deliberations about what could be done with the wasted heat, which up to now was being released uselessly into the atmosphere, the glass firm’s owner Carl August Heinz visited England’s Project Eden, a large tropical garden complex in Cornwall. Knowing the heat for a massive tropical garden was already available and being wasted, Heinz decided to do something similar in Germany.

When experts initially advised that it wouldn’t work, that there wouldn’t be enough sunlight to coax the plants into producing fruit properly, the project initiators were crestfallen. But then they heard about another facility in Switzerland, Tropenhaus Frutigen, which uses the heat generated by a compressor station for a gas line between the Netherlands and Italy. Despite similar concerns, the Swiss tropical garden plans went ahead. And the plants proved the experts wrong by producing fruit in native quality and bulk.

Tropical fruit and exotic fish

The 3,500 hectares of Upper Franconia set aside for the Klein-Eden project will spare the environment 400 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year while furnishing the local area with sumptuous tropical fruit. And Klein-Eden will do this organically, creating a self-contained biotope by also providing a home to ponds of tropical fish.

Rainwater will fill the fish ponds, waste water from which will be filtered and then used to fertilise the vegetation. The palms, mangos and bananas will be nourished in much the same way as in their usual habitat.

“The filtered water is rich in nutrients,” explained Feuerpfeil. “And the relationship between the cultivated area and the fish ponds has to be balanced.” Too many plants, and there won’t be enough nutrition for them. Too many fish, and there’s more waste than they can handle.

The University of Bayreuth will be following and studying the development of this sizeable tropical conservatory. And school and university students will be welcomed in to learn more about “everything that went into the papaya that you’ve bought,” said Feuerpfeil.

For example, not only will Klein-Eden use heat that would otherwise have been pumped out into the already overheating atmosphere, but it will also save on emissions when produce that must otherwise be flown in over great distances becomes available around the corner. That also means that the fruit hasn’t been picked unripe to survive the long journey to European markets, but gets harvested when mature and at the peak of its flavour.

The fruit and fish will be put on the local market and will serve to raise the profile of the region, according to Feuerpfeil. Whatever is left has been promised to a large fruit distributor, which is keen to buy up the rest. Local restaurants are also hoping benefit from the nearby tropical paradise, adding a culinary attraction to the Rennsteig region.

Project Klein-Eden will cost around €5 million. The European Union will provide about €3 million for it through interregional programme funding. The state of Bavaria will kick in another €500,000 and the rest will come from local government, businesses and interest groups. If all goes well, their investment should bear fruit, particularly as the tropical paradise under glass should be able to pay for itself when fully up and running.

Building will begin shortly, and the first of the plants should arrive in the middle of the icy winter. By summer 2012, Klein-Eden should be completed. And local markets might then soon be featuring papayas and bananas, tilapia and Nile perch on its shelves with their origin labelled Bavaria.

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France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Firefighting teams and equipment from six EU nations started to arrive in France on Thursday to help battle a spate of wildfires, including a fierce blaze in the parched southwest that has forced thousands to evacuate.

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Most of the country is sweltering under a summer heatwave compounded by a record drought – conditions most experts say will occur more often as a result of rapid climate change.

“We must continue, more than ever, our fight against climate disruption and … adapt to this climate disruption,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said after arriving at a fire command post in the village of Hostens, south of Bordeaux.

The European Commission said four firefighting planes would be sent to France from Greece and Sweden, as well as teams from Austria, Germany, Poland and Romania.

“Our partners are coming to France’s aid against the fires. Thank you to them. European solidarity is at work!” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

“Across the country over 10,000 firefighters and security forces are mobilised against the flames… These soldiers of fire are our heroes,” he said.

In total, 361 foreign firefighters were  dispatched to assist their 1,100 French colleagues deployed in the worst-hit part of the French southwest.

A first contingent of 65 German firefighters, followed by their 24 vehicles, arrived Thursday afternoon and were to go into action at dawn Friday, officials said.

Among eight major fires currently raging, the biggest is the Landiras fire in the southwest Gironde department, whose forests and beaches draw huge tourist crowds each summer.

It had already burned 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) in July – the driest month seen in France since 1961 – before being contained, but it continued to smoulder in the region’s tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.

Since flaring up again Tuesday, which officials suspect may have been caused by arson, it has burned 7,400 hectares, destroyed or damaged 17 homes, and forced 10,000 people to quit their homes, said Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service.

Borne said nine firefighting planes are already dumping water on the blaze, with two more to be in service by the weekend.

“We battled all night to stop the fire from spreading, notably to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Mendousse told journalists in Hostens.

On several houses nearby, people hung out white sheets saying: “Thank you for saving our homes” and other messages of support for the weary fire battalions.

“You’d think we’re in California, it’s gigantic… And they’re used to forest fires here but we’re being overwhelmed on all sides — nobody could have expected this,” Remy Lahlay, a firefighter deployed near Hostens in the Landes de Gascogne natural park, told AFP.

With temperatures in the region hitting nearly 40C on Thursday and forecast to stay high until at least Sunday, “there is a very serious risk of new outbreaks” for the Landiras fire, the prefecture of the Gironde department said.

Acrid smoke has spread across much of the southwestern Atlantic coast and its beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists each summer, with the regional ARS health agency “strongly” urging people to wear protective face masks.

The smoke also forced the closing of the A63 motorway, a major artery toward Spain, between Bordeaux and Bayonne.

The government has urged employers to allow leaves of absence for volunteer firefighters to help fight the fires.

Meanwhile, in Portugal, more than 1,500 firefighters were also battling a fire that has raged for days in the mountainous Serra da Estrela natural park in the centre of the country.

It has already burned 10,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).