Press article "Die Zeit

Ssssit. Ssssit. Ssssit.
Press article "Die Zeit" from 27.7.2011 by Wolf Alexander Hanisch

In Bavaria, tourists can now climb on wind turbines. But do they want to?

Is that patriotism now? It feels like it. I drive through the Bavarian Upper Palatinate to the trumpet-bright flash of a Haydn symphony, and around every bend I want to cheer louder. About the hills in the resplendent green, the forests, the half-timbered houses. But at some point wind turbines begin to dominate the mountain ranges. And I realise that feelings of home and the minarets of the energy transition do not go together.

Press article Wind Turbine Climbing Sport-Piraten

But this is only the beginning. Bavaria has announced that it will increase its share of wind power tenfold - with grinding rods that easily tower over Regensburg Cathedral. Of course, nuclear power is out of the question. But can Haydn still expand my chest in a country that looks like a pincushion?

Perhaps wind turbines are like many other things: You only learn to appreciate them up close. That's what it's all about today in a field in the Upper Palatinate. I want to climb a wind turbine there. Climb inside its neck up to the rotor and reconcile myself with it. This is made possible by Sport-Piraten, a Munich-based organiser that has recently started offering wind turbine climbs for tourists in the district of Neumarkt. I am one of their first customers.

In glistening white paint, the colossus rises out of a forest clearing. Even though the latest generation of wind turbines is twice as high, its 87 metres seem monstrous enough. One of the Sport-Piraten is already there. David, a wiry lad with a globetrotter's beard. He squeezes me into a harness and emphasises that there's more to it than just the thrill.

What he means by this quickly becomes obvious: his agency builds a stage for the wind power industry. The main role in each climb is played by an emissary of the operating company who explains the blessings of his industry. Today it is even the boss himself: Ludwig Fürst. Old-fashioned glasses, dishevelled hairdo - the 62-year-old looks like the epitome of homo faber. He gazes tensely at the sky. In the meantime, the sky has shed its cosy white and blue and is swirling with dark wispy clouds.

As we enter the tower, the thunderstorm breaks loose. Immediately it howls through the tube as if demons had entered it. A digital display races to ever new digits. "Full load! That's all we can do!" shouts Mr Fürst when it reaches 600 kilowatts. "The rotor is now turning 300 kilometres per hour!" The gentleman over nearly two dozen wind turbines beams. I, however, only have eyes for the rungs disappearing into the dim eye of the needle above me. The tower has a diameter of more than four metres at the bottom. At the top it is just one and a half.

Suddenly the wind breaks. In the blink of an eye, the display drops to zero. There is a silence now, as if someone had pulled a plug. "Ready to go," says one of the two industrial climbers who have joined us. They have been ordered because it is regulation. And to rescue in an emergency. Ludwig Fürst doesn't seem to think much of it. "You don't have any heart problems, do you?" he assures himself. "If you have a heart attack up there, we'll never get you to the hospital in time." Is that Upper Palatinate humour? No. Mr Fürst is serious.

I clip my harness into the safety rail and plod off. My feet search for the right rhythm, my hands grip as tightly as if they wanted to strangle every rung. More than 200 of them lead vertically 65 metres upwards. My first look into the depths is also the last. I prefer not to do that.

windmill ascent with the sport-piraten When I have worked my way up to the middle, the next storm comes. The tower sways, the generator howls, rain beats down on the tube. Five minutes later the storm is gone. And with it my trepidation. I climb on like a lizard. Then light blinds my eyes. We are there.

As I step onto the platform under the hub, I am amazed. We climbed that high? The fields bear mandalas of tractor tracks, storks glide past below us. The rotor blades chop the air like giant hatchets. Ssssit. Ssssit. Ssssit. David looks at the wings almost tenderly. He wants to profit from the energy transition and carry out such ascents all over Germany. There are enough enquiries from operators.

Suddenly the sun breaks through the cloud cover and pours light from several holes. At the breakthrough points, the edges glisten as if gilded. As a child, I believed that God lived behind this radiance. Now I realise that I am still powerless against this idea.

Then Mr Fürst also squeezes out of the tube and explains to me what God has to do with the wind turbines. He points to more of his turbines all around. He has named each one after the church saint of the nearest village. Our wind turbine is called Jacobus. "Ten years ago, everyone here was against wind power," Fürst says, narrowing his eyes. "Except the priests. They preached that wind energy is God-ordained because it preserves creation." And that was convincing? Mr Fürst smiles inscrutably. Then he raves about the returns on the investment funds that are getting more and more people into the wind business.

On the descent, I lean into the harness and jump almost cockily over the rungs. Shortly afterwards I drive the car off the field. Jacobus follows me in the rear-view mirror for a long time. He seems familiar to me now. Like a prudent lad who can be relied on even in a storm. But I have not taken him to my heart. The fear that the whole country is becoming an expression of the technician soul that fuels men like Ludwig Fürst is not getting any smaller up there. It is growing.

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Wind turbine tour Upper Palatinate Radio report Deutschlandfunk, "Deutschland Heute" by Michael Watzke, summer 2011