How Germany got cleaned - report from the World Cleanup 2012 action

By Ann-Kathryn Pankow

On September 21st 2012 the International Let’s do it! clean-up campaign also motivated some German folks to clean up their homes. At the beginning of the organization of a Germany-wide cleanup the following question was raised:

Where should we clean? Where should we take the World Cleanup in our country?

And also: Which kind of garbage are we talking about?

This question could not be answered completely, as with garbage we did not only define the drinking packs on the street or plastic bags in the forests, but also the garbage in our minds. Many people lack this awareness and also in Germany, where the public spaces are relatively clean, this needs to be addressed.

During the first few months a small team created a concept including the writing of manuals, briefings for potential sponsors, role descriptions of regional coordinators and the national team, a communication plan etc. But the real question was - how to gather the manpower?

How to involve others was the most difficult task and we noticed that the movement was often simply not understood by the people we spoke to:

On the one hand people responded with confusion

 “Why should I clean the country? It is clean and if there is something lying around, the governments’ waste disposal is working properly, that is what we pay our taxes for!“

On the other hand we met many proactive Germans who are already organizing cleanups or are involved in other social, environmental or cultural projects and simply (and sadly, but understandable) could not afford to spend more time to organize a big event. Their work is very valuable, there is no doubt about it, only united we can make the world a better place to live in.

That’s why we came up with the motto ‘Schenk Deutschland eine Stunde’ - ‘Give an hour to Germany’ - in order to keep the structure on a low level, a slogan easy to understand and additionally for everyone, who is proactive and wants to participate because they understood the idea behind Let’s do it!, a simple way to be able to contribute in their own manner, in their own hour of giving.

Many little cleanups took place during the year - before and after the cleanup of the 21st of September 2012. There are groups of people that meet regularly to cleanup beaches, forests, parks - without being asked. Contrarily there are also cleanup project teams who see Let’s do it! Germany as rivals because they ‘sell’ the organization of cleanup days to companies who then cleanup public places with their employees, a win-win-situation afterall: it pushes the awareness and cleans the country.

Thus, on the 21st of September various small organization teams in the cities of Bochum, Hamburg, Karlsruhe, Leipzig and Munich gave an hour or more to their home country and home town - every city in a different way. Alltogether, we assume that during those hours about 2 m3 of garbage were collected and about 100 people participated.

In Karlsruhe, for instance, Eberhard Wiehl organized a stand in the city center and invited fellow Karlsruher citizens who are not satisfied with the ‚governmental garbage disposal’ to cleanup the city with him, he bought equipment and addressed the media. It was a very successful event, also due to 16 people who were named ‘Paten’, meaning Godfather or -parent, and who committed themselves and will be responsible to take care of one of the neighborhoods of Karlsruhe from now on, on a voluntary basis.

In Bochum, a group of people met in front of the central park. They addressed the local media that they will be there at 2pm giving out trash bags (blue and yellow - depending on the recyclability) as well as gloves for protection, spend an hour or more in the park cleaning and then followed the trash into the city center. On their way they provided others with trash bags and gloves as well as explained the project in order for them to join in and give an hour to their home town.

In Leipzig and Munich, a small group of people picked specific areas, which they located ahead in time, declared to be the dirtiest spots and best for a Let’s do it! Germany location and thus, cleaned it up.

Similarly, in Hamburg, the cleanup took place by the riverside of the river Elbe on the 22nd of September 2012. Curious materials were found and disposed/recycled properly.

Initially we suggested to have a cleanup on Saturday, 22nd of September, in order to be able to include the people who work on Fridays. Saturday should not be more conveniant if the date is known well in advance.

It was interesting to notice the indifference of some and the proactive behaviour of others. It is shocking to assume some people’s relation to garbage, do they not find the topic important because it is ‘dirty’? I believe all of us have learned a lot for the future and look at garbage differently. We will continue cleaning up during the year and hope to activate more people for the next big cleanup day on September 21st 2013! Let’s do it again!

Congratulations from Germany to all the countries who have participated in the World Cleanup 2012!

And a big thank you goes out to everyone who participated and who gave an hour (and more!) to Germany!

Let’s do it! Germany Team