Germans Are Competing With Each Other to Save Energy

Some are burning old furniture, but it's not as bad as it sounds.

Germany, Berlin, Christmas market at Gendarmenmarkt in the evening

Westend61 / Getty Images

Germany's cherished Christmas Markets are not so bright this year. The country is in the midst of an energy crisis, with gas supplies from Russia cut off. According to Deutsche Welle, hours have been shortened and lighting is more discreet, with it all coming from LEDs.

Individuals are taking far more drastic and extreme actions. Tom Fairless reports for The Wall Street Journal that German citizens are competing to save energy. "Many Germans see frugality as part of their national identity, and bargain-hunting as a way of life," wrote Fairless. "So they have embraced the energy challenge, finding even more creative ways to slash consumption. So far, they are killing it."

The Journal also reports that Germans are boasting on social media about lowering the thermostats, wearing thermal underwear, and even "lighting outdoor grills and camping stoves in their apartments," which is a good way to get asphyxiated. They are baking bread in the toaster and "deleting unneeded programs and apps from digital devices," which will save zero energy.

The Journal quotes Lion Hearth, a professor at the Hertie School in Berlin, who noted recently that gas consumption is still way down because of people turning down their thermostats. They are not kidding about how far down; one responder to this tweet noted, "Hi from Germany (Berlin), I‘ve set my heating to 19°C [66°F] day / 16°C [61°F] night. It‘s not been on much at all yet, a couple days maybe since fall. Many I know do the same (and not due to economic reasons)."

wheelbarrow full of wood

Enrique Gdelag

Editor and author Enrique Gdelag lives in a Berlin suburb and confirms that everyone is trying to save energy. He tells Treehugger: "I hadn't seen it put this way (as competing), but more as "showing off" who saves more energy, indeed! For instance, my father-in-law was showing off just yesterday what the neighbors are doing—heating with wood. He himself is partially heating by burning old wooden furniture."

Masonry Heater
Masonry heater.

Enrique Gdelag

Their home is very old and has masonry heaters. "The old Kachelofen where the furniture is being slowly burnt. I don’t know the technical specifications, but I’m impressed by its efficiency, which is much higher than an open chimney," says Gdelag. "This one is also 115 years old—and we have two at home."

Roof Insulation

Enrique Gdelag

Gdelag's father-in-law also just insulated the attic of his 115-year-old house. "This attic was as cold as outside," said Gdelag. "Now it is one degree [outside] and here it is 20, we don't have heating up here so the insulation is working." He used mineral wool insulation, and the particle board acts as a moisture barrier when properly taped, as it appears to be here.

the other wood stove
the other masonry heater.

Enrique Gdelag

The phrase "burning the furniture to heat the house" is usually thought of as a sign of desperation and a last resort, so I asked for more information. Gdelag tells Treehugger:

"Germans are obsessed with scarcity, as the Journal article mentions, as a collective trauma from Second World War. So, he had the garage full of old wood from a fence he replaced 40 years ago. In summer 2021, his daughters made fun of him and pushed him to get rid of that old wood, since it was taking room in the garage. He donated it to a neighbor. A year later, that wood would be super valuable, but it was gone. So he has been thinking for months what to do. As I mentioned, an important step was to isolate the attic for the first time in 115 years. Second, to gather as much wood as possible. So he used the chance to replace the old Teka wooden furniture from the garden—now we have plastic. There was also a long sideboard in the cellar, and we found out that it had woodworms in it, so that one is also being burnt."

So it's not quite as terrible as it originally sounded—it's just smart frugal living in this case. And while burning the furniture is a one-shot deal, insulating the attic will pay dividends for the next 115 years.