Separate the Colors, Leave the Lids On

The local news visits the largest glass recycling facility in Europe, in Dormagen. The report clears up a few mysteries about the ubiquitous glass-recycling boxes you see in Germany.

First of all, separating glass by colors actually does matter. You typically hear Germans saying it doesn't, because the trucks which clear the containers seem to dump everything haphazardly into the trailer compartment. Wrong! What bystanders can't see is that the trucks have separate compartments for each color of glass.

Glass of the wrong color, as well as non-glass items such as ceramics or even gun parts (according to the plant manager) are removed from the stream by hand. The rest is automated.

Oh, and although every box has a warning sign tells you to remove the lid before you recycle the bottle, this turns out to be wrong. The machines can easily remove lids, which are recyclable themselves, and intact bottles with lids are "more hygienic" for the human sorters to handle.

This has been your public-service post for the month of October.

German Word of the Week: Schlammbeiser

Schlammbeisser 1

And now, to keep things classy, we move from public masturbation to feces. This is from a recent Atlas Obscura post:

Until 1913 the town Giessen, Germany had one special profession. It was the "Schlamp-Eiser," the men who walked the city and collected the feces of the citizens of town. 

Relatively early in the Middle Ages Giessen came up with a latrine innovation: They built small wooden boxes on the outside of the walls of the houses which included a pit latrine connected to a wooden pipe, which led feces down into a wooden bucket placed in the small spaces between the houses.

When the buckets were full, the feces had to be brought somewhere, but the spaces in between the houses were extremely narrow and it was hard to reach the buckets. Hence the Schlamp-Eiser was born. Using a long bent iron bar, men pulled out the filled buckets, collected the feces in a large cart, and transported the waste to the Rodtberg outside the town.

Word of the strange innovative waste system spread fast and spiteful onlookers started calling the citizens of Giessen "Schlammbeiser," which roughly translates to shit-eater.

…Normally the old-fashioned profession would be forgotten by now, if it wasn't for the obnoxious nickname the profession brought to the citizens of Giessen, which stuck up until today. For decades people were unhappy with the insulting term, but over more recent years citizens came to embrace the nickname, and today the Schlammbeiser name is used in cultural facilities, clubs and other places around the town. There is even a statue dedicated to the old Schlamp-Eiser. The bronze statue, built in 2005, is located right in the city center in front of the house where the last Schlamp-Eiser lived. 

This seems a bit odd to me: Schlammbeiser isn't any sort of German word. Schlamm is, but -beiser is not. Schlammbeißer would be approximately "mud (or sewage) biter".

Is this just a matter of some regional dialect, or is there another reason for the odd spelling of Schlammbeiser? Perhaps just a elision of Schlamp-Eiser? But then again, Schlamp isn't a word in modern German either, as far as I know. Schlampe is, but not Schlamp.

Any theories?

Operation Glasshole™ Concluded

Yesterday, I donned protective gloves and wading boots, and finally finished cleaning up one short stretch of the Düssel river. Here's the video: 

As you can see, another 100 or so bottles, to add to the 100 or so I had fished out before. Plus, this round brought us:

  • A steak knife
  • 7 more bicycle locks
  • a pair of sunglasses
  • one (1) women's boot
  • a 1.5- meter length of rusting steel re-bar
  • a disc-shaped battery-operated IKEA light fixture, complete with rotting batteries
  • 5 plastic bags or pieces of plastic sheeting
  • 1 more umbrella
  • 1 section of metal grille
  • several plastic cups
  • three metal rods and/or picture frame elements
  • one laminated official notice on white A4 paper from the City of Düsseldorf which was formerly attached to the bridge, warning people not to lock their bikes to it until 16 October 2016 because of bridge maintenance.
  • what appeared to be one-half of a foam soccer ball
  • a still-stoppered fake mother-of-pearl perfume bottle
  • several parts of an ironing board
  • a few unclassifiable pieces of metal and plastic which looked like auto or machine parts

I displaced at least 10 juvenile and 2 adult spiny-cheeked crayfish from inside various bottles.

At the end of the day after making several tours of inspection, I could see no more junk. There were still hundreds of bottle caps, but I have my limits. One couple passing by asked me whether I was fishing for eels. After I was done, I had a chat with the Slavic woman who runs the convenience store next to the bridge. She called me "poor guy", and apparently assumed my clean-up operation was a form of punishment. I informed her that I had just gotten fed up and decided to clean up the river. She said "Well, that's nice of you, but let me tell you, people are just going to keep throwing stuff into it. I sit here all day and watch them."

I said that almost all the stuff was covered in silt, which made it seem as if it had been there a long time. She said that, on second thought, that she hadn't seen much littering lately: "There was a group of people who were doing most of it who moved away." She made a certain gesture indicating what sort of people they were, but I couldn't really decipher it. It sort of looked like a mixture of air-bottle glug-glug (drunks) mixed with some kind of arm-waving. Possibly a Nazi salute. But I can't be sure.

This gives me some hope that most of the garbage came from short bursts of antisocial behavior years ago; possibly a gaggle of winos colonizing the riverbank for a few days, throwing their empties (mostly 200 ml flasks of Stepanoff vodka) into the stream. And then, of course, the garbage was passively tolerated by thousands of local residents who crossed the bridge over the years, wrinkling their noses in disapproval but doing nothing about it.

One mystery that's provoked plenty of discussion on my Facebook page is the bicycle locks. A few of them had obviously been cut, but most of them seemed to be intact. Which raises the question of why anyone would throw what appears to be an intact bicycle lock into the stream? My only guess is that some people steal bikes by picking the locks. Then they reattach the lock and throw it in the river, presumably to get rid of evidence. It seems like a fairly ludicrous precaution, given that local police don't even try to solve individual bike thefts. But who knows?

Any guesses about this mystery?

The Disgusting Things I Found in the Düssel

Yesterday I took advantage of the nice weather and went fishing for garbage in the local stream that runs through my neighborhood, the Düssel.

The main find was bottles. At least 100 of them. Everything from small schnapps bottles to beer bottles to hip flasks of cheap vodka to actual wine bottles. All covered in and/or filled with nasty blackish gunk. Here are three of them, and what looks like a decaying can of Red Bull, just to give you an idea:


But wait! That's not all! Once I actually got into the middle of the river, I found all sorts of other garbage, including 7-8 bike locks, an umbrella, various metal rods, a lightbulb, a pair of scissors, clothes, and rotten plastic bags. Here's just a selection:


Finally, exhausted, I had to give up. It's pretty tiring wading through mud and hauling heavy sacks of garbage up the riverbank. And I found all of this in only a 10-meter-long section of the river south of a well-traveled bridge.

There's still a bunch of junk in only this section of the river. So I'm going to go back today, and hope to at least get this section cleaned up.

Düsseldorfers, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Really, light bulbs? Umbrellas?

On a cheerier note, it turns out that rubber boots are surprisingly comfortable! Also, it seems that at least some life forms can survive in this filth. The ducks stay away from this part of the river, probably having cut their feet on broken glass. But I did one adult and a few juvenile Kamberkrebs, the spiny-cheeked crayfish. Unfortunately, this is an invasive species from America which is an asymptomatic carrier of crayfish plague, which has devastated native European crayfish populations. I probably should have ended them, but I didn't have the heart.

And now, off to start Phase 3 of Operation Glasshole™. I should get some kind of medal for this.

Operation Glasshole™ Phase II Preparation Intermediate Status Report

Both here and on Facebook, where I post much more interesting stuff much more frequently, the question has been raised: what happened to the bottles I removed?

The answer is I dumped them all in a nearby recycling box.

Germans, notorious as among the stingiest penny-pinching races on earth (sorry guys, you know I love you but it's true), are now collectively spit-taking in a combination of intense disapproval, anguish, and Angstlust: "Dear God!! You mean you just threw away bottles worth €1.78?!??! Typical wasteful American."

Allow me to explain. The bottles were, as I earlier remarked, all covered in some sort of black slime, inside and out. Probably some combination of tannin from rotting tree leaves and fine particulates from automobile exhaust. It would have taken 2 or 3 minutes of hand-washing to clean each one.

Further, the labels had all long since rotted off the bottles. Nowadays, it is the label on the bottle that contains the all-important bar code which machines use to calculate the deposit. Without a label, you're done for.

Now I hear many Germans saying: "So what? Technically, stores are still required to give you the deposit back if you present them with a bottle, even if it doesn't have a label. After all, it's the glass that's important for recycling, not the label. I once saw a rail thin, boil-covered man with mushrooms growing in his beard actually manage to convince a supermarket manager to give him an 8-cent deposit on an unlabeled beer bottle after a 5-minute argument. See, it can be done!"

I've seen that man, too. But I don't want to be that man. So no, I am not earning anything on the bottles.

On another note, it turns out that wading boots are quite cheap. I thought they might be kind of expensive, but that's only because I live near a Sack & Pack luxury camping-supplies store, which has wading boots hand-crafted by transgendered Tibetan orphans selling for €170 per boot. Online, you can get cheap rubber boots for 7 Euros, so that's what I bought.

Once Phase II is complete, I will furnish a thorough report.

Operation Glasshole™ Phase I Status Report

A little over a month ago, I noted that the small creek which runs through my neighborhood, the Düssel (after which Düsseldorf is named) was full of bottles, since glassholes have been throwing bottles into it over the years.

So today I took a pole and a net and started work. Here is the before and after pictures of the part of the river I worked on:


As you can see, a slight improvement, but much work remains. Once I got down to the level of the river, I could see there were many more bottles than visible from the top. It took me half-an-hour to remove about 25 of them, but at least 100 remained. All the bottles were covered in some sort of black grime, and filled with black liquid the color of motor oil. A few of them were being used as homes by freshwater crayfish, whom I summarily evicted. Sorry dudes, go find a rock or a tree stump.

Only when you cleared off the grime could you see what these litter-lovin' Untermenschen were drinking. Most of the bottles were ordinary brown beer bottles whose labels had long been washed away. Doubtless these bottles contained Oettinger, the local cheap & nasty choice for the undiscriminating booze-bag. Some were Carlsberg, a surprisingly civilized choice. Many, predictably, were Frankenheim Blue, a sugary mix of beer and soda which is also used as a Class 3 industrial solvent and barely deserves the designation fluid.

After a while, though, I realized that fishing these bottles out of the river one-by-one was a waste of effort. I was working retail, when I should have been wholesale. So to get the remaining 100 bottles, I am going to buy or rent a pair of wading boots, and go in there with one of them litter grabber thingies. I'm sure that physically entering the river, even to clean it up, probably violates 2 laws and 4 regulations. But frankly my dear, I just don't give a damn. If they fine me, I'll crowdfund my defense. Judging from the approving looks I got, I think I'll get plenty of contributions.