A couple in southern Germany has wooden ropes stacked tightly on the side of their house, while another family in the north has lined their basement with shelves stacked with cans of pasta, rice, cooking oil and chickpeas, lentils and tomatoes.
In central Germany, a long-wary man relying on the government has confirmed he can make it through weeks without power or heat; He fills his room with coolers and keeps lights on with a camp stove, gas canisters and solar devices connected online. Others brave the cold water of the local lake for their daily bath, leaving the hot shower at home.
Across Europe’s biggest economy, people are hoarding and hitting bottoms. While authorities have released lists of essential items to prepare for power outages or natural gas outages, many Germans are taking matters into their own hands to ensure a warm home and food on the table this winter.
A majority of Germans, a full 60 percent, trust their government, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. But with the endless barrage of Russian missiles raining down on Ukraine, helping to send home energy and food prices, many Germans have decided they might as well be on their own should the worst come to pass. They want to be prepared.
Leo Baumler spends his afternoons separating logs from fallen trees in his sister’s forest near his home near Weiden in the southern state of Bavaria. He stacks them on his log until they feed the stove in the kitchen of the humble home where he grew up.
Thousands of people across Germany have reopened sealed fireplaces and installed wood-burning stoves to avoid burning natural gas, which has doubled in price in the past year, Mr. Baumler heats his rooms, boils water for morning coffee and bakes pizza. His wood-burning stove is as always.
Years earlier, his father had refused to install a gas-fired central heating system when the first pipelines reached his home region, connecting the Siberian gas fields with what was then West Germany, across the Iron Curtain. For decades, natural gas from Russia was plentiful and cheap. Half of the homes in Germany use gas for their heating.
Even before the Russian military invaded Ukraine in February, the flow of Russian gas began to decline, causing wholesale prices to more than double. But German leaders, citing reliable supplies from the Soviet era, have retaliated against EU support for Ukraine under President Vladimir V. They refused to believe that Putin would lose gas to Europe. However, many Germans, whose bills are already starting to rise at the end of 2021, are starting to prepare.
By the time Russia made its first cut in gas supplies in late spring, the government had begun floating the idea that Germans would face rationing in the winter. That sent many people to heating stores to buy wood stoves, and since then the price of wood and wood pellet ropes has risen more than 87 percent compared to 2021.
But Mr. Baumler didn’t notice.
“Because I live in the middle of a forest surrounded by trees in eastern Bavaria, I don’t have to worry about running out of wood,” he said.
Some Germans are ready for an eventual blackout or gas shutdown, while others are focused on ways to conserve energy. The country’s economy minister, Robert Habeck, became the butt of jokes in the summer when he encouraged Germans to take short, cool showers.
Gregor Ranz and his friends need no encouragement. They meet every morning between 8 and 9 a.m. to take a skin bath in a lake in the district of Wedmark, north of Hanover. They have been performing their morning rituals even before the energy crisis – even when the temperature drops below freezing.
Although the gathering was social, it was more meaningful once the energy crisis hit, said Mr. Rance said. Bathing naked – Common in most of Germany – Effectively took away the approach of a cold shower every morning.
“I shower once a week when I go to the sauna,” she said. “Of course I shower at home, but I don’t use it. A washcloth works well.
Bernd Sebastian relies on a 25-year-old gas furnace to power the boiler that supplies his home with warm water and heat. When the price of gas began to rise, he upgraded his furnace, but he also attached his wood-burning stove to heat water in his main boiler.
“We sit in front of our fireplace every day and it heats the water in my boiler and the heater draws from it,” he said. When the fireplace is turned off, the gas furnace kicks in.
He said he was thinking about getting one A heat pump, which draws heat from the air. “That would be great, but it runs on electricity and with electricity prices going up, it won’t save me money unless I install solar panels, which is another expense.”
Mr. Sebastian collects wood from a nearby forest, which is managed by a friend who alerts him if the trees fall or are cut. Then he collects it, brings it home, separates it and stacks it.
Since last year, he has piled on every patch he can find in and around his home, including some outdoor spaces used by his wife Rosvita. At 76, he’s worried he won’t be able to trim it enough.
“I had to steal two flower beds from my wife,” he said. “And the third is up for debate.”
Leaving the grid
Bernhard Scheepers didn’t wait until the government started urging citizens to stock up on non-perishable food and 20 liters of water per person. For months, he’s been gathering materials and coaxing heat and power from fossil fuels.
“Thank God I bought a wood-burning stove years ago,” he said. In the past year, he has purchased an electric heater and a large battery of small solar panels that can be folded to generate power.
In 2022, more Germans are drawn to solar power. Amid fears of possible blackouts, the amount of electricity produced from solar panels increased by a third in the first part of the year.
“If we lose power, at least we can power some small things and keep the food in the refrigerator from spoiling,” he said. “I bought a small stove and gas canister so we can cook if needed.”
When he first talked about being prepared for the worst, Mr. Bastian Scheppers, the Scheppers’ son, rolled his eyes. For a while, his family was amused by his preparations. Not anymore.
He shares his knowledge with colleagues and friends who approach him for advice.
“You have to make sure your food stocks are always up to scratch, there’s enough,” says Mr. Shepherds said. “So you’re good, no matter what happens.”
This is the first Covid lockdown that has sent the Arndt family into production mode. “It started with toilet paper,” said Lars Arndt, who lives with his parents, brother and grandfather in Johannesberg, southeast of Frankfurt.
That’s when his mother, Claudia Arndt, decided to move their basement, where the family stored various items, including some non-perishable items like jam and canned vegetables. As the lockdowns progressed in Germany in 2020 and 2021, the family began stockpiling more supplies, including flour, pasta and a 100 liter pot of drinking water.
They also changed the way the house was heated. After years of relying on a gas-burning furnace for central heating, this winter they returned to the main wood stove that heats only the dining and living rooms on the main floor of the house. Other rooms are not heated.
“We’re thinking more and more,” he said, “what we can do to make sure we can provide for ourselves.”
“We don’t want to depend on others for what we need,” he added. “But we can take matters into our own hands.”
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