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Global Quest For Local LETS
Copyright � James Taris

17. The Greenest Braunfelser
(Braunfels is 60 kms. north of Frankfurt, Germany)

Wolfgang Gerster and his Twikemobile electric car.

Earlier his week, I delivered my LETS Presentation to members of Talente Tauschring Braunfels (TTB) and guests from the local German-Anglo Society. It was held in a large classroom at Hessen Kolleg (a college in Wetzlar, 10 km east of Braunfels) who are also a member of the Tauschring group. Needless to say, the room hire was paid with 'talents', the local Tauschring currency.

The meeting started at 6pm and stretched out to 9.30pm after a lively Question and Answer session with the audience. In fact, the night seemed to have been cut too short for some of the audience, who invited Wolfgang (my LETS host) and myself to join them for a drink at a local restaurant. I don't have a reputation for refusing a drink, and neither does Wolfgang, so we were happy to agree.

But let me give you a little background to TTB and Wolfgang �

Wolfgang Gerster is one of TTB's founding members. He was involved in starting the group 4-5 years ago, and it's survived in a small town of only about 6,000 people (11,500 including surrounding districts). Currently its membership is about 40, but they are a forward-thinking and lively group of people.

Now let me tell you more about Wolfgang �

Wolfgang is, beyond doubt, the greenest Braunfelser in the district. Apart from the fact that he's Braunfel's local Green Party Representative for Parliament (which retained power as part of the coalition government in last month's general elections), he's got more than a green thumb when it comes to lifestyle.

He's recently erected a second solar panel in the back of his house. This now copes with 50% of his household energy needs. Wolfgang is particularly pleased with his latest addition, because this solar panel is a revolving one, and is smart enough to spin itself around and direct itself towards the brightest source of light, in order to draw the maximum amount of energy from the sun's rays.

A novel little appliance, which I found fascinating, was his solar powered/crank-up radio. A few turns of the cranking handle, and it would fill my comfortable room with peaceful classical music, which was my permanent radio setting. Then I'd strategically place it in the sunniest spot in the room, ensuring the solar panel was in direct sunlight, and it would keep playing indefinitely. I'm sure that this would've been a hot item on Gilligan's Island!

But his pride and joy was the TWIKEmobile.

The TWIKEmobile (made by TWIKE), is a 3-wheeled electric car. Almost the perfect mode of transport for a through-and-through Greeny � but it's painted blue (maybe this will change in the future?)

My experience with the TWIKEmobile was both exciting and frightening. It's a beautifully designed fibreglass machine with simple controls, all of which are placed on the steering shaft. There is no steering wheel, and you only drive with one arm, swinging it left or right in the direction you want to go. The handle grip is at the end of this steering shaft, and there you find switches for the accelerator (2 speeds), decelerator (2 speeds) and indicators, which made the noisiest sound, much like a car horn which has got stuck and sounds off repeatedly.

Nevertheless, it was a great head-turner with pedestrians and motorists alike, many of them craning their necks to catch a glimpse of us as we cruised quietly along the road. So quiet, in fact, that on a couple of occasions we came precariously close to unwitting pedestrians who were walking along the road, only to be shocked, at the last second, to find a "baby-blue tadpole on wheels" sneaking up behind them!

There's also a computer screen perched in front of the driver giving crucial information regarding the amount of power left in the batteries and the estimated distance which could be travelled. Which leads me into the following story �

On our way from Braunfels to Wetzlar (where the LETS Presentation was due to be held), Wolfgang found, to his dismay, that the batteries were draining fairly rapidly. This could've been due to the fact that he'd unknowingly switched the headlights on and also just driven up a small hill (both big energy drainers). But I think it was mainly due to the extra 90 kg of body weight that I was responsible for (I'm currently on a diet, so it'll be less of a problem in the future).

Baroness von Falkenhausen (President, Deutsch-Englische Gesellschaft)
was a guest at my LETS presentation in Wetzlar. We even shared a
couple of laughs over snacks during the interval.

Fortunately Wolfgang managed to get to a friend's business centre (bicycle sales and service) who gladly allowed him to plug his TWIKEmobile into an electric socket. One hour later, after a pleasant stroll through the historic town of Wetzlar, we came back to a fully charged automobile which got us to our meeting on time, and also got us back home later that night, with plenty of power to spare.

Now about the scary bits �

I suppose the scariest thought was that we might be involved in a collision. But Wolfgang assured me that the most likely result of a collision would simply roll the vehicle over and over until it finally came to a halt back on its wheels. Then we'd get out easily. I hoped that we'd never get into a situation where this theory proved to be correct � or incorrect!

And comfort is a word which is not synonymous with electric cars.

First of all, the most uncomfortable part was having to literally squeeze my bum into the moulded passenger seat (only 2 seats in the car) which was obviously designed for small to medium bum sizes.

Then there were the pot holes. As Wolfgang explained, when you're driving on 3 wheels, there's just no way you can dodge the bumps in the road, because the front wheel isn't in line with the back wheels.

And finally, those right-hand turns. It was already rather cramped in the car, but when Wolfgang made his first sharp right-hand turn, he nearly knocked the wind out of me as his arm swept right across my body in a desperate attempt to keep the car on the right side of the road. From then on I learned to lean to the right with every turn, often finding my face pressed hard against the cockpit-shaped window. (Apologies to Wolfgang for the above exaggerations.)

But I take my hat off to this much loved and respected 68 year old guy. He'd only bought the TWIKEmobile 2 days before my arrival, and after only one driving lesson, he was left to manage as best he could. And he did a marvellous job, reaching speeds of 68 km/h quite confidently (TWIKEmobile max. speed is 80km/h).

So while all the other politicians are travelling around in petrol guzzling and pollution generating airplanes, you'll find Wolfgang Gerster zipping around happily (he's always smiling) in his quiet and environmentally friendly TWIKEmobile, thus deserving the complimentary tag of The Greenest Braunfelser.

This article is taken from the ebook,
Global Quest for Local LETS

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