LIVING LIGHT
Living Light
Welcome! You have found the site of the Creation Keepers team (Christ Church's Eco Church Committee), which shares ideas and experiences about how we can all lighten our environmental footprint. We do this because we see our planet and its resources at a breaking point and believe in the power of personal examples. Most weeks, we will reflect on some aspect of living, working, shopping, consuming, reading, learning, etc. These are all local experiences and can easily be adopted by others in our community. Our authors (Rosie and Monika) look forward to any comments or ideas that you may also have and want to share. Send us your ideas at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Blog #11: The Sounds of Spring

March 25 2021
Monika Weber-Fahr
Spring is in the air, and so are spring’s beautiful sounds as well as those that make them: our local birds here in Vienna! But I am not writing this blog just because I enjoy being awakened in the morning by the singsong of our feathered friends, seemingly residing in the courtyard of the urban apartment building I live in. Further to the joy that birds bring, I also want to talk about the fact that they are under threat, here in Vienna and elsewhere, and that collectively we can do a lot to safeguard this important and beautiful part of God’s creation.
Let’s start with who is here right now: The short answer is that Vienna has many, many different kinds of birds, even noted for that by the Urbanbirder. The most common birds in Vienna are the Great Tit (Kohlmeise), the Common Blackbird (Amsel), the Blackcap (Moenchsgrasmuecke), Pigeons (Tauben), and Swallows (Schwalben). If you are trying to figure out who is that chirpy little person in front of you, Birdlifean Austrian NGO, is here to help. While their website is in German only, using some rudimentary vocabulary (Vogel), you can find the page where they introduce you to pictures and sounds of local bird populations. And you can even participate in their birdcounting exercises! Currently ongoing in Vienna is the counting of Woodpecker sounds. Yes, Vienna seems to be unique across Europe in that here we host nine (9!) different types of Woodpeckers! And right now, in March, these little guys do more woodpecking than in any other month of the year. More on Vienna’s birds you can also learn at the local Volkshochschule, who knew!
 Birds
But what’s wrong with that picture? Most birdlovers will know the numbers: Bird populations have continued to decline massively in the past 20-50 years, in the US by about percent since 1970, in Europe by 4-17 percent since 2000, in some areas and depending on the type of bird up to 40 percent and more, such as the Austrian countryside birds (Feldvoegel). The decline in bird populations is in fact a worrisome global trend. Why is it happening? There are many reasons, and they are complex. Here in Austria, a lot has to do with habitat and food. Many birds are literally starving, their regular food, insects and worms, are disappearing rapidly as a result of broad use of insecticides and the removal of spaces where insects tend to live. Bird habitats, themselves, are shrinking, as farmers are removing hedges to make most use of the land they have. In essence, we humans are taking the spaces that birds need to live.
What can we do? Organizations dedicated to protecting birds, whose motto is giving birds a voice, have been raising alarm for some time now. They are mobilizing help, often successfully so. One simple action: feeding the birds where they need it and doing it well. There are debates about when exactly and what exactly is best, but Birdlife.at, der Naturschutzbund, the City of Viennaand many others have the right tips for you. Once autumn and winter come, we will remind you! And yes, some people advocate feeding birds all through the year, but I am not feeling scientifically equipped enough to discuss all the pros and cons here. Importantly, the bird organizations remind us that we all must be bird advocates, seeing the world through a bird’s eye, helping to maintain spaces in our city where birds can live, eat, breed, and sing.
In the meantime, let’s also enjoy the birds we have. Birding or birdwatching is a pastime that I had, in my mind, always associated with the nerds among us,. But, it seems to be a rather accessible and pleasurable pastime... AND it’s Covid-safe! The City of Vienna, on its website, hosts a Birding for Beginners guide, written in German, but with pictures and quite easy to figure out. Vienna alone has some 25 promising birdwatching trails. And birdguides.com will inform you about interesting bird sightings. Do you feel unsure, never having done birding and you don’t know how to do it? Fear no more. There is Birdingpal.org, an organization that will match you up with someone else who will show you around the best birdwatching sights.
Final fun fact for the Vienna lover: Vienna has some 40+ streets and places named after birds. Plus, it has plenty of hills and locales with bird names too, not to mention the many eagles appearing in the coats of arms all around here.
Am I now a birder? No, not yet, at least. But I did go out to the Herder Bookstore and got myself a bird poster. I fixed it on the door in the loo. So now, there is plenty of observation time booked to learn about the local populations.

Blog #10: Apres Nous, Le Deluge

March 18 2021
Rosie Evans & Monika Weber-Fahr
First, everything feels a bit disorienting when entering the Hundertwasser Museum (or, to name it correctly: The Kunsthaus Wien) in the Third District: Hundertwasser, as an Artist, had famously stood out as an opponent of using "a straight line", and his commitment to the curved and crooked - more in tune with the way nature tends to present itself - is particularly noticeable in building design. So we watch our steps and are carefully on the lookout wherever we are going - not wanting to stumble over unforeseen or unseen curvy things on the ground when purchasing our tickets for the Nach uns die Sintflut Exhibition. As it were, the exhibition’s artworks and the context in which they are arranged are just as unsettling - and beautiful - as the curvey Museum itself - and no less extraordinary, which is why we are reviewing the exhibition in this sequel of the LivingLight Blog.  Hurry: The exhibition closes shortly, the last day is April 5!
As soon as we walked into the exhibition, we were greeted with the words THE END carved out of a white surface.  Did we go through the wrong door and miss the beginning? But no, this was a statement! A stark reminder of the urgency for action against climate change - is this the beginning of the end of the world or, the beginning of the world’s effort to put an end to climate change? 
People are at the center of this exhibition.  People and how they cope, often barely, with how their environment has changed, is changing and is about to change even further.  From women construction workers in Bangladesh through to fishermen on the disappearing Lake Chad, we meet those whose lives are turned topsy-turvey through climatic changes - and we get to walk along their lives for a few minutes, getting a glimpse into what they do to cope.   Despite the documentary dimensions of the exhibits, the works we see are decidedly art, in how they stimulate thinking, leverage esthetics and skillfully build on artistic concepts.
We were both particularly touched by Ursula Biemann’s video essay Deep Water. It opens one’s eyes to see the extent to which daily lives are affected by the effects of climate change. One sees hundreds of women scooping mud into bags, bags that then are carried by even more people, one by one, to the shore, stacking them up to build protective mud embankments. There are thousands of mud bags there already, and each one of them looks so small. It must take so much time and energy to do all of this, and there seems no end in sight. Part of the very same video-essay are also views of the other end of the planet - Canada - where actions shift the climate that then impacts those in Bangladesh. Deep Water speaks powerfully to our connectedness around the world.

Picture: The Lake Chad Chronicles by Benedicte Kurzen.

 21 Artists, both Austrian and international, have created what mostly can be called “compositions” - using videography, paint, photography and story-telling - all together finding ways to touch the onlooker’s emotions in unexpected ways.  As you walk around the three exhibition rooms, you will find what speaks to you most.  On your way into the exhibition, or on your way out, you might want to take some time to explore the Museum’s regular exhibits - extraordinary testament’s of Hundertwasser’s creativity and love for colors and nature - early testaments of the environment movement here in Austria and beyond. 
A final note: We found the title Nach uns die Sintflut fabulously well chosen - a title with so many relevant nuances in meaning. For German speakers, this is a familiar saying, nearly an aphorism, often used in messy situations, describing careless or irresponsible behavior.  The English translation After us, the floods is quite correct, but more meaning seems to be carried by what is often considered its origin, Luis XV’s statement “Apres nous, le deluge”, capturing the sentiment of I could not care less vis-a-vis the consequences of one’s actions. The exhibition’s curators chose the title for another reason though: Karl Marx had used the quote in the first volume of Das Kapital to illustrate the sense of carelessness underlying the actions of those with a capitalist mindset. And so the title leaves us with the powerful reminder that the situation of environmental degradation we find ourselves in is by no means inevitable - but the result of political structures and economic incentives that could also be re-shaped and re-set.
We are leaving the exhibition somewhat somberly. And inspired. This is not the end. This is for all of us to shape!
Good for you, Hundertwasser Museum, taking this exhibition to us! We will be back!

Blog #9: Vienna's fixing it... 

March 11 2021
Monika Weber-Fahr
Earlier this month, on March 1, Vienna City re-launched its Reparaturbon Initiative.  The Reparaturbon is one of the many marvels that I am discovering as I learn more about the extraordinary lengths to which the city’s administration is going  in encouraging ecologically responsible behaviors amongst its citizens. This blog will tell you how to use it yourself! 
Essentially, it’s simple: The city wants us to repair things - instead of, when something breaks, throwing it away.  Many of us will know the situation: You buy a toaster - but after two years that pretty thing stops working, you cannot figure out why, and then - when looking to repair it - you realize that the cheap replacement comes in at about 30 Euros, while the repair might easily cost 50 Euro or more (even just telling you whether something can get repaired may set you back by 40 Euros in many places).   Even those of us committed to shouldering the extra cost, out of attachment or principle, may not know where to get their toaster repaired in the first place. Not so in Vienna (any more).  The city will subsidize the cost of your repairs at 50% up to Euro 100, once per “Initiative period”, which for 2021 means twice this year.  The current Initiative runs through June 30th, and later in the year there will be a second iteration - between early September and mid December.  Even better: There is one “Reparaturbonus” per person - not per household - so if you are a family, each one of you in your household can get one!

 

Picture: This is what it looks like - Print-out of my Reaparaturbon

How to find your Reparaturbon?  Surprise - its’ online: On the website, you first create a “Vienna City account” by giving your name and address, and then you get access to your “Bon”.  All you need to do then is to print it out or download the QER code on your mobile.  That document you then take to the repair shop of your choice.
How to find repair shops?  The website is helpful here, too.  They have a list of repair shops - pretty much covering all items that may require repair - and you can search the list by location as well as by item.  The downside: It’s all in German.  With a little bit of translation work (“handy” for mobile phone; “toaster” for “toaster” or “Waschmaschine” for “Washing Machine”) you can move forward.  In testing the program and the site, I found that I could quite easily identify someone to repair a mechanical watch (that I had inherited from my Dad) and also someone to fix a Sandwichmaker (that I had bought two years ago - the switches were not working any more) - searchword “Kleinelektronik”.  
The visit to the Watchrepair store was lovely: Located in the 7th, Herr Horak is reachable by bicycle, and after a congenial conversation about our shared love for old watches, he promised to call me within a week; he did not charge for assessing the cost of the repair.  Now that I received the call, he will fix the watch - the main thing to watch for is that it’s done within the time allocated for the Initiative so that he can submit the bill in due time.

 

Picture: Watch Repair Specialist Walter Horak - taken from mein.wien.gv.at/wienerreparaturbon

The visit to the Kitchen Equipment Repair store was less easy but perhaps even more exciting:  RUSZ is located in the 14th - a bit out of my way - but reachable with U-Bahn/Strassenbahn. This store is a marvel - they were set up precisely to offer repair-instead-of-throw-away, a pioneer in what is called the “circular economy” movement, and you can pretty much bring them anything.  They charge 45 Euros for a repair assessment (deductible from the repair if you decide to go ahead in having them fix it), and the “Reparaturbon” can also be applied for the estimate.  Super friendly service, they called me within two days, and now I will have a good-as-new sandwich maker!  For future reference: Normally, RUSZ also offers a weekly “Reparatur Cafe” - where you can go with your device, and they will show you how to fix it yourself (for post-Corona times: keep checking their website)

 

Picture: Logo of the Repairshop I went for my toaster - they are committed to "repair not replace".

Caveats?  Really not many - but a few things to note.  The “Reparturbon” initiative clearly is designed to make us contemplate getting things repaired - not to cover all our cost.  The Bon can be used only once per “Initiative Period”.  And the whole Initiative runs through 2023, so not “forever”.  You are also not supposed to sell your “Bon” and you are supposed to use it within two weeks of printing it out, mainly to help the city with administration and accounting.  And finally: the subsidies may run out eventually - they have a fixed budget per period.  This means that if you come at the tail end, they may be out of “Bons”, at which point you can decide whether to wait until September or to simply use the website’s service to find yourself a friendly repairman and go ahead without the subsidy then.
Living in a “Throw Away Society” is, of course, a bigger and global problem - and definitely something that requires more action than what the individual consumer can do.  Living in the EU, we are fortunate that a new law - announced already two years ago - took effect just two months ago, this January: The “Right to Repair” requires producers of household equipment to make sure that everything they sell in the EU is “repairable” for at least 10 years.  This means not only designing and offering “repairable” products - but also to make available replacement items needed for repairs, one of the biggest hurdles that stood in the way of repairs over the last years.
So there is progress!  Let’s take part in it!