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BERLIN

Temperatures dip at Berlin pools in ‘statement’ on Russian gas

A handful of Berlin's open-air pools are due to reopen this week, but swimmers may notice a slight chill in the water as operators seek to make a political point about Germany's dependence on Russian gas.

A swimmer jumps in a Berlin pool last August.
A swimmer jumps in a Berlin pool last August. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Earlier in April, Strandbad Wannsee was the first of Berlin’s many summer swimming spots to open its doors to particularly courageous swimmers.

This weekend 13 more of the open-air bathing areas are set to follow, including 10 more public beaches, the outdoor pools in Kreuzberg and the Olympic Stadium plus a public pool in Spandau. 

The remaining summer pools will continue to launch gradually, with every spot set to be open to the public by July 1st. For the first time in a few years, there will no time slots or other pandemic restrictions – but the most astute swimmers may still notice a difference. 

That’s because this year, the Berliner Bäderbetriebe (BBB), which operates the capital’s pools, will be turning down the water temperature by up to two degrees centigrade in support of Ukraine. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s ADAC calls on drivers to ditch their cars

“We want to make a contribution to reducing dependence on Russian natural gas supplies,” Johannes Kleinsorg, CEO of BBB, told reporters at a recent press conference.

According to Kleinsorg, open-air pools that are heated by fossil fuels will have water temperatures reduced by up to two degrees, while indoor pools will have temperatures reduced by a maximum of one degree.

Though the slight temperature reduction should be “barely noticeable” for swimmers, the move is intended to be a “political statement” about reducing dependence on Russia following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The plan to reduce the water temperature was organised in tandem with the Berlin Senate, Kleinsorg said. 

Last year summer pools in Berlin saw an average water temperature of 22-24C. 

The small reduction in temperature will save around 20 percent of energy and won’t affect the summer pools in Gropiusstadt, Pankow and Mariendorf as these are heated using solar power. 

Why is Russian gas such a big issue?

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, Germany has been under increasing pressure to justify its ongoing business dealings with the Kremlin – particularly in the energy sector.

Though the German government has so far sent billions of euros’ worth of weapons and financial support to Ukraine, these contributions are dwarfed in comparison to the hundreds of millions the government sends to Russia each day in exchange for gas, oil and coal. 

Despite public outcry and consternation from some other nations, Germany has so far opted for a strategy of gradually weaning itself off Russian gas and oil rather than opting for a rapid embargo.

READ ALSO: Pressure grows on Germany to introduce tougher speed limits

In the oil sector, finding new suppliers has been relatively simple. Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) on Wednesday announced that the nation had so far reduced the percentage of oil imports from Russia from 35 percent to around 12 percent.

However, it says new infrastructure needs to be build in order to facilitate an end to Russian gas imports, so this could take much longer.

At the same time, fears are growing within the EU that Russia is preparing to turn of the taps to any nation who doesn’t comply with his request to pay for gas deliveries in rubles.

The Kremlin has already confirmed that it will end gas deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria after both nations refused to meet President Putin’s demand for payment in the Russian currency. 

This has sparked concerns that Germany could be next. 

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ENERGY

Should tenants in Germany be shielded from energy price hikes?

Gas prices have more than tripled in the past year, prompting tenants' rights advocates to call for more social support and a cap on energy costs.

Should tenants in Germany be shielded from energy price hikes?

The German’s Tenants’ Association is calling on the government to put together a new energy relief package to help renters deal with spiralling energy costs.

Gas has become an increasing scarce resource in Germany, with the Economics Ministry raising the alert level recently after Russia docked supplies by 60 percent.

The continued supply issues have caused prices to skyrocket. According to the German import prices published on Thursday, natural gas was three times as expensive in May 2022 as it was in May a year ago.

In light of the exploding prices, the German Tenants’ Association is putting the government under pressure to offer greater relief for renters.

READ ALSO: 

Proposals on the table include a moratorium on terminating tenancy agreements and a permanent heating cost subsidy for all low-income households.

The Tenants’ Association has argued that nobody should face eviction for being unable to cope with soaring bills and is urging the government to adjust housing benefits in line with the higher prices. 

Gas price cap

Renters’ advocates have also joined a chorus of people advocating for a cap on consumer gas prices to prevent costs from rising indefinitely.

Recently, Frank Bsirske, a member of the parliamentary Green Party and former head of the trade union Verdi, spoke out in favour of capping prices. Bavaria’s economics minister and Lower Saxony’s energy minister have also advocated for a gas price cap in the past. 

According to the tenants’ association, the vast majority of tenants use gas for heating and are directly affected by recent price increases.

At the G7 summit in Bavaria this week, leaders of the developed nations discussed plans for a coordinated cut in oil prices to prevent Russia from reaping the rewards of the energy crisis. 

In an initiative spearheaded by the US, the group of rich nations agreed to task ministers will developing a proposal that would see consumer countries refusing to pay more than a set price for oil imports from Russia.

READ ALSO: Germany and G7 to ‘develop a price cap’ on Russian oil

A gas price cap would likely be carried out on a more national level, with the government regulating how much of their costs energy companies can pass onto consumers. 

Strict contract laws preventing sudden price hikes mean that tenants in Germany are unlikely to feel the full force of the rising gas prices this year

However, the Tenant’s Association pointed out that, if there is a significant reduction in gas imports, the Federal Network Agency could activate an emergency clause known as the price adjustment clause.

This would allow gas suppliers to pass on higher prices to their customers at short notice. 

The Tenants’ Association has warned that the consequences of an immediate market price adjustment, if it happens, should be legally regulated and socially cushioned.

In the case of the price adjustment clause being activated, the government would have to regulate the costs that companies were allowed to pass onto consumers to prevent social upheaval. 

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