The cathedral-like entrance hall to Leipzig station

The cathedral-like entrance hall to Leipzig station

Breakfasting and bidding goodbye to my good friend in Leipzig I managed to squeeze in sending a postcard before jumping on the first train of the day from Leipzig to (ironically) Frankfurt Airport. When I booked the ticket online the upgrade from standard to first class was 10 Euros for the entire trip (Leipzig – London). Now, I’ve never travelled first class before. Anywhere. So, I thought it was probably worth it, just to see how the other half live, especially at 1 Euro/ hour on the train and with the potential for included food and drink probably offsetting the cost of me having to buy lunch/ dinner. So, first class it was and it was quite pleasant too. Unlike UK trains (thinking East Coast) which apparently include tea and coffee, there was nothing extra included in the service but the seats were more roomy and, importantly for work, I got a plug socket to myself which meant I got a large chunk of work done on both this and the subsequent leg (Frankfurt-Brussels) of the journey. I don’t know whether I’d pay the upgrade on DB again, perhaps unless I knew I needed a plug socket in order to work, but it was a new experience nonetheless. Oh, and they do give out free Haribo…

However, it was on the Eurostar where the upgrade paid dividends as it did include an evening meal and even a glass of (veggie-friendly) wine. Add to that the fact that the wonderful crew went searching to find me a vegan meal which resulted in a tasty fruit salad for dessert and a catch up on English-language media and I arrived back into St Pancras thinking it probably was 10EUR well spent.

Thank you wonderful Eurostar train staff!

Thank you wonderful Eurostar train staff!

Tube and then train back home to Chelmsford followed by a slow trudge home with a backpack heavy with German beer samples. Still, I was happily rewarded by a newly baked loaf of bread to which I joyfully toasted and slopped some marmite on (try putting the marmite on toast before margarine, it’s so much better). It’s funny the things you miss.

And that about concludes this episode. More travels and interesting work is planned later in the year, so check back or sign up to the email if you want to hear more ramblings, but until then…tschuss!

Home. And I think I was expected...that's a lotta fruit!

Home. And I think I was expected…that’s a lotta fruit!


As a little bonus to the trip I was able to head up and across to Leipzig to catch up with an old school friend and his girlfriend which was pretty great. After a vegan kebab (made with seitan) the night before we headed for a non-dairy brunch in one of the local cafes where you have to book it’s so popular (I cannot imagine such a thing taking hold in Leeds somehow). After making sure we got our money’s worth from the brunch buffet we went for a quick cycle around the canal and that part of the city with Julia keen to show me the sandpit where the port was supposed to be built. Lovely Julia, really it was ;). As is so often the case on bikes, the joy of discovery unfolded and took us to the Spinnerei where lots of artists have taken up residence in a huge renovated factory complex.

A mermaid and a pig. No, I don't know either.

A mermaid and a pig. No, I don’t know either.

After a quick detour back to Ali’s flat to show a spare room to a recycling/ conservation educator that’s just moved to Leipzig (yes, I’m in love with this place already) we jumped on the bikes and headed into town to catch the carneval parade and some of the thousands of sweets that are thrown at the crowd from the floats. The floats themselves range from cheerleaders and local nightclub brands to old men in babysuits apparently having a whale of a time. The atmosphere was very happy and relaxed with hilarious tickertape fights breaking out and resulting in pretty much everyone being covered in small scraps of paper.

That evening we had homemade pizza with pumpkin (kurbis I love you), worked through a selection of local beers, including goze which is becoming a firm favourite of mine, and with a morning train to catch and Ali and Julia back at work in the morning we caught up and watched a film. A very pleasant end to the weekend – thanks for having me guys!

Nope...still don't know.

Nope…still don’t know.

Up at 6:30 as usual for the last round of checks peering through the biogas windows and everything seemed to be going fine, levels were perhaps a little lower than had been the case previously but nothing too serious. Then, when heading to take the readings from the transformers to document the electricity sold to the grid in the last 24 hours, Thorsten called us to the engine room where a bit of a problem had unfolded.

TIm looking a bit happier now that we'd managed to clean most of the oil off the gas engine

TIm looking a bit happier now that we’d managed to clean most of the oil off the gas engine

When filling the oil it seems that the cap hadn’t been fully locked back into place and over the last day had managed to spray about half the engine’s oil reservoir all out of the tiny gap. Since the oil was warm and expelled at pressure it creates a mist (which was responsible for covering my jacket last week without me really noticing). So, as well as the lagoons of oil that had pooled under and around the engine, a fine covering of oil was to be found on pretty much every surface. Tim and I set about getting stuck in to mopping up the oil and managed to get the vast majority on the floor and in the engine’s base plate. We broke for breakfast before grabbing the ladders and starting the long job of carefully wiping down all exposed surfaces of the engine avoiding the sly hot surfaces that creep up on you and scold you and trying not to let the paper towels get drawn into the intake.

Thorsten had to pick up some crop feed and fertilisers but once he returned we then got shown around the pig barn. Like most of the farm the feeding system is completely automatic with ground corn and barley mixed with water and a weak acid to reduce the pH to optimum feed conditions. The feed slurry is then pumped to each of the troughs that are empty (automatically detected) running completely automatically. We suited up in overalls and wellies (for the pigs’ benefit more than our own) and were shown how the pigs are kept, how the slurry is collected for the biogas and how heat from the house and biogas output is integrated into the pig barn to minimise wasted energy. I was unsure how I’d feel about seeing the pigs but to be honest it didn’t affect me anywhere near as much as I thought it might. Certainly to my, albeit untrained, eye all of the pigs looked healthy (except one which the vet had visited yesterday) and all seemed inquisitive, playful and to be fairly happy despite the relatively small conditions. In fact, as was said during the tour before our arrival sparked the interest of the pigs they tended to group together using only about half of the available space rather than spreading out. I’m not saying I’ve been converted to the benefits of farming animals but here with Thorsten playfully patting the pigs and telling us how in addition to government welfare visits, as a group of farmers they audit each others’ livestock to ensure good standards, it’s clear that while the animals are alive they are well cared for. Like I said though, I don’t think I’m switching back to meat-eating any time soon!

After the tour of the pig barn I grabbed a quick shower and packed the last of my things before being presented with a packed lunch and a bottle of Franconian wine by Christa. Thorsten, Suzie and Tim drove me back to Ansbach and we all shook hands and agreed to keep in touch. I’m now off on the train to meet an old school friend (who popped up in Tokyo when I was there too!) in Leipzig before catching the morning train back to the UK on Monday (the price was the same from Leipzig as from Ansbach).

27 PLATFORMS!!! Bye bye Ansbach

Bye bye Ansbach

I hope in writing this blog I’ve expressed my deep gratitude to the Sturms (and Suzie, Christian and Tim) for making the last fortnight so memorable and helping me learn such a great deal about biogas, German culture and life on a farm. If anyone reading this is wondering whether to take the plunge and for a work-away placement, I’d suggest you jump at the chance and hope that you get to meet such kind, welcoming and interesting people as I have.

Last day today and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Tim asked whether I’d like to stay longer given the chance and I replied I don’t generally play the ‘what if’ game (which is true, it’s pointless unless you can actually change something) but if the opportunity arose in the future I would definitely come back and would certainly consider staying longer than a fortnight so long as I could be useful around the farm and hopefully learn as much as I have this last fortnight.

After the usual morning checks and breakfast Tim and I headed out to complete what would be my last set of measurements from the fermenters and digesters. While Tim got on with the time-consuming titrating, I set to the dry matter analysis and then spent the time between samples finishing off the macros and spreadsheets Thorsten had asked for over the last few days.

Just before lunch we headed back to the house to send over what we’d finished and Thorsten showed us how he wanted the comparison data for the maintenance cost for the gas engines assimilated with the amount of operating hours and kWh generated. Thinking we’d probably need some help negotiating the huge spreadsheets in German (25MB in size!) we decided to have some lunch first.

True to form, lunch was a highly inclusive affair. The meal was pasta bake with salad and some leftover vegetables from yesterday and was very tasty, as were the three types of cake for dessert (the new addition being a very soft sponge cake slice with gooey faintly lemon-tasting icing with a splash of a liqueur of unknown flavour for good measure). As we finished our mains the three Sturms, Christian, Tim and I were then joined by the painters from upstairs as well as Suzie which meant the table was very packed but incredibly jovial. As Tim commented as we left after lunch, it would be rare for work(wo)men to be invited to join the dinner table as friends back home but it really seems a different way of life here, and very pleasant it is too!

After lunch we took the last electrics reading and headed back to the office for about 3 hours of serious spreadsheet work that involved us showing Thorsten the results from the two weeks and being able to pinpoint using the FOS/TAC, pH, temperature, gas analysis and electricity readings how things were changing through the whole process due to, for example, the addition of extra minerals, increasing the heating duty in the fermenter (massively increases the overall process efficiency) and how changing the addition of oxygen in attempt to control H2S also affects the other gas compositions and amount of auxiliary gas required by the gas engines. All in all it was fairly satisfactory to see things come together. We then moved on to comparing the actual cost variation of the gas engine (circa 38% efficient at converting thermal energy in the biogas to electricity) and the oil-injection gas engine (higher efficiency, reputedly 42%). After including a whole range of factors from capital costs, discount rate, range of costs of maize substrate, amount of oil needed, availability (and cost of lost revenue when out of service) and maintenance costs per kWh we were able to plot how much more efficient the more efficient engine needed to be to offset the extra cost of operating it against the price of maize (which governs the cost of gas entering the engine) and for this farm it turns out to be in the range of 4-7 % points, but for the current maize prices it’s towards the higher end of the scale. It’s pretty interesting to see how a higher efficiency engine doesn’t correlate to a more economical purchase.

So much spreadsheeting for two lines on a graph. Still, I reckon it was worth it in the end

So much spreadsheeting for two lines on a graph. Still, I reckon it was worth it in the end

We also showed Thorsten the gas analysis macro (explaining the frustration of the output from the analyser) and the pig-monitoring macro which he seemed pretty pleased with. So pleased in fact that he let us out to drive the loader and put a few bucketfuls of maize into the rotamat loader. I GOT TO DRIVE THE TRACTOR!

Me + tractor, Doing stuff. Yeahhhhhhhh

Me + tractor, Doing stuff. Yeahhhhhhhh

Sorry, a little excited there, but for city boys like Tim and I this is a lot of fun. I managed to drop over a tonne of maize into the hopper fairly successfully. Well, successfully if you don’t count the dozen (hand)shovelfuls that I managed to drop onto the tractor itself…oops!

....more practice needed, clearly!

….more practice needed, clearly!

After clearing up the mess Tim and I cleaned the lab as well and then put on a shirt for dinner at a thai restaurant in with Thorsten and Suzie to celebrate what has been a very successful (at least from where I’m sitting) fortnight. Thorsten very kindly bought dinner for us and the food itself was very tasty, even if the chips served with the thai salad were (I’m sure) bacon flavoured.

After a long day, a couple of white beers and the drive back (thanks Suzie for being the designated driver) to the farm we were all fairly shattered and we slumped into bed soon after barely even noticing the noise from the cows next door.

Routine continued this morning with the exception that the marmalade I brought over with me appeared on the table and seemed to get the Sturm seal of approval too which was nice. Tim took charge of the testing this morning as I got on with producing a graph of the hourly-averaged electricity usage around the farm using the data from our testing. With luck it should be able to tell Thorsten and Georg whether they’ll be able to install batteries with solar to cover their pump and other auxiliary usage. As well as the normal morning testing Tim and I also peeled the cover on the silage back another 6 feet and managed to avoid falling over the edge while rolling the covering back and replacing the sandbags. With half an hour to kill before lunch we also cleaned up the silage a bit, shovelling a good pile into the path of the loader for tomorrow.

A view inside the giant final storage tank - it's huge!

A view inside the giant final storage tank – it’s huge!

Lunch was soup to start with breaded mushrooms, potatoes, peas, carrots and sweetcorn which was great. Dessert was the other wine cake that was made – this one is cherry, nuts and red wine and is also superb. Honestly, I’ve put rum, stout, ale, baileys and a whole host of other spirits into cakes into the past but never thought of adding wine to the fruit. Just delicious.

Me looking very chipper while brandishing a spanner - I'm obviously enjoying myself!

Me looking very chipper while brandishing a spanner – I’m obviously enjoying myself!

After lunch Thorsten asked us whether we could remove the oxidiser on the exhaust of the oil/gas motor so he could clean it. This involved removing the cladding and unbolting a sizeable panel before we could get access to the exhaust (fortunately the engine was off at the time!). Coordinating the spanners while on a platform with ear defenders was a bit of challenge but we managed it okay, removed the filter with no problems and replaced the panel and cladding as asked. While Tim got stuck into the titrations for the afternoon I wrote the visual basic code for the pig-logging spreadsheet Thorsten asked for last night and got generally frustrated by the errors, but we got there I think, eventually.

Finishing up around 17:45 we headed back to the room and caught up with family, emails and diary. Still unsure whether we’re off running tonight yet. I would happily go alone but it’s already dusk, I’d definitely get lost and Thorsten has the head torch, so I’m pretty much dependent on whether he fancies it or not. On the one hand I really feel like I need it, having eaten quite a lot of fried food the last few days, but on the other I don’t know whether I’d be up to running another 13km at sub 5-minute pace having not really done much (except 6km on Sunday) for over a week. I suppose we’ll see!

…Well we did go for a run and managed about 11.5km in just under an hour, which considering we were talking most of the way and I hadn’t even broken 10km before coming out here I was pretty happy with. Leaving just before dusk I was glad Tim was riding with us as the gyro on the bike gave us a much better amount of light than the headtorches though I still managed to very nearly fall into a ditch. That’s what I get for trying to multitask (talking and running).

Back in the evening we sat around the dinner table for a few hours discussing a wide range of topics from politics and energy to what you call the end of a loaf of bread (the answer is ‘nobby’ in case you’re wondering/ think it’s something else – like crust for example – and need correcting). Feeling completely shattered from the run I managed to check a few emails, write a few replies, post a blog and then collapse into bed. Last day tomorrow and don’t want to be tired for tractor training (EGGS-SIGH-TED).

Mmm, oven dried digestate - gulle kuchen as Christian called it

Mmm, oven dried digestate – gulle kuchen as Christian called it

Up bright and early this morning and having forgotten all about the corrections I was mulling over last night I got on with the inspections and testing with Tim and Thorsten before breakfast at 7. The morning was largely consumed by the normal testing with the addition of getting some fresh muck to analyse as well as the normal digestate. Given the choice I’d take anything that’s further along the process as most of the initial materials (of which a large amount is excrement) are broken down, so that by the time it gets sprayed on the fields it doesn’t have the manure odour any more (it does still smell of something, though nowhere near as offensive/ pungent). With a little bit of time before lunch I start turning Tim’s idea of a typical daily schedule for trainees into reality in the hope that we, and anyone who follows us, doesn’t forget one of the 9+ sets of tests that are carried out each day.

Lunch today was soup (which is becoming pleasantly frequent) with kartoffeln pouffes (potato pancakes) for seconds. The lo­cals tend to have them sweet, doused in apple sauce, but I also tried them with a bit of salt and pepper and thoroughly enjoyed them like that too. The last pieces of nut cake for dessert (Noooo) but Christa assured us there was a new apple cake for dinner. Spoilt. Rotten.

After lunch Thorsten asked us to go through the accounts for the last 7 years looking for all of the maintenance payments outgoings for the different motors. He is trying to calculate whether the engine that is more efficient at generating electricity from gas is actually more economical than the less efficient one since it seems to cost more in spares and servicing. After a couple of hours of going through German bills and rebates we came up with a spreadsheet that compared the costs and headed to get started on the tests which consumed the rest of the afternoon along with trying to finish the VB macro for the gas analyser data.

Thorsten seemed impressed with the cost comparison and showed us how he wanted to use the data to compare it to the hours of operation for the engines (and the kWh each produced) to get a maintenance cost per unit of energy sold. With the day drawing to a close we agreed to look at it tomorrow and I also got another spreadsheet job to help keep stock of the pigs.

Dinner was the remainder of the potato puffs with the usual bread, cheese, eggs and tofu spread options. The bread today was dense and even more laden with seeds so even though I was stuffed by all of the potato Christa had served up for us I had to try a piece and it was super – crunchy bread, NOM! The cake we’d promised at lunch was also on offer and in trying to get moisture into the dough without using milk Christa had decided to add wine to the apple cake which is an idea I’m definitely taking note of as it tasted superb! With Thorsten and Georg away at a meeting this evening Tim and I chatted to Christa over dinner each of us practising speaking in our foreign language and generally managed to get our messages across. My German is still pigeon and probably painful to behold to a native but I can at least now tell stories and make jokes (I say jokes…well if you’d had the friends I’ve had for the last few years you’d know how low the bar is for ‘joke’) which is win in my books.

Now, a little diary writing, a kiwi fruit and perhaps another stab at the corrections and I’ll be out for the count I reckon – it’s been a computer-heavy day!

Another varied day today. As we got on with the normal testing Thorsten came to see if we wanted to have a look at the engines while they were being serviced. A 12-cyinder 300kW engine…do we?! We jumped at the chance and while watching how the valves are adjusted we even then got roped in to maintaining the spark plugs.

Lunch for the veggies was the remainder of the baked rice from the previous day with fresh salad and fries and was again very tastily topped off with a nut cake (the arrival of which I found a useful time for the German for ‘excellent’, which I can say but not spell, surprising most of the people around the table). After lunch, as maintenance on the engine continued and an environmental engineer continued taking NOx and formaldehyde readings while the engine engineer (that sounds odd but I hope you get my meaning) tuned the engine to improve its performance we were looking for something to do before testing again. Thorsten asked if we’d mind cleaning the compactor which was still full of clay-soil from last year – they had been waiting for the winter to freeze the mud and make it easier to knock off. We didn’t mind at all, in fact having eaten a spoonful too many for lunch I was glad of the exercise and we set about using hoes and mattocks to clean the rollers of the six inches of compacted mud they’d accrued before testing began.

With little to get on with once testing was done I set about writing a bit of visual basic code to strip the readings from the abysmal data output by the gas analyser (it writes to an excel file but lumps the data and units into one cell with no consistent format) – to get anything in a plottable fashion you’d have to rewrite out all of the data which kinda defeats the point of having it recorded anywhere!

We finished a bit earlier than expected and spent a bit of time taking photos of the site for our final reports that go back to the REA before Thorsten asked whether one of us wanted to load some silage into one of the hoppers. Tim jumped in the loader cab and I hung in through the window as we got a crash course in driving and manoeuvring the loader before we were set loose on the silage. Tim successfully dumped over a tonne of silage into the hopper before we headed off for dinner.

That evening I eventually got round to taking my laptop to the internet and sent off some emails and posted the first blog. Feeling a bit better that I’d actually achieved something I then set about getting on with a bit of work too and only when I couldn’t think how to rephrase one of my corrections did I finally give up and go to bed, only to have it go round in my mind for the next hour or so. Oh well, hopefully by the morning it will become clear…

Sunset over the roller we cleaned during the afternoon and I didn't even play with the colours!

Sunset over the roller we cleaned during the afternoon and I didn’t even play with the colours!

Dawn breaking over the flare and digester 1 as we do the composition testing on the gas intake to the engines

Dawn breaking over the flare and digester 1 as we do the composition testing on the gas intake to the engines

A nice early night last night meant a full eight hours before the alarm this morning which was bliss. Today was a fairly varied day all in all. There was a ground frost this morning which meant that Thorsten and Georg were devoted to trying to muck-spread while the ground was hard enough to hold the tractor and 19 tonne trailer. There hasn’t been a single snowfall this year and few frosts so there have been few opportunities to get the gulle (nutrient-rich digestate end product, effectively liquid manure) out on the fields over the winter which is important for a few reasons. First, spreading the digestate end product provides nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium reducing the need for (and cost of) conventional fertiliser. Second, this process closes the nutrient cycle (which is important for the sustainability of biogas). And finally, the enormous tank where the end product is stored was at least 80% full and once it’s full there’s no way of storing the digestate, and no where to put it!

Inside the digester during agitation. Looks like a Martian (or otherworldly) landscape apparently...?

Inside the digester during agitation. Looks like a Martian (or otherworldly) landscape apparently…?

Up to mid-morning we steadily got on with our testing and routine tasks while service engineers maintained one of the gas engines to ensure optimal efficiency and in preparation for upcoming emissions testing. Following the frosty early start, the day turned into beautiful sunshine in a cloudless sky and the PV installations in this part of the world started gearing up to donate to the grid. Thorsten dropped by around mid-morning to see whether Tim and I wanted to join him for some muck spreading as there’s a spare seat in the big tractor so we split the time and while I finished off that series of tests Tim helped fill the spreader and went about videoing the spreading in action. I got a similar slice of action later on and can understand why Christian enjoys muck-spreading so much. It’s thoroughly relaxing to switch on the radio, key in the range to which extend the spreader arms, set the cruise control on the tractor and give a decent amount of field (about 0.7 Ha) a nice wet brown covering before using the ipad/ ipod linked to the GPS tracker to check the field off of the schedule for the day. Yes, there really is that much technology in these tractors!

During a couple of spreading visits Thorsten told me of the importance of diversifying what is grown to spread the risk for crops (last year was terrible for corn but nearly a record for wheat – I think I’ve got that the right way round – on account of the amount of rain and when it fell). It also turns out that the farm is entirely plough-less which surprised me. Not that it was something I’d ever thought about in depth, I admit. It turns out that ploughing is highly energy intensive, kills large numbers of soil fauna and also oxidises the soil requiring a deeper humus layer. On the farm they tend to grow mustard instead during the off-season to control weeds and then when the frost comes it splits the bulbs and the plants die back returning all of the nutrients to the soil which is then rotavated instead before planting. See, not just biogas that’s being taught out here – to be honest I could write a tome on all of the odds and ends I’ve learned in a week out here (and several more on the now known-unknowns that have come to my attention – like why when you dilute digestate of pH 7-8 with distilled water of pH about 7 does the pH of the solution increase to about 8.2 when the digestate is already about 92% water?).

Back for lunch of baked rice with courgette and fennel and green salad which was delicious and topped off by a nut cake of which I had two pieces. I’ve been starving all day and am now going to blame it on the doughnut I had with breakfast (yes, that’s three pieces of cake by lunch time) that was made with a little bit of milk that didn’t really agree with me. (Nothing wrong with the doughnut, which was very tasty, just a bit wrong with me).

As another week’s worth of silage has now been fed to the fermenter there was some shovelling to do to get the remainder off of the ‘sausage’ of corn in the side of the silo. So, we set to that to work off some of the lunchtime calories before getting stuck into the afternoon’s routine.

Tim is king of the maize pile. Oh, and the white thing next to him is the 'sausage' of corn

Tim is king of the maize pile. Oh, and the white thing next to him is the ‘sausage’ of corn

Around 4pm Thorsten asked whether one of us was free to help him lift some boards for one of his friends. I jumped in the car with the friend and spent the next few hours unloading plasterboard from a forklift truck through an upstairs window into the newly built flat his friend has built on top of his girlfriend’s house. Now, when I say on top, I really mean it – they took the roof off, added a spiral staircase next to the front door and installed an entire other floor on the top of the house with the structural work taking about two weeks. Yes, two weeks! The additional storey is constructed entirely from wood and was largely made offsite and then clicked together in place and, although still work in progress, it looked great with high, vaunted ceilings in the eaves of the roof and loads of light flooding in through windows galore. Even though my fingers were now tingling from hefting pallet full of plaster boards – having not entirely recovered from climbing at the weekend – it was nice to have been able to help out a little bit and also great to see how the community here is close enough to help each other out (Thorsten picked up the pallet of boards from a storage yard with the forklift and drove it through the town to the house because he was asked if he could help while at dinner last night). I asked him about this and he said that the guy we helped was really good at exterior painting and woodwork so he’d just call in the favour if he needed some help in the future; isn’t that the way communities should be?

Back for dinner where I’ve got humous and tofutier (fake meat and vegetable) spread to cover the rye bread with before retiring early for a bit of diary writing and perhaps a little work too. Or maybe just preparation for work; we’ll see how tired I feel after this…

 I got a lie in today! I was up AFTER dawn. Imagine that, 8:10 my alarm went off. To tell the truth the body clock was well awake by then anyway but it felt like a slow start. After gulping down a small bowl of porridge and a coffee we got ready for some exercise and Tim and I rode, while Thorsten ran, to the lake in Obernzenn. We met Christian here and ran a few laps of the lake with him before getting back on the bikes for a further 15km on the bikes around the local area. The tracks and trails were really pleasant, heading up into the forest (and joyfully on a mountain bike back down again) before sweeping around the Zenn valley passed the US training base and back to Obernzenn and eventually back to Esbach. 23km before 11 on a Sunday was a very pleasant start to a day off.

Me Christian and Thorsten just before we headed out again for biking/ running with Tim (the photographer)

Me Christian and Thorsten just before we headed out again for biking/ running with Tim (the photographer)

After a thoroughly restorative hot shower we sat down for lunch of veggie burgers and sauerkraut leftover from yesterday’s lunch which was just as tasty as it had been previously. Today is apparently fish day (which occurs in each month containing an ‘R’) so the family had battered carp caught from a local lake.

Another, fixed roof this time, biogas plant (this one is owned by a collection of farmers)

Another, fixed roof this time, biogas plant (this one is owned by a collection of farmers)

After lunch we got to be tourists for a bit and drove out to Rothenberg, an old walled city that survived the bombing of WWII almost entirely intact. En route we detoured to take in a range of biogas plants that are dotted around the Franconian countryside, the vast majority of which also supply district heating, which is awesome. On the drive a few wind turbines also came into view and with the PV and solar-heating panels provided a panoply (sorry, I just love that word) of renewable technologies that were well integrated with the local population. Talking Tim and me through the different sites, Thorsten mentioned something I hadn’t really thought of about biogas, which is that it doesn’t just breed a closed cycle in environmental terms, but as silage, corn and manure are supplied by local farmers, heat distributed to local residents and digestate then spread on local fields, it promotes a circular economy too. Far less dependence on oil and gas from far away, these sites source from, give back to and benefit the local economy, which for rural populations is incredibly important.

DSC_1506_lrRothenberg was very impressive and really like stepping back in time with brightly painted plaster and wood-fronted houses, cobbled streets and imposing church spires and towers interposing the jaunty vertices of the rooftops. We sat for a coffee, pretzel and schneeball (snowball, sadly probably made with butter) for a quick pick me up after walking around the town and the ramparts discussing everything from energy prices to planning permission – in English before you think my German has improved that much.

Back on the farm we headed for dinner with Suzie’s sister (Steffi) and her boyfriend (Patrick) by Obernzenn lake at a restaurant that apparently does very good salads. As we walked in it was as if the restaurant had been planned as between them the group of four locals knew almost everyone already present. We sat down with one of Suzie’s colleagues, her boyfriend and their dog and tucked in to a good dinner. For me it was salad and chips (before you think that’s a dire choice of food to classify as a good dinner it was awesome, with seeds and nuts galore in the salad), while the food around the table ranged from pizza to prawn pasta and schnitzel with potatoes. And there was good local beer too. In addition to the good food, the conversation at dinner was great with lots of joking around. I also realised that here at least, we and the Germans hold our forks differently. Sounds benign, is benign I suppose, but one of those things that you can’t help but be captivated by once you’ve noticed it. Similarly, the locals thought the way we Brits use our gabels is odd so everyone quickly agreed to disagree and we got on with dinner.

The pretty city of Rothenberg from the tower about the main entrance (so many stairs wasn't great for the legs after this mornings exercise)

The pretty city of Rothenberg from the tower about the main entrance (so many stairs wasn’t great for the legs after this mornings exercise)

Back in the room at 8:45 and I’m shattered. So, while I was going to get on with some work I think it’s going to be an episode of something on the laptop and then early to bed. Oooh and I also got the go ahead to put this online as a blog, so perhaps tomorrow I’ll start posting these notes.

Today very nearly started a bit awry as neither Tim’s nor my alarms seemed to work properly with the former going off around 2 am and me forgetting that my alarms are set to repeat on weekdays only…fortunately the body-alarm clock managed to kick in around 6:20 and we just made it in time to start the morning round of checks. Although ostensibly a full work day, Saturday passed relatively easily as we’ve taken enough measurements to show that there’s no need for 2 repeats of the time-consuming titrations we’ve been carrying out, dramatically reducing the amount of time and acid spent on the testing. (We now have a feel for the range of numbers expected so if a test comes up outside of that range we’ll double check the experiment.)

Well it's not a full-on hard work day for everyone on the farm...

Well it’s not a full-on hard work day for everyone on the farm…Photo credits to Tim!

With a little spare time around the testing we were able to finish off and fine-touch the procedures and reports for the bits and bobs we’ve been writing over the last few days and send them off to Thorsten for approval. It’s pretty cathartic to be able to produce something that is hopefully useful in repayment for the kindness, time, board and lodging that’s been bestowed on us.

Come the afternoon we finished the last round of electricity meter testing and finished a bit earlier than expected so took an early shower and relaxed in the room until the final round of checks just before dinner. That evening Thorsten had suggested we go to a bouldering wall with friends and family of his and Susie’s so we jumped in the car and headed to Nurnberg for the evening with the journey providing a range of comical topics of discussion, especially our attempts at the various dialect ways of saying Nurnburg (it turns out we Brits are just useless at saying it).

For a sense of scale, that's me in the red jacket peering into the storage tank for the gulle (watery end product that's returned to the fields). Photo credits to Tim!

For a sense of scale, that’s me in the red jacket peering into the storage tank for the gulle (watery end product that’s returned to the fields). Photo credits to Tim!

The climbing wall was pretty awesome. Recently extended, it’s about twice to three times the size of the Depot in Leeds (for those who know the reference), covers two floors and has a huge range of interesting problems across a wide range of abilities. Even newcomers to the climbing craze enjoyed the euphoria of getting to the top of a route, the burning pain in the forearm and the knowledge that dry, gnarled fingers and numb toes brings.

Completely unlike any wall in the UK, the cafe here not only served gourmet pizza but also beer. Yes, beer at a climbing wall. There’s nothing quite like a Russian (white-beer shandy) to pluck up the courage to have a go at that damned green route that’s been annoying you and tearing your fingers apart all night.

After another hour or so clambering around the wall closed at 11pm and we got changed and headed to McDonald’s to replenish some of the calories we’d managed to burn through and protein needed for muscle repair. That was the excuse anyway. In McD’s we were told how the food standards in the German outlets were so high that it was probably one of the best fast food outlets if you’re stuck in Germany. Personally, I think I’ll stick to a falafel pitta if I can get one (since the cous cous salad had stealth cheese) but the salad was really fresh and Thorsten and Andy were telling us how the farms that McD’s source from have to adhere to higher standards than is usual for the rest of Germany. Similar to pretty much everyone I’ve met in Franconia (this German region) so far, everyone was incredibly pleasant, welcoming and funny. Here, if mentioning that I’m from Essex people tend to think that is where the running shoes (Asics) come from. That’s one hell of an improvement on TOWIE.

We got back to the farm pretty late, well 12:45 certainly seems pretty late at the moment, and agreeing to go running/ biking with Thorsten and his brother Christian at 8:30 the next day we thought it was probably best to hit the sack.