Category Archives: Deutsche Welle

Spain replants after centuries of deforestation

Around this time of year in the Sierra de Guadarrama, a snow-capped mountain range outside Madrid, the snow is starting to melt. Below the tree line, the melting water soaks the earth in dense stands of pine trees. Further down, holly, oak and ash trees line the banks of mountain streams, and goats graze between granite rock formations.

Rubén Bernal, a guide at Guadarrama National Park, knows his trees. Walking down the mountain, he points out junipers, oaks, alders, honeysuckles, blackthorns, wild privets, butcher’s brooms – and the wild apple, which he said is the most protected. “Buckthorn, madrone – everything near the water,” Bernal said.

Bernal explained that the forests here were burned to make charcoal, or to clear land for sheep to graze – once common practices throughout Spain. When the government first took stock of the damage in the late 19th century, it estimated that 5 or 6 million hectares – or about 10 percent of the country’s land area – would need to be replanted.

The reforestation work continues to this day.

Hear the full radio report and see the online story at DW [html] [mp3]

Madrid air pollution reaches alarming levels

You don’t have to step into the street for Madrid’s roads to pose a hazard to your health: air pollution from cars in the city might just knock you over. Scientists are finding links between the gases and disease.

Pollution is not quite a top-ten killer – in Western Europe, lifestyle choices such as smoking, lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet pose a bigger risk. Yet strikingly, the diseases linked to particulate air pollution may be the hardest to avoid if you cannot avoid the pollution itself.

In Madrid, three quarters of air pollution comes from motor vehicles. On bad days, a brown cloud sits on top of the city – prompting residents to call the smog cloud “boina” or beret because it looks like the city is wearing a cap.

More objective measures of the city’s air pollution show that it regularly exceeds European-mandated levels of gases and particles.

Madrileños – or Madrid residents – walking around Atocha, one of the city’s biggest roundabouts, offer a variety of solutions for tackling the pollution problem.

See and hear the rest of this package at Deutsche Welle:  [html] [mp3]

Madrid dabbles in citizen-led culture

If you visit the Tabacalera, a decrepit old tobacco factory in the center of Madrid, you might find artists painting in one basement room, hear muffled drums thumping from another, or catch a teenage video DJ performing in the courtyard next to the bike workshop. [To skip to the audio: mp3]

There’s no tobacco processing done here anymore. And nobody charges at the door. In fact, it looks, sounds and feels like an anarchic arts squat. Until you bump into a security guard.

Otherwise, the Tabacalera is like many abandoned buildings occupied by Madrid’s politically active social groups. Those buildings often have street art on their interiors and host boisterous meetings. Banners on their balconies proclaim the politics of the squatters inside.

The Tabacalera has a lot of those things, but thanks to a contract with its owner, Spain’s Ministry of Culture, the building also has running water, working electricity, and salaried security guards. In return, nobody sleeps in the building and citizens do the curating and manage the building.

The subsidized squat

“These social centers are public, non-commercial spaces,” Miguel Martinez, a sociologist at the Complutense University in Madrid, told DW. “They are buildings with a multi-purpose aim, where collectives, groups, bands, artists, and individuals can gather and develop their activities. These are organized by assemblies.”

The defining factor, added Martinez, is the communal nature of the facility: “Everything must be free, everything must be shared, and everything is self-managed by the assembly.”
La Tabacalera in Madrid 

Everything, that is, except the utilities, the rent, and the security. It’s a kind of subsidized squat. However, according to Martinez, the government presence does not have an impact on the kind of art that participants create.

“I think people feel free to perform the music, the painting, their concert, whatever,” he said.

There is a lot of music at the Tabacalera, even when the main event is something else. At the Rave Market, Tabacalera regulars set up their own stands and sell used goods while a DJ spins tunes in the background.

Mario Serrano, who is unemployed, sells shirts, but is also a kind of all-rounder. “I come to Tabacalera to help my friends fix their skateboards, I give them a hand, take care of the Tabacalera a bit, and above all, when there’s a Rave Market, I come here with my friends,” he said, referring to the bazaar that takes place sometimes.

Flexible, not ideological

The Tabacalera, which opened as a tobacco factory in 1792, occupies a whole city block. The part managed by the squat is almost a third of that. “In the Tabacalera there are always more people, there are always more young people and, well, there are more sales,” Serrano said.

Mio Garcia says she’s used the Tabacalera for many things: “Here they tend to do concerts. I’ve gone to art events, because they do workshops on drawing and screen printing. I’ve also gone to a bike workshop where you can, for no money, learn to fix your bike yourself. There are great people who help you.”

“I think this is a space that is more open to whatever, I mean, it’s not as ideological,” Garcia added.

But it still isn’t easy for so many people to get along all the time. Last fall, the Tabacalera’s citizen-curators closed the doors for a round of planning meetings they said would take two weeks. They said they wanted a period of reflection and debate about how best to relaunch the Tabacalera. It was slow going.

At one four-hour assembly, attendees argued so much that the speakers made it through less than half the agenda. The regular activities didn’t begin again for three months. For a while, it seemed like the subsidized squatters had evicted themselves from the building.

But not long after the Tabacalera was finally relaunched, Serrano was enthusiastic: “It goes perfectly, really, it goes perfectly. It’s a real joy to have a public space like this and be able to use it so everyone enjoys it.”

Audio package first appeared in Deutsche Welle’s Pulse show: [mp3] [html]

Boniface Mwangi - by Mike Elkin

Nairobi photographer inspires political action

Boniface Mwangi – by Mike Elkin

Nairobi photographer Boniface Mwangi is fed up with his country’s politicians. To raise awareness, he’s taking an in-your-face approach with a graffiti campaign, political art show and online newspaper.

This audio package first appeared in Deutsche Welle’s Generation Change podcast and blog: [mp3] [html].

Photos and additional reporting by Mike Elkin.

Vulture grafitti – by Mike Elkin