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A major technological advance is eagerly anticipated in Berlin near the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor): a high-tech horse diaper.
The local population and visitors have been striving for some time to cope with the increasing levels of what the Berliners like to call Horse Apples (or in German: Pferdeäpfel, a somewhat culinary term used to describe horse poo). The area around the Brandenburg Gate is very popular with tourists who like to take sightseeing trips by horse and carriage.
Popularity does, however, have its price. This can be measured by the amount of equine excrement found lying on the Berlin streets or on the soles of visitor’s shoes. In addition when the weather is warm and humid these ‘apples’ tend to stay ‘fresh’ for quite a long period of time. The gentle aroma which accompanies fresh horse apples can have a negative effect on the appetite of some of the more sensitive guests who like to take advantage of the street cafes and restaurants.
Berlin’s horses can be quite productive. Apple delivery is a way they use to mark out their territory and as a result that old measure of healthy living: ‘an apple a day’, can be a considerable underestimate.
Of course the local police are doing their best to cope with this demanding situation. If they see our four-legged friends dropping apples on the street without the coach driver undertaking appropriate ‘scrumping’ action they are quick to issue a formal penalty ticket.
Perhaps I should explain my use of technical terminology in relation to horse apples: Scrumping is a UK term used when a person takes someone else’s apples (this is where the ‘scrumpy’, another word for apple cider, comes from). Normally a Berlin horse-drawn coach driver should use a brush and shovel to scrump-up any horse poo before it can become a nuisance.
In an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Volker Strehlow, the leader of the municipal public order office (Leiter Ordnungsamt, Berlin Mitte) pointed out that although his team of 36 officers have a lot of other important work to attend to they take unclaimed horse poo very seriously. He is concerned because these horse deposits are increasing considerably. Many tourists have called the station to report incidents of horse excrement inexplicably appearing on the soles of their shoes. Cyclists have reported piles of horse manure causing them to slip uncontrollably on Berlin’s roads; a situation which can become even more dangerous when it rains. However tracking down the fecal perpetrators is a challenge even for these dedicated public order officials. They are simply too busy to wait around on the off-chance that a horse raises its tail and ejects some apples.
It is usually a pure coincidence when these upholders of law and order manage to catch the criminals at the scene of their crime. However, when they spot a faecal transgression they immediately issue a traffic violation ticket to the offending driver (the horse is considered to be an innocent bystander in such situations).
In the past when this area was part of East Germany (the former DDR) this was not such an issue because horse excrement was treasured by the locals; they used it to enhance their strawberries and tomatoes. These valuable windfalls were whisked away with enthusiasm by citizens of the former communist republic before they could even hit the ground.
Today if a horse ‘driver’ is caught not honouring his (or her) scrumping obligations by collecting up equine excrement it can cost dearly. Such traffic violations are punishable with a fine of 35 euros and the driver of the carriage gets a driving license penalty point from the town of Flensberg (where the National Pferdeäpfel Überwachungs Zentrale is based). Clearly this is considered to be a serious situation; un-controlled defecation can cost you your driving license!
Needless to say some of the best engineering minds in the world can be found in Germany and they are working on a technical solution to address this seriously unpleasant problem. It is a challenge because any solution needs to be horse friendly, whilst at the same time being pragmatic and easily automated. Horses in other cities like New York, Vienna and Dresden are already required to wear diapers (or, to use their technical term, ‘Poo Bags’). This is a solution which Ordnungsamt Leiter Strehlow also favours.
A prototype is currently being developed by a saddle manufacturer on behalf of a Berlin coach company. This will use similar material to that used to cover lorries and a special device similar to the Rucksacks used by German schoolchildren. It will be attached to the back of the horse to gather the poo as it falls. This poo collector will be positioned low enough not to disturb the passengers in the carriage with any undesirable manure-like aromas. It will also be far enough away from the horses legs not to lead to irritation through contact with the pooey contents. Trials will begin shortly.
German engineering ingenuity at its best, or as they say “More dung durch Technik”!
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This is an anglicised review based in part on the contents of an article by Thorsten Schmitz which appeared in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on 30th July 2012 (Nr 174, Panorama section, P 9).