Sustainable practices and environmental protection in Mainz. How the ecological Non Profit-Organization NABU has with Grüne Brücke created an example for ecological cities in Mainz. Christian Henkes, chairperson of NABU Mainz, talks about how they take care of this green area in the middle of the city.

In the center of Neustadt, a district of the picturesque city of Mainz located in Germany, once can not pass by on its way to the famous Rhine River without crossing the “Grüne Brücke” or “Green Bridge”. The alternative design of the Grüne Brücke seems to flow seamlessly into the cityscape of Neustadt. The numerous graffitis on the walls tell of the countless visitors to the bridge and it’s importance as a meeting place, sports field and habitat for the local community – not only for humans but, and this is the main idea of it, also for animals and plants. 

In the midst of this ecological paradise, there is a non-profit organisation called NABU, or the German Association for the Protection of Birds and Nature, which has been working for years to protect the environment and promote sustainable practices among local communities. Christian Henkes, the chairperson of NABU Mainz, explains that the main idea was, to bring nature back to the city so it is approachable for humans, who live remoted from natural habitats. While getting to know Christian Henkes, a grasshopper is landing at our feet. « This is a rare blue-winged grasshopper. Please be sure to take a picture of it. My colleague is going to freak out, I need that. » It is an example of the success of Grüne Brücke as an ecological biotope in the midst of the city. But that has not always been the case. « The Grüne Brücke was planted green, but not with the green we needed”, Henkes utters. Since 2011, the organization has made it its mission to make this bridge not only green, but also an ecological habitat for nature and animals. In order to create a biotope for species protection from the art project, NABU is planting the Green Bridge with native plants and herbs to create food for the animals that live there.

During the walk towards the Rhine, visitors to the Green Bridge can get to know native plant and animal species that have long been unknown to many. For example the exotic-sounding plant Ysop (Hyssopus officinalis) is in fact very german. Known as an important seasoning and medicinal herb since the 12th century, it is also an important food for bees. Speaking of bees, on Grüne Brücke one can also discover beehives. The social urban beekeeping is an open project, whoever is interested can join – and in one to three years learn the basic skills of beekeeping and honey extraction.

A pioneer project for nature-oriented design

Originally the “Green Bridge” was built in 1981 by the artist Dieter Magnus. It has become a widely respected model and was a pioneer project for nature-oriented design in public spaces throughout Germany. Among other things, Dieter Magnus received the Federal Cross of Merit on Ribbon for this work in 2012. The “Green Bridge” connects for pedestrians, wheelchair users and cyclists on an area of more than 2000 m² the Feldbergstraße with the Feldbergplatz, which are separated by the busy Rheinallee. It is not only a much nicer way to cross the street, it serves also as a recreation area in midst the city district of Neustadt, a district that is known as the student quarter of Mainz, that is rich in art and culture. 

“The green bridge can be used as an example. Why should not every bridge look like this?” (Christian Henkes, NABU Mainz)

In hindsight of climate change, projects like Grüne Brücke help to adapt to higher temperatures in the city. “We need much more green in the cities, otherwise we could no longer live there », says Henkes, “other interests have to be subordinated to this. It is difficult, but we see no other option.” On this hot afternoon in July, Henkes sees this function fulfilled with the Green Bridge. The waterfall at which we meet cools the environment and makes a stay outside bearable. For him Green Bridge can serve as an inspiration for climate-adapted cities. “The green bridge can be used as an example. Why should not every bridge look like this?”

However, he cannot imagine a project like this again in the city, due to space problems. Though, the basic idea of the Green Bridge must be considered in all new construction projects: “Nature must come first”, says Henkes. Green axes, for example, could be a way to give nature space in the city in a small area. To reach their goals, an important aspect of cooperation is also the establishment of contacts with the government. NABU seeks to work at local, regional and national level to influence policy decisions on environmental protection. Through dialogue and lobbying, the organization seeks legislative changes that promote sustainable practices and nature conservation. Henkes is satisfied with the cooperation with the city. His opinion is also sought on new projects, even if it is not based on ecological concerns. For him it is more due to image reasons. Mainz gives a lot of money for ecological projects. Nevertheless, projects that destroy nature are still being pushed forward.

“Although everyone in the population is in favor of more greening, as soon as it comes to one’s own parking space, things would look quite different again.”

That is why NABU aims for example to create green bridges for animals and plants over the A 643, a big highway near Mainz which will soon be expanded by the national government, even though it will destroy a part of a natural conservation area. Their green bridge project brings real environmental benefits by providing a safe migration route for animals across busy roads. This innovative solution has the potential to be replicated and applied in other regions, with the potential for long-term biodiversity benefits.

Christian Henkes doubts the will of the city and the population to push real conservation. « There is an increase in environmental awareness, but I say environmental awareness in neighbouring gardens. But my tree woe, but the tree in neighbour’s garden that should be protected. If nature conservation restricts you, it stops. We have made the experience again and again. « Although everyone in the population is in favor of more greening, Henkes says, as soon as it comes to one’s own parking space, things would look quite different again. »

Nevertheless, Henkes is satisfied with the work of NABU on the Green Bridge. While he explains the various native plants and their names and functions for the ecosystem, numerous insects are flying through the beets. Like the other insects, the rare blue-winged grasshopper Henkes was excited about at the beginning of the interview on Grüne Brücke can be seen as a small beacon of hope in the fight to preserve ecological systems in Mainz and it shows that sustainability and the lives of people in the city can harmonize with projects like Grüne Brücke side by side together. Henkes will go on with his work to fight against the destruction of nature and for more ecological projects in and around the city. “I think we are good at what we are doing. I seem to be very persuading”, he laughs. Perhaps his conviction really is so infectious that Henkes will be able to realize other projects like the green bridge together with NABU in the future.

Texte : Annika Lange et Julia Machowska Photos : Marius Jobert