Germany’s Quietness Campaign

'Whispering asphalt' and bans on night flights are just a few of the many proposals for more peace and quiet across the country

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Sean Gallup / Getty Images

A poster featuring German Chancellor Angela Merkel next to a German flag in Berlin on September 1, 2013.

In an effort to make noise before the national election on September 22, Germany’s political parties are campaigning for quieter public spaces.

“One in two Germans feels troubled by noise,” declares the manifesto of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). “We want to change this.” Altogether, the manifesto mentions noise 12 times, versus the 38 times the Green Party uses the buzz word, Reuters reports. The word appears 19 times in the program of government coalition partner Free Democrats (FDP), nine times in the center-left Social Democrats’ (SPD) platform and eight times in policies of the far left Die Linke party.

Indeed, all German political parties find too much sound to be burdensome and are offering plans to enforce traffic speed limits to reduce sound, invest in noise insulation of roads and railways and even incorporating “whispering asphalt,” or open-graded friction courses (OGFCs) on high-speed roadways. A proposal to ban night flights as well as upholding the concept of Nachtruhe, or night silence, which is understood as remaining silent between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. the next morning, are also mentioned among the political platforms.

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Noise violations are common in Germany, where regulations already confine how much racket residents can make. Legal battles over acceptable noise levels for children on playgrounds or residents after dark have long been an issue.

But why so much attention paid to regulating sound? Professor Rainer Guski of Bochum’s Ruhr University attributes the political awareness of noise annoyance to activism against major construction developments or airport extensions. More recently, activists gathered at Merkel’s office to protest the establishment of new flight patterns that may lead to an influx of noise.

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