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Snowman kept ‘alive’ – using sunshine

9 February 2004

BERLIN – For a year, a smiling snowman has greeted visitors to Berlin’s Technical University as part of a headline-grabbing stunt by scientists – using solar power to prolong the snowman’s “life”.

The snowman, with charcoal eyes, a twig for a mouth and carrot for a nose, and sporting a bright red woollen scarf and cap, was visible to all from his perch inside a glass-fronted freezer.

While Germany experienced record-breaking heat last summer, with temperatures topping 45 degrees in August, the one-metre-tall snowman basked in minus 5 degree comfort.

If anything, the unusually long summer helped keep his cooling coils running perfectly, because this snowman’s freezer was powered by a solar energy generator perched on top of the university roof.

“We used the snowman’s natural enemy – sunshine – to prolong his life,” says Joerg Jozwiak, an artist-scientist who conceived the project.

“I hadn’t made a snowman since I was a little kid, the 42-year-old artist recalls. “And this one brought back such fond memories of childhoods before Global Warming when winters were really cold, that I said to myself, ‘I don’t want him to melt away in a few hours. I wish he could last and last’. That’s when the idea came to me. I felt that even a snowman deserves his 15 minutes of fame.”

University officials were hooked by the promise of demonstrating solar power in an eye-catching way.

“We were fascinated by the challenge,” says Volker Mank, an engineer with the school’s Laboratory for Conventional and Renewable Energy Sources.

“The idea of combining art and science to achieve one of man’s oldest goals – preserving something very fragile – appealed to us greatly,” Mank remembers. “So we rigged up the apparatus and the university agreed to keep the project running for a year.”

That was a year ago.

Television cameras were on hand one grey and frigid a year later when Jozwiak along with university students and faculty helped carry the glass-fronted freezer outside to set the snowman free.

“He’s smiling already,” Jozwiak said as he lifted the one-metre- tall snowman out of the freezer and set him gently on the snow- covered lawn in front of the university’s main building.

A small cheer went up among the crowd of onlookers, all bundled against the cold.

“I hereby declare that this very special student has absolved all his duties and is ready to matriculate back into the natural world,” said university president Joerg Thuemer.

Jozwiak could not stop himself from wiping away a tear.

“This is a happy-sad sort of day. For a year now this little snowman has served as a poignant daily reminder to the hundreds of people who passed through the main doors of this institution about the fragility and vulnerability of life on our planet,” he said as the sun came out and shone on the snowman for the first time in a year.

“People want strawberries in winter and they want snowmen in summer,” Jozwiak noted. “It is in human nature to want to make transitory things permanent, to resist decay and death. That’s what this snowman has symbolised.”


Subject: German news