German-Turkish Environmental Centre

Interviewee: Dr. Turgut Altug, Member of the Berlin Senate & Founder
Organization: The party DIE GRÜNEN | German-Turkish Environmental Center
Expertise: Nature & Consumer Protection, Environmental & Climate Policy

I am Turgut Altug, the founder of the German-Turkish Environmental Centre and since 2011 I am a representative of the Green Party in the Berlin Senate, voted for in Kreuzberg.

I can report that the centre is no longer active, because it was no longer supported financially, although we received many prizes for our work. It’s a shame that the centre is no longer active, because we were able to offer twelve long-term unemployed people a job for three years, as environmental mediators.

We found out through our experience at the centre that attitudes and practices towards the environment are very far away from each other, also within the migrant communities. We work primarily with the Turkish community in Kreuzberg, and what we found there confirmed what studies often say.

They observe that 80% of people believe the environment to be an important topic, but not nearly so many take steps to conserve it.

Our goal as environmental centre was to engage this sector of society in environmental activities. It was important for us to show them the possibilities open to them and enable them to take part in this arena. And I can say that we were pretty successful, that our participants were open to this topic, and that some people could simply not afford, for example, to buy organic food, because we worked in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Berlin. For example, we were able to set up two intercultural gardens, because we observed that our participants were very happy to apply their knowledge of gardening within an environmental context.

We had team members who could speak different languages, we had both genders in the team. We oriented ourselves according to where our centre was, what the situation in the neighbourhood was. We worked with the other organisations in the neighbourhood, cooperating with them to make public spaces greener, or working together on public gardens. We looked to see, how does it look locally, which people live here, and what kind of activities and projects can we offer them? It was important for us to be able to come together with the other organisations, and see where there is a need, where can we get involved. We put together a project for school classes with another association, we organized a climate breakfast for all local residents, for which we cooperated with the consumer watchdog in Berlin.
There were a couple of women who took part in our projects who could speak very little German. A larger association, environmental association, wouldn’t have had the capacities to work with them. Although over the last two or three years I have been very pleased to see that national environmental organisations are thinking about, and actually implementing projects for migrants, and now for refugees as well.

Were able to get the ball rolling.

For example, last year there was a workshop organized by the Bundesamt für Naturschutz, which was focused on environmental topics and migrants. Ten years ago, back when we started, this was not the case. The idea, to make an environmental centre aimed at migrants, not just for people with Turkish roots, became reality.

My work at the environmental centre and my work in the senate are two different areas. On the one hand I was active as part of the civil society, and now I am active in the legislature. I think these experiences are very complementary and worthwhile, because I learned how the civil society works, how actors in the arena of environmental protection and environmental education work, which difficulties they have, and where they need support.