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Windgesichter (The Face of Wind Energy) a Review by Paul Gipe

Article by: Paul Gipe

Windgesichter: Aufbruch der Windenergie in Deutschland (The face of wind: Dawn of wind energy in Germany) by Jan Oelker is a joy to behold. It’s one of those rare cases where you can indeed tell a book by its cover. 

The cover photo is a portrait of a bearded Karl-Heinz Hansen in his blue work jacket astride an early Vestas wind turbine. Hansen is looking to the right and off into the distance. He could be gazing into the future that he and the others in the book helped make a reality. He beckons the reader to turn the page.

Hansen’s face reflects the theme of the book: personal portraits of the men and women who made wind energy in Germany the success it is today. And it’s fitting that Oelker begins with Hansen and Nord Friesland. Hansen was the first farmer in Schelswig-Holstein’s northernmost county to install a modern wind turbine. Moreover, it was Hansen and his fellow farmers that not only powered Germany’s wind revival, but also pioneered the direct ownership of the wind energy that had swept over their farms for generations. It was their wind and they were going to harness it.

Oelker tells Hansen’s story and many others in this massive coffee-table book–it weighs in at more than one kilogram.

It is, I hope, one in a series of books by Oelker celebrating the pioneers and the visionaries of wind energy. Windgesichter features humble farmers as well as the leaders in the German wind industry, past and present–from Johannes Lackmann, Martin Hoppe-Kilpper, Heiner Dörner, and Jens Peter Molly to Aloys Wobben, the eccentric but brilliant founder of Enercon.

Windgesichter has been displayed prominently in my book case now for several years in the vain hope that I would someday have the time to give the book the serious attention it deserves. That day is not likely to come so I felt compelled to get something into print for those English-speakers interested in wind energy that are not apt to come across such a massive work in German.

The text in Windgesichter is written by those who have made a difference writing about and advocating for the development of wind energy with names well known in the field, such as Peter Ahmels, one-time chief executive of the German wind turbine owners association (Bundesverband Windenergie), and Ralf Kökpe, and Christian Hinsch who wrote for the association’s trade magazine Neue Energie (New Energy).

For serious students of wind energy, Oelker has provided a useful and interesting time line of German work with wind energy from the physicist Albert Betz (famous for the “Betz Limit”) in the 1920s, through the war years with Hermann Honnef’s monstrous designs for the Third Reich (not unrelated to Albert Speer’s grandiose architectural plans), to the Allgaier machine of the 1950s that followed from Ulrich Hütter’s research.

One of the highest compliments I can pay to Oelker’s work is that we should have something like this in English. Frode Birk Nielsen’s book The Nature of Wind Power comes closest but Nielsen’s work is geared toward the aesthetics of wind turbines in the landscape, his specialty. No, we need a book that tells this tale in English in as a loving, reverential, and celebratory way as Oelker has done, but one that includes those from around the world who have given us one of the technologies we desperately need for the 21st century.

As an author and photographer too, I found myself thumbing through Windgesichter mumbling, “incredible, just incredible,” trapped by my limited understanding of German but knowing enough to recognize a monumental work when I am holding it my hands.

Oelker’s seven-year labor of love is a work of art and a celebration of what we can do as individuals and, more so, what we can do together. These are people who have made a difference in their communities and in their nation. But their influence goes well beyond Germany. They and their accomplishments have become a beacon for the rest of the world.

No serious library of wind energy anywhere should be without this pictorial essay of the beginning of modern wind energy in Germany.

Windgesichter: Aufbruch der Windenergie in Deutschland by Jan Oelker, 2005 cloth, 400 pages, 25 cm x 29 cm, 1,200 g, more than 350 color photographs, ISBN 3-9809956-2-3, €78.


Related posts

Windiger Protest: Konflikte um das Zukunftspotential der Windkraft (Windy Protest: Conflict Surrounding the Future Potential of Wind Power)

Die Geschichte der Windenergienutzung 1890-1990 (The History of Wind Energy Utilization 1890-1990) by Matthias Heymann



Part I: Aus Windrädern warden Kraftwerke

  • Hütters Erbe-Die Stuttgarter Schule
  • Die “Growian”-Der Dienstweg aus der Ölpreiskrise
  • Zeit des Probierens-Motivierte Techniker entwickeln kleine Windkraftanlagen
  • Schritt satt sprünge-Der Technologiedurchbruch
  • Danish Design für den Deutschen Markt
  • Gründerzeit-Dynamik enes neuen Industriezweiges

Part II: Zivilcourage gegen das Strommonopol

  • David gegen Goliath-Turbulenzen im Binnenland
  • Kilowatt am Watt
  • Energie “Wende”-Windkraft im Osten Deutschlands
  • Kleine Schritte für eine grosse Vision
  • Aufwachen nach Tschernobyl-Energiealternativen jetzt!
  • Lobby für eine Demokratische Energiewirtschaft

Time Line: Windenergie: Technik, Wirtschaft, Politik-Die wichtigsten Ereignisse