I found myself in Berlin at the weekend gasping for breath in a cold shower, doing my bit for Ukraine. Berliners are a phlegmatic bunch but the arrival of a European war two hours from their doorstep is triggering memories of much darker periods of conflict and stirring not-so-dormant feelings of solidarity and direct action. Could cold showers be the answer?
Last week the German government undid decades of foreign policy, announcing massive investment in German defence spending and sending anti-tank and air defence weapons to Ukraine. Chancellor Olaf Scholz called Putin’s invasion a Zeitenwende, a ‘watershed moment’ as he pledged €100 billion to upgrade German’s defence forces and committed to top the two per cent GDP contribution to NATO. Such is the widespread shock at what is happening that 75 per cent of Germans support Scholz’s seismic policy U-turn.
But, like the rest of Europe, Germany is reliant on Russian energy exports. One of the great ironies of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is that Europe is, in effect, funding it by buying Russian oil and gas. Europe has become addicted to Russian energy, which makes up a third of German energy imports.
During the Cold War West German policy was styled Ostpolitik, in which the government sought to normalise relations with the Soviet Union. This policy of trying to balance relations between East and West had been the approach up until now. The proposed Nord Stream 2 pipeline was to pump gas directly from Gazprom to German homes and factories. Putin’s ghastly attack on Ukraine has put a stop to all that.
The talk of the Berlin Konzerthalles and bars is now about solidarity and action. The conflict is now very real, and personal – everybody has Ukrainian friends, and there’s anxiety about things spreading this way. Refugees (‘newcomers’ they prefer to call them; it’s more welcoming) are arriving in ever larger numbers. The prospect of fallout and contamination should one of the Ukraine nuclear plants suffer damage has sent mothers off to get iodine tablets, fur alle Falle, just in case.
Huge international efforts are underway to tighten the economic screws to try to stop Putin in his tracks. But what can we do? Ukrainians, under the doughty leadership of Zelensky, have shown the world that they are prepared to stand up to Putin, and die if necessary. Twenty thousand men and women, some with little or no military experience, have headed to Ukraine to join its International Legion of foreign volunteers. British families are trying to sponsor Ukrainian newcomers through the Home Office’s hastily announced Local Sponsorship Scheme.
The least we can do is turn our backs on Putin’s gas by taking a cold shower and turning off the heating. Just four per cent of the UK's natural gas supply comes from Russia, so collective action could go a long way. The invigorating thrill of a cold shower isn’t so bad once you’ve got your head around it. Some would say it’s actually good for you. The central heating doesn’t need to be on, why not put on another jumper? You could cover yourself in deep heat if need be. The government could encourage us by publishing daily reports on national energy usage, as we decisively reject Putin’s gas and help play our part in this war.
Here's how to do the shower. Don’t think about it, commit. Don’t stand directly underneath the water, start with your head, get that bit over and done with. Then wash forearms, upper arms, and then legs. By the time it’s time for your torso you may be rather enjoying the experience. It takes a bit of getting used to but the feeling afterwards is brilliant.
We are accustomed to soft and comfortable lives. Who doesn’t like a nice warm shower in the morning? But it’s time we did our bit and cutting off Putin’s funding for his war machine is not a bad start. Let’s make a virtue out of some sacrifices, get naked, and get cold. You might rather like it. As energy bills rise, you could save yourself a small fortune as well.