Elephant food? ©MTHerzog

New Year, old trees, and the question in the air is what to do with an old Christmas tree now that the holidays are over? There is the horribly mistaken notion floating around Berlin that the discarded Christmas trees can be dumped on the elephants at the zoo. The Berliner Zoo director and the BSR (Berlin Sanitation Department) are quick to dispel this notion (have to do so every year) because people don’t pay attention.

First of all, the elephants, antelopes, bisons, rhinos, and rams do indeed get the leftover Christmas trees, but not the ones discarded from people’s homes. The Zoo accepts donations of the unsold trees directly from the nurseries. The elephants absolutely adore them, and the large cats love to play around in the branches. It is forbidden to bring any tree that has been previously decorated, because of the danger that the hooks, plastics and glass pose to the animals.

The Berlin residents with short attention spans and selective hearing tend to filter out the second part of the information and conclude that since the elephants like the pines, it is OK to keep piling them up with more! The city has now imposed a hefty fine for anyone caught trying to dump their old Christmas trees at the zoo.

The BSR has designated collection dates published in all the local newspapers and the official city website. For one week (this year it begins January 7), residents can leave their trees out on the sidewalk and the BSR will dutifully collect them. Missed the collection day in your neighbourhood? Just check the schedule and you can always run to the next one. Keep in mind, however, that the trees must be on the sidewalk by 06:00.

Another mistaken notion floating around the city is that is perfectly acceptable to throw your tree out the window (regardless of what floor you live on) from December 27 onwards, and claim that you are celebrating the Scandinavian holiday called St. Knut’s Day. According to Swedish and Finnish traditions, this is the traditional Christmas tree plundering day, when all the decorations and sweets are taken down from the tree before it is summarily discarded. St. Knut’s Day is on January 13th, and the BSR could care less about it…

Some years ago, IKEA began a marketing campaign entered around this holiday that featured the discarding of trees through the windows, claiming that discarding your Christmas tree created more space in your living room for new furniture. The video went viral and the campaign was a sensation. Unfortunately, many local residents also assumed that since IKEA Germany was promoting this, it was OK to catapult the trees out the buildings as well.

I was on the road here in Spandau on New Year’s Eve and almost got hit by a falling tree from the fourth floor, and witnessed another one flying out the window! The BSR is quick to remind everyone that this is not acceptable, even on designated collection days!

In case you were wondering, it is also illegal to go into the forest and dump the old trees there as well! No, they are not accepted in the regular garbage either.