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Noise pollution in Berlin - and how to escape it

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Berlin - That noise poses negative health risks is undisputed, says André Fiebig, visiting professor at the Institute of Fluid Mechanics and Technical Acoustics at TU Berlin. But to what extent does the risk of damage increase when noise levels rise by five, 1o or 15 decibels? A conversation about Berlin's worst noise sources, why people stop noticing the impact of a speed limit, and how trashed parks diminish people's relaxation.

Berliner Zeitung: Mr Fiebig, what is noise?

André Fiebig: Noise is everything that comprises the negative side of sound pollution. An unwanted sound, in other words, that can lead to damage and impairment. This can be based on a subjective impression, for example if one feels annoyed by traffic. But even sounds that are not consciously perceived as annoying should be considered noise if the sound pollution has a medium- to long-term effect on health.

Why do some people find traffic more disturbing than others?

Many factors influence an individual's perception of an unwanted noise or noise source. Certainly, individual background plays a role, be it the question of where one grew up or the general state of one's health. Some people are particularly sensitive to noise by nature. On average, however, people react similarly to many sources of noise. Hardly anyone loves loud honking cars. A certain volume of traffic noise leads to a certain degree of annoyance.

Does the layout of an apartment or its location influence noise pollution?

There are factors that can reduce the negative effects of noise. In flats that have rooms facing a quiet courtyard or a quieter side of the façade, residents feel less annoyed by traffic noise. The same is true for people who have access to a quiet area near their home. While a quiet room or the park around the corner does not change the extent to which people in their flats are affected by traffic noise, they can then cope better with the noise and feel less annoyed on average.

What are the most critical noise sources in Berlin?

The dominant source is road traffic, because most people are exposed to it. Rail and air traffic, but also noise generated by industry and businesses are other issues that are as relevant in Berlin as in other cities. In recent years, new sources of noise have been added: drones or the pedestrian warning sounds emitted from electric vehicles, which are now required by law. There is still no data on how we should assess these sources. In a large city as dense as Berlin, neighbourhood noise is also a major issue. Studies show that more and more people feel disturbed by it. Such critical attitudes are becoming more prevalent.

André Fiebig obtained his doctorate in acoustics/psychoacoustics from the Technische University (TU) Berlin. Since January 2019, he has been a visiting professor at the Institute for Fluid Mechanics and Technical Acoustics (ISTA) at TU Berlin, where he leads the field of psychoacoustics.

He is also chairman of the Noise: Effects and Protection committee at the German Acoustics Society. He sits on the editorial board of Akustik Journal.

Don't you eventually tune out noise sources like the neighbour's crying baby or the construction site outside your door?

We humans tend to come to terms with stress and say: We can't change the noise, we have to learn to deal with it. From a psychological point of view, we try to adapt, develop coping strategies,........

© Berliner Zeitung

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