Saturday, 7 March 2020

operation lumberjack

On this day in 1945, during the Battle of Remagen, Allied forces unexpectedly captured the Ludendorff Bridge, by the United States Twelfth Army Group under the leadership of General Omar Bradley, that spanned the Rhein and enabled them to establish a bridgehead on the eastern shore—essential to the success of Field Marshal Montgomery’s Operation Plunder that hinged on the smoothly timed advancement of several flanks to carry out a decisive invasion of Nazi Germany and hastening its surrender. Under constant assault and bombardment by Nazi forces until its ultimate collapse ten days later, the crossing remained intact long enough to allow forces to gain a foothold in the strategically important territory, taking the Mosel, Eifel and Kรถln and preventing German units there from re-grouping and launching a counter-attack.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

prรฆceptor germaniรฆ

Poet, encyclopรฆdist and military historian that went on to become the archbishop of Mainz, Hrabanus Maurus, is fรชted on this day to mark the occasion of his death in 856.
One of the more important scholars of the ninth century Carolingian Renaissance, he compiled several treatises on education, grammar, hagiographies, Bible commentary as well as a comprehensive volume De rerum naturis along with quite a few hymns. In this miniature, Hrabanus is depicted with Alcuin of York, a teacher whom Charlemagne recruited for his court, presenting his compendium to Otgar of Mainz, Hrabanus’ predecessor bishop. Blessed but qualifying as a saint, Hrabanus has no specific patronage but we think the Educator of the Germans could provide intercession for Wikipedians and share duties among Don Bosco, Francis de Sales and John the Evangelist.

Saturday, 26 January 2019


Via Kottke’s Quick Links, we are referred to a collaboration between the Hochschule Mainz and the Linguistics Department at University of California, Berkley
campus, which represents each of the known world’s historic and extant writing systems, two hundred and ninety-two of them, with a single glyph that opens up an orthographic landscape to explore. Of these scripts, only just over one hundred are easily rendered in computer code—a rather severe imposition to the further study of those that are not, including several syllabaries in current use.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018


Doing some Christmas shopping, I managed to complete the circuit through the capitals of Wiesbaden and Mainz, inspecting the high streets and markets and seasonal decorations besides. Conceding a bit of magic that one experiences at night with all the lights, it was nice to walk through the squares without so much of the crush from the crowd and take in the Nativity Scenes (Krippe) and Christmas carousels (Weihnachtspyramide), especially liking how the seat of the Second German Broadcaster (ZDF oder Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen) incorporated one its mascots, the Mainzelmännchen that signal station identification, into the decoration.

I also took the chance to re-visit St Stephan zu Mainz, a Baroque church heavily damaged during the aerial bombing of the city during World War II but rebuilt in the early 1970 and showcasing stained glass windows designed by artist Marc Chagall in the nave and quires. A tour led by a deacon invited us to bask and mediate in the uniquely cobalt light.
I then visited the monumental Christuskirche, a Renaissance-revival building that was also severely damaged during the war—whose high dome is visible from the other side of the Rhein.
Back in Wiesbaden, I walked through the Christmas market held in the square in front of the Rathaus and around the red brick Marktkirche and later went to see how the Kurhaus had decorated for Christmas and its upcoming balls and fรชtes and found this stunning poinsettia tree in the casino’s foyer.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

ausländische militärstandorte

Though less than a tenth of US troop presence remains from levels around the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and stationing the American military has been fraught for both host and sending nations at times, the army’s announcement to add fifteen hundred troops to the roughly thirty thousand currently in Germany is a far more welcome alternative to what the Commander-in-Chief’s druthers—threatening to remove all troops from Germany if the country failed to pay its membership dues. America’s footprint got significant smaller in Europe in 2012 with the closure of several outposts and the announced re-basing of the headquarters in Heidelberg but this announcement, which will deploy soldiers to Ansbach, Grafenwöhr, Hohenfels and Baumholder in 2020 may signal a re-strengthening of a presence and partnership that is welcome by many.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

parlamentarische rat

In a session convened on this day in 1948, the West German constitutional assembly meeting in a zoological museum in Bonn elected future chancellor and chief architect of the rebuilding and restoration of the country and its foreign relations, Konrad Adenauer, as the chairman of the convention to draft das Grundgesetz (the Basic Law).
Having successfully launched a new political party—the Christian Democratic Union—as a counter-balance to Marxism, after his dismissal by the British occupying forces as mayor of Kรถln—the move seen to confirm Adenauer’s political independence and stave off implications of being a puppet of the Allies and made Adenauer the clear choice to lead the efforts to return to autonomy. Bonn remained the provisional capital because the British occupying forces agreed to detach themselves from the city and allow full West German sovereignty there, something the Americans were not willing to do for Frankfurt, and calls were resisted to move the capital to the mostly untouched and better equipped town of Heidelberg because of strong Nazi sympathies demonstrated there before the War and fears that the world would not accept Germany’s attempts of contrition and reconciliation if they made that place their new capital.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

durchstoรŸenes herz

On this day in 1988, the until-then world’s worst air-show disaster occurred at the US Air Base in Ramstein when jets of the Italian Air Force display team (Frecce Tricolori) collided while attempting a formation called the piercing-heart (il Cardioide) before a huge crowd of some three-hundred thousand spectators, killing sixty seven audience members and three pilots with hundreds more sustaining serious injuries.
The scope of the disaster revealed some grave logistical and compatibility shortcomings between the coordinated response between German and US military emergency services and this confusion and delay (since redressed through investigations, reform and closer cooperation) were the potential causes for more fatalities. Formed in 1989, Rammstein took its name from the catastrophe, with the original billing for the band being the Rammstein-Flugschau. It is disputed whether the second “m” was a misspelling or a reference to door-stops, Rammsteine.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

nur bei grรผn gehen

Boing Boing reports that ahead of the Fifth of May two hundredth anniversary of the birth of native son Karl Marx, the city of Trier has installed special commemorative Ampelmรคnnchen. City officials also plan to unveil a bronze sculpture donated by the government of China on Marx’ birthday.

Saturday, 11 November 2017


I went to the other bank of the Main river and joined compatriots (despite not dressing up—I’m sure a union suit would have kept me warmer) in the courtyard of the Osteiner Hof of Mainz as we celebrated the beginning of the so-called fifth season, Fasching, that carries one’s spirits through the dreary days of winter all the way through until Lent.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017


We had not realised that the upper Rhein valley acquired its present appearance not by Nature but rather through extensive engineering until reading this profile on Johann Gottfried Tulla.
Of course many of the ancient palaces and fortifications that lend the river its romantic airs existed prior to Tulla’s excavation and construction that worked to straighten meandering sections, deepen the bed to improve navigation and remove numerous islets that began in the first decade of the nineteenth century, but the character of place was really transformed by the efforts to tame the marshlands and regulate flooding. Transportation infrastructure was the primary motivation and not tourism, but the manicured embankments did make for a good monumental showcase. Virtually unrecognisable from an ecological standpoint, Tulla’s landscaping and construction would be considered criminal today and an assault on the environment, it’s hard to imagine villages developing in swampier climes and malaria (which Tulla himself ultimately succumbed to) was rampant in the area. The efforts to mitigate flooding in the industrially-important cities of Koblenz, Bonn and Kรถln produced flooding further downstream, and presently work is being undertaken to re-naturalise and de-constrain the river as much as possible and allow it to choose its own course.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

sunday drive: kallstadt

On a lark and taking advantage of the late summer sun, I drove towards Mannheim and visited the village of Kallstadt.
Though ancient and punctuated with moments reaching back into prehistoric times through the Roman Empire and the Frankish kings and the wine and tourist industry are quite robust, the settlement has garnered some unwelcome attention for being the ancestral home of Dear Leader.
Friedrich Trump, considered to have too delicate of a constitution to work in viticulture with his siblings, was appreciated to a barber at age fourteen but soon realised that his hometown didn’t have enough of a population in need of a scalping to earn a living. Approaching age of conscription for the Imperial German Army, Trump’s mother urged him to immigrate to America.
Arriving in Battery Park in 1885, Trump indicated on his immigration papers the fact he had no profession and lived with relatives in the Lower East Side.
After five years, Dear Leader’s grand- father left Man- hattan and followed the Gold Rush to San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest and made a fortune operating boarding houses and bordellos. When the boom began to go bust, Trump decided to return to Kallstadt in 1901 and married but eventually attracted the attention of Bavarian authorities that stripped Trump of his citizenship and right of abode due to having left the country to avoid military service and the family moved back to New York.
Kallstadt’s residents certainly don’t want their nice little town to become a pilgrimage destination for Dear Leader’s fanatics (there are much nicer houses than this last one and they’re more fond of their other son, father of condiment purveyor Henry John Heinz) and we’re certainly no enthusiasts, but maybe seeing the village and sampling the local wine might unlock and dispense some chthonic sympathetic magic and improve the prospects for future immigrants.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

burg frankenstein

I had visited the grounds of Burg Frankenstein in the outskirts of Darmstadt with my parents years ago—in fact the same day my Mom adopted her little dog Zu-Zu—but never returned, not realising that it (along with a lot of other attractions—we really must get better about breaking away from the routine more often and have PfRC on assignment) was just around the corner, until learning of the transmedia edition of the eponymous gothic novel by Mary Shelley and other events happening over the course of the year leading up to the bicentenary of its first publication.
Hiking through the Odenwald to the hill’s summit, I enjoyed a late afternoon exploring the eleventh century ruins and the chapel—that’s apparently become a rather popular wedding venue—and trying to imagine its history and influence. Though Shelley does not explicitly mention the castle or the legends associated with it, in 1814—a few years before writing the novel—she toured the Rhein and stayed in the nearby village of Gernsheim (an adventure for another day) and perhaps heard tales of one of the infamous residents of Burg Frankenstein: the alchemist Johann Conrad Dippel.

Though the only attested product of Dippel’s experiments was an oil made of pulverised animal bones that was supposedly an elixir of life (there’s also a fountain of youth in the forecourt) but was used as chemical weapon during World War II to taint enemy’s water supplies, side-stepping the Geneva Protocols by dint of being non-lethal, rumours abounded that Dippel was conducting unnatural anatomical experiments and succeeded in resurrecting chimerical creatures and may have been the inspiration for Doctor Frankenstein.
Myths and folktales from this region—Odin’s wood, haunted by measurable magnetic anomalies, the site of a witches dance like in the Harz and was also the setting for some dragon-slaying action of the Nibelungenlied, could have also be communicated to Shelley through her step-mother (who was apparently the archetypal step-monster who didn’t foster her step-daughter’s literary talents in any other regard) Mary Jane Clairmont Godwin that were related to her directly from the ethnographers, the Brothers’ Grimm. Some doubt that any connection exists—Frankenstein being a rather commonplace name and designation, but I like to think there’s a triangulation of traditions focused at this place.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

afternoon drive: saint goar

In honour of the patron saint of vine-growers, potters and innkeepers—the hermit and (another) reluctant clergyman Goar of Aquitaine, I took a drive just around the corner to the Rhine Gorge to again explore namesake village, Sankt Goar am Rhein. Charlemagne ordered the construction of church at the site of the cave where Goar dwelt (the hermitage) during Frankish times and a settlement grew up around it. The sister-city on the opposite shore of the Rhein, Sankt Goarhausen, is also named for the saint.  The present church on the site is in the Gothic Revival style and was completed in 1891 but still incorporating ancient elements. Although given permission to preach to the locals and pursue the uncomplicated life of a hospitable recluse, his reputation as a charismatic and wonder-worker kept the bishopric of Trier interested in retaining his talents. Not wanting to have the responsibilities and pressures of being a bishop, Goar prayed to be excused from the commitment and succumbed the next day to a sudden and violent fever that relieved him of his mortal coil. The old town was quite impressive and steeped in history and the monumental ruins of Burg Rheinfels that dominates the village looked incredible and will certainly bear out further investigations and new vistas.  I am very happy that I made my little pilgrimage but was a bit disappointed that the throngs of tourists were oblivious to the holiday and the doors of the church were not even open.  I felt privileged, like the day and its commemoration was my secret with the saint.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

milliarium aureum

Though far from pardoning all the hardships that the global fast-food franchise has brought on the neighbours that it’s saturated, we did enjoying hearing of how one restaurant incorporated some ancient ruins into its dining experience, conserving a bit of an archaeological excavation in the process.
The parent company invested an additional three hundred thousand euro to ensure that a stretch of Roman road was properly preserved and protected that was discovered during ground-breaking back in 2014, and now is on view thanks to a transparent floor in the restaurant. This compromise reminds me of the shopping mall in Mainz that’s host to a subterranean first century sanctuary of the goddess Isis and the Cybele discovered in 1999 when the mall’s proprietors were looking to expand underground parking.

Sunday, 4 September 2016


We had heard of the Kurhesse region or even Churmainz previously (referring to the principalities’ electoral passing influence) but never before the term Churfranken, which was adopted not too long ago by a consortium of towns, villages and singular destinations along the River Main between the Spessart and Odenwald mountain ranges to promote themselves. We took advantage of the extended weekend to take a drive through this area and saw a few of the sites.
First, we toured the grounds of Schloss Mespelbrunn, an early Renaissance moated castle and keep still owned by the same noble family, governor of the Archbishop of Mainz six centuries on. We had the briefest of tours before being inundated with the crowds from a tour bus that had just arrived, but we were able to navigate through the trophy room ourselves and marvel at the authentic state of the elements and embellishments.
We clung to the river’s banks, crisscrossing several bridges and saw quite a lot along the way before stopping in historic Miltenberg. Here too, we unexpectedly found ourselves overwhelmed with crowds—there was a huge festival going on, but had a nice walk through the town nonetheless. Established as Roman fortress because of its strategic and defensible location, the town prospered throughout the Middle Ages because of its deposits of red sandstone, a distinctive building material much valued all over Europe.
The market, town gates and scores of half-timbered (Fachwerk) houses were absolutely charming and well-preserved. Among the main sites is the inn Zum Riesen (the Giant), whose registration documents dating back to the early 1400s make it one of the oldest, continuously running hotels in the world, with its guests including Holy Roman emperors, kings, generals, Napolรฉon, chancellors and Elvis Presley. We’ll have to return here soon and explore more.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

for the nonce

Thanks to our friends the OED, we learn that today, the Saint Day of Bartholomew the Apostle, patron of bookbinders, butchers and cheese-mongers, was traditional feted with a charter fair in London (chartered in the sense the market days were established to help raise fund for religious and municipal buildings, namely the priory of Saint Bartholomew) and marked the end of Summer. The evening’s repast for members of the printing guild (this day also marking the anniversary of the first printing of the Gutenberg Bible in 1456 in Mainz) was concluded with a special banquet given by a publishing house proprietor for the benefit of his apprentices.
After this break, called a wayzgoose, with the days waning shorter, scribes and later typesetters would now by working by candle-light. Although I much prefer the folk-etymology of “wase-goose”—that is a sheaf or wayward goose, for the way it sort of links the traditional dinner to customs attached to Saint Martin’s day in November, the goose being a creature that meanders aimless and betrayed the reluctant saint’s hiding spot, and in the sense of a sheaf of paper, the practise of paper-makers to use the last of the season’s pulp for making windows to be hung by Saint Martin’s Day (in commemoration to his selfless act of giving his cloak to a beggar to protect him from the element—however, it probably is a corruption of the Danish word for Weghuis—that is, an inn or guesthouse where these banquets were held. In modern parlance, the term occasionally appears when speaking of an annual outing or Organisational Day for a Fourth Estate institution. In any case, we all ought to celebrate with a little wayzgoose this evening.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

clang, clang, clang went the trolley oder schรผlerlotse

The cities of Augsburg and Kรถln, with others soon to follow suit, has installed pedestrian traffic signals in the pavement (Bodenampeln) of intersections and where lanes cross street-car tracks in order to prevent inattentive individuals, fixated on their mobile devices, from stumbling into on-coming traffic. Other places have designated lanes for those who’d prefer their telepresence to negotiating their actual surroundings. What do you think? Maybe some clever person ought to invent a crossing-guard (Schรผlerlotse) app that warns one if he or she is about to amble blinding into the street.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

biotop oder flyover

With nice weather and reckoned sufficient time, I (possibly impulsively) decided to meet a couple of colleagues for dinner in Mainz under my own power and set out crossing the Rhein on foot from the Hessen capital of Wiesbaden to the adjacent capital of Rheinland-Pfalz. It’s a funny and persistent syndrome that’s mostly not been a disservice, but trying to imagine distances in my head are without fail translated to something much smaller, a sandbox that one can just dart from one corner to another without any investment of time and energy.

It always ends well, in any case, and I was treated to vistas that one could not appreciate at higher speeds, certainly not from the passenger seat of a car, and the islands of industry and the contemplative lagoons at rest and the green verge that buffered the city from the shore. I knew the general direction but away from the clearly marked path, I had a clever application in my pocket that gave me a nudge if I was marching in the opposite directly but did not reign in my exploration overmuch. Truly away from the roads and taking the most direct routes, given my mode of transportation, I was astounded to find myself hiking through a really amazing and unexpected nature reserve just above the river’s floodplain—unseen but infinitely more interesting than some fallow-field of highway median.
I found myself in a landscape of sand dunes (der Mainzer GroรŸer Sand), whose pronounced topography did not present a struggle but was distinctly not flat, the sort of geometry one grows unaccustomed to along more manicured trails.
This ancient environment was host to tall cypress trees and other flora that belonged in more Mediterranean climes, owing to the fact that although nutrient poor, sand was far better at holding heat.  Approaching the boroughs of Mombach and Gonsenheim, the dunes made the transition into a great forest, only gently interrupted with a few paths, that is the largest contiguous one in the region at seven square-kilometers, a wood of some eighteen-hundred acres. Despite being often turned around and stopping to marvel at the landscape, I still made it on time but with none to spare.