Thursday, 20 October 2022

gerüste der republik (10. 239)

Via Present /&/ Correct, we directed towards a project curating all the varied playground climbing frame configurations from the former East Germany, der GDR—see also. The website not only maps the location of each structure, it also features pictures and schematics of each taxonomically and gives their fantastic names—Rubiks Würfel, Alcatraz and Dromedar plus a litany of rocketship and space-themed jungle gyms and playground equipment. Much more to explore at the links above.

Sunday, 4 September 2022

pegelstand oder die grüne herz deutschland (10. 108)


Afterwards we embarked on a circuit of the series of five progressively higher reservoirs (Stauseen) built from 1935 over the next decade to harness hydroelectric power by damming and flooding river valleys. 

Though a sparsely populated area, villages had to be abandoned and resettled when constructing the Hohenwarte and its gravitation cascade that turns potential energy kinetic were constructed and owing to the low water levels because of the global drought (and floods) we thought we might witness Preßwitz or others rise from the waters but we’ve been spared the worst so far. The forests were dry and the pines especially dying but an evening of steady rain was some reprieve. 

We saw various gradients and differentials from high vistas before choosing a campsite near Ziegenrück, heir to some more patrimony now underwater. 

Packing up the following day, we completed our tour with the reservoir at Burgk and its eponymous castle and keep, a quite well preserved residence dating from the Middle Ages and seat of the House of Reuß, a princely line who named all male children Heinrich, in honour of Barbarossa’s son, Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. 

The engineering and the attendant landscaping was impressive and inchoate. On the way back, we visited the town of Saalburg on the Bleiloch reservoir that had the atmophere of beach resorts along the Baltic Sea.


Saturday, 3 September 2022

ausflug thüringenersee (10 107)

H and took a summer’s end quick excursion to the dammed Saale river valley to tour the landscape that developed around the reservoirs (Stauseen) and how the natural intersects the artificial.

First we stopped to take a guided tour of the Saalfeld Fairy Grottos (die Feengrotten), a set of caverns in a former mine for alum shale (see previously) remarkable for their colourful mineral veins, called speleothems, owing to the porous soil.

Commercial operations halted in 1850 (the use of potassium aluminate as a preservative was antiquated) and was opened to tourist as early as 1914 due to the reputedly curative properties of the ambient radiation present, after the discovery of the third chamber, the Märchendom—the Fairy Tale Kingdom and the Grail Castle after various interpretations of the sedimentary creations.

Seeing this tableau inspired Siegfried Wagner to pattern the set design for his father’s opera Tannhäuser for the Bayreuth Festspiele in the 1920s.

Saturday, 20 August 2022

erlebnis bergwerk (10. 073)

Decommissioned since 1993 but revitalised since as a living museum and working mine and venue, I had a chance to visit with H’s father the salt and potash (Kalisalz, used as an important agricultural fertiliser) extraction operation near the village of Merkers on the Werra river not far from Bad Salzungen.  

 Aside from the long history of mining and a comprehensive lesson on the enterprise and geology that bores under the Rhön mountains, the location is also the hiding spot for hundreds of tonnes of gold, silver and paper currency (amounting to around eighty percent of the holdings of the Reichsbank at the end of the war) and many priceless works of art looted by the Nazis, discovered per chance by the advancing United States army (tipped off by slave labour transporting treasures to the mine) who then worked quickly to clear it out of Soviet occupied territory before the borders were demarcated.

After being lowered in safety gear—like actual miners beginning their shift—in a hoisting cage that descended into the dark, and driven in flatbed transports from five to eight hundred metres below the surface through a network of tunnels that covers an area the size of Munich. 

Though the vehicles were only taking the dips, curves and ascents at under twenty kilometres an hour, the darkness, wind and narrowness of the shaft made it seem much faster, like a roller coaster ride stretched out for some two hours, with intermissions, lastly in the above Goldraum, a pair of excavated former bunkers that now serve as a machine exhibit, theatre and a concert hall with uncommonly good acoustics and unique crystal grotto with accompanying bar for refreshments—the deepest in the world.  

It was definitely worth the visit and would drag H along next time.

Friday, 22 October 2021


Introduced in Erfurt in October 1929, nearly coinciding with the US stock market crash Black Friday that set off the Great Depression world-wide, the alternative currency known as Wära, invented by Hans Time and Helmut Rödiger its name derived from the words Währung (money) and währen (lasting, stable), was freely exchangeable with the Reichsmark at parity.

As legal tender and a store of wealth, however, each banknote carried a monthly penalty (demurrage, the carrying cost) of one percent its face value which could be offset with stamps and had a expiry date so people and businesses were motivated to spend and not hoard their liquid assets, thereby countering inflation. Gradually other businesses and workers began to accept Wära and there was even a coal mining operation fully financed with loans, salaries and discounted consumer sales in the alternative currency. Marked improvement in the region’s economy attracted the attention of the finance ministry, which after deliberation ordered the experiment to be suspended, fearing this parallel form of payment would ultimately undermine rebuilding Germany’s industrial sector, which by that time in 1931 had spread to a network of fourteen cities and were accepted in several national banks and stores.

Sunday, 12 September 2021

bergruine hutsburg

Having lost the trail a couple weeks ago trying to hike up to the ruined donjon, isolated and nearly forgotten though once one of the most imposing fortifications in the area due to its location on the former border between East and West Germany, whilst trying to approach it from the Bavarian side, we ventured up the Hutsburg to see the eponymous fortress from the thüringischer side.
First passing through the ghostly remnants of villages deemed a liability owing to their nearness to the border (previously here and here), we slowly climbed up the mountain and at the wooded summit encountered the tall of the shield wall and foundations, with the sun shining through the otherwise dark forest through the ancient portal.
Though far older than its first documented reference in the early twelfth century (possibly from the four hundreds in some form of fort), I suspect that these runes were a more recent graffito. It was a strategic possession of the counts of Henneberg and degenerated over the years as the power of the family waned to little more than an outpost for slum lords—Raubritter, literal robber barons in the sense of unscrupulous feudal landowners who imposed higher taxes without the approval of a higher authority and expropriation, culminating with the intervention of the king in the fabled execution of a gang of such bandits after a a siege lasting weeks (the subject of a German nursery rhyme:
Ernst war sie eine stoles Feste / doch heute sieht man our noch Reste. Mit Nürnberge Schraubenzeug ward sie gebrochen / Und zweiundviersig Räuber kamen hervorgekrochen. Noch erhobenen Hauptes und voller Stolz, / kürtze man sie gleich um selbiges, was Solls.
Basically, Once a proud Fort, but today only rubble remains / Battered with catapults / forty-two robbers emerged / Hoisted by their own petard) and was passed through the lordship of Tann and Kere.
The bulwark was not to meet its final fate and fall into ruin and disrepair until the Peasants’ Revolt of 1525 (die Bauernkrieg, see also) when the rebellion successfully stormed and took the castle, the Hutsburg being one of the few castles of the Rhön active at the time of its taking, most empty and irrelevant at this point in history and under the administration of a bailiff. Though the victory was not strategically significant, it was important symbolically as overthrowing the trapping and tool of oppression and serfdom.

Saturday, 4 September 2021


Setting off what was called the “cult of monuments” with dozens of replicas subsequently installed throughout Europe and the North America, the original double-bronze statue (Doppelstandbild) of friends and revered literary figures Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Friedrich Schiller by sculptor Ernst Rietschel (previously) and commissioned by popular demand under the patronage of Karl Alexander August Johann, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, was unveiled on this day in 1857 in the forecourt of the royal theatre where Goethe had served as director for nearly twenty-five years, the house hosting countless performances of Schiller’s plays over the years. Despite specious or wholly lacking affinities to these places, like monuments had been dedicated New York, San Francisco, Columbus Ohio, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Chicago and St. Louis prior to the outbreak of World War I and even during fighting, more ensemble pieces were erected in Omaha, Detroit, St. Paul, Syracuse and Rochester.

Thursday, 25 February 2021

hügel und tal

Taking a rather long, meandering afternoon walk now that Spring has arrived, I headed towards the former border and thought to follow the patrol road, the Kolonnenweg to its terminus understanding that there was a large tri-colour marker to be found there. I think I took a wrong turn or failed to go on long enough but came to a rise below the Hohe Schuhe and hill top clearing that provided a good view of Hermannsfeld and the border tower now a monument beyond. 
Believing I knew a way to return home without backtracking, I followed a logging trail around the mountain and down into a valley of pastures, which I though was familiar at first but then realised I had gone considerably further out of the way than I had intended and ended up in the fields north of Eußenhausen where the former control point and crossing to Meiningen is conserved as a monument.

Trying to get my bearings and finding a cycle path to follow, I discovered the ruins of a church belfry belonging to a settlement called Elmbach or Ellenbach—vacated along with surrounding property during the era of divided Germany as it was too close to the border (see previously), the ruin a reminder of a sixteenth century desertion but yet a poignant symbol, lonely in the fields whatever the circumstance. The tower houses a chapel and since 1989 has been re-consecrated as a symbol of reunion. 



Wednesday, 6 January 2021


We really enjoyed pursuing the extensive portfolio of images captured of East Germany in the photography of Ute Mahler, who embarked in 1974 for a decade’s long mission to preserve and convey his fellow friends, neighbours and strangers as they were authentically cool and collected—both candid and posed—and unmediated by geopolitics. Much more curated by the Guardian at the link above and at the on-line gallery exhibition hosted by La Maison De L’Image Documentaire.

Sunday, 20 December 2020

the lutheress

Having arrived at the conclusion, despite some objections from his colleagues and followers on the subject of matrimony for the priestly class, that his “marriage would please his father, rile the pope, cause angels to laugh and devils to weep” Martin Luther wed former nun Katharina von Bora, whom was thereafter referred to as “die Lutherin” and regarded an important figure in the Reformation for her role among of things defining what a Protestant family should look like, in a ceremony witnessed by Barbara and Lucas Cranach the Elder (also famous for painting both the Luthers) on 13 June 1525. They deserved one another, she formally referring to him as “Sir Doctor” throughout their life together and Luther publically confessing that “If I can ensure conflict with the devil, sin and a bad conscience, then I can sustain the irritations of Katy von Bora.” von Bora appears on the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church, commemorated on this day, the anniversary of her death in 1552 (*1499), surviving her husband by six years, reportedly saying on her deathbed, “I shall stick with Christ like a burr on cloth.”

Saturday, 12 December 2020

umleitung: bedheim

We made a brief stop in the village outside of the town of Römhild in the county of Hildburghausen to take in the architectural ensemble, typifying a Baroque manor, of the three-wing castle and fortified church. First constructed in the thirteenth century and coming into ownership of the aristocratic family Rühle von Lilenstern once ennobled by Hapsburg Emperor Charles VII after 1743, chiefly then as a summer residence for Prince Joseph Friedrich von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, it is still the ancestral home of the heirs and an interesting architectural footnote on its own. 

The village became more intriguing, however, seeing that its crest features a pipe organ and a dinosaur. I don’t think we’d ever encountered this sort of charge before on a coat-of-arms and the raptor is definitely not a mythological griffin.  It turns out that one of the notable descendants, Hugo, was an avid paleotologist and had made many finds in the surrounding area, discovering among others an example originally referred to as the leaping lizard (Halticosaurus, springende Echse) and later renamed Liliensternus

I recall my grade three teacher, Miss Friday, one day bringing in a cast of a fossilised dinosaur foot discovered on their property with the taxonomical classification of Arkansaurus fridayius, which I thought was an odd instance of show-and-tell to end all show-and-tell sessions. A museum was established in the castle to display skeletal remains, but once the family could reestablish residence after the war in 1969, the collection was transferred to the Museum of Natural History in Berlin. The organ of the coat-of-arms is in deference to the pair of instruments installed in the church, a greater and a lesser installed in the early eithteenth century a decade apart (and can be played in tandem) by prominent local master builders and is adjacent to the entombment place of many members of the family Rühle von Lilienstern. We weren’t able to glean much about the war years and there was a sombre and intriguing memorial plaque to all those who underwent forced sterilisation during Nazi times and research yielded little. In better times, we’ll return to learn more, go to the Schloss café and maybe take in an organ concert.

Saturday, 3 October 2020


Visiting a small harvest festival nearby held on Germany Unity Day, H and I looked for some autumn accents for the house and found several stalls selling traditional onion braids (Zwiebelzöpfe). 

Sometimes also incorporating garlic bulbs, the braids adorned craftily with dried wild flowers were not customarily only for decorative and storage, preservative purposes but moreover for the notion that the power of the talisman would stave off illness and harm from hearth and home. Right now we can all use all the help we can muster. Singly, onions were worn as amulets in medieval times to ward off the plague, and a New Year’s Eve custom (divination from onions is called cromniomancysee also) in various regions, especially in the Erzgebirge, called for the dicing of an onion into twelve sections and sprinkling each bowl with salt to forecast the precipitation for each month of the year to come as the moisture drawn out of each section by the next morning would predict that month’s rainfall.

Sunday, 19 July 2020

sunday drive: grabfeld

The fertile region in the southern expanse of the Rhön mountains, referred to eponymously as dig- or ditch-field is so named according to local lore that a queen once lost a beloved ring here and ordered the entire land dug up (tilled) until it was found.
In gratitude for its recovery, she founded an estate that would eventually become Königshofen, one of the major market towns dating back to the eighth century.
We took a little tour of the neighbouring counties and first made our way to Bibra, a small settlement focused and informed by the dynasty of imperial knights that governed the duchy since the tenth century and constructed this castle at the town’s centre.
Retaining its original style as a Franconian royal court, Burg Bibra was destroyed during the Peasants’ Revolt and rebuild in the seventeen century true to form—its most recent faithful refurbishment earning a prize in 2002 amongst castle conservators and is presently used as a seminar centre with accommodations for guests.
The patronage of three important prince-electors in the family brought Bibra the church of Saint Leo (dedicated to the early pontiff, Leo the Great), decorated with the altar and sculpture from the school of Tilman Riemenschneider (previously) and is one of the finest examples of late Gothic architecture.

On the way to our next destination, we came across an open-air museum preserved in the former expansive border-zone, demilitarised for decades but with displays of the layers of fortifications and the intervening mine field to imagine.
As with the rest of this strip of terra nullis, it is now a nature preserve and a paradisiacal place for butterflies.

A few detours brought us to the community of Sulzdorf an der Lederhecke to see the gigantic Baroque palace Sternberg, the ancestral seat of a branch of the line of our old friends Count Poppo and the Hennebergs.
We marvelled at it from a distance and it was when we got a little closer, navigating the village directly behind the huge structure that we realised that we had in fact visited once before in May of 2012, noting the calendric symmetry of this construction finalised in 1669 with its four onion-domed turrets representing the seasons, twelve hearths standing for the months of the year, an astonishing and exact fifty-two doors for every week and three hundred sixty-five windows.  I wonder what the story behind that decorating statement was?
The palace is privately owned still and bears some resemblance to the palace of Aschaffenburg, Schloss Johannisburg—the residence of the archbishop of Mainz.
There were koi in the fountain and the watering trough and the Marian figure of one of the rows of homes that were at the rear of the castle was particularly striking for her iconic halo of stars.
Our final stop was a bit more secluded, though in the same community, Sulzdorf an der Lederhecke, as the last and also in private hands and occupied though by descendants of the former von Bibras. This well preserved palace on the water—Wasserschloss—is called Burg Brennhausen and guards the frontier between Grabfeld and the Haßbergen. The current baron is, according to the information board, a petroleum tycoon with a business in the US and divides his time between the palace and a home in Pasadena.