Tuesday 4 June 2024

schachmatt (11. 605)

Archaeologists have discovered a nearly millennium old gaming collection preserved in the rubble of the ruins of Burgstein fortress near the village of the Holzelfinger in the Lichtenstein district south of Tübingen. Pieces include dice, flower-shaped tokens and a chessman (see below) carved from deer antler and have been remarkably well preserved.  One of the seven skills that knights (Ritter, the game piece is called Springer—see previously) were expected to master (fencing, archery, hunting, swimming, riding and poetry being the other disciplines), researchers hope that further analysis of the find will lead to insights in play in Europe during the Middle Ages. While studies continue, the pieces will be on display at a special exhibition hosted in the Schlösspark in Pfullingen near Stuttgart. More at The History Blog at the link up top, including videos and three-dimension recreations of the artefacts.


one year ago: extended frames by AI, assorted links worth revisiting plus an overview of fan-fiction

two years ago: Poltergeist (1982), the Rotel plus more links to enjoy

three years ago: vintage Japanese electronics

four years ago: the Free Republic of Wendland (1980),  Roquefort cheese (1411), a counter-protest photo op, spagetty images plus more on the colour of money

five years ago: the thirty-fifth of May (1989), more on the Lewis Chessmen, an AI names cats, an innovative airplane design plus flight-shaming

Friday 10 November 2023

laterne, laterne, sonne, mond und sterne (11. 107)

In anticipation of the Feast of Saint Martin and the tradition of a lamp-lit procession, welcoming rather than ushering out the darkness and gloam of autumn formerly having roughly corresponded to the first of the month and a continuation of Halloween celebrations prior to calendar reform, we enjoyed this small sampling from a catalogue of chromolithographs of paper lantern designs from 1880 from the Tübingen booksellers Riethmüller—which still sells paperware and party favours. More at the links above.


one year ago: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973) plus Radiation Baby

two years ago: sinking nations plus Chaka Khan (1984)

three years ago: Toot, Whistle, Pluck and Boom, the US election, the Friends theme song, expecting more from America, voting irregularities plus an early edition

four years ago: an Art Nouveau printmaker, more Inktober maps, film composer Carlo Savina, a racing bar chart of the biggest musicians plus the debut of Sesame Street

five years ago: more unbuilt architecture, AI writes news copy, The 5000 Fingers of Doctor T plus a historical film lot consumed by wildfire

Monday 24 April 2023

forschungensreaktor haigerloch (10. 695)

The nuclear test facility, the final experiment of Uranprojekt of Nazi Germany, discovered the day previously by the US and the British Special Forces unit Alsos, created as mission under the aegis of the Manhattan Project to coordinate foreign intelligence on atomic research and activity—a heavy water nuclear pile, housed in a cliff cellar used for beer storage and obscured by a castle chapel and disguised as a spelunking centre near Tübingen was brought offline on this day in 1945 during the last phase of War World II and dismantled, with the attendant scientists and materials brought back to America as part of Operation Paperclip. Under the direction of Werner Heisenberg, the aim of the undertaking was to harness the power of nuclear fission, though the research never moved beyond the experimental stage and later assessments concluded that critical mass would have required a set-up one and a half times larger, for weaponisation or as a practical output of energy. Crossing the front with the 7th Army, Alsos members moved over the Rhein and apprehended physicist remaining at research facilities, a cyclotron, in Heidelberg, and scoured the region for other trials to forestall capture by the advancing Soviet army and eventual French occupying force, whose arrival the same day prompted assessors to downplay its significance and immediately disassemble the laboratory and remove the contents to Munich, headquarters of the American Zone. Heisenberg and the other internees learned of the bombardment of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August and expressed gratitude that their tests were a failure and would have never produced such a weapon but rather a power-plant. Since 1980, the site has hosted a museum on nuclear reactors with the original five cubes of uranium on display.

Sunday 14 February 2021


Powered by a waterwheel, a simple tow-line pulling patrons to the top of the slope, the first skilift, the invention of hotel handyman Robert Winterhalder had its debut to the public on this day in 1908 at a resort in Schollach bei Eisenbach. Another impetus for its creation was the clientele that the guesthouse caterer to: those suffering from asthma and allergies who sought refuge and healing in the clean air of the countryside. Winterhalder wanted those guests to be able to experience the thrill of downhill skiing without the distress and exertion of climbing first. Up a gradient of some thirty metres over a distance of a quarter of a kilometre from the valley to the mountain hut, users were pulled upwards on a continuous loop. Residents re-enacted the centenary of its premiere, albeit with decidedly less snow in 2008.

Saturday 6 February 2021


Via JWZ which is so much more than an excellent resource for quiz nights once bars get to re-open, we learn that there’s of course equivalent phrases in other languages that convey the same sense as the scribal gloss and line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar for encountering something incomprehensible—dismissively or otherwise—completely with a directional graphic showing where each language might attribute the impenetrable sounds. When a Hebrew-speaker is pinned in a corner, for them “it sounds Chinese” and conversely for someone whose mother tongue is Korean, something that seems like gibberish smacks of Hebrew, reportedly. For Germans, it’s Kauderwelsch, a trade patois. Ich verstehen nur Bahnhof. Chinese itself defers to the celestial language of the gods.  What’s all Greek to you? Especially appealing is the etymology of the term Gringo coming from the similar expression “hablar en griego” and how in Esperanto, one sighs, “tio estas volapukaĵo”—that’s a Volapük thing, a contemporary rival constructed language invented by a priest in Baden.

Monday 14 September 2020

die 1000 augen des doktor mabuse

Premiering on this day in 1960 at the Gloria-Palast in Stuttgart, The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse was Fritz Lang’s (*1890 – †1976) final directorial effort, reusing a character that appeared in two previous screenplays and whose plot was based on author Jan Fethke’s 1931 Esperanto language novel—also a trilogy—called Mister Tot Buys a Thousand Eyes (Mr. Tot aĉetas mil okulojm).
The only lead to a myster- ious death of a reporter comes from an informer and confidant of the police inspection who is a blind fortune-teller, who had a vision of the murder but not the killer—prompting an ensemble of connected characters to engage in detective work that suggest the return of the long presumed dead titular villain—a Svengali-type figure, combining elements of horror, spy films and dragnet surveillance in a nihilistic milieu with a legacy of sequels, pre-quels and reboots spanning across the ensuing decade, the seventh and final instalment The Vengeance of Dr Mabuse screened in 1970.

Wednesday 2 September 2020


As Futility Closet informs the transit map of the metro network of the city of Stuttgart, subways, trolleys feeding into on the railways and airport, commissioned in 2000 is uniquely projected thirty degrees askew to create a three-dimensional isometric layout. Other peculiarities of the transport scheme include the only urban Zahnradbahn (cogwheel railway and nicknamed Zacke) in addition to a Standsielbahn (see also here and here) a funicular narrow-gauge track that ascends a forested hill. This clever representation, however, has since been replaced by more conventional diagrams.

Saturday 19 October 2019


Founded on this day in 1969 in a lodge on a popular hiking trail through the Swabian Jura (Schwäbische Alb), the Europäishce Wandervereinigung, the European Ramblers’ Association, la Fédération européenne de la randonnée pédestre was formed by founding members representing walkers’ clubs from West Germany, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Belgian.  Now headquartered in Kassel and with offices in Prague, more than fifty-eight area- and regional-organisations from thirty European states sponsor regular outings and maintain, marking and signposting a vast network of long distance hiking trails (some seventy thousand kilometres worth across an active membership of some three million individuals, see previously). The so called E-Paths are not for virtual exploration, but rather are trails that cross a minimum of three countries.

Thursday 25 April 2019

mother of invention

Previously we’ve explored how the Year without a Summer influenced and informed Mary Shelley’s Post-Modern Prometheus and the hardship endured by the population in general, but hadn’t appreciated how the climate disaster helped transform transportation by creating a situation that allowed machine aided propulsion to gain a purchase.
Due to cold weather that precipitated successive failing harvests, people had no fodder to feed their horses and out of desperation, had to eat their horses, which made alternative modes of getting around a necessity, prompting Karl Freiherr von Drais (see also) to invent his Laufmaschine—a dandy-horse and like a bicycle without the pedal mechanism. Innovations such as this speak to human ingenuity and resilience when it comes to surmounting change. Let’s hope we can all keep pace.

Sunday 9 December 2018


Our ever intrepid adventurer over at Amusing Planet takes us on a surprising tour of an abdandoned mine tunnel converted during the early 1970s under the Hague Convention for the “Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict” into a bunker for historically significant documents, dating back to the tenth century up to modern times with some one and a half million contextual artefacts (originals like the blueprints for the Dom zu Köln or Pope Leo X’s communique threatening to excommunicate a monk named Martin Luther) contributing from archivists across Germany coming in annually.
This shelter, called the Barbarastollen, named after Saint Barbara—the patroness of miners among others—and for the support beams of the unfinished mine shaft, which the Christmas, like the traditional German fruit-cake like Christmas bread, Stollen, is  near Freiburg im Breisgau in the Black Forest, and one of five world-wide with the others being Vatican City and three vast underground chambers in the Netherlands, has foregone modern formats which could surely accommodate the breadth and depth of human knowledge up to the moment in the seven hundred metre long stacks, instead keeping with the tried and tested method of document storage and retrieval, barrel upon barrel of microfilm—the media positioned to weather a nuclear war and at least a millennium, readable by means only of a magnifying glass and a little sunshine. Read more at the link up top.

Sunday 7 October 2018


Previously H and I had enjoyed touring the sister campus in Speyer where a 747 and the Buran, the Soviet version of the Space Shuttle, are on display and recently redeeming one of H’s birthday gifts, we got to take a look at the sprawling museum, amusement park and cinema das Auto- und Technikmuseum Sinsheim, the largest private exhibit in Europe that curates some three hundred classic automobiles (Oldtimers auf Deutsch), forty racing cars, thirty locomotives, one hundred and fifty tractors, dozens of player pianos and calliopes plus over sixty aircraft, including the two supersonic commercial planes built the Anglo-French Concorde and the Russian Tupolev Tu-144, visible when passing by on the Autobahn.

The vast halls contained a really impressive amount of Mercedes (including some infamous ones custom-made for Benito Mussolini and Heinrich Himmler) and some extraordinary Maybachs produced for the anonymously, forgotten well-off, with a significant portion maintained in fully-function condition.

Also on display for inspection were an original model DeLorean and a motorised unicycle from 1894, whose time has come around again. Of course the exhibits are worth marvelling at and pretending to sit in the driver’s seat and quite a few are up for demonstration, but moreover it’s something inspired to think about the level and depth of engineering that went into each of these machines, some three thousand all told.

Wednesday 11 April 2018

jenseits oder art brut

A bit nonplussed with myself for not having taken the opportunity to venture out on this vector sooner, I took advantage of the fine weather to return to Heidelberg, visiting after a rather long absence. Though I only had the vague agenda of going in search of this artefact that I’d learned about recently (but more on that later), I didn’t really have a plan and familiar with the old town, just wanted to enjoy the day.
Beginning on the opposite bank in the Neuenheim district, I ascended the Heiligenberg (the Saints’ Mountain) and marched down the northern slope along the scenic and duly reflective Philosophenweg and enjoyed the views of the town below as I approached the Neckar and the crossed at the Old Bridge.
I was mistaken about where the autobiographical jacket of Agnes Richter was displayed, along with the rest of the curated collection of psychiatrist and art historian Hans Prinzhorn (DE/EN) but did locate the facilities that housed the former asylum and saw in the venerable campus museum—the University of Heidelberg founded in 1386—how the institution appeared during Nazi times and had a peek inside the ornate lecture hall, die Alte Aula.
Admission to the University Museum also included a tour of the Student Prison (der Studentenkarzer)—a pastiche of the various incarnations that the jail had taken from the days of the university’s founding until the outbreak of World War I, which afforded those with affiliation to the university a special and separate jurisdiction from regular townsfolk and generally lighter punishment for youthful indiscretions.
A sentence rather became a badge of honour and right-of-passage with the rise of fraternal organisations. Having already seen a lot, I sort of lost track of my quest and thought it would need to wait for another day but I recalled where the school of medicine was located and decided to look there.
I wasn’t sure how the gallery had escaped my notice beforehand—given all the opportunities that I had to explore Heidelberg in the past but a rather overwhelming and solemn experience awaited me.
Taking interest in the art that his patients produced not only as a psychologically heuristic tool but also for their aesthetic value, Prinzhorn began curating his collection in the 1920s and took special care that their art was documented and conserved—even through the ravages of World War II and euthanasia campaigns that murdered many of the artists.
Overcome by the expressive styles—something that I can’t quite name, informed surely from distress and disassociation but at the same time insightful, I found the exhibit fascinating and altogether something that I was not quite prepared for.
Embedded within the walls of the gallery space were several offices occupied by psychologists and one saw people come and go amid the paintings.  Moved by these testimonials that offered a glimpse into the mental state of the artists, I had nearly forgotten about Agnes Richter’s jacket and inquired with one of the staff members (who also handpick among the thousands of objects in the collection which works of art to display on a rotating basis) and was told it could only be viewed as part of a guided tour, which I’d arrived too late for.
I wasn’t disappointed, filled with so many other impressions to filter through, and resolved to visit again—since the exhibit regularly changes—when H could join me. Being a psychotherapist, I think it is something that H would be interested in seeing as well.

Wednesday 4 April 2018


Colossal curates a rather poignant and personal autobiographical artefact in the form of the embroidered jacket of seamstress Agnes Richter, who was institutionalised at the behest of her father and brothers in the University of Heidelberg’s (previously) psychiatric clinic in 1893 after suffering a series of delusional episodes.
Life in asylums at the time being highly regimented and patients were expected to produce apparel and accessories as well as other daily chores, Richter used her talents to piece together a linen jacket and embellished it with a colourful and tangled palimpsest of reflections that have only been in part deciphered. “I wish to read.” “I plunge headlong into disaster…” Richter’s jacket, an outlet and a testimony, became part of the endowment of outsider art (Art brut oder rohe Kunst) of the University with the acquisition of the Prinzhorn Sammelung—hidden in the attics of the university buildings for safe-keeping during the Nazi regime so that the collection was not confiscated and destroyed as degenerate art. Today the jacket is on display with many other pieces in the University’s main Assembly Hall (Aula).

Sunday 7 May 2017

homesteading oder traumhaus

A Dutch architectural firm has plans to transform a former US Army base in Mannheim into a concept low-cost housing neighbourhood with shared living accommodations and services with modular units (that reminded me a little of Monopoly houses and hotels but with more variety and nuance).
Funari Barracks in Mannheim are a portion of the Benjamin Franklin installation that the US army occupied from the end of World War II until 2012 and the latest rounds of restructuring—but I was given to understand that the entire was not returned to the land-management office of Baden-Württemberg and some facilities in Mannheim were reactivated at least temporarily a way-station for returning convoys of tanks and other heavy armoured vehicles that were shipped back to the States a few years prior, now returned and bound for points further East. Geopolitics aside, I believe there’s enough space to realise this very liveable model community and inspire more neighbourhoods structured like this.

Saturday 17 December 2016

fahrvergnügen oder reitgenuss

A locomotive that formed part of the German national railway fleet back in the 1970s has revived its vintage harvest orange carriages in a private, crowd-funded venture to bring discriminating passengers from Stuttgart to Berlin, with various whistle-stops along the way. Outside of a few tourist trains along special routes, I can’t recall seeing anything but Deutsche Bahn trains at the station but am given to understand that there are no barriers to competition, if another carrier has the engines and the staff to run them safely.
Though not a substitute for commuters and those on a tight schedule, Locomore aims to attract a certain base of clientele—at a quarter of the cost of the regular fare between the two metropolises at a mere twenty-two euros, that feels the journey should be a pleasurable and social responsible experience. The six-hour trip (and travel by train in general) is powered by renewable energy sources and offers organic (Bio) and locally-grown drinks and snacks. Moreover, the cars are outfitted to invite passengers to join communities in different compartments for those who might want to take in a work-out, photograph the passing countryside, chat over coffee or sequester their children during the journey. I think it would be leagues more enjoyable to travel in this sort of bargain luxury, rather than the harrowing car trip or one of those long-distance buses—that are just as prone to getting stuck in a Stau (traffic snarl) as any other vehicle on the road, even if you can leave the driving to someone else. I think I’ll have to hitch a ride to points north on the Locomore express, seeing that they stop in Frankfurt and are planning expansion to more destinations.

Sunday 11 December 2016

choreographed geometries

Our thanks to the brilliant Messy Nessy for her extended and studied appreciation of the sublimely strange Triadic Ballet of the Bauhaus Theatre movement of the 1920s.
We had marvelled at the production and revivals beforehand but we were not clued into the backstory, inspiration and legacy enough to be able to enjoy it to the full extent, one always being induced to learning more, like realising the aspirations of Bauhaus itself was in a way realised in the lifestyle engine that is IKEA. The passage through the acts to something darker and more mechanised, formal and constrained in its expression, symbolised synthesizing the Dionysian impulse (which we’d assign to dance) in purely artificial and abstract Apollonian terms—which is ultimately the fate or anything staged and the burden of performance art. In fact, one of the character designs of Oskar Schlemmer that appeared in the third triad became the inspiration for Kansai Yamamoto’s 1973 Ziggy Stardust exaggerated jodhpur jumpsuit. There is currently an exhibit on set layout, choreography and costumes in Metz, and while no troupe is performing the piece right now, you can watch a video of a seminal production at the source link above.

Tuesday 6 September 2016


An architect and gardener in Nagold, a town south of Stuttgart, finding inspiration in the gentle, patient coaxing of bonsai trees and topiary cultivating, has grown a series of towers that fuse a minimum of man-made construction materials with living branches. These creations won’t be supplanting traditional building for human habitation but could also prove very suitable sanctuaries for other fauna and the extensive research that went into their design will surely inspire others.  You can read more about tree-houses here, here and here.

Tuesday 9 August 2016

lost in translation

The Local, the German daily in English, recounts the unlikely misadventures of a Chinese tourist, who after losing his wallet, in Heidelberg, attempted to report it as missing, only to find himself in a asylum processing centre for over a week before be allowed to continue on with his European vacation. It’s unclear how this chain of events went unbroken for so long, but compliant and obliging, the man surrendered his passport in exchange for refugee documents and accepted the daily allowance that the centre distributed. Perhaps it’s not so strange or naïve to imagine that that might (or ought to) be the customary and expected reception for a traveler potentially down on his luck.

Saturday 12 December 2015


The ever-inspired Nag on the Lake shares a nice travelogue that profiles just a hint of some of the nicest small towns around the world to visit, including her own Niagara-on-the-Lake.
All the destinations look inviting and it is certainly a noble effort in keeping within small-town criteria (rather hard to define, especially considering international variance and considering how small towns grow into big cities) that may be a little of the tourist-trodden path and it invites greater inclusion. I can think of a lot of additions. The only place that H and I know from that list is the magical Rothenburg ob der Tauber here in Middle-Franconia. The immaculately preserved medieval centre of the town is quite a draw for tourists, however, and despite the vociferous authenticity, there’s somewhat of a theme-park, Truman Show atmosphere about it—not that it is not worth seeing and experiencing, quite the opposite. What small towns would you recommend?

Tuesday 26 May 2015

innocents abroad oder entlang der neckartal

For the long-weekend, though a bit wary of weather that appeared a little dodgy, we decided to stay relatively close to home and visited a portion of the Neckar river valley, going along portions of the tour that Mark Twain helped to retain their character and inchoate charm in his travelogue of Europe on a steam-powered pilgrimage to the Holy Land called The Innocents Abroad —though I’d argue that the area does so despite this notoriety.
Although H and I quite fancy ourselves sophisticates, we saw and learned quite a lot that we thought—between the two of us, we were familiar with.
The spare pair of days really telescoped themselves well to feel like a fully-fledged vacation just after we left the Autobahn at a curious place called Bad Wimpfen, with its medieval watch tower dominating the one-time imperial city of half-timbered (Fachwerk) buildings.
The market and spa town that grew up on the edge of the Roman world, the Odenwald Limes, was swapped between Frankonia, Hessen, Greater Hesse, Baden, Würrtemberg-Baden and then finally the modern state of Baden-Würrtemberg after it lost its imperial immediacy that meant that Bad Wimpfen was a city-state.
Afterwards, we took a leisurely drive, hugging close to the Neckar, between high cliffs, alternately thickly forested or cultivated as vineyards. For all the scenic beauty of the valley, it was strange that one could only capture it from on high—in sweeping vistas. H and I climbed next to Burg Guttenberg in Haβmersheim (I remember this because quite soon, the names of places veered decidedly less creative—all called Neckar- this or that—and kind of ran together) with its imposing late Middle Ages fortifications. The peasants were preparing for a jousting display but when such festivities weren’t underway, the castle was known as a regional centre for falconry.
Burg Guttenberg was on the opposite bank of the Neckar, facing Burg Horneck, a castle of the Teutonic Knights and just a little further on we came to the impeccably preserved playground called Burg Hornburg above the village of Neckarzimmern. The park consisted of a wine-cellars, hotel (where Twain stayed) and restaurant, naturally—and the estate has been in the same noble family for many generations, the friendly attendant and sommelier addressing another gentleman who stopped by as “Herr Baron”—but also an impressive ruin to explore and climb higher and higher.
We found a campsite in a nearby village of Binau right on the banks of the river.
 It was a nice place to rest for the evening but—and I suppose no one wants this in their backyard, seeing the nuclear power plant (Atomkraftwerk, AKW) Obrigheim just in the distance was a little off-putting. The next day, we cruised further along the river, past Neckargerach and Zwingenburg, and on to the small town of Eberbach with its massive cathedral set against the highest summits of the Odenwald. Another place mentioned in the whistle-stop tour was Burg Hirschhorn, another well-preserved castle with a playground.  Next, H and I visited the village of Neckarsteinach.

This heavily fortified and guarded town on one of the most formerly strategic and contested bends of the river is the southern-most projection of Hessen, and today forms quite the picturesque spot.
Four castles (die Vierburgenstadt as its known) cling to the ridges above the river valley and on the promenade, we were able to frame three of them in one shot. We camped between Neckargemünd and the outskirts of Heidelberg—probably Twain’s most celebrated destination but one which we’d both knew quite well and worth a future trip of its own.
The next day we passed through the storied city and quit the path following the Neckar to tour the palatial grounds of the massive gardens of Schwetzingen, nestled between the branches of the river.
The summer residence of the court of the Palatinate Electors, the rococo architecture and landscape is the German kingdom’s version of Versailles.
Even if the weather had held, it was maybe a little too ambitious to hope to cover all of the garden, with its resplendent sculpture, hedge mazes, menageries and architectural follies—including this “mosque,” there was too much to see in one afternoon. We could see the rain clouds advancing and hurried back to Lady. We’ll come back to see more one day soon, and some day perhaps repeat Mark Twain’s whole grand tour, making it our own.