The commercialization of culture

I haven’t blogged about it yet, but France has commercialized their regional cultural subgroups for years.  Shopping centers almost universally contain a store called “En Passant en Alsace” or “En Passant en Bourgogne” that sell the local products from regions such as Alsace and Bourgogne.  The huge supermarkets (known as Hypermarchés) have an aisle that, at various times, sell the products of a different region of France than where the Hypermarché is located.

Now it seems the Schwabians in Germany are getting in on the action!

Here is a snap of a “Schwabian vending machine” located at the Stuttgart main train station,

As you can see from the display, you can order Schwabian specialities such as Maultaschen and schwabian potato salad:

I’ll refrain here from any jokes (such as, in order to save money there are real Schwabians behind the wall dispensing the products instead of expensive machines).

Stuttgart 21

Stuttgart 21 is a long planned (10+ years), hotly debated (100+ police arrests and dozens of canisters of teargas, some of them used against elementary school students) improvement project to the German Railways (Deutsche Bahn), comprising 2 big pieces.

The first piece is a high speed rail line between Stuttgart and the very-large-but-still-too-far-for-easy-rail-commuting city of Ulm.  Here’s a snap of a railroad viaduct leading to a mountain tunnel, towering above the village of Wiesenstieg,

And the second piece is transforming the Stuttgart main train station (Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof) into a massive underground shopping center,

For the record, I originally opposed this project when I first learned about it in 1998, for one reason alone: compared to all the other public toilets at train stations, the public toilets at the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof were and still are today atrocious. For a culture in Germany known for its tidiness (e.g. Kehrwoche), if you can’t trust them to operate a toilet correctly, how could you trust them for a project this big?

Panzersperre – vom schweizer Reduit zum Grillplatz

Anyone who’s spent anytime in the north of Switzerland quickly learns about the huge number of bunkers and fortifications erected to protect the border.  Formally it’s known as the Swiss Redoubt, or the Réduit Suisse in French. But whereas many people believe this was motivated by World War II, in fact the efforts began somewhat earlier, in 1880.

Here is a rather ornate anti-tank fortification (Panzersperre),

I took this snap at Augusta Raurica in northern Switzerland, where it formed one side of a huge area for outdoor picnics and grill parties.

Augusta Raurica and User Experience (UX)

User Experience – sometimes referred to as UX – is defined as encompassing all aspects of an end-user’s interaction with e.g. an IT system or, for example, a company, its services, and its products.  And although you might not think about it, museums can provide a wonderful insight into the field of UX.

I’ve recently blogged about a wonderful collection of Roman ruins scattered in the Swiss countryside, Augusta Raurica.

What’s really a nice touch is that many of the walking paths have markers that explain about the history of the site:

The displays are a combination of old ones dating back to just after World War II, and relatively new ones.

Now here comes the truly interesting part.  The older displays are written in both German and French, and they contain extremely dry, extremely boring historical facts, as this example shows.

The newer displays are written in German, French, and English – and they use a very simple type of writing, and they contain topics that are interesting to a wide variety of people, especially including younger audiences:

It makes you stop and think about who designed the original displays and why.  Were people many years ago more literate and interested in boring historical facts?  Or is there simply more attention paid today to the user experience?

Augusta Raurica and the descendants of Roman cows

Augusta Raurica is an incredible archaeological site that’s well worth a visit to anyone in the Basel area of northern Switzerland.  In a nutshell, Augusta Raurica is an ancient Roman town, together with a number of impressive roman artifacts – including even an amphitheater and coliseum – that was for the most part, amazingly, discovered after World War II.

Here are some cows grazing near a Roman temple:

Mühle Tiefenbrunnen

The Mühle Tiefenbrunnen dates back to 1889 and it is a common sight for visitors to the Tiefenbrunnen train station in Zürich,

It has its own webpage, but still I have not been able to find out what the overhead passage was for. Could have been used for filling train cars with beer – or perhaps transferring grains from train into the factory?

Bubble architecture in Sélestat

I’ve recently written about what I call “bubble architecture,” particularly in France, in which historical buildings are somehow encased in glass bubbles.  When done right, it can be magnificent. When done wrong, it can be atrocious, as this example shown here.

Recently I stumbled across this example in the Alsacian village of Sélestat,

Many European buildings are under historical protection, and this means that modern changes to correct building problems (such as doors not sealing properly and hence leading to wasted energy costs) are often forbidden.  Hence there is often a motive for encasing a building or a portal in glass.

When viewed as in this photograph, it doesn’t look that bad.  But when viewed from the human perspective in the middle of the town square, it looks absolutely hideous.

Garbage in Alsace

I’ve blogged about garbage in Texas, garbage in Germany, garbage in Switzerland – including the famous underground Swiss recycling cysterns! – and a recent trip to Alsace has given me to chance now to show how they handle garbage in Alsace, at least in the commune of Seléstat.

Voilà, because the French always say voilà before they point to something:

If you have a closer look at the machines / kiosks, they look like this, voilà:

In the Swiss system, anyone can dump their trash into the chute for free – but the trash needs to be packed into a plastic bag sold by the city (a roll of 15 bags of 35 L each costs around CHF 20), which means the residents are encumbered to buy special bags and pack their trash accordingly.

Here, the residents can use any bags of their choice – or no bags – but the chute can only be opened by someone with an RFID card. While I’ve never personally used the Alsacian Seléstat system, it does seem to be both more user friendly (it is a lot of hassle to buy the bags) and environmentally friendly (why use an extra plastic bag when you may not need one).

Hidden peanuts for people

In a recent blog post I wrote about “Hidden peanuts for elephants” – zookeepers that hide individual peanuts in the elephant enclosures in zoos, to keep the elephants amused and occupied as they – supposedly gleefully – search for little peanuts to eat.

I could not help but think the same thing was happening to humans when I stumbled across this interactive display at the Zurich International Airport (ZRH):

There are three buttons on the ground you can press with your feet. When you press them, this controls the video advertisement you see.

In the end, at least the elephants got something to eat.

Fuel mileage and culture

When I first moved to Europe nearly twenty years ago, I realized the smallest cultural differences could be the most telling.

For example, consider the topic of measuring the gasoline/petrol mileage of automobiles.

 

 

 

Americans measure their fuel mileage in miles per gallon.  It answers the question: how far can I go?

 

 

 

 

Europeans measure their fuel mileage in liters per 100 kilometers. It answers the question: what are my requirements?

Surely I am not the first one to recognize this?