Unbelievable bridge in Southern Germany

I’ve driven across this bridge hundreds of times, but recently I stopped underneath to take some pictures.

This is the Neckar Viaduct up close:

And this is the Neckar Viaduct, somewhat further away:

What’s just amazing is that this viaduct has a height of 125 meters, or just over 400 feet.  In comparison, the more famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco has a height of only 67 meters or around 200 feet. That means the Neckar Viaduct is almost twice as high as the Golden Gate Bridge!

A different face of Switzerland

Most non-Swiss people I know – including many who have made Switzerland their home – think of Switzerland as exclusively land of the rich.  And indeed, it tops the charts as one of the world’s most expensive countries.

But people often overlook the fact that not everyone in Switzerland is as affluent as your typical Zürich resident or Geneve resident. In particular, there are still many rural areas, often isolated in tiny villages and hamlets in the Swiss Alps, where the income and standard of living is somewhat less.

In order to help these regions, the Swiss grocery store Coop operates a collection of donation stations, where people can donate old clothes and shoes, like this one:

Additionally, they have a terrific website that gives full details about the various projects they support to improve the lives of many people in these remote mountain villages.

Where did Punjabi go?

I came across the following image, which (if true) is quite an interesting way to display the data:

I am no language expert, but it surprised me that I didn’t see Punjabi, which appears in most lists as part of the Top 10, such as the current list from Wikipedia:

Interestingly, I’d never heard of Lahnda before, and when I looked it up I learned it is a dialect of Punjabi.

The Mythical Man Month

I rarely do book reviews, but in this case I couldn’t help.

Back in 1975 I was 10 years old, and an IBM engineer, Fred Brooks, wrote a fabulous book entitled “The Mythical Man Month” containing his wisdom and advice for software engineering projects:

The title of the book comes from an important observation he made about software engineering: if you add more people to a late software project, you’re like to make it even later!  But in addition there fabulous observations about other topics, like prototyping, the different between software development for projects and software development for products, and the like.

It’s just amazing: after nearly 45 years, hardly any of the most important core principles has changed. The author himself writes in his newest addition:

In preparing my update, I was struck by how few of the propositions have been critiqued, proven, or disproven by ongoing software research and experience.

The great pollen storms of Southern Germany

You’ve heard of the great sandstorms of the Sahara Desert.

You’ve heard of the great windstorms in Oklahoma.

And if you like science fiction, you’ve read about the great firestorms of the Tesla Trees in the Flame Forests of Hyperion.

Here, then, is a storm you’ve probably never heard about: the Great Pollen Storms of Southern Germany.  For just a few days each spring, when conditions in Germany are right, the wind can kick up enormous pollen storms:


The algae fountain with undrinkable water above a hidden WWII bunker hotel

How’s that for a blog title!

Here is an interesting fountain located in the Marktplatz in Stuttgart which, like most fountains in Germany but NO fountains in Switzerland, does not have drinkable water but which does, unlike most fountains in Germany, sports a jungle of algae:

But what a lot of people don’t know is that, deep under the Markplatz, there is a hotel, now closed, constructed from a World War II bunker.

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.