The Great Mystery of Fire Lake

Not too far from downtown Stuttgart, Germany, sits a very small park with a very small pond but a very huge cathedral:

What is NOT a mystery is what these things are: The pond is called the Feuersee (in German, “fire lake”) – and the cathedral is called the Johanneskirche.  The church was built in 1864, so it is relatively new – but you can still see some damage from bombing in World War II.  The pond was created somewhat earlier, in 1701. It was designed as a small reservoir for fighting fires, hence the name, Fire Lake.

What the MYSTERY is: how did this Fire Lake actually work?

In the middle of the pond you can see three intake pipes (one of them is shown in the photo above) – but where exactly did the water go?  How was it pumped out?  Was it transported to horse-drawn fire wagons, or was something more sophisticated in place?

Having living nearly 10 years in Germany, I’ve visited the Feuersee many times – but I’ve never seen any historical placques that describe how all this worked – or when/if they stopped using it.

More amazing than I thought

A while ago, I wrote a blog post about the amazing Thyssen Krupp Test Tower, under construction in Southern Germany. It was slated to become one of Germany’s highest skyscrapers, and inside it housed many shafts so that Thyssen Krupp, a maker of high tech elevators, could test their products.

Well, the tower is now complete:

For a small fee, you can ride an UNBELIEVABLE all glass elevator that whips you to the top in just a few seconds, and your body will feel no acceleration at all.  At the top is an observation deck – and even on this overcast day, it provided a stunning high altitude look over the Southern Germany landscape including Germany’s famous Black Forest:

When viewed from the ground, it is hard to believe this building has the needed lateral stability, but apparently the main structure is anchored very deep below the ground:


The Taunus is a hilly area just outside of Frankfurt in Germany. According to Wikipedia, this area is the namesake of the Ford Taunus automobile – that makes a certain sense.

But also according to Wikipedia, it’s also home to the Main-Taunus-Kreis, which is the second most densely populated rural area in Germany.  Think about it that phrase for a minute – it makes almost no sense at all!

Anyway, sense or nonsense, here is a scene from a village in the Taunus were a good friend of mine was recently married:

Alemanic rituals of Switzerland, Southern Germany and France

Switzerland, Southern Germany as well as the eastern Alsacian region of France are home to a more evolved form of the German language, called Alemanic. And this region is also filled with tiny medieval villages, some of them still having impressive city walls like Riquewihr in France:

Inside of the village you’ll often find public fountains, which until quite recently supplied the residents with drinking water:

But the most interesting bit are the yearly celebrations such as Faschtnacht, planned for months in advance by the locals and usually involving street festivals and parades:

Unbelievably, in many of these towns the specific characters in the parade and even the costumes themselves are hundreds of years old, each accompanied by elaborate stories and detailed historical myths.

Bodensee: the lake with two faces

The Bodensee, also known as Lake Constance in English, straddles the border between Germany, Austria, and Switzerland – and it’s also Europe’s largest lake.

But what many people don’t see are its two distinct faces. In fact, I never recognized this either, until someone point it out to me.

By and large, Germany doesn’t have great lakes, so the Bodensee has developed into the place for many Germans to vacation and own second homes: ritzy and glamorous. Filled with fancy restaurants and hotels.

But for the Swiss, on the other side of the lake, the Bodensee is one of the more boring lakes, as far as Swiss lakes go: not surrounded by breathtaking Alps, no sculptured coastline to compare with Norway, relatively flat and boring.  So the Swiss side of the lake never developed in that same way.

Here are some scenes of the Bodensee, taken from the ferry landing at Meersburg:

Wine is produced along the German side of the lake:

And in the summer, you can usually find a huge Zeppelin flying around, since Friedrichshafen is the home to the company that invented the Zeppelin.

The amazing garbage vacuums of Germany

I’ve written about garbage in Texas and garbage in Switzerland.

Here is the approach that I see more and more in Germany, as this snap in front of the Rhein River in the South German city of Konstanz shows:

The receptacle you see here is not a receptacle at all, but rather a chute over a huge underground garbage cistern.  Periodically a worker in a special vacuum truck will come by and use a huge boom to vacuum all the garbage out of the cistern.

Germans and their Bubbles – 2 of 2

Continuing the series, when I moved to Germany I was surprised at how passionate Germans could be about their bubbles.

This sight of clear glass inspection windows will raise no eyebrows at any petrol station in Germany:

You’like likely to find a big sign with the words Blasenfrei zapfen – which, loosely translated, means: relax, don’t worry. We’ll show you the gas flowing through the line to convince you it contains no bubbles and we are only charging you for gas, not air.

What people have told me: Americans also were concerned about bubbles in their gasoline – and gasoline dispensers in the U.S. had similar means to see the flow of gas.  In the U.S., however, this practice seems to have died out in the 1950’s.

Schwabian Castle

The German language (or its more evolved cousin, Alemanic) is amazing!

Just as eskimos have many words for snow, so too do Germans have many words for castles.  A Schloss is a fancier castle (think Mar-a-Lago), and a Burg is a more defensive one (Camp David).

A familiar sight to just about anyone who’s lived in Southern Germany is the Burg Hohenzollern:

It dates back to the 1400’s, and while it is not the castle that Disneyland’s castle was based, it isn’t far off.

Trees in the Heath

Nestled very deep within Germany’s Schwarzwald, and high on a hill, stands a lonely windmill that generates electric power and sounds like whoosh whoosh whoosh as the blades turn slowly in the fog.

The amazing thing is not this tower at all, but what lives at its base: a field of heath from which Christmas trees seem to be growing randomly:

What’s amazing about this is that, in general, Germany’s Black Forest is now a carefully maintained forest. The original forest trees were harvested many centuries ago, and the trees you see today were all planted by conservationists.  So it is quite amazing to see a little spot like this where the trees seem to be growing on their own!

Darth Vader Houses in Germany’s Black Forest

The Schwarzwald, as well as many parts of Switzerland, is filled with houses that remind me strongly of Darth Vader’s helmet. I wonder if this was just coincidence, or whether George Lukas was influenced by these when he designed his character in the 1970’s?

I don’t know specifically about these houses in Germany, but I’ve seen similar ones in Spain designed in this way for a special purpose. During the winter, the animals were housed on the lower level, and the inhabitants lived above the animals. In this way, the heat generated by the animals would rise and keep the occupants warm:

And here without the Darth Vader look is a house on a hill, deep in the Black Forest, near a creek called the Ibach.

Germans and their Bubbles – 1 of 2

Germans are fanatic about bubbles.

In the case of their drinking water, Germany probably has the cleanest, purest, best tapwater in the world. But despite of this, Germans insist on drinking only bottled carbonated water.  Here is what this water looks like, called Sprudel in German:

Because they are big heavy glass bottles, Germans buy this water in large quantities from special stores called Getränkemärkte, which look like this:

Germany’s Schwarzwald (or Black Forest) contains a surprising number of sparking water factories that bottle the mineral-rich spring water of the forest hills.  Along one particular route through the Schwarzwald, each of the water bottling companies has a free pavillion where you can get their water for free.

This one is blue and quite modern looking public fountain:

A few kilometers away is a more ornate looking public fountain:

And this one has the most marketing flair, with the name of the water company on the side:

A real Oktoberfest – no tourists allowed!

Every mid-September thousands if not zillions of tourists around the world descend on the Bavarian city of Munich to drink beer, dance on table tops, eat enormous quantities of pork – and generally enjoy the Oktoberfest.  From time to time, you can still see a native German at this festival, but with all the tourists it is getting increasingly more difficult to do so.

But what a lot of people don’t know: at about the same time the Oktoberfest is held in Munich, a real festival is held in Stuttgart: the Bad-Cannstatter-Volksfest. It’s the second largest outdoor festival in the world (next to the Oktoberfest) – but if you come, you’re likely to only see Germans and their south-German neighbors, Schwabians.

Where Einstein was born

Happenstance is amazing!  I’ve visited the Einstein Museum, in Bern. And I’ve visited Einstein’s apartment, in Bern.

I know that Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany, and for a long time it’s been on my bucket list to visit where he was born.

Unfortunately, that house no longer exists. But fortunately, and quite by accident, a stumbled across this strange looking monument on a recent trip to Ulm:

And you can see by the inscription, this is where his birth house originally stood:

What is most amazing are the cobblestones in the streets. As you can see in the first picture above, the statue itself is surrounded by the old pattern of cobblestones.  But those are up against a much newer (and easier to lay down, so presumably less expensive) set of cobblestones.

Incredible Baroque Church

Located deep in Southern German Schwabian landscape, it does not look impressive from the outside; in fact, it is one of the most boring, plain church facades I’ve ever seen:

But when you step inside, your brain explodes:


As you walk around the church and look deeper and deeper, you’ll find that even the gold and diamond encrusted details have gold and diamond encrusted details:

It might be so boring on the outside because in fact it is not a church, but a Benedictine Abbey.

If you want to visit, don’t worry about tourists. I don’t think anyone outside of the locals know that this place exists – and probably even they avoid it, to keep their brains from exploding.

Big Schwabian Bug

I saw this fellow in the Southern German town of Zwiefalten.  At over an inch long, he looks somewhat like a cross between a Jerusalem cricket and an earwig – maybe a Jerusalem earwig?  It on my to-do list to one day learn what kind of a bug he is.

In case you didn’t catch it, the town is named Zwiefalten, not Zweifalten. I’ve never understood why, but vowel shifts from /e/ to /i/ (Gleichfalls –> Gliichfaus) are a common feature of the Alemannisch language, which is spoken in that area.

Cable ferry across the Rhein


You’ve heard of cable cars and cable bridges and cable TV – but have you heard of a cable ferry?

This is something I have not encountered very often: a car-carrying ferry across a river, which itself is pulled by a cable that runs high above the river, rather than pushed by a motor. What you see here is located on the Rhein river, between Germany and France, in the small town of Plittersdorf.  I discovered this quite by accident during my first year in Germany, by taking the Rastatt exit off the autobahn then driving towards the river. (Very embarrassing admission: I exited the Autobahn here in need of gasoline, and it seems I confused the village name with the German word for the Autobahn rest area, or Raststätte! I wonder if anyone else makes this mistake?)

It is amazing just how little known this is – but during the summer, and especially on bicycle, it is a wonderful old-time way to cross the river.