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!

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?

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: