A migrating muster of storks

Yesterday I spotted a muster of storks (sometimes, at least according to Wikipedia, called a phalanx of storks) overflying the Zurich airport in Switzerland, at an altitude that made them nearly impossible to see:

In fact, I could not see whether they were in fact storks. Fortunately, I had my camera with me, and it has a terrific photographic lens:

 

I mentioned in an earlier blog that when storks are juveniles in Europe they are taught flying skills by their immediate peers, and there are in fact two groups of storks: those with lessor flying skills that overwinter in Spain, and those with better flying skills that overwinter in Africa.  Interestingly, scientists have attached accelerometers to storks, and they can determine within seconds to which group of flyers the storks belong.

Local French oddity becomes INTERNATIONAL MYSTERY!

They don’t have hurricanes or tornadoes in Alsace- never have, likely never will.  So in a recent blog I observed was quite odd for the French to take time from their favorite hobby (namely, wrapping historical buildings in atrocious glass bubbles) to build a nuclear-war-proof bird house, complete with high strength structural steel and (I assume) titanium bolts attached to a deep rebar-reinforced concrete piling:

To me, this was an oddity but no more than that.

But . . . something amazing happened this week. The situation has now suddenly turned from French oddity to international mystery!

For this week I spotted exactly the same type of bird bunker, in a completely different country!

This high strength bird bunker is located near the Zurich airport in Switzerland – and unlike France, outside of the European Union!

So it is now truly an international mystery: who designed this bunker?  Who decided where and when it would be used? Who paid for it? Who maintains it? And especially, when someone decided this was needed, how did they go about sourcing it?  I haven’t checked, but I am pretty sure the local do-it-yourself stores don’t stock massive bird bunkers!

The amazing history of the Jews in Switzerland – 2

Continuing the series, here is a nice house in Lengnau that shows the double doorway that is characteristic of the Jewish/Christian houses built in the eighteenth century:

It was forbidden for Christians and Jews to co-habitate, so the problem was carefully avoided by splitting the house into two areas, each with its own door.  The village of Lengnau in Aargau, in North Central Switzerland, has many fine examples of historical buildings with this characteristic.

The town of Lengnau is filled with historical plaques that discuss legacy of the historical Jewish community in this area, and in fact there is a self-guided walking tour that leads visitors to important historical locations within the town.

The amazing self-service flower stands of Germany and Switzerland

I’ve seen these things for years – but like so many things, I only just realized that for Americans this concept might be kind of strange.

The countrysides of Germany and Switzerland are filled with little “self-service” stands owned by local farmers. You can stop anytime and get flowers, vegetables, and sometimes even eggs.  There’s a little jar for you to put your money, and it run 100% according to the honor system.

I took this snap of a flower stand just outside of the Northern Swiss village of Embrach:

The amazing history of the Jews in Switzerland – 1

There have been large communities of Jewish people living in Switzerland since the Middle Ages.  Sadly, there were also large pogroms, so their history was hardly a pleasant one.  I’ve shared some information about the Jewish community in Zürich in a recent blog post.

During a brief period in the eighteeenth and nineteenth centuries, the Jews in Switzerland were required to reside in one of two villages in the North Switzerland canton of Aargau, just a few miles from where I live: Lengnau and Endingen.

This is the village of Lengnau, and in contrast to other German and Swiss villages, the city center is punctuated by a truly massive synagogue rather than a Christian church or Catholic cathedral:

There is a Jewish description in both German and Hebrew carved into the stone arch doorway:

And a plaque in front of the synagogue shares a few details:

The villages of Lengnau and Endingen are filled with interesting relics from this Jewish period, and I will share some additional photos and more information in future blogs.

The Euro Cruiser

The latest addition to my personal fleet is a 150 PS, 2.0L 2017 Peugeot Business Traveller van that comfortably seats 9 people:

The main way to interact with this vehicle seems to be the voice system, so I am in the process of learning dozens of voice activated commands.

By the way, it all began with the Urbana Cruiser, 20-year-old 1978 Oldsmobile that I bought in 1998 for $200 from a good friend of mine, Andrei Botchkarev, one of the world’s most well-known semiconductor physicists.  It was too cool to resist giving it a name.

The tradition continued with the Zürich Cruiser.

Räterschen Rätsel

Or in English, the Riddle of Räterschen.

First things first, this is NOT the Räterschen Rätsel. This is just a nice little spider snacking on a bug she caught:

But I took the snap in the tiny village of Räterschen, just outside of Elsau in North Central Switzerland – and that is the mystery!

For you see, in the North of Germany, the diminutive form of nouns in German is “-chen” appended to the end of the noun.  (Example: Mädchen = little Hamburg girl.) As you head south, the “-chen” is replaced with “-le.” (Example: Mädle = little Schwabian girl.)  As you head even more south, the “-le” is replaced with “-li.” (Example: Mädli = little Swiss girl.)  If you keep heading south, nobody really knows what happens, because you run into the area called Wallis – and there they speak a form of German that is so hugely different than anything else, even to this date linguists have never really figured it out; some linguists even believe that due to the majestic, magnificent Swiss Alps in this area, the locals have no words for the concept of “small.”

And so the mystery is: why does a tiny village nestled deep within North Switzerland have a North Germanic name?

 

Dirty Harry on the Sihl

There is a small river called the Sihl, and it runs parallel to a shopping center in Zürich known as Sihlcity. And on a concrete pillar is a rather nice depiction of Dirty Harry.

I’m not sure why it’s there, but it is located only about 200 m from one of the largest movie theaters in Zürich – so maybe that is somehow related?

Transitory Things – 1

This morning I was impressed when I caught a glimpse of the traffic gates closing due to an oncoming tram. And it caused me to start wondering: are there many “transitory things” that I can capture, as they fleetingly move between one stable state and the next?  Just like these barricades – no longer up, but not yet down.

I’ll keep thinking about this, and if I find some more examples, I’ll show them in my blog.

Incredibly amazing Frick

I could not believe my eyes when I went to Frick and saw – for the first time in Switzerland – and probably for only the third or fourth time in all of Europe – a real, American style strip mall!

And not only that, but it even had an Asian restaurant to boot!

Unbelievably, while I was taking this picture a vintage Cadillac rolled up next to me, the driver got out and started to make some repairs under the hood.

You can’t get more American than that!

Unbelievably disappointing Frick

First things first, I want to be crystal clear so nobody is confused. This is not a real dinosaur:

The dinosaurs all died out a long time ago. This is just a big model of a dinosaur.

OK, having got that out of the way, now to “Frick the Disappointing.” Before you get to Frick, you pass all sorts of signs on the Autobahn that say Dinosaur discovery place and Dinosaur museum – and you get curious and decide to go visit this strange place called Frick. As you turn off the Autobahn, a big friendly dinosaur is there to greet you – and now you really start to get excited!  This is going to be really something special, you think to yourself!

And then, suddenly, all at once, when you drive into downtown Frick – nothing. Nada. Zilch.  No little dinos lining the streets.  No “Dino Kebabs” for sale in the Turkish kepab  shops.  Even if you want to get to the dinosaur museum it is a huge challenge: you can’t see the sign until you pass it.

As part of my sense of civic duty, I want to make a Frick-Tip:  Turn Frick into something exciting. Get a few more dinos lining the streets.  Have the kebap places sell “Dino Kebaps.”  Open a souvenir shop selling “Dino Frick” T-Shirts and little plastic dinosaurs.  Here is a good example.

Terrifying, intimidating, threatening cat: Luchs in Winterthur

OK, this one really was terrifying, intimidating, and threatening!

About three weeks ago I was on the early morning train to Zurich, just as the sun was rising. Between Winterthur and Kempthal I spotted what looked like a scrawny deer at the edge of the forest. When my eyes focused on it, I immediately realized it was no deer, but instead I thought mountain lion. But as I studied the animal as the train slowly moved by, I could see it was like no mountain lion I’ve seen: very long legs, stubby “half-tail,” relatively tiny head, and big spots.  Sadly, I could not reach my camera in time, but this is what it looked like:

To be honest, the cat I spotted had much bigger spots, and fewer of them, than this one. Later in the day I did a bit of surfing on the Internet, and I learned there is an animal called a Lynx (in German: Luchs), and I also learned they have been seen close to where I live.

WARNING: This is not even remotely like a tiny pussycat or even a large tomcat. The animal I saw was as large as a cougar or mountain lion. In my judgement, it would have no problem to kill a man.  But since there seem to be so many in Switzerland, and so few encounters with people, thankfully it is hopefully very shy.