These look like ants. But if you look really closely you will see they are not ants – they are people of the Swiss city of Basel:
You might ask how I came to photograph these ant-like people of Basel. During the Basel Herbstmesse there is a big tower that has a big elevatable platform. You board the platform when it is at the bottom:
This is the platform en route to the top:
And here’s what it looks like when the platform is at the top. To the people in the platform, their fellow citizens below look like ants – but remember, they are not ants, they are the people of Basel!
I have not researched this personally, but I read somewhere that at one point he stayed in the Swiss city of Bern, in the area known as the Matte:
This is the area where farmers would bring their produce in the middle ages to be sold in the city of Bern, so interestingly the merchants of this area developed their own language, Mattenenglisch, that was not understandble outside of their community, so they could keep their negotiations a secret. There are many such examples of dialects created for this purpose around the world.
Continuing the series, I found a few things really attractive about this market, not the least of which I did not see the typical German Christmas market vendors that tend to get boring after a while. There were a surprising number of stands belonging to volunteer organizations, many of them selling products made by their members.
What is very surprising about the Basel Herbstmesse, or Basel Autumn Fair, is not that it is Switzerland’s oldest street market – over 600 years old! And it is not that it is Switzerland’s largest street market, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
What is amazing is that so few Swiss people seem to know that this market exists or have even heard of it.
If you have ever been to the train station in Basel, and if you have a sharp and discerning set of peepers, then this view might drive you crazy:
Why? As you can see, there are train tracks 11, 12 . . . and 14 and 15 – but there is no track 13!
For a long time, I pondered this mystery. Was track 13 removed to avoid bad luck? Other train stations have track 13, so I don’t think so. Was track 13 removed for satanic pagan reasons? Basel has one of the largest pagan celebrationsin the free world – so this could be likely – but I never was able to connect this pagan ritual to the number 13. Was track 13 removed because the Swiss are sloppy guys that made a mistake and never bothered to correct it? Hardly!
So then I got busy: I hit the rails and asked train conductors – lots and lots of them. Sadly, none of them knew the answer. I hit the Basel train station office and asked the counter staff – lots and lots of them. Sadly, none of them knew the answer.
Fast forward about THREE YEARS! Recently, I finally got lucky – while talking to a train conductor a train driver happened to overhear my question, and he jumped in and told me there was in fact a track 13. Turns out, he knew the track very well and drives on it regularly!
You see, the key to the mystery was, there is a track 13, but no platform 13.
And to their great credit, the Swiss Federal Railways did not lie or mislead about this. In German, the term used is “Gleis 13” which – translated – means “Track 13” and not “Platform 13.”
After three years of hard work – the great mystery of the Basel Bahnhof has been solved!
Continuing the series, this snap somehow reminds me of a dystopian, futuristic landscape:
It’s the year 2042. The outside temperature during the summer in Switzerland can be in excess of 60 C, so it‘s not possible to spend time outdoors unless in a chill-suit. Winterthur is a small industrial outpost with a population of less than 100. Here you can see the sun rising above the nuclear powered carbon extraction plant. In a network of nearly 1000 stations like this circling the globe at strategic points, carbon is extracted directly from the atmosphere, converted to a solid, and transported by computer controlled railways to Spain – a long dead country in the uninhabitable zone of Europe, where the average yearly temperature is above 60 C, and the peak summer temperatures approach the boiling point of water.
Climate scientists are in unanimous agreement that these decarbonification activities must continue unabated for another forty years before the year-over-year rise of the Earth‘s temperature will be stopped, and another century before the pre-2000 temperatures will be restored. With Earth‘s population currently hovering at a little over 250 Million, it will be a tough challenge to keep this system in operation that long.
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.
They don’t have hurricanes or tornadoes in Alsace- never have, likely never will. So in a recent blogI 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!
Sulzer is an amazing high-tech manufacturing company. It has long roots in Switzerland that date back to the 1700’s. It’s headquarters is in the sixth largest city in Switzerland, Winterthur, in this building:
Using Microsoft Lens, this is that same building, but unstretched:
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.
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:
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: Lengnauand 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 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.