North shore of Lake Constance

Lake Constance – or the Bodensee, in German – is really a lopsided place. It separates Germany (in the north) from Switzerland (in the south). Because Germany generally lacks big lakes, the North Shore of the Bodensee has become a quite affluent area for Germans. But because Switzerland generally has spectacular lakes (and the Bodensee is not one of them), the South Shore of the Bodensee is not only undeveloped but in fact real estate here is comparatively inexpensive for Switzerland. Here is a view of the north coast:

Bruderthal Brücke

These are the Venusfigurinen von Petersfells, historical works of art discovered in South Germany that date back to Ice Age times:

And this is the Bruderthal Bridge in southern Germany:

Technically speaking, it is not a bridge; it is a viaduct.

The Bruderthal, or Brother Valley, is an interesting place located in the heart of a region (Hegau) that is home to many dozens of extinct volcanoes. It is the home of the Eiszeitpark – or Ice Age Park. And it’s here where scientists in the early 20th century discovered the remains of a massive human settlement. When you consider that the glaciers of the Wurm ice age in this part of Europe were many kilometers thick, it is truly amazing that our human ancestors could eke out a living at all!

The amazing, incredible European Giant Sequoias – Bodensee

Giant Sequoia trees, which also have the amazing Latin name Sequoiadendron giganteum, are amazing amazing things. They can grow to hundreds of feet tall, weigh many thousands of tons, and live for many thousands of years. And what’s more amazing, there are quite a number of them that have been born and raised in Europe!

Here’s a Giant Sequoia that I spotted in Germany in a park next to Lake Constance, also known as the Bodensee.

But as this sign describes, planted in 1800’s it is still just a baby.

Sadly, I am a big believer that mankind will be unable to stop climate change, so I have no hope that this fellow will live to reach anywhere near its limits. Even the natural-born Giant Sequoias of Northern California are classified as an endangered species and are under massive threat due to the increased temperatures and reduced levels of rain and moisture in the air.

Gothic Sail Spray

I waited quietly and patiently in the hot South German sun for that perfect opportunity, when three separate streams of fate briefly came together for an instance and then went again on their separate journey through life. But for just an instant in time, the Gothic Towers and the sailboat and the water spray were merged together as one:

The truly unbelievable “Jester Fountain”

I don’t travel to Northern Germany very much – so it’s hard for me to make comparison – but at least most of the Southern German towns and villages are filled with truly incredible works of art.  Here is another stunning example from the town of Singen am Hohentwiel, the Narrenbrunnen:

Jesters, or Narren in German, have played a preeminent role in German culture for centuries – and in Southern German, they are celebrated every year in centuries old Pagan rituals such as Faschnacht. These are not just random characters thought up by the artist; in fact, each and every figure is a well-known Narre for the inhabitants of that village, kept alive in the yearly celebrations, complete with stories and a history rooted in true historical events and dating back centuries.

Very well known to the local inhabitants of the town of Singen, here is the Narrebolizei:

And here is the Poppele:

Since it is really these yearly Pagan celebrations that keep these Jesters alive, you can read more about them here.

Basel Badischer Bahnhof

The Swiss city of Basel is something of an international enigma, since it sits within walking distance to no less than two countries (France and Germany) and a confederation (Switzerland).  Here you will find not one train station, but two: the Swiss main train station operated by my former employer, the Swiss Federal Railways; and the Basel Badischer Bahnhof, opened in 1855 and operated by the German Federal Railways.

The amazing automatic popcorn machines of Switzerland and Germany

We’re under attack!  It seems these machines are now literally all over Southern Germany and Northern Switzerland!  By which I mean, to date, I’ve seen two of them: one in Friedrichshafen (Germany) and one in Winterthur (Switzerland) – the latter at my local grocery store, no less.

They work like this. You deposit either a 2 EUR coin (if you are in Germany) or a two 2 CHF coins (if you are in Switzerland),

and in just 2 minutes you’ll have a little paper container of freshly popped popcorn (sweet or salty, your choice).

How does it taste?  I found the kernels to be better that what you’d get at home with microwave popcorn, but not quite as good as the popcorn they serve at movies. And there was a faint taste of oil – but a type of oil I’m not used to tasting. It wasn’t bad, just different.

Did I accidentally discover a new Einstein?

I am not the world’s biggest fan of museums, but I had a frightening, emotional reaction at the Einstein Museum in Bern, Museum, when I looked at this grammar school photo of Einstein’s class:

My reaction was frightening and emotional, because all of the dozens of schoolchildren at staring emotionless and straight faced at the camera, with only one notable exception: the young Einstein is smiling:

Interestingly, I’ve noticed this one time before. At a large Indian wedding a group of small children asked me to take their picture with my digital camera. After reviewing the picture some years later, I realized that only one of the children was smiling:

Could it be my path crossed with the next Albert Einstein?

Two AMAZING ways that old meets new!

This is the Münster, a Catholic cathedral in the Middle Age village of Villingen in Southern Germany:

It dates back to  the year 1130.  It is very, very old.

And this is one of the doors of the cathedral:

Created in the late twentieth century out of bronze by the artist Klaus Ringwald, it is very very new.

So you might think: old meets new.  And you’d be right.

But . . . you’d only be half right!

Because the scenes on the massive bronze door (twelve of them, no less) depict historic scenes from the Old Testament (left) and the New Testament (right).

So . . . this is two amazing ways that old meets new!

Black Forest Trees

These are some trees in the Schwarzwald of Southern Germany, just outside of Freundenstadt:

I read two interesting things, but I don’t know if they are true.

First, there are no original trees in the Black Forest. All of the original trees have long, long been harvested and re-planted.

Second, the current trees of the Black Forest are no longer optimal for the current climate conditions, so land management experts in Germany are considering replacing the trees with different species that are better suited to warm temperatures.

Villinger Gargoyle – and an unbelievable language gap

I spotted this gargoyle in the historic Middle Ages Southern Germany village of Villingen-Schwenningen:

But then something amazing happened!  I realized I did not know the German version of this word, so I looked it up: der Wasserspeier.

OK, fair enough. Gargoyles were primarily designed to direct the flow of rainwater off of a building.

But here’s the amazing part: in English, the word gargoyle immediately invokes terrible emotions involving monsters and demons and people with ugly faces – whereas (I’m pretty sure) the word Wasserspeier does not. In fact, just about any native speaker would define gargoyle as monster – not as e.g. water spout.

I’ve often thought that the German word for battle, die Schlacht, is a good example of this in the opposite direction: battle connotes fight in English, but in German it connotes slaughter.

The mystery of the Middle Ages dormer cranes – solved!

In earlier blog posts I’ve mentioned that some – but only some – Middle Age villages have cranes on their dormers, like this:

and like this:

The cranes are obviously for hauling loads to the top of the building.

But here’s the mystery: if these cranes are very useful, and indeed they appear to be, then why don’t more Middle Age villages have buildings with such gable-cranes?

I recently learned the answer from a tour guide in Villingen-Schwenningen: ground water!  In the Middle Ages it was preferred to store grain and food underground, in cellars.  But in villages where this was not possible, due to a high ground water table, it was stored on the highest (and architecturally, less useful) part of the building.  Therefore, if you spot a dormer crane it generally means high ground water!

Romäus, unstretched

I was on a guided tour of the historical South German village of Villingen-Schwenningen last week when I learned that the local town hero was a man named Romäus, their version of Paul Bunyan.  His image is painted on one of the tower gates of the village wall:

The story goes that he travelled to the neighboring village of Rottweil, stole the massive, multi-ton doors to their village, and walked all the way back to Villingen, carrying the doors with him, no less!

As a tribute to the many friendly townpeople I met, I used Microsoft Lens to unstretch him!

According to Wikipedia, just like Paul Bunyan there are many stories, but here’s the one on the wall:

 

The Mighty Bishops of Konstanz – and a Duke?

If you go to the German city of Konstanz you’ll find some imposing statues along the Rhine River:

OK, so let’s have a quick look at who these guys were. Unbelievably, three of them are bishops that lived and died a long, long, long time ago.

Here is Bishop Berthold, who died in 1078:

Here is Bishop Gebhard, who died in 995:

And finally, here is Bishop Conrad, who died in 975:

But who is the fourth guy?  It’s Leopold, the Grand Duke of Baden, who died quite recently, in 1852:

Quite an interesting conundrum. Was this a vanity project commissioned by the Duke before he died, to have his statue next to these old guys?

Somebody must know – but not me!

Aquaforming

I am not really sure if aquaforming is a word.  I’m talking about the terraforming of streams, like this example in Algäu, Germany, shows:

I think just about everyone has seen numerous examples of this in just about every country. But, if you stop to think about it, when / where / who decided to add this to any given stream?

In some (wonderful) cases, there is documentation nearby.  There are some incredible examples of this in Germany’s Schwarzwald, or Black Forest, where the villages undertook massive terraforming projects to project the villages against torrential flooding.

And if you go hiking in the forests around Stuttgart, you are likely to encounter dry man-made canals, empty brick-lined reservoirs, and stone bridges over nothing – all the features of a sophisticated water abatement system that sits quietly for most of the year, and really only comes into its own during a downpour.

I’ll post some snaps of these as time permits.