Saturday, June 29, 2013

New Flags on the Kaiserbrücke

Men at work (©Der Sonntag)
Last Wednesday I crossed the Kaiserbrücke walking downtown. I observed workmen hoisting new flags and I was wondering. The  next day I read an unsatisfying explanation in the newspaper: From now on the flags of the Zähringer cities will be shown on Kaiserbrücke. What happened to the national flags of Freiburg's sister cities? Were they removed because they were decrepit or had the Iranian flag once more disturbed the peace among Freiburg's governing parties? I reported about the saga in January 2012.

Freiburg now lives with new banners presenting the cities that the Dukes of Zähringen founded in the 12th century or attributed the status of a city. Looking in the direction of the Martinstor the flags of the Zähringer cities on German territory are hoisted on the right hand side whereas those located in Switzerland are flown on the left hand side.

There is heavy streetcar traffic on Kaiserbrücke. Note St. Martin's Gate in the background. Starting with the Swiss side you may recognize the bear on Bern's banner but otherwise with no wind blowing other flags are barely visible.

I shall give you a list with all those flags. The pictures come from Wikipedia. The order in which they are put up on Kaiserbrücke seems arbitrarily. Starting in front on the left hand side there is:

Rheinfelden, first mentioned as Rifelt in 851; Duke Konrad I granted the town charter to Rheinfelden in 1130.

Burgdorf was mentioned the first time in 1175 as Burg Bertolfs (Bertolf's castle).

Fribourg was founded in 1157 by Duke Bertold IV.

Bern. It was Duke Bertold V who founded the city in 1199, as you already know.

Murten, in 515 known as Muratum, was refounded by Duke Bertold II in 1127.

Thun was already known in the 7th century but Duke Bertold III had it enlarged around 1200 to become a city.

Freiburg and its St. George's cross partly hidden behind the yellow traffic sign is the first Zähringer City on the right hand side. Duke Konrad I granted the market rights and a town charter to a settlement at the foot of the Schlossberg in 1120.

St. Peter in the Black Forest was founded in 1093 by Duke Bertold II as a monastery and burial place.

Villingen, today Villingen-Schwenningen, was mentioned as early as 817. Duke Bertold III refounded Villingen as a city on the other side of the river Brigach in 1119. The coat of arms shows the Zähringer eagle and the swan for Schwenningen.

Bräunlingen mentioned as Brünlingen in 802 received its town charter in 1305.

Neuenburg on the Rhine was founded in 1175 by Duke Bertold IV as a stronghold against the expanding Staufer clan.

Weilheim an der Teck a place where Duke Bertold I built the Limburg castle and founded a priory between 1050 and 1070.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Nothing But God's Justice

500 years ago following three bad harvests the peasants in Lehen, a village near Freiburg, revolted against their corvée, high charges, tax burden, and demanded: Nichts denn die Gerechtigkeit Gottes (Nothing but God's justice). In their flag the peasants showed as a symbol of their movement the boot with straps they usually wore. I reported about the historical Bundschuh in an earlier blog.

Following the official commemoration and the academic reappraisal of the Bundschuh the lighter part took place during the second weekend in June. Red Baron was invited as a guest of honor to the opening of the Mittelalterlicher Markt (Medieval Market) in Lehen organized near the Bundschuhhalle (Hall of the boot with straps). This honor was probably due to my writing about the peasants' revolt on my historic website for the Bundschuh revolt is intrinsically connected with Freiburg's history.

As a guest of honor I carried a red ribbon, did not have to pay the entrance fee, and in addition I was offered one free drink. I was in good company. Bernhard Schätzle, Lehen's superintendent and member of Freiburg's city parliament, opened the market wearing a historical outfit.

Bernhard Schätzle in good spirits
I saw the ancient lord mayor, honorary citizen of Freiburg and my neighbor Dr. Rolf Böhme as well as the current mayor responsible for Freiburg's finances Otto Neideck.

Left: Dr. Böhme; right: Otto Neideck;
with his back turned: Bernard Schätzle talking to his wife.
The opening of the market was followed by the tapping of a barrel of Bundschuhbier. The special stone issued on the occasion I kept as a souvenir.

Men and women selling medieval food and handicrafts populated the surface around a central point, the Bundschuh oak.

Ladies selling medieval food are joined by a fortune teller wearing a watch
Splitting wood the hard way
More ladies not wearing watches offer beer and wine
The Bundschuh oak is a work of art by Thomas Rees commemorating the peasants' uprising, carved out of an upside down trunk of oak, and presenting the signs of the times 500 years ago. One side shows the crucified Christ, his head bent down by the weight of two oppressors. To the right sits a clergy man pointing with one hand to heaven and opening the other hand for a euro. To the left sits a drinking nobleman squeezing out a peasant. Below are shown some greatly astonished people, full of fear, reading in a book possibly finding out: It ain't necessarily so.

Further to the upper right Rees carved out events that changed the world at the outgoing Middle Ages: In 1439 Gutenberg started using movable type for printing books; around 1490 Leonardo drew the Vitruvian man; in 1492 Columbus discovered a new world; in 1506 there was the first stone laying of the new St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, that due to the abusive selling of indulgences for its financing eventually led to the schism of the only saving church with Luther's Reformation in 1517; starting in 1609 Galilei observed the universe and later proclaimed the heliocentric world: Eppur si muove! (And yet it moves).

Joß Fritz, the leader of the Bundschuh in Lehen, sticks out his head on the other side of the oak surrounded by his fellow conspirators raising the Bundschuh flag:

Above the heads of the revolting peasants you recognize the city of Freiburg and scenes showing the beheading of peasants. The airplanes on top remind the viewer of the bombing of Freiburg in World War II. When carving the wood Thomas Rees found bomb fragments lodged inside the trunk..

Monday, June 17, 2013

Nuclear Power to Save the World?

Last Thursday (June 13), I learned on Facebook that A., a nuclear engineer by training, had visited the AYF office in Freiburg. They had a lively, friendly, and exciting conversation about nuclear energy, safety, and the German decision to shut down all nuclear power plants. The Facebook entry continued: A. has a couple book recommendations if you're interested- here's a free PDF of one:
And another is: 'the power to save the world' by Gwyneth Cravens, a former anti-nuke protestor.

An avowing nuke in town! I wish I had been there! Several times I have already blogged about nuclear energy, a field where I experienced my "Road to Damascus" or, as we say in German, changed from Saul to Paul.

I downloaded Max W. Carbon's book: Nuclear Power, Villain or Victim? Our most misunderstood source of electricity. The book is in its second edition of 2006 and, therefore, only addresses the nuclear accidents of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. I agree with most of what Max Carbon writes like these general statements: In summary, nuclear power is safe; no member of the public has ever been killed from the operation of American-type plants, and It appears that no deaths will result worldwide from nuclear power's first 45 years of history — except at Chernobyl (and Fukushima?). This is a truly phenomenal safety record for new technology.

Nevertheless, over the years, I turned anti-nuke. I shall fix my opposition to nuclear power on two of Carbon's statements: Low-cost electricity is vital for the industry to compete internationally and to provide jobs, and Most of the scientific and engineering community believes the waste can readily be disposed of by deep-underground burial — where it will be harmless. A German proverb says: Believing means ignorance, and does "readily" mean safely too?

Frequently Carbon compares clean nuclear energy with fossil fuels that pollute the environment stressing the known fact that most conventional power stations emit more radioactivity than nuclear power plants, not without saying they emit greenhouse gas too. This, however, is no longer a strong argument since nuclear power should rather be compared with today's renewable energy sources, where the cost of producing electricity per kilowatt-hour will forcefully enter the debate.

The price of electricity

Carbon writes: The cost of electricity from today's nuclear plants is the cheapest available from any energy source except possibly hydroelectric. The reason is: Today's nuclear plants were built typically 30 years ago, and their construction costs have already been paid. Therefore, the cost to generate electricity in them comes only from the cost of maintaining and operating the plant and making ongoing capital improvements; from the cost of buying new fuel and disposing of spent fuel; and from the cost of overhead items such as administration, taxes, money set aside for decommissioning, profits, and so on.

The money for decommissioning is collected from customers as the plant is operated as part of the price of electricity. Utilities are presently collecting between one-tenth and two-tenths of a cent per kilowatt-hour for this purpose. The estimated cost of nuclear electricity from the new plants [discussed above] includes funds for decommissioning.

My idea always has been and still is: Energy should not be cheap. It should be priced "correctly" such that there is an incentive for industry and the private sector to economize. In Germany, electricity is heavily taxed with the idea of investing this money in renewable energy technologies. Here the kilowatt-hour is twice as expensive as in neighboring France where 78% of the electricity is produced by an aging nuclear park. In Germany, in 2011, only 18% of the electrical power was generated by nuclear reactors (proportion decreasing) with renewable energies contributing 20% (percentage increasing). In past years it frequently happened that Germany exported electricity to France where in 2010, the consumption per capita was 7729 kWh being only slightly higher than in Germany with 7217. These two figures may be compared with the per capita consumption for the States of 13394 kWh.

Windpower is already nearly three times higher than the "white coal" hydropower ©GREA.
The "correct" costs of nuclear energy are still heavily debated. Production costs are not stable and even increase for written-off power reactors due to higher maintenance costs and modern safety requirements. A good example is the oldest French nuclear power plant (1978) at Fessenheim, located 30 km west of Freiburg. This summer, the thickness of the concrete base-plate below the reactor vessel will be increased from a mere 1.5 to 2 meters, which now is considered the minimum requirement for protection in case of a meltdown or an earthquake (remember the complete destruction of nearby Basel in 1356!).

The high-level waste problem

Many experts claim that the money put aside for the decommissioning of nuclear power plants does not include the costs for the "permanent" disposal of the accruing high-level radioactive waste (HLW). On this topic, Carbon starts out correctly: The third class of wastes, the used or "spent" fuel rods from a nuclear reactor, presents a greater challenge [than the low-level radioactive waste]; the rods become intensely radioactive during their three- to a five-year residence in the reactor. They must be disposed of by long term isolation after they are discharged. Because of its high radioactivity, the material in the spent fuel is termed high-level waste or HLW.

Carbon continues with some diversion: Many methods for long-term disposal of HLW have been suggested. They include burying it 100 feet or so below the ocean floor where it would be isolated from mankind; burying it near the South Pole where (since it emits heat), it would melt its way down through several thousand feet of ice; and shooting it into outer space on rockets. He finishes with some serious examples: However, the best approach appears to be to bury it beneath the surface of the earth in a stable geological formation. Burial could be in volcanic, salt, granite, or other layers of material. Most nations are pursuing this approach. Sweden is considering granite layers, Germany salt layers, and the United States volcanic layers at Yucca Mountain (YM) in Nevada.

What "appears" to be a stable geological formation is presently seriously questioned such that all permanent burial schemes are decades behind schedule. As far as the US is concerned and with all the costs that already occurred, on March 5, 2009, Energy Secretary Steven Chu reiterated in a Senate hearing that the Yucca Mountain site was no longer considered an option for storing reactor waste.

In Germany, the salt mine solution turned out to be leaky. Water ingressing in a low-level waste depository necessitates the recuperation of the already rotten yellow barrels with an open end for the costs of the operation. In Germany, we presently are back to square one concerning the search for a permanent repository for HLW. In the meantime, CASTORS (casks for storage and transport of radioactive material) filled with fuel elements processed in La Hague (France) arrive in Germany under the protest of anti-nukes. Why do they protest? Do they think that the French will keep the HLW we produced in our reactors in France? These CASTORS are presently put into interim storage. However, in a ruling delivered on June 19, the higher administrative court in Schleswig, northern Germany, withdrew an authorization to store nuclear waste at a temporary site in Brunsbüttel. In the light of the decision, the fate of nine containers of waste from a nearby power station, which has been inactive since 2011, remains uncertain. Does the judge hope that Bavaria will accept the nuclear waste produced in Schleswig-Holstein? Just in time before our general elections this fall, parliament (Bundestag) passed a law for an open and unbiased (ergebnisoffen) search for a final depository for HLW. Will the Opalinus clay formation be the solution for a "permanent" repository?

In the case of Germany, I am sure that the money the nuclear power industry must set aside for decommissioning of their installation does not cover the cost for the permanent disposal of HLW containing plutonium, Pu-239. This isotope has a half-life of 24,600 years, and (as Carbon admits) it is a health hazard under some conditions.

The brutal fact is: no disposal will assure the permanent containment of this hellish plutonium. The best mankind can hope for is semi-final storage of HLW in a safe and permanently guarded place with the possibility of recuperation in case of a deterioration of the storage conditions followed by a safe re-storage. Such "retrievable" storage will also leave the option open for any future treatment of HLW like its "incineration" in some sort of Rubbiatron.

In summary: HLW is a poisonous legacy for future generations. Considering all the costs, nuclear energy will incur for our descendants, it is not a source of cheap electricity. We would be well-advised not to make their burden too heavy.

Friday, June 14, 2013


Standard bearer of 1542
showing the heraldic bear for Bern.
On June 4, I visited Bern, the Swiss capital. The Badische Zeitung and the Baden-Württemberg State Center for Political Education had once again joined their efforts this time arranging a visit to the Bundeshaus (seat of the federal chambers) and for discussions with two Nationalräte (deputies); Martin Naef from the Sozialdemokratische Partei der Schweiz (SP), the Swiss Socialist Party, and Christoph Blocher from the Schweizerische Volkspartei (SVP), a Swiss Tea-Party.

Switzerland is known for its direct democracy where Volkesstimme (the voice of the people) can overturn decisions of parliament and government through a referendum and an initiative. Just 50000 signatures out of a population of 8 million are needed to launch a referendum against a newly passed law proposing at the same time a new text. Once the referendum is adopted by the majority of the people and that of the 23 cantons the result will topple any decision by parliament.

The power of the Swiss parliament is somewhat restrained. We had a visit to the Nationalrat and I took the photo. The speaker Maya Graf (back in the middle) in green had apparently noted me talking to an usherette. Thirty seconds later another usherette approached me from behind and confiscated my camera. However, I was happy to have taken the photo of the painting I had so far seen only on television. It shows Lake Lucerne.
On the government bench on the right hand side the Minister of Environment, Transportation, and Energy, the attractive Doris Leuthard dressed in white, is reading. The debate was about an initiative concerning the further restriction of transport of goods by road. Many of the deputies were working on their laptops.
An even stronger weapon is the Volksinitiative (an initiative taken by the people) to change the Federal Constitution. It needs more than 100000 signatures and the initiative is decided by a popular vote. So paragraphs about animal protection found their way into the Constitution. Many of these sometimes hefty initiatives - like limiting the number of foreigners seeking work and lodging in prosperous Switzerland - fail because the government hastens to make a more balanced or watered down counter proposal that in most cases is then adopted in a popular vote by the majority of the people and the Cantons.

Our group got a lesson in direct democracy and the question always arises why we do not have more of a direct democracy in Germany? The argument frequently brought up is: National referenda work for a population of 8 million but are impractical for a population ten times as big. I rather think the reason why a more direct democratic system works in Switzerland is the art of consensus. All major parties are presented in the Swiss government composed of seven Bundesräte (ministers) where much care is taken considering and incorporating the views of minorities in their decisions. Nearly all the time parliament and government find a compromise satisfying the majority of the people without hurting the minority too much. Happy Switzerland!

In the 1990s the rightwinger and multimillionaire Christoph Blocher with his slogan Switzerland for the Swiss made the Schweizerische Volkspartei  the strongest party in parliament with 29% of the votes. That not only gave the SVP two seats in the seven-member government but in 2003 he himself was elected Bundesrat. For four years he showed his Janus face forcing himself into a consensus with his colleagues from the other parties represented in the government but making right-wing opposition in parliament. He, the deep-rooted Swiss, clearly overstepped the line of consensus such that in 2007 parliament did not re-elect him. Now he is back in the Nationalrat as a deputy for the Canton of Zurich.

Inactive Blocher leaving parliament after his defeat in 2007.
Christoph Blocher is an intelligent person, a master in debates. My question as to how he regards the future of the Swiss Franc with the National Bank printing money ad libitum - known in the US as easing - to keep the exchange rate versus the euro at a low 1.25 CHF he did not answer. Instead he described in length the other countries and the European Bank increasing the amount of circulating money too, crticizing in particular the Bank of Japan. All this I already knew.

Active Blocher with charm and rhetorical power debating with us, the people
from the big canton in the north. Dr. Michel Wehner from the
Baden-Württemberg State Center for Political Education,
 our efficient guide, conducted the debate professionally.
The relations between Switzerland and Germany are good. Although the Swiss tend to limit their foreign population they import specialists, e. g., medical doctors and engineers from Germany. The brainpower that leaves my country for the better pay in Switzerland corresponds to a transfer of one billion euros per year counting the money Germany invested into the education of those leaving.

The major issue of disagreement is Swiss banking secrecy. The black money German tax cheaters have bunkered in Swiss banks is estimated to amount to a couple of billion euros. A painstakingly negotiated compromise between the two governments about more transparency in the Swiss bank sector was eventually accepted by the German Bundestag (congress) but turned down in the German Bundesrat (senate). So we are back to square one whereas the US presently seems more successful at imposing a Lex USA on to Switzerland with respect to the money of American citizens in Switzerland.

The Bundesplatz (Federal Square) in front of the Bundeshaus in Bern should rather be
called Bank Square. All big Swiss Banks have their seats and lobbyists on this square.
In the back the UBS is flying the Bern flag.
Bertoldo V Duci Zaeringae conditori urbis Bernae. Bertold V founded Bern in 1191
whereas Freiburg had become a city with Konrad, his great-uncle, already in 1120.
E bellua casae sit futura nomen
Legend has it that the first animal sighted should give the new place its name.
It was a bear.
A lazy bear on display in Bern's bear pit.
Old town hall built from 1406 to 1417, beautifully restored .

Sunday, June 9, 2013


My readers were probably waiting for my Auschwitz blog. What can I add about the place that has already been described in thousands of books and hundreds of films? Auschwitz will remain a place of infamy for the German people. Our Polish guides always talked tactfully about the Nazis being responsible for the atrocities. Did they deliberately hold back or did they as so many others find it difficult to understand how the descendants of Kant, Hegel, Marx, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Goethe, Schiller, Kleist, Planck, Röntgen and Einstein were capable of committing such crimes against humanity?

I shall limit myself to two small details about Auschwitz that I learned in Poland adding to my subdued mood. You certainly know that cemeteries are special places for Jews. The land of a Jewish cemetery is called House of Eternity and should remain undisturbed until the coming of the Messiah. According to the Old Testament God led his people through the desert for forty years since no Jew born as a slave in Egypt should set foot into the promised land. Those of the Jewish people who died during their odyssey were buried in the desert. Their corpses were covered with heaps of stones protecting the dead against roaming animals. As sign of remembrance Jews visiting their cemeteries place pebbles on the tombstones. It was new to me that Jews become impure and have to wash their hands to purify themselves following such a visit.

The first Auschwitz concentration camp was established on the site of former Polish army artillery barracks in 1940. The prisoners, among them many Polish Jews, were kept under such inhuman conditions that many died while others were executed for minor offenses such as stealing bread when beset by hunger.

In the morning before work there was this infamous roll-call of the prisoners

Thousands of prisoners were marched out of the camp each day to long hours of slave labor.
Note the singing Kapo marching at the left hand side in front of the marching men.

In the evening they returned exhausted, bringing with them the corpses of those who had died.
All drawings are from the "Day of a Prisoner" cycle done in 1950
by a Polish Auschwitz surviver, Mieczyslaw Koscielniak

Place of execution by firing squad located between two barracks

The corpses of those murdered in Auschwitz were transported a few kilometers away and buried in mass graves. In 1941 Himmler ordered a second much bigger concentration camp to be built. The camp called Auschwitz-Birkenau was located near the place of the mass graves. When he visited the construction site he commanded that the previously buried corpses must disappear. So the concentration camp guards started the Holocaust (total conflagration). Beyond all that I wrote before imagine Jewish prisoners digging up their dead brothers and sisters and pushing their bodies into incinerators. This may only be a detail compared with all the atrocities committed on the living but Himmler's order is completely cynical.

Entrance of no return to Auschwitz-Birkenau

The ramp of selection

Disguised language: Authorization for the transport of Cyclon B by truck
calling the gassing Sonderbehandlung (special treatment)

Initially the Reichswehr had experimented
 with a new use of horses in warfare.
However, a soldier standing on a horse
firing his rifle from a high position was
 faced with the problem of the recoil impulse.
The idea of standing horsemen was eventually given up.
The second cynical detail concerns the housing in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The buildings still left on site look like wooden military barracks but their history is different. The Versailles Treaty had allowed the Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic to maintain three cavalry divisions. However, the German military people knew from their experience in the First World War that a "new cavalry" could only survive by being armored, i.e., using tanks instead of horses. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939 the Polish cavalry had adopted new tactics too. They were no longer attacking the invaders with épée drawn but fighting with modern arms they rapidly approached and surprised the slowly advancing German infantry. Initially this line of attack was successful but soon German tanks repelled the Polish horsemen.

The German army had no longer use of some hundred transportable stables for horses. With the planned Endlösung (final solution, i.e., the liquidation of all European Jews) this surplus was transported eastward, was set-up, and served as lodging for the prisoners in Auschwitz-Birkenau and other concentration camps on Polish territory. One horse stable was initially transformed into housing for 100 people; later - with more and more prisoners arriving - more than 400 were jammed into these poorly heated horse stables!

The horse stables with two rows of three story beds. Two prisoners had to share one bed.

Young Israelis visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau