Sunday, May 29, 2016

Nuclear Nostalgia

A few days ago, Der Spiegel revealed that the European Commission is supporting the development of new types of nuclear reactors, notably the building of a mini-reactor. The first one should be operational in 2030.

Do not worry that they will not fit into eco-friendly cars to make them eventually independent of lithium batteries that are still too low in their electrical storage capacity. These new reactors will, however, fulfill the need for scattered small energy units since nobody likes long overland cables for the transport of electricity. Already nowadays distributed small gas-operated power stations support the existing grid locally in cases where wind and solar energy are lacking.

The basic idea behind the new generation of reactors is to lower Europe's dependence on Russian gas. At the same time, CO2 emissions are to be diminished in the European Union.

Red Baron shakes his head. While Germany will shut down its last power reactor in 2022, shall it schizophrenically support the development of new reactors at the same time? On several occasions, I have fustigated the nuclear industry for the unsolved problem of permanent safe storage of nuclear waste. The development of new devices does not help.

Fessenheim nuclear power station at the Grand Canal d'Alsace (©Wikipedia/Florival)
Here in Freiburg, people are particularly sensitive when nuclear energy is involved. The reason is the oldest operational power plant in Fessenheim located in Alsace on the other side of the Rhine river 1.5 kilometers from the German border and, in particular, at a distance of 25 kilometers from Freiburg in the prominent westerly wind direction. The plant was commissioned in 1977 and is technologically outdated. It has no cooling towers but uses the water of the Grand Canal d'Alsace, a canal channeling the Upper Rhine River.

Fessenheim and Freiburg too close for comfort (©Wikipedia/Sebturner)
The Fessenheim plant located in the Rhine Graben is subject to risks from seismic activity and flooding. There is an on-going debate about the adequacy of its design in these respects.

Although French President François Hollande had promised to shut-down Fessenheim in 2016, his environment minister and former companion Ségolène Royal ironically postponed the closing date to 2017. Does Ségolène have to settle an old score with François? Again, I can only shake my head.

Saturday, May 28, 2016


Two weeks from now I shall start on my long-awaited trip to Lutherland. You may know that next year the Protestant world celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation so it seemed to me wise to visit Wittenberg on the eve of all those religio-cultural activities. However, not only the city where in 1517 Luther "nailed" his 95 Theses on the door of the Schlosskirche demanding reforms of the almighty Catholic Church is worth a blog but other cities in Lutherland like Erfurt, Leipzig, Weimar, and Luther's birthplace Eisleben too.

In the meanwhile I must hurry up to finish my promised two photo blogs of the Holy Land starting here with Masada.

Heading by bus through a desert southeast
to visit Masada, Israel's national shrine.

Approaching the Dead Sea

Willkommen next-to-last at a shopping stop

Outside the shop beautiful blossoms on bushes caught our eye
In the year 73 Fort Masada became the last resort for the Jewish revolt when the uprising against the Roman occupation that had started in 66 was finally quashed in ruins and blood. To clean out the last Jewish stronghold the tenth legion stationed in Jerusalem and reinforced by 6000 auxiliary forces was dispatched to Masada under the command of Flavius Silva.

The high plateau of Masada is on the right, the National Museum on the left
but this was not the correct approach either for us or for the Romans.

German cartographers noted Turm, Kaserne, and  Kirche

A few people walked but most took the cable car

Our guide Johannes showed us: 40.1% relative humidity
 at 30.1 degrees Celsius on the plateau
While the Roman task force approached Masada the Jewish occupants of the plateau were transforming the former palace compounds of King Herod the Great into fortifications.

The remains of Herod's north palace
The only way for the Romans to conquer the high plain was to build a ramp. However, several of their attempts to break into the Jewish fortifications failed but eventually with well-known Roman tenacity they succeeded. They retired for the evening with their final assault scheduled for the following morning.

The remainder of the Roman ramp
When the Jewish commander Elesar Ben-Jair saw that he and the remaining 960 Jews were doomed he convinced his countrymen and -women to die by their own hands rather than to be violated and slaughtered by the infidel Romans. The encircled Jews selected ten men by lot who were to first kill all the other men, women, and children and then themselves. Josephus Flavius writes in his history of the First Jewish-Roman War: Then the ten having unswervingly slaughtered all, ordained the same rule of the lot for one another, that he on whom it fell should first slay the nine and then himself last of all.

The last ten lots bearing the names of the last ten men

Roman mosaic

Ruins of the Byzantine church sketched above

Driving to the bathing area along the Dead Sea.
What you see along the shoreline are no whitecaps but salt deposits.

The moment Red Baron had and possibly you have been waiting for.
The water at the only place where swimming was allowed was dirty and so were my feet after walking on muddy salt crusts while going into deeper water. Once afloat you have to be careful not to get any water into your eyes and mouth. Keeping this in mind it is impossible to stand up. You can get one foot on the ground but not the other. Luckily there are many people around you to help.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

On Containers

Another anniversary. Fifty years ago on May 5, 1966, the first shipping container on Sea-Land's MS Fairland landed in Bremen's port and simply fell from the hook. It seemed that the Klabautermann (ship's kobold) and with him the traditional dockers had cursed this neumod'schen Kroam (modern stuff). The accident was enough proof for Hamburg's port authorities not to accept the standard 40 feet containers. They only followed with a delay of several years. Now the port authorities ask to deepen the Elbe River against the opposing Greens governing the city state as a junior partner in a coalition with the Reds (Social Democrats).

MSC Zoe, biggest container ship in the world, only half loaded
 arrives at Hamburg port on August 1, 2015 (©dpa).
CSCL Indian Ocean run aground due to a damaged rudder on the Elbe River on February 4, 2016.
Tugboats had to wait several days before the ship could be towed free at a high tide (©dpa)
In fact, Hamburg risks that the super container carriers will avoid to "diesel" up the 100 kilometers from the German Sea and rather head to the Jade deepwater port Red Baron visited in 2009.

Still all empty. Jade deepwater port in 2009.
Containers are a rather traditional way of transporting goods. In the Middle Ages and beyond wooden barrels were the favorite containers to store goods. Whether it was the transport of salted herrings from the Baltic Sea, olive oil from Spain, or gunpowder all over Europe barrels were used. Hence the trade of Küfer (cooper) was in demand and highly profitable. Looking at the stained glass windows of the Minster Church donated by the rich cooper guild you will notice that wine was the mayor trade around Freiburg and therefore relevant utensils are shown at the bottom.

The upper parts represent from left to right: The man grilled to death and shown as a deacon with his grate, Saint Laurentius (Lawrence of Rome). He is the patron of trades that have to do with fire. Iron bands around the barrels were applied glowing red. They subsequently shrunk and forced the wooden staves into shape. In the middle the Virgin is shown as the Queen of Heaven carrying little Jesus. On the right hand side the legendary Bishop of Myra with miter and crozier, Saint Nicholas, the patron of trade, is depicted.

A Swabian farmer once decided to buy the city of Freiburg. So one evening he filled several barrels (sic!) with his gold ducats and left with his horse carts in the direction of Freiburg early in the morning.  When he arrived at the city's Swabian Gate in the afternoon he immediately saw the city council formulating his demand. Some of the city councillors went with him to the Schwabentor but when they opened the barrels they only found pebble stones. What had happened? During the night the down-to-earth wife of the farmer had simply replaced the gold by stones. Over the centuries the painting on the Gate was conserved and the laughter about the naive Swabian farmer is still going on.

Sitting on a powder keg (©Wikipedia)
In the 19th century Thomas Nast, a German-born American caricaturist, considered to be the Father of the American Cartoon, depicted a drunk Irishman sitting on and lighting a powder keg. The cartoon is called The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things.

Friday, May 13, 2016

European Campus

Somewhat late and in the midst of European turmoil five universities on the Upper Rhine have signed a paper founding a European Campus.

The universities: Basel, Freiburg, Strasbourg, Haute-Alsace (Muhlhouse and Colmar), and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

The motto: Think European, bundle the forces.

While Greek Prime Minister Tsipras is again asking for fresh European money to keep over-indebted Greece in the Euro zone, the deal with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to keep refugees out of Central Europe is tilting back, and British Prime Minister Cameron is sluggishly fighting the Brexit of the United Kingdom from the European Union the presidents of five universities in spite of the ongoing crisis plan an unbureaucratic European network without borders between their respective colleges.


Students of three countries will easily switch between various places of the European Campus with the help of a Trinational Regio Ticket using trains and buses. What is most important to Professor Hans-Jochen Schiewer, Rector of the Abertina-Ludovica: The end result of a bi- or trinational academic curriculum will be the European doctorate. The European Campus promoting a common infrastructure for research will become a magnet for the best young scholars and scientists, provided, as Red Baron likes to add, they speak French and German. Possibly the projected potential of 15,000 scholars and scientists, 11,000 doctoral students, and 115,000 students with a total budget of 2.3 billion euros will rather depend on how many of these speak English as lingua franca.

KIT Karlsruhe
For some of the participating universities and institutes the European Campus is just an experiment, for others it is a centennial project. Rector Schiewer again: We shall give ourselves a period of ten years. If it does not work we shall stop it.

This fall the first summer schools are scheduled at Freiburg University and Red Baron will participate in a well established one by the Frankreich-Institut in the beginning of September with this year's topic: De Tintin au Congo à Charlie Hebdo; Bandes dessinées et caricatures de langue française.

All photos are ©Der Sonntag, Freiburg

Saturday, May 7, 2016


Eighteen hundred and frozen to death or 1816 is known as the Year Without a Summer. In Wikipedia we read: Evidence suggests that the anomaly was predominantly a volcanic winter event caused by the massive April 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies, the largest eruption in at least 1,300 years after the extreme weather events of 535–536.

An article in Freiburg's Sunday newspaper recalled the 200th anniversary of Europe's greatest famine causing the death of 200,000 people and described the situation in Switzerland and Germany's southwest. For the impact of the weather anomaly on North America consult Wikipedia.

Indeed the situation in Baden and Switzerland in 1816 was catastrophic, with constant rain up to the beginning of May and a midsummer with hailstorms and temperatures around 10 degrees Celsius. Until the end of April there was not a single day where when planting was possible, it was too cold for potatoes, fruit, and vegetables and in August a single hailstorm destroyed the pathetic crop entirely.

Food prices soared in 1817 (©Gustave Graetzlin/Wikipedia)
A Hungertafel (hunger tablet) from fall 1817 shows starving people grazing together with their cattle in Switzerland. Oft zählte man in einer einzigen Wiese, zur gleichen Stunde, 30 bis 40 Menschen, die unter dem Vieh ihre Nahrung aufsuchten (Often one counted in a single meadow at the same hour 30 to 40 people looking for food among the cattle). Their efforts resulted in meals composed of boiled bones with meadow herbs.

©Toggenburger Museum, Lichtensteig

Lord Byron wrote the poem Darkness while he was in Geneva in 1816:

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went and came, and brought no day.

It was a bad time for a Europe still recuperating from the Napoleonic Wars. In the winter of 1812/13 Freiburg in particular had to cope with allied troopes and their horses on the heels of Napoleon moving through the Breisgau at a rate of up to 20,000 per day eating up all the supplies.

Now in 1817 people wanted to leave Baden. In the vicinity of Freiburg nearly 14,000 Breisgauers sold their possessions for a ship passage to America. How many arrived? Some of them became victims of trafficking and eventually found themselves lost in Amsterdam without money and tickets.

Stories that refugees can tell have not much changed since then.

P.S.: 100 years ago during the last year of the First World War people not only in Germany's southwest but all over the country were hungry too.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

My Digital Revolution

This is not my title but the title of the first German-American Dialogue Baden-Wuerttemberg Red Baron went to last week. I personally experienced my digital development more as an evolution rather than as a revolution. I started with punched cards in 1966, lived through the beginning of e-mails and the World Wide Web at CERN, and relied rather early on silicon memory instead of brain cells for my appointments and tasks using pocket computers and smartphones.

In the framework of its "American Days" the Carl-Schurz-Haus and its dynamic director Friederike Schulte had organized the German-American Dialogue at  Freiburg's United World College, UWC Robert Bosch.

Gray-haired Red Baron with FMG President Toni Schlegel listening (©Carl-Schurz-Haus)
The opening lecture by John Gerosa, sales director of Google Germany, "Google Story and Digital Trends" set the pace with three interesting slides.

Yes, Google makes information universally accessible. A good example is the scanning of out-of-copyright books from Munich's University Library (Munich is the headquarters of Google Germany). I already thanked Google in a previous blog since the books written by Hecker, Struve, Mördes, Morel, and company giving their view of the Badische Revolution are now available online and helped me to round out my web site about the years 1848/49. Thanks again, Google.

However, the next slide from John Geroso's presentation shows the whole misery of the digital age. The family no longer watches television as a family but members are using or playing with various electronic devices separately. The family is only connected via the internet. Let's face it: We live in an online world and sooner or later in Virtual Reality.

How generous. It is always Google's problem.
For me the panel discussion on Identity and living together in the digital age started badly when at the beginning the word "angst" was invoked. Indeed, nobody can say how far the digital world will take us. We are more and more nerve-rackingly multitasking sometimes even dangerously when driving and phoning, texting, or just simultaneously looking at one of our devices. One panel member talked about the industrialization of our brains, other members brought in "socialist" ideas and their Christian God.

Families have started to introduce rules when members may be online or must be offline with parents frequently cheating. Because we communicate with virtual instead face-to-face partners the tone of conversation gets rougher for it's easier to make insults online. How will the young generation transport digital mobbing into their upcoming family and professional lives?

Due to the lack of time the discussion had to be limited to three questions from the audience but I could get my remark in. However, before the moderator handed me the microphone he asked me - apparently doubting my competence when looking at my gray hair - whether I am on Facebook. I snappishly answered: Yes, but I use it my way and continued that angst with respect to a digitized world is born out of ignorance. The young generation has no problem with following the digital development. Nevertheless they still may lack the maturity to use their digital possibilities competently. The UWC psychologist answered that she got one message across to the pupils: Many Likes do not strengthen your self-confidence. On that point I think that her selected international elite clientele is not representative of the rest of the present young generation. I feel that society has yet to come to grips with Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and the rest.

The second panel Rethinking Business was somehow disjointed because panel members tended to talk about their particular interests, rarely listening to each other. John Geroso immediately contradicted the chairman's introductory remark that Only the No.1 counts: Google does not feel like No.1 but rather thinks that competition will spur development or as we say in German: Konkurrenz hebt das Geschäft.

It seems that you cannot simply transform an analog enterprise into a digital one. You'd better start from scratch. Existing firms must get agile, some try to circumvent the problem by incorporating startups into their firms. Future enterprises will have no managers but ruling teams.

There was agreement that not everything that can be done in the digital world necessarily has to be done although I have not yet seen an enterprise that does not use an opportunity to make money. The young generation criticized the exploitation of natural resources on which other panel members did not comment. When the specialist in robotics was asked whether robots can do all human activities he answered yes except they have no feelings. He then admitted that one of his robots had complained, messaging: I can simulate feelings.

During the long afternoon some of the impacts of the digital revolution were addressed and some were even discussed but we are far from knowing the impact the digital world will have on future society. While it took two generations to get accustomed to the hard-wired telephone, analogue television, or the automobile it now takes only about 10 years before a "new" technology is already obsolete. It is this pace of development that leaves us little time to digest.