Sunday, 24 April 2011

Tosca Has Passed On Too

29.05.98 - 22.04.2011

This is too much. Tosca has now died as well. That's three cats gone from us in as many months  (first Simbi and then Suki). Only Cassie is with us now, and she is as lost as we feel, looking around the house and garden for her playmates, sitting watching the cat-flap wanting her friends to come back. At least we can understand why we'll never hear their purrs or stroke their furry heads again - Cassie can't.

Tosca wanted letting out into the garden Friday night, and I obliged. Oh that I hadn't! But how could I know? By the time I was ready for bed, she hadn't come back. I looked around outside for her with the torch, but no sign. Neither had she come back by the morning. By the afternoon and in a state of worry, we made some posters up asking people to look out for her, and pinned them to trees on our road. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, someone knocked on the door and took Ju to a place down beside the railway line where he'd spotted a cat. It was Tosca. She was dead. It looked like some animal had taken a nasty bite out of her back flank, and she must have fled down the railway line to escape, only to succumb to her wounds. The poor, poor little darling. She must have been terrified.

Still, we have lovely memories of her to look back on. She was Suki's sister, rescued from a farm and given into our care. Tosca always seemed the most intelligent and sensible of our cats, keeping the others out of trouble and giving them an exasperated look when they mis-behaved. She had a gorgeous white coat that she kept meticulously clean, even though her favourite leisure time was spent rolling around in the sand or earth in the sunniest spots.

We loved the way she would head-butt our hand, demanding a stroke, and rub around our legs. Unusually for a cat, she liked to watch the television, especially the wildlife programs; here are photos of Tosca watching the tv just last year. Not that she was a couch potato; she was an adventurous hunter too - birds and mice of course, but dragonflies especially could expect no mercy!

Darling Tosca was such a playful cat - she would spend ages pouncing on her toy mice and flinging them around the hearth rug, making the rug slide around on the polished floor with her. She also had the loudest voice, and the loudest purr. If you didn't wake up and get her food in the morning, then she would sit on your chest and purr deafeningly until you got up. And when fish was for dinner, she would climb up on her back legs and scrabble against the kitchen cabinets and your legs, patting with her paws, miaowing all the while until she was fed!

The strangest thing is that she was always afraid when the trains went past down the bottom of our garden, running in as soon as she heard them toot further down the line. And then she ended her life right next to the railway line that she never ever went near before.

We are going to miss her enormously, but she still regularly visits us in our dreams. And in our memories.
Sleep on in the sun, our little sweet-heart, and maybe we'll all meet again some day.

Here are some photos of Tosca that Ju took:

Tosca - so bright eyed and intelligent

Tosca sunbathing in the heather

Tosca exploring the snow

Tosca's snow-white coat blending in with real snow

Tosca alert to dragonflies in the garden
And here are some of my photos of Tosca:

Tosca curled up in her basket

Tosca surveying her domain, and giving that look of 'why are you pointing that camera at me?'

Tosca in the sun again

Tosca on the (well-scratched by her!) rug

Tosca watching a stork on TV

A contented Tosca purring on the sofa
Bye-bye Tosca. Thank you for letting us share your life with us and bringing joy into our hearts.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Plagarise and be Damned!

There are some very naive people out there when it comes to the power of the internet. In Germany this extends all the way up to former German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. Rising star in the CDU (Angela Merkel's controling rule party), and once tipped to be the next Chancellor of Germany, he resigned last month after revelations that a large part of his 2006 PhD thesis had been plagiarised, and the University of Bayreuth stripped him of his doctorate as a result.

See Guardian article 'German defence minister resigns in PhD plagiarism row'

Minister for cut-and-paste Zu Googleberg, full name Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester, Baron von und zu Guttenberg (and married to the great-great-granddaughter of Germany’s former chancellor Otto von Bismarck - who says Germany is a classless society?), used the wonderful resources of the Internet to do his research for his thesis 'Verfassung und Verfassungsvertrag. Konstitutionelle Entwicklungsstufen in den USA und der EU' (Constitution and Constitutional Treaties – Constitutional Steps of Development in the USA and the EU.)"
And fittingly it was the power of the Internet that brought about his downfall, specifically the thousands of people who spent the time to sift through this most exciting of thesis and find instances of plagiarism which they then published to the GutenPlag Wiki.

As far as I (or Wikipedia) knows, zu Guttenberg isn't a descendent of Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, inventor of a system of moveable type and thereby instigator of a revolution in information technology. But what irony if he were to be! An invention that brought information to the masses rather than through the medium of the Priest, abused by a later zu Guttenberg, who is himself hoisted by his own petard!

It seems strange that people seem to think that they alone are able to google research. It is probably very appealing to first-time students with an essay deadline who think Wikipedia is a primary source. Hopefully they are soon made aware that universities have software that can take a random selection of essays and subject them to a comparison against information found on the net. You would think that zu Guttenberg might be wise enough to have grasped this fact. Or, being the Defence Minister for a large European democracy, to have the morality not to try to cheat in the first place. But it seems not.

Plagiarism on the net is not just confined to lazy students; photographic and design imagery is somehow considered fair game for copyright breaches just because it is in the public domain. If you think your images have been illegally filched, then one tool I can recommend is the TinEye reverse image search browser plugin.

Even bloggers are subject to plagiarism. You might think my rambling essays are not worth copying and passing on as your own, and I would agree with you. But I have other friends who blog whose opinions are much more worthwhile, and therefore open to theft. I have just been made aware of an example of this; my photographer friend and fellow Berliner ex-pat Craig Robinson writes an excellent blog called Prague Photographer. Back in August 2009 he wrote this witty article about not letting your Uncle Bob take your wedding photographs. Lo and behold, plagiarists and copyright thieves George Troup Photography published an almost exact copy of the article on 29th July 2010 on their plagiarising Dallas Photography Wedding Blog. Like zu Guttenberg, they perhaps thought that nobody would notice. How naive can you be?

p.s. this article is 100% the work of the author, me, except for the 80% of it I got from googled news items, Facebook, and Wikipedia.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Potsdam - Ohne Sorge

Spring finally feels like it has arrived, and these past two Sundays we have been visiting a favorite place of ours, Potsdam, 24km SW of Berlin.

Potsdam is almost as far West as you can travel on the Berlin transport system*, and yet it is not even in Berlin. In fact, it isn't in the same federal state either, and is the capital of Brandenburg. For 30 years it wasn't even in the same country as most of Berlin, being then part of East Germany (the DDR).

Potsdam lies beside a string of lakes fed by the river Havel, and mostly owes its importance because it was chosen as a royal residence by the Hohenzollerns; the kings of Prussia and eventually emperors (Kaisers) of Germany. The architecture is hence grand in scale, with colossal neoclassical and especially baroque palaces, churches, and monumental gateways. It had also been a centre of immigration, encouraged by the Hohenzollerns who were not so much tolerant of different religious beliefs as canny enough to know that the Hugenots etc had valuable skills to offer a kingdom wanting to build up its power. So amongst the Italiante and the gothic, there are also areas with a distinct Netherlandish, French and even Russian style.

The Royal court also attracted the wealthy bourgeoisie, whose stucco town villas still crowd around the city centre, some of them unrenovated and in crumbling grandeur. And to protect the court, Potsdam was also a garrison town with military barracks, stables, and training grounds.

In the twentieth century, Potsdam developed into a centre for research and technology, including a number of observatories, the best known of which is the expressionist architecture of the Einsteinturm built between 1919 to 1921 as a solar observatory to prove (or disprove) Einstein's theories of relativity.

Without doubt though, it was Frederick the Great (Friedrich II, Old Fritz) who made the greatest contribution to Potsdam becoming in our time a World Heritage site, when he had the Summer Palace and landscape gardens of Sans Soussci ( French for 'without worries' ) created, so that he could get away from boring political life in Berlin (and his shunned wife Elizabeth Christine stuck away at Schloss Schönhausen) and rap with philosphers such as Voltaire.

Here are a few of my photos from the last couple of weeks to help you get an impression of the town. For anyone thinking of visiting Berlin, then a trip out to Potsdam is a definite must. Actually, you could easily spend a week there and still not tire of the many historical, cultural and leisure opportunities (disclaimer: I am not in the employ of the Potsdam tourist board).

(Copyright me, and click for bigger)

Alt Markt, next to the building site that is to become the rebuilt Schloss Potsdam and seat for the Brandenburg Government.

The recently restored St Nikolaikirche

Atlas on the dome of the Altes Rathaus

Assorted statues and military ware on the Potsdam skyline near Alt Markt.

Window on the side of the St Nikolaikirche
Detail of an angel on the Nikolaikirche.
Detail of a skull on the obelisk in Alt Markt.

The rebuilt carillion of the former Garrison church. The church was bombed during WWII and could have been rebuilt, but the church (and its bells) was a symbol of Prussian militarism and was also where Herr H. chose to be sworn in as Chancellor in 1933. The DDR weren't too happy to revive these memories, but there is now a plan underway to rebuild the church.

Brandenburg Gate. No, not THAT Brandenburg Gate, and in fact this was built before the Berlin one.
Busy Sunday on Brandenburger Straße

The fantastical Chinese House in Park Sans Soussci.

Gilded statues adorning the Chinese House in Park Sanssouci.

Gabled houses in the Dutch Quarter.

Another of the gates that were once into the town wall - the Jäger Tor or Hunter's Gate.

The Italianate Friedenskirche, or Peace Church, on the edge of Sans Soussci.

Underneath the lantern.
The French Church (Französische Kirche) erected in 1750 for Potsdam's Hugenot community.

The Marstall, or cavalry stables, now the Potsdam Film Museum.

Mural from the DDR era series of murals 'Der Mensch bezwingt den Kosmos' at a former Data Processing centre.

Is it a mosque? No, it is actually a pumping house (Pumpenhaus) that used steam engines to pump water to supply the fountains of Park Sans Soussci.

Das Pumpenhaus seen across the upper end of the Templiner See.
More Potsdam reflections in the Templiner See.

Schloss Sans Soussci Summer Palace.

Column in front of the terraces leading up to Schloss Sans Soussci. The terraces are planted with grape vines by the way - not at their best this time of year!

A nicely un-restored town house.

Another quietly diapidating villa, this time with a DDR Trabi parked in front.

French Crêperie. Old Fritz would have approved.
Final, parting shot of Sans Soussci before the statues are uncovered, the flowers are planted, and the tourists come in their droves from around the world.

* Werder is the furthest West