Saturday, 25 August 2012

Lollipops on the Schloßplatz

Berlin is always full of surprises; you can wander down town and somewhere you think you know is suddenly transformed.

Today for example, Schloßplatz on Museuminsel had suddenly sprouted a forest of colourful lollipops.

They seemed to mimic the shape of the Fernsehturm.

What on Earth could they be? From afar they were a splash of colour dwarfed by the Berliner Dom.

Actually, they weren't supposed to be lollipops at all, but pin markers in a gigantic map of Berlin.

It was part of Berlin's 775th anniversary celebrations. A fifty metre squared map had been painted onto the concrete at a scale of 1:775, and each pin-marker was set into a location representing a multi-cultural event in Berlin's history.

Beside it was a festival celebrating Berlin's diverse religious cultures, including a devotional dance and music performance by whirling Dervishes!

Ich liebe Berlin!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Waldfriedhof Berlin-Zehlendorf and the Italian War Cemetery

My last post was about the British War Cemetery in Berlin. Just to show I am not partisan, this post is about the Italian War Cemetery in Zehlendorf. It is located on Potsdamer Chaussee in the far SW of Berlin, and to get there we started at S-Bahn Nikolassee, surely one of the most idyllic stations in Berlin (p.s. click for bigger), and hopped on a bus.

S-Bahnhof Nikolassee
The Italian War Cemetery is located in Waldfriedhof Zehlendorf, a vast cemetery with the final resting places of many famous German politicians, actors, film-directors, and singers. It is a bit daunting to orientate yourself, but there is a grave plan by the Potsdamer Chaussee entrance helpfully showing where the worthies are buried. What the plan doesn't show you though, is where the Italian War Cemetery is, so you might have to wander around until you come across a sign with an arrow pointing to the Cimitero Militare Italiano.

Entrance to the Italian War Cemetery, Berlin-Zehlendorf
This part of the Waldfriedhof was built between 1955-57 (though the last two fallen were finally interred in 1964) and contains the bodies of 1,179 Italian victims of WWII, 113 of whom are unknown.

The majority of the people buried here (80%) were Italian soldiers captured by the German Army after the surrender of Italy on 8th September 1943. The remainder, which includes 22 women, were civilian workers who perished as a result of either aerial bombardment, hunger and disease, worked to death in German labour camps, or who were simply murdered for being Italian. Included are 127 POW's murdered at the end of the war in Treuenbrietzen, Brandenburg, a satellite concentration camp of Sachsenhausen. (Treuenbrietzen is also darkly known for the massacre and rape of over a thousand German civilians by the Soviet Army when they came across the camp and town on 21 April 1945 see here for example).

There is a quite well executed memorial to the Italians buried here, with the names of the fallen written on brass plaques on plinths circling around a bronze wreath.

The force behind getting this War Cemetery built was Monsignor Luigi Fraccari, who was a missionary in Berlin for 35 years from 1944. The cemetery was inaugurated on 21st December 1958.

Whilst at the Waldfriedhof, it was interesting looking at the graves of other people buried there. For example,  Willy Brandt, Chancellor of West Germany:

Willy Brandt's grave
Close by is also the grave of Ernst Reuter, who was the mayor of West Berlin from 1948 to 1953 during the Cold War:

Grave of Ernst Reuter
The final resting place of another prominent politician is also here, that of Jakob Kaiser:

Grave of Jakob Kaiser
But as I said earlier, not only West German politicians are buried here, but also for example actress and singer-songwriter Hildergard Knef:

Grave of Hildegard Knef
There is also a film director who I'd never heard of, Ulrich Schamoni, but he has a pretty grave:

Grave of Ulrich Schamoni
It might seem a bit ghoulish wandering about graveyards, but it is an interesting way to get acquainted with German history and past personalities. They never have anywhere to get a cup of tea though.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Some Corner of a Foreign Field - The British War Cemetery, Berlin

A common site in the landscape of West Berlin is a tall, thin, red and white striped mast rising out of a forest of trees. Most visitors will have noticed it, but how many know what it is and what lies near its base?

Mast as seen from the Olympic Stadium Bell-tower
The tower is a TV, radio and mobile phone mast known as 'Sendemast Scholzplatz'. At 230 metres high it is the fifth highest structure in Berlin (by comparison, the Fernsehturm in Alexanderplatz is first place at 368m, and the Funkturm near the ICC is a mere 18th place at 146.8m). It was constructed in 1963, and took over from the Funkturm for radio transmissions, particularly because it could transmit Western news deeper into the former DDR than previously.

What is more interesting (unless you are a radio phreak) is the plot of land beside which it stands, which to all intents and purposes belongs to the territory of the United Kingdom. Here is one of two Commonwealth War Graves Commission owned cemeteries in and around Berlin (the other is the World War I Berlin South-Western in Stahnsdorf, near Potsdam).

Sendemast Schotzplatz &
The British War Cemetery
Graves were brought to the cemetery from the Berlin area and from eastern Germany. The great majority of those buried here, approximately 80 per cent of the total, were airmen who were lost in the air raids over Berlin and the towns in eastern Germany. The remainder were men who died as prisoners of war, some of them in the forced march into Germany from camps in Poland, in front of the advancing Russians.

The British War Cemetery

The graves of three airmen
The cemetery contains 3,595 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, 397 of them unidentified. There is a register contained in a small cupboard beside the entrance that shows where people are buried, if you are looking for a particular relative. There is also a visitor's book with some moving comments.

Where the cemetery register is kept
Comments in the Visitors' Book

The graves of two unidentified airmen.
Note that the one on the right was Canadian.
Though the cemetery is predominantly Christian, I noticed that there were a small number of Jewish graves, marked by the Star of David and with pebbles left by visitors in the Jewish manner.

One of the several Jewish graves
'Their Name Liveth For Evermore'
If you are looking at visiting the British War Cemetery, then note that the nearest S-Bahn is Pichelsberg (S9 and S75). Access is gained from the busy Heerstraße (appropriately enough: 'das Heer' means 'army'). There is also a Jewish cemetery next to the British War Cemetery.

British War Cemetery viewed through the entrance gate.
Even if you don't wish to make the trip out to the cemetery, at least now whenever you see the Scholzplatz mast you will perhaps remember the brave soldiers who are buried there.

Friday, 3 August 2012

German Inventions and Discoveries

The popular image of a German scientist seems to be polarised between on the one hand the eccentric lone researcher dabbling in the forbidden - Dr Faustus, Dr Frankenstein, and Prof Einstein as examples - and on the other the emotionless, lab-coated, 'vorspung durch Technik' automaton. The truth is that Germans have been at the fore-front across all manner of scientific discovery and inventiveness, and incorporate the same range of individuals and personalities as their American or English cousins.

The products of their labours effect people world-wide, and here is an eclectic list of just some of them. I have excluded the obvious - you will probably know that most of the car industry was pioneered by Germans like Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz - and instead gone for inventions and ideas that I at least didn't associate with Germany.

Chemist Felix Hoffmann, born in Ludwigsburg (Baden-Württemberg) in 1868, is generally credited with the stable synthesis of acetylsalicylic acid whilst with Bayer in 1894. Bayer pharmaceutical marketed the pain-killer a couple of years later as 'asprin'. It should be added that there is a counter-claim to the process by Arthur Eichengrün, but this is the story that Bayer are sticking with, even though the patent for asprin has expired.

Binary Numbers
Digital technology wouldn't work if it wasn't for all those 1's and 0's, and the person we have to thank for the binary system is Gottfried Leibniz, born in Leipzig in 1646. So, without his mathematical genius, I wouldn't be able to write about him on a computer and you wouldn't be able to read this across the internet. Leibniz also gave his name to a brand of biscuit which goes very nicely with a cup of tea. The only relationship between biscuit and man is that Leibniz was a famous resident of Hannover, where the biscuits were first produced in 1891.

Blue Jeans
Levi Strauss was born in Buttenheim, Bavaria in 1829. At the age of 18 he emigrated to the USA, along with his Mother and two sisters, to join his brothers Jonas and Louis who were running a dry goods wholesale business in New York. At the time of the Californian Gold Rush, the family decided to open a West Coast branch and sent Levi on a voyage around the Cape of Hope to San Fransisco. There he found a great need for strong-wearing men's work-trousers made of indigo-dyed denim, and became the business partner of one Jacob Davis, who had invented a way of strengthening pocket seams using copper rivets. Thereby Levi jeans were born.

OK, Christmas wasn't invented in Germany of course (Palestine had something to do with that), but many of our Christmas traditions originated there. For example, bringing Christmas Trees  (der Tannenbaum) into the house and decorating them was popular in the upper Rhineland in the 18th century. The tradition was spread by German soldiers in the 19th century (the Prussian army introduced them into all barracks and military hospitals at the time of the short Franco-Prussian War of 1870), both across the newly founded united Germany, and by mercenaries and emigrants to North America.

Christmas trees became popular with the European nobility, and though we often associate the introduction of the tradition into the UK with Prince Albert, in fact the future Queen Victoria wrote awestruck about a Christmas Tree in her diary when she was just 13.

It is true though that Prince Albert was instrumental in popularising decorating Christmas Trees with glass ornaments (Glaskugeln), which were principally made by the glass-blowers of Lauschau (Thuringia). However,  it was F.W.Woolworth who was responsible for introducing glass ornaments to the USA via his eponymous stores in the 1880's, after seeing them on a visit to Lauschau.

Christmas Tree tinsel (das Lametta) was invented in Nuremburg, Germany, around 1610, when it was made from extruded silver and was supposed to represent the starry sky over the nativity. Christmas trees were also decorated with candles to represent the starry firmament, another German innovation which we now more safely carry on as fairy lights.

The first commercially printed advent calendar is credited to Gerhard Lang of the firm Reichhold & Lang of Munich in 1908. The company later introduced the idea of actually having opening doors each day on the calendar, revealing a Christmassy scene. The idea of lighting candles on an Advent wreath is also traced to German Lutheran tradition, something that escaped me each Christmas as a child when the UK TV program 'Blue Peter' made one out of two coat-hangers and tinsell.

Finally, no Christmas Carol Service is complete without the singing of 'Silent Night', which was composed in German as 'Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht' and first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at the St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf bei Salzburg.

Coffee Filters
Melitta Bentz, born Amalie Auguste Melitta Liebscher in Dresden in 1873, was the inventor and developer of the paper coffee filter (patented 1908). Her first efforts involved blotting paper from her son's school exercise books, and a copper cup perforated with holes punched in with a nail. The company she founded, Melitta, is still going strong.

Without her invention I would never have got those student essays done on time, so hats off to you Frau Bentz!

The first fully operational, programmable, electromechanical computer was the Z3, created by Konrad Zuse (1910–1995) of Berlin in 1941. Perhaps because he was funded by the Nazi Government, this fact doesn't seem to be widely known in the UK and USA. I have been studying about, and working with, computers for nigh on thirty years and I never knew about Zuse until I saw a reconstruction of his Z3 at the Deutsches Technik Museum last year. Incidently, if you remember the punched paper tape that used to be used for programming computers, and ever wondered why it resembled rolls of sprocketed 35mm film (if you remember that too!) - well, old stocks of 35mm punched with holes is exactly what Zuse used, because he couldn't get his hands on strong paper tape in wartime Berlin.

Electric Urban Transport
Green city-centre transport systems powered by 'clean' electricity are nothing new. Berlin had the world's first electric suburban railway (S-Bahn) as long ago as 1879, the first electric tram-lines in 1881, and the first electric trolley-bus in 1882. All were the invention of  Ernst Werner von Siemens (1816-1892) and the company he co-founded, Siemens & Halske (which also constructed the first European telegraph line from Berlin to Frankfurt am Main).

Hellmann's Mayonaise
Richard Hellmann was born in Vetschau in the Spreewald SE of Berlin and emigrated to New York. In 1905 he opened a delikatessen where his wife's recipe for mayonnaise became a big hit in sandwiches. In Germany today, it is also a big hit with 'Pommes'. It always amuses me when I see on menus Pommes rot and Pommes Weiß. Red potatoes or white potatoes? Does that refer to the variety? No, it means chips with tomato ketchup or with mayonnaise! (or even both: Pommes rot-weiß is a traditional accompaniment for Currywurst). To continue the rot-weiß theme, what about tomato ketchup then? well ....

Heinz Ketchup
Henry John Heinz was born in 1844 in Kallstadt (Rheinland-Pfalz), though he soon emigrated to the USA with his family. In 1888 he bought out his partners in the food-packing company Heinz Nobel and reformed it as the H.J.Heinz company, by which it is known to this day. H.J.Heinz returned many times to his birth-place Kallstadt, and often vacationed at the spa-town of Bad Kissingen (Bavaria) where he was staying in 1914 at the outbreak of WWI.

The widely-used lossy compression encoding format for digital audio files MP3 was developed at the Fraunhofer Institut für Integrierte Schaltungen (IIS, Institute for Integrated Circuits) The team was led by Prof. Karlheinz Brandenburg and included Bernhard Grill and Harald Popp.

For services to keeping me sane on the commute to work, I salute you!

The planet Neptune is not visible to the naked eye, but it was probably scanned over through a telescope a few times (including by Galileo) before Johann Gottfried Galle (1812-1910) turned the refractor at Berlin Observatory onto it on 23rd Sept 1846. The difference is that Galle knew that he was looking at a previously undiscovered planet beyond the orbit of Uranus, thanks to the calculations of French mathematician Urbain Le Verrier. Galle wanted to name the planet Janus, but Le Verrier claimed he was the planet's discoverer (even though he hadn't observed it) and his proposed name of Neptune stuck. By the way, Galle has a 'smiley face' crater on Mars named after him. Which is nice. 

The inventor of the permanent wave hairstyle was Karl Nessler (1872 - 1951), a shoemaker from Todtnau in the Black Forest. His process involved a mixture of cow urine and water applied to hair wrapped around a number of electrically heated brass rods, which he first demonstrated in 1905. His early experiments on his wife Katharine Laibel resulted in completely burning her hair off and causing scalp burns. In 1902, another of Nessler's inventions, artificial eyebrows, was patented in the United Kingdom where he was then living. I hope his wife didn't have her eyebrows burned off for that. He later had to flee to the USA after being interred and his assets confiscated due to anti-German resentment during World War I.

Ring Binders and Hole Punches
Even in today's paperless offices (which are more of an aspiration than a reality) there seems to be still a need for ring-binder files and the hole punches needed to put paper in them.

Both were patented by Friedrich Soennecken (1848 - 1919), born in the Sauerland of Nordrhein-Westfalen and founder of the Bonn-based stationers 'Soennecken' (now defunct).

Ingersheim (Baden-Württemberg) born Louis Leitz (1846 - 1918) added the innovation of having a finger-hole in the spine of the ring-binder to make it easier to get them from a shelf.

Smart Cards
The concept of a plastic card with an on-board integrated circuit was first devised by East German electrical engineers Helmut Gröttrup and Jürgen Dethloff as long ago as 1968. Gröttrup started out as an assistant to Wernher von Braun on the V-2 rocket program, and after the war was taken to the USSR by the Soviets to work on their guided missile projects, so by comparison inventing swipe cards wasn't exactly rocket science.

Sports Shoes
In 1924 in the village of Herzogenaurach near Nuremberg, two brothers, Adolf (aka Adi) and Rudolf Dassler, began marketing sports shoes that they manufactured in their mother's wash-room. During electricity outages they resorted to operating their machinery by peddling a stationary bicycle. For the 1936 Berlin Olympics they persuaded Afro-American sprinter Jesse Owen to run in their shoes. In 1949 the brothers fell out and split up, and Adi founded the famous sports goods company Adidas whilst his brother went on to found the company Ruda, which became Puma (where the first sports shoe with a screw in spike was invented).

One of the earliest advocates for homosexual and transgender rights was the Jewish physician Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935). As well as founding the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Research) in Berlin, and campaigning effectively for gay rights and tolerance, he was the first person to research cross-dressing and coin the term 'Transvestit'. Not surprisingly, when the Nazis came to power they attacked his Institute and in May 1933 burned its extensive collection of research into the rich spectrum of human sexual variety. The most famous Berliner transvestite is probably Charlotte von Mahlsdorf who was persecuted both by the Nazi and the East German regimes. She collected household items from bombed out buildings and later from household clearances of people fleeing to the West, and these form the basis of the rather interesting Gründerzeit Museum.
Vegetarian Sausages
As Chancellor of West Germany, Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) led his country from the ruins of World War II to a become a powerful and prosperous nation. What is little known is that he was also a keen amateur inventor, and in 1916 he secured a patent for the invention of  the first soya sausage, known as Kölner Wurst (before becoming Chancellor he was mayor of Köln/Cologne).

Video Games
The first commercially produced home games video console for plugging into your TV was the Magnavox Odyssey, which went on sale in 1972. Its designer is Ralph H. Baer, born in 1922 in Rodalben (Rheinland-Pfalz). Because he was Jewish he had to flee with his family to the USA in 1938 just two months before Kristallnacht. Generally regarded as the 'father of video games', he is also credited with inventing a light gun and game to be used with a TV (the first games console peripheral), and with the addictive electronic memory game 'Simon'.

I am including this invention out of alphabetic sequence and last because it illustrates the fact that of course it is almost impossible to credit any one nation with any particular invention really. No scientist works in a vacuum (first scientifically analysed by Otto von Guericke of Magdeburg in the 17thC!). Nor indeed does any businessman; note that Strauss, Heinz and Hellmann all emigrated to the USA before making their name.

So,whilst the first demonstration of transmitting moving images electrically over a wire is credited to John Logie Baird (Scottish) on 26th March 1926, he used a mechanical scanning disk invented by Paul Gottlieb Nipkow (German) in 1884 who used it to transmit still images over a wire. Television development then went in the direction of using cathode rays, a term first coined by German physicist Eugen Goldstein around 1876. But the cathode ray tube itself was invented independently in 1907 by A.A. Campbell Swinton (English) and Boris Rosing (Russian). Rosing combined Nipkow's disk and a cathode ray tube to invent the first working mechanical TV system in 1906. Kálmán Tihanyi (Hungarian) invented a fully electronic system using CRT instead of Nipkow disks  in 1926 (and by the way, designed the world's first automatic pilotless aircraft in Great Britain in 1929). Tihanyi went to Berlin to sell his system to Telefunken and Siemens in 1928, but they decided to stick with the mechanical TV. Meanwhile Kenjiro Takayanagi (Japanese) was working along similar lines in the 1920's, and eventually went on to be involved in the development of colour television and video recorders at JVC. In 1936 the first televised Olympic Games were held in Berlin, the moving images being transmitted along cables to special viewing rooms as far away as Leipzig. The first regular public television broadcasts (not along cables) were begun by the BBC from Alexander Palace, England, on 2nd November 1936. Or were they? According to Wikipedia and many guide books to Berlin, the world's first regular television program began broadcasting from the Funkturm in Berlin on March 22, 1935. None of this would have been possible of course without the work of Guglielmo Marconi (Italian) and Nikola Tesla (Serbian), pioneers in long-distance radio transmission in the early 1900's. Back to 1936 and our Hungarian Tihanyi described the principle of plasma display and the first flat-panel display system. Phew, and we've not even touched upon the developments in the USA, such as the world's first test TV broadcasts by WRGB from radio studios in Schenectady in early 1928, and the world's first TV commercial broadcast by Charles Jenkins of Dayton Ohio in 1936.

So yes, Germans certainly contributed to the early development of television, but it is really the world-wide scientific community bouncing ideas off one-another that we have to thank. Or, given what is usually on the goggle-box, curse!