Monday, 30 March 2015

bester Freund des Menschen

Apartment dog is watching you!

It is true to say that German folk certainly love dogs. The British do as well, of course, but whereas you might occasionally see a faithful collie asleep under the inglenook table of an English pub, it is only in Germany that I have regularly seen dogs in cafes and restaurants or trotting behind their mistress in department stores. Dogs are more than just indulged here; they are pampered and pedicured, and dressed in fashionable jackets - with witty slogans like 'Floh Taxi' ('flea taxi') - and even have their own little doggy shoes (Hundeschuhe),

Most German gate-posts have signs with pictures of dogs declaring 'Hier wache ich' ('I am on guard here'), or the scarier 'Vorsicht, bissiger Hund' ('beware, vicious dog' - though often ironically with a picture of a little toy Yorkshire terrier). It seems like everyone owns a dog, even those who also keep cats.

You might not have thought about it, but many dog breeds actually have German origins and names. The German Shepherd is probably the first that comes to mind. The German name for the breed translates as 'German Sheepdog': Deutscher Schäferhund. In the UK dogs of this breed are also sometimes called Alsations. This goes back to the First World War when Germany was Britain's enemy and anti-German sentiments were high. The name 'Alsatian' comes from the Alsace-Lorraine region on the French-German border, and was considered less Teutonic sounding.

Another dog that was renamed during the First World War is the breed that came to be associated with the German people through caricature - the Dachshund. They became known as 'liberty hounds', in the same way that Sauerkraut was renamed 'liberty cabbage' and in more recent history 'french fries' became 'liberty fries'. The name 'Dachshund' comes from 'Dachs', which is the German word for a badger, and indeed these pipe-cleaner dogs were bred to worm their way down into badger sets and kill the unfortunate occupants.

The Rottweiler dog is named after the SW-German town of Rottweil. This town was founded by the Romans, who used mastiff-type dogs for herding cattle and even pulling carts of butcher's meat over the Alps. The Romans left, but their drover dogs remained and were continued to be used by the Swabians as protection and to herd and drive cattle to market. Modern-day Rottweilers are descendants of those Roman dogs and are surely the originators of the phrase 'fitter than a butcher's dog'.

The Pomeranian is also named after a German place-name, the Prussian  region of Pomerania which is now Northern Poland and the State of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. These cute little lap dogs are related to the German Spitz breed, spitz being the German word for 'pointed' and referring to their pointed ears and muzzle. Pomeranians were popularised in Great Britain in the eighteenth century by Queen Charlotte (of Mecklenburg-Strelitz), consort of King George III. Queen Victoria was also a big fan, and judging by the number of young women who carry them in their hand-bags on the S-Bahn todayy, they are still a fashionable dog.

You might think that the Great Dane is also geographically named and that it is Danish. However you would be misled. It originated in Germany, and is called the Deutsche Dogge, where 'dogge' means a mastiff type of dog. Originally all dogs were called hounds, which has the same root etymology as the German Hund. Dogge was just a breed of hound, the mastiff, but because they were the main, powerful, breed used by nobility in hunting bears, boars and stags (and only nobility could hunt those kinds of prey), in English all hounds came to be known as dogs. In the reverse direction, the German word Tiere means all kinds of animals, but came to only mean 'deer' in English because that's the only kind of animal the hunting nobility were interested in. It's a funny old thing, language! Anyway, the English call the breed a Great Dane (and most other languages instead call it a German Mastiff) following the French naturalist Count Buffon's coining of the name for the breed as 'Grand Danois'. No-one is sure why the count called them that though.

Now you are beginning to appreciate that there are quite a few other breeds of dogs that originated in Germany. Some are obvious: Doberman Pinschers were first bred by a German called Dobermann; Schnauzers look like they have bushy German moustaches (Schnauz). Less obviously, Boxers were first bred around München and are named for the head-butting of Biergarten amateur boxers (same word as in English).

But what about the Poodle? Surely that has an elegant French derivation? But no, Poodles, with their thick, tightly-curled coats were bred to be water dogs, retrieving shot-down ducks and other water fowl. And there you have it: the German verb for 'to splash' is puddeln (related to English 'puddle') and a poodle in a puddle can certainly splash!

I'll finish off this doggy post with a list of the Top 10 Best-loved Dogs in Germany (according to TV Channel RTL):

20. Malteser
19. Hovawart
18. Doberman
17. Rauhaardackel / Wire-haired Dachshund
16. Cocker-spaniel
15. Siberian Husky
14. Border Collie
13. Rottweiler
12. Boxer
11. Australian Shepherd
10. Chihuahua
9. West Highland-Terrier
8. Beagle
7. Berner Sennenhund
6. Yorkshire Terrier
5. Jack Russell Terrier
4. Deutscher Schäferhund / German Sheepdog
3. Golden Retriever
2. Labrador Retriever
1. Mischlingshunde / mongrel!

Friday, 20 March 2015

Sonnenfinsternis! (Solar Eclipse)

Today is the first day of Spring!

There also happened to be a Solar Eclipse, which at our location started at 09:38, was at a maximum of about 75% occultation at 10:47, and ended at 11:58 (Central European Time).

Die Basdorfer Sonnenwarte was set-up (in our back garden) and ready to go!

photos of the Solar Eclipse 20.05.2015  by Andie Gilmour

Note that of course you MUST have a solar filter on your telescope before looking at the sun through it! Never-the-less I still ended up with quite a few after-images dancing on my retina after trying to point the telescope in the right direction.

Luckily there were clear skies, and the sun was just above the trees so I could get a clear view.


photos of the Solar Eclipse 20.05.2015  by Andie Gilmour

The light was perceptibly dimmed during the eclipse, and birds in the garden were clearly puzzled, but otherwise it seemed just like an overcast day. There weren't any power outages caused by disruption to German solar energy farms like some scaremongers in the press were predicting.

We saw a sunspot whilst we were observing the eclipse, and you could make out the corona. It would have been great to have shared what it looked like, but the best I could do was try and point my camera down the telescope eyepiece. Not so brilliant, but here it is:

photos of the Solar Eclipse 20.05.2015  by Andie Gilmour

Because we are now educated, civilised people we didn't bang drums and shout at the dragon-wolf monster gobbling the sun, but I did play a blast of Rammstein and that seemed to do the trick of scaring it off!

An auspicious start to the beginning of Spring; let's hope that it all gets better for the World from here in!

Friday, 13 March 2015

Woolly Pigs

Yes, woolly pigs. Or more particularly, Hungarian Mangalitza pigs. And even more particularly, blonde, swallow-bellied, and red Mangalitza.

More photos from Wildpark Schorfheide, but I make no excuses because I just have never seen anything like the rare breeds they have there before. The Wildpark do seem to be going off-message here though. They say that they are breeding animals like ones that once roamed this region after the ice-age, but woolly pigs, though rare, were developed as a breed in Austro-Hungary during the nineteenth century. But I will forgive the Wildpark because these pigs are so damn cute!

There is a German expression for the Swiss Army knife: eierlegende Wollmilchsau, which translates roughly as an 'egg-laying wool and milk-producing pig', i.e. a fit-for-all-purpose farm animal. These pigs seem to be a step in that direction!

photos of woolly pigs by Andie Gilmour

photos of woolly pigs by Andie Gilmour

photos of woolly pigs by Andie Gilmour

photos of woolly pigs by Andie Gilmour

photos of woolly pigs by Andie Gilmour

Monday, 9 March 2015

Wild Horses in Schorfheide

Wildpark Schorfheide is a nature park in Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve, Brandenburg. The landscape of woods, heathland, and lakes was formed during the last ice age, and it is the aim of the Wildpark to breed animals that would have lived here back then.

Along with lynxes, wolves, otters, wisents (bison), aurochs, elk, wild boar, and ancient breeds of sheep, the nature park has herds of wild horses, particularly of Przewalski's horse. These wild horses are native to the Steppes of Central Asia, but are closely related to the kinds of horse (now extinct) that once grazed across the whole of Europe and Asia.

Przewalski's horses (named after the Russian explorer and geographer Nikolai Przhevalsky) are handsome creatures with a magnificent mane and colourings that come straight off the cave-walls of Lascaux.

photos of wild horses in Wildpark Schorfheide, Groß Schönebeck, Brandenburg, Germany by Andie Gilmour

photos of wild horses in Wildpark Schorfheide, Groß Schönebeck, Brandenburg, Germany by Andie Gilmour

photos of wild horses in Wildpark Schorfheide, Groß Schönebeck, Brandenburg, Germany by Andie Gilmour

photos of wild horses in Wildpark Schorfheide, Groß Schönebeck, Brandenburg, Germany by Andie Gilmour

The Wildpark Schorfheide also have Exmoor ponies. It feels a bit strange seeing British ponies in a German wildlife park, but in fact this breed is also very close to the prehistoric horses, commonly called the Tarpan, that lived across Europe after the ice-age.

photos of wild horses in Wildpark Schorfheide, Groß Schönebeck, Brandenburg, Germany by Andie Gilmour

photos of wild horses in Wildpark Schorfheide, Groß Schönebeck, Brandenburg, Germany by Andie Gilmour

photos of wild horses in Wildpark Schorfheide, Groß Schönebeck, Brandenburg, Germany by Andie Gilmour

photos of wild horses in Wildpark Schorfheide, Groß Schönebeck, Brandenburg, Germany by Andie Gilmour

The third example of primitive wild horse at Schorfheide are of the Polish Konik. These semi-feral horses still live wild in Poland, and they were the original 'war horse' used by German and Russian troops to transport weapons and supplies in World War I.

photos of wild horses in Wildpark Schorfheide, Groß Schönebeck, Brandenburg, Germany by Andie Gilmour

photos of wild horses in Wildpark Schorfheide, Groß Schönebeck, Brandenburg, Germany by Andie Gilmour

Between the wars, German brothers Heinz and Lutz Heck attempted breeding Koniks with Przewalski's horse and Icelandic ponies (closely resembling Exmoor and Shetland ponies, and taken to Iceland by the Vikings), in an attempt to recreate the extinct, prehistoric Tarpan. The result was the breed known as the Heck horse. There aren't any examples of the Heck horse at Schorfheide, though there are some Heck cattle - an attempt by the brothers to backwardly genetically engineer an ice-age auroch.

I don't really see the point of trying to recreate extinct horse breeds, but I am all for preserving the bio-diversity of this planet. If that means preventing the extinction of rare breeds like these beautiful wild horse then Wildpark Schorfheide gets my support!

Lynx!

It would be marvellous to claim that I photographed this gorgeous Eurasian Lynx in the forests of Brandenburg, but in fact I took it at the Wildpark Schorfheide near to Groß Schönebeck.

Photo of a Eurasian Lynx at the Wildlife Park Schorfheide near Groß Schönebeck in Brandenburg, Germany

Lynxes have been virtually extinct in Germany for nearly 200 years, though there is a project to re-introduce them back into the Harz Mountains that has released 24 zoo-bred lynx into the wild since the year 2000. There are also pockets of wild lynx populations in Germany, particularly in the Bavarian Forest and in the Sächsischen Schweiz where lynx have migrated from the Czech Republic.

The Eurasian lynx is called ein Luchs in German. Both the English and German words derive from the Greek word λύγξ (pronounced: lúnks) which itself comes from a Proto-Indo-European word '*leuk-' that means 'light' or 'bright' and refers to their bright, reflective eyes when seen in the dark. Cat owners will know all about those kinds of eyes, but adorable though lynxes look, you wouldn't want to cuddle one: after bears and wolves, lynxes are the greatest predator in Europe. They are total carnivores, and we saw this one make off with a huge hunk of meat:


Thursday, 5 March 2015

Green Woodpecker in the Garden

The European green woodpecker, Picus viridis, or Grünspecht in German, is a handsome bird, and we've been delighted to have one visit our garden.

The green woodpecker's favorite meal is ants, which is fine by us as our garden seems to become Ameisenstadt in the Summer!

Photo of a European Green Woodpecker by Andie Gilmour

Maybe it was keeping an eye out for weasels? This photograph has been causing a sensation on the Internet recently.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Leipzig mit dem Bus

Leipzig is 'the new Berlin', apparently. It certainly has lots of building sites, that's for sure. It is also one of my favorite German cities, and every time we go back, new buildings have sprung up or old ones have been renovated.

Leipzig is around 190km SW of Berlin and we usually get there by Deutsche Bahn, taking either about 1hr 20mins direct with the ICE, or 2hrs 30mins with a Regional Express and a change at Dessau. However, the trains are getting expensive and not reliable to run on time, so we thought we would try the bus instead.

We took a Flixbus, picking us up at Berlin Alexander Platz and whizzing us to Leipzig in 2hrs 40mins. A bit longer, but the price was just 8€ each there (and same again return - 32€ total for the both of us). That compares with about 70€ for a standard return each (or 44€ with a Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket) on the RE.

We can report that the buses are clean and comfortable, not over-booked by any means, have free wi-fi, power connections for your laptop or tablet, and an on-board toilet. The view from the window is a bit boring as unlike the train you don't pass through towns and villages - it is Autobahn most of the way. Would we travel by bus again? Yes, at this price, I think we probably would!

There is a useful website called busradar.com which let's you find the best prices, in English, or busliniensuche.de for the same comparison engine in German.

Here are some photos of our day in Leipzig to give you an impression of this wonderful Saxony city:

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour

photo from the collection Leipzig by Andie Gilmour