Tuesday, October 19, 2021

views of ships and cities

This blog's favourite industry painter, Alexander Calvelli, is opening his next exhibition this coming Sunday at Elmshorn (Schleswig-Holstein):

Schiffsblicke und Stadtsichten
opening Sunday 24.10. at 11am (until Nov 14)
Kunstverein Elmshorn
Torhaus Probstendamm 7

more info (in German)

Here's a glimpse at a ship from the prospectus:

Thursday, October 14, 2021

railway families

Four separate lines of my family tree involved a family kept alive by a railway job in the late 19th and early 20th century. The four railway employees were from wildly different geographic areas and never met each other, but they all benefited hugely from the opportunities provided by the railways and there are intriguing parallels in their lives.

I've made separate blog posts about each of them already, but here comes the masterpost bundling the key information for the complete quartet, so I can draw comparisons and have all the links in one place. Arranged chronologically by date of birth we have:

1. Johann Anton Lütkemeyer 1843-1887 from Schwaney
job: railway worker in 1872 / railway guard in 1877, Gütersloh, presumably active from 1860s until he became ill with tuberculosis of which he died aged 44.
family: married Johanna Catharina Charlotte Kosfeld, born 1854 in Gütersloh. Five daughters and two sons born within 12 years of marriage, five children survived him. First son died within three months of his birth, not sure which child was the second to die early, as data are missing on several siblings.
blog entries: the Gütersloh connection

[ No family portrait known. ]

2. Christoph Gottlieb Kauer 1845-1909 from Simmern
job: severely injured in the war of 1870/71, joined new Alsace railways as compensation, moving frequently (children born in Mulhouse, Morhange, Fontoy). Final stop and career step: station master in Adamsweiler from mid 1890s to his death aged 64.
family: married Margaretha Imig, born 1847 Simmern Five daughters and two sons. Both sons died in early childhood, all five daughters lived to ages ranging from 73 to 87.
blog entries: greetings from Adamsweiler; finally, the Kauer clan; Gastwirthschaft Ferd. Weirich

The station master's family outside the station at Adamsweiler, around 1900. The daughters, left to right: Helene, Katharina, Johanna, Auguste, Anna.

3. Richard Groß 1852-1913 from Breslau (today: Wrocław, Poland)
job: railway (office) assistant active in Neurode (Silesia) 1880. Zella St. Blasii (Thuringia) 1882, Stendal-Tangermünde 1886 until his death aged 60.
family: married Maria Louise Mentzel, born 1844, twice widowed; one daughter, one son. Wife also had a son from a previous marriage.
blog entries: Tangermünde railway station 1889; a railway man; once there were emperors

Railway parents seated in the middle, the young folks around them are left to right: their son, Max Heinrich Groß, his fiancee Maria Pfersching, his step-brother Arthur Reim, and his sister Gertrud Groß. Presumably taken on the occasion of Heinrich and Maria's engagement in 1904 (they married in 1908).

4. Heinrich Nagel 1879-1952 from Neesen, today part of Porta Westfalica
job: joined Minden district railways as an assistant around 1900, rising through the ranks to become station master at Minden Stadt by 1914, serving until retirement in 1944. Housed in railway company courtesy flats near that station from 1914 to his death at age 73.
family: married Catharine Luise Lütkemeyer, born 1880, one daughter. Wife was the daughter of 1., but her father was long dead at the point when she found herself a new railway man.
blog entries: railway memories; finding Minden

Heinrich Nagel with his first wife Luise Lütkemeyer and their daughter Frieda.

Patterns and similarities

The first two families both had five girls and two boys each, each lost two children in the early years, at least three of the four casualties were boys. Not sure about the fate of the fourth boy, but there's a real possibility that all four boys died in early childhood and all ten girls survived, which would be a bit spooky.

In contrast, the other two couples only had two children and one child respectively. Each produced a professional musician (Heinrich and Frieda), which is the connection that motivated me to dig deeper into the railway families.

Number 2 and 4 became station masters with very modest stations under their command, but this would still have involved a number of workers to boss around. The status of that job is reflected in the fact that both families bought a massive 17 volume encyclopaedia (Pierer and Brockhaus, respectively). If you're wondering how to become a station master on the Prussian / German Empire railways, Google Books has a scan of the book: "Die Prüfung zum Stationsvorsteher und Güterexpedienten, sowie zum Stationsassistenten im Deutschen und insbesondere Preußischen Staats-Eisenbahndienste."

With an average lifespan of 60 years, I guess they fared about normally for their times, but not better. Note that only number 4 got to enjoy a period of retirement and significant overlap with grandchildren (one great-grandchild even).

All of them had an opportunity boost that has to count as social mobility, compared with their backgrounds. All except number 4, who only moved from his village to the nearest town, also achieved significant geographic mobility, with 2 and 3 ending up hundreds of kilometres away from their respective birthplace.

The wives of 1 and 2 also had railway employees among their brothers and nephews who were perhaps inspired by the precedents. As these two had very modest jobs, I don't think they had any real power in providing jobs for the extended family.

Bottom line, as one of my four grandparents and three of my eight great-grandparents were children of railway families, that makes me a 1/4 + 3/8 = 5/8 railway descendant.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

brief history of conservation

This week's issue of Current Biology is a biodiversity special issue, see cover below, and I was asked to cover the history of biodiversity conservation. I haven't read anybody else's history of this field, so my selection of highlights may be eclectic, but it struck me as an enlightening thread that the introduction of agriculture was all about reducing biodiversity in our habitat, and that it took humans a long time to realise that biodiversity is actually good for us too. Hence the title:

Learning to value biodiversity

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 19, 11 October 2021, Pages R1146-R1148

Restricted access to full text and PDF download (will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access (first seven weeks only)

Cover of issue 19.
Table of contents.

Friday, October 08, 2021

the Gütersloh connection

Finally, to the last and most elusive one of my four railwaymen ancestors (unrelated to each other). He now has a CV of sorts, thanks to a very helpful relative who could fill in a couple of gaps in my info. While the other three had managerial / office roles, this one was an actual railway worker, presumably getting his hands dirty on the job.

Johann Anton Lütkemeyer was born in the small, very catholic town of Schwaney in 1843. The Lütkemeyers and associated families can be traced back in Schwaney until the Thirty Years War, i.e. early 17th century (eg here). While a cousin married into this farm, which remained in Lütkemeyer hands through to the 21th century, Johann Anton moved to Gütersloh to work on the railways there. Opened in 1847, Gütersloh station was a reasonably important stop on the Cologne-Minden line, one of the first long-distance lines to be completed (still in service today - I actually used it last month to get from Düsseldorf to Minden).

In 1872 he married the protestant Johanna Catharina Charlotte Kosfeld (1854-1928) in Gütersloh, and he appears as a railway worker on the marriage certificate. How did he find her? Well Charlotte’s younger brother Carl Wilhelm was also a railway worker, so there may have been some convergence there, although Carl was just under 16 at the time of his sister’s wedding, so any causality may have gone the other way, ie he may have been following his brother-in-law into the railway industry.

The pair had seven children in 12 years. On the birth of the third child, the father’s job title was „Bahnwärter“ i.e. railway guard rather than worker. Sounds a bit less like hard work to me, so well done. At that point, the young family’s address was Gütersloh No. 450. No idea where in the town that was, but might be near her parents who were No. 469.

In October 1887, Johann Anton died of tuberculosis at age 44, leaving his wife with five young children. I’m hoping one of her numerous siblings, such as, eg the railway worker brother, may have helped her out a bit. She remarried a year and a half later, a paver (roadbuilder) from out of town. I was intrigued to learn just now that the paver’s father was a musicus.

My greatgrandmother Luise Lütkemeyer, the fourth child in the railway worker’s family, was seven when the father died. I’m wondering about her perspective on the railway connection, because, after the early loss of the railway guard father, and possibly a period of getting help from her railway worker uncle, she travelled to the end of the line, to Minden, found herself a railway employee (Heinrich Nagel), and married him (see their family portrait here). She was clearly on the right track.

Heinrich Nagel worked on the local railways at Minden, so I don't see a professional reason for him to visit Gütersloh, which is why I credited her with bridging the gap. Luise died in 1928, so there's nobody left who knew her in person and might have heard her railway story.

Some 19th century views of Gütersloh station from Wikipedia.

Update 11.10.2021: Fixed my mistranslation of the German job title Pflasterer - although it sounds a lot like plasterer, it's a very different trade and involves setting pavement stones. So I tried paver now.

Updated 15.10.2021: The railway families master post is now online.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

going to extremes

In the round-up of German pieces published August-October 2021 we have life under extreme conditions and new allotropes of carbon, all the fun of the fair.

Neue Kohlenstoff-Muster: Polyin und Biphenylen-Netzwerk
Chemie in unserer Zeit Volume 55, Issue 4, August 2021, Page 224-225
Restricted access via Wiley Online Library
related content in English: coming soon

Ausgeforscht: Hart auf hart
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 69, Issue 9, September 2021, Page 123
restricted access via Wiley Online Library
the iron jaws of bristle worms (below)

Welwitschia: 80 Millionen Jahre Überleben in der Wüste
Chemie in unserer Zeit Volume 55, Issue 5, October 2021, Pages 294-295
Restricted access via Wiley Online Library
related content in English: How to survive in the desert

Leben im Untergrund
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 69, Issue 10, October 2021, Pages 68-70
restricted access via Wiley Online Library
related content in English: Life underground

A random bristle worm picked for purely aesthetic reasons from Wikipedia. May have nothing to do with the iron jaw bristle worms discussed in the column cited above.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

a singing lesson

Every picture tells a story series.

Two years ago, when I discovered a tape with recordings of Frieda the pianist playing (and also accompanying a singer at the end of the tape), I didn't have any photographic evidence to go with it. Now I found that too. Here she is with the (a) singer in the 1950s:

I was only born a year and a half after she died, but I hear that her other grandchildren who were around at the time were banned from the room and spent the time behind the door giggling at that weird kind of singing going on there. I am also told the singer was called Rudi and came for the accompaniment rather than to be taught, although Frieda had studied singing as well, and also sang with Rudi on the recording. I just love the singing lesson as a title for the photo, so I'll leave it there. On the tape, he's singing the aria Reich mir die Hand mein Leben (Là ci darem la mano) from Don Giovanni, which is for baritone.

Of the two photos on the wall, I have the one on the left, showing young Frieda with her parents (the station master of the Mindener Kreisbahnen and his first wife, Luise Lütkemeyer, who had died in 1928, aged only 48):

But I don't have the one on the right, presumably her engagement or wedding photo.

Every picture tells a story series so far:

  1. string quartet Wuppertal Elberfeld 1927
  2. greetings from Adamsweiler
  3. Gastwirthschaft Ferd. Weirich
  4. quartet times three
  5. Neumühl 1923
  6. Tangermünde railway station 1889
  7. a singing lesson

Friday, October 01, 2021

a few bars rest

update on the Plague Year Bach Project

Heinrich the cello and I had a lovely summer playing chamber music in the park every week, and now the orchestra is moving back into a well-ventilated indoors space.

Over the summer break, I had built up courage to tackle a new suite and new key signature (the 4th suite in Eb major), but at the same time my left shoulder started causing a bit of trouble and limiting the things I can do with my left hand. Chamber music, orchestra, and the occasional revision of the movements learnt are just about feasible, but I reckon serious daily practice might make the problem worse. So no new movements for now.

I have heard that a "frozen shoulder" can take up to three years to resolve - slightly scary, but I'm glad that the more ergonomically designed instruments like the tenor sax or the alto recorder still work fine, so I'm sure I can adapt to the situation and still make some noise.

Heinrich's shoulders are absolutely fine, fortunately.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Tangermünde railway station 1889

Last week I visited Tangermünde and Stendal for the first time (they were behind the iron curtain for most of the time I lived in Germany). This is where Heinrich the cellist grew up in the 1880s to 90s, because his father Richard the railway man worked on the new branch line linking Tangermünde and its sugar factory to the main line (Berlin-Hannover) passing through Stendal.

In Tangermünde tourist office I discovered a book with old photos of the town, including this one, with the entire staff of the branch line posing outside Tangermünde station in 1889:

Source: Joachim Kohlmann, Tangermünde wie es früher war, Wartberg Verlag 1993. (Pretty sure the photo must be out of copyright by now.) NB the photo was bigger than my scanner, and the second bit belongs on the left of the first, but I wanted the bigger one to show up in the previews.

So the big question is, who among these 25 lovely railway people is my greatgreatgrandfather? Previously, I only had one photo of him, which is this family portrait taken on the occasion of Heinrich's engagement to Maria (18.4.1904), who appear on the left On the right we have his sister (Gertrud Gross, who married Robert Goetzky in 1908, when Heinrich married Maria) and half-brother Arthur Reim.

So, anybody up for a game of "Where is Wally?" in the railway picture above? Scroll down to see what I think is the solution.




So, I am quite sure that the guy underneath the clock is our man (I struggled to get a good scan of him as he's too close to the fold between the pages). Compare and contrast:

Which I think is a good match. And very exciting as it doubles the number of photos I have of him.

Trying to find more archive photos of this railway line, all I got was shares like this one:

Oh, and I had the pleasure of actually travelling on this very line between the two towns. It is currently operated by a company called Hanseatische Eisenbahn (both towns were in the Hanse, the mediaeval trade union that more famously included Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck). Photos of my Hanseatic adventures coming soon.

NB Richard the railway man is completely unrelated to this station master whose line in Minden I visited on the same trip.

Updated 15.10.2021: The railway families master post is now online.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

biotech against extinction

One of the many things I learned in recent years while playing wrong notes in Oxford pubs is that there is a research group at Oxford studying rhinoceros reproduction biology with a view to bringing back the northern white rhino. This subspecies is functionally extinct as only two females survive.

Inspired by this I have looked at the wider field of using reproductive biotechnology in the service of conservation efforts and found out fascinating things about species including lions, black-footed ferrets and pandas. The resulting feature is out this week:

In vitro conservation

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 18, 27 September 2021, Pages R1065-R1068

Restricted access to full text and PDF download (will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access (first seven weeks only)

Black-footed ferrets have been saved from extinction with biotechnological methods. The cloning effort that recently marked its first live birth aims to introduce genetic diversity into an inbred population. (Photo: Kimberly Fraser/USFWS (CC BY 2.0).)

PS: If I've got my numbers crunched correctly, this is the 250th feature I've done in this format, which started in February 2011. At an average length of roughly 2000 words, that's half a million words. All articles older than 12 months, that's more than 90% of those 250, are in the open archive, so free access for all. Each one has an entry tagged currentbiology on this blog.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

railway memories

Working through my “lost cities” list, I’ve revisited Minden in search of the tracks of my mother’s railway grandfather – he became station master of the Mindener Kreisbahnen (district railways) in 1914 and as such was accommodated in a company flat. I found that house, even though his railway station has since disappeared.

So the Mindener Kreisbahnen opened its first route in 1898, from Minden to Uchte, some 30 km in narrow-gauge (one metre instead of the usual 1.4 metres). Further bits were built and opened in 1903 and 1907, all in narrow gauge. Most of the network is on the left bank of the river Weser, where the town centre of Minden is too. Of note, though, the long distance railway station, a crucial node of the 19th century network and the terminus of one of the earliest long distance routes to be completed, Cologne-Minden, is on the right bank. The Kreisbahn built its own bridge across the Weser, still with narrow gauge, to connect with the national network, but its system incompatibility with the national railway system set it up for decades of trouble and misery.

Heinrich Nagel (1879-1952), one of 11 children from an impoverished farming family in nearby Neesen, joined the Kreisbahn before 1902 and became station master of the Minden town station in 1914. Due to this position, he obtained the right to live in a company flat in the house Fischerallee 13, where he stayed until 1950. This sounds very grand but if you look at the location it turns out that the railway tracks, which branch out exactly at this place, cut through the Fischerallee between houses 9 and 13 – so number 11 must have been demolished. Number 13 had a very lucky escape, as only one corner of the building stood in the way of the railway tracks. The company clearly bought up the property in the course of their track preparations, then noticed that knocking off the edge sufficed and didn’t make the house collapse, so they might as well keep it for courtesy flats with a unique and spectacular view across the tracks.

Incidentally, I owe my existence to this flat, as my grandparents only met because a colleague of his was lodging with her parents, in this very house. If the Kreisbahn had decided to knock down number 13 as well, you’d be staring at an empty page right now. (Sorry, I do know I use this line too often.)

The house, still with the corner bitten off (evidence that it wasn't destroyed in the war), appears to have been renovated quite recently, and looks quite lovely:

In 1950, Heinrich Nagel and his second wife (the first one, mother of Frieda the pianist, died young after a tooth infection) moved to number 11A, which was between the branching rail lines and perhaps built to replace number 11 when it was demolished. I couldn’t find any trace of it, but this is what it looked like (with two family members peeping out of the windows):

And here is the view from a window of number 11A towards number 13, which clearly marks its location between the diverging tracks. I’m quite sure that place didn’t have a house on it when I visited, although I only discovered this photo after my return, so no guarantee. Also, I have a very vague feeling I may remember these branching railway tracks from my visits as a young child, maybe even the house with the cut-off. Not sure.

I could find no trace of the Minden Stadt station either, although the street running alongside the tracks on the other side is named after it. As an approximation, there is another small station one kilometre down the line, called Minden Oberstadt, which looks like this:

There are actually museum trains running from that station every once in a while, find their events here.

Oh, and here's the old railway man with his second wife, outside Fischerallee 13 (clearly identified by the horizontal bars running underneath the windows):

Legend has it that he objected to the Nazis mainly on the grounds that he wanted the monarchy back and that this may have cost him further promotion - but he was in the late stage of his career anyway so didn't lose much and reached regular retirement before the "1000 years" were over.

PS for clarification - Not to be confused with these two railway men, the grandfathers of my paternal grandparents:
* Christoph Gottlieb Kauer, the station master of Adamsweiler (my grandmother's grandfather)
* the railways office clerk in Tangermünde (my grandfather's grandfather, both called Richard) - will write more about his little bit of railway history soon.

Also, Heinrich Nagel's father-in-law appears to have been a manual worker with the railways at Gütersloh (on the main line Cologne-Minden, incidentally), but we don't know much about him. He appears to have died long before his daughter married Heinrich Nagel. That's Johann Anton Lütkemeyer (1843- before 1889), from Schwaney. I should do a blogpost about him at some point, although there will be more questions than answers in it.

So, all in all, there are four railway men in four different branches of the family tree, who very likely never met each other. Apart from Heinrich Nagel knowing about the already deceased father of his first wife, they would not even have known of each other's existence. Still, there are some intriguing parallels to study, for instance, the two station masters both felt the urge to invest in an encyclopedia once they reached this (modestly) elevated status. The two youngest of them produced a relatively small set of children (considering the times), each including a professional musician: Heinrich the hoboist (and later amateur cellist) only had one sister and Frieda the pianist remained an only child.

Update 15.10.2021: The railway families master post is now online. More photos from my visit to Minden now on my flickr photostream, here.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

the elusive hornplayer

some thoughts on

The travelling hornplayer
Barbara Trapido

I picked up a battered paperback edition of this novel from a book exchange mainly on the merit of its musical title (a reference to the poetic source of Schubert’s song cycle “Die schöne Müllerin” as I found out later) and the fact that there was a cello shown on the cover. The cello arrives fashionably late in the book, making its entry on page 90, but with a strong back story, involving a five-generation transfer in the family line, and a period spent buried in the woods. The young cellist who inherits the instrument is arguably the main character in the book, although the author has carefully constructed a kind of hypercube in which a dozen characters are connected in multiple ways, sometimes involving very improbable coincidences. The only living hornplayer mentioned, however, remains an elusive and very marginal character.

Apart from the welcome presence of celloing (although some very subtle details tell me the author perhaps doesn’t know much about cellos), other bonus points include occasional visits to Oxford, where Trapido lives, and, for me coming to it with 23 years delay, a glimpse of the almost forgotten world of the 1990s. People using their mobile on the train because they can, only to say “I’m on the train”, people smoking in restaurants, professionals mentioning the internet as a special tool at their workplace, and students studying without worrying about tuition fees. Characters can have Middleton as a family name without any royal implications. A distant world – although Oxford sounds very much the same as always.

All in all, a well balanced tragicomedy, great fun to read, and, notwithstanding the hornplayer of the title, I’ll file it under cello books. Oh, and I am listening to a CD of “Die schöne Müllerin” sung by Fritz Wunderlich right now (inherited from my mother). That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t read the book.

cover of the edition I have. The cello is (just about) recognisable by its spike.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

wonderful Welwitschia

The desert plant Welwitschia mirabilis has accompanied my writing for a while. It featured in my book Exzentriker des Lebens / Life on the Edge. The info in the books is mostly 1990s plant physiology. Now however, researchers have published a high quality genome structure of Welwitschia in comparison with its closest relative - which isn't very close. I've used the opportunity to also have a look at other plant life in deserts on other continents - in the context that the climate disaster will produce more extreme conditions for life to cope with, so we'd better understand how it does.

The resulting feature is out now:

How to survive in the desert

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 17, 14 September 2021, Pages R1017-R1019

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

Welwitschia_mirabilis, Plate 5369 from vol89 (1863) Curtis's Botanical Magazine (source: wikipedia)

bonus illustration not included in my feature, as images in portrait format are awkward with the column format we use.

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