Friday, June 11, 2021

Neumühl 1923

A mysterious photo from my inlaw family - there is no memory of anybody in the family ever having played a musical instrument, but then there is also this photo with the name of a great-uncle on the back (Friedrich Kosmowsky, sometimes also spelled Kosmowski), and the place name Neumühl, which is now a district of Duisburg. Several of Friedrich's relatives came to nearby Hamborn in 1922. To add to the confusion there was also a place called Neumühl in the area of Eastern Prussia where they came from (Kreis Wehlau), also very close those who didn't move west in 1922. This one is now part of Kostromino in the district of Kaliningrad. It could be either - although given that the Hamborn relatives didn't know anything about musical adventures, I am inclined to think they happened in Eastern Prussia.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

brother Klundt

Nearly seven years ago, I wrote up what I knew about the descendents of my ancestors Johannes Klundt and Eva Hust, who had emigrated to the Black Sea (today’s Ukraine) with their youngest children, while the oldest son, Johann Jacob Klundt (1782-1853; my four-times-great-grandfather) stayed in Germany.

The post has created a lot of interest (as well as inspiring a master dissertation from the young historian in the family) and most recently, two readers have been able to fill me in on the descendants of the youngest son, Georg Michael Klundt (1805-after 1866), about whom I knew nothing back then. It turns out his son became famous as a founder of the Baptist community in Bulgaria, but let’s start from the beginning again, from the migrating couple, and the new village of Rohrbach where they settled.

I found the historic report of school master Fritschle (an English translation available here) who taught at the village school in 1848 and wrote a detailed account of its history with its ups and downs. It started in 1809 with 26 families, and another 69 families arrived in 1810. Another arrival of five families brought the number to 100 families with 475 individuals. There were numerous Fritschle individuals among the settler families, so the schoolmaster definitely came from within that community, but I don't know his first name and haven't been able to identify him in the databases.

Fritschle noted that this happened under the authority of the governor “Rischileu”. I recently learned from Neal Ascherson's excellent book Black Sea that the city of Odessa, founded around the same time, was essentially run by French nobility that escaped the French Revolution. So this governor was Armand-Emmanuel Sophie Septimanie de Vignerot du Plessis, the 5th Duke of Richelieu and Fronsac (1766 –1822) who later returned to France to serve in the restored monarchy.

In 1810, my relatives at Rohrbach accounted for two households with nine individuals:

Founder family: Johannes Klundt, 51; Eva Katharina Hust, 48; Eva Catharina, 18; Heinrich, 13; Johann Michael, 9; Georg Michael, 5.

First generation family: Wilhelm Klundt, 25; Ottilia Golum, ca. 22; Jakob, 3

Fritschle notes that the Russian government paid for a stone-built house for every family. All other necessities such as farming equipment, seeds, animals and food were provided on a credit basis.

According to Fritschle, the colony failed to thrive in the first 18 years, because the colonists were lacking the relevant skills and/or work ethic, and for most of the time, the village didn’t have a pastor to instil the fear of God in its residents. Pastorn Elias Hübner was appointed in 1812, but died after less than two years in the job.

In 1824, the pastor Johannes Bonekemper (1795-1857) was appointed as pastor for both Rohrbach and the neighbouring colony of Worms (7km away). Bonekemper was of Reformed protestant faith, but was also tasked with offering Lutheran services. Also, from 1826, a new schoolmaster arrived, Wilhelm Eberhard, who taught until 1843 and is credited with a change of culture.

Bonekemper spread the “Erbauungsstunde” idea (a daily hour of spiritual recollection) around the Southern parts of Russia, creating what became the “Stundist” movement. A more extensive account of his role in the Reformed faith is here, scroll down to the subheading "Life in Russia". By 1847, the spiritual fervour of Bonekemper's followers got out of hand to an extent that authorities persuaded him to move on which he did in 1848. Schoolmaster Fritschle, by contrast, created the impression that Bonekemper resigned voluntarily and praised the spiritual renewal he achieved: "The blessings of his 24-years' work with us will long be remembered." Bonekemper was intending to emigrate to the USA, but didn't make it.

In the early 1840s, seven families from Rohrbach, including Georg Michael Klundt and his wife Elisabeth Feiock (* 1817 Rohrbach) moved to the new colony Neu-Danzig and took the stundist idea there. They had married in 1836 and had three children, including Margaretha (1837), Jakob (1839) and Barbara (1841). They may have had additional children in Neu Danzig, possibly including Beatha Klundt.

By 1840, the founder couple Johannes Klundt and Eva Hust had died, but all their children had families, with up to eight children. In stark contrast to the school master's moans about the colony’s initial lack of economic success, this family was thriving rather nicely, as judged by survival rates. Not counting the descendants they left behind in Germany, the founders had at least 19 grandchildren, and 22 great-grandchildren.

In 1864, the Klundts in Neu Danzig became Baptists, which was a growing but illegal faith in Russia. In 1866, Jakob and his young family fled to Katalui, in the Danube delta, which was then a German colony under Osman rule, now known as Cataloi, Romania. This wider area on the West Coast of the Black Sea is called Dobruja, and the German settlers were known as the Dobrujan Germans. Georg Michael followed them and died there after 1866. The above-mentioned Beatha Klundt and her husband Johann Wilhelm Graf also moved there. Their first three children were born in Neu-Danzig in 1862-1865, but the fourth was born in Cataloi in 1867.

Jakob started a Baptist community in Katalui, which appears to have been so successful that he was hired by the British and Foreign Bible Society as a Bible colporteur for Bulgaria and part of Macedonia and Albania in 1872. For eight years he worked and traveled from Albania, but dangers and difficulties he faced there led him to move his base to Bulgaria.

From 1880 and for the rest of his life his base was in Lompalanka, now Lom, Bulgaria, and any history of Baptism in Bulgaria includes his biography (see eg here) and sometimes even a portrait (see below). His name in Bulgarian looks like this: яковъ клундтъ (in case anybody wants to dive into Bulgarian sources). Accounts mention his wife Regina as an active participant in the Baptist community, but don’t mention his descendants by name. He did have a son in law who later took over his role as pastor in Lom, so at least one daughter survived. We believe that no sons survived to adult age.

Jakob died on March 28, 1921, in Kazanlak, Bulgaria, where he was staying with his son in law (the obituary does not mention his daughter at this point, not sure if she was still alive).

Of Jakob’s sisters, we know nothing about Margaretha beyond her date of birth, but his younger sister Barbara married Philipp Krause and had five children. Only Barbara Krause (* 1864 in the Black Sea colony of Worms) survived to adulthood, she married Johann Brandner, emigrated to South Dakota (as many other descendants in her generation did too) and had 14 children.

Portrait of Jakob Klundt which appeared with his obituary in The EVANGELIST, Organ of the Evangelical Baptist Union of Bulgaria, editor: Rev. V. Tachtadjieff, Tchirpan.

Special thanks to Mihai, whose comment under the original Klundt Clan post already contained a lot of information about Jakob Klundt and set further investigations and contacts rolling.

Monday, June 07, 2021

giraffe genomes

I tend to write about species that are underappreciated, eg because they are living underground or in the deep sea or because they are invisibly small. Every once in a while, however, I also cover the big beasts that everybody knows from their local zoo or wildlife park. So this week it's the debut appearance in my writing of the mighty giraffe. I had noticed a paper on its collective behaviour, as well as one on genomics explaining its extreme adaptations, and then it turned out Current Biology had another one in the pipeline with more giraffe genomes.

So here goes, the questions you were asking on your first visit to a zoo, can finally be answered:

Survival of the tallest

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 11, 07 June 2021, Pages R697-R699

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)

Giraffe mothers with calves are more often seen near human settlements, presumably due to the lower risk of predation from lions and hyenas. (Photo: 12019/Pixabay.)

Thursday, June 03, 2021

delta rising

It is fairly obvious now that the delta variant (formerly known as B.1.617.2, first identified in India) is out of control in the UK, as the week-on-week increase in case numbers has been accelerating dramatically over the last 10 days.

Week-on-week rise in new cases, last 12 days, according to the govt. data site:
24.5. + 17.0 %
25.5. + 18.0 %
26.5. + 18.0 %
27.5. + 20.5 %
28.5. + 24.0 %
29.5. + 23.3 %
30.5. + 26.8 %
31.5. + 28.8 %
1.6. + 31.9 %
2.6. + 34.7 %
3.6. + 38.9 %

To unpack those data: any positive percentage means new cases in the last seven days are higher than they were in the previous seven days. A constant percentage means an exponential rise, but at around 20% per week, it would only double in four weeks or so, so if the figure stayed at 20% it would be nothing to panic about.

What really worries me is that the percentages are increasing, and even this increase seems to be getting faster. From Tue to Wed it was 4.2 percentage points more, a jump of a size we haven't seen recently. The likely explanation is that it started in a few clusters, but as these clusters haven't been containe, it's gaining more and more territory to spread in. If this trend holds up we will end up with a doubling time well under a week before the month is out, and then we're in trouble. Even if many of the most vulnerable people are vaccinated, the extra risks that they are likely to take because they feel safe after being vaccinated may well compensate part of the gain. The other part may be wiped out by the Delta variant being more agressive than the original version. Early data suggests it may well be, see today's report in the Guardian.

Hospital admissions are also on the way up, while deaths have just begun to rise again after Monday's minimum of 43 deaths in the last 7 days. Today this fitgure is 54. As cases have been rising for more than two weeks now, I am guessing that this was the turning point and deaths are also creeping up again.

I really don't think the lifting of all regulations can go ahead on June 21 as scheduled, and if it does we're bound to have a rather murderous summer which could rival the previous waves not just in cases but even in hospitalisations and deaths. There are always people unprotected, and an epidemic running out of control will eventually find them.

The other big covid news in the UK is that Portugal has been removed from the green list, which means people returning from there are not exempt from quarantine. This is of course a distraction. As we have a Variant of Concern spreading out of control in the UK, nobody should have been allowed to travel to Portugal in the first place, especially not those footballers who could have just sas well played their game in Wembley.

Update 6.6.: the last three days have continued the trend shown above. If anything, the percentages are rising faster ...
4.6. + 39.8 %
5.6. + 46.2 %
6.6. + 49.0 %

Meanwhile, clusters of Delta are also beginning to pop up in France ...

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

jigging into summer

Plague Year(s) Bach Project, 16th month

As I write this, it is becoming clear that the govt. has lost control over the spread of Covid for the third time, so if they continue to eff up things like this, I'm still in with a chance to get through a considerable part of the Bach suites.

In May, I memorised what was missing from the Courante in G, and promoted it to metronome work - although it's rhythmically very simple, it still needs speeding up considerably. It's a running dance, and I'm still sleepwalking. I also consolidated the minuets in D major and D minor to an extent that I can play them as a unit as they are meant to be played.

In June, I am aiming to memorise the second half of the Gigue in D minor, and also do more park "performances" (if people around politely ignore me that's good enough). May was very rainy, so not much luck with playing cello in the park, but at least the Wednesdays were ok for Cowley Orchestra, which in very much reduced formation played some chamber music on three evenings this month. And accidental audiences were very appreciative - many will not have seen any actual humans playing actual musical instruments in more than a year!

So after 15 months with 420 practice days, 12 movements studied, and 424 bars memorised, my list now looks like this:

1) movements I've studied for a month, then put aside for now
1.1. Prelude
1.2 Allemande

2) movements memorised in a significant part
2.6 Gigue (1/2)
3.4 Sarabande (1/3)

3) movements memorised in their entirety
1.3 Courante
2.4 Sarabande
2.5 Minuet I&II
3.6. Gigue

4) movements memorised and synchronised with metronome
1.4 Sarabande

5) movements recorded on video and also performed in public
1.5 Minuet I&II- VIDEO
1.6 Gigue
(ooops, need to upload the video, watch this space!) 3.5 Bourree I&II - VIDEO

Sunday, May 30, 2021

new wave

So here we go again, the UK govt is making the same mistakes with the new variant first identified in India (B.1.617.2) as it did with the original Covid and then with the Kent variant (B.1.1.7) - play down the problem, let it spread, and only act when people die in their hundreds.

As the Death Eaters are going to deny it later, here's what we know today, 3 weeks before the planned end of all restrictions. B.1.617.2 is spreading exponentially in England. So far, this rise has been masked in the overall stats by the decline of the Kent variant, but now that B.1.617.2 is the dominant version, it is beginning to dominate the stats, and those stats are pointing upwards, at up to 30% increase week on week. I reckon that figure will still get worse as the variant spreads to places as yet unaffected. Follow Christina Pagel on twitter for the latest warnings. Also this analysis by David Spiegelhalter and Anthony Masters which just came out in the Observer today.

I hear the AZ vaccine which is predominantly used here, protects to 60%, so we have still 40% of the original risk. So if with B.1.617.2 as compared to the original strain, and all other things being equal, we're 2.5 times more likely to get infected, this cancels out, and we're just as screwed as we were last year with no vaccine. [Update: numbers corrected 1.6. - in the original version I stated wrongly that it would only take a 1.6 fold increase in infection risk. Still quite realistic possibility that this will happen, eg it's 60% more contagious than the Kent variant, which was 60% more contagious than the original strain, 1.6 squared is 2.56.]

Meanwhile, two English football clubs played the champions league final at Porto, Portugal, yesterday, and English fans were allowed to travel there and spread the the new variant a bit more. Spain is also welcoming tourists from the UK in June. Both countries will come to regret this before the summer is out. As Champions League games played a significant part in spreading the original Covid around Europe (First Valencia fans travelling to Covid-infested Italy, then Madrid fans travelling to Liverpool as Spain was preparing for lockdown), I really don't understand why these things are still allowed to happen.

So even though we're fully vaxxed now, we're still stuck on Mutant Island for the foreseeable future ...

street scene from the first pandemic summer, own photo.

PS: Today's figures from the govt website just in:

22474 new cases in the last 7 days, that's 4755 more than the previous week, up 26.8% in a week. 60 deaths in seven days, up 18 or 42.9%. Hospital admissions up 23% week on week.

If you ask me, don't plan anything for June 21 onwards that you wouldn't be comfortable with right now, or better still live by the rules we had before May 17th. The third wave is happening.

Friday, May 28, 2021

in praise of amateur music making

Some thoughts on

Play it again: An amateur against the impossible
Alan Rusbridger
Vintage paperback 2014

Reading Alan Rusbridger’s piano-centred memoir ten years after the events is perfect timing for me, as I am almost exactly ten years younger than him, so, right now, I can relate to his 2011 persona quite well. In fact, like him, I have also launched a crazy musical project at the age of 56 (ie last year, in response to the covid crisis), and like him I am considering writing a book related to it. However, my professional life doesn’t involve steering the Guardian through some of the most adventurous times in its 200 year history, so there the similarities end.

But even if you’re not 56 and seeking crazy music challenges, you might enjoy his memoir, eg as a celebration of amateur music making. This hobby has declined steeply with the advent of recorded music, as many of the pianists Rusbridger interviewed have discussed. Until the 19th century, if you wanted music at your wedding, in your salon, or just for your enjoyment after work, you would have to pay a musician to play it, or play it yourself. And many people did. To the extent that, as one interviewee remarked, a composer’s success in the 19th century was decided in private music rooms more than in the concert venues.

Since recorded music became ubiquitous, this motivation disappeared, and fewer people played. Those who played professionally had access to recordings of the best performers to compare themselves to, which drove up standards and opened a chasm between them and the remaining amateurs, where a continuous spectrum of standards had existed before. Which leads us to the somewhat deplorable state of the world where Rusbridger fears ridicule from fellow editors in chief for his musical hobby, whereas playing golf or tennis would count as a perfectly reasonable pastime for the editor in chief of a major media outlet.

The crazy challenge he took on, for no other reason than being impressed by a performance from a fellow amateur, was Chopin’s ballade in G minor, op 23. The score is included in the book, complete with markings from Rusbridger and his four piano teachers, the whole battlefield. A nice touch, and yes, to this non-pianist the piece does look quite scary. It lasts around nine minutes when played by professionals (see eg Olga Scheps here).

Other things happening in his musical life during the time include some chamber music – he also plays clarinet and appears to have many musical friends – building a music shed and buying a piano for it, and endless discussions with numerous pianists up to and including the stellar Alfred Brendel and Daniel Barenboim. I sometimes had the impression that he spent more time talking about the piano than actually practicing it.

Then there was the day job, which at that time involved dealing with Julian Assange and publishing the original WikiLeaks files together with Der Spiegel and the New York Times, and then the peak of the phone hacking affair, culminating in the revelation that the News of the World had (among thousands of others) also hacked the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler – a Guardian scoop that forced Rupert Murdoch to close the News of the World. (This story is also told from a different perspective in Tom Watson’s excellent book Dial M for Murdoch.)

So, never a dull moment, but I’m glad now that I’m more in control of my work-music balance than he was. He has since then retired from the Guardian post and become principal at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, in fact less than 1 km away from my place. I trust he has a lot more time for practice and playing now.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

replicating the RNA world

I'm really excited about recent progress in the field of recreating the RNA world. The very small bunch of people pursuing this is now tantalisingly close to having an RNA molecule that can replicate itself or other RNAs of the same size. Once they achieve this, I naively imagine, they could just let the magic molecule loose in their in vitro RNA world scenario and watch it evolving all by itself, re-enacting the origin of life. I wrote a feature about this for Current Biology last autumn, but since then Peter Unrau's group has made another step forward in mimicking modern aspects of gene regulation on the the RNA World stage, in a move that also improves processivity, i.e. the replicating ribozyme staying on the template for as long as it takes. So, my new feature, taking this step into account, is now out in C&I:

Spark of life

Chemistry & Industry Volume 85, Issue 5, May 2021 Pages 26-29

access via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled)

SCI - appears to be on open access right now

Loving the carnivorous plant closeup on the cover - nothing to do with my feature, but with a feature on plant peptides.

PS The previous issue (No. 4) includes my review of the book Stem cells: From hype to hope on page 37)

Monday, May 24, 2021

a different kind of plague

With the pandemic and everything else going on, a different kind of plague has received very little attention, although it also causes devastation in several countries, the locust outbreak in East Africa and the Middle East.

Following a suggestion from the editorial team at Current Biology, I have looked into the fascinating science of why and how solitary insects turn into devastating swarms. While surveillance and early intervention can stop it from happening, there's no way of putting the genie back in the bottle, which is why insecticides are being applied at a massive scale. I find this a bit frustrating, as it would be both amazing and useful if chemical ecologists could come up with a pheromone that switches the swarm back into solitary animals that disperse and avoid each other. Might be useful for humans, too on occasions when they become a nuisance. (Oh, and I forgot to mention in the feature, the periodical cicadas now emerging in North America are unrelated, they are true bugs, while the locusts are grasshoppers. Will have to do a separate feature on cicadas some other time.)

My feature is out now:

How locusts become a plague

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 10, 24 May 2021, Pages R459-R461

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)

Locusts, while harmless as solitary individuals, are among the worst pests known to mankind once they become gregarious. (Photo: christels/Pixabay.) NB while this image was labeled as "desert locust" on pixabay, I am told it may show a different species of grasshopper. So for illustration purposes only, don't use the picture as a field guide.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

quartet times three

I kept saying we only have two photos of the string quartet in which our family cello Heinrich and his eponymous owner participated, but I was wrong, I've rediscovered a third. To avoid confusion, I'll reunite the three here (they also appear in my flickr album "family history").

This is the one I rediscovered most recently,

this is the classic group portrait, dated April 1927,

... and here is the quartet in action.

I only realised last year that, zooming in on the sheet music in the last picture, one can read that they are playing BRAHMS. He only published three string quartets, so that narrows it down dramatically.

All photos were taken by my grandfather Richard, who was the only child of the cellist and a keen photographer.

I'm still none the wiser re. who the other three musicians were, see my search appeal here.

Friday, May 14, 2021

chamber music revisited

As Cowley Orchestra reconvened outdoors this week in much-reduced force just sufficient for duos and trios, I revisited the chamber music scores the young cellist and I prepared many years ago for our duo adventures. As the Flash previews which I embedded in the relevant blog entries at the time are no longer working (at least not on my computer), this is a new list I've prepared to have the playable ones handy (the noteflight list also includes some projects that didn't quite succeed or didn't get finished, although the "likes" added by users give you an impression of what works and what doesn't, I'm putting the more popular ones first in the list below).

Beethoven 3 duets (written for clarinet and bassoon originally):
1.1. Allegro comodo in C (video flute and cello)
1.3. Rondo in C
2.2. Rondo in Dm (video clarinet and cello)

JS Bach
Bourree in e minor, from the lute suite (the famous bourree used by many people including Jethro Tull)

Adagio (from the cello concerto)

Menuet and trio (This was the first duet we performed, very basic stuff, and I probably still managed to make mistakes.)

Sicilienne (op78) This looks ok and we did perform it, not sure why it didn't get any likes.

Unfinished work: One of my favourite pieces for cello and flute to listen to is the Trio (op 78) by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, but unfortunately the piano has quite a prominent role in it. We made an effort to kick out the piano and arrange the piece for cello and flute alone, but never quite got it to a presentable shape.
First movement
Second movement (its a theme with variations, but we only got one of the variations done)

own photo

PS (27.5.2021) Now beginning to add YouTube links of professional performances to each of the pieces.

Monday, May 10, 2021

deep life

Among the neglected "extreme" environments that still provide habitat for a suprising number of species in surprising amounts, the deep subsurface has perhaps been the most underappreciated. Recognition of deep biotopes only really took off this side of the millennium, decades after environments like deep sea vents were explored.

The Deep Carbon Observatory (2009-2019) helped to fill that gap to some extent, and in its wake there are now several research stations exploring the deep underground, often based on disused mine shafts. Writing up the DCO results for the new edition of Astrobiology which comes out in August, I realised I hadn't covered this work since 2013. So about time for me to dig in and see what's going on below the surface.

My feature is out now:

Life underground

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 9, 10 May 2021, Pages R415-R417

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)

Several research stations have now been established at disused mines to investigate life in the deep subsurface. The image shows DeMMO field coordinator Brittany Kruger at work in a former gold mine in South Dakota. (Photo: © Caitlin Casar.)

Friday, May 07, 2021

fluorescent platypuses

This round-up of pieces published in German covers the marvels of sponges, coffee, fluorescent platypuses and wastewater analytics.

Was Schwämme alles können
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 69, Issue 3, März 2021, Pages 69-71
restricted access via Wiley Online Library
related content in English: Magical mysteries of marine sponges

Ausgeforscht: In neuem Glanz
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 69, Issue 3, März 2021, Page 98
restricted access via Wiley Online Library
(about the recent, rather belated discovery that platypuses fluoresce under UV light)

Was Kaffee mit uns macht
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 69, Issue 5, May 2021, Pages 74-76
restricted access via Wiley Online Library
related content in English: What coffee does to body and mind

Ausgeforscht: Abgründe der Abwasser‐Analytik
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 69, Issue 5, May 2021, Page 114
restricted access via Wiley Online Library
This is the mickey-taking, but a serious appreciation on wastewater epidemiology is here.

Source: Wikipedia

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

fragile fates

Some thoughts (with spoilers) on

House of Glass
The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family

Hadley Freeman

4th estate paperback, 2021

I have one or two book projects in my pipeline that are inspired by family history (eg this one), so I am naturally curious about other people’s efforts in this field. Our household has been reading Hadley Freeman’s contributions in the Guardian since forever (in my case since she moved from the fashion desk to become a columnist), which means I already knew some intriguing glimpses of her story, including the fact that her grandmother lived in Paris and never got over having to flee the city in WW2, and this loss of place is also something I can relate to (and Paris too, of course).

House of Glass is the story of this grandmother and her three brothers. The Glass siblings were a Jewish family from a town in today’s Poland. One of the many insane ironies in this story is that the first pogrom in (20th century) Poland happened in their town and saved their lives. This was before the end of WW1, so modern Poland didn’t even exist yet, but it became clear to them that the relative safety they had enjoyed under Habsburg rule was over. Their father came back from the war in poor health, and after he died the siblings and their mother followed in the footsteps of their cousins to move to Paris in the early 1920s, when France was still happy to accommodate Jewish immigrants. Their hometown was near Auschwitz, and among the Jewish families who stayed there, virtually nobody survived the Holocaust. So the statement that a pogrom saved their lives is not even an exaggeration.

When antisemitism and then the Nazis caught up with them in Paris, the four siblings responded in very different ways. One did as he was told by authorities, registered as a Jew, came forward when called up for internment, and ended up being murdered in Auschwitz. The other three did not and miraculously survived. The youngest of the brothers, the fashion designer (later turned art dealer) Alex Maguy tricked the sister into marrying an American, leading her to a life in safety in Long Island. To save his own life, he juggled personal friendships with resistance members and Vichy officials, and cheated death more than once. He even managed to save his 100% un-assimilated mother, which strikes me as the most surprising achievement in a life story that has plenty of others. The oldest of the brothers survived in less eye-catching style, but survive he did.

So, for a Holocaust memoir, this one has a 3/4 happy ending and manages to be uplifting. It uniquely encapsulates the history of the 20th century – the oldest sibling was born in 1901, the last survivor died in 1999 - while also raising issues that are again troubling us today. As it was researched and written after all of the siblings had died, it has plenty of detective work and sleuthing to keep up the suspense. And as a warning to aspiring memoir writers like myself, it is becoming obvious that this kind of investigation requires a lot of hard work (and travel, so I am excused for now, but I have a list of places I need to visit for this purpose).

PS: While reading this, I felt inspired to dig my own tiny bit of Jewish ancestry again, and thinking about it I suspect there may be more that has been swept under the rug.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

memory full

Plague Year(s) Bach Project, 15th month

I've just about managed to memorise the 24 bars of the first minuet in D this month, but I am increasingly getting the impression that new bars learned risk pushing out some of the not quite secure enough ones learned before. So for this summer, I'll focus on securing and polishing the 12 movements I have studied so far and won't be adding any new movements for now.

I've also done a debut performance of the most advanced movements (those at the bottom of my list, below) at Oxford's only bandstand (Florence Park), which was great fun, and I'm planning to do that more often, to practice keeping the concentration while random children are running behind my back and dogs come sniffing at my legs. Other than that, the audience has politely ignored me which is the best I can hope for.

One movement I might complete this month is the Courante in G - seeing that there isn't much missing.

So after 14 months with 389 practice days, 12 movements studied, and 409 bars memorised, my list now looks like this:

1) movements I've studied for a month, then put aside for now
1.1. Prelude
1.2 Allemande

2) movements memorised in a significant part
1.3 Courante (2/3)
2.6 Gigue (1/2)
3.4 Sarabande (1/3)

3) movements memorised in their entirety
1.4 Sarabande
2.4 Sarabande
2.5 Minuet I&II
3.6. Gigue

4) movements memorised and synchronised with metronome
1.6 Gigue

5) movements recorded on video and also performed in public
1.5 Minuet I&II- VIDEO
3.5 Bourree I&II - VIDEO

No f in Heinrich, but two f holes

Friday, April 30, 2021

united colours of the Black Sea

Some thoughts on

Black Sea
Coasts and conquests: from Pericles to Putin
Neal Ascherson
Vintage Paperback 2015

When I suggested writing the feature that came out this week, on the Scythians, the editor recommended the book Black Sea, and I managed to read most of it in time for the feature and the rest shortly after. While it was very instructive on the Scythians and their role as “barbarians” in the eyes of the Ancient Greeks, their history (which I’ve written about in the feature) is just one of many slightly crazy things that have been going on around the Black Sea over the last 3000 years.

In ten chapters (untitled, keeping the suspense as to what they may be about) Neal Ascherson covers the cultures that have lived around the Black Sea, rounding the book off with a chapter about the water body itself as an ecosystem. Apart from the Scythians, Cossacks and Sarmatians of the northern shore, we get to know Pontic Greeks in today’s Turkey, many of whom decided to return to their homeland in the 1920s, after 3000 years of absence, and then wondered why people in Greece weren’t quite like their idea of Greekness.

We get insights into the birth of Polish nationalism, dreamed up at the sea port of Odessa (run by French aristos who fled the Revolution), at a time when Poland didn’t exist. Ascherson, who has also written a history of Poland, is very engaging on the weird and wonderful ways in which groups of people conjure up a national identity when they don’t have a country and perhaps no more than a shared language and/or religion to support the idea of “nation”. In some of the smaller groups scattered around the area, even the language is in need of saving, and some appear to have adjusted their religion flexibly to whoever ruled the land.

Alternative models to the modern nation state have worked around the Black Sea, such as the Greek trading ports that coexisted peacefully with Scythians and Sarmatians in the hinterland. The multi-national empires of the Ottomans and Russian Tsars, and then the Soviet Union, suppressed the regional nationalisms, which then came back with a vengeance. After the demise of the Soviet Union, nations around the Black Sea engaged in regional wars, including the 1992 war between Georgia and Abkhazia, and the current conflict in Ukraine.

All in all a rich tapestry of cultural diversity and historical ironies, also reflected in the light of recent events – this edition was updated in 2015. Sadly, not much is said about the German settlers in the Odessa region, whose number included two of my ancestors (see the legendary Klundt clan blog entry). I suppose these people were just too normal and boring compared with the likes of Pontic Greeks and Scythians.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

almost famous

I've seen a surprising increase in views of blog entries here. Between mid November and early December, views of similar entries (eg CB features, always blogged to the same protocol and promoted the same way) have gone up by a factor of 5-10, and stayed high since. Until November they were on a gradual decline curve, sliding to fewer than 100 in some cases.

I've selected one type of entry for clarity, but it's the same phenomenon for other types as well (eg family history), which is what makes me suspicious. It can't be that all these very different topics are suddenly finding a lot more interest. It could be something like improved visibility in searches. Or at worst, some kind of accounting glitch or increased activity by bots? If anybody has any idea what may have happened (or developed a surprising addiction to this blog since November), I'd be grateful for hints.

The one thing I did change around that time was giving up on the regular (up to four times a week) science news entries, which had also slipped in viewing stats since I introduced them a couple of years earlier. I absolutely don't see, however, how these would have scared away 80-90% of my audience.

Screenshot from today - you can read the actual numbers when you click on the pic.

PS (29.4.) I have now updated the profile info with a new photo (the other one was around 10 years old) showing lockdown locks and grey moustache. Might keep the views in check.

Monday, April 26, 2021

the original barbarians

It may just have been their bad luck, but the Scythians were there on the Pontic Steppe (north of the Black Sea) in the middle of the first millennium BCE, when the ancient Greeks unilaterally decided that their own folks represented civilisation, and everybody else, especially the Scythians, were barbarians. The Greeks wrote this down in the documents which became the bedrock of European civilisation, while the Scythians, although successful in many ways, left no written documents to be used in their defence. Now molecular studies including genomics are promising to give a fair hearing to those original barbarians.

I've rounded up recent molecular research into the life and fates of the Scythians and mixed it up with some cultural history for my latest feature which is out now in Current Biology:

Saving Scythians from oblivion

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 8, 26 April 2021, Pages R359-R361

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)

Many Scythian burial sites contain elaborate art sculpted in gold, often displaying animals or warriors. This battle scene is part of a comb. (Photo: Levan Ramishvili/Flickr.)

PS (30.4.2021): I've now posted a review of the book Black Sea, which I read in preparation for this feature.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

a Jewish ancestor

I’m currently reading the excellent family history memoir “House of Glass” by Hadley Freeman, about her grandmother and her siblings - a Jewish family who fled pogroms in Poland in the early 1920s and settled in Paris, only to be confronted with antisemitism and persecution again, two decades later. This inspired me to dig up what little we know about my own very small fraction of known Jewish ancestry (1/128, i.e. one of my 5-times-great-grandparents), in the hope that maybe somebody out there knows more about this than I do.

So, what we know is that on the first of May, 1768, a Jewish man born in 1744 or 1745 was baptised in the Lutheran faith at the church of Idstein (dukedom of Nassau) and took the name of Karl-Henrich Weyland. Although we don’t know his birth name or family, all the details of the ceremony suggest that he came from a well-respected local family. At the time, there were only four Jewish families in the town, who are known by name because they had to register and apply for a Schutzbrief (SB). Note that they didn’t have heritable family names yet, so the paternal line is indicated by the son putting his father’s given name behind his own (not sure if daughters did the same, I've seen many referred to only by their given name). Among these four families, based on the age match, my father identified as the most likely parents for Karl-Henrich:

Jakob Isaak, Krämer in Idstein, SB um 1744, + 1776
Libbet oo um 1744, + 1804 in Idstein.

Jakob’s parents are also recorded in Idstein:
Isaak Lazarus, seit 1731 (SB) Viehhändler in Idstein, * Usingen + 1761 Idstein.
Bele + 1761 Idstein

And Isaak’s father Lazarus came from the nearby town of Usingen

Many of the other Jewish residents of 18th century Idstein appear listed here but don't fit our age requirement.

Both the synagogue and the Jewish cemetery of Idstein are of more recent date. Jakob and his family would have been buried at the nearby village of Esch, where no gravestones survive.

And at this point we’re stuck, although getting stuck in the late 17th century isn’t so bad, as only very little information survived the 30 years war (1618-48), so we’re already quite close to that event horizon.

Idstein - Merian (Wikipedia)

The mystery that puzzles me even more though is: Did the five daughters of the station master (including my great-grandmother, see the Kauer clan) really not know that they had a Jewish-born great-great-grandfather? My father, who knew three of the five sisters really well (his grandmother plus two sisters who remained unmarried and close to his parents and grandparents) insisted they didn’t know.

But I have my doubts. They knew a lot of things about other ancestors in the same generation as Karl-Henrich Weyland. Just next to him in my ancestry list is Maria Magdalena Hebel, and they knew that she was a first cousin of the writer Johann Peter Hebel. I am increasingly inclined to think that they knew that very well, and that it became a buried secret after 1933, and was never mentioned again. Chances are that there are other cases of Jewish ancestry as well which were very hastily swept under the rug.

Conversely, if you take it as given that people in Nazi Germany swiftly forgot their Jewish ancestors, how many more could I have that were similarly forgotten? Karl Henrich Weyland is perfectly placed to be forgotten about (without the need to falsify records), as he’s just outside the depth to which Nazi authorities asked people to prove their non-Jewish genealogy. So his generation is essentially where Jewish “dark matter” begins.

In his generation, I have four other ancestors who are known by name but seemed to come out of nowhere, just like he did before my father found his adult baptism record. These are Franz Josef Kaiser (an Austrian infantry officer who had a daughter born in Grötzingen, near Karlsruhe, in 1794), and then three ancestors of the Düsselmann family at Krefeld, namely Henrich Düsselmann, Anna Elisabeth Siepmann, and Christophel Wilsberg. These I should perhaps investigate. And then there are 52 people missing completely, so I have no handle to grab them by. Depending on how often conversion happened in the 18th century, I could conceivably have more than 1/128 Jewish ancestry – although I suppose in the Christian population, the converts were a small fraction, so I wouldn’t expect to have more than one or two other examples in my family tree.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Tinbergen connections

Cello teacher Janet Tinbergen, who taught our young musician for more than 10 years, has passed away in December 2020, aged 75. I wrote an obituary for the amazing “Other Lives” series in the Guardian, which you can read here. A separate appreciation by the Oxford Music Festival, where she served for decades, is here.

I was wondering whether to explore some of the local connections in a longer obituary or feature for a local paper, but it looks like the Oxford Times and Mail don’t do obits any more, and they didn’t respond when I tried to contact them, so I’ll just drop a few notes here.

Janet inherited the family trait which her father’s biographer, Hans Kruuk, described as “pathological modesty.” So she went as far as admitting that her father was a scientist, but would never have mentioned that he was anything special. In fact, Niko Tinbergen, a pioneer of behavioural biology, won a Nobel prize, as did her uncle, Jan Tinbergen for economics. (I believe the two are still the only pair of siblings among Nobel laureates.) When I got to know her through sitting in and taking notes on my daughter’s cello lessons, I figured out the connection and read the biography (review here). Over the following years, I always enjoyed the stark contrast between her perspective as a daughter, typical quote: “he and his bloody birds”, and the knowledge that she was talking about one of the greatest minds of the 20th century.

To me, a key indicator of his greatness was that he devised experiments that were so simple you could get a bunch of primary school children to replicate them, but they still did answer important biological questions. So it struck me as almost tragic that he hadn’t been able to communicate the beauty of his achievements to all of his family. However, where scientific (eg mathematical or anatomical) information was helpful for improving cello technique, she did not shy away from using it, sometimes prefaced by: “As the daughter of a scientist, you will understand …”

Niko’s disciples at Oxford included the globally famous science communicators Richard Dawkins and Desmond Morris. The latter did come up in conversation at times. Intriguingly, Janet was aware of Morris’s work as an artist late in life, although she described herself as blind to visual arts.

The Oxford ecologist David Lack was reportedly the person who invited Niko to visit Oxford and consider moving here, which he did in 1949. This I only found out when researching Janet’s obituary. For a decade, I played wrong notes in the Festival’s family class also attended by the Lack family (one generation later), and I didn’t know about their Tinbergen connection.

Oxford University named the massive 1960s brutalist building housing the Zoology and Psychology departments after Niko Tinbergen (opened in 1971). In 2017, it was diagnosed with an incurable asbestos problem and cleared for demolition (although I wasn’t quite sure how it can be safe to demolish if it can’t be made safe to use - maybe the university just wanted another world-beating new building and welcomed the excuse). The last walls of the building disappeared around the same time as Janet died, ending seven decades of Tinbergen presence in Oxford. Although, of course, quite a few cellists around here will remember Janet's creative technique vocabulary, from rigmarole to flapping chickens, for many years to come.

Reflections on the Tinbergen legacy ...
(own photo, taken Dec 2018, when the mirrors were set up to secure the gates of the demolition site)

Sunday, April 18, 2021

finally, the Kauer clan

last update: 22.5.2021

My grandmother Ruth had four grandparents like everybody else, but only 3 pairs of great-grandparents, as her grandmothers were sisters. Each of the three pairs had numerous great-grandchildren, and my grandmother was remarkably well-informed about her extended family, so I have quite a lot of info about these 19th and early 20th century people. Although the three founder couples lived their whole lives in very modest circumstances in their respective provincial towns (one in Krefeld and the other two in Simmmern) many of the children and grandchildren used the opportunities of the Gründerzeit for geographic and social mobility.

I made blogposts about two of these clans, namely the Düsselmann family from Krefeld, and the Imig family from Simmern back in 2009, but never got round to the third clan. So here, finally, comes the Kauer family, also from Simmern. As before, details left in German are generally from my grandmother (or from the notes of her aunt Johanna), any info I have added or confirmed independently from my own research will be in English:

Mathias Kauer * 21. 6.1813 Simmern + 2. 4.1885 Simmern, a shoemaker at Simmern.

} oo 13. 9.1844 Simmern unter Dhaun (NB different place from the town of Simmern)

Katharina Sophia Weis * 25. 3.1815 Raversbeuren + 8. 1.1862 Simmern

Mathias Kauer (1813-1885) - one of the earliest family photos we have.

Note on Mathias Kauer's ancestry: His maternal grandfather Karl Henrich Weyland (1745-1796) from Idstein (Taunus) was Jewish and converted to protestantism to marry Katharine Margarethe Schmidt (1749-1792) - see the new blog entry on this story. We don't know whether the subsequent generations knew this. My father was adamant his grandmother Helene didn't, but I tend to think that naming her daughters Ruth and Esther was a hint that she did. Obviously, in the Nazi era you would have buried that little detail deep and not mention it to your grandchildren. Compare and contrast: Mathias's paternal grandmother, Maria Magdalena Hebel, was a first cousin of the writer Johann Peter Hebel. And that detail, although just as remote as our drop of Jewish ancestry, was known and remembered by everybody.

Note on Katharina Sophia Weis - her lineage is described here based on a family history written by her brother Christian Gottlieb Weiß in 1891. Her sister Maria Margaretha Weiß (1809-1885) married into the village inn at Hahnenbach which is shown here.

Note also that, in contrast to the other two clans, the names Kauer and Weiss are widespread and very little help with genealogy (but see also the PS at the bottom re. Kauer).

The couple had 8 children and 18 grandchildren:

1. Christoph Gottlieb (1845-1909) - the station master of Adamsweiler
oo Margarete Imig (1847-1930)
1.1. Christoph Gottlieb Matthias *12.10.1875, + 11.11.1875
1.2. Johanna Sofia * 9.11.1876 Mühlhausen, + 26.11.1953 Hahnenbach
1.3. Auguste (1879-28.9.1952) oo (1900) Wilhelm Fuchs (1872-1963) Postinspektor Münster a.St.
1.3.1. Helene (1901-1965) oo Karl Betz (Witwer; Kinder Hella und Karl-Heinz aus erster Ehe)
1.3.2. Natalie “Nelly” (1906-1984) oo (1931) Christian Paust Dieter Paust
4. Anna Katharina (22.12.1880-16.4.1965 Heidelberg Handschuhsheim)
oo Heinrich Thiebold (12.4.1877-24.8.1948), Oberlehrer in Brebach (Saar)
4.1. Erwin * 1902, an Krupp gestorben
4.2. Martha (1907- nach 1983) oo Willi Helmer, Saarbrücken +1986
4.2.1. Dieter
4.2.2. Ingeborg
4.2.3. Annemarie *1941?
4.3. Robert * 1910 oo Aenne Schmidt oo Friedel
4.4. Hertha * 1917 Güdingen + 2005; oo August Rudolf Bladt, Lehrer o/o 1944
4.4.1. Lothar Bladt * 1944 Eberbach (Baden)
4.4.2. Astrid
1.5. Louise Regina gen. Kätha (1883-1960)
1.6. Helene oo Julius Düsselmann
1.6.1. Ruth (1908-1993)
1.6.2. Werner (1911-1941)
1.6.3. Esther (1918-1983)
1.7. Karl (1888-1891) an den Masern gestorben

2. Karl (1846-1910) Postmeister in Herdecke oo Susanne Auler
2.1. Karl (ca. 1877-1904)
2.2. Gustav

3. Wilhelmina * 25.11.1847 Simmern + 23.3.1850 Simmern

4. Friedrich (1849-1921), Direktor der Taubstummenanstalt Wriezen
oo Auguste Kaufmann aus Marienburg a.d. Nogat (heute Polen)
4.1. Hedwig oo Morgenstern, Arzt in Wriezen (We think he was Jewish and may have died in the Holocaust, but we don't know for sure.)

5. Katharina Sophia (*12.9.1851 Simmern + 24.12.1880 an Scharlach/Diphtherie oder bei Geburt von 1.?) oo 1879 Friedrich Schmitt (1844-1912), von Beruf Schmied, Simmern Hundsgasse
5.1. August (1880-1921) Lehrer zuletzt in Wiesbaden, + an TB, ledig

6. Maria Magdalena (1854-1934)
oo 19.4.1879 Gustav Auler (-1906), Färber, Auler-Haus am Simmerbach,
+ an Folgen einer Kriegsverletzung von 1870
6.1. Luise ( -1925) oo Heinrich Faller
1 Sohn
6.2. Sophie oo Leonhard
1 Sohn, * 1916, + Norwegen [laut Ruth]
1 Tochter [laut Johanna]

7. Johanetta Augustina (1855-1931)
oo Heinrich Martin (-1902), Schneidermeister, wohnten im Kauer-Haus in Simmern
7.1. Henriette gen. Jettchen (-1948), ledig
7.2. Johanna (-1960) oo Albert Klugt, Lokomotivführer, Simmern
7.2.1. Ruth
7.2.2. Albert
7.3. Lina oo Karl Kehrein (-1942), Bäcker in Kirn
7.3.1. Heinz (-1944) oo Else Elke Rainer
7.4. Helene (1891-) oo Schmidt, Textilgeschäft in Idstein
7.5. Sophie, oo Gottfried Goldbeck, Juwelier in Wiesbaden 1. Gottfried (Friedel) + bei Stalingrad

8. Christina * 1.6.1858 Simmern + 8.12.1858 Simmern

PS (22.5.2021): The name line Kauer leads back to the village of Nickweiler, a couple of km west of Simmern, and today part of Nannhausen, where evidence fades in the early 17th century. I looked up that location yesterday as I knew nothing about it, and was shocked to discover there is a Kauerhof and a Kauermühle there, so a farm and a mill in the name of the Kauers. More shockingly still, the Kauerhof was mentioned in the documents for the foundation of the abbey Ravengiersburg in 1074. Obviously, that doesn't prove ancestry, and it is likely that people coming in from elsewhere will have adopted the name of the farm, which was more fixed than any family names. But still, seeing a relevant name on a document from 1074 sets a new record. Will have to dig some more in that direction. Most of the Kauer entries you find in genealogy databases come from geographically clearly separate areas, including Switzerland, and several eastern areas including eastern Prussia, Silesia, and Bohemia. So it appears that, for the Hunsrück area, despite of what I said above, the name Kauer is in fact a useful one that can be tied to a single origin. (Note though that the sculptor Emil Cauer (1800-1867) came to Kreuznach from eastern Germany, so his whole dynasty is unrelated to our Kauers.)

New tag: all family history entries related to this clan are now tagged Kauer.

Monday, April 12, 2021

coffee time

A little light relief for plague year two - there is a lot of research on the effects of caffeine, simply because it's easy to round up a bunch of students, give them caffeine or placebo, and let them do some tasks. However, we're still surprisingly uncertain about the real life effects of coffee consumption on heart, brain and everything else. As the people championing the legalisation of drugs like to point out, coffee is much more powerful than things like cannabis or ecstasy, so if coffee were to be invented today, it would risk being banned straightaway. (Some authorities did try banning it in the past and failed.)

So what do we know and what remains to be uncovered? In my feature I've rolled out a bit of the cultural history and discussed some of the questions being investigated right now. Bottom line, while we're still unsure about many things, the health advice has become more encouraging in recent years. Moderate consumption of coffee probably isn't going to be detrimental to your health.

The feature is out now:

What coffee does to body and mind

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 7, 12 April 2021, Pages R311-R313

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)

Roasting beans is a crucial step in producing the complex mixture of flavours found in coffee. (Photo: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay.)

Oh, and I was very glad to discover in the course of my research for this Bach's coffee cantata. Here's the video that inspired the introductory paragraph of the feature:

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Gastwirthschaft Ferd. Weirich

I'm sharing some vintage photos in a new flickr album of family history with social context, i.e. no portraits, but people engaging in activities or posing outside their work place, this kind of thing. To provide some more supporting information than I would put on flickr, I've started a new series here, which is called "Every picture tells a story". I've retrospectively tagged the recent blog entries about Heinrich's string quartet and about the station master of Adamsweiler to become the first parts of the series. (Part of the inspiration is the ongoing series of picture stories in Der Spiegel, called Familienalbum, where I submitted the string quartet photo but failed to get it published.)

Now to a village inn that was run by a cousin of that Adamsweiler station master in the 19th century. The connection goes via the Weiss family which is extremely well documented thanks to a write-up from the 1890s which luckily survives in a transcript. So, essentially, our station master's mother was Sophie Weiss, and her sister Maria Margaretha married an innkeeper called Johann Peter Schmidt in Hahnenbach, and his daughter married Ferdinand Weirich, whose name appears on the sign here:

This postcard was sent on 17.8.1904, it carries the signatures of the inn keeper family as well as the station master family who had come over from Adamsweiler to visit (maybe 200 km away). This was part of a legendary journey to the home land to find husbands for the youngest of the five daughters, Helene and Kätha who signed the card.

Ferdinand Weirich's daughter Lina married Christian Giloy, and they kept the business going. In the more recent picture below the signage refers to her as the widow of Chr. Giloy, but I'm not sure when he died. The picture could be from the 1930s I guess, which is also when the oldest daughter of the station master, who had remained unmarried, acquired a piece of land from her cousins and built a house on it to retire there.

(Loving all the bicycles in this photo, today I wouldn't dare to cycle there, the roads are murderous.)

Some dates for the four relevant generations - quite incomplete, which is why I'm struggling to date the second photo:

Maria Margaretha Weiß (1809-1885) oo 1842 Johann Peter Schmidt aus Hahnenbach

Wilhelmine Caroline Schmidt (*1848) oo Ferdinand Weirich

Carolina Weirich (1871-1951) = die alte Lina oo Christian Giloy

Ferdinand Giloy (1895-1979) oo “junge Lina”

The place was still in the same family in my childhood, but I'm not sure who owns it now. It's been known as "Hahnebach Stubb" in recent incarnations.

Updated 11.6.2021 - I rediscovered the date of the first postcard, it was mentioned in a text I had written 7 years ago. Further postcards from that travel exist, will have to find them the next time I'm in situ.

Friday, April 09, 2021

a short-lived city

#lostcities bonus episode: Hamborn

When I was rounding up 10 cities which my ancestors inhabited between 1900 and 1970, it struck me that my in-laws were attached to one city during that time, but with a duration of stay that is unrivalled on my side. A young couple arrived in the industrial city of Hamborn (now part of Duisburg) from rural East Prussia in October 1922. She registered at the new residence on the 13th, he started work at the coal mine Gewerkschaft Friedrich Thyssen, Schacht 1/6 on the 23rd (and yes, I have the documents for both these dates). They married five months later and stayed at Hamborn the rest of their lives, which in her case meant more than 56 years. The last of their children died there in 2015, so that makes 92 years of family presence.

That’s real commitment to a place. The lifetime of Hamborn as a city was much shorter, however. After a decade of dramatic population growth, the village, which had only started to run a market in 1898, became a city in 1911. In 1929, its 132,000 inhabitants lost the fight against the all powerful neighbour and became part of Duisburg, initially as a conglomerate called Duisburg-Hamborn, but from 1935 simply as one of many districts of the city of Duisburg. Although many never accepted that state of things. Postcards were still printed with the line “Industriestadt Hamborn” (the example below dates from 1961, would you believe). Another city lost to the efficiency drive, like Rheydt on the other side of the river Rhine.

I borrowed the photo from the usual source, but we do in fact own a specimen of this postcard, and around 20 more. I've visited the attractions in the two frames at the top, but need to go back to see the old town hall and water tower in the one at the bottom left.

#lostcities series:

  1. Elberfeld / Wuppertal 1919 - 1961
  2. Strasbourg 1901 - 1908
  3. Minden 1903 - 1952
  4. Tangermünde 1888 - 1916
  5. Rheydt 1923 - 1935
  6. Königsberg 1935 - 1945
  7. Aachen 1936 - 1940
  8. Idar-Oberstein 1940 - 1962
  9. Bad Nauheim 1945 - 1972
  10. Würzburg 1961 - 1968

Saturday, April 03, 2021

flattening the Earth

Some thoughts on

Mercator: The man who mapped the planet
Nicholas Crane
Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2002 / Phoenix paperback 2003

The Mercator projection is everywhere these days, although some of us are aware that it is problematic because it inflates the size of countries further away from the equator, thus creating the wrong impression that South America is no bigger than Greenland, and Africa smaller than North America. Alternatives are available but rarely used.

The reason is, of course, Google maps. The Mercator projection is mathematically the simplest way of straightening a globe to make a flat map. You just use the longitude and latitude lines as an orthogonal coordinate system, as your x and y axes. So once you know coordinates of places, it is computationally extremely simple to create a flat map. Nothing wrong with that when you do that for a city map or even a small country, but when people use Mercator to (mis)represent the globe, as Royal Mail does, I come out in a rash.

Reading the biography of the man behind the projection, I learned that mathematical simplicity wasn’t his motivation. He had happily drawn heart-shaped maps of the world before, and he had produced much-coveted globes. The problem he set out to solve was based on the fact that sailors in his time navigated by compass bearing, i.e. the angle between their direction of travel and the measured direction of magnetic north. The simplest way to navigate would be to keep this bearing constant throughout. However, this isn’t the shortest route on a globe, and on most maps it isn’t a straight line. So, to Mercator, the attraction of the orthogonal projection was that the longitude lines will always be straight and vertical, so a route following compass bearing will always be at the same angle to them and thus also be a straight line. Simples.

Born in 1512 as Gerard Kremer, the son of a cobbler latinised his name in line with humanist contemporaries such as Erasmus. His life of just over 80 years neatly falls into two halves, split by a near death experience courtesy of the Spanish Inquisition, after which he decided the Spanish Netherlands weren’t safe for him and settled in the small town of Duisburg on the other side of the river Rhine. Having grown up not too far from that place, which in the 20th century became a major centre of heavy industry complete with Europe’s largest inland harbour, I found it cute to read about the peace and quiet Mercator found in the town, where he completed most of the work that he is remembered for, including the first maps using his famous projection and the book of maps that gave us the word “atlas”.

His move was linked to plans to launch a university at Duisburg, which then fell through. The town later did get a university, which was founded in 1655 but dissolved in 1815. The modern university was set up in 1972 as a Gesamthochschule. In 1994 it was named Gerhard-Mercator-Universität, but in 2003 Mercator lost this honour again, as his university merged with the University of Essen.

Another irony is that, while Mercator mapped all of the known world, and even some speculative geographies that turned out to be fictional, such as a ring of islands surrounding the North Pole, he never left the boundaries of a map of the Rhineland area shown at the front of the book, which covers around 400 km by 600 km. (It amused me that this map prefacing a book about a map maker shows Cologne on the wrong side of the river Rhine. As Colonia is a Roman foundation, it’s not hard to remember that it belongs on the left bank.)

Crane published the biography in 2002, before Google maps started flooding the world with Mercator projections, but I was still a bit disappointed that the epilogue doesn’t even mention the perception problems it creates and the alternative projections that others have produced to create a fairer representation of the planet. The biography is available as an e-book but the paper version seems to have gone out of print, unfortunately. Mercator's 500th birthday in 2012 would have been an opportunity for a new edition both to celebrate his work and re-assess it in the brave new world of Google maps.

PS: I just discovered his descendants are on GedBas. No obvious connection to my family history, but good to know.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

recording some progress

Plague Year(s) Bach Project, 14th month

In March, I managed to memorise the first half of the gigue in D minor (38 bars out of 76) so I'm quite happy with that.

Staying in the 2nd suite, I am now hoping to learn the other minuet, to complete the movement 2.5 which I started in January. See that month's blog entry for the relevant links. I already know the last bar of the D minor minuet, as it ends on an open D chord, and playing that before starting the D major minuet is an enormous help, because the first note fills in the missing F# to switch from minor to major. (This is one atom of Bach which I understood all by myself, so ignore me while I'm gloating about it.)

At the output end of the pipeline, I am now beginning to get some recordings that I am almost happy with, see the first youtube upload. I will list recordings under step 5 below, and possibly replace them if and when I manage to get a less embarrassing one of the same movement. Also hoping to get some outdoors videos, see if the birds would like to sing along ...

So after 13 months with 360 practice days, 12 movements studied, and 385 bars memorised, my list now looks like this:

1) movements I've studied for a month, then put aside for now
1.1. Prelude
1.2 Allemande

2) movements memorised in a significant part
1.3 Courante (2/3)
2.5 Minuet I&II (1/2)
2.6 Gigue (1/2)
3.4 Sarabande (1/3)

3) movements memorised in their entirety
1.4 Sarabande
1.6 Gigue
2.4 Sarabande
3.6. Gigue

4) movements memorised and synchronised with metronome
1.5 Minuet I&II

5) movements recorded on video
3.5 Bourree I&II - here's the VIDEO

I may have snapped this one accidentally while trying to set up the camera for a video, but then I decided I kind of liked it.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

greetings from Adamsweiler

As I've been obsessing about old postcards for my #lostcities recently, I remembered this little treasure which isn't really from a city, but a village in Alsace, but it has the bonus feature of showing seven members of my family.

If you look at the picture of the railway station on the right:

you see from left to right, my great-great-grandparents, their five daughters - my great-grandmother being the youngest of the quintet, she's probably the last one in the line, followed by the station staff. The photo dates from 1900, which is the year the first of the daughters married.

So that is
Christoph Gottlieb Kauer (1845-1909)(see the brand new Kauer clan entry for his extended family)
Margaretha Imig (1847-1930) (see the Imig Clan entry for her extended family including dates and descendants for her daughters)

I have a half-finished book about the station master's family in the drawer, one day I'll have to dig that up and make it presentable. Among the interesting issues to be discussed in this oontext is how the dramatic expansion of the railways brought both social mobility and geographic movements. The parents in this family both hailed from small town Simmern, both from modest craftsmen families, and CG Kauer would normally have become a cobbler like his dad. As a young recruit, he was severely injured in the war of 1870 and the railway career was kind of the consolation prize he got for that.

PS The village is now called Adamswiller, and has a population of just under 400 (in 1900 it was 313 including the 7 people named above). I can't find any other postcards from that time online, if anybody has any I'd be interested to see them.

The station was still standing when I visited in the 1990s, and here is a picture of it that looks more recent. Hoping it does survive still.

STOP PRESS: I've now created a new flickr album for all things family history related.

New series: Every picture tells a story

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