Saturday, October 30, 2021

how to become a station master

Two of my four railway ancestors were station masters at very modest stations, so I am on a quest to find out more about their role. First stop, a book meant to help candidates prepare for the exam to become as station master, by J. Wetter, second edition published by Baedeker at Elberfeld in 1889: "Die Prüfung zum Stationsvorsteher und Güterexpedienten, sowie zum Stationsassistenten im Deutschen und insbesondere Preussischen Staats-Eisenbahndienste" Now available at Google Books and in print from forgottenbooks – both use the same scan, which unfortunately has a few pages missing in random places.

By today’s (or even 20th century) expectations, the didactic value of the book is close to zero. The larger part is made up of mock exam questions and suggested answers, quite a few of which can be paraphrased as: Which rules apply to situation X? The applicable rules of the rulebook. I’m exaggerating only slightly. Moreover, some of the information would have been presented much better with the help of graphics, of which there are precisely none. Especially, presenting the geography of Germany and neighbouring countries in text form is a bit silly. The shorter second part is made up of mock exam essays on selected topics, including, hooray, the role of the station master (pp 298-303).

In this chapter and scattered across the rest of the book there are intriguing glimpses at what the station masters did, and what their working lives must have been like. Obviously there were vast amounts of workforce involved in everything. Guards along the tracks, signal operators, brake operators, workers, telegraphists. As this was before the telephone, every station used telegraph to communicate any problems down the line and to regional admin offices.

Passenger accommodation came in four classes. Complimentary travel for station masters was first class, for workers fourth. A station master moving station could claim two waggons for his belongings free of charge. Non-smoking as well as women-only compartments were to be offered in every class. Pipe smokers had to have a lid on their pipes. Children under four travelled free (but couldn’t claim a seat), aged four to ten they paid half price.

There are numerous rules on transporting animals, including horses, livestock, even wild carnivores, and how to label the cage if you ship a tiger or a whole menagerie by rail. I suppose circuses may have used the service back then. In other news, hopefully unrelated, we also get a whole chapter on rules around transporting dead bodies. Rules also for explosives, flammable liquids etc. It almost sounds as though the station masters lived dangerously with all these things travelling in and out of their stations.

There's way too much about book keeping and admin for my tastes, this must have been a nightmare. It's more fun to read about what to do after an accident. One ordinary person dying in circumstances not too spectacular doesn’t call for a big fuss. Any nobility being involved in or near an accident does, however.

The book doesn’t cite many references, but towards the end it mentions several times this “railway geography” by national economist Max Haushofer:

Eisenbahngeographie: Eine Darstellung des modernen Weltverkehrs mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Eisenbahnen (1875), which also looks interesting. Available on Google Books.

Seen on a recent visit to Minden - sheds at the station Minden Oberstadt, close to Minden Stadtbahnhof which was my greatgrandfather's domain for several decades. (own photo)

Thursday, October 28, 2021

a bakery at Lorsch 1900

Every picture tells a story, No. 9.

Adam Eberle (1863-1938) was born almost exactly a century before me, in the village of Ober-Mumbach in the Odenwald (today in the southernmost tip of the state of Hessen). He did an apprenticeship as a baker, went on the Wanderschaft as far as Metz, on his return married his cousin Anna Barbara Schütz (1860-1934) from nearby Nieder-Liebersbach and set up a bakery in the house Bahnhofstraße 27 in the small but historically important town of Lorsch. (The address doesn't quite make this another railway family, as the road named after the station runs orthogonally to the rail line and number 27 was in fact a few hundred metres away from the station. Passengers wouldn't normally have picked up their bread rolls for the journey at Eberle's bakery.)

The photo from around 1900 shows the house, with Adam, Anna Barbara, and one of the three daughters, probably the oldest, who was also called Anna Barbara, born 1893.

Let's have a zoomed in version too:

If the mother is pregnant in the photo, this is the last child on the way, Peter, who was born in 1900.

The bakery business wasn't all that successful, but it survived until 1930. Spartan living became a habit in the family. Troubles were sometimes linked to the protestant family from the hinterland not being accepted in the very catholic town. This was also discussed in the context of all three daughters remaining unmarried. However, the latter problem also had to do with World War I. Born in 1893-1897, the young women saw many of their male contemporaries going to war and not coming back.

The daughters kept the house (and the Spartan lifestyle) until 1973, when the last surviving daughter sold it to the town, which had it demolished to build an access road for a school, allegedly. The satellite view right now just shows a car park in the gap between numbers 25 and 29. The only place it could have given access to is the Nibelungenhalle. Anyhow, the baker's house has stayed in the family for over 80 years, which is good going.

UPDATE 13.11.2021 I just discovered a new upload of genealogical data on GedBas that includes our baker Adam Eberle. Although his wife is not named, as they are cousins it is easy to find her parents. Highlights:

An interesting family tree to compare and contrast to this is the maternal side of Grace Kelly - much of it is from the same corner of Germany and linked by names such as Treusch, Griesser, Eberle(in).

This photo is also on flickr.

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
  8. bei Wilhelm Geppert
  9. a bakery at Lorsch 1900

Twitter thread

Monday, October 25, 2021

keeping cool

Six days to go until the start of COP26 at Glasgow, so today's feature has a climate focus. I looked into the spread of air conditioning as a way of "adapting" to rising temperatures, which is, of course, one of many feedback loops making things worse, and at other good or bad ways of adapting to climate change, partially inspired by the book Great Adaptations, which I read for review recently.

So here are some things we can and some we shouldn't do as the climate catastrophe accelerates:

Keeping cool in a warming climate

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 20, 25 October 2021, Pages R1363-R1365

FREE access to full text and PDF download

See also my twitter thread listing all the 2021 features in Current Biology as they move to the open archives.

If the response to rising temperatures is the installation of more air-conditioning units, this will add to carbon emissions and thus accelerate the climate catastrophe. (Photo: Kars Alfrink/Flickr (CC BY 2.0).)

Thursday, October 21, 2021

bei Wilhelm Geppert

Let's have some bakers and shopkeepers now to continue the series Every picture tells a story.

The photo shows a baker's shop and family in Dörndorf, Kreis Frankenstein, Schlesien, around 1918. Today the place is known as Powiat Ząbkowicki in Poland. They are Wilhelm Geppert/Göppert (1877-1952), Martha nee Stephan (1887-1968), and their children Hedwig, Emma and Wilhelm Karl. The sign reads in full: "Bäckerei, Mehl- Specerei- Taback u. Cigarren-Handlung, bei Wilhelm Geppert". Meaning that it was a bakery also selling flour, spices, tobacco and cigars. I'm loving the Pipi Longstocking vibe radiated by the oldest, Hedwig, who postumously became my grandmother in law.

I also shared this photo on flickr earlier this year.

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
  8. bei Wilhelm Geppert

Twitter thread

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

FREE access to full text and PDF download

See also my twitter thread listing all the 2021 features in Current Biology as they move to the open archives.

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.