Thursday, April 28, 2022

pursued by a bear

Every picture tells a story No. 35

Heinrich the cellist and Maria didn't have a car but they were close friends with a couple who had a VW beetle, and the four of them used this for many joint holiday trips in the 1950s, typically to the Alps and the south of Germany. (That must have been really cosy with four adults in the small car!)

There are many photos taken by one of the quartet showing the three others, but very few showing all four. Here's one taken at Titisee (a lake and town in the Black Forest) with the bonus features of a fake bear and a real dog (presumably the successor to Schluck the German shepherd). Heinrich and Maria appear on the right:

Update 6.5.22: I've been told there is an ancient Hotel Bären in Titisee, maybe the souvenir photo with the eponymous animal comes as part of their service?

A few examples of the trio format:

En route from Wuppertal to Idar Oberstein, Easter 1952. I'm assuming this was the car the friends had before the famous 1950s beetle, looks more like a pre-war model. I can't quite resolve the emblem - it's not like Peter Eberle's 1930s BMW, but a similar vintage and size from a different maker. Funnily enough, I don't have a photo of the beetle which they normally used. There is a photo with a beetle and a fifth person, but the registration plate doesn't make sense, so I'm assuming it's the other person's car.

Herrenchiemsee, near Munich.

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
  10. Consumgeschäft von Julius Düsselmann
  11. Hanna and Ruth
  12. a young chemist
  13. school's out at Reichenstein, 1886
  14. a patchwork family in East Prussia
  15. the case of the missing grandmother
  16. checkpoint Glaner Brücke 1929(ish)
  17. finding Mimi
  18. five sisters, five decades
  19. happy at home
  20. gone milking
  21. steel workers
  22. field work
  23. what to wear at Porta Westfalica
  24. a classic convertible
  25. at the bottom of the steps
  26. a forester's family
  27. the Kaiser visits Allenburg
  28. teaching the 'deaf-mute'
  29. a guard dog called Schluck
  30. party like it's 1956
  31. the case of the mysterious uncle
  32. three Hedwigs and a baby
  33. a lost generation
  34. lost illusions
  35. pursued by a bear

Alternatively, you can use this twitter thread as an illustrated table of contents.

In a somewhat roundabout way, this series relates to my research for the family history music memoir I have now completed in a first version.

Monday, April 25, 2022

war feeding further crises

In my series on "how to turn hours of doomscrolling into useful research" I bring you my insights on the war in Ukraine, more specifically regarding its impacts on food security. The essential take-home message is, there is no global shortage of grains to feed all of humanity, but the impact of war on market forces and logistics will mean that parts of the global south may be unable to get the food they need and we may face humanitarian crises in various places. The longer version is out now:

Global food security hit by war

Current Biology Volume 32, Issue 8, 25 April 2022, Pages R341-R343

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)

The vast fields of Ukraine provide 30% of the global supply of wheat. The blue skies above cereal fields also inspired the design of the Ukrainian flag, now widely seen in expression of support for the country that has been invaded by Russian troops. (Photo: © Raimond Spekking/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).)

Thursday, April 21, 2022

lost illusions

Every picture tells a story No. 34

Staying on the unpleasant subject of wars, shopkeeper Julius Düsselmann had an adventurous streak in his younger days. Reportedly he wanted to fly zeppelins, which didn't quite work out. In 1904, aged 18, he signed up for the Schutztruppe, the small colonial force serving to uphold German rule in the small number of colonies the Reich had acquired belatedly. Here's Julius, looking wild and barely recognisable, in his Schutztruppe uniform. He signed up as a Reiter (rider) which was the equivalent of a common soldier there - definitely not cavalry, as I have seen photos of Reiter troops riding camels and donkeys.

A colour image of a Reiter's uniform and outfit can be seen here.

He was sent to Deutsch-Südwest Afrika, today's Namibia, as part of the reinforcement troops for the now notorious war against the Herero, which in recent years has been described as a genocide. Essentially, the very small Schutztruppe had been struggling to cope with the Herero uprising, until the government sent out the cruel and ruthless general Lothar von Trotha, who had no qualms about forcing a large part of the tribe into the desert and letting people die there.

I heard that Julius didn't talk about the war, but admitted having witnessed terrible things in his short stay in Africa. He caught a tropical disease, probably typhoid fever, and was sent home in poor health, arriving in Hamburg on 18.3.1905. He needed regular spa treatments at Bad Nauheim until 1914 (which is also the place where he settled after 1945 and lived for the rest of his life).

Apart from this photo, the only other souvenir of Africa is a small ruby he found there (or maybe two), which he had set in gold together with a bit of the surrounding rock. There are two of these, not sure if they are cut from the same rock or separate finds. I have one of the two and it is marked "Abbabis, S.W.Afrika, 22.Januar 1905". Must have felt he had a lucky day in an otherwise rather grim time that surely didn't live up to his hopes of an adventure.

Abbabis was a railway station and the place of a reconvalescence home for members of the Schutztruppe. If Julius was there to reconvalesce from his disease, that means he can't have spent much time in active service. Typhoid fever was reported to affect the Schutztruppe specifically from October 1904 onwards, which would broadly fit with this timing.

Two and a half years after his return he married his cousin Helene Kauer (youngest of the five daughters of the stationmaster of Adamsweiler):

Reportedly she talked him out of plans to emigrate to the USA, so he channelled his spirit of adventure into business instead.

Their shared ancestry is the Imig clan, as both their mothers were from the Imig family in Simmern. Julius's paternal side is the Krefeld clan.

To get a better impression of Julius's war experience, I bought a copy of the novel Morenga by Uwe Timm, which I hear steers very close to the historical documents. (The English translation appears to be out of print. Heck, it's even been made into a film, I just found out.) Am planning to read that soon, watch this space.

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
  10. Consumgeschäft von Julius Düsselmann
  11. Hanna and Ruth
  12. a young chemist
  13. school's out at Reichenstein, 1886
  14. a patchwork family in East Prussia
  15. the case of the missing grandmother
  16. checkpoint Glaner Brücke 1929(ish)
  17. finding Mimi
  18. five sisters, five decades
  19. happy at home
  20. gone milking
  21. steel workers
  22. field work
  23. what to wear at Porta Westfalica
  24. a classic convertible
  25. at the bottom of the steps
  26. a forester's family
  27. the Kaiser visits Allenburg
  28. teaching the 'deaf-mute'
  29. a guard dog called Schluck
  30. party like it's 1956
  31. the case of the mysterious uncle
  32. three Hedwigs and a baby
  33. a lost generation
  34. lost illusions

Alternatively, you can use this twitter thread as an illustrated table of contents.

In a somewhat roundabout way, this series relates to my research for the family history music memoir I have now completed in a first version.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

a lost generation

Every picture tells a story No. 33

Auguste Faust from the East-Prussian patchwork family kept several postcards from male family members serving in World War I. Some made it back, some didn't. I believe her half-brother Adolf Faust did not come back. Although I have no documentation of his death, I have no evidence of his existence after 1918.

Here's a postcard he sent to Auguste in 1916 (she was 18 then), showing him in the middle of his comrades.

The names written underneath are: Karl Kottwitz, Adolf Faust, Cr. Lange, Reinh.Beutler, Gr. Golan (?). According to the postal stamp, they were serving with the "9. Kavallerie-Div.", but there is an additional stamp reading: "Jäger-Bataillon Graf York [sic] von Wartenburg, 1. Compagnie", which was part of the 37th division. Not sure which to believe, the English Wiki seems to think Graf Yorck unit only existed until 1914, so this may be just a memorial stamp? On the other hand, this German genealogy wiki page suggests it continued to exist 1914-18 but was associated with various other units. Very confusing stuff. In either case, they must have spent 1916 on the Eastern front.

The text provides no interesting information, just greetings to all and hope you are well. By contrast, on a similar postcard sent 26.11.1916:

her brother-in-law Karl Witt (husband of her half-sister Marie Wittke) pointed out that one of his comrades shown was still available, and got him to co-sign the card. His name was Alfred Plenus (Plenus is a Lithuanian name that is found in East Prussia too). I think Karl is second and Alfred third from right in the front row.

Karl Witt sent several such cards and did make it back in one piece, but Alfred wasn't mentioned again.

In other news regarding old photos, read this twitter thread on an old album that got reunited with its family.

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
  10. Consumgeschäft von Julius Düsselmann
  11. Hanna and Ruth
  12. a young chemist
  13. school's out at Reichenstein, 1886
  14. a patchwork family in East Prussia
  15. the case of the missing grandmother
  16. checkpoint Glaner Brücke 1929(ish)
  17. finding Mimi
  18. five sisters, five decades
  19. happy at home
  20. gone milking
  21. steel workers
  22. field work
  23. what to wear at Porta Westfalica
  24. a classic convertible
  25. at the bottom of the steps
  26. a forester's family
  27. the Kaiser visits Allenburg
  28. teaching the 'deaf-mute'
  29. a guard dog called Schluck
  30. party like it's 1956
  31. the case of the mysterious uncle
  32. three Hedwigs and a baby
  33. a lost generation

Alternatively, you can use this twitter thread as an illustrated table of contents.

In a somewhat roundabout way, this series relates to my research for the family history music memoir I have now completed in a first version.

Monday, April 11, 2022

mummification for all

A hundred years ago, fascination with Ancient Egyptian mummies reached new heights after Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. Since then, Egyptian and Inca mummies have been a fixture of specialist research and lay interest alike (NB the Bodleian Library has an exhibition on Tutankhamun opening 13.4.). Recent research suggests that mummification as a burial ritual was more widespread than we knew. It may have been used in Europe in the Neolithic, and the Chinchorro culture on the edge of the Atacama Desert extended the procedure to all members of society, for many centuries.

So, looking beyond the classic pharaohs, I've rounded up some new and recent insights around mummification for my latest feature in Current Biology, which is out now:

Immortalised bodies

Current Biology Volume 32, Issue 7, 11 April 2022, Pages R295-R298

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)

The Chinchorro culture in northern Chile has produced some of the oldest intentionally prepared mummies known. They are also remarkable for extending mummification to all members of their community. (Photo: Pablo Trincado/Flickr (CC BY 2.0).)

Saturday, April 09, 2022

suites à suivre

Plague Year(s) Bach Project, 17th month
(resuming after a 9-month interval from July 2021 to March 2022)

As of the beginning of April, my shoulder has improved to the extent that I can practice Bach suites for one hour, which I think is the amount I need to make meaningful progress. So, here we go again (and the pandemic is still going strong, thanks to the unwavering support of the death eaters in government).

For this month, I am tackling the Courante from the 4th suite. Part of the idea is that I really need to get my head around the geography of Eb major on the cello, because key signatures with 3 flats or more are holding me back in my orchestral adventures (which relaunched last September).

I also really like this Courante, and with its 64 bars it will likely keep me busy for two months.

As usual, I am picking up useful hints and tips from Inbal Segev.

Loving this performance by Emanuelle Bertrand so much that I won't be looking for any other. (Very artsy video, too, involving shadow play and a mirror, which can be a bit confusing when she seems to be playing with the wrong hand.) I also have Inbal Segev's and Rostropovich's recordings on CD.

In terms of the movements I learned until June last year, I can still play 1.3-1.6 and 3.5 from memory. Will take some time to recover the movements I learned from the 2nd suite. I'll resume the list once I have something to add, rather than to substract.

In other Bach-related news:

  • I read Steven Isserlis's companion to the suites, see my review here. While he was writing the book, he also recorded suites 1 and 3 in this lovely cafe performance (he mentions his work on the book in the intro).
  • Now reading: Friedemann Bach by Albert Emil Brachvogel, a novel about JS Bach's oldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, alleged to bear very little resemblance to his real life.
  • Spending more time with my other instruments, I'm also looking at a flute adaptation of Bach's partita No. 2 for violin in D minor (I have the entire partita for flute on my revision list, it's kind of the motor that drives me to keep the revision schedule going!).
  • when I have a really ambitious day I also try playing bits of the Brandenburg concerto in F on my alto recorder. A solo adaptation of this happens to be in the big Altblockflöten-Solobuch by Barbara Hintermeier and Birgit Baude. Just give me a few years for that one.
  • I'm now building a twitter thread for the #PlagueYearBachProject, one tweet for each movement tackled.

Friday, April 08, 2022

refugees on the run

some thoughts on

Last train from Kummersdorf
by Leslie Wilson
Faber & Faber 2003

The German place name in the title caught my eye when I came across the book in a charity shop, and further scrutiny revealed that it is loosely based on the author’s family history during World War II, so I read it in the hope of getting a sense of both the places and the family history.

This turned out to be a somewhat misguided expectation. As the characters in the story are refugees on the run in the last days of the war, they have of course lost their homes and large parts of their families. So the thing to learn from it is mostly the dangers of being a refugee (still relevant today), and how to work out who you can trust. And where your next ration of food and drinking water may come from.

It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the train of the title is a red herring (it becomes immediately obvious the first time Kummersdorf is mentioned). Kummersdorf is in Brandenburg, 25 km south of Berlin, so it’s in that general area that the refugees make their way westwards through forests and deserted villages. One of the refugees came from Sternberg (today’s Torzym, Poland, I assume), one from Berlin, and a family from the Giant Mountains in Silesia. That’s about as much geographic reference as we get, which makes sense as these people are literally lost in the woods.

Wilson explains on her website that she wrote the novel for adults at first, but given that the two main protagonists were teenagers, publishers encouraged her to rewrite it as a book for young readers. Which surely made sense commercially, but I would have liked the choice to read the original version.

The website also has some information on the relevant family history, although without specific names and places. See her pages family background as well as reflections on Last train.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

three Hedwigs and a baby

Every picture tells a story No. 32

As I mentioned in episode 22, Hedwig the milkmaid was persuaded into moving in with her in-laws as her husband was conscripted to fight in WW2. Her mother-in-law was also called Hedwig, and I am guessing that the third adult in this pair of pictures may be her youngest daughter, also called Hedwig (or Hede). I may be wrong, but the only other daughter of the family was married by then, and also quite a bit older, so that leaves young Hedwig as the most likely person to still be around.

So there were three Hedwigs in the house, and to make matters worse, all three of them also shared the same last name at that point in time, so all three were called Hedwig Gellrich. In my family history adventures, I always refer to people by their birth name to avoid confusion, so in my nomenclature we have Hedwig Scholz, her daughter Hedwig Gellrich, and her daughter in law, Hedwig Geppert. Much easier.

Here we have first Hedwig senior (and invisible granddaughter) with her daughter (or somebody else) hiding in the open door:

Then the two younger Hedwigs (NB Hedwig Geppert is confirmed, the other one is not) with the baby born 1941:

If you look at the leaves of the vine, the pictures were clearly not only taken at the same place but also at the same time.

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
  10. Consumgeschäft von Julius Düsselmann
  11. Hanna and Ruth
  12. a young chemist
  13. school's out at Reichenstein, 1886
  14. a patchwork family in East Prussia
  15. the case of the missing grandmother
  16. checkpoint Glaner Brücke 1929(ish)
  17. finding Mimi
  18. five sisters, five decades
  19. happy at home
  20. gone milking
  21. steel workers
  22. field work
  23. what to wear at Porta Westfalica
  24. a classic convertible
  25. at the bottom of the steps
  26. a forester's family
  27. the Kaiser visits Allenburg
  28. teaching the 'deaf-mute'
  29. a guard dog called Schluck
  30. party like it's 1956
  31. the case of the mysterious uncle
  32. three Hedwigs and a baby

Alternatively, you can use this twitter thread as an illustrated table of contents.

In a somewhat roundabout way, this series relates to my research for the family history music memoir I have now completed in a first version.

Monday, April 04, 2022

eccentric penguins

The French edition of my book Life on the Edge, La vie excentrique, was published with a lovely picture of penguins in an Antarctic landscape of blue ice on the cover:

Every once in a while I come across the original photo and then I forget again where I saw it, so this time I am bookmarking it for future reference.

The original is by Cherry Alexander and won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award in 1995 according to this report.

I'll just hotlink it here:

For the book cover it was flipped such that the penguins can be on the front of the book and the penguin-less right half of the original photo wraps around the back of the book.

NB I also have a new feature out about Antarctica.

Friday, April 01, 2022

liquid history

Some thoughts on

A history of the world in six glasses

by Tom Standage

Atlantic Books 2007

While I don’t read about food if I can avoid it, I make exceptions for drink, especially wine. Still not my top priority, so it took me a while to get round to Tom Standage’s excellent liquid history of the world covering beer, wine, rum, coffee, tea and coca-cola.

I was mainly hoping to compare notes on things that I have also covered and may cover again, including the origins of agriculture and the socio-ecology of wine and coffee. Still, the other chapters were fascinating too, and maybe I should find an excuse to write about rum, or even tea. I’ll draw the line at coca cola.

The six drinks capture much of world history in a surprisingly neat series, with the three alcoholic ones leading the way and the three caffeinated ones catering for our more sober times. Water, the essential liquid of life and thus not a choice as such, only gets the epilogue.

The perspective is somewhat anglocentric, so manages to jump directly from the Roman Empire and its wine to the British colonies and their rum. I’m sure there must be a causal connection via French wine and cognac, but those “foreign” drinks only get a very fleeting mention as competition that the rum distillers had to overcome. So maybe not quite a complete history of the world, but an interesting read nonetheless.

Looking up the cover, I found out that the author has followed this up with an "edible history" - I'm sure it's fascinating, but I guess I'll stick with the liquids.
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