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One of the high points of my stay in Germany recently was a visit I made to Nördlingen on the border between the provinces of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany. It’s a beautiful place. It is enclosed by a defensive wall that dates back to the 14th Century – there are only three towns in Germany with this claim to fame. All the buildings are full of character. The town was the site of two battles during the Thirty Years War and were it not for the cars and the shops, you could easily imagine yourself in another time, another era.
But beautiful and all though the town is, this is not the reason I went there. It’s Nordlingen’s surroundings that interested me the most. The town is located in a region known as the Ries: a round, flat plain with an approximate diameter of around 23 km (15 miles). This area is quite different to the surrounding countryside as the following scale model clearly indicates.
For many centuries, the prevailing idea about how this geological feature came to be was that it was an ancient volcanic caldera. The trouble was that much of the boulders and debris surrounding the region were of non-volcanic origin. Many ideas were presented as to how this material got there, but it’s didn’t fully add up. The origins of the Ries remained controversial until fifty years ago.
Enter Eugene “Gene” Shoemaker. Gene was an astronomer and he had a few questions. When he looked at the Moon he saw a landscape quite different to the Earth. Everywhere on the Moon he saw craters. Big craters, small craters, enormous craters. Why then was the Earth practically devoid of them? Was it credible that the Moon could be subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous impacts while its larger sister, our planetary home, missed them all? He was convinced that the evidence for impact craters must exist on Earth, but where were they all? Gene had a good idea what kind of material would be created when a large object hit the Earth. It was just a matter of finding it.
Rieskrater MuseumHintere Gerbergasse 3
86720 Nördlingen, Deutschland
MeteorkratermuseumHochfeldweg 589555 Steinheim, Deutschland
Lake Constance lies at the far southern tip of Germany. It is one of Europe’s “great lakes”, a major stopping point for the Rhine river as it meanders its way from the Alpine peaks to the North Sea. We started our trip today in Lindau, a pretty island town on the north-eastern shore of the lake. From there it was a short boat journey to the city of Bregenz in Austria. We took a cable car to Pfander – a mountain that provided some wonderful views of the entire lake.
Short video below:
Hochgrat is a mountain in Bavaria, 1800 metres high. A cable car takes you to a restaurant close to the summit. The summit itself is a short scramble away. As well as the cable car, the mountain is accessible via a number of well defined walking routes. It was my first encounter with the Alpine Chough, a bird related to our own red-beaked sea crow.
Yesterday I visited Ulm Cathedral in Germany. At 568 ft high, its steeple is the tallest in the world. The sense of space inside the building is quite breathtaking, and the view from the top is, well, you’ll have to judge for yourself how well I coped with it..
Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event I remember as if it were yesterday. The fall of the Berlin Wall was the high point of an astonishing period in world history, beginning with the fall of the Polish government in June 1989 and culminating in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In the space of a few months, the world changed utterly. The message, at least for a while, was one of hope: that repressive regimes can come to an end when the conditions are right.
Ten years before this, another political change took place in Iran, when the Ayatollah Khomeini wrested power from the Shah in a popular uprising that swept the nation. Khomeini created an Islamic Republic, supposedly freeing the country from the yoke of dictatorship and setting up a kind of utopia on Earth along Islamic principles. This new Iranian state quickly revealed itself to be just another tawdry dictatorship in clerical disguise, and now the youth of Iran are fighting for the same freedoms as their parents, thirty years ago. Some are paying with their lives.
If history is any guide, rotten regimes often succumb eventually to a combination of relentless external and internal pressures. These pressures do not need to be violent, but they do need to be sustained. We can only hope that this will be soon be the fate of the current Iranian republic.
I’m just back from a trip to Germany. I started in Munich, proceeded to Stuttgart and ended up in Wiesbaden.
A couple of random things from my trip:
In all the flights I have made – and I have flown hundreds of times – I have never seen anybody freak out when the plane is taking off and landing. This unblemished run ended last Saturday, when the woman seated in front of me had a full-blown panic attack. As the plane took off, the poor woman started to hyperventilate, emitting regular eeping noises as we hit any bumps or turbulence. She let out a full blown scream at one stage when the plane encountered an air-pocket in the cloud layer. She relaxed completely once we reached cruising height, but as the plane began it’s final approach, all around her were treated to a repeat performance. It must be terrible for her, as such an atavistic fear is not easily remedied.
The German train system is pretty unforgiving if you make the mistake of leaving a suitcase on board. I had only stepped out of the train at Munchen – Pasing, when it dawned on me that something was wrong. Too late. Doors had closed and my suitcase was happily on it’s way to the small village of Geltendorf, about 20 km away. Suffice it to say that my suitcase and I were eventually reunited and that I spent the rest of the day making up for that brief moment of forgetfulness.
I can add fossil hunting to my list of achievements. One of the high-points of the weekend was a trip to Holzmaden, where some fantastic Jurassic Period fossils have been discovered over the last century. There is an open quarry there and members of the public can extract their very own fossils from the bedrock. We collected a nice set of ammonites and belemnites, although how they are going to get from Germany to Ireland is anyone’s guess.
Other highlights were a trip down the Rhine and a relaxing day in the beautiful city of Wiesbaden. The public park next to the casino in Wiesbaden is particularly attractive. I was also struck by the friendliness and helpfulness of all the people I encountered during my trip. It’s definitely worth a visit.