Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fort Wetherill

I spend a good deal of time thinking about the past. Not my own past so much as the Past, with a capital "P". It's particularly in your face here on Conanicut Island, where I'm spending a couple of weeks on summer vacation. I don't know if it's the pace of development, (slow) which leaves things like a Revolutionary War gun battery facing the West Passage up Narragansett Bay more or less unchanged after 200 years, or just the fact that lots of stuff happened here, but either way, I'm constantly being confronted here with History.

I took a spin around the island the other day on my Flevobike and wound up riding through the state park at the old Fort Wetherill. Wetherill faces Aquidneck Island (Newport) on the East Passage and has been an important part of the coastal defense of Narragansett Bay, like it's counterpart on the West Passage, since revolutionary times. I was struck by a photo on exhibit there that showed the fort as it was during World War II, when it was the site of an antisubmarine net that stretched across to Fort Adams on the Newport side. The net, or the structure that supported it, is clearly visible as a series of white dots that lead across the bay, with a gap at the center that allowed ships to pass. Most of the buildings in the photo are gone now, but several have been nicely restored. The antisubmarine net is gone as well, but scuba divers still explore the remnants.

The net was guarding Narragansett Bay from German U-Boats, quite likely U-boats made by Krupp, the Ruhrgebiet industrial giant so often sited as the greatest contributor to the industrial heritage currently being celebrated with the Kulturhauptstadt activities this year back in Essen. It's true the U-boats wouldn't have been manufactured in Essen: they were made at a separate plant in Kiel, many miles to the north. But I can't help but feel some irony about the whole thing. And looking at the big picture, it's hard not to come away with a sense of optimism about where the world is today.

I guess I'm hopelessly naive in my optimism, but it seems relatively harmless to me. I quite enjoy riding my bike around the island, and in previous years I've had as much fun riding the Industrial Culture Route in Essen, Duisburg, Dortmund and the like. My plan for world peace involves lots of similarly naive dummies who like to ride bikes around and mind their own business. It's got to be better than lots of hard headed realists who want to blown other people up. In all of my thinking about the past, I hope I've managed to develop some insights as well. I've been told those who can't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. And looking at these photos make me think that would be a real drag.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Still-Leben A40

The average speed on the freeways of Los Angeles can be as low as 5 miles per hour during peak traffic periods, but that's nothing compared to the average speed on the A40 yesterday. The A40, or Ruhrschnellweg, as it is sometimes called, is the main Autobahn through the Ruhr region and yesterday it was closed from Duisburg to Dortmund as the entire Ruhrgebeit sat down to a 60 kilometer long Kaffeepause. Average speed never crept above zero as the classic German picnic benches and tables were stretched end to end and the Autobahn was closed to vehicular traffic for the whole day. Not everyone was sitting down though: 1 million of the 3 million estimated participants were there with bicycles and plenty were just walking or skating or running. It was the biggest and most talked about event of the Kulturhauptstadt Year and I'm sorry I missed it.

But I've got plenty of photos, videos and even a 3D virtual Kaffeetisch that WDR has put together to help me experience the event vicariously. And I'm not sure I could enjoy a gathering of 3 million people anyway. So, I'll check out the pictures online and download a video or two. Hope you enjoy them too.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Der Ball ist rund, das Spiel dauert vier Wochen

Not for our boys though. Spain played an amazing game and triumphed in the end. So... we have to set our sights on 2012 and the Europa Pokal. Something tells me interest in that one is likely to be even thinner in the bars and cafes of Logan, UT than the World Cup games were.

In 1990, Gary Lineker said, "Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win." Not this year Gary, not this year.

The celebration at Logan Country Club after Spain's win yesterday.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Two more for Klose as Germany rips Maradona's Argentina apart‎

I came away from today's match between Germany and Argentina with a couple of fairly strong impressions, but one stands out as a truth of überwältigende proportions: Mick Jagger looks like Death warmed over. Michael Ballack, on the other hand, is in great form, cheering from the sidelines as his team scored goal after goal against a team many thought would knock Germany out of the competition this year. And Angela Merkel, the German Kanzlerin who wrote the book on dowdy, was ecstatic in a trademark red blazer. Bill Clinton missed this match altogether.

Merkel needed a win badly after a very lackluster performance by her party's candidate for President of Germany in this past week's election. Yes, he won, but not by a very convincing margin. That couldn't be said for the National Eleven from Germany. They scored in the first three minutes to take an early lead, and then continued to rack up goals until, mercifully for Argentina, the final whistle blew at 90 minutes.

My companion and I picked another Logan bar this time, in the hopes of tracking down the elusive Utah soccer fans, but with no better luck. The only other warm bodies in the room were employees who floated through from time to time to ask what we were watching. If one is in need of some quiet time alone, it seems all one has to do is pick a bar in the United States that's playing a World Cup game.

An alert Forschungsjahr reader made me aware this past week of another important German contribution to the World Cup Culture with the Zeit video embedded below. In the stadia of South Africa, the average fan just bleats out a wavering drone-like tone, but leave it to the Germans to bring some organization to the playing of the vuvuzela. Enjoy the video and lay in a supply of Würstchen for the game on Wednesday.