December 31 - January 4
Written January 4-7
Dear Friends and Families,
It is a new year and we are starting pretty much as we finished; quiet life at home, a few friends, and some travel.
New Year's Eve, Marianne worked hard on a nice meal, as she most often
does. Pretty elegant. Our plan was to stay awake until the
year changed, but, as usual, we only made it to midnight-in Moscow, two
The other side of early-to-bed is that we get to see the moon before it even sets.
|NY Dinner and Our First 2013 moon set
the second, Marianne's cousin Klara visited with her husband Gabor and
her brother Gyury. They were on their way from England to
Budapest and found a bit of time for a stop, something we very much
appreciate. Klara and Gabor are the traveling-est people we know (see www.omniplan.hu) even though Gabor's work takes him to a different country almost every week
(Saudi Arabia on Friday!). I don't know how they keep up!
|Gyury, M., Klara, and Gabor
|We also decided to take a quick visit "somewhere" and the town of Goslar in Thuringia won our vote (history, tourism). It is a UNESCO World Heritage town and we had passed through years before and said "we need to come back here again!" So we did.
We stayed at the Hotel Kaiserhof,
a medium-sized hotel where we were met with friendly staff, a
good-sized room, and as-expected, German cleanliness. All we need.
|Our first stop, Friday afternoon, was the Mönchehaus-Museum
of modern art. The museum is normally housed in a castle or
palace nearby, but that building was being renovated until early March,
so some of the art had been moved to the old city services building, still a
nice display building. The featured artist was John Baldessari, a
Santa Monica, California, artist who is apparently well-known in the modern art
scene. Some of his pieces we liked, but all caused conversation.
our quick culture stop, we just wandered around town. While it
was still daylight, I complained that the dull, gray light was
completely uninteresting and did nothing to properly show off all the
old buildings. Maybe tomorrow or Sunday.
Evening was cold and damp, but nice for walking and better for at
least a few pictures. The bronze model of the town, shown
bottom-right in the picture frame, illustrated the original medieval
layout of Goslar and most of the buildings still seem to be here.
A treasure for us old-German-building fans.
|Afternoon and Evening Walk
- As planned Friday, we did indeed do the standard tour:
church, castle, and square, but first we just wandered around
Goslar has over 1700 half-timbered buildings, many more than 500-years
old. At least on the outside, most have been restored, perhaps as
of the funding for reunification of Germany. Marianne stopped at
a few shops in her search for the perfect Hartz Mountains witch.
Years ago, we visited the area and found locally-made dolls, but
nowadays that art has died and everything is imported from Poland or China.
|Our church visit was to the Church of Saints Cosmos and Damien,
on the market square. The church dates from the 12th Century and
the bronze baptismal font was made from local material in
1573. The wooden pulpit was particularly colorful.
|Next came a castle, and this was a real palace, the Kaiserpfalz Imperial Palace.
The original was built in the mid 11th Century, although it fell into
disrepair in the 1500's. It was subject to complete restoration
in the 18th Century, when it became fashionable to glorify the old
Middle Ages. The top floor of the main building is a giant hall,
with colorful paintings depicting the glories of the old days, from the
Sleeping Beauty story to the conquest of the Islamic invaders by
In a separate tower off to the side was a sarcophagus of Henry III,
reputedly holding a golden box with his heart stored safely
inside. Good story anyway.
Below the main hall are six or seven vaulted rooms that were the only
heated rooms in the old castle. The Kaiser's bronze throne, cast
in 1065, was on display. Because the German kaisers moved
continuously, the throne could be broken into three panels and
transported to the castle of royal choice.
|To get in a "square", we walked along an old canal/stream down to the square that sits between the Tin Museum and the Goslar (history) Museum (Website is in German, but the pictures are OK).
The Tin Museum was a hit. While it is housed in an old mill
building, the museum itself is only 15 or 20 years old.
Historically, tin figures had been a local industry, starting with the
locally-mined tin. The Museum was created to re-introduce the
craft of making the flat figures that had been part of every
child's toy box, and every general's battle models.
The dioramas were interesting, particularly if one looked carefully at
the details. Everything was displayed in thin tin
figures, from the imagined glories of the Kaisers'
conquests, to the mining, dancing, and drinking of daily Goslar life and to the brutal realities of royal conquest.
|Glories of Henry Barbarossa and followers
Town life in Goslar: dancing, parties, and punishment.
Our "square" stop also included the Goslar Museum, where we could see
artifacts of local churches and homes. As for the historical
artifacts, I think I am so saturated with shards,
old wooden statues, and re-created kitchen hearths that I will need no
more for quite awhile. The best part of the Goslar Museum was a
display of Uli Stein photographs, HDR-style, of the Rammelsberg Mine and other
Goslar landmarks. These encouraged me to keep working on photos, even
if it also reminded me that the "HDR" style can be overdone!
|On Sunday, Marianne was a bit under the weather, so I took the trip to the Rammelsberg Mine
by myself. I am glad I did, because, for a "plant engineer",
walking through the old bones of a huge, engineered facility was pretty
fascinating. I am not sure my spouse would have shared my enthusiasm.
|The Rammelsberg mine is
over 1,000 years old and served to make the area rich, particularly in
the Middle Ages. The legend is that Rammel, one of the Kaiser's
knights, discovered the rich ore when his horse kicked the dirt off
some shiny mountain rocks. He was then given the honor of naming
the nearby village after his wife "Gosla". For the next
millennium, the mountain provided riches for the Kaiser and for the
merchants of Goslar, who had the right to trade the silver, copper, tin,
and zinc that came out of the mountain.
|The mine tour
started through the gates that workers had entered for
centuries. The mine stopped working in June 1988 and many of the
buildings look as if the workers just badged-out yesterday.
The large building across from the entrance (center of pan shot) was
one of several ore-processing facilities. Mine entrances were
both above the facility and in tunnels to the left and right.
My tour included these above-ground facilities and mines of two different eras in Rammelsberg's history.
first stop was the
building with ore separation equipment, basically huge mixers that
would create chemical soups from which the valuable metals would be
extracted. The mixing vats are now open to factory
strollers. Other halls contained dryers and pumps and
motors, many of which looked ready for the miner ghosts to restart
them. There was also a wall showing off the various types of rock
pulled out of the
mountain over the years.
|Next to the separation
building was the power plant. Since power plants are my business,
I had to take a look. Inside were a half-dozen smallish steam
turbine-generators as well as two ore cars with special meaning.
One was the last ore car brought out of the Rammelsberg mines, on June
20, 1988. The other ore cart had been wrapped by Christo,
the most famous of all wrappers and is reportedly the only Christo work
whose covering has been allowed to remain in place. Now, however,
all the "Aus" buttons have been pushed.
The best parts of my mine experience were underground. There are two
underground tours offered, "Roederstollen" and "Grubenbahn". I
took them both.
meaning mining train, started in the large hall where workers would retrieve
their work clothes from ceiling hooks where they would be have been
hung overnight to dry. After collecting safety and lighting
equipment, workers would climb into the yellow train that is
still in tourist service.
|Our tourist ride was about
a half-kilometer, from where we started our walk through reasonably large
tunnels. Inside, our guide explained the mine workings to his
captive audience. He threatened to send the kids down the
cage-elevator, but had no volunteers. Instead we walked through
smaller and smaller tunnels, past the breakfast room where workers
could spend a few minutes away from their grueling and noisy work.
|The mine-face work tools
on this tour represented those from the late 19th Century up
through the mid-20th. Hard rock, and Rammelsberg has some of the
hardest rock in the world, was first drilled by air hammers and then
blasted by dynamite. The tour guide started up one air hammer to
show just how noisy the workplace was. He did not light
any explosives, but he did ask us to imagine working around several
hammers, for eight hours a day, for 40 years if one was so lucky.
It was not a life I personally could imagine.
the walk back, we passed through the large tunnel and got into the
yellow train again. I imagined how a worker might feel on
this return trip and sensed just a bit of the exhaustion they must have
felt. Their day would have ended, finally, in the shower room,
where a day's worth of dirt and grime could be washed away. But
the exhaustion? What could be worse?
The Roederstollen tour demonstrated a worse life.
mine tour covered life underground before electricity and even before
dynamite. The mine had been carved by hand, by hammers and
chisels and fire. The old entrance seemed large enough,
considering that people were smaller "back then", but the guide
explained that this tunnel originally was constructed in two parts, a lower part where
water ran and, above a wooden floor, the worker passageway. It
could not have been much more than a crawl space.
|Deep inside, the tunnel
opened up into a large room that held the key technology to mining
Rammelsberg before electricity: waterwheels. The wheels powered
everything, from ore lifts to water pumps and air blowers. The
largest of them was even reversible, so it could both lift and lower
ore and waste. Rammelsberg had a practice of refilling the
worked-out shafts in order to prevent collapse, but this meant the added work
of returning waste material underground.
|We continued to descend
steel staircases, below the biggest waterwheels, past somewhat smaller
ones, down to the old tunnels. Very spooky places.
|At the very lowest level was a display of the earliest mining
technique: fire. Miners would set fires below the rock in oder to heat
it enough so that it would expand and crack. For centuries, this was the
only way to harvest the hardest ore. The rock was harder
than the available metal spikes and was simply impossible to chip off
now, we were 65 meters (200 feet) below where we had started and we
had to get back up. We used the same shaft workers had used
centuries before. and Burdened with camera equipment, and 65 years of
aging, it was not an easy hike, but looking over at the ancient steel
used in past centuries, one could only imagine the misery of the
After four hours of mine touring, I went back to see how Marianne was
doing and she was doing well enough that we continued our
walk-around exploration of Goslar. We passed the Siemenshaus, the
original home of the extended family whose dynasty continues
today. We also worked in one church visit to St. Steven's, and, of
About dinner. We returned to the Lohmühle, a very pleasant restaurant that we had
used the day before and, while Marianne stuck with trout, I opted for a
local treat: "cheese salad". Marianne's fish was very good, but
my cheese was ... different, too different. Imagine a pound of
cheese chunks fried in oil, with onions and a few tomatoes. Plus
a pretzel. It was a zillion-calories meal fit for
hard-working miners, but I had not anywhere near worked hard enough.
That's it. On Monday
we had an uneventful four-hour drive home. It was nice to be
home, but our Goslar visit had been what we had looked for: some
history and an exposure to a different part of Germany. But, no more
travel for a couple weeks at least. Until Hamburg, but that's another story.
John and Marianne