Wuppertal had its reasons – as did the rest of Germany

A while back I showed an old black-and-white photo of the magnificently eccentric Wuppertahler Schwebeban, Germany’s famous urban aerial railway.

And I commented rather casually to the effect that “nobody copied it because they thought it was crazy”. But of course this was quite wrong. These are Germans we’re talking about. Wuppertal built its Schwebeban for impeccably logical reasons, and nobody else copied it, for equally logical reasons. Basically, Wuppertal was a unique transport problem, which demanded a unique solution. The Wuppertaler Schwebebahn is eccentric yes, but unreasonable, absolutely not.

The Tim Traveller explains, in a video lasting just over five minutes, which I recommend.

Patrick Crozier and I talk about French military disappointments (and so does Antoine Clarke)

These disappointments happened in 1870, 1914, 1917, 1940, 1944(?) and 1954. We don’t talk about them in chronological order, because we started with 1914, which was the failed French Ardennes offensive, right at the start of World War 1. But events in all of those years get a mention.

Listen to our conversation here, where there is also lots of further detail from Patrick. Under where it says “Notes” there are 20 items of relevant information, any one of which could have been expanded into a decent blog posting in its own right.

But hello, what’s this? It’s a conversation between Patrick and our mutual friend Antoine Clarke, whom Patrick and I mentioned in our conversation, several times. This was recorded nearly a decade ago. Not having heard it before, I listened to it last night, further delaying me in putting up this posting.

My main reaction to what Antoine said is that, clearly, what I said about how the French “self image” switched, in Parisian artistic circles, from warmonger to peacenik, took its time spreading to the rest of the country. Antoine talks vividly about his ancestors telling their children that the reason they were born was to get Alsace-Lorraine back from the Germans. Also, he said fascinating things about reparations. French had to pay reparations to get the Germans out of France after the 1870 disaster. And they paid the lot, and the Germans left, far quicker than had been expected. Everyone chipped in voluntarily. I knew none of this.

In general, I think that following our chat about Lockdown, Patrick and I showed a return to form, assuming I’m allowed to say that. Maybe you’ll think better of our Lockdown chat than I do, but for me the trouble with that was that all I recall us doing was expressing our own opinions, much as anyone listening could have done for himself. But people listening need to be told at least some things they didn’t already know, just like Antoine does in his talk with Patrick, for instance with all that stuff about reparations that I knew nothing about. At least, when we talked about France, Patrick and I had read interesting books which people listening might not have read. Patrick had been reading this book, and I’d been reading this book. (I copied both those links from Patrick’s Notes.) That may not be anything like an eyewitness account following one of us having been present as a small child at Dien Bien Phu, or a great uncle reminiscing about bombing French civilians following the D-Day landings. But it is something.

Der Bomber

The things you find in your photo-archives, if you are someone like me and you forget two thirds of what you’ve photoed as soon as you’ve photoed it.

This bloke, for instance, whom I photoed somewhere or other in London, I think somewhere near Embankment tube station, way back in 2006:

You see lots of shirts in London with stuff like this on the back, and without reading the small print, I assumed, as I surely assumed at the time I took the photo, that this was a reference to some sort of rock and roll combo, travelling and doing gigs in various places. In this case, it was probably techno-pop, because that’s the sort of music something called “Der Bomber” would do. Bit of a tactless name, though, if they’re trying to make friends while performing in foreign parts.

It was only when I googled “der bomber” that I discovered that this shirt was celebrating the German footballer Gerd Müller. And he wasn’t trying to make friends with foreigners. Her was trying to beat them at football, and more often than not succeeding. And nor was he really having a “Welt Tour”. He was playing in the World Cup, in 1970 in Mexico, and then in 1974 in … Germany.

Photo and learn. Blog and learn.

The passions that used to attach themselves to bombing now have to find another outlet, and that outlet is now, mostly, sport. I believe that in recent months we have experienced what a gap is left in our world when sport is lacking. The sooner our politicians feel able to allow people back into sports stadiums, there to cheer on their preferred “bombers”, the better.

Robot dog progress

Researchers publish open-source, lower cost design for 3D printed robot dog.

What are the future applications of of such a “dog”? Some rather unconvincing tasks are mentioned in the above report, like hanging about in a forest “monitoring” animals. But that sounds like green-friendly make-work to me.

Warfare in complicated terrain does seem like an obvious application. Exploring Mars, in other words, and then fighting other robots for the control of Mars. And meanwhile filming it all, for entertainment purposes?

Airplanes flew for quite a long time before they found a major use for them, which was to spy on opposing armies and to make big guns cleverer, and then to fight and kill other airplanes. Then came high tech sport, in the form of air races, which was really just research and development for better and faster war planes.

Around then, also, very tentatively, airplanes began to deliver letters. And then, airplanes began to deliver people, which was to say very rich people. Eventually, half a century after they first flew, airplanes became part of the good life for regular humans.

Robot dogs look like they might follow a similar path. As of now, robot dogs are the robot equivalent of the useless and clumsy contraptions that airplanes were in the nineteen-noughts, good only for lunatics in goggles to play with.

Comments of how these weird creatures might actually make themselves useful, more quickly and less destructively than my grumpy pessimism just said, would be most welcome.

For starters, if these things are ever going to be liked by humans, they’re going to need heads, heads that are more than merely decorative which gather and transmit information. Then, maybe (and I seem to recall speculating along these lines at my long-lost Education Blog): child minding? A combination of such robot-human interaction and transport? Like a sort of super-intelligent horse?

Some well written advice about how to write well

At 6k:

I sort of knew this. I now know it better. I might buy this book. I now need a longer sentence, one that drives the point home a bit, but not too much, because after all I didn’t think of this, I just nicked it.

LATER (also from 6k): Plummenausfahrtwunderschein. In Germany, if you want to drive your point home really hard, you don’t construct a long sentence. You construct a long word.