“Every educated person in the land knew of the Eder and the Möhne dams …”

I have been reading James Holland’s book about the Dam Busters, which contains some illuminating pages concerning the history of the dams that got busted. These pages (pp. 242-247 of my paperback edition) are interesting in their own right, and they also explain why busting the dams was more than just a materially very damaging blow to the German war effort; it was also deeply demoralising for the German people:

There was another very good reason why the dams were a good target, however, one that was touched upon by Barnes Wallis during his second meeting with Gibson on 29 March. ‘The Germans,’ he said of the Möhne, ‘are very proud of this dam.’ In fact, they were proud of all their dams, although of the Möhne and Eder in particular; they were among the best-known structures in the Reich. Dams, of course, were as old as the hills. It was a German, Georg Steinfurth, who discovered the world’s oldest in 1885 – the Kafara Dam south of Cairo. In Spain, the Roman dam at Cornalvo had been standing for the best part of two millennia. However, although these were ancient structures, they had not been built on the kind of scale that the Germans began building them in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Although Germany was a new nation, just seventy years old, there was nonetheless a tradition among the German people over the previous 200 years of transforming their landscape, or conquering nature. Germany by the beginning of the war was a quite different place from how it had been just a couple of hundred years earlier, especially its lowlands. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, it was a wild place, full of low-lying marsh and fenland. Travellers likened it to Amazonia and the New World. Wild animals like boar and wolves roamed, while the Rhine, Germany’s greatest river, snaked its way north through hundreds of separate channels, which were divided by endless little islands, sandbars and gravel banks. Along long stretches of its banks were damp forests, not lush farmland and industry. And because this river was so wild, because its flow of water so unpredictable and its depth so varied, it was for large parts completely impassable.

Yet as Prussia’s strength grew, so did its prosperity, and with it the increased need for mobility. What a difference it would make if this wild part of north-west Germany could be tamed. One German engineer, Iohann Tulla, believed he could, and so began one of the most extraordinary engineering feats the world had ever known. Quite simply, Tulla straightened the Upper Rhine. Not only was it an extraordinary achievement, it was also one of the world’s biggest engineering feats. By carving out new channels and damming up the twists and turns, the flow of water improved. The Rhine took on a completely different appearance, and was now shorter by some fifty miles. Moreover, the water now flowed deep enough and fast enough to allow large-scale navigation. The Rhine, by the early part of the nineteenth century, had become one of Germany’s most important arteries.

Now that the Rhine was properly navigable, the population along it rose rapidly. Further to the east, in the Ruhr area, coal seams were developed and through the nineteenth century the area grew with industrial plants springing up all around it. More and more water was needed: for the rising population to drink, and for the rapidly increasing industrial processes. Canals were built, and so too were railways, providing a network that enabled all this industry to be spread around the country.

Suddenly, there was no longer enough water consistently feeding into these rapidly growing areas. The natural cycle of water flow running into the Möhne, Wupper, Ruhr and Eder followed an irregular pattern – heavier in winter, less so in summer, but one that had become more extreme through deforestation and cultivation in their upper reaches.

Dams were the solution, although, as the Germans were discovering, by upsetting one of nature’s rhythms, they were being forced to alter another. Constructing large dams had begun in Alsace as a means of building up a mass of water from the inconsistent flow of rivers running down from the Vosges Mountains. These dams, comparatively small, were so effective they paved the way for the golden decade of dam building in Germany. In the 1890s, dams were the solution to the booming industrial region of Rhineland- Westphalia.

The first large dam was the Eschbach, which provided drinking water for the growing population of Remsheid. This had been designed by the greatest of German dam builders, Otto Intze, and his stamp would be all over many of those that followed: by his death in 1904, he had built no fewer than twelve.

A regular flow of water may have been needed in the rapidly growing area of Rhineland-Westphalia, but it was even more essential a little further north in the Ruhr Valley. The annual flow of water into the Ruhr was heavy, but deforestation in the Sauerland, the mountainous region east of the Ruhr, had intensified the extremes of seasonal variation. These were also exacerbated enormously by the huge amounts of water being pumped from the lower reaches. Water was needed for drinking, not just by the populations of towns on the Ruhr, but by those on the now polluted Wupper, Emscher and Lipper. Water was also needed by the mining, metallurgical and chemical industries, for cooling, cleaning and processing. The Krupps Works in Essen, alone, were responsible for using vast amounts of water both for their manufacturing processes and for their hordes of thirsty workers.

By the turn of the century, the Ruhr Valley was in crisis. In high summer, water levels were so low, it was possible to walk across the river without getting barely wet at all. Dams were clearly the only solution. Intze built two across a couple of small tributaries, but it was not enough. After long arguments about whose responsibility it was to resolve the crisis – after all, building dams was not cheap – the Ruhr Valley Reservoirs Associaton, or Ruhrtalsperrenverein – was formed in 1899. This collection of interested parties collectively funded the programme of dam building that now hurriedly got under way. Seven were built by 1906 – all by Intze – but then came a move to build substantially larger dams. The first was the Lister, which, by 1912, when it opened, had a capacity of 22 million cubic metres.

Its supremacy lasted just a year, for in 1913 a new, even bigger dam, designed by Intze’s star pupil, Ernst Link, was opened. It held a staggering 130 million cubic metres of water – more than the combined capacity of all of the dams built previously in the Ruhr and Wupper region. This vast edifice was the Möhne Dam.

But the Möhne was also about to be eclipsed. Forty-five miles to the south-east, an even taller, though not wider, dam was being built across the River Eder, one that would have the capacity to hold a mind-boggling 200 million cubic metres of water, ten times the amount of the Lister, which when it had been inaugurated had been the largest of its kind. The Eder Dam, when it was completed in that fateful month of August 1914, was the largest dam in Europe. Its waters stretched for seventeen miles, covering a lush, fertile valley where villages and many farmsteads had once stood. Its construction was considered such a profoundly incredible achievement, the Kaiser and his wife had been due to attend its inauguration. That had been planned for 15 August 1914. War had scuppered that plan, but during its construction, the Kaiser had visited the rapidly growing dam wall, as had his daughter, Princess Victoria.

It was no wonder these structures attracted so much attention. They personified the German conquest of nature and were symbols of German identity. Every educated person in the land knew of the Eder and the Möhne dams, as familiar as the Empire State Building became to Americans. They symbolized the emergence of a great and unified power. The Book of Famous Engineers was a popular book aimed as much at a youth market of aspiring young Germans as anyone, and contained a whole chapter on dam builders. Men like Otto Intze were household names in Germany, held as champions of a bright new dawn and an age of technological wonder. On no fewer than three occasions he gave private lectures to the Kaiser, who was, like most of his subjects, fascinated by technological innovations and developments.

Another popular, post-First World War tome was In the Wonderland of Technology: Masterpieces and New Achievements That Our Youth Should Know. And most of them did: radios, Zeppelins, Mercedes-Benz motor cars and the Eder and Möhne dams were all written about, feats from Germany’s proud era of technology.

The large lakes behind the dams became huge tourist attractions. Tens of thousands of visitors travelled to the Möhne, Eder and other dams every year. Hikers walked around the shores, anglers fished, sailors sailed, or rowed on pleasure dinghies, or took steamer trips. Others just stood at the foot of the vast walls of granite and masonry and marvelled at the wonder of such enormous constructions – constructions that looked so solid, so thick. So impregnable.

It is possible that there may be objections to me reproducing such a long excerpt from this book. If there are any objections, either from the author or the publisher, this posting will immediately be removed.

Photo-uploading problems

For some mysterious reason, I am having problems uploading photos. Have I reached some sort of limit? One of the photos I tried to upload was a photo of a famous painting. Did WordPress recognise the famous painting, and get angry with me for some sort of copyright violation? Did I change a “setting” to something silly, that won’t work? I don’t know, but this posting is just me posting pure text, to see if that is misbehaving also.

Well that worked well enough when I pressed “Save Draft”. Let’s see if “Publish” now works. Yes it did, or it did from where I sit.

LATER: All is now well. A temporary back-up file was getting in the way and this has now been deleted, making way for such things as this:

This is what WordPress looks like, when it gets angry with you, which it enjoys doing. No. It’s “Cerberus”, by William Blake. I photoed this yesterday, at the Tate Britain William Blake Exhibition. You see a better version if you go to the Tate Britain website.

Strange Things on a tree

I recently attended a picnic in a London square, the sort with a small park in the middle, and photoed this strange tree with its extra bits. Left to right: lots of context, some context, and just the Things:

I image-googled the London square where I photoed these photos, mentioning the strange Things on the tree, and got nothing. I’m guessing the inhabitants of the square, who include my hosts, would probably like to keep it that way. So, no name of the square. Just the fun of seeing the Things, and a question: What are they? Any suggestions?

GD2 does a selfie session with a fan

Yesterday a big gang of friends and family, me among them, heard G(od)D(aughter)2 do her end-of-year recital, way up at the top of the Royal College of Music just near the Albert Hall. It was terrific. If they picked her up out of the rather small room she sang in and dumped her down in that same Albert Hall, and replaced the pianist and his piano with a huge symphony orchestra going full blast, GD2 would have sounded great and entirely at home and in command, and they’d have cheered like crazy. That’s how good she seemed to me.

Immediately afterwards I of course photoed photos of GD2, but these photos weren’t that good. Closer-up, she was still in performance mode, but looking tired, understandably. Worse, I wasn’t able to get a proper view of her, together with the lady who was also photoing her.

Later, when we all went to the nearby Italian restaurant, GD2 was able to relax and enjoy, and this time, my view of her was perfect. She did a selfie session with the same lady who had photoed her immediately after the recital, and whom I had sat next to for the performance. “What a voice!” said this lady, when GD2 had finished. In the restaurant, she and GD2 sat right across the table from me, and more photoing occurred. I photoed this photoing:

It’s not that I object to the face of the lady on the left, who turned out to be a friend of GD2’s mother from way back. It’s just that I don’t shove faces up here without prior approval. GD2 has already said she has no objection to her face appearing here. Lady on the left has not said this, so her face gets hidden, same as when I photo any other photoers, without their permission.

Lady on the left has, it turned out, a blog, which I have already looked through, partly to see if she has photos on it of herself, in which case I could presumably put a photo of her here without causing offence. No photos of her there, that I could see.

At her blog, she follows a completely opposite rule to the rule here. Here, I say something every day, whether I have anything sensible to say or not. She, on the other hand, seems to follow the strange rule of only saying something when she has something she considers worth saying. I know, very strange. If everyone followed that rule, hardly anything would get said at all.

But I digress. My main point here, today, is well worth saying, which is that GD2 is doing very well.

Note the electric plug sockets in all the above photos. These sockets were all over the place in the restaurant, 4×2 of them at our table alone. I assume that these sockets are for recharging mobile phones, like the one being deployed in the above photos.

More art beside the river

After I photoed those metal men beside the river; outside the old Woolwich Arsenal, I then walked up river towards the Dome, photoing photos like this:

However, just before photoing that photo; I photoed this next photo, of a painter, hard at work:

And here is the photo I photoed of how he was making this scene look:

The painting above had yet to say this, but that is the Tate & Lyle factory just south of London City Airport.

I asked this artist’s permission to photo his painting, which he graciously gave, but I did not ask him who he was. The polite way of asking that would have been to say: Do you have a website? But, alas, I forgot to ask this: So, no link to any website, Apologies to him if he does have a website, and apologies to you.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

More healthcare technology in action

Yesterday, as already noted, I was out and about in London. And another interesting thing I photoed was this, also healthcare-related:

I photoed this photo with his permission, by the way.

I guess that the purpose of this gizmo is to enable the knee-joint to keep moving, while remain in its correct state, without putting any (or at any rate undue) strain on it, the strain being taken by the gizmo and the bits of limb it is attached to rather than (only) by the joint.

But, truthfully, I don’t really know. What I do know, just from looking at this photo, is that there is a definite plan in action, and that it is helping a lot, far more than one of those big old rigid plaster caste monsters would have.

Here is a close-up of the name of this contraption …:

… which enabled me to find some produktinformation. What the gizmo does is Führung und Stabilisierung des Kniegelenks. Which is, I rather think (guess), pretty much what I just said.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Neo Bankside residents lose battle to stop Tate Modern visitors looking into their flats

Here. The verdict is: They knew what they were moving into. They should install blinds or net curtains.

Or, turn the viewable-from-the-Tate-Extension living rooms into art installations. The judge didn’t say that; I’m saying that now.

I’m rather surprised by this verdict, but also pleased. Because this is now one of my favourite London photo-spots, and there is lots to be seen looking south, besides into other people’s living rooms.

From this spot I have photoed many, many photos, of which these are just four, taken in July and August of 2016:

Those photos all illustrate the problem that the flat-owners now have.

But, this next little clutch of photos, taken at the same time, illustrate what could be another answer:

In these photos, what dominates is the way that light, rather than coming through the window from those living rooms, is instead coming from outdoors London and bouncing off the windows. At the time I took these photos, I was thinking about that (to me) rather appealing crinkly brick surface that this Tate Modern Extension is covered in.

But now, it seems to me that I was photoing another sort of answer to the problem that these flat-dwellers now have. Could the glass windows be replaced by glass that is more reflective of light, while still letting the outside view in? Or, could the existing windows have some sort of plastic film or sheet stuck on them, preferably on the inside but maybe on the outside, that would contrive the same effect?

A problem stated is often well on the way to being a problem solved. The judge said: It’s up to you to stop the light bouncing off the interior of your home from zooming up to the onlookers at the top of the Tate. You knew this was going to happen. Sort the problem yourselves.

It will be interesting to see how things change with these windows, and inside these living rooms, in the months and years to come.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

BMdotcom financial quote of the day

In this:

Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Facebook have a combined market capitalization of $3.7 trillion, equal to Germany’s gross domestic product last year.

Quoted at Instpundit by Stephen Green, who says that this is an “incredible figure”. It certainly is very big, if that’s what “incredible” means, when you are describing a very big number.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Rob Fisher on the meaning of Facebook

Here are what I suspect to be some wise words, from Rob Fisher, in a comment on this Samizdata posting I recently did about Facebook’s political bias:

Facebook is for cat pictures, baby photos and holiday photos. I recently posted some photos of some old model trains I have and another friend offered to give me some old toy trains they don’t want any more. That’s what it’s for.

People trying to do politics on Facebook serves only to demonstrate how unsuited it is for that purpose.

That’s comment number 42, and very possibly the last word on the matter.

Like I say, this sounds wise, in the sense that it seems to contain an important truth, even if it doesn’t really sound like the whole truth. After all, I just did another posting here about something political which I first heard about on Facebook.

Here is a photo of Rob’s toy trains that he recently posted on Facebook:

Am I betraying a confidence, meant only for Rob’s Facebook friends? Hardly, since Rob has already mentioned his trains on the Mainstream Media, in a comment at Samizdata.

It occurs to me that I have some toy trains that Rob might like. Like because I think they are N gauge, but perhaps something even smaller. Rob, if you read this, take a look at them next time you visit me.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Battersea rollerblader

If someone is doing this …:

… is it okay to photo them and stick the photo up on the internet, somewhere like here? I feel that it is okay, because, albeit in a very good way, the guy is making something of a spectacle of himself. He is doing something very individual, in public, in a way that people are bound to notice. Therefore, he doesn’t mind them noticing, or he wouldn’t do it. Therefore, he won’t mind me noticing it.

Behind our self-transporter, we can just about make out the towers of Battersea Power Station. Well, I can, because I know that’s what it is, because that’s where I took the above photo, this afternoon. At the time, I was busy photoing the road, because in my opinion it is a very interesting road. For reasons which I may, or may not, explain, here, some other time.

Meanwhile, I miss Transport Blog.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog