The Geography of our travels around Germany

In 2012 we went on a 10-week family holiday around Europe. We had been thinking about it for a few years and everything came together nicely in the summer of 2012. Barbara’s 30-year high-school reunion was taking place in her hometown in south-western Germany. This gave us some definite dates and places to plan around. We also wanted to see family in other parts of Germany, and friends in Austria and France. Over a few months we worked out a travel plan that used a combination of plane-flights and driving, to criss-cross Europe. At times it felt like we were working on a solution to the travelling salesman problem.

We were very aware that the boys would be missing a number of weeks of school. Understandably their teachers were not happy about this and we needed to make the case that the trip would be educational as well as valuable in the vague, personal sense. So we made a conscious effort to discuss with the boys the history and geography of the places we visited. We tend to discuss things with them anyway so really we were just trying to make the most of a wonderful trip.

A theme that soon became obvious was the river Danube.  Many of the places we were visiting were either on, or close to, the Danube. The Danube flows through many countries but for this trip we would only see it as far downstream as Vienna. In German it is ‘the Donau’, so I’ll use that name from now on. I’ll mention the places we visited, not in chronological order, but according to the river’s flow, starting with its source.

The course of the Danube

The course of the Danube

I suspect the source of any great river is a point of contention. The river-head might be made up of many tiny tributaries so it may not be easy to identify a single source. Hydrologists have rules for determining which tributary is the more major but this might change over time. And speaking of time, it may be that a particular location is regarded as the source for historical reasons. To point out that, say, the Romans regarded a place as the source does carry some historical authority. That is the case with the Donauquelle in the Black Forest town of Donaueschingen. You get an idea of the claim being made by the name of the town. The Donau has two main tributaries: the Brigach and the Breg, but the confluence was originally surrounded by swampy areas.

Donauquelle near Stadtkirche St. Johann Donaueschingen

Donauquelle near Stadtkirche St. Johann Donaueschingen

Information sign at Donauquelle near Stadtkirche St. Johann Donaueschingen.

Information sign at Donauquelle near Stadtkirche St. Johann Donaueschingen.

Here we are at the spring that is supposedly the source. The Roman Emperor Tiberius and various German Emperors came here for a look so maybe it’s true. The spring is now next to (and somewhat below) St John’s church. On the afternoon of our visit the parishioners had held a light lunch to raise funds for church repairs and we were happy to help them eat the left-overs.

Donaueschingen has an elevation of about 680m above sea level. The sign above points out that the mouth of the Donau, at the Black Sea, is some 2840km away. So water really doesn’t need much of a gradient to form a substantial river. (Note: the source of the two tributaries are somewhat higher at about 1000m). The Donau flows generally eastward across southern Germany, through northern Austria, along the border of Slovakia and Hungary, then south through Hungary and Serbia and finally turning east again forming the border between Bulgaria and Romania. It empties into the Black Sea via an extensive delta. The river is often divided into three sections: upper, middle and lower. The upper section ends when the river leaves Austria, so all the places we visited are part of this section.

Rohrach

The Rohrach at Geislingen flows into the Eyb which flows into the Fils which flows into the Neckar at Plochingen, which flows into the Rhine at Mannheim.

Donaueschingen is in the east of the Black Forest. Rain falling on the eastern side of the Black Forest tends to flow into the Donau while rain on the western side ends up in the Rhine (via the Neckar River). However, the hydrology is actually more complex than this suggests. Much of the state of Baden-Württemberg lies on a limestone plateau. The limestone has leached-away forming underground caverns and streams. These underground streams often flow towards the Rhine because it is lower than the Donau. The upshot is that although the Donau appears to have a substantial catchment in this area, in practice much of it does not contribute directly to the Donau. Instead a great deal of the flow is gained from substantial downstream tributaries.

In addition, the source of the Neckar is at Villingen-Schwenningen which is not that far from Donaueschingen! So when traveling around the Black Forest it is hard to know which rain-shower will end up in the Atlantic via the Rhine and which will find itself in the Black Sea via the Donau.

Barbara grew up in Geislingen an der Steige, which is east of the Black Forest. It is not far from Ulm, which in on the Donau. However, Geislingen is on the River Fils, which is a tributary of and flows westward to the Neckar, which, in-turn, flows through Stuttgart and then to the Rhine. Meanwhile at Ulm the Donau flowing northeast.

Geislinger Steige

Train climbing the Geislinger Steige

An explanation is that between Geislingen and Ulm the Swabian Jura rises some hundreds of metres. This low mountain range has provided a barrier to movement and trade between the Neckar and the Donau since before Roman times. The steep climb between Geislingen and Amstetten is called the Geislinger Steige. The B10 road climbs this hill as does a very steep section of the main Stuttgart to Munich railway line.

Whenever in Geislingen we visit the ruins of Burg Helfenstein which overlooks the whole area including the train-line climbing the steige. We have photos taken over decades similar to the one taken on the 2012 trip.

 

Der Grosser Blau, one of the small streams which flows through Ulm and into the Donau

Der Grosser Blau, one of the small streams which flows through Ulm and into the Donau

Surfing a tributary of the Isar in Munich

Surfing a tributary of the Isar in Munich

The Große Arbersee flows into the Großer Regen, which flows into the Schwarzer Regen, which flows into the Regen which flows into the Donau

The Große Arbersee flows into the Großer Regen, which flows into the Schwarzer Regen, which flows into the Regen which flows into the Donau

 

The Danube at Passau from the Schanzlbrücke

The Danube at Passau from the Schanzlbrücke

 

 

 

To be continued …

Dear Devout Christians – a reply

 Following is what came to mind when I read Bishop Forsyth’s statements on devout Christian’s fears if same sex marriages were to be made lawful. The article to which I am replying can be found here (http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/sydney-anglicans-fear-devout-christians-will-be-forced-to-celebrate-gay-marriage-20150929-gjwzby.html)

“Dear devout Christian bakers, florists and photographers,
According to one of your bishops you fear that if marriage legislation were to change you could be forced to  “… engage in effectively celebrating same-sex marriage against their conscience”. He also fears for your religious freedom, strange as this may seem, considering that same sex couples wish to marry according to the law, rather than live “in sin” so to speak, and surely their act of commitment is far from a threat to your freedom to follow your Christian beliefs. Citing a possible attack on freedom of religion will instantly gain sympathy for you and gives you the opportunity to claim the status of the victim in a victimless crime. In reality you and your preachers are only concerned about increasing the power of your institutions and enforcing your particular views.
However, should marriage equality ever become a reality, you might want to consider displaying your stance in advance.  The shopkeeper from Royston Vaysey, a true master in scaring off unwanted customers, comes to mind as a suitable example you could follow. You could amend his catchphrase ‘This is a shop for local people’ to “This is a shop for straight local people” and display your new slogan for all to see. If you wish to be more blunt “Same Sexers are not welcome here” could be an option to ensure that your premises would not become a den of complicity against your will.  In doing so, you would not only do yourselves a favour but also keep away those members of the public, who support same sex marriage or who are favourably disposed towards anyone you despise.
At the same time you would be doing the community a service by openly advertising your opposition to marriage equality as it would enable tolerant and accepting citizens to avoid you and the wedding-services you offer. The benefit for you would be no longer having to make decisions affecting your religious conscience, or to give it its real name, bigoted dogma. You would no longer have to interact with customers who do not share your belief system. They in turn would not be forced to  “… engage in condoning or supporting fanatical devoutness against their conscience” as they would no longer feel comfortable about receiving goods and services from you or your fellow self-proclaimed guardians of rather dubious ethics and morals.
You can then cry ‘persecution’ and ‘discrimination’ against you and your faith and will be able to blame the loss of income on those awful, godless non-believers out there and being even more convinced of the righteousness of  your prejudice and fanaticism. You will blame same sex marriage, secular law makers, the anti-Christ, Satan, liberal Christians, Muslims, political parties  and anyone else whom you consider and enemy of your faith, for your misfortune and liken yourself to a martyr bravely facing the lions in a Roman arena.
For decades you and your proselytising lot have imposed and spread irrational belief, rules and dogma, often resorting to vilification and destruction of those who object, dare to disagree or whom you deem evil, dangerous or inconvenient.  You judge others by their belief not their behaviour. Your institutions, as those of other religions, have no qualms establishing a rule of religious law based on nothing more than personal convictions sanctioned by a deity .
You considers it a right to interfere in political decisions, purely because you are convinced your rules are to be followed. You have no scruples accepting government money for your chaplains to get easy access to vulnerable young minds, giving no consideration or thought at all to the damage your subjective and prejudiced advice can cause. But then, your conscience has no room for those whom you consider evil or wrong because you are in no doubt at all that you are right.  You certainty and lack of self-doubt make you a ruthless in your divinely sanctioned mission to destroy whatever you think is a sin or  to demonize whomever you consider an unrepentant sinner.
Considering that you feel the need to voice your opposition to marriage equality as if it were to lead to the destruction of Australian society you ought to put your money were your mouth is. Put up shop signs, carry placards, do what you think you have to. Why would you fear discrimination and persecution?  History shows that you love proclaiming martyrdom and persecution, as this seems to give you instant justification of lashing out or vilifying those who dare to question your beliefs.
Of course usually anyone vilifying and denigrating a person due to their religion, sex or ethnicity, ought to face the consequences, but it is clear that you do not agree with such repercussions as far as you being discriminating is concerned. You are very aware that new laws mean could mean new vilification regulations and as you are not prepared to live by those rules or amend your beliefs you will do everything in your power to give you the right to openly discriminate with impunity.
Hopefully decent, caring, moral and ethical people will recognise your supposed conflict of conscience for what is, namely an attempt to exercise power and control by spreading fear, exploiting prejudices and creating doubt.
Those of you who,  without a moment’s hesitation and with complete conviction, are prepared to use issues such as marriage equality in order to fabricate a campaign to convince people that their freedom of religion is at stake, are unlikely to ever consider themselves in the wrong or question their motives. You demand respect by all for your belief system, yet at the same time you only give respect to those of your choosing. The most disturbing and frightening aspect however is your utter lack of insight that that it is you who are discriminating against others, that it is your attitudes which are discriminatory. Anti-discrimination laws are in place for good reason and are intended to prevent the horrors of persecution. Your bishop says you fear being ‘caught out by these laws’, a statement which indicates that some churches consider themselves to be above the laws by which everyone else has to abide thereby absolving you of all responsibility.
Claiming that you could possibly be asked not to discriminate against a same sex couple does not constitute persecution of your beliefs it constitutes a dangerous and wilful misrepresentation of facts. Should marriage equality ever become a reality in this country, and I sincerely wish that this happens soon, I hope that Australia will be a better, more inclusive place where your disgraceful self-righteousness and your self-serving utterances will attract neither approval nor support but be dismissed with the disdain and disapproval they deserves.”

Australia’s fanatical Christians

Meet Nick and Sarah Jensen, Two More Christian Bigots Upset That Other People Are Happy.

I was going to go play video games this evening but the more I think about this story, the more I want to talk about it right now.

Meet Christian bigots and hypocrites Nick and Sarah Jensen from Australia. These Jesus-smile-wearing committed Christians have children together and have been married for ten years.

And they really, really, really hate gay people.

Marriage is serious business, and you can bet these two dolls take theirs more seriously than Christian bigots do. (Credit: Mike Mozart, CC license.)

They recently told their local news site that if equal marriage laws pass in their country, they’re prepared to get a divorce in protest. No, really. I guess it might be an elaborate troll attempt, but it seems to be on the level. You’ve seen children throwing tantrums in supermarkets who are less petulant and nasty-sounding than these two. Of course, they’ve stated that they don’t intend to actually live separately; they’ll still cohabit, probably have more kids, and continue to refer to themselves as spouses and consider themselves “married by the Church and before God,” which I seem to remember was exactly the excuse lobbed by at least one Christian hypocrite who wanted to commit adultery and get away with it in busybody-laden Christian communities: he was “spiritually married” to his mistress, so it was okay. What the Jensens would be giving up is only Australia’s benefits for married couples.

Hey, don’t ask them to actually sacrifice anything.

They’re so upset about other people having the same rights they do that if those people get those rights, they’ll take their ball and go home. If they’re not the most super-specialest kids on the playground, they don’t want to be there at all. If the club lets everybody in, they don’t want to be members anymore.

And I imagine it was a huge shock to them when nobody really gave two shits what they thought of other people’s rights or marriages and only mocked them for their childish demand.

After Australians stopped laughing long enough to draw a breath, headlines emerged like “Same-Sex Couple Threaten Not to Give a Shit if Other Couple Divorces,” pointing out that the Jensens sound like they have a pretty weak and flimsy marriage in the first place if they’re this ready to dissolve it:

It’s truly surprising that they expect other people to give the slightest shit about their relationship when clearly they don’t. If you’re willing to throw away your ten year marriage because a bit of legislation you don’t like passed maybe the thing you’re really unhappy about is your terrible marriage.

Reactions haven’t been much better outside their country. New Zealanders openly called them “pathetic, ignorant plonkers.” Even the Christian Gospel Herald has carefully avoided saying too much either way.

Other folks pointed out that under Australian law, the Jensens might not be able to qualify for a divorce anyway since part of Australia’s divorce laws include that the couple has to separate in every way, including cohabitation, for 12 months beforehand. The ROYGBIV link includes this absolutely classic assessment:

According to ABC Australia, the couple won’t be able to actually break their marriage for a dumb-ass reason such as “we don’t like other people doing stuff” because Australian law dictates that a divorced couple must have no plans to continue cohabitation and the Jensens have clearly stated that once they’re divorced they’ll still stay together, live together, and raise their kids together.

Of course, they could always lie to the courts about their intentions. They’re already getting divorced, which is a sin, and planning to cohabit, which is a sin, and showing hatred for their neighbors, which is a bigtime sin. What’s one more sin added to the heap they’re already committing? Lying would be the least of their problems. Luckily, their country takes marriage way more seriously than these two hypocrites do, and it seems like their citizens certainly know better than to deny people civil rights just because a pair of outraged bigots threaten to hold their breath till they turn blue.

I can’t speak definitively for Australia, but in America at least, churches don’t actually get any say in civil marriage law because churches don’t actually make a marriage legal or illegal. All they can do is have the pretty ceremony to Jesus-fy the union. Their ministers have to qualify to be legally able to join two people in marriage, but they are not automatically qualified. And the union is not official with the state unless a qualified officiant signs the license and files it with the appropriate agencies. In fact, churches don’t give out licenses, sign them on their own recognizance, or keep them on file. From my limited research, Australia works much the same way: secular laws and the government itself decides who can get married, licenses officiants, and keeps track of the licenses. So when these two nitwitted bigots chirp that they will be “married by the Church and before God,” it’s doubly hilarious because they don’t seem to realize that their church and god have nothing to do with their marriage’s legality and status. I had a Christian boyfriend try that same stunt in high school to get laid, and it didn’t work for him either. Churches have historically taken a very dim view of Christians cohabiting and sexing each other up without legal sanction to do so. Even churches don’t go in for that lunacy.

One does wonder if extremely bigoted churches prefer couples having non-marital sex over putting up with equal marriage, but ultimately, the Jensens have to commit to one or the other sin, don’t they? Either they have non-legally-sanctioned sexytimes and get a divorce, which are both totally sins, or they stay married but have to put up with people they don’t like getting the same rights they have, which would actually be exactly in keeping with their Bible’s direct and unequivocal commands straight from the mouth of Jesus himself (bonus “covenant” bullshit from a Christian site analyzing the one loophole Jesus offered: infidelity). But those commands are totally boring and hard to keep, so most Christians consider them optional in daily life, which is why they eat shellfish and wear mixed fibers but condemn gay people, and come up with mind-bending convolutions of illogic to explain why those difficult commands were optional but the ones bashing gay people are totes for forever and ever.

The commands about divorce have always been deeply problematic in our age of free-will marriages and divorces, and the Christians who are the most upset about equal marriage seem to be the ones who divorce at the drop of a hat for a variety of reasons. But woe betide a minister who preaches about the immorality of divorce! He wouldn’t have much of a congregation left if he pressed too hard on that topic. His flocks would rather hear about the motes in other people’s eyes than the beams in their own. The serious hypocrisy of Christians who are totally fine with divorce while condemning equal marriage has gotten infrequent attention from Christians themselves, but nothing serious enough to change anything in the culture.

In the end, the Jensens have ironically demonstrated just how little they take their marriage vows seriously when they’re willing to throw it away over a temper-tantrum over other people getting civil rights.

They love marriage so much they are willing to threaten to end their ten-year marriage over other people getting married.

They love Jesus so much they’re willing to ignore and flout several direct commands he gave his followers.

That’s a level of hypocrisy that even I have to admire for its sheer scope, completeness, and artless ignorance.

And it’s another demonstration of why Christianity is failing and deserves to do so.

On the plus side, though, this threat is likely just another game of “chicken” played by Christian zealots; they’ve never been that good about follow-through on their various scams and schemes. I’m betting if we check back in with the Jensens in a year, we’ll find they’re still married and still seething over not being the most-specialest kids on their little playground.

– See more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/2015/06/11/meet-nick-and-sarah-jensen-two-more-christian-bigots-upset-that-other-people-are-happy/#sthash.0qtTTwV6.dpuf

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/2015/06/11/meet-nick-and-sarah-jensen-two-more-christian-bigots-upset-that-other-people-are-happy/

Listen up, my bearded and veily friends! (by Marcus Brigstocke)

Listen up, my bearded and veily friends!

 

“I’d like to start this week with a request, and this one goes out to the followers of the three Abrahamic religions: the Muslims, Christians, and Jews. It’s just a little thing, really, but do you think that when you’ve finished smashing up the world and blowing each other to bits and demanding special privileges while you do it, do you think that maybe the rest of us could sort of have our planet back? I wouldn’t ask, but I’m starting to think that there must be something written in the special books that each of you so enjoy referring to that it’s ok to behave like special, petulant, pugnacious, pricks. Forgive the alliteration, but your persistent, power-mad punch-ups are pissing me off. It’s mainly the extremists obviously, but not exclusively. It’s a lot of ‘main-streamers’ as well. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.

Muslims: listen up my bearded and veily friends! Calm down, ok? Stop blowing stuff up. Not everything that said about you is an attack on the prophet Mohammed and Allah that needs to end in the infidel being destroyed. Have a cup of tea, put on a Cat Stevens record, sit down and chill out. I mean seriously, what’s wrong with a strongly-worded letter to The Times?

Christians: you and your churches don’t get to be millionaires while other people have nothing at all. They’re your bloody rules; either stick to them or abandon the faith. And stop persecuting and killing people you judge to be immoral. Oh, and stop pretending you’re celibate — it’s a cover-up for being a gay or a nonce. Right, that’s two ticked off.

Jews! I know you’re god’s ‘Chosen People’ and the rest of us are just whatever, but when Israel behaves like a violent, psychopathic bully and someone mentions it that doesn’t make them anitsemitic. And for the record, your troubled history is not a license to act with impunity now.

So, when the letters come (and I’m guessing they will), I can gaurantee that each one of those faiths will be convinced that I’ve singled them out for special criticism.

[In mock Arabic accent] Why did it have to be us? Islam is a peaceful faith!

[In upper class British accent] I don’t see what’s wrong with being Christian? We’re a peaceful, loving faith.

[In affronted, huffy voice] How dare you after all we’ve been through! We Jews know how terrible violence can be.

You see, all of them will be convinced that they’re the ones being picked on. The Abrahamic faiths are like scousers: they’re always convinced they [in scouser accent} have it harder than everyone else.

And why is it that all of these faiths claim to be peaceful, when even a most fleeting glance at a history of warfare will tell you otherwise? The relationship between religion and warfare is very similar to the relationship between Ant and Deck: you could have one without the other, but I’m not sure anyone would see the point. I wouldn’t actually like it, but it would be refreshing to hear one of them come out and say [in working class London accent] “Our faith’s violent as you like. We love a scrap, us lot, we do. Our special book says ‘fight fight smash maim murder kill fight fight.’ That’s why I signed up to be honest. I’m a bit naught, know what I mean?” But yet all of them claim to be peaceful religions. Yeah, peaceful right up to the point where someone takes something they think is theirs, or says the wrong thing or looks at them funny. Then it’s fighty smashy kicky punchy all the way. I know this’ll upset a lot of people and frankly I don’t care. I’m getting so sick of religious people screwing it up for the rest of us.

Please don’t kill us, seriously. As far as I’m concerned this is the only chance we get. When we die it’s all over — there’s no virgins and pearly gates waiting for us, no big, beardy man saying [in deep, echoing voice and upper class accent] “Right, so how do you think that went, then? Killed a lot of people in my name I see. Not really what I had in mind. Um, tell you what, have another go as a worm.”

While we’re at it, I’m sick of religious people forcing their children to define themselves by their parents’ faith. A four-year-old is no more a Christian than he is a member of the Postal Workers’ union. [in child’s voice] “We want a fair working wage, decent working conditions, and time allotted to see the new Transformers film.”

This week Lydia Playfoot, who took Millay School in Horsham to the high court so she could wear jewelry to prove she’s staying a virgin for Jesus, lost her case. Good. I’m glad. I don’t care how many times her parents claim it was her idea, rules is rules, and if you want to wear a ring that tells everyone you’re not having any sex you can get married like the rest of us. Now, the lawyer for the chaste Miss Playfoot said the question for the judge was ‘What are the religious rights of school children in the school context?’ Well, I’m no judge (not yet, anyway), but if you want my opinion, none. No rights. No religious rights whatsoever. Schools are for learning. If you want to have a little pray before maths so that Mr. Figures won’t set too hard a test, or prevent the P.E. teacher from being a colossal pervert, then go head, fill your boots. If you want to pop on a feathered headdress and chant and dance and mumble and sacrifice something you can do that on your own time. (Or take a drama course, pretend it’s art, and get a degree in it. That’s what I did.) The lawyer, Mr. Diamond, argued “secular authorities cannot rule on religious truth.” Hmm. Well, Mr. Diamond, I’m going to assume you’re not related to Neil Diamond, because he rocks. Yes, I like Neil Diamond. And Prince. And I’m married — go figure. But the point is “religious truth” is a foxy one, because religion, by it’s very nature, doesn’t tend to concern itself with truth. There simply isn’t time for truth. By the time all the singing and candle-lighting and toadying and condemning and hiding from science is done truth has given up and gone down to the pub for a pint. Here’s the truth: faith is about as interested in truth as I am in hanging out with Anthony Warrel Thompson, ie, not very.

Now, I know that most religious folk are moderate and reasonable and wear tidy jumpers and eat cheese, like real people. And on hearing this they’ll mainly feel pity for me, rather than issue a death sentence. But they have to accept that they are the power base for the nutters. Without their passive support the loonies in charge of these faiths would just be loonies, safely locked away and medicated — somewhere nice with a view of some trees where they can claim they have a direct channel to god between sessions making tapestry coasters, watching Teletubbies and talking about their days in the Hitler Youth. The ordinary faithful make these vicious, tyrannical thugs what they are. See, I get angry that show like Celebrity and Big Brother and insert-title-of-wretched-show-here still fill our lives with vapid, pointless emptiness, and I wish the producers’ development executives would crawl back under the rocks they emerged from, but the truth is they sell stuff that people consume. Without the audience to prop it up, Heat magazine and fundamental religious fanaticism goes away. Imagine what humanity might be capable of if we had that much spare time! We could explore space properly, have decent look in the sea, find a cure for James Blunt, anything!

Thank you very much. Letters to the usual address.”

Marcus Brigstocke – The Now Show, BBC4