Category Archives: Photography

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 …

Cuckoo Bees

Last week I was in the living room when a loud, buzzing insect flew past me. I’d left a door open so I wasn’t too surprised. From the flash of blue I thought it might be a big blow-fly. I followed it into the kitchen and was able to get a close view as it buzzed against the window. It was clearly no fly but looked more like a big, dark native bee and had distinctive blue spots on its abdomen. I took a few photos, to help with identification, and then opened the kitchen window to let him go on his way.

The photos are not very good – he was keen to escape and not at all interested in posing nicely for me. But they are good enough for identification.

Domino Cuckoo BeeIt turns out he was a Cuckoo Bee.

 

 

 

 

 

Domino cuckoo Bee

 

 

 

Plane pictures

The first two weeks of July were school holidays. I also took off the first week but I had a head-cold so we decided to mostly hang around at home. The weather was clear but cool and very windy. We are fairly close to Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport, about 7kms as the crow flies, so we sometimes have planes taking off over us. They aren’t unpleasantly loud and the take-off paths are spread over all the compass directions so we don’t mind at all. But during that week at home I noticed that many planes were taking off directly above us. It seemed that the wind was blowing very strongly from the south west so most planes were taking off straight into it and over us. The rear of our house faces north east, directly towards the airport so I decided to spend time on our timber deck and photograph some planes.

A few years ago we bought a camera to take photos of the boys playing cricket, a Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3. It is not a great camera for all situations, in low light it is pretty poor, but it has a 12x optical zoom and in good light is a decent sport camera. I soon realised I could photograph the underside of each plane then google its registation number to find out all about it. The web is full of sites devoted to plane-spotting, plane photography, aeronautics, national airlines and so on.

I’ve selected some pics and put them in our album.