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Category Archives: Germany

So, this page has scans of old diagrams featuring the different rifles used.

This is a history of the machine gun in 1914.


During World War 1, the German Army had two different uniforms.  Towards the beginning, they where ornate, with a spike on the helment.  Towards the end, they were a lot less flashy.  This website has plenty of good pictures, for reference purposes.

This website is an absolute goldmine. Kudos to the people who put it up. Basically, it’s an archive of the First World War media, so it contains scans of newspapers and magazine covers. Here’s an example (and in the website’s fine print, it says it’s okay to use the scans for “non-comercial” websites. So, here goes. It’s after the cut.

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Rather than link to Wikipedia, there’s always this PDF journal article regarding the alchemist Johann Conrad Dippel

Part of having lived in Europe is the eventual regret of having missed something.   Castle Frankenstein would be one of those places.  Care of, there’s this Skeptical Inquirer article about the place and it’s relation to Mary Wollenstonecraft Shelley and her husband:

It is even possible they visited the castle itself or, in any event, learned from their German traveling companions its legends. These include the tale of Knight Georg von Frankenstein and a dragon-like monster that had terrorized the vicinity. Sir Georg was a real person whose tomb in the nearby village of Nieder-Beerbach bears the date of his death in 1531. Although he slew the creature–probably only a snake (the exaggeration being attributable to his popular identification with St. George the dragon slayer)–it succeeded in piercing his armor below the knee and so poisoning him (Florescu 1975, 53-69).

Other legends relating to Burg Frankenstein concern an alchemist, Johann Konrad Dippel (1673-1734). Although not a descendant of the Frankensteins, Dippel had been born in the castle and at university registered as a resident of “Franckensteina.” However, after two years marked by “scandalous behavior,” he was forced to flee at night due to a “serious incident,” rumored to have involved bodysnatching from a local cemetery. Subsequently, Dippel turned to alchemy and claimed to have discovered a secret formula by which he transmuted silver and mercury into pure gold. He also sought to produce an elixir of life, and to that end conducted experiments in distilling blood and the boiled residue of bones.

In his eventual medical thesis at the University of Leiden (1711) Dippel focused on his previous chemical experiments and animal studies. He practiced vivisection on animals and came to believe that the body was an inert mass animated by a spirit that could be transformed into another corpse to reanimate it (Florescu 1975, 63-86).


War is often filled with atrocities on both sides, and quite often, the sins of the victorious are forgotten.   That’s pretty much what was on my mind when I visited Dresden in the early 1990’s, in the recently freed East Germany.   The Allies, most notably, American air planes, fire bombed the city.  Kurt Vonnegut was there, and he wrote about it his Slaughterhouse 5.  The cathedral was especially hit hard, and  around 35,000 people died in the raid.  The East Germans decided to leave the cathedral in ruins, as a reminder of the terrible cost of war.  Dresden, however, is not the only WW2 scar left in Europe.  If one looks closely, from the Czech Republic to the Benelux, there are plenty of reminders, both big and subtle.

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On a different note, notice the cars in front of the ruin.  Eastern European cars, the joke went, were hybrids:  that of an automobile and riding lawn mower.

When growing up in Europe, one discovers that Jolly Old Saint Nick, aka Santa Claus, has a variety of different variant identities. In the UK, he’s Father Christmas, and on the continent, he’s Sinterklaas and a bunch of other people. The story always changes, slightly. In Europe, Santa Claus doesn’t come from the North Pole, and his elves are much more than that. One captivating variation comes from The Netherlands, where Santa had an assistant named Zwarte Piet (Black Peter):

Here’s the thing: his face and hands are painted black. Some will point out that he is the one climbing up and down the chimneys delivering the presents, or that he is one of the three wise men. A more realistic tale is that of a 4th century Turkish orphan who received help from the historical Nicholas and out of gratitude helps out his benefactor in turn. To the Dutch people his darker complexion seemed black.

More disturbing is the 19th century recreation of Black Peter as a Moor whom the good Christian Saint met in Spain and took as helper, servant, or slave. The costume Black Peter wears today suggests the colonial image of a black slave, and he is sometimes unashamedly depicted as a golliwog figure. There is no racial bias or intent in the merrymaking of Belgian and Dutch kids today. Still, as long as Black Peter accompanies his white master he will generate discussions about racism and colonialism.

Further complicating the issue is Black Peter’s other dark side, for he is the one who executes any punishments Sinterklaas might judge in order. He shares this aspect with the company Saint Nicholas keeps in other countries. These associates range from mildly threatening to serial-child-killer kind of evil.

So there you go: behave, or Black Peter will get you. As a child, one of many rites of passage would the time that you figure out Santa is just a myth. Yet, imagine growing up in a bunch of places where Santa isn’t the same. As a kid, which one are you supposed to believe in? The jolly fat man your parents tell you about, or the different things you hear from other kids, which, eventually, lead to nightmares?

(and yes, that’s me in the above picture, bawling my eyes out.) 

And by that, I don’t mean Om-pah! music. Everybody builds their own personal associations in their mind, and for me, I will always associate Germany with Chuck Mangione and his french horn. Normally, those would go together for most people, but they do for me. Explaining that would actually be simple. For me, Germany remains my only fleeting memories of the 1970’s. I was born in ’74, so I don’t remember much. My parents had this song on vinyl and played it a lot, back then. The other thing that stands out, if I think of beyond my own childhood memories, is the Iranian Hostage crisis. When they were released, they flew to Germany first before heading on the US. My kindergarten class made crayon “Welcome Back” signs for the hostages, to be displayed nearly everywhere, the day their plane landed. But, that’s a post for another time. Here’s Mangione:

Times have changed since the Berlin Wall came down, as the scene pictured here is just a glimpse at history. Most of the buffer zone — the no man’s land between east and west — has been ripped up and developed.Only Scattered bits of the wall are left as memorials, but this is a picture of what it once was, at the apex of the Cold War.


To live in Europe prior to 1989 was to live in the constant threat of nuclear annihilation and/or World War 3. The Cold War was a definate and real phenomena that hung over people’s heads. Think of it this way, The Soviet Union not only had long range nuclear missles pointed at America, but they also had intermediate and short wave missles pointed at Western Europe. Also, there was no ocean separating East Germany from West Germany, just a heavily fortified border, and the wall that split Berlin. Plus, everywhere one turned, there were stark reminders of this, but even more so in Berlin.