Germany is celebrating three important events this year: The 100th anniversary of the Weimar Constitution, 70th anniversary of its Basic Law and 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. To commemorate these occasions, the Center for Constitutional Studies and Democratic Development (CCSDD) in Bologna and The SAIS Observer are partnering for a series […]

via The Past Shapes the Future: The German Constitution at 70 — The SAIS Observer


From the Attic: Berlin 1959

Brandenburg Gate- behind the gate stood the Berlin Wall until 9 November 1989

Berlin, 1959. Two years before the erection of the Wall and the closing of the border that would separate East and West Germany until 1989. The city was in the midst of a rebuild 14 years after the end of World War II . People were still able to pass despite the city being occupied in four areas by their respective allies who liberated them from the Nazis: The USA, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. Yet the passage is restricted. Inspite of the rebuilding efforts, there were some differences between what would become East and West Berlin. In this documentary produced by the BBC 60 years ago, the host of Panorama took a walk through Berlin and interviewed several Berliners, showing you the difference in terms of progression and regression. Enjoy the documentary! 🙂

Education Tip: 

Compare Berlin of 60 years ago with today. What has changed and what has remained the same? Do we still have a difference between the former East and West or has Berlin grown together?

You can choose another city in Germany if you wish- whether it is Munich, Hamburg, Erfurt, Dresden, Flensburg, Rostock- regardless of population and size. Do this comparison using this time with a time before 1989 or even before the Wall in 1961. Compare and present to your classmates. Many will be amazed at the difference and will provoke a conversation that will last an entire classroom session.

Useful for any language class, including English and Germany, as well as history, sociology, social studies and political science. For college level, that, plus architecture, engineering and planning. 🙂


The Many Forms of Why in German

Flensburg’s skyline at night- it is just as active as its looks. Photo taken in April, 2011

In English, we have several ways to ask questions, among them the Seven Golden Ws, consisting of Who, What, When, Where, Why, How (and its many forms) and Which. Each one has a different meaning in context.

In German, we have not only the Seven Golden Ws for asking questions: Wer, Was, Wann, Wo, Warum, Wie and Wessen, but each of the golden Ws is subdivided unto several types. For example, we have for Wer, which includes Wen and Wem. The division is based on the personal form- here with the nominative Wer, it’s accusative and dative, respectively.

For the Golden W Warum, there are many types one can use. This German linguist decided to use the comparison of Warum by using the Book of Genesis in a parodiable way.  Believe it or not, these variants are the same but have a slight difference. Can you find these differences? 🙂


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From the Attic: The Telephone

Source: Kornelia und Hartmut Häfele [CC BY-SA 3.0 (
This Film from the Attic ties in an oldie and Doris Day. It’s the use of the telephone. The mean of communication, especially if it’s long distance. It’s one we cannot live without unless you are a long-distance sprinter like Achilles. It’s one that has become so advanced in the 170 years of existence, that we’re having problems keeping up with the newest technologies. Yet some of our children and grandchildren are wondering: “How did telephones work during your childhood?”

Ask not further. 🙂

A couple days ago, I stumbled across this very ancient TV film on the introduction of the modern phone in the early 1950s. Produced by Bell Telephone in 1954, the homemaker in this film takes us through the days where the modern phone was supplanting phone service where operators were standing by to connect you to another person. Gone were those days, the modern phone took over where all you had to do is dial the number and it would take you to your destination. For those wondering how it works, play this film and you will see. 🙂

The first thought that came to mind was a household figure during the 1950s and 60s: Namely, Doris Day. Ms. Day’s career spanned over a half century as an actress and musician, plus an additional 40+ years as an environmental activist when she retired from the business. One of the best examples of how she articulated herself as an actress playing the housewife, always using the phone during her days, like in the excerpt Pillow Talk, produced in 1959 and co-starring Rock Hudson.

As Doris Day lived on and ripened with age and wisdom, the telephone advanced in ways where we sometimes wonder: “How could we train our older generation how to use today’s phones- namely the Handys (mobile phones (UK); cell phones (USA))?” Many of them have lost track or resorted to the classic phone. But it would be cool to train them to use it, just once, and imagining life with the phone and its many uses in comparison to Doris Day’s time, wouldn’t it? 😉 After all, communication has advanced so much and we should all profit from what we have to offer today.


The Creative Use of “UP”


I came across this rather funny story about the use of UP, a word that has six functions in English: noun, verb, preposition, adjective, adverb and a phrasal verb. Read this one and you will get a good laugh out of it. Source courtesy of Marílla Escramo.


This two-letter word in English has more meanings than any other two-letter word. That word is up. It is listed in the dictionary as an adverb, preposition, adjective, noun or verb. It’s easy to understand up, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when awaken in the morning, why do we wake up?

At a meeting, why does a topic come up? Why do we speak up and why are the officers up for election, if there is a tie, it is a toss-up, and why is it up to the secretary to write up a report?

We call up our friends, brighten up a room, polish up the silver, warm up the leftovers and clean up the kitchen. We lock up the house and fix up the old car.

At other times, this little word has a real special meaning. People stir up trouble, line up for tickets, work up an appetite, and think up excuses.

To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed up is special.

And this up can be confusing. A drain must be opened up because it is blocked up!!!

To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of up, look up the word up in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes up almost ¼ of the page and can add up to about thirty definitions!!!

If you are up to it, you might try building up a list of many ways up is used. It will take up a lot of your time, but if you don’t give up, you may wind up with up to a hundred or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it’s clouding up. When the sun comes out, we say it is clearing up. When it rains, it soaks up the earth. When it does not rain for awhile, things dry up.

So did this while thing crack you up?

Send this on to everyone you look up in your address book……. Or not…… it’s up to you.  🙂


And to end this up, here’s a quote that will up your knowledge: Whenever you are down, the only way to go up in the world is up.  Any questions? 😉 


Weimar – Where Bauhaus Began

Weimar – Where Bauhaus Began

The Urge To Wander

While I am familiar with most 19th and 20th century design movements, I have paid scant attention to the places that birthed them. Except perhaps for Barcelona, the home of Catalan Modernism, and Colombo, where Geoffrey Bawa created his signature style that is now termed ‘Tropical Modernism’. Our stay in his rather dilapidated country home in Bentota in January was almost a pilgrimage.

An invitation from the German National Tourist Office, India, to the Bauhaus themed Incoming Brand Summit in Weimar, last month, was an exciting opportunity to explore the origins of a modern architectural style that while very short-lived, left a lasting impact on every aspect of the post modern world.

A little idea that changed the world

Weimar wielded considerable influence in Europe during its ‘golden period’ (1758 – 1832) with a fair share of Renaissance buildings and landscaped parks that today constitute its ‘Classical’ UNESCO heritage…

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Mystery Place: A Bridge, A Castle and Tunnels in Hof


Co-written with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, whose article is known as Mystery Bridge Nr. 114 with the same title as here……

HOF (SAALE)- This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening of the borders connecting East and West Germany. On 9th November, 1989 the East German government, caving into the pressure by its own people as well as both the US and Soviet Union announced the opening of the Berlin Wall and with it, the borders that separated East and West, starting with the Dreiländereck near Prex (Bavaria) where Bavaria, Saxony and the Czech Republic meet and slicing through mountains, rivers and valleys until its terminus east of Lübeck in Schleswig-Holstein.

While many museums and historic sites have preserved some of the relicts from the time of the fall, many other places along the border have fallen into disarray and now, overgrowth has taken over, erasing the area that once was a scar in Germany’s history. Yet in the case of this mystery site, there are some questions that have to be answered, like the following as seen in the pics below:


1. Why are there windows built into the bridge’s wingwalls on the Bavarian side apart from the fact that they are resting areas for bats and birds?


2. Why are there entrances to tunnels that have long since been walled shut?


3. Why do we have ruins south of the bridge that represented places that used to be inhabited? – Among the places, there are a pair of chimneys sticking out, one of which was made of metal and is over 80 years old plus old machinery that is long since been abandoned.


4. Why are there kilometer markers on the Bavarian side using the English decimal system with periods?


To answer number 4 right away, we have to take a look at the Autobahn Viaduct located at the aforementioned site and its history in connection with the division between East and West Germany.  Construction of the bridge began in 1937 and was completed in 1940 with the plan to carry the motorway from Hof to Chemnitz. The bridge features three main arches with two thinner arches in between, making it one of the most unique structures among the viaducts along the Motorway A 72. At 268 meters long, the bridge is one of the shortest along the highway but at the same time, one of the tallest with a height of 39 meters above the River Saale. The bridge was built using many variants of granite that was quarried in regions near Hof as well as in the Lausitz region, using manual labor consisting of prisoners from the concentration camps at Flossenburg and Mauthausen. The bridge’s service was short-lived as the war progressed and work on another viaduct at Pirk (west of Plauen) was halted. After the war, the viaduct was reopened for a short time, but because of the reconstruction of another viaduct at the East-West border at Rudolphstein in 1966, approximately 10 kilometers away along the Berlin-Munich Motorway (A9), this crossing, together with the Motorway 72 was shut down between Plauen and Hof, never to reopen until 19 December, 1989.

Even though the River Saale formed a border between Bavaria and Saxony, the viaduct was located five kilometers west of the border where the Hochfranken Interchange with A 72 and A 93 meet. In fact, the border zig-zagged its way to the Saale at Hirschberg, where it continues westwards past the border crossing at Rudolphstein, towards Bad Lobenstein.   Even though the bridge and the motorway were rendered useless during the Cold War, it served as a key point for American troops which was to protect the area from a possible attacks from the east and in some cases, help those who crossed the border to the west. Yet with the Rudolphstein Viaduct reopened to international crossings, the bridge near Hof was nothing more than part of the area Americans were patroling before 1989. 

Looking at the first question involving the windows in the wingwalls, however, this one is a mystery. While some sources have claimed that the windows with gates are now used as habitats for rare forms of birds and bats, its straight-line arrangement in three floors makes it appear that there may be offices that were in there- either police or jails, or other administration that may have existed during the Third Reich. This makes the most sense given the second and third questions mentioned here. To the south of the bridge are several openings with tunnels that have long since been walled shut, plus ruins that indicated that the place was inhabited.

According to some sources, there used to be a castle named Burg Saalestein, which was first mentioned in 1524 and was established based on the discovery of minerals to be used for ceramics and the like, for they could be used. Stone walls and graves are all that remain, together with some houses that belong to a restaurant bearing the same name of Saalestein. The houses are fenced which allows for private ownership and a limited allowance of guests. Yet at the bridge, openings to tunnels and underground huts- characterized by 3/4 buried burrows with rusted chimneys sticking out.  Two of them were found in my discovery. Plus rusted machinery indicated that the area was occupied during modern times. As the Nazis during the 1930s and 40s constructed a network of underground tunnels in mountain areas throughout all of Germany, the former Saalestein site was used as some sort of fallout shelter, where residents could take cover during the bombings, which also affected Hof during the last year of World War II. The tunnel network was later walled shut but chances are, the Americans may have used it later.


To summarize: The bridge spanning the Saale needed three years to build but only five years of traffic before it was rendered useless. The question is what the bridge was used for between 1945 and 1990. The openings in the wingwalls on the western side was used as office space but how it is unknown. And lastly, what became of the castle of Saalestein after the 16th Century and what role did the Nazis and later American troops played in utilizing the ruins?

What do you know about the bridge and the area? Feel free to comment below or contact Jason Smith using the contact form enclosed here.  The area has a lot of history much of which has yet to be discovered, Can you help? 🙂


Photo gallery with the pics of the bridge and the ruins can be found here. 


fast fact logo

From 1945 until 1990, Germany was divided into two countries but four zones occupied by the allies of the US, France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union. The Soviets were responsible for the region which is today Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Mecklenburg- Pommerania, Brandenburg and East Berlin. The Americans were responsible for much of the southern part of Germany, including Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg, Hesse and parts of North Rhine-Westphalia, yet it consolidated its territories with Britain and France in 1949 prior to the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany.


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