The Year of the Beer Day 21: Wiküler Pilsner

wiküler

Day 21 of the beer tasting marathon looks at a family tradition responsible for creating a good example of a pilsner. The Wicküler family, which featured members who were either barley farmers, bakers or distillers of hard liquour, were well-known in the region between Cologne and Dortmund in the village of Münstereifel. Using their knowledge, the family established the family brewery in 1845, with Franz Ferdinand Josef Wicküler as the founder and director of the business. When founded, it was a combination brewery and restaurant but he relocated three times until settling down for good in 1853, two years after his son Franz Josef was born. His son’s  interest in the brewery came early as a child and followed his father’s footsteps until he took over the business in 1876, the same year he married Laura Küpper, the daughter of another brewer. Unfortunately the marriage ended early because of many religious and business differences and subsequentially, Franz concentrated solely on the brewing business, relocating to Dortmund to establish a new business at the expense of the restaurant. Eventually, the two breweries merged in 1887, the same year as the introduction of the pilsner, and it expanded to include subsidiaries in Saxony, Schlesia and Thuringia. However, despite its ambitions and successful business, the brewery sustained substantial losses as a result of World Wars I and II because of a lack of resources and manpower. Despite its expansion of production to Wuppertal and Cologne, Wicküler had to reduce its assets by selling and closing down many breweries that the Wiküler family and ther succesors bought  and relocate the entire company to Dortmund, where it is based today.

And this takes us to the pilsner that is still produced by Wicküler today, despite being part of the Radeberger consortium. Given its proximate location in North Rhine Westphalia, one of the first prejudices I had was if it is in the north, the water is hard, and the pilsner is bitter. And this is independent of its typical appearance: a brilliant clear gold color with a persistent head and full body.

However, the beer has a herbal hops flavor and grain malt that is locally grown but leaves a really impressive aroma and flavor, resulting in a warming, mouthcoating taste when drinking it. It has a real freshness to it while drinking it, leaving an impression that it is a really excellent pilsner, one that bucks the trend I’ve noticed so far since trying the Urquelle on Sunday. Therefore, the quality of the pilsner is not just dependent on the quality of the water, but also the quality of the hops and barley which the more organic and natural, the better the taste. I think you will agree, especially after the grade it received.

Grade: 1,3/A

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Germany at 25: The Berliner and the Carnevale: An Unlikely Combination

Photo taken in February 2013

Author’s Note: This is a Throwback Article dating back to February 2013, where the author wrote about another typical German food a person should try: The Pfannkuchen (a.k.a. The Berliner). This article is being reintroduced as part of the series on Germany at 25. If you haven’t tried a Berliner before, here are some reasons why you should…. 🙂

Carneval Monday (Rosenmontag) in a typical German town- in the midst of Carnevale, all is going on during the 5-6 day long celebration that starts on the weekend. People are dressed up in various costumes, dancing to traditional German music near the cathedral, and some parading down the streets of big cities. This is the time when we indulge in our sins containing fat, sugar and alcohol before we start the fasting period, on Ash Wednesday. One will find Carneval celebrations everywhere, whether it is in Halle (Saale) or Erfurt in the eastern half of Germany, or in the traditional cities, like Mainz, Duesseldorf or Cologne, where hundreds of thousands of people attend the more popular festivals in Germany, including one at the Cathedral in Cologne, the site of the very first Carvenale celebration in 1823.

Cologne Cathedral: site of the largest Carnevale celebration. Photo taken in February 2010

While there are many specialties that are common during the Carnevale season, there is one particular one that stands out and has indirectly become a symbol of the festival- the German Pfannkuchen. During the Carnevale celebrations bakeries load up shelves upon shelves of these pastries that are covered in sugar but have marmalade on the inside. There are many names to call this pastry- most common is the Berliner, many regions have considered the Pfannkuchen, Krappen, Krapfen, Schmalzknudel, Little Carneval Cakes (in North Rhein-Westphalia and Rheinland Palatinate), Fastnachtskiechel (in the Sauerland region), Bismarcks (in Canada and northern USA), Creme pies and jelly-filled donuts (in the USA). Ironically, despite John F. Kennedy’s declaration of him being a Berliner, many Berliners still associate him with the pastry to this day, but would refer the pastry as Pfannkuchen.  As a foreigner, one should be aware that Pfannkuchen can also refer to Eierkuchen, which means pancakes, another pastry that’s found its way into Germany’s kitchen as well. In either case, Pfannkuchen (as I will call them) is one of the first things people will see when visiting Germany and one that will always stick to the country’s stereotypes, together with Christmas Markets, Bratwursts, Beer, and the Volkswagen Beetle. One will find many with different fillings and coverings. Typical is the one covered in sugar and filled with strawberry marmalade, there are some with chocolate or vanilla coating with various forms of filling made of milk chocolate, apricot filling or even vanilla creme.

But why Pfannkuchen and its connection with the Carnevale? This is a question that will bother many people when staying in Germany, for although Pfannkuchen can be found year round, it is during the time between the Thursday before Lent and Ash Wednesday that they are exclusively popular, regardless of how they are decorated.  Legend has it that a very unhappy bakeress dropped a lump of pastry dough into oil, and after a certain time, it formed on its own, thus creating the pastry that is popular to this day. Yet history has it that the Pfannkuchen was popular in the Roman Empire, where pastries were deep fat fried and covered with honey. In the Medieval Period, other toppings were used, and with that there were many names for the pastry. But in modern times, the Pfannkuchen is treated like any pastry that is served at Christmas time. Tradition has it that the Thursday before Lent starts the Carneval period, commemorating various rebellions and events in the 1800s. At that time, most Pfannkuchen are baked and ready for eating on the Sunday before Lent and the days leading up to Ash Wednesday. It is possible that because they are still deep fat fried and covered in various toppings, like sugar, chocolate, and other creme toppings, that they are in connection with the “fat eating” indulgence one can see during the Carnevale period. However if legend did hold true, the Pfannkuchen is the sign of love and happiness with the unhappy bakeress (un)knowingly providing this with a small pastry that anyone can eat, even children.   Religion, happiness, indulgence, no matter how a person can turn the story and pick apart the legend, the Pfannkuchen has made it way to being a popular figure to be eaten during the Carnevale period.

But if the Pfannkuchen is the sign of indulgence and happiness, then one should finish reading this article and go out and  try one, especially at this particular period of celebrating before Lent. It is ok to imitate Garfield the orange cat, who loves jelly-filled donuts and will stop at nothing to eat the entire lot at a bakery. After all, the Carnevale period is the time of celebrating and sinning before the fasting period (and the regrets of sinning) arrive. However, even when the Carnevale period is over, one can still find the Pfannkuchen at the bakeries to try out, whether if it’s for the first time ever or if it’s for tea time (in German Kafeetrinken). In either case, the Pfannkuchen is one of the most popular pastries in Germany’s bakeries and one that makes a true friendship if shared with others. So without further ado, enjoy! Guten Appetit!

Photo taken in February 2013

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Germany at 25: The ICE-Train

ICE- Diesel stopping at Schleswig south of Flensburg. Photo taken in 2012
ICE- Diesel stopping at Schleswig south of Flensburg. Photo taken in 2012

“Ding-Dong!  Gleis eins, Einfahrt ICE 737 nach Hamburg Hauptbahnhof über Neumünster. Abfahrt 13:25. Vorsicht bei der Einfahrt!”  Seconds later, a white worm with black and white stripes approaches the platform of Schleswig, south of Flensburg, where a half dozen passengers board the train heading to Hamburg and all places to the south of there. As the train departs the platform, it takes off at high speed, as it heads to its next station.

Speeds of up to 350 km/ph (218 mph), with comfort seats, a children’s compartment, a rather formal Bord Restaurant and lastly, enjoying the company of other passengers while checking the train schedule via broschure or even computer. At the same time, one can see the landscape fly by with a wink of an eye. These are the characteristics of the Inter City Express trains (short: ICE-trains), the flagship of the German Railways (The Bahn). Since the introduction of the Experimental in 1985 and the ICE-1 in 1991, the ICE-trains have become the most beloved for its service and quickness yet the most scrutinized by others for their delays and air conditioning units going awry (as you probably heard through the song by Wiseguys in the last entry).  But little do the readers realize is that the making of the fast train goes back many years, and it took efforts by many people and organizations to make it happen. In this 25th Anniversary of Germany special, we will look at why the ICE-Train has become an integral part of German culture since 1990 and why other countries are looking up to the Bahn and its trains for guidance in constructing their train lines and locs. Furthermore, we will look at the future of the ICE-Trains as the Bahn is entering its next chapter in its storied history.

The Experimental as it travelled towards Munich in 1986. Source:
The Experimental as it travelled towards Munich in 1986. Source: Marco Voss; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A410001MKF_Zug_1152.jpg

The First Train: The ICE Experimental

There is an analogy that best describes the development of the ICE-Train, comparing that with the one from the film “Chicken Run”: You cannot have the egg without the chicken- or was it the other way around? Click here to learn more. The same can be applied with the development of the first ICE Train: do you start with the train first or the rail line? The idea of the InterCity trains, which go as fast as 200 km/ph (124 mph) had been realized and put into service since the 1960s, providing services to cities with at least 25,000 inhabitants, yet the Bahn (which was known as the Reichsbahn at that time) was thinking bigger, bolder, and faster. And for a good reason: much of Germany has rugged hills and winding rivers, which made it difficult for trains to achieve speeds higher than 140 km/ph (87 mph). If one combines the amount of regional trains clogging up the rail lines, then it is a foregone conclusion that trains arrived at their destination- eventually!

Henceforth in the 1970s, the German Ministry of Transportation (which was based in Bonn at that time) started an initiative to construct the main artery lines, which would serve fast train services in the future. This included the lines from Mannheim to Hanover via Frankfurt and Fulda, Würzburg to Frankfurt, Hanover to Berlin, Mannheim to Stuttgart, Ingolstadt to Nuremberg and Frankfurt to Cologne. Authorities had envisioned trains travelling along these lines at 300+ km/ph (186 mph) with little or no delays. At the same time, the government (which still owns the Bahn today) contracted to companies like Siemens, to construct the first fast train that was supposed to travel these lines. The end result, after many attempts, was the introduction of the ICE Experimental in 1985. It featured two locomotive heads on each end plus 2-3 coaches. The purpose of the Experimental was to test the maximum speed of the train in hopes to further develop the train for passenger use. The Experimental broke several records, including one on 1 May 1988 at a speed of 406.9 km/ph and topping the French Rail Service’s TGV’s record twice in May 1990: 510.6 km/ph (317.2 mph) on the 9th and 515.3 km/ph (320 mph) on the 18th. All of this was along the completed stretch of the line between Mannheim and Hanover, Würzburg and Frankfurt and Mannheim to Stuttgart.  Although passenger use was restricted, the Experimental took the then Soviet President Michail Gorbachev to Dortmund in June 1989 to meet with Chancellor Helmut Kohl, introducing him to the advancement in train technology.  Although the Reichsbahn set a speed limit of up to 300 km/ph for fast train services for safety reasons, developments involving the ICE continued, culminating in the introduction of the first of seven types that are still in use today.

ICE-1 Train. Source:
ICE-1 Train. Source: S. Terfloth; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AICE1_Schellenberg.jpg

ICE-1: 

After several successful test runs, contracts were let out between the Bahn and German companies, like AEG, Siemens, Thyssen-Henschel, Krupp, etc.) to design the first of seven ICE class trains that are still in use. This class is not only the oldest in service today, but also the longest, as it features (minus the two loc heads) at least 15 coaches- one of which is a Bord Restaurant that resembles a double-decker but in reality, it provides a skylight view while dining.  2-3 coaches are reserved for first class. A computer information system was also included in the trains to provide travellers with information on the train connections- this was later included in future ICE trains. Unlike the InterCity trains, where passengers had to use steps to get on board, the ICE-1 became the first class to make boarding much easier, especially for those who need special assistance. And lastly, the train was climate-controlled, which made travelling a convenience year round.

The ICE-1s made their debuts along the main artery route connecting Basel and Hamburg in 1991 with the first 41 trains being put into service. However, as the lines were expanded to include the Berlin-Hanover, Berlin-Leipzig-Nuremberg-Munich, Munich-Würzburg-Mannheim-Frankfurt, Frankfurt-Erfurt-Leipzig-Dresden, and the Frankfurt-Cologne-Rhein Region lines, plus the extensions to Brussels, Amsterdam, Zurich and Berne, more ICE-1 trains were manufactured and put into use.

Ironically, the ICE-1 trains were introduced in the USA in 1993 to serve the coastal route- specifically, between Boston and Washington via New York City as well as as a demo route between Boston and Portland . Neither bore fruit because of the lack of interest in train travel and were later taken out of service. Yet despite the mentality that train service is for hauling freight, the thought of having high-speed train service has not escaped the minds of many Americans, especially because of environmental reasons, and many cities have been trying to copy the successes of Germany, albeit in snail’s pace.

Despite the successful debut of the ICE-1, the only caveat is because of its length, the maximum speed of this train was 280 km/ph (174 mph). On some of the stretches, the train’s pace around the curves were on par with that of the InterCity trains, which raised questions about the effectiveness of the trains and the need to shorten the trains when designing the next class of trains. This includes the introduction of the ICE-2 Train which made its debut shortly after the ICE-1’s introduction.

ICE-2 Train between Ingolstadt and Nuremberg Photo courtesy of Sebastian Terfloth via source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AICE2_Hilpodrom.jpg

ICE-2: 

Introduced in 1996, the ICE-2 featured a similar design to its forefather the ICE-1, but it had two most noteworthy exceptions. The first is that the trains were shorter in length- eight coaches and two loc-heads, which includes the Bord Restaurant and 1-2 first class coaches. The second is that the train was the first to feature a coupling which can attach to another ICE-2 train, thus making it longer. A demonstration on how this concept works can be found below:

The danger of this mechanism is the potential of the train to derail due to crosswind during storms and headwind from oncoming trains. The end result: a speed limit of 200 km/ph (124 mph) and its use on lesser-used lines that use ICE-1 trains seldomly. Therefore, one can find ICE-2 trains on lines connecting Berlin, Hanover and the Rhein-Ruhr region, as well as between Hamburg and Cologne (later extending to Kiel), Bremen and Hamburg (extending to Berlin), as well as between Frankfurt and Cologne via Coblence. They are also used as a substitute for the next class of trains to be discussed, the ICE-T, should it be deemed necessary. Despite the train’s shortcomings, they have gained popularity in other European countries as they were implemented and/or mimicked in Belgium, Spain, Italy and France, just to name a few.

ICE-T Train crossing a bridge at Grossheringen in Thuringia along the Berlin-Leipzig-Nuremberg-Munich Line. Photo taken in 2011

ICE-T: 

The next class of ICE-Trains to make its debut was the ICE-T. Not to be mistaken with the American rapper turned actor ICE-T, this train has one unique feature that makes it one of the most versatile of the ICE-trains: its tilting technology. A demonstration on how it works is below:

That, plus its ability to reach speeds of up to 250 km/ph and its coupling technology made it useful on rail-lines that normally use InterCity lines. Therefore when it was introduced in 1999, it was put into service along the line connecting Berlin and Munich via Leipzig, Jena, Bamberg and Nuremberg as well as the line between Frankfurt and Dresden via Fulda, Erfurt, Weimar and Leipzig. They were later used on lines connecting Switzerland with Stuttgart and Munich, respectively, Frankfurt and Vienna, as well as between Berlin and Rostock and Hamburg, respectively (even though its terminus had been in Kiel at one time).  The trains have two different types: one featuring 10 coaches and one with 7 coaches. This include the end coaches as the motors of the trains are found in the bottom part of the train.  It was also the first to introduce the Bord Bistro, a sandwich/snackbar which normally would be found on InterCity trains, as well as a play area, which has been a focus of several critiques from parents, one of which was written by the Files in 2011.

The ICE-T became a forefront of another class of ICE-Train which became one’s loss and one’s gain, the ICE-TD.

ICE-TD:

As seen in the picture above, the train stopping at Schleswig is an example of a train class that is still being used despite its shortcomings, the diesel-version of the ICE-T. Introduced in 2001, the ICE-TD was similar to its sister but ran on diesel. It operated along the Vogtland route between Dresden and Nuremberg (extending to Munich) via Hof and Bayreuth as well as between Munich and Zurich. These lines were not electrified but the high number of passengers boarding along these routes justified the use of these trains. Yet technical problems combined with an increase in diesel taxes to be paid by the Bahn made its service shortlived. While the trains were decommissioned in 2004, they were recommissioned two years later to provide extra service for those going to the World Cup Soccer tournaments taking place in Germany. Subsequentially, all 20 train units were bought by the Danish Rail Services (DSB) a year later and have since been serving the northern half of Germany: one line between Berlin and Aarhus via Hamburg, Flensburg and Kolding and one between Berlin and Copenhagen via Hamburg, Lübeck, Fehmarn and Ringsted. A happy ending for a class of trains that was one the black sheep of the Bahn but has become the darlings for the Danes.

ICE 3 near Ingolstadt. Photo by Sebastian Terfloth Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AICE_3_Fahlenbach.jpg

ICE-3:

At the same time as the ICE-T, the ICE-3 made its debut for the Bahn. Featuring eight coaches including the end coaches, the trains up until most recently had been the fastest of the ICE-Trains in service, reaching maximum speeds of up to 330 km/ph (205 mph), making them suitable for the main artery tracks that do not require the twists and turns of the ICE-2 and ICE-T trains. Introduced for the World Expo in Hanover in 2000, the trains have since served the lines connecting Frankfurt-Basel, Frankfurt-Amsterdam via Cologne, Frankfurt-Brussels via Cologne and Frankfurt-Paris via Strassburg.

ICE 3V- the newest version of the ICE 3. Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/Innotrans_407.jpg

ICE-3V: 

The Velaro version of the ICE-3 train is the newest version of the ICE train, and perhaps one that will dominate the European continent if the Bahn has it their way. The concept was first conceived in 2009 and since 2014, the first trains have taken over some of the important lines, namely between Cologne, Frankfurt and Munich. This may change in the next year as more of these trains, looking sleeker than the original ICE-3 but going just as fast as its predecessor, are set to take over some of the main artery lines, including the new line between Berlin and Nuremberg via Erfurt. In addition, with its successful test run through the Euro-Tunnel, the Bahn is looking at commissioning these trains to serve the line to London via Paris and/or Brussels. As the time to travel to Frankfurt from London takes six hours instead of 18-20 with normal trains, the use of these trains for this purpose, if successful, could take the Bahn to newer levels, causing other countries to look at Germany as an example of how passenger rail service can be developed. Sadly though, the introduction of the ICE-3V will come at the cost of two train classes: The ICE-1 and ICE-2, despite their recent renovations, will be decomissioned, bit by bit, beginning in 2020 and 2025, respectively. While the newer versions will change the image of the Bahn, many people will miss the older versions that have made rail travel faster but comfortable.

The ICx Train Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/27/ICX_Mock-UP_01.JPG

ICx:

Finally, the latest advancement in train technology that will take rail travel further beyond 2020 is the ICx. The concept has been worked on by several companies in the private sectors but the trains will feature both this version, a cross between the ICE-2 and the ICE-3 with 12 coaches, as well as a double-decker version. The designs have not yet been finalized, but two factors are certain: They will be slower than the ICE-trains with speeds, maxing out at 200 km/ph (124 mph), plus they will replace the existing InterCity trains that are over 35 years old and are meeting the end of their useful lives. Already planned is the commissioning of the lines in the eastern half of Germany beginning in 2020, the lines one which InterCity and former ICE trains once travelled will have these trains in use by 2030, including areas in Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg and parts of northern Germany.

Prognosis:

In the past 40 years, we have seen the advancement in passenger train technology in Germany and beyond, starting with the construction of new high-speed lines and the development of high speed trains, followed by the advancement of train technology to make trains faster but safer for use, the expansion and modernization of existing rail lines to attract more passengers, and the extension of rail services to as far away as the UK and Russia. The railroad landscape is currently undergoing a transformation where, with the introduction and commissioning of new trains, many lines are being designated for certain trains. While this may come at the dismay of residents of cities, like Wolfsburg, Jena, Weimar and other smaller communities, who will see their ICE train services be replaced with ICx, in the end, rail travel in Germany will still remain a lasting experience. This applies to those who never had never gotten the luxury to travel by train before because of the lack of availability, but have recently tried it and would do anything to use the train again on the next trip. A friend of mine from North Dakota had that experience during her last visit to Germany and has that on her list of things to do again on the next European trip. 🙂 But for those who think that train travel restricts the freedom to travel wherever they want to, here’s a little food for thought worth mulling as this long article comes to a close:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness- Mark Twain

If one wishes to try something new, as an alternative to traveling by car (or sometimes by plane), one has to open up to the options that are in front of us, and look at all the benefits involved. This is what makes Germany a special place. We have the bus, the boats,  the bike, and despite all the bickering, the Bahn. 😉

Sendung mit der Maus: Germany at Ground Zero, 1945

May 8th, 1945: The Day that was coming; The Day that everyone was waiting for; The Day when Tyranny in Germany came to an end; The Day when Life starts Now.  After 12 years of dictatorship that resulted in over 50 million lives lost, through war, the Holocaust and through the persecution of the country’s own people, Germany signed the decree, surrendering unconditionally to the Allied Troops of the US, Soviet Union, Great Britain and France, thus ending the European portion of World War II.  This day marked the beginning of a new era in Germany, starting over from ground zero.

There have been many films and documentaries that have come out, depicting Germany before, during and at the end of the Third Reich. Much of them have come to light recently, as the country looks back 70 years to the time when much of it was in ruins. Many (colored) films of the cities of Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, Nuremberg and even Cologne have come to light, looking at the cities in ruins, and the people struggling to start over with what little the had.

This includes the moderator Armin Maiwald, one of the hosts of the children’s TV series, Die Sendung mit der Maus (Stories to Learn from the Orange Mouse), produced by German Public TV Network WDR from Cologne. Maiwald, who just turned 75 earlier this year, was five years old when World War II ended on 8 May, 1945. Like millions of children at that time, Maiwald recalls the memories of a childhood that started at ground zero after the war, despite growing up in the southern state of Bavaria. In 1985, he produced a documentary for the TV show, showing viewers how difficult life was during that time, which included making makeshift clothing, carrying wood to school for the stove to keep warm, and even rationing the food.  In connection with the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Germany, the Sendung mit der Maus presented this documentary in full, to show the viewers of this generation the consequences of war, based on Maiwald’s experiences in 1945. This is important to have oral accounts of history, especially in this time period, for it serves as a reminder of what a war does to one’s life and his/her family. And as the War Generation is rapidly leaving the scene, it is even more important than ever to keep these stories alive for future generations to learn about, no matter when or how. And therefore, the Files’ profile, in connection with this anniversary, will look at Armin’s experiences in 1945:

http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Die-Sendung-mit-der-Maus/Die-Sendung-mit-der-Maus-Spezial-Die-N/Das-Erste/Video?documentId=28232472&bcastId=1458

As a bonus, here are some videos of the cities of Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and Nuremberg at the End of World War II, serving as a reminder of how gruelsome war can be, and important it is that we as the current generation of intellects, teachers, politicians and the common people should try and keep the peace, make love and not war, and be open to the unknown that might make our lives better for everyone.

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Germany into Darkness

Total Eclipse shadows the entire state, as 80% of the moon covers sun. 100% covers extreme Western Europe and the North Atlantic.

BERLIN/ERFURT/COLOGNE- As many as 70% of the German population or 50 million took advantage of the gorgeous weather and, armed with their cameras, smart phones and specialized sunglasses, photographed the sun as the moon covered up to 80% of it, putting the country into partial darkness. Despite worries that the eclipse could wreak havoc on the electirical power systems because Germany is mostly dependent on solar energy, it was reported that there were no problems and everything was running well as if nothing happened. The eclipse occurred at 10:42am Berlin time, almost an hour after the process started, and ended shortly after 12 noon. The area where people could get the best view of the eclipse was in the states of Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony. However, people in other German states had an opportunity to see the moon cover 70-75% of the sun.

This included the city of Erfurt in central Thuringia, where the moon covered up to 75% of the sun, making it resemble on the one hand, the moon at first quarter mode, but on the other hand a full moon. In other words, there was the brightest first quarter on record, if one looks at it from an astronomer’s point of view.  The clear weather made it difficult to purchase specialized sunglasses, which you can wear to look up to the sun at the time of the eclipse, for many drug stores, pharmacists, glasses dealerships and optometrists ran out of stock up to two days prior to the event. This was the exact opposite of the last partial solar eclipse that occurred in 2005. There, rainy weather hindered any chances of viewing this rare event, thus dropping sales for these eye protectors dramatically.

While I was unable to purchase this pair of sunglasses, I did find one to use with an optometrist, whose shop was located at Erfurt’s city center, Anger- located between city hall and the train station. Although the pair was for lending and sharing purposes, I took the opportunity to wear them, while at the same time, cover the lens of the Pentax camera I had in my possession in an attempt to get a close-up look at the eclipse. Normally you are not supposed to get a direct shot at the eclipse for two reasons:

  1. The photo would turn out the same as it were without the eclipse- beautiful sunny skies just a little dimmer and
  2. Most importantly, looking directly at the sun at the time of the eclipse is very dangerous, for the rays could cause irreparable damage to the cornea, thus causing damage or even blindness.

As a tip one can get a selfie of the eclipse with the back towards the sun or simply leave it and have a look at the eclipse through TV and internet. However, even though I did get some shots of the places in Erfurt at the time of the eclipse (not to worry, I did this with my eyes looking down), I experimented by placing the specialized sunglasses over the lens of the camera, then zoomed in manually as far as it could go.

The result:

Photo taken in Erfurt at Anger just minutes before its peak
Photo taken in Erfurt at Anger just minutes before its peak

Unless you have had many years of experience in photography as I have had (I’ve been photographing since I was 11 years old), and you are daring enough to do this, this author does not recommend doing this- at least not without supervision. In order to get a shot like this, you need a special lens equivalent to what I used in order to get a shot like this. All other options are useless, for they would end up like the pic below- at the peak of the eclipse:

Erfurt Cathedral (Erfurter Dom) at the peak of the eclipse without the glasses. Not to worry, the author stared down while taking this shot.
Erfurt Cathedral (Erfurter Dom) at the peak of the eclipse without the glasses. Not to worry, the author stared down while taking this shot.

Whether a pic like this can be done like this with a special lens is doubtful for you may not get the picture you need. Admittedly though, it is worth experimenting, but if and only if the next opportunity arises, which for a solar eclipse like this one, it is rare. For many of us, this is perhaps the last time we will ever see one like this as the next one to come to Germany will be in 66 years. A partial eclipse in Germany will come again in 2022.  However the next total eclipse to reach the US will be in two years’ time. So for those who are hunting for the next solar eclipse (and I’m sure there are groups out there who are crazy about solar eclipses), mark this on your calendar at least, even though one may come beforehand.

But even not, for many like yours truly, this experience was once in a lifetime, which has now been crossed off our bucket list.

Author’s Note:

The Flensburg Files has an album on the solar eclipse in Germany through facebook, which you can click here to view. The Files’ is accepting photos taken by other photographers- amateur and profis alike- to be added to the album. If you have a photo or two to contribute, please send it to Jason Smith either through facebook or via e-mail at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. Please cite your name and the place where the photo(s) took place. The purpose of the album is for other viewers to see. Thank you for your help in this matter.

Highlights of the solar eclipse are also available through the following sources:

MDR Info (Video of the Solar Eclipse) in D: http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/video260046_zc-e9a9d57e_zs-6c4417e7.html

Deutsche Welle (Highlights of the Solar Eclipse) in EN: http://www.dw.de/cloudy-skies-obscure-solar-eclipse-in-much-of-europe/a-18330146

MDR Info (Gallery of the Solar Eclipse in Germany) in D: http://www.mdr.de/galerie/mdr/thumbnails.php?album=73

Tagesschau (Information and pictures of the Solar Eclipse) in D: http://www.tagesschau.de/sonnenfinsternis-165.html 

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