Monday, February 28, 2011


I have been to Berlin before, but needed another visit - it is very different from Stuttgart, in a good way, in spite of being much colder. The theme of this visit was Archaeology. Berlin has several museums devoted to the topic, all localized in an overwhelming complex on an island (Museum Insel). The two I went to were the Pergamon Museum and the Neues Museum. Organization in German museums is not very logical - displays are not ordered following any kind of geographical or temporal context, leading to confusion as to what kind of system was used (Why is a stone-age sarcophagus from Northern Europe in the Egyptian section? Why was there nothing about Odin or looted artifacts in the so-named room? Why was the headless garden gnome from the 1920s in the gallery between the "Sudan and Egypt during the time of the Pharaohs" sections?). The Pergamon Museum seems to specialize in big things, and the Neues Museum in small-mid sized things, but there is a lot of overlap.

Ishtar Gate (Babylonian), Pergamon Museum
The Pergamon is unreasonably proud of the spectacularly ugly statues from the Neolithic culture of Tell Halaf (Syria). It's cracked because the warehouse it was being stored in caught fire during WWII, so the firemen sprayed it with ice cold water and the overheated stone cracked. Then the whole mess was left over a winters worth of freeze/thaw cycles. The museum has only now succeeded in gluing it back together.
The Neues Museum has a large number of papyri from the Egyptian book of the dead on display, which is pretty cool, and the Bust of Nefertiti, which is very beautiful. Even though you can buy a cheaper ticket to see both museums in one day (what I did), I don't recommend it: you have to have a superhuman attention span for that much museum viewing, or else just breeze through both looking only at the highlights.

View from the Neues Museum, Museum Insel, Berlin. The black specks are crows flocking around the tower.

Monday, February 7, 2011


For those not in the know (this group, much to my dismay, includes pretty much everybody), Holzmaden is important. Rather than being an unheard of village over an hour and 6 transit zones southeast of Stuttgart Mitte using public transportation, it could in fact be regarded as the mother ship for geeks such as myself. Holzmaden plays a disproportionate role in what we know of marine paleobiology in the Lower Jurassic, and even the Mesozoic. For instance, evidence that ichthyosaurs had dorsal fins, like dolphins, is comes only from Jurassic rocks in southwest Germany, mostly from quarries in Holzmaden.
Ichthyosaur - Urweltmuseum Hauff Gallery, Holzmaden Germany

Historically, the major industry in Holzmaden was quarrying. The local shale was used for building, finishing (e.g. counter tops and flooring), and for the manufature of cement and gravel. The rock layer used is also highly fossiliferous. Over the past 200 years, thousands of fossils have been extracted and prepared, and sold, exchanged and gifted to museums and private individuals all over the world. Aside from my personal favourite of ichthyosaurs, other wonders include plesiosaurs, marine crocodiles, fishes, ammonites, belemnites with preserved soft tissue and, most famous of all, gallery-sized slabs of crinoids. The number of quarries has sadly dropped precipitously, which is unfortunate in some ways. Holzmaden boasts two paleontology museums, conveniently located right across the street from each other. Not bad for a village of 2000 people. Also included: scenic views of the Schwäbische Alb. Not included: much in the way of dining options. For a visit, take Stuttgart S1 Kirchheim to the terminus, then a bus. I know people other than me secretly get thrills out of riding S-Bahn trains to the termini. All the more reason to go to a town few have ever heard of. Your friends will be totally jealous.