Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I must be getting old or something, because I was never interested in the history of science and now I actually find it fairly compelling.  Possibly because at first the characters were presented as distinguished intellectuals, and it's only recently that I have discovered that they were all quite insane.

So, with that, I present Linnaeus. An 18th century botanist who lived and worked in Uppsala (Sweden), where I found myself on yet another collections visit.

Wax statue of Linnaeus, Riksmuseet Stockholm.
 I know the picture's blurry, but he's holding a torso-sized pipe

 In undergrad, I learned that Linnaeus was the man behind the Latin binomial system for naming living things. Uppsala is all about Linnaeus. He even gets credited for the work of Celsius (also working in Uppsala)- silly Celsius! He had water boiling at 0 degrees and freezing at 100! Linnaeus had to correct his work, of course.

Although like any good nobleman in the 1700s Linnaeus owned several homes and estates, it was his townhouse in Uppsala that I went to visit.

Linnaeus held the 18th C equivalent of labs in his garden. The house is in the far left.
The structures on poles that look like birdhouses were actually to house his monkeys.
Linnaeus had 'disciples' (grad students) whom he sent on expeditions all over the world to disseminate his naming system, and more importantly, to collect specimens to ship back to Uppsala for him to name and describe. In addition to not getting credit for their work, the mortality rate among the disciples was fairly elevated. After his death, Linnaeus' collections and illustrations were sold at auction to an English buyer . . . which is how the Linnaean Society came to be located in London and not in Sweden.
'Lake Garden', Linnaeus house. Now with newts.
In spite of loving monkeys, Linnaeus hated salamanders and was of the opinion that they were vermin. To exterminate them, he prescribed dumping salt in lakes, ponds and streams. In poetic justice, his garden is now home to a thriving population of crested newts.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Long Drive

If a goal of mine was to drive really fast on the Autobahn in a BMW, then I have crossed it off the bucket list. Sadly, after about 15 minutes of being excited about the realization that unlike my last car, this one could accelerate within the allotted space, I realized that Stuttgart - Berlin is a really boring drive. Also, traffic in Berlin is terrible. Also, moving in during a thunder storm adds a little adrenalin rush that gets the job done. In spite of all this drama, however, I did not crash the car, and finally got the apartment clean and everything unpacked. Now I live in Berlin near Potsdamer Platz, the most touristy spot ever. As far as I can tell, the only legitimate attraction is several chunks of Berlin wall, but maybe the semi-permanent flea market selling DDR kitsch draws people too. The tourists got annoying faster than I anticipated. The good news? My sub-par linguistic abilities are not as big a deal here, and I live across the street from the most excellent and cheap Thai/Chinese/Sushi take-away restaurant.

Potsdamer Platz - English billboards? The world's largest Canadian flag? Architecturally bland condos? Am I lying and actually living in Toronto?

Stuttgart - the last days

Before heading north I did one last installment of paleo-tourism in Baden-Württemburg. The first site was fairly typical of the region - the cement quarry in Dotternhausen (nothing says tourism like a cement quarry). The company that owns the quarry sponsors a small museum. My favourite part was the mural modified from Henry de la Beche's Duria Antiquior - but I don't remember the plesiosaur in the original looking quite so much like a duck.

Dotternhausen mural - awesome in so many ways
The second trip was to the Bärenhöhle, a large cave system in the Schwäbische Alb. It is famous for the large number of cave bear skeletons (Pleistocene) that have been excavated from it. Sorry closet Clan of the Cave Bear fans, no human remains found at this site.
Mounted cave bear skeleton - Bärenhöhle

It's now a protected site, because the popular thing to do back in the day was grind the bones up for fertilizer. I'm a bit mystified as to why the bears liked to live there, since it's a pretty deep cave and therefore quite chilly (and the bear bones are a long way from the entrance), but not being an ice age mammal I guess I can't really relate. Onwards, to Berlin!

Cenotaph of ammonites, Schloss Lichtenstein