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Category archive: Europe

Tuesday November 24 2015

Photo taken in 2008 by me, from a train, just past Queenstown Road railway station, on my way from Waterloo to Egham, the railway station of my childhood:


That’s not two towers joined together by a bridge.

This is two towers joined together by a bridge:


Those two towers are going to be built in Copenhagen harbour.  They’ve just received the go-ahead.  Here’s hoping they do indeed go ahead.

Monday November 09 2015

The German conductor Herbert von Karajan probably did more to popularise classical music after WW2 that any other single person.  His LPs and then his CDs and DVDs sold in their millions.  I have many Karajan CDs myself.  So, the question of whether he was any sort of Nazi and if so what sort remains a hot topic.

Playwright Ronald Harwood, author of a play about Wilhelm Furtwängler, was recently interviewed on BBC4 TV.  During this, Harwood mentioned, in contemptuous passing, that Karajan was obviously a Nazi.  Furtwängler was interesting because it wasn’t clear, hence that play.  Karajan?  Not interesting, because clearly he was.  He hired a Jewish secretary after the war.  What more do you need to know?

Well, I for one needed to know a bit more than only that, so I did some googling and came across this by Peter Alward, former vice-president of EMI Classics:

I first met Karajan in 1976, and we remained friends up to his death. He was one of EMI’s flagship artists in the late 70s and early 80s; most of his operatic work was for us, his symphonic work for Deutsche Grammophon. Yes, he cultivated the cult of the maestro - he was a shrewd businessman and recognised his market worth. He was not slow in coming forward and speaking his mind, but no conductor is a shrinking violet. I feel he was misunderstood. There was the glamorous image - the jet-set lifestyle - but this was all a defence. He was really very shy, a simple man with simple tastes. I vehemently oppose the theory that he was a Nazi. He was an opportunist. I’m Jewish, and if I believed otherwise, I wouldn’t have spent a minute in his company.

Opportunist sounds about right to me.  Karajan, like all conductors, needed power, over an orchestra.  Needing this sort of power, he had to avoid antagonising whoever the politicians were, the ones with the more regular sort of power.  But he did not care about politics for its own sake, merely as a means to the end of his music making.

Trouble is, you can surely say the same for a great many other servants of the Third Reich.  I bet plenty of rocket, airplane, tank, bomb and ship designers were equally opportunistic, and equally free of any positive desire to be Nazis.  But whoever happened to be Germany’s politicians, these people would have served them.  All they cared about was rockets, airplanes, tanks, bombs and ships.  Classical music was not as important to the Nazi regime as armaments were, but it was quite important.  Karajan did help.

The most interesting titbit I learned from this little burst of Karajan-googling was that apparently his second wife, Anita, whom he married in 1942, was burdened with a Jewish grandfather.  But hKarajan wasn’t merely “burdened” thus.  He burdened himself.  Wikipedia:

On 22 October 1942, at the height of the Second World War, Karajan married Anna Maria “Anita” Sauest, born Gütermann. She was the daughter of a well-known manufacturer of yarn for sewing machines. Having had a Jewish grandfather, she was considered a Vierteljüdin (one-quarter Jewish woman).

Just marrying a quarter-Jewess, before that was dodgy, is one thing.  Being a celeb and marrying a famous heiress with a famously rich and half-Jewish dad, and doing all that in 1942, is something else again.  That’s more than just hiring an entirely Jewish secretary after the war.

When I read about such people and about such times, I don’t feel inclined to condemn.  I merely wonder how I might have behaved, or misbehaved, had I been confronted by such pressures and such temptations.

Saturday October 24 2015

The week’s latest manifestation of the Michael Portillo Train Journey Show took us to Austria, and featured a spectacular viaduct, which made it possible for trains to go from Vienna to Trieste, the one big seaport of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire.  This is the Kalte Rinne-Viadukt, which gets the trains through the Semmering Pass.  I think I have that right.

Here is what it looks like, from above:


The man who designed and supervised the building of this railway would appear to be a very big cheese in that part of the world.

Now for another picture which tells you about something else that is going on in that part of the world, something Michael Portillo did not mention.

They’re building a tunnel:


I found that map (here it is bigger) at a place placed on the www in 1996.  Amazing. 

As part of an on-going programme to improve national and international railway links for the year 2000 and beyond, Austria embarked on excavation of a 9.8km-long pilot tunnel ahead of full construction of the planned 22km-long Semmering base line tunnel through the Alps. The new tunnel is on the domestic route between Vienna and Villach, which is on the main Trans-European railway route between the states of middle and eastern Europe and the Mediterranean harbours in Italy. The new alignment will supplement the existing 41km-long route, which was built more than 100 years ago and winds slowly and steeply up and over the Semmering Pass. At the lower elevation the new tunnel will allow for higher train speeds, ensure continued services through severe weather conditions and reduce travel times substantially. When complete, the new ‘fast’ track will carry high-speed passenger services and heavy freight trains while the existing mountain pass railway will continue as a local community service and as a tourist attraction through the spectacular Alpine landscape.

Work began on the tunnel in 1994, checking out the route, preliminary drillings, that kind of thing.  Amazingly, the tunnel only got the actual green light to be actually made, constructed, dug, drilled, built, tunnelled, in May of this year.  The present schedule says that the thing will only be finished in 2024.

In other words, it’s going to take thirty years from first use of a digger in anger, so to speak, to the last.  That sounds to me like a lot of years.

Thursday October 22 2015

Vanity Fair piece about Frank Gehry.  Key paragraph:

Things progressed slowly from there, as the architect continued to work more audacious swooping and compound curves into his designs. Eventually he found himself hitting the outer limits of what was buildable. This frustration led Gehry on a search for a way to fulfill his most far-reaching creative desires. “I asked the guys in the office if there was any way they knew of to get where I wanted to go through computers, which I am still illiterate in the use of,” he explains. Gehry’s partner, Jim Glymph - “the office hippie,” in Gehry’s words - led the way, adapting for architecture a program used to design fighter planes. As Gehry began to harness technology, his work started to take on riotous, almost gravity-defying boldness. He dared to take the liberties with form he had always dreamed of, fashioning models out of sensuously pleated cardboard and crushed paper-towel tubes. He always works with models, using scraps of “whatever is lying around” - on one occasion a Perrier bottle. “I move a piece of paper and agonize over it for a week, but in the end it was a matter of getting the stuff built,” he tells me. “The computer is a tool that lets the architect parent the project to the end, because it allows you to make accurate, descriptive, and detailed drawings of complicated forms.”

“Frank still doesn’t know how to use a computer except to throw it at somebody,” ...

I smell a classic two-man team there.  Gehry dreams it.  And this guy called “Glymph” (ever heard of him? - me neither - I got very little about him by googling) works out how to actually get the damn thing built.  To quote myself:

Even when a single creative genius seems to stand in isolated splendour, more often than not it turns out that there was or is a backroom toiler seeing to the money, minding the shop, cleaning up the mess, lining up the required resources, publishing and/or editing what the Great Man has merely written, quietly eliminating the blunders of, or, not infrequently, actually doing the work only fantasised and announced by, the Great Man.

Glymph now seems to be on his own, although you can’t tell from the merely institutional appearances.

In general, the role of the Other Sort of Architect, the one who turns whatever some Genius Gehry figure wants into something buildable, and which will not be a mechanical disaster, seems to be growing and growing.


I found that picture of Gehry’s epoch-making Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao here.  The VF piece identifies this as the most “important” building of our time.  Architects love it.  The public does not hate it.

Thursday October 15 2015

Maybe one day I will get tired of seeing The Wires! In photos of new Japanese buildings, at Dezeen.  But I am not tired of it yet:


Other Dezeenery I have recently liked: colourful buildings for an ugly square in Eindhoven; a big sculpture that looks like a giant tooth, made (by a robot) entirely of pebbles and string (which means the pebbles can be used again and again); packing more people in an Airbus; scepticism about the creative class theory of urbanisation.

Also: a cardboard car.  Lexus.  Drivable.  But not with a cardboard engine, surely.  No, they cheated there.  It has an electric motor, housed in an aluminium frame.  This is not an exercise in engineering.  It is advertising.  Caused by the fact that in car adverts you are less and less allowed to say anything sensible, with mere words.  Car adverts now remind me of cigarette adverts in my youth.  They were like that for the same reason.

Thursday September 03 2015

This afternoon I was meeting someone at London City Airport, and while waiting for their flight to arrive I took this photo, of the big TV screen showing flight arrivals:


Milan, Alitalia.  Amsterdam, CityJet.  Exeter, Flybe.  Isle of Man, British Airways.  Okay.  But what is Rotterdam, “Jet Centre”?  And what of London Biggin Hill, “Jet Centre”?  That was the one that got me noticing this.  Biggin Hill?  I didn’t realise that was any sort of regular London airport.

Googling, when I got back home to my desk, confirmed my earlier guess that wherever it says “Jet Centre”, this means it’s a private jet, leaving from the “Jet Centre” at wherever it was.  I am still not entirely clear about this, but that does seem to be what is happening.  Can anyone confirm or correct this?

Private jets, and the people wafted hither and thither in them, inhabit a world that I pretty much never encounter.  But at London City Airport, assuming I’m right about the “Jet Centre” equals private jet thing, the worlds of value-for-money regular-people aviation and of money-no-object plutocrat aviation overlap, to the point where both of these worlds appear on the same London City Airport TV screen.  Whether the plutocrats use the same airport facilities as the rest of us, I do not know.  Same runways, presumably.  But same arrivals and departures places?  I suspect not.

Either way, I bet it costs them.  I guess it’s a case of if you have to ask, then you can’t afford it, but I have to ask.  How much do they charge to land a private jet near to the middle of London?  Excuse me while I do some more Googling. …

Well, I still don’t know, but according to this piece, there is no London airport in the top ten on the list, so it must cost less than £2,530.  I was expecting it to be a bit more than that, somehow.

There is every chance that, by and by, Michael Jennings, globetrotter extraordinaire, will append a comment to this posting.  If he does, you can be sure that his comment will be a lot more informative than this posting has been.

Wednesday September 02 2015

What follows is one of the better commentaries on British politics that I have recently read.  It is pertinent to the current dramas involving Jeremy Corbyn and what appears now to be his likely victory in the Labour Party leadership election, because it focusses on something which I think has been somewhat neglected by other commentators, namely the weakness of Corbyn’s opponents.  It is by former Conservative Party Leader William Hague.

It is to be found at the Telegraph website.  I was alerted to it by Guido‘s invaluable “seen elsewhere” section.

But since the Telegraph only allows me to see thirty (I think it is) articles each month before it blocks me (for about half the month), and since I never blog about things that my readers can’t read just by clicking on a link, which means that I am actually not interested in things that readers can’t read just by clicking on a link, here is the piece, here, in full.  Now I am able to be interested in what follows, because here it is.

The original article contains links to other Telegraph pieces.  These I have reproduced.  But I have not checked if they work, because I don’t want to exhaust half my allotted Telegraph links with the month hardly having started.

If the Telegraph asks me to remove it from here, I will immediately remove it, and will instead replace what follows with smaller quotes and further commentary.  And then I will lose all interest in it, except perhaps as an interesting little event concerning the rights and wrongs of intellectual property.

In late 1997, having rather rashly taken on the job of Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, I discussed with the new prime minister, Tony Blair, which of us had the most difficult job. “You have,” he said, without a moment’s doubt.

Blair was right. And that job was doubly more difficult because it was one pitched every day against him, the most formidable electoral opponent the Conservative Party has faced in its entire history. Before him, Labour had only twice since its foundation won a decisive majority; with him it did so three times in a row.

Although he is despised in Labour’s current leadership election, Blair was a Tory leader’s worst nightmare: appealing to the swing voter and reassuring to the Right-leaning, it was hard to find a square on the political chessboard on which he did not already sit.  When people told me I did well at Prime Minister’s Questions, I knew I had to, since I had very little else going for me at all – I had to raise the morale of Conservatives each Wednesday to get them through the frustration and impotence of every other day of the week.

Blair courted business leaders and Right-wing newspapers, often to great effect. He was a Labour leader who loved being thought to be a secret Tory, a pro-European who was fanatical in support for the United States, a big spender who kept income taxes down, an Anglican who let it be known he wanted to be a Catholic and regularly read the Koran. He could be tough or soft or determined or flexible as necessary and shed tears if needed, seemingly at will. To the political law that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time he added Blair’s law – that you can make a very serious attempt at it.

This was the human election-winning machine against which some of us dashed ourselves, making the Charge of the Light Brigade look like a promising manoeuvre by comparison. Yet now, only eight years after he left the scene he dominated, his party’s election is conducted with scorn for the most successful leader they ever had.

The first reason for this is the truly extraordinary rule allowing huge numbers of people to join up for the specific purpose of selecting the new leader. If there was an NVQ Level 1 in How To Run a Party, the crucial nature of the qualifying period to vote in a leadership election would be on the syllabus, possibly on the first page. Every student plotting to take over a university society knows that the shorter that period, the easier it is to mount an insurgency from outside. But this basic fact seems to have escaped Ed Miliband, along with every other possible consideration of what might happen after his own unnecessarily rapid departure.

The result of this is that Labour’s leader is being chosen by a largely new electorate, with correspondingly little sense of ownership of the party’s history, in which the desire to align the party with their own views outweighs any sense of duty to provide the country with an alternative government.

The second reason is the weakness of the mainstream candidates to an extent unprecedented in any election in a major party in British parliamentary history. Even in 1935, an even darker time for the Labour Party when it had far fewer MPs than today, the leadership election was between Clement Attlee and Herbert Morrison: great names that are etched into our history. This is the first election of a Labour leader in which none of the candidates look like they could be prime minister five years later.

This weakness partly explains the third and most significant factor in what appears to be, in the form of Corbynmania, a sharp move to the pre-Blair, old-fashioned, Michael Foot-was-a-moderate, Seventies Left, which is that none of them has been able to articulate what a social democratic, centre-Left party should stand for in the first half of the 21st century.

Blair’s ability to win elections was not accompanied by a coherent philosophy. The seminars he held with Schroeder’s German SPD and Clinton Democrats on the “Third Way”, the ultimate attempt at government by triangulation, collapsed in ridicule. And the question neither Labour’s candidates nor their socialist colleagues abroad can now answer is – in a century in which markets dominate, more power passes to consumers, technology gives more choice by the day to individuals, working lives are more flexible than ever, and class-based voting is dying out, what is the role and purpose of the moderate Left?

You can scan in vain the speeches of Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham for a clear answer to this question, although I do not necessarily recommend it unless you find it hard to sleep. You might think there is a modern social democratic case to be made that some people – the less educated, unskilled, and immobile – could miss out on the benefits of the information revolution and that changing that is a new purpose of the centre-Left. Instead, in Britain and across Europe, it is left to fringe parties to prey on those dissatisfied with the vast and rapid changes in modern society.

And most revealing of all, those same speeches (yes, I really have read them), point to no model abroad of the Left in power, no hero to be admired or policy to be emulated. The main parties of the Left have turned into partners of conservatives in Germany, reformist liberals in Italy, back-pedalling socialists in France, catastrophes in Latin America, and been annihilated by extremists in Greece. There is still a Socialist International, but there is no longer a common ideology to underpin it.

Seen in this context, the agony of Labour’s leadership election is easier to understand. This is a tribe lost in a desert with no star to follow, and no inspirational leader to point to a new one. Across the world, parties that thrived on the socialist ideals of an industrialising society are losing their relevance, and what we are witnessing is a symptom and dramatic demonstration of that fact.

Faced with that awful reality, Labour is turning to something, anything, that seems authentic, passionate, and consistent. The failure, in Britain and abroad, to find the social democratic version of that is a failure of historic proportions.

Tuesday August 18 2015

6k writes about a Fairly epic disaster video:

Cranes and bridges. I know who’ll like this one…

That would be me.

But it’s not a happy crane and bridge video. It’s a bit of a disaster…

So I watched the video, and then read 6k’s commentary underneath it, in that order.  6k’s commentary described my sentiments exactly:

Look, because of the title of this post and the title of the video, you know that things aren’t going to end well. But it’s the way things happen almost in slow motion and the lack of any sort of discernible panic that makes this so entertaining.

So slo-mo was it that I checked that the people moving about as this was happening were moving at a realistic speed.  They were.  Which meant that the cranes really did descend this slowly.  It was almost like when the Twin Towers collapsed, in that way if in no other way.

I’m not good at putting up videos here, so you’ll have to follow the link at the very top of this to watch this video.  However, this disaster having been videoed at the time, there was no way the www was not going to supply follow-up stills of the resulting wreckage, and here is an aerial snap that I quickly found, which tells that story very well:


Click on that picture to get it bigger.  Follow the link above if you want to see where I found it.

I’m guessing (only guessing mind) that the fact that the cranes were on a boat may have been the straw that caused the camels to fall over onto those houses.

Commenter number one there spells it out, and he says that the water aspect of things was more like a bale of straw:

There is an example of this exact situation in the maritime crane operation safety textbooks. Obviously, they didn’t read those.

Here’s a quick list of safety violations:

1) None of the vehicles were secured on the decks

2) Barges stability was not ensured in any way

3) The cargo was not stabilized from swinging & windage by lines

It’s easy to sneer about how hindsight is easy, blah blah.  But this guy sounds like he might have been able to stop this, had he been directly involved.

Cranes and a bridge (but not in a good way)
How David Irving put himself on trial
Paul Johnson on Mozart and Da Ponte
Paul Johnson on what the young Mozart was up against
Strange London buses
A forgotten war
Richard J. Evans on how evidence can become more significant over time
Big cat scan
Photo-drones fighting in the Ukraine and a photo-drone above the new Apple headquarters building
Non-faceless architecture in Rome
Marginal Eurostar economics
Pictures of Guy Herbert
The “colorful and curvilinear forms” of Herr Hundertwasser
Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown
PID at the Times
Cat photo and cat news
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Brazil 0 Germany 5 after forty minutes
Emmanuel Todd talking in English (about how the Euro is doomed)
Bennett and Lotus on how Emmanuel Todd’s family provoked his Grand Theory of Everything
Lego bridge in Germany
Movable bridges
Michael Jennings photoes Cape Bojador
Friend on telly
Michael Jennings photos the bridges of Porto
Relocating the Porto bridge
Eurostar before St Pancras
Sperm Bike
Art gallery made of scaffolding
Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd
Emmanuel Todd links
Pictures from Georgia and Warsaw
Michael Jennings - pictures of globalisation
Steven Pinker’s description of The Enlightenment
Michael Jennings on how the taxis at Skopje airport are an evil racket and what he did about it
Malta Day procession
More shiny new headquarters buildings
76 operas and a monument in the wrong place for Hermann the German
Friday link dump
Gormley’s South Bank Men
A Spanish geography lesson
A Spanish high speed train bridge and a Spanish aqueduct
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The Brusio spiral viaduct also looks like a toy train layout
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Two bridges in Portugal
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom blog posting title of the day
Two real cats sighted in Spain!
My sleep and luggage and bus and fluid travel hell
In Alicante
Possible holiday interruption
How some cats are dividing Cyprus
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Stepping forward into the abyss!
Luxembourg church in hill and Luxembourg footbridge
A great Johnathan Pearce Britain-can-dump-the-EU blog posting - and the value of informative titles
Polish anti-semitism - a history lesson at last night’s dinner
Making the IOC feel important with a personal lubricant
Changing faces of Europe
Daniel Hannan and the shape of the media to come
“Vivid characters, devious plotting and buckets of gore …”
Toys and big toys
Sheep under wolf’s clothing
Might Gordon Brown pull an EU referendum rabbit out of the hat?
Africa is big
Mahler’s 9th in Vienna in 1938
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Switching from dumb bombing to smart bombing
The new Lowe look
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I predict that Germany will win
Computer blues
What I have seen so far while abroad
Nanpu Bridge in Quimper
Keyboard blues
Were any of them really that nice?
Eurovision sense from Squander Two
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The IPL is a new face for India but Harbhajan slapping Sreesanth is no big deal
The Messina Suspension Bridge is on again
Billion Monkey Alan Little?
Dominic Lawson on Herbert von Karajan
Brian Hitler!
Theodore Dalrymple on the menace of honest public officials and much else besides
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Eurostar says goodbye Waterloo hello St Pancras
On the appeal or lack of it to Young Europeans of “capitalism”
Old cranes - new cranes
Free trade explains the success of the Swedish Model
Another link to a friend and that’s your lot today
Other people’s photos (2): New architecture in Hamburg
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Tourists on the move
The extreme memes spread by moderate Muslims
I’m back
Antoine Clarke talks with me about votes for women (and teenagers) – and about Sweden
Brian and Antoine democracy mp3 number twelve
I also miss Transport Blog
Brian and Antoine mp3s now into double figures
The latest Brian and Antoine mp3
Election Watch podcast number three
“What on earth gives every computer owner the right to exude his opinion, unasked for?”
4th Generation Warfare in the middle of an advanced Western Country