Thursday, February 26, 2009

Weather or Not

Posted by PicasaLast week I discussed how environmentally conscious citizens had helped shaped the two cities of Boulder and Bremen in similar ways, in particular with respect to bicycling, for instance. One thing that the local politicians cannot control, of course, is the weather (and we are not talking about global politicians dealing with global warming, a completely different subject!).  Comparing the weather in these two cities is not too difficult.  The winters are colder in Boulder, and the summers are hotter than in Bremen.  Fall and spring are very similar temperature-wise.  In fact, Boulder weather is more like that of southern German close to the Alps, where the Gulf Stream doesn’t have the strong influence it does on northern Germany, moderating the extremes in temperature a great deal.

There is a huge difference in psychology however.  If a Boulderite wakes up to a sunny day, they might well  say to themselves, “Ah, another sunny day. How nice .”  See the photo above.  If a Bremer wakes up to a sunny day, they might well say,” Wow, the sun is shining.  This is really great!”  There are just a lot more sunny days in Boulder (more than in San Diego or Miami, reckoned at 300 sunny days per year).  Complacency can set in, and when it is overcast, one knows that it is just for a day or so, and a major storm can last longer, of course.  I recall how last November and December in Bremen, there were almost no sunny days at all.  Between Christmas and New Years there were a few sunny (and crisp and cold) days, which were memorable, because they were memorable.  In Boulder, where I am now writing this, it’s is sunny almost every day, and therefore recalling a particular day as having been a sunny one would not be easy at all.  

Living in Germany half time, as we do, one can very much appreciate why the Greeks created the sun god Apollo, as when the sun does shine there, one feels one should worship the sunshine itself.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities

Boulder and Bremen have been our two home towns for a little over a year now, and we are spending half our time in each.  Boulder is located on the edge of the Rocky Mountains, just northwest of Denver, and Bremen is located about 40 miles from the North Sea in Germany west of Hamburg and east of Amsterdam. They are both special places with very different histories.  Bremen’s history goes back over 1000 years as an independent city-state, except under the regimes of Napoleon and Hitler as the former popular mayor of Bremen Henning Scherf always liked to say in his speeches. Boulder on the other hand is celebrating its 150th year this year.  Bremen has always been a major trade center, and since the latter part of the 19th century it has been an industrial center as well (the second largest Mercedes plant in the world is there, along with a factory that makes major parts for the Airbus airplanes, and it has always built ships in its extensive harbor complex).  Boulder started out provisioning the miners in the gold rush of the 1850s and 60s when gold was found in the Boulder canyon (which comes right down to the city center today) and in the nearby hills.  Enterprising farms built up an agricultural base in Boulder and the University of Colorado was founded there in 1876, the same year Colorado became a state in the United States.  Today it is a thriving community of a little over 100,000 people with a mixture of university life (20,000 students), high tech industry, government research laboratories, and its original agricultural base.

One thing that has struck me about these two very different communities is the very strong sense of environmental activism and purpose which has been a part of both of their stories.  In Bremen the Green Party was founded in the 1970s, and they have played a role in the city-state government since then (currently they are part of a coalition government in Bremen).  They have also played an important role in national German politics.  Joschka Fischer, who was a Green party member from the early days and is now a former German Foreign Minister became, in the course of his career, one of the most admired German politicians today.  Boulder has been involved with its own awareness of environmental since the early part of the twentieth century.  Most significantly, it was the first community in the US to vote for a sales tax for the purchase of a greenbelt in 1967.  Today there is a greenbelt of 45,000 acres surrounding the city completely.  This is an area the size of Manhattan Island! 

When one drives into Boulder from any direction, one notices this Greenbelt, especially when driving in from highly populated Denver area on US 36.  In the Denver suburbs reaching out towards Boulder, one sees massive housing developments on all sides, but suddenly, it is peaceful and pastoral on the sides of the road and you know you are in the Greenbelt, and there is Boulder nestled down in the valley below surrounded by this wonderful  space of tranquility. It is quite unique.  Bremen is full of bicycles and has an ample supply of places to ride them.  It is one of the leaders in Germany in affording bicycle routes for its citizens, and most of them are not on the road, but run along alongside and independent of the pedestrian sidewalks and the lanes for the street cars, and the cars.  They make an effort to have all these transportation media (streetcar, car, bike, pedestrian) going parallel but not interfering with each other and, often with their own streetlight signals.  You can get all over the city easily on a bike.  It is similar in Boulder, with bike paths everywhere, but most are simply an extra small lane on a given street, and it is not nearly as protected from traffic as in Bremen.  On the other hand, Boulder has created an extensive “Greenway” hike and bike path which covers most of the city and is independent of the street system, with a system of tunnels along creek beds going under the major intersections.  It is especially delightful to ride along Boulder Creek with majestic trees and the creek gurgling along the rock and boulder bed as it takes the water from the mountains to the plains.

Both cities have often used the small traffic circle or a simple concrete barrier forcing a driver to slow down to make a curve around the obstacle to slow down traffic in various residential communities.  Again the environmentalists here have made their point, and one does slow down and one can appreciate the neighboring streets so much more than one would if one were to zoom through there in our normal hurried states.  Boulder and Bremen, two cities worlds apart, but with a lot of similarities.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Joachim Fest "Hitler"

Just before we came back to Boulder at the beginning of the year I was able to finish a monumental biography of Hitler by Joachim Fest that came out in 1973 (and I presume came out in English sometime later).  The book had been on my bookshelf for years sitting there unread (1000 pages in German).  Not too long ago a movie came out in Germany called "Der Untergang", a very well done movie about Hitler's last five days in his bunker in Berlin. This was very well done, and I decided to read the book on which the movie was based ("Der Untergang" also by Fest), a much newer book than his major work mentioned above.  It was a quick and vivid read, and the film and the book were complementary and both quite good. Then not too long ago a new book by Fest came out about his childhood and how his parents had stood up to the Nazis.  I bought it, but then decided not to read it till I had read the 1000 page monster biography, and this was a good decision, as I might never have read it otherwise.  I still have yet to read this newest book of this (and it was his last book as he died not too long ago), and it is sitting on my bookshelf in Bremen to be read when we return in March.  

There were a number of things that struck me as I read Fest's biography.  First there was the vivid description of the early days of Hitler in Linz and Vienna where his antisemetic views were reinforced and sharpened and his strong view of German nationalism developed.   Second, I was just not aware that the beer hall Putsch of 1923 when Hitler was the head of the Nazi party was the beginning of a march on Berlin to take over the government (I should have known better from the word Putsch).  This failed and Hitler was put in prison for high treason for less than a year.  When he got out of prison in December of 1924 he was 35 years old, had no money, his Nazi party had been banned and all of the Nazi newspapers had been closed.  The most fascinating part of the book was his rise to power in the next 9 years becoming Chancellor in 1933.  This is very worthwhile reading to see how he manipulated all of the other German political parties and interests using anticommunism and fear of the Soviet Union as a powerful tactical tool.  The final note which surprised me, and which the author described quite vividly, was the sheer number of anti-Hitler conspiracies that evolved from the beginning of his regime, the most notable being von Stauffenberg, the subject of a current movie with Tom Cruise, and the most bizarre being one involving Heinrich Himmler somewhere in 1943 as I recall.  As we know they were all failures, and this demagogue decided when and where he would end his life (in Berlin on 30 April 1945, 10 days after celebrating his birthday and one day after he got married).  I strongly recommend this book which is a masterpiece of writing and biography.  His use of the German language is some of the best I have ever read.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Comments from Colorado

I decided to try out the idea of a blog.  It seems like a useful way of communicating on a wide variety of topics.  I'm sitting in my study in Boulder looking out over a view of the Flatirons which has a beautiful new cover of snow.  Off to get some exercise soon