Archive for Juni, 2014

The Emperor in the Swimming Pool : A History

In Allgemein by Francesca / 26. Juni 2014 / 0 Comments

Thought I’d write something a little more light-hearted now that summer is really coming, and write about the history of swimming pools — in fact this is a great way to connect with the ancient Roman emperors, who used to have quite stylish baths themselves, as the fun-looking archaeological evidence in places like Pompeii and Ostia attests.

In Bath, UK, where hot springs form under the ground, a perfectly functional replica of the Roman bath that was built there by the Romans after they invaded Britain in about 60-70 A.D.; although there was already a Celtic shrine at the site of the hot springs before, the Romans gave it their stamp of permanence by transforming it into a temple of Minerva and leaving behind their distinctive architectural style. The Great Roman Baths can still be visited and bathed in today.

The fashion blogs are atwitter with postings about the history of the bikini, but let us dive into the history of swimming pools (pun kind of intended)…

We know the ancient Romans liked to bathe, and we today love lounging by a private pool in summer. But how did it all begin? Have you ever thought many public swimming pools appear to have been built in the mid-20th century, and did you ever wonder why that is?

We’ll have to go back to England, via the USA, to understand the swimming pool phenomenon; because one thing is for sure: in between antiquity and modernity, bathing was certainly not very common during the middle ages in Europe. A mixed set of reasons has been suggested as to why that was, in particular it seems that the church, which was the most influential authority during the middle ages, condemned the use of public bathing facilities by women, arguing that mixed bathing led to immorality, promiscuity, sex and disease. At the time, it was believed that disease spread through water, so that many decided to forego bathing altogether.

Personal hygiene, on the whole, remained rather unsavoury until as late as the 19th century, when many advances were made in the understanding of health and hygiene. Indeed, this is when public bathing facilities began to pop up again. Bathing in the river became a popular social pastime in Britain in the early to mid 19th century, as became water polo and a handful of eccentric games such as swimming breakfast parties. The first recorded swimming club opened its doors in Maidstone in Kent, in 1844. By then, six indoor swimming pools with diving boards existed in London already.

In 1896, the modern Olympic Games were relaunched in Athens, after Greece had gained its national independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1820s, and the idea to reconnect with the Greek cultural patrimony sparked off the Olympic fire. The games included swimming races, which pulled their weight in popularizing swimming as a sport even more, and the enthusiasm for swimming pools began to spread.

The 1952 Hollywood movie Million Dollar Mermaid (aka One Piece Bathing Suit) gave a huge deal of publicity to the private home swimming pool and the swimming sports (not least: the water ballet), and swimming fashion.

And the public pools? Just like the enjoyment of water sports of all kinds flourished in the late 19th century, so too did the return of personal hygiene in that time. For instance in Germany, early pioneers of working class healthcare reforms believed that increasing the standards of basic hygiene would significantly improve the overall health of the population and launched ambitious projects to have numerous public bathing houses built in the German cities.

This is how, before the frenzy for public sports centres and Olympic racing pools of the 1950s and ’60s, many public bathing houses were built in Germany towards the end of the 19th and in the early 20th century. Aside from showers and bathtubs, some also featured swimming pools. A handful of them still survive as listed buildings in all their art deco, art nouveau or bauhaus-style glory, often playing with reminiscences of Roman bath architecture and design.

And today? Oh well, you know…

 

 

image : Wikimedia commons. Gellert baths in Budapest

Odysseus and the Great Unknown

In Allgemein by Francesca / 18. Juni 2014 / 0 Comments

Travelogues and travelogue-like passages appear in ancient literature, in more than a few places. Some of the travel descriptions of ancient Greece which have been transmitted to us, appear to be dedicated to geographical and cultural education of the reader, seeing as to travel very far given the ancient transportation facilities was a noteworthy feat. Another sub-category of travelogue is the historiographic, in which the military exploits of an army and its men are recounted not only in terms of their skills in battle, but also expanding upon their courage and endurance at making their way to the location of the battle.

Homer’s Odyssey typefies the saga of the long return, the homeward journey from a faraway place. In the Odyssey, readers are first introduced to Odysseus as an absentee father who had left behind his wife and young son in order to take part in the Trojan war, in his capacity as the king of Ithaca. The last part of the book focuses on how Odysseus eventually arrives back home after his long absence and is faced with a barrage of suitors to his wife, his mansions in decay and the city under very bad administration, all of which he has good mind to reclaim for himself. If we are to believe the legend, twenty years have passed since Odysseus was last in his home town: he fought for ten years in the Trojan war, and then took ten years to get back home. When he arrives, the youth has grown, nothing is like it was, and Odysseus himself, after the war and the long road, is quite a different man as well.

Sandwiched in between these scenes from Odysseus’ home at Ithaca, are the surreal and extraordinary tales of what Odysseus saw and did on his ten year long journey, which, as readers are informed, took so long because an angry Poseidon kept sweeping his ship astray – for revenge.

In the story, Odysseus lives to tell the tale, so that his adventures amongst witches, ogres and monsters, his descent into the underworld, and visit to Lestrygonians, his shipwrecks, entrapments, and ingenious explorations out in the great unknown, have since become some of the most popular legends. Nearly everyone has heard of the Cyclops, the one-eyed giant who eats human flesh and lives in a cave, and whom Odysseus squarely overpowered by feeding him wine and blinding his one eye with an incandescent wooden beam. Or the beautiful sirens, whose enthralling charm and irresistible singing Odysseus was able to bypass by putting wax in the ears of all his crew.

Interpretations of the Odyssey have traditionally pointed out the strong focus on loyalty that is implicit in the will to take on challenge upon challenge only to come back home, and attached to this loyalty towards his home town and family, is a commitment to the Greek culture, of which the forms and values appear especially in relief by contrast to the strange lands wandered by Odysseus in the meantime. At Circe’s, the witch who can turn men into swine and wants to make Odysseus the king of her little kingdom :

But venomed was the bread, and mixed the bowl,

With drugs of force to darken all the soul:

Soon in the luscious feast themselves they lost,

And drank oblivion of their native coast.

The fear of never making it home is ever-present, and the lure of the sometimes rather enticing propositions made by the fairytale-like creatures in equal parts attractive and revolting seems to intensify at each turning of the road. Here is another passage :

We plied the banquet, and the bowl we crown’d,

Till the full circle of the year came round.

But when the seasons following in their train,

Brought back the months, the days, and hours again;

As from a lethargy at once they rise,

And urge their chief with animating cries:

Is this, Ulysses, our inglorious lot?

And is the name of Ithaca forgot?

Shall never the dear land in prospect rise,

Or the loved palace glitter in our eyes?

The travelogue description introduces many episodes of arriving on strange shores and meeting unknown cultures and hybrid, half-awesome, half-scary species of character beings. The places Odysseus goes to seem to appear at first from a distance, enclosed either by walls, or thick vegetation, or water, so that they are each in their own way a closed universe and a microcosm in a capsule – at times it seems like the Odyssey draws up a map of warped mircocosm after warped microcosm before our eyes, and each time, a new breed of fantasmagoric characters hop on the scenery as if they belong to a surreal film set. For example, Odysseus travels to :

A floating isle! High-raised by toil divine,

Strong walls of brass the rocky coast confine.

Six blooming youths, in private grandeur bred,

And six fair daughters, graced the royal bed.

These sons their sisters wed, and all remain

Their parents’ pride, and pleasure of their reign.

All day they feast, all day the bowls flow round,

And joy and music through the isle resound;

At night each pair on splendid carpets lay,

And crown’d with love the pleasures of the day.

This 1873 verse translation I have been quoting from is by T. A. Buckley and in the public domain. As I commented in another blog post recently, the digital media revolution increases the use of public domain books, but these books often are in the public domain by virtue of being 100 years old or more. Looking at this 19th century translation, which I very much enjoy for what it is and I hope you have as well, adds a specific flavour to the story. As I have commented in another post, the Odyssey was very popular in the British colonial Empire and Odysseus‘ character, by no means one beloved by all ages, had a distinct appeal with his explorer’s nature and experience of the great unknown. A contemporary of this translation was Tennyson, whose famous poem „The Lotos Eaters“ conflates the pleasures of a Victorian opium smoker with the adventures of Odysseus on the Lotophagi island:

And round about the keel with faces pale,

Dark faces pale against that rosy flame,

The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came.

Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,

Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave

To each, but whoso did receive of them,

And taste, to him the gushing of the wave

Far far away did seem to mourn and rave

On alien shores; and if his fellow spake,

His voice was thin, as voices from the grave;

And deep-asleep he seem’d, yet all awake,

And music in his ears his beating heart did make.

The painting above titled „Land of the Lotos-Eaters“ (1863) by Robert Duncanson also epitomizes the conflation of 19th century exoticism with Hellenism which is yet another aspect of the same phenomenon. As much as it is important to notice these identifications and projections, the real interest lies in finding out what the Odyssey can mean to „us“, and now.

What is it about Pompeii that we still love?

In Allgemein by Francesca / 11. Juni 2014 / 0 Comments

by Craig Melson

Pompeii has seemingly never been more popular in our culture, with a hit film starring Jon Snow from Game of Thrones and Jack Bauer, an irritatingly catchy Bastille song, an episode of Doctor Who (which inconveniently guest starred the next Doctor) , a bestselling novel and a record setting British Museum exhibition. We’ve always loved Pompeii and our allure with the ruined city goes back centuries, so why can’t we get enough of it?
The Last Days of Pompeii is probably best known as a brilliant TV series, but no so well-known is that it started out as an 1834 book by all-round 19th century genius Edward Bulwer-Lytton, himself inspired by a painting of the same name by Russian painter Karl Bryullov. This era was the real height of Pompeii loving, where every young European noble would revel in neo-Classicism and undertake the ‘Grand Tour’, which often had Pompeii as the culmination (though richer and more adventurous nobles ventured on to Greece and Turkey). The Roman Empire during this period had both an enhanced and diminished role compared to now with nations obsessed with Rome as they went empire building, however, saw Rome in a one dimensional source of cool stories and pretty art, both things Pompeii supplied in spades when the serious excavations seriously excavated. It also provided moral lessons in the religious sphere, with the conservatively Catholic Italians denying full access to some of the more…interesting frescoes up to 2000, and preachers using the rediscovery to highlight the wrath of god (which is also Pliny’s assessment of why the volcano erupted).

Fast forwarding to now, there are probably two reasons why we love Pompeii, and keep reimagining it across all our different mediums. Firstly, is the touchy feely emotional side, as people relate to the folks that lived there, imagining the horror of the eruption, with the plaster casts and massed skeletons at Herculaneum hammering this point home. Takeaway restaurants, living rooms, doormats, shops, sports arenas are all things we recognise and relate to, and act as snap shots into ancient lives.
The second reason is the insight the ridiculously well-preserved site gives us into to normal Roman urban living. First century Pompeii was a pretty, but unremarkable Italian city, laid out and with the same grid pattern and social layers as thousands of other Roman cities across the Empire. Classical scholarship has always been about marrying the archaeological evidence with literary sources, which are of course hugely imbalanced towards recording the lives of the elite. Religious buildings, fora, villas and the like are hugely valuable as evidence, but all pale in comparison to what Pompeii tells us about urban life.

It’s not only the classicists, historians, geologists and geographers who have had their knowledge enhanced by Pompeii, but also engineers, doctors, city planners, plumbers, politicians, plasterers have all directly or indirectly drawn on Pompeian examples, as like any modern town of today, it has a thousand stories to tell. And we love it.

I would like to end with a quote from Up Pompeii!, but never found it that funny.

 

photo : Karl Briullov, *The Last Days of Pompeii*, 1827-33. Wikimedia Commons.

 

Craig Melson graduated from King’s College London in 2007 and has since worked in TV, policy and public affairs. He likes European politics, Shakespeare and anything classics, but hates UCL.

Premium Wines, German Monarchs, and Vineyard Slopes with an Exotic Micro-Climate

In Allgemein by Francesca / 4. Juni 2014 / 0 Comments

by Manuela Thoma

On the slopes of the historic old Württemberg, surrounded by beautiful vineyards on the outskirts of Stuttgart, lies the home of the Rotenberg and Uhlbach wine producers. The Rotenberg and Uhlbach associations of wine growers brought into existence the Collegium Wirtemberg, a cooperative wine-growers association, in April 2007.
This cooperative received this year’s Gault Millau award as Newcomer of the Year 2014, and was appraised by the editors as „a pleasant surprise“, and „a great performance with expressive white wines and dense reds“.

Not only are the enchanting views of the Neckar Valley, down to Esslingen, Bad Cannstatt and Stuttgart worth a visit for their idyllic wine villages. The impressive-looking local wine presses in Rotenberg and Uhlbach are also real treasure troves to any and all wine lovers. Collegium Wirtemberg offers regional specialty and classic wines that are characterized by a clear structure in aroma and flavor and bring out beautifully the variety of aromas from each different grape, and their salubriousness. In addition, elegant, refined, strong tasting varieties are also on offer, from these selectively harvested grapes from old, crop-reduced vines, to mature, compact and full-bodied wines expressing the characteristics of their regional origins beautifully – location, climate, and soil.

High above stands the chapel grave of Queen Katharina, beyond the vineyards of the Württemberg region that was named by King William II and until 1907 still was called Rotenberg. The grave chapel was built for Katharina Pavlovna (1788-1819) , second wife of William I of Württemberg (1781-1864). William himself is buried here too, as is their daughter, Marie Friederike Charlotte of Württemberg (1816-1887).

The crypt chapel was built after the death of Queen Katharina from 1820 to 1824, following designs of Italian court architect Giovanni Salucci. It is built on the foundations where once stood the former castle Wirtemberg, the house of Württemberg’s ancestral home, just in between the old Rotenberg and Uhlbach wine presses. The historic buildings are premises for tastings and sales, and popular visitor destinations with a rustic flair today. Unique too is the cultural landscape around them. In the warm micro-climate on the steep slopes of the Neckar Valley, the grapes ripen partly on terraces. Even Mediterranean vegetation such as lavender, figs and delicate English rose grow here. The maintenance of these systems is part of the work of the Collegium Wirtemberg, thus ensuring the survival of the wine making tradition. The walk up through the vineyards from the outskirts Untertürkheim up to the Württemberg and then across to Uhlbach is a completely unique experience.

The Collegium Wirtemberg honors its historic location through having the grave chapel as its logo. Two of its best wines from just around the venerable grave chapel are dedicated to King William and Queen Katharina: The dry 2011 Riesling „Katharina“, which received the Artvinum Award 2014, and the 2011 Trollinger „Wilhelm“, which was awarded the third place at the German Red Wine Award 2013 – a breakthrough for the much-underrated red Trollinger wine. A third wine of the so-called „monarchy Troika“ honors the architect of the grave chapel by dedicating him his very own dry red Cuveé „Salucci“ (grapes: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Mitos and Lemberger). Through its dark and soft touches and its international style, it is reminiscent of the full red wines of Italy.

Cellar-master Martin Kurrle achieves such success thanks to the remarkable „Holzfasskeller“, a special cellar located in the so-called „Fleckensteinbruch“, which is naturally conditioned by a granite fountain. Here, 60 large wooden barrels and 370 barrique barrels are stored. From this former stone quarry came the stone blocks that were used to build the vineyard terraces on the steep slopes of the Württemberg. Once more the Collegium Wirtemberg links up wine and culture: the fountain was designed by the artist Siegfried Berger from Rotenberg, whose art can be seen at the Collegium Wirtemberg. At this year’s local trade fair day on April 5th, we got a chance to visit the barrel cellar and the vineyards and to taste the new vintages and the entire range of the Collegium Wirtemberg. It’s a little known and underrated cultural gem full of unforeseen delights and treasures.

Sources:

www.collegium-wirtemberg.de (website checked on 15.05.2014)

http://www.deutscheweine.de/icc/Internet-DE/nav/61a/61a50b54-13f9-0401-be59-267b48205846&uCon=aab7e80a-2993-e31e-fe9e-54406f135e25&uTem=f202e0af-acd1-811e-c729-fe20926daeec&currentpage=6 Checked on 15.05.2014
http://www.vinum.info/_data/pdf/Deutscher_Rotweinpreis_2013_Gewinnerliste.pdf Checked on 15.05.2014

Image : Wikimedia Commons

Manuela Thoma studied history, comparative literature, and German literature at the University of Tübingen. She is particularly interested in post-medieval European history and is currently writing her doctoral thesis in Tübingen and Oslo. Manuela is a passionate cook and a lover of wine and whiskey. She works part-time in a traditional wine store and accompanies her boss to renowned wine fairs all over Germany.