Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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The History of Munich and Its Loam

„Ohne den Lehm daat’s München net geb‘n!“

This post by Julia Schneider, a student of the RCC-LMU Environmental Studies Certificate Program, stems from her research conducted as part of the exhibition project “Ecopolis: Understanding and Imagining Munich’s Environments.”


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Figure 1. Details of clay bricks in Munich, from the Nordfriedhof (left), the Frauenkirche (center), and the Salvatorkirche (right). Photographs by author.

Thinking about houses and buildings made out of clay bricks, it is often cities like those in northern Italy that spring to mind. Bologna, Florence, or Siena; particularly those moments when the sun sets and the city glows red and ochre with all the big churches, towers, and palazzi made out of and covered with red clay bricks and tiles. Clay bricks are Italy. Thus, such an image doesn’t really fit with Munich, our Bavarian capital north of the Alps, quite far away from Bella Italia and its red sun—at least that’s what I thought before writing this article. Continue reading


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Snapshot: Where Geology Meets Early Modern History

A Millstone Quarry in Upper Bavaria

By Katrin Kleemann

 

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Photographs by Katrin Kleemann, CC BY 4.0. 

The Mühlsteinbruch Hinterhör in Altenbeuren, Upper Bavaria—this millstone quarry was the first stop on a recent LMU geology field trip to the Northern Limestone Alps. The site is an official geotope of Bavaria (geotope means “Earth place” and refers to a spot in nature where the Earth’s history becomes visible). At this unique spot you can learn about the area’s early modern history as well as its geology; this is one of very few geotopes that was formed by humans.

Between 1572 and 1860, the quarry was used to produce millstones for the surrounding mills (which were transported on the nearby river Inn), explaining the characteristic round shapes that can be seen at this outcrop. But without the perks of modern technology, how did the quarry workers extract the circular millstones? Using a chisel and hammer to create the outlines of the round shape, they would drive wooden wedges into these circular borders and water the wedges regularly causing the wood to expand and fracture the rock, freeing the millstone from the wall.

Yet it is not just these insights into the innovative techniques used by people in the past that are revealed; this spot is also particularly interesting from a geological perspective. The 28-meter-thick layer is mainly made up of sandstone and marlstone, and belongs to the Helvetic Nappes; sheet-like bodies of rock that were once located in the shallow waters of the southern margin of the European continental shelf, created before the Alps were formed. During the formation of the Alpine mountains, the Helvetic Nappes (layers) were thrust northward and upward, deformed by the continued folding during the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods, explaining why a once-seabed is now found more than 500 meters above sea level. Fossilized oysters with thick shells can be found there, indicating that this spot must have once been located either in shallow water or perhaps at a river delta. The oyster shells had to be thick survive the pressure of strong tidal currents in the coastal waters.

 


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Making Tracks: Tom Griffiths

“Meditations of a Sputnik”

by Tom Griffiths

I am a “Sputnik,” born in the year the Soviet satellite launched the Cold War into space. Sixty years ago, the launch by the Russians of the first artificial Earth satellite on 4 October 1957 seemed to many in the West a threatening symbol of escalating superpower rivalry. And it did unleash extreme military anxiety and triggered what became known as the Space Race. Twelve years later, in the midwinter of 1969, I remember waking up just before midnight to watch on TV a Saturn V US rocket wreathed in smoke and flame inch its way off the ground at Cape Canaveral. It powered mightily against the pull of gravity and triumphed. Apollo 11 was beginning its journey out of Earth’s atmosphere towards the moon.

I saw this spectacle from a suburban home in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. The house was built by my father on a gentle hill of vacant paddocks in the year 1950—a key turning point in the history of the world, as it turned out. My parents were among those who, after the war, built with earnest commitment the homes that signified their return to family and security. Building materials were scarce and skilled labour was in demand. At the weekend, across Melbourne’s burgeoning outer suburbs, people busied themselves around trenches, timber frames and humble small-roomed dwellings. The first photographs in our family album show the timber frame rising alone against the sky from amidst the grass on the hill, awaiting its brick veneer. Dad queued up each week at the hardware store for a pound of nails—his building ration in hard times—and sometimes enlisted workmates to collect a quota of nails on his behalf so that work on the house could proceed at the weekend.

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The house that dad built rises from the grasslands of Balwyn as the Great Acceleration also takes off. Photo courtesy of author.

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Munich’s Beautiful Botanical Garden

By Samantha Rothbart

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The Munich Botanical Garden may be a little sparse at the moment, but even without the vibrant green foliage that dominates the city in the summer, it is an impressive sight. You might expect the leafless branches to create an air of dejection. On the contrary, they serve to highlight the beautiful structure of the trees and plants—what Roy Campbell called the “clear anatomy” in his poem Autumn.

Even so, new signs of life are starting to soften the severe edges. Green shoots peek through the rich, dark soil in the ornamental garden. Soon, the tulips will begin to flower and the plants will need to be potted and then replanted, Dr. Andreas Gröger explains. He is a botanist and the scientific curator of the Botanical Garden. Though he is not overly fond of the stylized beauty of the ornamental garden—he was initially quite hesitant about having to assume responsibility for it—he acknowledges that it’s a magnet for the “normal” folk who find themselves out and about for the day. The manicured lawns and whimsical flowers are a gateway drug for first-time visitors and would-be botanists. They draw us deeper into the secretive greenhouses of the wild species that so fascinate Gröger, and expose us to what he calls “real ecology.” Continue reading


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Making Tracks: Paul Sutter

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

By Paul Sutter

There was nothing about my childhood that inclined me towards the environmental humanities—except, perhaps, the entire context in which I grew up. As a product of the Long Island suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s, I came of age in the sweet spot of an American environmentalist upswing, among people who had escaped the city for the environmental amenities of the suburbs—or at least among those whose wealth and skin color had afforded them that ability. I did not experience the violent cutting edge of suburbanization, the large-scale mass grading that erased the rural past of so much of the nation’s urban fringe. My hometown—Garden City, New York—was one of the oldest suburban developments built in the United States, the post-Civil War vision of a wealthy New York dry goods merchant named Alexander Turney Stewart, whose choice of name for his new town anticipated Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Movement by several decades. Levittown, a bit further out on the island and the epitome of a mass-produced postwar suburb, was the product of a later age.

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Photograph of and plans for the Country Life Press facility, which became the Doubleday Publishing Company’s home in 1910. (From The Country Life Press: Garden City, NY, 1919).

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Student Research: Permaculture – Alternative Agriculture, part 2

Last year, students of the RCC Environmental Studies Certificate Program had the opportunity to attend a three-day workshop with Jochen Koller, Diploma Permaculture-Designer and Director of the Forschungsinstitut für Permakultur und Transition (FIPT). Students gained an insight into the ethics and design principles of permaculture, the diverse spheres of activity, and the practical possibilities. In this short series of posts, students reflect on their experiences at the workshop and on permaculture as an interdisciplinary approach to thinking, planning, and designing.


“Permaculture and the Hummelhof— A Philosophy for Life?”

By Stefan Bitsch

We are 14 people, driving through the calm and gentle landscape of the Allgäu to the first stop of our permaculture workshop. The first thing which strikes us as we enter the 17-hectare farm is that the garden has an unfamiliar feeling to it. It seems both peaceful and, strangely enough, busy, like no other place we will visit on that trip.

In front of the farm, whose façade is paneled with insect hotels, Mr. Hummel is already waiting to give us a tour.

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Insect hotel. Photo: Lea Wiser.

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Making Tracks: Franklin Ginn

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

By Franklin Ginn

Failure lies behind the trappings of academic success: words unwritten, words sunk without trace, applications rejected, snubs both subtle and large.

The tracks I have left: my biography. Like many a small child, a small boy, I killed a lot of bugs. Warm afternoons swatting flies against windows; damp afternoons hunting for slugs, snails, whatever, doused in salt or crushed with bricks. Spiders, centipedes, or— my favorite—millipedes, trapped in empty plastic containers; let’s see who outlives who? I had a graveyard where I buried these dead. Twigs or sticks as memorials. I never killed birds or mammals. But I longed to find dead birds so I could bury them and mark their graves with lollipop sticks. Continue reading