Central Europe Adventures 2016 – Part Fifteen: Exploring Luther’s Wittenberg

I’ve wanted to travel to Wittenberg since traveling past it on my previous visit to Germany. I wanted to know how a man from such a small town could have such a large impact on world and church history and beliefs.

Although I was still not very well after coming down with food poisoning I took some medication and caught a train from Berlin to Wittenberg for the day trip.

I was immediately lost on arrival at Wittenberg train station as the train station is not in the centre of the town like I had expected it to be. To ensure that I was even more lost there was no signage or map at the station showing the way to the centre of town.

I decided that the best idea was to follow the three people in front of me along the road. This plan worked until we came to the first intersection where the three people all walked off in different directions.

At this point I found a street name that matched the small printed map of Wittenberg that I had and despite realising I was in the complete opposite end of the town to what I thought I was at least I knew that I was heading in the right direction (For the record: Lutherstadt Wittenberg and Lutherstadt Wittenberg Altstadt are two different train stations).

My first stop in Wittenberg was at the Lutherhaus museum. I spent almost two hours here as the museum has a great overview of all aspects of Luther’s life and relationships with his family, community and contemporaries.

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Deutscher Trip 2015 – Part Eight: A Tourist and a Local in Berlin

Normally I can see the majority of a large city in two days. On my third day in Berlin I still had a huge list of things I still wanted to see. Joining me for the day was one of my friends from Potsdam who grew up in Berlin.

We began the day with Breakfast at the Hauptbahnhof and planned out a rough traverse through the city. Our first stop was the Reichstag which is a short walk from the Hauptbahnhof. As we were craming a lot into the day we didn’t go inside and instead continued to walk along to the Brandenburg Gate. Before arriving at the gate we took a small detour to visit the Soviet War Memorial in the Tiergarten whose green tanks by the side of the road grabbed your attention as they looked out of place in the present time.

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The World Until Yesterday

A few weeks ago I finished reading Jared Diamond’s latest book The World Until Yesterday. At almost 500 pages the book is a long and at times heavy read, but overall, a fascinating thesis on the rapid changes taking place in traditional societies and the potential loss of indigenous knowledge and culture as modern civilisation influences far reaches of the globe.

One of the overarching points in the book is how many things that we consider normal, and take for granted, are in fact quite unusual in the history of world civilisations. Diamond uses the acronym WEIRD to describe modern society: western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic. This description is then used throughout the book to compare modern society to other traditional societies in matters of friendships, relationships, conflict resolution, decision making, child raising, societal care of aged peoples, languages, religion and food.

My copy of the book is now dog eared in many places from many great insights Diamond makes, of which three in particular stand out:

Speaking of the general behaviour of individuals in modern societies Diamond states:

We not only permit, we actually encourage, individuals to advance themselves, to win, and to again advantages at the expense of others. In many of our business transactions we aim to maximise our own profits, and never mind the feelings of the person on the other side of the table on whom we have succeeded in inflicting a loss. Even children’s games… are contests of winning and losing. That isn’t so in traditional… [societies], where children’s play involves cooperation rather than winning or losing.

Speaking of the purpose of religion in societal development:

For individuals and for societies, religion often involves a huge investment of time and resources… religion thus incurs “opportunity costs”: those investments of time and resources in religion that could have been devoted instead to obviously profitable activities, such as planting more crops, building dams, and feeding larger armies of conquest. If religion didn’t bring some big real benefits to offset those opportunity costs, any atheistic society that by chance arose would be likely to outcompete religious societies and take over the world.

Finally in discussing children’s upbringings and our overall desire to experiment and learn:

In Africa, if you need something, you make it for yourself, and as a result you know how it is put together and how it works. In the U.S., if you need something, you go buy it, and you don’t know how it is put together…
Many people in the U.S. have acquired a great many things, but they remain paupers so far as their knowledge and understanding of the rest of the world is concerned. They seem to be comfortably enclosed within their walls of carefully constructed, selective ignorance.

Despite its length, The World Until Yesterday is a brilliant book that makes you question and consider in our WEIRD modern society if there are things that we have forgotten from our traditional roots and maybe should relearn. Pick it up and give it a read.

We’re Still Waiting for The Ultrasonic Shower

A few weeks ago I finished reading Bill Bryson’s 1994 book following the history of the United States and the development of American English – Made in America. At almost 600 pages it has taken me around six months to get through the entire book, but it is a fantastic read.

One of the last chapters of the book focuses on language from the time of the Space Race. In particular, the following excerpt about words from the 1970s is just as true today:

In  1959, in one of those delving into the future that magazines found so satisfying at the time, Newsweek presented this confident scenario for the lucky housewife of 1979: ‘Waking to cool 1970-style music from a tiny phonograph built into her pillow, the housewife yawned, flicked a bedside switch to turn on the electronic recipe-maker, then rose and stepped into her ultrasonic shower.’

Among the many things Newsweek’s soothsayer failed to foresee was that by 1979 the housewife would be an endangered species. What the world got instead were words like workaholic, drive-by shootings, crack cocaine, AIDS, repetitive stress injury, gridlock and serial killer. We’re still waiting for the ultrasonic shower.

Personally, I am still waiting for my jetpack.