Tuesday, 31 October 2006


Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael @ 23:29

Thankgiving is once again just around the corner. And as we have been doing for the last six (or is it seven?) years, we will be celebrating with our friends P. and K. (My speciality is the preparation of the turkey. That will be the subject of another post.) For the second time, that means traveling to London. We want to see some of the city so we will be spending an entire week there this year.
While there we plan to visit the Whitechapel district in the East End. In 1888 Whitechapel was the scene of a most horrendous series of murders. Though the identity of the murderer is still not known, he does have a name: Jack the Ripper.
Last year we went into the city for a day and did go to Whitechapel. But I was unprepared and had no idea where exactly the murders occurred. So this year, in preparation, I have been reading “The Complete History of Jack the Ripper” by Philip Sugden. I also purchased a map of the area as it was in 1888 and a contemporary street atlas and have been comparing the two in order to plan a walk that takes us to the murder sites.
Weird perhaps but we will be but two more in a parade of thousands, tens of thousands, that have walked those streets to see where five, maybe more, unfortunate women lost their lives to the notorious Saucy Jack.
So, why are the Whitechapel murders still so fascinating for so many people? Certainly the murders were sensational at the time. The ferocity of the killings set them apart from the “normal” violence of a big city slum. But I think they were destined to attain legend for a couple of reasons.
First, of course, is that the culprit was never identified. At the time, police investigation was entering what seems to me to be its modern phase. Excepting, of course, DNA testing, criminal profiling and other relatively recent advances, police work then was actually not all that different from now: determine motives, interview witnesses and people who may have been associated with the victims, search for evidence, etc. The people in Whitechapel expected the murderer to be caught.
But here was violent crime without apparent motive and little or no evidence other than the victims themselves. The newpapers of the day both praised the police for their obvious diligence and criticised them for their lack of results. Articles and even books were written in the immediate months and years after and that helped to keep the murders in the collective consciousness.
And that is my second point. The murders occurred at a time when the press, too, was entering its modern phase. The murders were good copy and the press was there with sensational headlines and salacious details within hours of each incident. Think about the press coverage surrounding a serial murder spree today. Or even the ongoing news surrounding the Jon Benet murder. That is a better example, perhaps, because like Jack her killer hasn’t been caught.
Because there was a police force in place to investigate and a press to sensationalize and because he killed and faded into shadow Jack became a legend, the first “serial killer”. And in many ways the investigation and press coverage continues. “Ripperologists” still comb through police reports, inquest transcripts, news articles, whatever they can find, looking for clues. And there has been a regular stream of books, magazine articles and specialized journals over the years expounding this theory or that.
OK, that still doesn’t really answer the question: Why the interest? And why a walking tour of Whitechapel? I really don’t know. Even at the time, people came from miles around to see the murder sites and point to the cobblestones where a victim had lain. I hope the weather is good.
— Michael
(For information about the Whitechapel murders and JTR, I can’t think of a better place to start than http://casebook.org/. Happy sleuthing.)

Sunday, 22 October 2006

A milestone

Filed under: Cycling — Michael @ 22:19

Shortly after moving here to Germany I purchased a bicycle. We came here in 1995 and I bought the bike in ’98. We don’t have a car and the reason for the bicycle was mostly just transportation. I had been using the U-Bahn (subway) to get to and from work. Others rode bikes and I thought hey, it’s only about 8km, I should be able to do that too. Well, I started riding to work and in spite of the physical effort involved I liked the freedom (similar to driving a car) of being able to go when I wanted and not just at the times when the train ran.
After a few weeks I noticed that it was getting easier and I started going out on the occasional weekend to explore the area. I can remember the first time I rode to a small village and back, a total of 18km, and how great it felt to have covered so much ground under my own power.
Anyway, that summer, a co-worker, Frank, mentioned that he and a few others were soon going to do another bike tour and I should come along. It would be in southern Sweden and though it sounded like a cool activity, I said thanks but declined. These guys were fit and did 50 or more kilometers a day! But he kept working on me and I eventually said I would go along.
OK, I won’t bore you with the details but after the first two days I was sore everywhere and was ready to pack it in. Frank convinced me (again) to stick it out and, well, I made it (barely) and I got hooked on cycle touring.
That was 1998. In ’99 there was a solar eclipse that would be visible here in Europe and the path of totality went through the Alsace region of France. What a great idea for a tour! We had a great time but the story deserves its own post.
The next year it was back to the Alsace to parts we missed the year before. Then came Toscana/Umbria. And Vorpommern in northern Germany. The Ardennes in Belgium. (Yep, I’m fit enough now to even climb mountains!) Next year? Likely southern France.

That same bike still gets me to and from work. In a few days the little bike computer will tell me that I have ridden 20,000km. A milestone. I won’t celebrate. It will probably happen on the way to work or riding back home or going into town to do some shopping. It is 20,000km that are not on some car’s odometer. I won’t celebrate but I will smile with happy memories and not a small bit of pride.

Sunday, 8 October 2006

Die Zauberflöte / The Magic Flute

Filed under: Music,Uncategorized — Michael @ 22:20

Hi, I have a couple of new domains, http://DieZauberflöte.info and http://TheMagicFlute.info (they both redirect to http://vondervotteimittiss.com/zauberfloete/). The Mozart opera Die Zauberflöte is one of my all-time favorite pieces of music. I have numerous recordings of this opera and I will shortly have reviews and other information about these on those sites. (A spreadsheet with the basic info for the recordings is there now at http://themagicflute.info/recordings.html.)
And, over time, I plan to add my own observations, and those of others, about this most excellent musical entertainment. I will keep you posted.

More on Opera

Filed under: Music — Michael @ 21:53

Along with my wife, blackcat, I have been going through a video course on Mozart’s Operas. The course is the work of Robert Greenberg for The Teaching Company. (I will have more to say about The Teaching Company and Mr. Greenberg in a future post. For now I will say simply that his courses are great.) In the course, Mr. Greenberg walks us through various Mozart operas, providing insights into the characters, the story, Mozart’s situation at the time he wrote the music, factoids about the librettist, and a lot of detail about the music. After all, an opera is all about the music, right? Wrong.
As I touched on in an earlier post, and something Mr. Greenberg stresses in his course, is that without a sense of the story and charactrs an opera is difficult to really appreciate. (I know I have never had much of an appreciation for opera.) One of the key points of the course is how good Mozart was at providing music that added depth to the characters and a clarity to the situations of the story. But without knowledge of the story or the characters we’re at a disadvantage because we won’t be able to truly appreciate how good a job Mozart (or any other composer) did.
For example, take Don Giovanni. Thanks to these lessons we now know the story and the characters and we have heard selections of the music. The story and characters are interesting and with Mozart’s music there is real drama. I can’t wait to see it in a live performance.