BEE-EATERS / PROFITEERS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Visiting the northernmost breeding area of these multicolored summer guests

Photo created by Hwbund at Kaiserstuhl area, Germany, CC BY-SA 4.0
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Nowadays, the fabulous bee-eaters made their way even  to the very northeast of Germany close by the city of Prenzlau where they live in an operating surface mine which produces sand and gravel. In summer 2020 six breeding pairs stay actually here for a very short time, they usually arrive around 10 June and as real migrating birds leave again by 31 July when they will have already raised their brood.

Summer residence of the bee-eaters – a gravel pit near the village of Gerswalde (district Buchholz), Uckermark

Last Saturday I joined an ornithological excursion to this site led by ornithologist Derk Ehlert who is also the responsible Wildlife Officer of Berlin. Due to the ongoing COVID19 pandemic the group had to be reduced to 8 people for ensuring necessary security rules. Fortunately, weather was fine so the bee-eaters were very active outside of their nesting caves. Once a bee-eater even flew over our heads, but the birds live inside the pit, a restricted area, so we could watch them usually only from a distance of 200-250 m.

Spotting scopes and binoculars required for observation of birds

Bee-eaters (merops apiaster) belong to the bird genus merops, a name emerging also in Greek mythology. There, Merops used to be the mythical king of the Meroper on the Greek island of Kos who had been transformed to an eagle by the goddess Hera. And the bee-eaters also like the Mediterranean area and prefer warm climates.

Flowery view on the technical facilities of the gravel pit
 
Video produced by Heinz Sielmann Stiftung, Germany
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The bee-eater was considered extinct in Germany at the end of the 1980s, but has been migrating again since 1990 due to the ongoing climate change. His habitat is open landscapes with individual trees and bushes, and the birds breed in dug caves on steep slopes.
All what the birds require can be found in this gravel pit very well, and even when temperatures are not too high, the white sand is heated here by the strong July sun, so it should be always quite cozy for these birds.
Bee-eaters are often found in colonies. They like to sit, usually together with their peers, on outstanding branches, wires and masts. Through the spotting scope I myself could see 5 birds sitting on a distant bush, may be they just had a small siesta talk.

In a hill next to the gravel pit some holes and abandoned nest caves which might also be the work of black-tailed swallows (riparia riparia)

I found the place very fascinating, the mixture of technology, archaic steppe and wildlife an interesting symbiosis. The bee-eaters have seized a new living space here in the North where they apparently feel quite comfortable in summer.

Bird mural by Don Johnson for Urban Nation, Berlin

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PATCHWORK OF COLOURS

 

Last Saturday I stumbled over this beautiful wildness in the countryside near Berlin. A lot of heat resistent (steppe) flowers can be found here in great impressionist variety on a very sandy and dry ground. It reminds a little bit of Claude Monet’s painting “Les Coquelicots / The Poppies”. Nice surprises may be discovered anywhere, no need to travel always far away.

 

FOTD – July 6 – Daylily

Geometric Perspective

 

TUNISIA – WATER, DESERT AND NOMADIC VASTNESS


It doesn’t matter if the path is long,
as long as there is a well at the end. (Tuareg saying)

 

Water is our cool elixir being available unfortunately not everywhere in the world. However, with the ongoing climate change the desert and semi-arid areas will expand even more globally while water shortages even occurr today in countries like Spain or Italy during summertime.

Remote Cape Negro and the Mediterranean in the still greenish North

From the main road between Tabarka and Bizerte we had to drive 15 km over deserted sand tracks to reach Cape Negro, a forgotten and left place at the Mediterranean coast with typical vegetation, a quite cool wind from the sea and also a long sandy beach without other people.

Cork oak in a forest near Tabarka not far from the Algerian border

“Hotel Les Mimosas” in Tabarka

Doesn’t this hotel look really very French? The lovely place is situated on top of a small hill allowing a nice view on Tabarka and the sea.

Water reservoir Sidi-el-Barrak near Nefza

This water reservoir in the very green North of Tunisia is also a complete non-touristic place but during this moment of a late afternoon the sentiment and interaction of light, clouds and water revealed something else.

Atlas massive divides Tunisia, at its Southern edge the great Sahara begins

Take in mind that Tunisia was once serving as the breadbasket of the Roman Empire only 2,000 years ago. Since then the warming period after the last Ice age and normal climate change have transformed formerly very fertile areas to extensive badlands and endless desert zones. And the Sahara has so far not ceased its unbridled expansion.

Cracked desert between Tozeur and Tamerza, Sahara

This photo means still one of my favourite travel remembrances from Tunisia showing a single resilient bush in an area of burst and dried soil most likely due to very seldom and heavy rainfalls some time ago.

But where are the legendary dromedaries? Not a single one here.

Photo was taken on the main road coming from the North and Tunis, this is now really deep in the South somewhere between Metlaoui and Tozeur.

Matmata cave dwellings also known as Luke Skywalker’s home in Star Wars

Half way between Tozeur and the peninsula Djerba lies the cave village of Matmata where people have lived for thousands of years and which got well known by the famous cult film series Star Wars.  The landscape is quite barren with only a few apartments on the surface but the magic of Matmata goes deeper and is revealed to guests when they descend into the unique underground cave dwellings which offered its inhabitants good protection against extreme cold at night and the burning sun during the day. 

Arabic scene in Tunisia, Ernesto Quarti Marchio, 1933

Small paradise and tiny water fountain near oasis of Douz with Beatrice vested as a fabulous Tunisian princess

Oasis areas in the endless width of the great Sahara desert are often to be found in geological break zones and depressions such as here. In the desert each drop of sweet water is just more worth than a sack of gold.

Dromedaries waiting for clients at the oasis of Douz

The Sahara desert used to be a wide ocean in former times where the nomads did their endless sails on dromedaries (not camels), some do it till today. Though, I admire the desert very much (like high mountains) as a quite puristic place with a clear unlimited view till the distant horizon which may clear a mind and widen the own horizon, a real exciting feeling beside all those known hazards and risks.

Nomadic monument at road junction in Douz

The oasis of Douz is a real gateway to the Sahara with around 30,000 inhabitants today. The desert dunes near Douz are famous because they are consisting of an incredible soft and nearly white sand. The area is traditionally inhabited by the semi-nomadic Mrazig tribe, an Arab Bedouin tribe who left the Arabian Peninsula in the 8th century to settle in Tunisia in the 13th century. Today many live from the date harvest and probably the best dates in Tunisia come from Douz called Deglet en Nour. So the “gold of the oasis” is more than just any fruit for the people of Douz.

Death zone of the huge salt lake Chott-el-Jerid after sunset

The tremendous salt lake Chott-el-Jerid can be traversed today safely on a solid dam with street which is also connecting the oasis areas Nefzaoua and Tozeur. In former times such travel turned out to be a real dangerous adventure.

Not for drinking – just salty water of Chott-El-Jerid

Ruins of the old city and mountain oasis of Tamerza

Now this excursion here has really turned out to become more a collage of texts, impressions and varied images which had been picked up at diverse locations scattered all over vast and nice Tunisia. 

Breakfast always with fresh flowers at oasis of Tozeur

Most photos were made during a self-organized round trip thru all Tunisia in April 2006, but here are also 3 still analog pictures included resulting  from a short trip to Tozeur in October 2002.

51. International Festival of Sahara in Douz 2019

 

P. S. The featured image at the beginning with a Tunisian motif is a painting by another Orientalist artist: “A street in Gadames” by Giorgio Oprandi,1929.

 

PREHISTORIC MIDSUMMER AT WOODHENGE

Diving in an offbeat Stonehenge feeling at Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

The western gate (Beltane / Lugnasad)

On the occasion of solcistice 2020 we visited the Woodhenge Pömmelte (Ringheiligtum von Pömmelte), a circular sanctuary in Saxony-Anhalt; in the evening of years’ longest day time had come to discover this ancient and magical spot. During this period of the year people usually enjoy the very long days, so this archeological site offered special guided tours on June 20 at 8:30 p.m, followed by the sunset at 9:28 p.m.

View through the outer palisades at dusk

Although weather was not ideal with a more grey sky and even a little bit of rain, some nice light effects emerged at the distant horizon when the sun finally disappeared, impressive moments that we longingly look for.

View on the sanctuary from the visitor’s platform

Woodhenge Pömmelte is a reconstructed circular earthwork of Neolithic times and the early Bronze Age. South of Magdeburg, not far from the river Elbe, archaeologists discovered in 1991 the remains of a huge cult site. A complete excavation took place between 2005 and 2008. Afterwards, the circular ditch system was completely reconstructed at the original site. The complex structure comprises seven rings of wooden palisade rings, pits, ramparts and embankments with a total diameter of 115 m. 

A burial place – the engraving shows the position of the deceased

Inside the sanctuary at dusk

In terms of size, structure and function, the ring sanctuary resembled the English Stonehenge. However, the construction in Pömmelte did not consist of large stones, but of 1,800 wooden posts; both sites were erected by the socalled Bell Beaker culture at the end of the Stone Age. So we may assume that some kind of European community, travelling and exchange has already existed more than 4,000 years ago.

Inside the sanctuary – people waiting for sunset

View on the inner circles from the western gate

Many generations of prehistoric inhabitants utilized this place to cultivate their customs and practices, and to pass them down to their descendants in the time period 2,335 – 2,050 BC. The location was used as a central sanctuary with sacrificial pits and ritual dumpings; drinking vessels, animal bones, millstones, stone axes, pottery, grindstones, arrow heads and parts of human bodies were part of ceremonious sacrifices and burials those days and found here in diverse deposits.

More varied deposits in the ramparts
between the inner and outer palisades
 

While the world was changing radically, the Stone Age ended and the Bronze Age began, there was persistence here for quite a long time, a place of worship and assembly, a burial site, a victim’s place and an astronomical calendar in one.

The eastern gate (Imbloc / Samhain)

Like in Stonehenge the plant design was also guided by astronomical issues and aspectsThe two main gates and entrances to the complex (in the East and West) are based on the sunrise and sunset points of the days between the solstices and the equinoxes. So the site served as a huge calendar marking seasons, harvest time and New Year as well.

We were a bit disappointed because we had expected that the sunset would take place directly in the middle of the western gate as a special midsummer event when looking directly from the East. However, we surprisingly learnt that this effect appears instead on April 30 but the guide did not go in the details or just talked to quick. 

At home I could satisfy my curiosity regarding April 30 well known here as Walpurgis night when witches gather at particular places. Though, in the old Celtic belief (Beltane) in Ireland, Wales or Scotland it meant also the beginning of summer, an important date for successful agriculture.

So when April 30 was regarded in former times as the beginning of summer, I now understand better why solcistice is also named midsummer here in the Northern hemisphere.

All in all a very nice trip, and thanks for following this short time journey and midsummer excursion.

 

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Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #102: A Quiet Moment

The Cosmic Photo Challenge.

Jo’s Monday walk : a fishy tale!

SCISSORS AND GLUE – HIS ARMORY

Sometime ago we had the opportunity to visit the former summer refuge of John Heartfield (1891-1968). During the Third Reich this German political artist (graphic artist, stage designer and cartoonist) used to be no. 5 on Gestapo’s most wanted list.

This is the “happiness” that they bring! (from: AIZ, June 1938)

John Heartfield is considered the inventor of political photo montage, collages of text and imagery found in mass-produced media, revolutionary when viewed in terms of technique and aesthetics. His powerful and satirical works in the late 1920s und 1930s became real icons in the struggle against the Nazis.

The real meaning of the Hitler salute. The little man asks for big gifts.
I’ve got millions standing behind me. 
(from: AIZ, October 1932)

John Heartfield was also a pacifist, and he was deeply disgusted by the fierce and unrestrained nationalism leading finally to World War I.  Therefore in 1916 he anglizised his original German name Helmut Herzfeld as a sign of protest.  In order to escape the imminent military service, he feigned a mental illness and subsequently had to stay in a lunatic asylum for several weeks. By this unusual proceeding he avoided to be drafted to the man-eating frontlines of World War I.

War and corpses. The last hope of the rich. (from: AIZ, June 1932)

Heartfield himself has repeatedly referred to the key experience of World War I, above all to the unprecedented role of image propaganda in the war riot: it would have given impetus how people were lied to with photos. As a result, he was brought into internal opposition to these visual worlds and was tempted to use the corrupted propaganda instrument photography as an educational tool; also, of course, because the trivial mass medium of photography was not considered an artistic medium of expression at the time.

Self-portrait with police commissioner Zörgiebel, 1929

In 1916, on a May day, early in the morning at 5 o’clock, the photo montage is said to have been born as an artistic technique. Well that’s how George Grosz, who claims to have been there, later remembered when John Heartfield, the “Chief Johnny” from the Berlin Dada circles, invented it.

Advertisement design for George Grosz’ “Little Art Folder”

It was at least partly due to his relationship with George Grosz that John Heartfield arrived at the conclusion that the only art worth creating was that which depicted and commented on social and political issues. Hence he destroyed all of the art that he had created before World War I.  He joined the German Communist Party in 1918, in that same year he and George Grosz became founding members of the Berlin Dada Club. His engagement in this anti-art movement inspired him to working with new materials and an innovative approach concerning photography. 

Cover design for Kurt Tucholsky’s book
“Germany, Germany above all”

During the Weimar Republic after World War I, John Heartfield’s work was gaining a lot of exposure in Germany as he was a regular contributor to diverse journals and newspapers. His brother, author and companion Wieland Herzfelde founded and run Malik Verlag, a publishing house for books and satirical periodicals as well. Here he served as the in-house designer and advanced his skills as a book designer. During the 1920s John Heartfield worked also together with Erwin Piscator (founder and director of the Proletarian Theatre in Berlin), for him he designed diverse sets for plays in collaboration with playwright Bertold Brecht who became a real friend.

Cover design for Harry Sinclair Lewis’ book
“How you make dollars”

“If I were not Peter Panter, I would like to be a book cover at Malik publishing house. This John Heartfield is really a little wonder of the world. What enchanting things he does!” (Kurt Tucholsky, 1932)

 

Göring, hangman of the Third Reich (from: AIZ, September 1933)

His best-known works comprise the combative photomontages created for AIZ, Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung (Workers’ Illustrated Newspaper), a widely circulated left-wing German weekly that he worked for from 1927 to 1938. During this time he created more than 230 images with strong pointed political messages, often to be seen on the front or back cover.

His commentary was chiefly reserved for Nazi actions and party leaders. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Heartfield and his anti-Nazi imagery were immediately targeted. With the Nazis on his heels,  he left Berlin on foot for Prague, where he continued to work for AIZ. In 1938, when the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia was imminent, he was forced to flee again, this time to London.

Reservations – Jews driven like cattle (December 1939)

While he succeeded in escaping the Gestapo (Nazi secret police) when in London the British secret service MI5 began to monitor him as a possible Soviet spy and communist. However, he continued to produce his biting photomontages on current political events being published in various British newspapers. Reservations (showing the ghettoisation of Jews in Poland) means his last published political work in the United Kingdom shortly before he got interned as an enemy alien in December 1939. After internment and long illness, he then primarily designed the covers of generally apolitical books for the Lindsay Drummond and Penguin Books publishing houses.

Stage set projection for Bertold Brecht’s “Mother Courage”, 1951

In 1950 after 17 years in exile he returned to his now communist homeland in East-Germany. Here he met his brother Wieland Herzfelde again who survived the Nazis in US American exile. After staying the first time in Leipzig, John Heartfield settled finally in East-Berlin, his hometown. His long years in London raised suspicions of treason among the East-German secret police named  Stasi. Renowned artists and friends like playwright Bertold Brecht and author Stephan Heym supported him and advocated for his kind of art. But only after Stalin’s death he got fully rehabilitated in 1956 by election to the East-German Academy of the Arts. In 1960 he became a professor there. 

The summer house of John Heartfield in Waldsieversdorf

The summer house was erected in 1957 from demolition wood of Strausberg Airport, a small forestial idyll with direct access to a beautiful lake. His friend Bertold Brecht urged him to this step for improving his poor health. As of 2009 the premises serves as a small museum, memorial and meeting  place visitable on weekends.

John Heartfield in the early 1950s

Since his death his work has been exhibited regularly throughout the United States and Europe, a current and comprehensive exhibition named Fotografie plus Dynamit can actually be seen at Academy of the Arts (Akademie der Künste) in Berlin (afterwards moving to London and Zwolle as well).

In light of strengthened right-wing radicalism and uprising chauvinist hatred, Heartfield’s work remains up to date till today.

 

HIKING BEHIND THE TIMES

“Here is not past, nor future;
everything just flows  in an eternal present.”
(James Joyce)

 

Thanks to the ongoing COVID19 pandemic,  we spend more time than usual in the rural countryside or urban nature which are actually the safest places to be.

More recently we have visited Hellsee / Bright Lake being situated 20 kms northern of Berlin. It is a fabulous nature reserve, so you may not be astonished that fallen trees are partially lying on the trail.

The beautiful lake is part of a glacial basin with a diversified landscape including wet meadows, marshland, forests, small streams, sandy gorges and moraines.

We were of course also looking for birds and then at the car park stumbled finally across this quite kitschy scene.