Hannah Arendt: A Female Philosopher With Contemporary Ideas

March 8th is International Women’s Day and a good chance to highlight a famous German/American female philosopher named Hannah Arendt. Her philosophical and political theories were developed around her experiences growing up as a Jew in Germany under the Nazis. Most of her teachings revolve around the ideas of evil and power in totalitarian regimes. Many of her thoughts are as pertinent today as they were when she wrote them seventy years ago.

Who Was Hannah Arendt?

Hannah Arendt was born in 1906 near Hannover, Germany. She was the daughter of educated, liberal Jewish parents and spent much of her youth growing up in Königsberg, located in East Prussia. Her family was well integrated in the German community there, and Hannah’s education was predominantly secular, emphasizing Goethe’s humanities-oriented ‘Bildung’ (education) ideals. She was quite a precocious girl:  She understood ancient Greek at a young age and was ferociously independent in her thinking and actions during her schooling. 

Source: zeit.de

She spent some time during the First World War in Berlin and eventually studied there. Later she also studied in Marburg, Freiburg and Heidelberg, where she received her Doctorate in Philosophy in 1929.

After finishing her PhD, Hannah started to research anti-semitism and was arrested by the Nazis in 1933. Following her release, Hannah fled Germany and eventually landed in Paris. She expanded her philosophical interests there until Hitler invaded France in 1940. She was detained by the French and escaped to the United States in 1941 via Portugal. 

Source: br.de

Hannah became a US citizen in 1950. She was active in trying to find a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and published her first book in 1951: The Origins of Totalitarianism. This is probably her best known work, dealing with the nature of power and evil as well as politics, direct democracy, authority and totalitarian rule. She subsequently wrote many other books and taught in several renowned American universities.

What Was Hannah Arendt’s Political Philosophy?

Hannah Arendt’s political philosophy was based on the idea of active citizenship that emphasizes civic engagement and collective deliberation. She believed that no government could extinguish the drive for human freedom. She saw the evilness of totalitarian power in its manipulation of human thinking. 

Perhaps her philosophy is best summed up in quotes from her lectures and books. Below are a few quotes taken from the Internet portal azquotes.com

‘The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists’.

‘Evil thrives on apathy and cannot exist without it’.

‘The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but destroy the capacity to form any’.

‘The is a strange interdependence between thoughtlessness and evil’.

‘Generally speaking, violence always rises out of impotence. It is the hope of those who have no power to find a substitute for it and this hope, I think, is in vain. Violence can destroy power but it can never replace it’.

Hannah Arendt’s ideas and theories are clearly still relevant today. 

Hannah Arendt died in 1975 in the United States, where she is buried. 

Source: fu-berlin.de





Carnival in Germany

Source: dreamstime.de

This year, starting on the 24th of February and continuing till the 2nd of March is the time of German Street Carnival, a unique and ‘grand, mad and unforgettable event’ (theculturetrip.com). 

Though COVID will once again prevent Carnival being celebrated as raucously as in non-pandemic times, the ‘Fifth Season’ is still a much loved and celebrated time in this country.

Source: Getty Images

What is Carnival?

Carnival (Karneval in German) goes by different names including Fastnachtzeit and Fasching (Bavaria). All the names are derived from the Latin expression ‘carne valis’…literally ‘good-bye meat’. So Carnival ends on Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of the Catholic time of Lent. Lent is a 40 day period of abstinence prior to Easter. Many Catholics abstain from eating meat, sweets or drinking alcohol during this period.

The Carnival season is referred to as a ‘session’. Each session has a theme, a Jester, a Prince and Princess plus other supporting characters, differing by region. The session actually begins with the ‘awakening’ of the Jester and the public proclamation of the session’s Prince and Princess.  The date of the presentation is always 11.11 at 11:11 in the morning. On this day, Carnival fans don silly hats and costumes to celebrate the beginning of the Carnival season with their new Regents. There are lots of parties, beer flows generously and the fans or ‘Jecken’ sing and sway to Carnival songs.

Source: 24rhein.de

In areas that celebrate the Fastnachtzeit, the Carnival season gets into swing after Epiphany on the 6th of January. From this point until the beginning of Street Carnival, the Regents and their entourages are busy with Carnival activities every day. Much of their work is charitable, like visiting nursing homes, schools and kindergartens. They also attend parties and ‘Büttnerreden’ speaking events (special Carnival parties with sharp-tongued, humorous speakers). This period ends in the Street Carnival, a six day party that ends on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. In some parts of Germany, Carnival is a more solemn affair, particularly in the South. But in Rhineland it is a big, crazy event where Germany lets down its hair and has fun.

Street Carnival in Rhineland

The Thursday prior to Ash Wednesday is the kick off for Street Carnival. It is called ‘Altweiber’, which means Women’s Carnival. On this day, the women rule! They dress up in costumes, storm the town hall and cut off the ties of the reigning mayor and other male officials in the town. The tradition is also practiced in businesses. Every man in an office building knows he better have an old tie handy on the day of Altweiber! 

By the evening, there is a festive sense of non-stop party. Cologne is known as the stronghold of Street Carnival, with over one million people celebrating every year. The weekend continues with pub crawls, parties, masked balls and lots of swaying to Carnival songs. People traditionally indulge in jelly doughnuts (Berliner) and fried dough (Krapfen) in addition to the usual fare of sausages, fries, schnitzels and so on. Families dress up and parade their costumes. Children have parties and enjoy running around with their friends during local parades. Floats roll through the villages and candies are thrown out to the public. Everyone shouts their approval with a ‘fool’s cry’, which is a ‘senseless word hollered in chorus every few minutes for no good reason’ (theculturetrip.com). These words differ by region and include: Kölle Alaaf! (Cologne), Helau (Düsseldorf), Ahoi! (Northern Germany) and Hajo (source n.a.) among others. It is an infectious atmosphere!

Source: alamy.de

The celebrations culminate in the Rosenmontag Parade on Monday. The parade includes fantastic floats, some of which are politically so poignant that they make the news in foreign countries. Satire and social commentary are very important components of Street Carnival. In addition to the floats, the ‘Büttnerredner’ (satirical speakers) and ‘Narren’ (Jesters) are sharp-witted social and political commentators who express the frustrations and anger of the common folk in their humorous diatribes during Street Carnival.

On Ash Wednesday ‘ist alles vorbei’ (it’s all over). The session ends with the carrying of the Jester back to his grave, or in some places he is burned in effigy. The Altweiber women all dress in black and weep inconsolably (crocodile tears!). And so the time of abstinence begins and Carnival is over until the Jester awakes again a year later to conduct a new round of pranks and fun-poking, and the common people will rule once again for a few fantastic days.

Source: alamy.de

Text sources:




German Naturalist Sebastian Kneipp and the Five Pillar System for Holistic Good Health

Source Photo Sebastian Kneipp: Google

Another new year begins. What a good time it is to become familiar with German Naturalist Sebastian Kneipp, born 200 years ago, and his Five Pillar holistic system for good health as a guide for our New Year’s Resolutions!

The Sebastian Kneipp Five Pillar System for Holistic Good Health

Over 125 years ago, Sebastian Kneipp, a Catholic priest and naturalist from Bavaria, laid out five pillars for good health in his book “My Water Cure.” The principles of his holistic heath system are based on:

Water: The importance of internal applications like drinking enough water as well as external applications like hydrotherapy treatments for improved physical and mental well-being.

Plants: The use of herbal and plant based remedies and applications for the treatment of illnesses and states of mental stress.

Exercise: The importance of movement, including physical labor, sport, outdoor activities (particularly walking in the woods).

Nutrition: A critical component, focused on natural products, grains and modest meal portions.

Balance: Maintaining the critical balance between physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Adequate rest and time for quiet reflection are key. 

The Kneipp philosophy is still popular in Germany today. Kneipp herbal and plant-based health products are sold in supermarkets, drug stores and organic food shops throughout the country, and the brand is a generic for herbal products much like the brand ‘Kleenex’ stands for tissues in the USA. 

Source: Google

In recognition of the enduring relevance of the Kneipp Five Pillar System, UNESCO recognized the Kneipp philosophy as an Intangible German Cultural Heritage in 2015. 

The History of Sebastian Kneipp and the Kneipp Brand 

Sebastian Kneipp was born in 1821. He was interested in natural treatments and the world of plants from a young age. At the age of 26, Kneipp contracted tuberculosis. He read a book by Dr. Johann Siegmund Hahn on the healing power of water and began to take cold baths with water from the Danube on a regular basis as a treatment. His health improved, and by 1852 he was fully cured of TB.

Soon Kneipp started treating patients, including his wife, who had cholera. She was also cured. In 1855, Kneipp moved to Wörishofen in Bavaria, where he began to systematically research and test his therapies, evolving them into a holistic health system. He published his book “My Water Cure” in 1886, followed by a second book titled “Thus Shalt Thou Live” in 1889.

In 1891, Kneipp gave the marketing rights for his brand to a Würzburg pharmacist, who used his ingredients to develop pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. 

Wörishofen became the first official Kneipp spa and treatment center in the 1890’s, followed by Münstereifel in North Rhine Westphalia in 1926. Today there are over 60 accredited Kneipp spas and treatment centers throughout the country.

Kneipp and the Natural Cure Movement in the 18th Century

The Kneipp movement can be viewed as part of the general Natural Cure Movement in Germany during the 18th Century. This movement was essentially naturalist and inherently critical of industrialization and urbanization trends. Holism and vitalism were core components of the movement, which propagated a lifestyle based on natural elements like air, water and sunshine. The movement was inherently critical of substances like alcohol and tobacco. They viewed vaccinations with skepticism. 

Kneipp differed from others in this movement, because he worked closely with the medical community to develop his treatments. He never rejected medicine or vaccinations. His plant-based remedies were the basis for modern homeopathy and herbal remedies. And the hydrotherapy treatments he used were the forerunners of modern health and wellness applications ranging from whirlpool baths, cold plunge baths, underwater massage, water jets, mineral baths and many more.  

Source: digital.sciencehistory.org






German Christmas Decorations

Every year at the Continental Congress Units Overseas Luncheon, the DAR Palatinate Chapter sells large quantities of Ritter Sport chocolate, gummy bears and German mustard. But if there were one non-food item that ladies love to buy at our table, it would definitely be German Christmas decorations.

Smokers, nutcrackers, glass ornaments, wooden candle pyramids…

So many of the items Americans associate with Christmas originally come from Germany! Here is the history of just a few of the most popular decorations.

Blown Glass Tree Ornaments

Source: thegermanwayandmore.com.

Perhaps today many blown glass ornaments are made in China, the USA or Mexico, but their origin was in Germany. 

In the late 16th century, the small town of Lauscha, in what today is known as Thuringia (Thüringen), gained a reputation for its glass-blowing expertise. The area had actually been producing glass since the 12th century. The conditions were perfect:  plenty of water and sand were available. The first documented manufacturers of glass works were Christopher Müller and Hans Greiner. They founded their glass-blowing factory in 1597. Other glassworks soon followed and the town of Lauscha became an important center for producing a variety of household glass products.

In 1847, a descendent of Hans Greiner began producing glass ornaments in the shape of fruits and nuts. The process involved the use of the blown-glass technique and molds. The ornaments were lined with shiny metal so they looked silvery on the outside. In the 1870’s the ornaments began to sell in Britain, after an illustration of Queen Victoria’s Christmas tree was printed in a London newspaper. (Her German husband Albert had brought the Christmas tree tradition to England when he married her.)

F.W. Woolworth discovered the glass ornaments from Lauscha on a visit to Germany in the 1880’s and began importing them to the United States for sale in his Five and Dime stores. They were hugely popular and Woolworth’s made a fortune by bringing them to US consumers. Perhaps you still have a few of these early ornaments at home, passed down from your parents or grandparents!

Today about 20 small glass-blowing firms still exist in Lauscha.

Source: wanderingermany.com


Source: christkindle.markt.com

The earliest German smokers date from the late 1600s in the Miriquidi Forest area (today Erzgebirge) of southeastern Germany. They were originally carved out of a single piece of wood from the local forests. But the tradition of German smokers only really took off in the 1800s, when the tin and silver mines were tapped out and families in the area turned to woodworking once again to make a living.

The quality of the products from the Erzgebirge is very high and the popularity of the wooden craftsmanship was already well known internationally by the time of World War II. Families with names like Glasser, Mueller, Steinbach and Dregeno became world famous for their handmade woodcrafts.

In the beginning, when smokers were carved in one piece, the incense was placed next to them to burn. But after incense cones were developed in the late 1700s, German smokers were made from two pieces where the incense was placed inside the figure and the smoke could emerge from its mouth. Most smokers represent the ‘everyday man’ rather than political or religious figures. The most common smoker figures are working men;  shepherds, miners, farmers, carpenters, etc. Santa smokers are a relatively recent addition.

Do you have a smoker at home?

Source: walmart.com


Source: christmas-treasures.com

According to German folklore, nutcrackers were given as keepsakes to bring good luck and protect the home. They were added to social settings as whimsical conversation pieces for guests as they lingered over their dessert, which included sweetmeats like walnuts and hazelnuts. 

Writers and artists celebrated the nutcracker, beginning with the novel ‘The Nutcracker and the King of Mice,’ written sometime between 1776-1782 by E.T. Amadeus Hoffman. The novel became the basis for Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet ‘Nutcracker Suite’, which debuted in St. Petersburg in 1892 and remains a holiday tradition around the world today.

Though nutcrackers have been around for many years, they only became popular in the United States about 70 years ago. The practice of collecting nutcrackers began in the early 1950s, when US GI’s who were stationed in Germany began to visit the Christmas markets and were exposed to the wide variety of nutcrackers for sale there. The popularity of ‘Nutcracker Suite’ greatly added to the interest in nutcrackers throughout America. 

While early nutcrackers depicted images of kings, military officers and upper class people, eventually the range of depicted figures expanded to include working class figures and figures out of German folklore.The marketing strategy of creating limited edition nutcrackers sealed their fate as sought-after collector items. 

According to the firm Steinbach, a leading producer of nutcrackers, the production of one figure can involve up to 130 separate procedures. Curing and drying times can take up to 3-4 years. It is no wonder that they are so treasured and popular at our Units Overseas Luncheon table. They are hand-crafted wooden jewels!


Best wishes for the Holiday Season from the DAR Daughters in the Palatinate Chapter!

Palatinate Chapter Donates Essentials During Historic Humanitarian Airlift

by Milissa Bell Campbell, PM and military civilian spouse

With less than two days notice, the Kaiserslautern Military Community (KMC) of over 50,000 active duty and military civilians’ daily schedules and extended plans were turned upside down as the largest ever, historic humanitarian airlift was put into motion on August 18, 2021 when over  the course of several weeks 34,000 evacuees airlifted from Afghanistan arrived and passed through Ramstein Air Base (RAB), Germany.  Base units sent a good portion of their workforce to the flight-line to support the mission.  Many personnel worked 15 or more hour days, seven days a week.  Normal Base and family life was disrupted with short staffed forces for all aspects of regular mission support.  Families suddenly found medical, dental and other essential offices closed while those active duty and civilians embarked on what was to become a remarkable task.

“Operation Allies Welcome” lasted for 71 days on RAB where 21,000 cots were used in 552 quonset hut like tents as temporary homes. Over one million halal meals were served.  Thousands of medical treatments were administered (See our own Army Lt. Col. Lois Borsay’s report for an amazing boots on the ground account.). Thirty-nine babies took their first breath of crisp air after their birth in their mothers’ interim home.

RAB reported 110 tons of donations were received including 1,000 Euros worth of new items from the Chapter in two installments.  The Chapter’s support was coordinated by Vice-Regent Pam Jensen and prospective member Milissa Bell Campbell.  Both members reside in villages in the Ramstein region.  They kept the home fires burning as their spouses provided mission support during the event.

The first installment was purchased and delivered during a whirlwind shopping expedition by Mr. and Mrs. Vice-Regent Pam Jensen.  Using the donations guidelines, they ventured out onto the economy and filled their vehicle with personal care items, shoes, clothing, toys and snack crackers valued at 750 Euros.  Extreme shopping was followed by delivery to the ad hoc donation center at the old theater on RAB.  From there, active duty personnel took and distributed the items as civilians were not allowed contact with the temporary guests.

The second installment began when a request for donations of essential items was posted on social media September 26 by a military spouse when there were still a few thousand evacuees being housed at RAB.  The earlier donation system ended, but this spouse of a USAF 1st Sgt developed an Amazon wishlist to stream line the donation process for much needed items.  Items were shipped to their home and then delivered to the flight line by the active duty 1st Sgt where the guests were housed.

After consulting with Vice-Regent Jensen, PM Campbell contacted the spouse letting her know to be on the outlook for a delivery from the Amazon wishlist from the Palatinate Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  She responded quickly with gratitude.

Using the Amazon wishlist system was much better than the previous which posted the needs on social media for drop off that day on RAB.  All items had to be purchased on the economy which is local village retailers so as not to deplete the Base Exchange (general merchandise store) and commissary (grocery store) for military families and to meet the regulations of on Base purchases.  Within a couple of days of the initial donation drive,  many of the local and regional stores in the KMC were sold out of the needed items such as basic clothing, under garments, shoes and children’s crayons.   Shopping for the guest became very frustrating.

During the initial donation drive,  even with next day delivery, products ordered would not arrive quickly enough to meet the daily changing needs.  The new system using the Amazon wishlist assured the donors that items were actually still needed.  The orders were delivered to the military spouse, sorted and then delivered by her active duty husband to the pods “market” where evacuees used a ticket system to shop for essentials.

In addition to the first donation purchase of approximately 750 Euros, the Chapter purchased 

250 Euros of the following:  9 pairs of women’s trainers, 12 sports bras, 12 pairs children’s socks, 2 cases noodle cups (16 cups).  A personalized delivery note was included with the order stating it was from the Chapter.

After the historic “Operation Allies Welcome” concluded, the Allies Refuge Project group posted comments of gratitude including reference to the Chapter’s donations:

“The expecting women who were craving soup really enjoyed the cup of noodles that some of you purchased.”

“One of the persons who received a pair of shoes happened to be one of our translators at the donation centre.  She said the shoes are very comfortable.”  

Ramstein Air Base is truly the “Global Gateway” as the travelers departed for various safe destinations to begin the next chapter of their lives.  




Photo credits:  D. Jensen and alliesrefuge.org  

Hildegard von Bingen: A Woman Ahead of Her Time

By Karen Rink

If you haven’t heard of Hildegard von Bingen, you really need to learn about this amazing woman, a Catholic nun who had ideas much ahead of her time.  I first heard of her almost 20 years ago when I was learning about wild herbs and herbal medicine, and later purchased the book „The Big Health Book of Saint Hildegard von Bingen“ by Ellen Breindl, published in 2004 (written in German).  

Hildegard’s parents brought her to live in a monastery when she was approximately only 8 years old so that she could learn to become a nun.  Even as a child she had visions which were later interpreted as signs from God.  In the monastery, the nuns lived separated from the monks, they could not participate in activities together, and were considered inferior to the monks.

In the monastery she learned to read and write, studied the Bible, and participated in other cloister activities such as gardening.  She respected nature as a gift from God and learned all she could about each plant, different human illnesses, and how plants could be used as a treatment to cure different conditions.  She eventually began to treat the monks and nuns, then other patients from the local population.

She told the monks about her visions of light, and about the voices which told her to tell others about what she saw.  Because she was strong-willed, independent, had visions, and spoke with God, many young women wanted to join the monastery and learn from her.  The monks did not like that she was becoming popular, well-known, and she suffered critique.  (Today, some say that her visions may have actually been the result of migraine headaches:  https://www2.kenyon.edu/projects/margin/hildegar.htm)

Since Hildegard had her own opinions about her mission which conflicted with the monks, she, therefore, had no choice but to leave the monastery with a group of nuns and found her own successful cloister, Kloster Rupertsberg in Bingen.  Here she was able to grow in all of her areas of interest until her death.  Unfortunately the beautiful cloister was destroyed during the 30 Years War by Swedish troops:  https://www.tourenplaner-rheinland-pfalz.de/fr/point/monument/rupertsberger-gewoelbekeller/25754329/ 

Some of her many talents included:

++the composition of eclesiastical music for which she is well-known even today.

++making prophecies which you may listen to here:  We Were Warned: The Prophecies of St. Hildegard of Bingen – Bing video

++her opinions about animals.  About dogs, she said:  „Give a Man a Dog for the Health of his Soul.“

++producing wine, declaring it to be medically useful, and the nuns still produce it there to this day.  See St. Hildegard Abbey:  https://www.abtei-st-hildegard.de/english/

++believing in the balance of humanity, the world, and nature, something that is still extremely important to us all today.

Finally in 2012, Pope Benedict declared Hildegard a Saint and Doctor of the Catholic church since her writings after more than 900 years still reach the people.  

Even today her teachings persist and are popular.  The Rupertsberg Hildegard Society gives workshops where some of her original herbal remedies and food recipes are prepared in the still-existing stone cellar rooms of Hildegard’s destroyed cloister.  See video in German:  rupertsberger-hildegardgesellschaft.de/

If you don’t already know her, it could be that Hildegard von Bingen lived from 1098 to 1179, and she was truly, in so many ways, a multi-talented, visionary woman ahead of her time.

Find Hildegard’s preferred wild fruits and herbs, plus healthy recipes here:  https://www.healthyhildegard.com/category/healthy-nutrition/healthy-recipes/

German television ZDF made a film about her (in German language) in 2019:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsLFiVxvyIk

A film was also made in English; click here for rental or purchase information:

unruly mystic hildegard movie doc (theunrulymystic.com)

A Report on the Afghan Travelers in Germany

A Report from Palatinate Chapter member Lois Borsay, Registered Army Nurse working with the Afghan Travelers at the Ramstein Air Base.

“For nearly a week beginning 3 September, I had the privilege to work with the Afghan Travelers, as we now refer to them. The official program is now called OAW (Operation Afghan Welcome). I first volunteered in one of the airplane hangars at Ramstein Air Base (RAB) where approximately 700 travelers were living, eating & sleeping on military cots placed side-by-side in rows with no space in between the cots. We handed out Pampers in every size, individual packets of shampoo, shower gel, diaper cream, wipes, toilet paper and laundry soap. We prepared formula from an assortment of powdered formula cans in a bottle exchange program to prevent infant diarrhea. We also prepared formula for toddlers as well to ensure they were getting the most nutrition we could provide. Volunteers would take the bags of dirty bottles to clean/sanitize and return for re-issue. 

After that first day, I became the head of a team of 9 from Bavaria including: a male physician, a female physician assistant (PA), 6 medics and a Registered Nurse (me). We worked 12 hour shifts in the busiest medical tent at Rhine Ordinance Barracks (ROB) on the Army side of the program. We saw over 100 cases per shift for usually minor medical issues: cough, runny nose, scrapes & cuts. We were always on the look-out for more serious cases which we would transfer to Landstuhl Medical Center for evaluation and treatment.  However, we didn’t actively seek out cases because the plan was for Germany to be a short-term stop-over for 7-10 days. We set up the baby bottle exchange program there and offered Pampers and fresh fruit.  The work was exhausting but fulfilling

What can Daughters to do help? There are locations near Ft Lee, VA, Camp Atterbury, IN and Ft McCoy, WI and others where large groups of Afghan travelers are being processed.  They need clothing, shoes, blankets, towels, etc.  DAR chapters will know where groups are being located and should reach out to the Red Cross in those communities to ascertain what is really needed at each location. Chapters may also be able, at some point, to sponsor a family. I’m unsure of how this process works, but I see that as a long-term way to ensure these families have a support system, get education, job-training and become self-sufficient.”

Source: CBSnews.com

An Accident That Changed the World: The Discovery of X-Rays

In the fall of 1895, physicist William Conrad Roentgen, Rector at the University of Würzburg,  was studying cathode rays in his laboratory. In the course of his experiments, he noticed that a screen set at some distance from the tubes he was studying was glowing. All previous research had indicated that cathode rays could not maintain their power to produce florescent light at that much distance. Fascinated, he locked himself away in his lab and began to experiment with the new rays. 1

These strange new rays could not be refracted with water, nor could he concentrate them by standard methods. He found that the rays could pass through thick layers of rock salt, electrolytic salt powder and zinc dust, unlike visible light. He concluded that these unusual rays were not susceptible to regular refraction or reflection. Unlike cathode rays, they were also unsusceptible to magnetic deflection. His experiments demonstrated that these rays produced a mysterious light that could pass through most substances but leave shadows of solid objects. He called them ‘X-Rays’ because X stood for ‘unknown’. 2

Three days before Christmas he brought his wife into the laboratory and they emerged with a photograph of the bones in her hand and the ring on her finger. He published the photograph on the 28th of December and by the 16th of January in 1896, the New York Times announced the discovery of a ‘new form of photography, which revealed hidden solids, penetrated wood, paper and flesh and exposed the bones of the human frame’. Within a month of Roentgen’s announcement, doctors were using X-rays to locate bullets in human flesh and photograph broken bones. 3

Roentgen’s accidental discovery of X-rays paved the way for the development of today’s broad spectrum of imaging techniques including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computer tomography (CT), ultrasound and echocardiography, among others.

Rontgen received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1901. He never sought honors or financial profit for his research. He rejected a title that would have given him entry into German nobility and donated his Prize money to his university. Roentgen never patented his discovery to ‘ensure that the world could freely benefit from his work’. He was nearly bankrupt at the time of his death due to inflation following World War I. 4 

Photo from Google Photos

Content Sources:

  1. ‘Early History of X Rays’, Alexi Assumes, Beem Line Summer, 1995
  2. ‘History of Medicine: Dr. Roentgen’s Accidental X-Rays’, www.columbiasurgery.org
  3. Ibid source 1
  4. ‘November 8, 1895: Roentgen’s Discovery of X-Rays’, American Physical Society, APS News November 2001 (Volume 10, Number 10)  

Germany Experiences the Flood of the Century: A Personal Perspective from the Destroyed Town of Bad Münstereifel

Bad Münstereifel in the Christmas Season


Bad Münstereifel is often referred to as the ‘Rothenburg ob der Tauber’ of the North Rhine Westphalia.  A medieval walled town with splendid examples of half-timbered buildings, it is a tourist magnet filled with picturesque charm. 

Nestled in the Erft River valley, the town and river are surrounded by mountainous pine forests.  In town, cobblestone walkways link together a small collection of shops and restaurants that invite guests to relax and enjoy the beautiful countryside, clean air and its small city charm.

Or at least it did…until the night of July 14, 2021 when an extreme weather event led to unprecedented flooding throughout the entire region.

In just a couple of hours, Bad Münstereifel and many other villages and towns in the area were destroyed. The Erft River became a raging seven meter (23 foot) high wall of water sweeping away everything in its path: cars, sidewalks, buildings, cemeteries, and sadly 180 lives. 

Bad Münstereifel on July 15, 2021

Shock, Solidarity, Resolve

These three words sum up how the people of Bad Münstereifel reacted when they awoke to the carnage of the night before. The mayor could only describe the ruin as being ‘like after a war’.  Many of the 4,000 residents of the walled town had to flee their homes, leaving all possessions behind. The next day their homes were full of mud and water, some up to the second floor and a lifetime of memory-filled possessions destroyed.

The people fortunate enough not to have been in the line of the ‘tsunami’ were quick to roll up their sleeves, pull on their rubber boots and gloves, and help the less fortunate. Already one day after the event, thousands of volunteers were helping empty cellars of mud-drenched clutter, shovel mud from floors, and human-chain buckets of muck out to the streets, where other volunteers wheelbarrowed the refuse to giant piles. 

Bad Münstereifel provided warm food, blankets and arranged temporary housing for the stricken.  Complete strangers sat and held hands with weeping families, exhausted children and disoriented older residents.

An incredible solidarity grew among the citizens of Bad Münstereifel to work selflessly, efficiently and quickly anywhere they were needed before more harm occurred due to mold and health hazards.  This solidarity quickly led to a unified resolve to clean up the damage and bring  Bad Münstereifel back onto its feet.

Now, several weeks later, most of the initial refuse has been removed and is temporarily stored somewhere before it will be sorted and properly disposed of. 

The Bundeswehr (Army) soldiers, technical specialists (Technisches Hilfswerk) and volunteer fire departments now have the job of pumping out the remaining mud, rebuilding bridges and walkways, and removing interior walls that have been damaged by leaked benzine or fecal matter in the flood water. Two-and-a-half weeks later, the residents finally have electricity and water. There is still no Internet and drinking water must be boiled.

Chancellor Angela Merkel in Bad Münstereifel

What We Lost

In Münstereifel there were four deaths reported in an outlying neighborhood, but none within the city walls. It was amazing that there were so few lives taken; though even one is too many.

However one thing we came close to losing was our history.  The entire history of Bad Münstereifel as preserved in its historical archive which was kept in the basement of the municipal building only a block from the Erft.  The municipal building was also a victim of the surging flood.

A team of volunteers worked for over eight days to remove the mud-stained, sopping documents and book cartons from the basement archive. It was a race against time…and mold. Each document was examined by the archive historian. Those that he deemed to be savable were passed by human-chain out to tables, where they were sprayed down with hoses to remove the worst of the dirt. They were then packed in clear plastic foil, labeled and placed in boxes. These boxes were then taken to a large warehouse where the documents were frozen to prevent further mold. Later they will be dried, cleaned, treated, laid flat and reassembled into books according to their classification. The job is mammoth: there are thousands and thousands of pages.

The oldest saved book of historical source material on Bad Münstereifel in the archive was from the 15th Century. Other invaluable archive contents saved include original deeds, court orders, council rulings and lists of births/deaths and marriages back to the 17th Century.  Historical documentation of the Jewish population, the merchant guilds and the social activities, the business of the Catholic Church, as well as the French and Prussian governing periods are also all very important sources about Bad Münstereifel’s past that were saved.

We can only hope that at least part of the richly documented past of Münstereifel will be restored and is not lost forever. 

Volunteers Helping With the Cleaning of Historical Documents

If you would like to know a little more about the history of Bad Münstereifel, here is a short summary:

A Short History 

The history of Bad Münstereifel goes back almost 1200 years to the founding of a monastery in the upper Erft River valley in 830. Originally inhabited by Benedictine monks, the ‘Novum Monasterium’ grew in size and importance. In the 12th Century the monastery converted to a collegiate church with priests instead of monks. It became a powerful administrative center for many villages in the Eifel and remained so until it was secularized in 1803.

Münstereifel was not only an important clerical center. It was also an important economic center with the right to hold markets, make coins and collect tolls as early as the end of the 9th Century. A court system quickly evolved to represent the merchants versus the ‘worldly’ affairs of the church. This was unique for the time: in 1454, Münstereifel already had its own constitution.

Under flourishing market conditions, local wool weavers developed a trade and guild that were widely respected for the quality of their goods. Many of their goods were sold to markets in Cologne, but they also were sold at international markets in key European cities.

Following the Reformation, Münstereifel invited the Jesuits to build a second Catholic Church in town. Later the Carmelites also came to Münstereifel, solidifying the church’s strength and as a center of Catholic culture and faith. A system of higher education (Gymnasium) was built  up by the churches, attracting young men to learn Latin and liberal arts subjects like theology, philosophy and Ancient Greek. This was also singular for this area of the Eifel.

Following the Napoleonic Wars in 1794, the French assumed control of Münstereifel. They introduced many attributes like population counts, house numbering and the establishment of taxation. In 1803 they secularized the Catholic church, leading to the demise of the church’s previous power. 

Today Bad Münstereifel is a ‘Kurort’, meaning that it is characterized by healthy air and wellness treatments. (It is a Kneipp center. This is where the ‘Bad’ in Bad Münstereifel comes from). In the past couple of years the town has developed a booming little outlet center in some of the half-timbered buildings, which gives it a unique profile for shopping and dining in a small and pretty environment.

Washington Crossing the Delaware

Photo Source: Google

Washington Crossing the Delaware is the iconic painting of America during the Revolutionary War. There were actually three paintings in the original series, created by the German-American artist Emanuel Leutze.

About the Painter and the Original Versions of the Painting

Emanuel Leutze grew up in America, but returned to Germany as an adult, where he lived in a town near Düsseldorf. He conceived the idea for Washington Crossing the Delaware during the European Revolutions of 1848, hoping to encourage liberal reformist movements through the example of the American Revolution (Wikipedia).  

As he had no first-hand American references, he had to use American tourists as models and depicted the landscape based on the scenery along the Rhine where he lived (ibid). He finished the first version of the painting in 1850, utilizing the artistic help of Düsseldorf Art Academy painters like Worthington Whittredge and Andreas Achenbach (ibid). Unfortunately, the first version of the painting was damaged by fire. Many years later the painting was restored and was acquired by the Kunsthalle Bremen, where it remained until destroyed by an Allied forces bombing in the Second World War. 

The second painting was a full-sized copy of the original. Leutze began the painting in 1850 and placed it on exhibition in New York in 1851. More than 50,000 people viewed the painting. According to Wikipedia, it was bought by Marshall O. Roberts for $10,000 (roughly $350,000 today). After changing hands several times, the painting was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City by John Stewart Kennedy in 1897 (ibid).

The frame shown in the above photo is based on the original designed by Leutze. The carved eagle-topped crest alone is 14 feet wide!

A third and smaller version of the original painting hung in the White House for many years. In 2014 it was acquired by Mary Burrichter and Bob Kierlin, founders of the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona, Minnesota.  The painting is currently on display in the American collection there (ibid).

What the Painting Depicts

The painting Washington Crossing the Delaware depicts Washington’s surprise attack on a Hessian garrison of roughly 1,400 soldiers located around Trenton, New Jersey on Christmas night in 1776 (www.mountvernon.org).

Hoping to raise sagging morale with a quick victory, Washington planned to attack from three different crossings. One force of 1,200 Philadelphia militia and 600 Continentals under Col. Cadwalader was to cross near Burlington, NJ. General James Ewings’s forces of 800 Philadelphians were to cross at Trenton and take up defense positions. Washington planned to cross with 2,400 soldiers roughly 10 miles north of Trenton (ibid).

But nature turned against their plans. A major snow and sleet storm developed and both of the first two attacks were  thwarted by the ice-choked river. Washington succeeded  in crossing, but was delayed by three hours. The men in his expedition were tired, hungry and poorly dressed for the storm. Washington contemplated turning back but later wrote, “…as I was certain there was no making a retreat without being discovered and harassed on repassing the River, I determined to push on at all Events”(ibid).

Although the painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware depicts him in a rowboat, the actual vessels they used were sturdy, shallow draft cargo boats of 40 to 60 feet in length. A great amount of artillery was transported with the soldiers, including 18 cannons, horses and ammunition (ibid). Though the painting suggests that the crossing was at a wide point in the river, the actual crossing point was less than 300 yards wide. The boats were probably fixed to a wire strung across the river (ibid).

Some Wrong Details Added for Impact

Art critic Isaac Kaplan points out in his article ‘This Iconic American History Painting Gets the Facts Wrong’ (www.Artsy.net) that if Washington had truly been perched on the boat’s edge as depicted, he would have fallen into the water and drowned. Because the boats were shallow-bottomed, it is likely though that all passengers would have been standing, because the bottoms would have been cold and covered in water. 

The lighting in the painting suggests that the attack is happening at daybreak. Although the actual attack was in the night, we can perhaps interpret this as an intended metaphor for the dawn of new hope in the revolutionary movement. 

The flag that Washington is holding in his hand is not the one used in 1776, when the crossing took place. It was adopted about a year later (ibid). Also the icebergs are probably not a realistic rendering of the ice sheets that form on the Delaware in the winter. Again, this might be an intended metaphor for the hardships of the war.  

Another clearly intended metaphor is the representation of the people in the boat. They represent a cross-section of the American colonies, including a man in a Scottish bonnet and a man of African decent facing backward next to each other in the front, western riflemen placed at the bow and stern, two farmers near the back, and an androgynous rower in a red shirt, possibly a woman in a man’s clothing. There is also a man at the back of the boat in Native American clothing. (Wikipedia).

What the Crossing Might Have Actually Looked Like

No-one would ever want to deny Washington Crossing the Delaware is iconic American art. But recently, the historical painter Mort Künstler was commissioned by an American Congressman to make a painting based on the historical truths of the crossing. After much research on location and using the guidance of local historians, Mr. Künstler has provided us with a different depiction of the event. If you would like to look at his rendering, here is a link to an article in a New York  Times blog: https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/23/a-famous-painting-meets-its-more-factual-match/.

Sources: www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware