Saturday, September 15, 2018

Bonn, or the German Brussels

(sotto un riassunto in italiano)
First time in Bonn, the former capital city of Germany. I knew Bonn as the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, who eventually died in Vienna, and as the place where some former colleagues did their PhD. Now, thanks to a conference, I have the opportunity to visit the city

First day: the journey
It could have been worse, but this doesn’t mean it was good. I woke up too early, so I anticipated all my plans and before 7 am I was already at the airport. The direct flight to Bonn was to expensive, now I have to change in Munich. The first flight was fine, just 15 minutes delay. The second flight was a nightmare: the gate changed twice and I had to go to another terminal by train, they had to change the aircraft, modifying the seat numbers and having people in overbooking, when we were ready to leave they realized that a cargo door wasn’t working properly and they had to load down half of the luggage, finally we took off with 1 hr delay, and upon the arrival at least 50 passengers didn’t receive their luggage, included myself. In the meantime, I had developed a headache. The airport Köln-Bonn is relatively small but disorganized. Even asking to some security guys, it has been difficult to find the bus stop. Thanks God, I didn’t have to wait for the bus and the bus driver was very kind and helpful. The main railway station in Bonn is as chaotic and bad populated as the Gare du Midi in Brussels. On the top, it is a construction site and the indication signs are poor. Eventually I got the train to Tannenbusch, district compared to Molenbeek in the press, where was the cheapest-but-still-expensive hotel I had to book because the Airbnb I booked had to cancel the stay. Tannenbusch indeed recalls some poor districts of Brussels, with men hanging around, graffiti over shop doors, and cars parked on the sidewalk. However, you can recognize that it is Germany, because clean and effective, expecially during week days. The hotel is fine, but I felt so broken that rather than enjoining the icebreaker party at the conference, I went immediately to bed without lunch and dinner.

Second day: shopping and conference
As it seemed that the suitcase would have not been delivered for a long time and considering that I had nothing but my laptop and an umbrella in my hand-luggage, I decided to buy the minimum stuff for surviving a couple of days, which means toiletry and a change. Such common things are much more cheaper here than in Vienna, even though I bought the same products in the same shop chains! I eventually got my suitcase delivered in the hotel at 9 pm, when I had given up the hope to see it for the day.
The impression of Bonn is of a cute city, but a whole construction site, including the already mentioned main railway station, the Münster, and even the main building of the university, where the conference takes place. This building is a beautiful baroque castle from the outside, and a terrible 70’ assemblage of classrooms and offices in the interior. Funny fact, in the main hall, there is a pipe organ  and in a large lecture theater there is a piano. I was afraid to spend a lot of time my own, because I feared not to know many people at the conference, which is mostly thought for the German geological community. In fact, I realized I do know a lot of people, considering the length of my academic experience (Ms degree obtained almost 15 yrs ago!) and the several changes of topic. For being the first day of the conference, I talked a lot, continuously switching between German and English, depending on the person I had in front.

Third day: just conference
This was my day, starting at 8:30 with my talk and closing at 6 pm with my poster. I met other former colleagues, friends, and acquaintances. For lunch, I went to a bakery and I enjoyed walking in the city. I like that it is mostly reserved to pedestrians. Actually, this is typical of many Austrian and German cities. Back to the conference, my early performance wasn’t at best, but I got positive feedback as interested questions, much better than having the audience bored or clearly disagreeing with the proposed idea. The poster wasn’t better, it wasn’t even my idea, but just reworking the analyses done by a former PhD student, who left after one year. It is not my field, strictly speaking. For dinner, I decided for the Italian next to the hotel, which is actually Italian but like thousands of Italians in Germany. People that emigrated at least 30-40 yrs ago.

Belgium? No, Germany.
Forth day: the conference dinner
The conference program for today wasn’t particularly interesting for me, so I spent the first part of the morning visiting Bonn. The first stop was at the old cemetery, where the Schumanns are buried. Then I walked through the city to the Rhine. I missed the water in Brussels, the small channel cannot be compared to a large river, such as the Danube or the Rhine. For lunch, a German colleague joined for visiting the local mineralogical museum, curated by the university. The location is gorgeous, in the Poppelsdorfer Castle, the exhibit is limited by well organized. In the afternoon, I followed some talks about outreach, which were much more self focused than I expected, and discussed about the limitations of a project with another colleague.
The event of the day was the conference dinner, organized in the new cafeteria of the university. Of the 760 participants, just ca. 400 attended the dinner. A considerable amount, in comparison with other conference dinners I attended. The food was on the average but the opportunity to chat and to meet other people from different fields was great. I felt sorry for the musicians, who played Irish folk music but where covered by the loud attempts to talk of the participants. As soon as I was done with the food, I left.

Fifth day: the ceremony
Last day of the conference, at least for the talks. The first part was dominated by the keynote talk of an old acquaintance, who proposed a kind of revolutionary interpretation but without the support of sufficient data (I know the feeling), followed by an interesting plenary lecture about seismotectonics (yeah! trying to understand earthquakes!) and by the award ceremony. What began in English, ended soon in German, as the conference was "supported" by the local geological, mineralogical, paleontological, etc. societies. The worst happened when an old professor said that he has been happy to hear a couple of talks in German and that we should use German again as language of science. What??? I’m not a fan of English, but as we dropped Latin, we have to use a common language, if we want to share the results of our research and to bring an advance in science, through global cooperation. It makes no sense going back to the national languages! If that professor does not understand that, why did he become the recipient of a prize? Another sad consideration about the conference, I’ve never seen so a few women on the stage. The spokesman of the organizing committee admitted that most of the work has been done by his French female colleague… but the truth is that he will be the only one remembered.
In the afternoon, after the last "scientific" lunch, I went for shopping at the Haribo, the famous company producing the chummy little bears, which I didn’t know originated in Bonn, and I went back to the hotel to work.

the Rhine
 Sixth day: the field trip
Finally, I have the opportunity to visit the volcanic field of the Eifel! This is what I fought when I registered for this field trip. In the years spent in Belgium, just on the other side of the border, I always dreamed of such an excursion. In fact, the field trip was mostly archeological, paleontological, and paleobotanical, but nevertheless interesting. I saw very old fossils (Devonian), very recent maars (ca. 30 ka), and the genius of the Romans. We, Italians, sometimes forget that our grand-grand-grandparents brought the civilization in Europe… As usual, I was the only foreigner in a German group, both as Italian and as coming from Austria, but as I do speak German (or at least I understand most of it) the explanations were given only in German. There was a pretty heterogeneous group of participants, not all of us were scientist and even among the geologists many different disciplines were represented. As true German, we arrived in Bonn exactly at 6 pm, but due to the French and Roman historical influences my train was broken and after a detour I got back to the hotel with an unwanted delay.

Seventh day: the museums
I should have left today, but the flight was too expensive. Of course, a night longer in hotel costs as well, but at the beginning I planned to stay elsewhere, saving research money. What to do? I have already seen almost everything I wanted to see and in the weekend, the trains are less thick. I spent a lot of time just waiting. The only highlight of the day was Beethoven’s house, even though he was only born here and his parents moved out when he was three.

Eighth day: the history
Before leaving, after the last delicious breakfast in a local bakery, I went to the church close to the hotel (catholic, even though I guess that the district is mostly Muslim) to attend the holy mass. Surprisingly, the church was full and not only with old people or with foreigners, as I thought. The organ is obviously made by Klais, local organ maker, and the organist played nice improvisations, but the chosen chorals were relatively modern and the tempo was relatively slow for the viennese standard.
I had to find a way to spend some hours before going to the airport, so I decided to visit the museum of the history of the German Republic after 1946. Very interesting! Highly recommended. Another part is in Berlin, where I’m going to very soon (again, fourth time this year). For fun, I’ve done the mandatory test to get the German nationality and I passed it, with 14/15 correct answers about the German constitution and history. I wonder if I could be so successful in an Austrian or Italian equivalent. In the museum, I had also lunch, with a Wiener Schnitzel. Already nostalgic? Yes, so much that I was at the airport 4 hrs in advance! The journey back was simply perfect, the flight was on time, my luggage was one of the firsts to come, I run to the train, and in less than a hour I was at home. Vienna, I missed you!

Wherever I go... I find a pipe organ.
Conclusion
Bonn is indeed similar to Brussels, for the style of some buildings and the inefficiency of the information system, but it is also typical German, for the habits of the locals (also integrated immigrants) and the general order. Bonn seems to be stuck in the 60’-70’. The whole city is a construction site because the infrastructures are old. What was innovative 50 years ago is now obsolete and insufficient for the modern traffic. I imagine that Germany invested a lot on Bonn when it was the capital city, but after the reunification moved to the update the former GDR, leaving Bonn far behind. Bonn is also a bit more "Mediterranean" than other German cities, due to the inheritance left by the Romans, the influence brought by French and Belgians, and the "frivolity" induced by the presence of the Catholic Church. Cologne, a few km away from Bonn, is much more German!

Versione italiana:
Approfittando di un convegno, ho visitato Bonn per la prima volta. L'ex-capitale della Germania è un cantiere a cielo aperto e sorprendentemente disorganizzata per essere tedesca. Le infrastrutture sono ferme agli anni '60-'70 e la stazione centrale ricorda la Gare du Midi a Bxl. Ciononostante, ci sono caratteristiche che la rendono pienamente tedesca e gradevole da visitare. A parte il centro storico, interamente pedonalizzato, non dimenticherò la casa natale di Beethoven, la ditta organaria Klais ed i suoi strumenti ed il museo della storia della Germania dopo il 1945.
Il viaggio in sé non è stato dei migliori, costoso e almeno all'andata problematico, con ritardi, cambiamenti e perdita del bagaglio (consegnato la sera successiva). Il ritorno è andato meglio, anche se l'aeroporto di Colonia-Bonn è un caos. L'airbnb prenotato non è andato a buon fine, per cui ho dovuto ripiegare su un hotel relativamente costoso, periferico ed in un quartiere paragonato a Molenbeek (ecco che ritorna Bxl). Il soggiorno non è stato affatto disagevole ed il quartiere, benché popolato da parecchi immigrati, è tranquillo e funzionale come mi aspetterei in qualsiasi città tedesca.

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