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  • Writer's pictureMeirion Harries

DAY FORTY Connectivity

Today is the Race Marshal's birthday so, for a treat, we are sailing on the River Main in Schweinfurt enjoying a glass of Champagne Ale from the Franconia Brewing Company.

Schweinfurt Main Bend with village and castle Mainberg and vineyards (c)wikicommons

If time permitted, we could sail from here out into the North Sea or south to the Black Sea: the 100 mile long Europa Canal (the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal) links the Rhine with the Danube across the watershed of Europe. As these two great river systems drain the continent east and west, they connect east and west.

the barge Friedrich Ruckert on the River Main (c)Waldemar Shoch, Marine Traffic

This kind of logistical connectivity underpins modern Germany: Schweinfurt, for example, is not really near anywhere, but the river and canal systems, the motorways and the high-speed rail links serve its local factories so well that they now make up the largest industrial area in Bavaria. Here in Schweinfurt are global companies engaged in a kaleidoscope of productivity: ball bearing and automotive (the Sachs brand still features); medical; energy; linear motion; plastic processing; dialysis; heat and power; 3-D design; and, my favourite, innovative bicycle technologies - not least, the electric bike, which I think we should at least try. The brainpower for these enterprises is local: Schweinfurt's university is among the best applied science universities in Germany. Innovation comes, too, from the Fraunhofer Society for the Advancement of Applied Research. With seventy two institutes focusing on different fields of applied science and a budget of three billion euros, the Fraunhofer is the biggest applied research and development organisation in Europe.

The triad of industrial leadership, universities and independent research institutes represents an intellectual connectivity that gives such strength to the German economy. And David Taylor, Professor Emeritus of Pharmaceutical and Public Health Policy at UCL, explains, that what seems a new growth of connectivity actually has deep historical roots: "Germany’s oldest Universities, in Heidelberg and Cologne, date back to the 1380s. Although their initial focus was in today’s terms theological rather than scientific, this began to change in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The work of individuals such as the mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler and subsequently that of Gottfried Leibniz, whose most famous disciple Sophia Charlotte of Hanover became the Queen of Prussia, indicated the direction of progress. But it was not until the early 1800s that Wilhelm von Humboldt (the older brother of the explorer Alexander von Humboldt) laid the foundations of the modern German educational system. Humboldt placed emphasis on self-realisation as an ultimate goal, and at the same time helped establish a tradition of research and investment partnership between German Universities and industry which survives to the present. Examples of nineteenth and twentieth century German intellectual leadership in mathematics and physics range from the life and work of Carl Friedrich Gauss (who gave his name to Gaussian curves) to the contributions of Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrodinger and Hans Geiger. England was the cradle of Newtonian physics. However, Germany gave birth to both relativity and – spooky or not – the quantum era. (In the 1930s Einstein dismissed the then theoretical concept of quantum entanglement as ‘spooky action at distance’.) In chemistry and medicine the world also has much to thank German science for. Well known illustrations – again, all male – of individual pioneers include Rudolph Virchow, Robert Koch – who in the late 1800s identified the bacterial causes of conditions such as TB and cholera – and Paul Ehrlich. Amongst his many achievements Ehrlich facilitated the development of Sylvarsan, the first effective treatment for syphilis, at the start of the twentieth century. In addition to fostering such personal achievements, the nineteenth century German environment promoted a partnership between science and industry that led it to dominate pharmaceutical and chemical production before the 1914-18 war. German technological innovation and manufacturing quality is the practical face of its intellectual traditions. The original Merck, the world’s first pharmaceutical company, dates back to Darmstadt in the 1660s. Bayer was originally founded as a dyestuffs factory near Wuppertal, north of Cologne, in the 1860s. The two World Wars and the loss of the German Jewish community inflicted much harm on humanity and on Germany’s industrial and science capacities. But the underlying German culture of intellectual excellence linked to industrial expertise has lived on, in part because of the nation’s independent scientific societies. These include organisations such as the Helmholtz and Leibniz Associations and the Fraunhofer and Max Planck Societies. Originally established in 1911 as the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Advancement of (basic) Science, the latter was renamed in 1948, the year after Planck’s death. One of the many bodies it continues to support is the Robert Koch Institute. Based in Berlin, it to this day plays a world leading part in understanding infections and their successful control. Germany’s (and Prussia’s) past political failures are often remembered, as VE Day recently testified. However, they should not obscure the country’s many scientific and technical achievements and their importance for everyone’s future." Thank you, David. Tomorrow, possibly with a hangover - and possibly with an electric bike - we head over to Wurzburg. Tonight, though, at the Naturfreundehaus, we might aim for Schweinfurter Sauerbraten - pickled braised beef in gingerbread sauce with Franconian potato dumplings and red cabbage.

Here is a chef from Munich with a guide to making potato dumplings -

This is a film about the Europa Canal -

A French made film about Schweinfurt being the European capital of the electric bicycle -

And in case you are worrying about birthday etiquette in Germany -

And we need some heavy metal from Schweinfurt: Kiss at the Monsters Of Rock Festival in 1988 -

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