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  • Writer's pictureMeirion Harries

DAY FORTY EIGHT Sole Slapping and Tunnels

If you are one for pub quizzes then you should visit Erlangen. Some good questions originate here:

Q. Who was the highest paid Carry On film actor?

A. Elke Sommer

Elke Sommer in 1965 (c)wikicommons

Q. Why don't light bulbs conform to Ohm's Law?

A. Because the resistance of the filament increases as it heats up

(Georg Ohm, born to a locksmith in Erlangen, discovered, while experimenting with Alessandro Volta's newly invented electrochemical cell, a direct relationship between voltage, current and resistance but only where resistance stays constant)

Q. Which Erlangen scientist proved that a foetus is metabolically alive?

A. Paul Zweifel in 1876

Q. Which company supplied electrical parts to concentration camps?

A. Siemens-Schuckert

The founder of Siemens, Ernst Werner Siemens, the son of Protestant tenant farmer, must have turned in his grave: you may recall a visit to the ancient family home of the Siemens family in Goslar, in the lee of the Harz Mountains.

Ernst was an extraordinary inventor. He devised a dial to select letters in place of tapping out Morse Code and built a business on his invention. His company built the first trans-European telegraph system and then in 1867 completed an 11,000 km connection between London and Calcutta: too late for the Indian Mutiny but in place to carry the news of Queen Victoria's enthronement as Empress of India - and no doubt the telegraph line was used to announce to India that Siemens had just installed the world's first electric street lighting in Godalming.

The company has grown hugely since those days. Still partly owned by the Siemens, who are the eighth richest family in Germany, the company has joint ventures and businesses in around 200 countries (including investments in Lincoln and Hull) and it employs nearly 400,000 people. There is no one product that is associated with the brand – not surprisingly as they have interests in energy, building technologies, mobility, health, software, financial services and in many other areas.

Siemens Building, Erlangen

To keep it all together, Siemens is building a huge campus-like complex in Erlangen – an acreage equivalent to seventy five football fields will be home to state-of-the-art offices, research facilities, conference centres, flats and a hotel. Siemens invests almost 6% of revenue in R&D - 12,000 researchers in Germany and another 16,000 in the rest of the world. I had a bit of a pedal round the nascent super-site brooding on yet another example of the creative connectivity embedded in the German economy.

To cheer myself up, I headed off to what was meant to be the highlight of our visit to Erlangen - club night at the Trachtenverein Erlangen, the 'traditional costume club', where since 1913 they have been promoting Schuhplattler dancing.

Schuhplattler dancing (c)

One of the interesting things about general perceptions of Germany is the extent to which this common understanding is the creation of American media. Why do we picture Germans as drinking beer and eating sausage, while wearing Lederhosen and Dirndl and slapping their thighs in a Schuhplattler stomp? After all, this really is not what goes on in most of Germany – but it does down here and these cultural vignettes are the stereotypes because, so the theory goes, Bavaria is where the bulk of US forces were (and are) stationed after 1945. They took home their memories and fed a very local impression of German culture out to the world.

For English sensibilities struggling to find Maypole dancing acceptable, Schuhplattler can be a bridge too far. But it is a lot of fun: first you don traditional clothing, stretch a bit and then set off in one of the 150 historic routines - stomping your feet, clapping your hands, slapping your thighs, knees and the soles of your Schuhe and, if you are nimble, hurling yourself about in aerobatic display.

The dancers are in evidence, of course, at the Erlangen beer festival – the oldest in Germany, dating back to 1002, when they built the market square. In early June, a million visitors will descend on Erlangen to drink the special festbier and, of course, to snack on Wurst, Brezeln, and the local Obatzda cheese - or to tuck into a heavy plate of Schweinhaxe.

There is a tradition of parsimony at the festival: you're not allowed to bring in your own beer so people do what is known as the Kastenlauf, the 'crate walk' – drinking deeply at the festival perimeter and then entering for the ferris wheel and Schuhplatter.

Which is a pity because the real joy of this festival are the beer cellars. The Bavarian beer purity laws have permitted no additives or preservatives since 1516, so the challenge has always been keeping beer fresh. The solution in Erlangen was to carve out cellars into the cooling sandstone of the Burgberg. Some are of great antiquity – the Steinback Keller of 1617, the Entlas Keller of 1686. The sixteen historic brewers of Erlangen dug an aggregate of 21 kilometres of cellar, the longest being the Henninger Keller's 800 metre stretch which goes right through the hill.

Cool storage all year round gave Erlangen centuries of advantage over other brewers in Germany and the town became the leading exporter of beer. Then to their dismay Carl Paul Gottfried Linde - practically a local, from Berndorf, just up the road - discovered refrigeration. And the first machine he sold was to a mortal enemy – Munich's Spaten, a brewery founded in 1397. Their refrigeration and their advertising imperative Lass Dir raten, trinke Spaten - Take advice, Drink Spaten – are clearly winners because the brewery is now one of the largest in Germany.

Just time for a dance before heading off for Franconian-style carp and perhaps some walnut-brittle parfait with cherries. And maybe a Spaten, just to show historical awareness. Tomorrow into Nuremburg.

Heartstopping Schuhplattler -

Here are 15 things you may not know about Siemens -

A tour of Erlangen -

Some Erlangen rap from 1982 -

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