Canada Slim and the Uncertainty Principle

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 10 January 2018

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

I am reminded of this more and more these days as I watch events unfold again and again around the globe that suggest the politicization of society remains an ongoing clear and present danger.

Politicization is, at least to my way of thinking, a process where tradition and excellence are replaced by ideology and illusion.

Take, for example, two stories from the 8 January edition of the New York Times:

Windsor, England

Windsor Bridge and Town.jpg

Since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their wedding date last month, the council leader who oversees one of the richest boroughs in Britain has been on a campaign to deal with the homeless people who “sleep rough” near the wedding venue, Windsor Castle – all eight of them, according to official statistics.

An aerial photograph of a castle, with three walled areas clearly visible, stretching left to right. Straight roads stretch away in the bottom right of the photograph, and a built-up urban area can be seen outside the castle on the left. In the upper right a grey river can just be seen.

Simon Dudley, leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, wrote to the Thames Valley Police last week, demanding that they use their legal powers to tackle the issue of “aggressive begging and intimidation” before the royal wedding on 19 May.

Bildergebnis für simon dudley

Last month, while on ski vacation in Wyoming, Dudley tweeted  – (Why do we give tweets so much damn influence anyway?) – about an “epidemic of rough sleeping and vagrancy in Windsor”, which he says paints the historical market town in an “unfavourable light”.

His description of “bags and detritus” accumulating on the streets  – (Sounds like my apartment!) – and “people marching tourists to cash points to withdraw cash” suggested that homeless people had somewhat taken over the quaint streets of Windsor.

But while Britain has a big homelessness issue, with 1 in every 200 people in England currently without a home, there are just 8 homeless people in all of Windsor and Maidenhead, the government says.

Local charities say the official figures may not fully capture the extent of the problem, because a number of people, known as the “hidden homeless”, beg on the streets by day and spend their nights in temporary accommodations for extended periods.

The Thames Valley Police say they deal with occasional reports of begging in the area but have not had any reports of anyone being marched to cash points to take out money.

(I will say that I have seen beggars begging near cash points but the only thing compelling me to assist them was my own conscience and not any overt intimidation from them.)

To quote some of the people interviewed by Ceylan Yeginsu:

“I think that (Dudley´s) comments are rude and heartless. 

If they are going to move us, it should be into a permanent home, not out of sight for a day just so that rich people can throw a party.”

“They are making us out to be criminals, a public safety hazard. 

What´s all that about?

We don´t bother anybody. 

We don´t go up on anyone. 

We just take whatever we are given.”

“The unpleasant sight is not what is shameful here. 

It´s the fact that we are not providing these poor people with warm homes in the middle of winter.”

“People sleeping on the street don´t do so through choice. 

They are often at their lowest point, struggling with a range of complex problems and needs, and they are extremely vulnerable, at risk from cold weather, illness and violence.”

To the mind of Dudley what matters most is not the tradition and excellence of character showing compassion and charity to those in genuine need and distress but rather it is the illusion of pretending that there is no homelessness issue in Windsor.

Haworth, England

Above: Bronte Parsonage Museum, Haworth

Should a 30-year-old supermodel help lead a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth (30 July 1818) of Emily Bronte?

Above: (from left to right) Anne, Emily and Charlotte Bronte

That question is at the crux of a row that broke out after the Bronte Society in Britain, one of the world´s oldest literary societies, anointed Lily Cole a “creative partner” for the upcoming festival celebrating Emily´s life.

Cole outside wearing a strapless purple dress with her hair up in a large bun, surrounded by photographers

Above: Lily Cole

The colloboration, announced last week, spurred a Bronte biographer and Society member to write a scathing blog post denouncing it as a “rank farce”.

“What would Emily Bronte think if she found that the role of chief “artist” and organizer in her celebratory year was a supermodel?”,  the biographer Nick Holland asked.

Bildergebnis für nick holland biographer

Above: Nick Holland

Holland said Cole´s appointment smacked of a desire to be “trendy”.

Based on what I have read about Lily Cole, though she may be compassionate and intelligent in her own way, whether she is sufficiently qualified and knowledgeable enough to properly respect the literary tradition of this great writer remains doubtful to me.

It seems that the Society is more interested in attracting people to the celebration through the use of Cole´s beauty and celebrity than they are in demonstrating the excellence and tradition of Bronte´s writing.

And whether simply being beautiful qualifies a person as being sufficiently competent is a prickly issue.

For it begs the question:

Can a woman be both beautiful and competent, rather than being exclusively one or the other?

I believe that a woman can be both, but I don´t think a woman should necessarily be considered competent or incompetent because she is beautiful or not.

Cole should be judged on her knowledge of Bronte´s writing and her academic record in literature, neither of which seems to dominate her resumé.

It seems that tradition and excellence is being superseded by the illusion that all a woman needs are looks to be successful, rather than intelligence, experience or merit.

And I still remain skeptical of the value that a model serves society when basically her primary role is to walk up and down a catwalk like a living clothes hanger showing clothing that she had no hand in creating to a small minority of people who can afford the clothing being demonstrated.

In a world crying for equal respect to be paid to women, can we not find a woman who is more than a pretty face and praise her for her intelligence and insight instead of her ability to artistically apply make-up to anorexic cheekbones?

Isn´t that the point of celebrating Emily Bronte, in that we are praising her for the merits of her literature rather than for the accident of her gender?

(For more on the Bronte sisters, please see That Which Survives of this blog.)


The United States

Let´s look at science and truth and the disdain with which the present Administration has for these concepts.

If the facts do not support the present political agenda then they are dismissed as fake.

The illusion that the government is infallible is preferred over the tradition of hard work and the excellence of research.

File:The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

An entire community of scientists can scream until they are blue in the face that global warming is real and a danger to the continued existence of this planet and that they have the facts and research to prove it, but this is considered nonsense and invalid with a simple 5 am barely literate tweet by the President.

Official Portrait of President Donald Trump.jpg

Above: Donald Trump, the Twit of Twitter


Nazi Germany, 1935 – 1939


On 1 April 1935 Arnold Sommerfeld achieved emeritus status at the University of Münich.


Above: Arnold Sommerfeld (1868 – 1951)

However, Sommerfeld stayed on as his own temporary replacement during the selection process for his successor, which took until 1 December 1939.

The process was lengthy due to academic and political differences between the Munich faculty’s selection and that of both the Reichserziehungsministerium (REM, Reich Education Ministry) and the supporters of Deutsche Physik.

In 1935, the Munich faculty drew up a candidate list to replace Sommerfeld as ordinarius professor of theoretical physics and head of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Munich.

Sigillum Universitatis Ludovico-Maximilianeae.svg

Above: Seal of the University of Munich

There were three names on the list: Werner Heisenberg, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1932,  Peter Debye, who would receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1936, and Richard Becker — all former students of Sommerfeld.

The Munich faculty was firmly behind these candidates, with Heisenberg as their first choice.

Bundesarchiv Bild183-R57262, Werner Heisenberg.jpg

Above: Werner Heisenberg (1901 – 1976)

However, supporters of Deutsche Physik and elements in the REM had their own list of candidates and the battle commenced, dragging on for over four years.

During this time, Heisenberg came under vicious attack by the supporters of Deutsche Physik.

One such attack was published in Das Schwarze Korps, the newspaper of the Schutzstaffel, or SS, headed by Heinrich Himmler.

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-S72707, Heinrich Himmler.jpg

Above: Heinrich Himmler (1900 – 1945)

Heisenberg had been lecturing to his students about the theory of relativity, proposed by the Jewish scientist Albert Einstein.

In the editorial, Himmler called Heisenberg a “White Jew” who should be made to “disappear.”

These verbal attacks were taken seriously, as Jews were subject to physical violence and incarceration at the time.

Heisenberg fought back with an editorial and a letter to Himmler, in an attempt to get a resolution to this matter and regain his honour.

At one point, Heisenberg’s mother visited Himmler’s mother to help bring a resolution to the affair.

The two women knew each other as a result of Heisenberg’s maternal grandfather and Himmler’s father being rectors and members of a Bavarian hiking club.

Eventually, Himmler settled the Heisenberg affair by sending two letters, one to SS-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich and one to Heisenberg, both on 21 July 1938.

In the letter to Heydrich, Himmler said Germany could not afford to lose or silence Heisenberg as he would be useful for teaching a generation of scientists.

To Heisenberg, Himmler said the letter came on recommendation of his family and he cautioned Heisenberg to make a distinction between professional physics research results and the personal and political attitudes of the involved scientists.

The letter to Heisenberg was signed under the closing “Mit freundlichem Gruss und, Heil Hitler!(“With friendly greetings and, Hail Hitler!”)

Overall, the settlement of the Heisenberg affair was a victory for academic standards and professionalism.

However, the replacement of Sommerfeld by Wilhelm Müller on 1 December 1939 was a victory of politics over academic standards.

Bildergebnis für wilhelm müller physiker

Above: Wilhelm Müller (?) (1880 – 1968)

Müller was not a theoretical physicist, had not published in a physics journal, and was not a member of the Deutsches Physikales Gesellschaft(DPG, German Physics Society).

His appointment as a replacement for Sommerfeld was considered a travesty and detrimental to educating a new generation of theoretical physicists.

The Nazis preferred the illusion – the ideology that scientific knowledge could only be disseminated by those of “pure Aryan blood” and “proper thinking” – over academic excellence achieved through merit.

Werner Heisenberg, known as the father of quantum physics, won his Nobel Prize for postulating his now-famous uncertainty principle which, in the simplest terms that I understand, says that the more precisely position of some particle is determined, the less precisely the momentum of the particle can be known, or vice versa, the more precisely the momentum of a particle is known, the less precisely the position can be determined.

I am no physicist and I will be damned thrice if I could properly explain the principle in any significant way, but in my own personal psychology I find the more settled a person is, the less precise his progress will be, and vice versa, the more progressive a person is, the less precise the position he holds.

If one does not travel physically or intellectually beyond one´s comfort zone, the less certain it is that the person can evolve beyond their stage of stagnation.

The more one travels physically or intellectually, the less certain he/she will be about maintaining an inflexible position on any given topic, for the exposure to new ideas offers the mind the suggestion of infinite possibilities in infinite combinations.

Travellers can nonetheless be fooled by illusion overwhelming our common sense.

Three incidents come to mind in my own personal travels.


Niagara Falls, New York, 1990

The city of Niagara Falls. In the foreground are the waterfalls known as the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, respectively, from left to right.

I couldn´t resist..

I had visited the Canadian Niagara Falls so I was understandingly curious to compare how the American Niagara Falls looked.

Misty spray, mighty roar, majestic scale, marvelous spectacle, I was one of millions of people who have invaded the Niagara River area that splits the land into two separate nations.

Long before tourists came, Seneca natives populated the area.

In 1678 they led the French priest Louis Hennepin (1626 – 1704) to the Falls.

His description was widely read in Europe:

“The universe does not afford its parallel.”

The Falls have attracted daredevils, including the Great Farini, who used barrels and tightropes and various contraptions in attempts to go over the Falls.

(For a description of the Great Farini, please see Canada Slim and the Lamp Ladies of this blog.)

Only some survived.

Honeymooners arrive (starting with Napoleon III) in the thousands, despite jokes that the Falls will be the first (or second) disappointment of married life.

To keep tourists and their dollars for longer than it takes to view the Falls, the American side has parks and attractions like its Canadian counterpart does, but – national pride aside – I believe the Canadians have done it better.

I tried visiting the New York side of the River by crossing on foot the Rainbow Bridge that spans the expanse between the nations.

I was refused.

So I opted for the Greyhound bus entry, then played the tourist.

I viewed the American Falls, took the Prospect Point Observation Tower elevator, crossed a bridge to Goat Island to view Terrapin Point and the Three Sisters Islands in the upper rapids, and descended to the Cave of the Winds where walkways go within 25 feet of the cataracts.

The town itself with over 60,000 people struck me as a grimier and grittier place as compared to the Ontario town of 75,000 people and a visit to nearby Buffalo made me think of the Gotham City as presented by Tim Burton´s Batman movie.

Gotham City Batman Vol 3 14.png

As historic as Buffalo´s Erie Canal and railroads may be, as fine as some of Buffalo´s buildings and parks are, the city felt like one huge Crime Alley, the downtown isolated and almost deserted.

Buffalo was in the 1990s a working class town known by me for only two things: the Buffalo Bills (who never seem able to win a Super Bowl) and the Anchor Bar´s Buffalo wings (deep-fried chicken wings covered in a spicy Sauce and served with blue cheese dressing and celery).

I ate the wings and boarded a bus back to Niagara Falls, New York and then waited in the bus terminal for a bus back over the border.

Greyhound UK logo.png

I was approached by a stranger.

I never understood racism or racial profiling, for I can never forget the family vacation I took a decade previously when we were on a freeway outside of Chicago and an ebony family in a long station wagon passed alongside us.

My foster mom shrieked and insisted we bolt our doors and windows.

The family, except for the darker hue of their skin, were no more dangerous than a Norman Rockwell painting, and we were travelling together at a speed of 60 miles per hour on a crowded highway.

It was illogical, irrational and emotional.

I had seen few black people before visiting the States and those I had met were quite decent and civil individuals, so I couldn´t understand why the extreme fear demonstrated by my foster parent.

Maybe Canadians are exposed to too much American TV?

When I was approached by a black man about my age (I was in my 20s then.) I felt neither fear nor suspicion.

He gave me a song and dance about how he needed to get back home to Los Angeles but couldn´t afford the bus fare.

He gave me a LA business card of what he said was his current employer.

His manner seemed sincere, but as a last measure of caution I bought his ticket ensuring that it was non-refundable and could only be redeemed as a bus ticket.

Time passed.

I contacted his LA employer who informed me that the young man had indeed worked for them but had quit their employ before he asked me for bus fare.

To my own surprise I was neither angry nor disappointed.

I might have been scammed but I proved to myself that I could be a generous person.

Maybe my action resulted in his returning to LA or perhaps he managed to convince another hapless traveller to buy his ticket, still he must have needed the money or he wouldn´t have done the scam.

I wish him well, though I doubt he would remember me.


Barcelona, Spain, 25 May 2007

On vacation with my wife, a week in this self-confident and progressive capital of Catalunya, Barcelona was and ever shall remain a city vibrating with life and excitement.

It is a thriving port and a prosperous commercial city that one could easily spend one´s entire life in and yet barely scratch its surface.

Superb museums, Gothic and modernista architecture, world famous ramblas, beautiful beaches, beckoning promenade, every day felt like a fiesta.

We soaked in Picasso, Joan Miró and Antoni Gaudí.

We strolled, we browsed, we listened to buskers and watched street Performers.

The energy of Barcelona was and still remains boundless.

We sunbathed, we swam, we ate, we drank as if there would be no tomorrow.

We wandered the streets of Barcelona day and night unafraid, lost in a kaleidoscope of colours and a garden of smells, lost in a warren of broad boulevards and ancient and narrow streets, lost in our own private flight of fancy, seeing only joy and elegance all around us.

We did not see the dirt and neglect that is also Barcelona´s seedier side.

We did not see poverty, for we chose to be blind to it.

We did not see drug use, for we were high already on the wine of each other´s company and the intoxicating nature of our vacation playground.

Was there danger lurking the flanks of the ramblas?

Should we have locked our passports, tickets and wallets inside the safe of our hotel room?

Should we have kept our backpacks beneath our feet as we poured endless sangrias down our gullets?

Were there pickpockets and bag snatchers hungry for the wealth we had and they did not?


Yet fear is forgotten, for hidden down alleys little changed for centuries are tapas bars, in gentrified old town quarters are designer boutiques, in workers´ taverns bargain lunches.

Gourmet restaurants, craft outlets and workshops, fin de siècle cafés, restored palaces, neighbourhood markets and specialist galleries, and that wonder of wonders, that miracle of miracles, Gaudí´s labour of love the Sagrada Familia.

Where is the fear?

Where is the danger?

We climbed a hillside, after midnight, intimately intoxicated.

Two men approach us, claiming to be plain clothes policemen.

My wife is German, so her instinct is to be lawabiding and obedient to figures of authority.

I am Canadian with a healthy trust in law and order common to a country where – unlike our neighbours to the south where settlement arose then the law followed,  we sent the law out first then settlers followed – it is assumed that those who regulate our lives do it in our best interests rather than their own.

(Naive, perhaps, but preferable to paranoia.)

Perhaps it was Niagara Falls that remained with me, but there was something about the set-up, the whole approach, that smelled bad, felt wrong.

They demanded to see our passports.

I categorically refused.

My wife was concerned, ready to be compliant.

But I was unwilling to budge.

Their badges were too quickly opened and closed to be read distinctly in the midnight lamplight.

I felt a bravado that only alcohol can provide.

I was prepared to defend my fayre maiden even had they been armed to the teeth.

I was curiously unafraid and completely certain of my stance.

I told them I thought they weren´t policemen and I brushed them aside as I dragged my wife down the street with me.

They did not follow.

Whether they were cops or crooks, they were too amateur to want to tackle a man twice their height who refused to be intimidated.

I should have been scared.

I still don´t understand why I wasn´t.


London, England, 24 October 2017


The Soho district has a historic reputation for tolerance.

No matter how dour daily life may be or how depressingly dull politics may become, Soho is a refuge from the rigours of reality.

Here the artistic assemble and the groups gather.

Here the media IS the message, the film is the fantasy, the advertised the attraction.

Life in high profile, in coats of many colours.

There is nowhere else in London where diversity in infinite forms congregates and clashes: businessmen boast, drunks drop, theatre goers critique, fashion leaps and falls, markets never seem to close, pimps, prostitutes and police patrol.

This is the best of times.

This is the worst of times.

A place where the song “There´s Gonna Be a Heartache Tonight” seems fitting.

We are drawn to the lights and sounds like moths to flames, for we are tourists.

We wonder if one can be sober and a teenager at the same time here.

And is everyone getting married tomorrow?

Here a stag party, here a hen party, here a drunk, there a drunk, everyone´s a drunk, drunk.

Ol´ Macdonald went to Soho, e-i-e-i-ohhh!

Sadly the wedding invitations will be as lacklustre as the imagination that went into the wandering about the streets from pub to pub the night before.

Are you not entertained?

It felt like a full day: the Churchill War Rooms (Would the man who would fight on the beaches and in the streets have defended Soho?), the Household Cavalry Rooms, Westminster Cathedral, the Florence Nightingale Museum….

Enough of the mighty and the martyrs, the pomp and pomposity, we wanted to pump passion into our veins and colour into our consciousness.

We find ourselves on Charing Cross Road, T.S. Eliot territory, where the American Eliot spent much of his time retreating from his English wife Vivienne.

Thomas Stearns Eliot by Lady Ottoline Morrell (1934).jpg

Above: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 – 1965)

Their marriage was markedly miserable, in part because of Viv´s health.

In a letter to their mutual friend Ezra Pound, Vivi complained of having a high temperature, fatigue, insomnia, migraines and colitis simultaneously.


Above: Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot (1888 – 1947)

Eliot retreated so often from his wife that Viv would eventually resort to marching up and down Charing Cross Road wearing a sandwich board bearing the slogan:

“I am the wife that T.S. Eliot abandoned.”

She was later diagnosed with mental instability and spent her remaining years in an asylum.

Is that what it means for a European to be married to a North American?

My poor wife.

We find ourselves wandering aimlessly trying to locate a restaurant listed in her Müller guide to London when in front of Wyndhams Theatre two young ladies in their 20s approached us.

Wyndhams Theatre London 2006-04-17.jpg

Would we like two free tickets to see the show about to begin?

Cautiously, we accept.

One of the ladies, her name written in ink on our tickets, Miranda Banfield had received four free tickets through her workplace and two of the ladies cancelled at last moment.

The show was Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle, our seats next to theirs.

To relieve their anxiety I opted to keep Ute between myself and them.

We were plesantly distracted and immensely grateful for the generosity.

Heisenberg is the story of Georgie Burns (Anne-Marie Duff), a 42-year-old American and Alex Priest (Kenneth Cranham), a 75-year-old English butcher, who meet in a London railway station.

Bildergebnis für heisenberg uncertainty principle theatre play pictures

They begin a romantic relationship and eventually travel to New Jersey to search for Georgie´s missing son.

Had we been sceptical of Miranda´s unexpected kindness we might have missed out on a magical moment of theatre.

Miranda and her companion did not expect or ask for further contact or remuneration and we parted ways pleasantly after the show.

We had progressed over the years and were less certain about categorizing people into distinct categories of good and bad.

Stranded strangers could be legitimate or could be liars.

Men on midnight streets could be cops or conmen.

Generosity could be genuine and gratefully accepted.

Life is uncertain.

Bildergebnis für heisenberg uncertainty principle images
Sources:  Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet USA / The Rough Guide to London / The Rough Guide to Spain





Canada Slim and the Lamp Ladies

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 December 2017

In this season of goodwill and gratitude for all the blessings we enjoy, those who are healthy should especially be thankful, for we live in an age when life expectancy is higher because mankind has developed medicines and methods to extend life and restore health.

Granted there is still much significant progress needed, for far too many people still fall victim to the scourges of cancer and strokes.

There is still much we do not understand about diseases like Parkinson´s, AIDS and far too many others to comprehensively list here.

Even the common cold with its endless variety of mutations remains unsolvable and must simply be accepted as one of the countless burdens we must endure in life.

What is significant about today when compared with yesteryear is that common injuries are less likely to be fatal.

As well through the contributions of thoughtful compassionate innovators, our attitudes towards the care of the injured and ailing have improved.

Here in Switzerland and back in my homeland of Canada I have been hospitalized due to injuries caused by accidents: a fall from a tree (shattered shoulder), an axe slip (shattered foot), and a fall on a staircase (shattered wrist).

And though I also have medical conditions of anemia and celiac, neither these conditions nor the accidents I have had led to risks of fatality.

For prompt and compassionate medical attention provided to me ensured that I still live a functional, mostly painless, and happy healthy existence.

For the Christian West, Christmas is the season to show thanksgiving to God for sending His Son Jesus Christ to save our immortal souls, we also should not forget the human instruments of change that have assisted mankind to save our mortal flesh.

Cefalù Pantocrator retouched.jpg

I married a doctor, and, even though she is a children´s physician, knowing her has given me an appreciation of just how difficult a profession medicine really is at all levels of medical treatment.

From the surgeon whose precision must be matched with efficiency, to the specialist doctor whose diagnosis must be accurately matched with the most likely cause of the patient´s symptoms, to the technicians who operate machinery that can reveal the interior of a patient´s body, to the family doctor who must know when to send a patient to a specialist and when to trust his/her own treatment, to the pharmacist that must know what medicines do and how to administer them, to the administrator who must balance the needs of patients with the cost of maintaining those needs, to the cleaning staff who ensure that the health care environment is as sterile as humanly possible, to the therapist who teaches the patient how to heal him/herself, to the nurse who monitors and comforts the bedbound sick person unable to fend for him/herself…..

The world of health care is a complex and complicated system demanding dedicated people and a neverending desire to improve itself.

A visit to a London museum two months ago has made me consider how grateful I am that an Englishwoman had the courage to be compassionate, Christian, and transformed the world for the better.

London, England, 24 October 2017

As mentioned in great detail in my blogpost Canada Slim and the Royal Peculiar my wife and I visited Westminster Abbey, that necrophiliac fetish house for the Establishment.


And folks whether or not they were avowed antiestablishment found themselves commemorated here.

The poet Shelley, despite wishing to be known as an anarchist artist and was buried in Rome, is memorialised here in Poets´ Corner, across from Viscount Castlereagh, a man Shelley loathed.

Percy Bysshe Shelley by Alfred Clint.jpg

Above: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

“I met Murder on the way.

Lord Castlereagh Marquess of Londonderry.jpg

Above: Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh (1769 – 1822)

He had a face like Castlereagh.”

Before leaving the Abbey, we briefly visited the Undercroft Museum with its death-worshipping collection of royal funeral effigies.

Until the Middle Ages, British monarchs were traditionally embalmed and left to lie in state for a set period of time.

Eventually, the corpse was substituted for a wooden figure of the deceased, fully dressed with clothes from the Great Wardrobe and displayed on top of the funeral carriage for the final journey.

As the clothes were expected to fit the effegy perfectly, the likenesses found in the Undercroft are probably fairly accurate.

Edward III´s face has a strange leer, a recreation of the stroke he suffered in his final years.

Above: Westminster Abbey effigy of Edward III (1312 – 1377)

His eyebrows came from a plucked dog.

Several soldiers are known as the Ragged Regiment due to their decrepit decay.

Frances, the Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, holds what may be the world´s oldest stuffed bird, an African Grey parrot that died in 1702.

Above: Frances Teresa Stewart (1647 – 1702)

Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that Frances was the greatest beauty he had ever seen.

Sadly she was disfigured by smallpox in 1668.

Sadly her final fate no different than that of her parrot.

Leaving the Abbey we see the Methodist Central Hall, an inadequate and unnecessary replacement to the building that once stood here.

Bildergebnis für methodist central hall westminster

On this site once stood the Royal Aquarium and Winter Garden, opened in 1876, a grand Victorian entertainment venue.


It housed palm trees, restaurants, an art gallery, an orchestra, a skating rink, the Imperial Theatre, smoking and reading rooms.

A variety of sea creatures were displayed here, but the Aquarium was often plagued by frequent plumbing problems, so the place became better known for the exciting performances staged here than for the fish.

Come one, come all.

See William Leonard Hunt, aka the Great Farini, the world renowned Canadian showman and tightrope walker!

Above: William Hunt, aka the Great Farini (1838 – 1929)

Gasp in awe at 14-year-old Rossa Matilda Richter, aka Zazel, the first ever human cannonball, as she (barely 5 feet tall and 64 lbs heavy) is launched through the air flying 30 feet or more!

Above: Rossa Richter, aka Zazel (1863 – 1929)

Protests were launched over the danger Zazel faced and for a while the venue was in danger of losing its license but crowds kept coming to see the performances.

By the 1890s the Aquarium´s reputation became disreputable and it became known as a place where ladies of poor character went in search of male companions.

The Great Farini and Zazel were one thing, but an Aquarium of ill repute was too much for Victorian propriety to accept.

The Aquarium closed in 1899 and was demolished four years later.

In 1905 construction began on the Hall for Methodists, Christianity´s least entertaining sect.

We headed towards the Thames and followed Millbank Road to a place which suffered the opposite fate of the Aquarium.

While the Aquarium lost its aura of entertainment and was replaced by a stodgy religious institute, opposite the Tate Britain Museum is an almost invisible plaque upon an unremarkable bollard that tells the reader that where the entertaining Tate stands once stood Millbank Prison.

Tate Britain (5822081512) (2).jpg

Above: Tate Britain

Millbank was built to serve as the National Petientiary and was used as a holding facility for convicts due for transportation to Australia.

“Near this site stood Millbank Prison which was opened in 1816 and closed in 1890.

This buttress stood at the head of the river steps from which, until 1867, prisoners sentenced to transportation embarked on their journey to Australia.”

Novelist Henry James called Millbank “a worse act of violence than any it was erected to punish”.

Henry James.jpg

Above: Henry James (1843 – 1916)

The phrase “down under” is said to be derived from a nearby tunnel through which the convicts were walked in chains down to the river.

A section of the tunnel survives in the cellars of the nearby Morpeth Arms, a pub built to seve the prison warden and said to be haunted by the ghost of a former inmate.

Morpeth Arms, Pimlico, SW1 (3106288271).jpg

Depending on their crime, prisoners could be given the choice of receiving a five-to-ten-year jail sentence instead of exile.

Among the many to be sent to Australia – and perhaps the unluckiest of them all – was Isaac Solomon, a convicted pickpocket and the inspiration for the character Fagin in Charles Dickens´ Oliver Twist.

Above: Isaac “Ikey” Solomon (1727 – 1850)

In 1827 Solomon managed to escape while being taken to Newgate Prison.

He fled England to New York, but then travelled on to Tasmania when he discovered his wife had been transported there for crimes of her own.

Upon arrival in Tasmania, Solomon was rearrested, shipped home to London, retried, reconvicted and sentenced to exiled imprisonment for 14 years….back to Tasmania.

We made our weaving way to Pimlico Tube Station, a unique station in that it doesn´t  have an interchange with another Underground or National Rail Line.

We rode the rails until Waterloo, the last station to provide steam-powered services and the busiest railway station in London / the 91st busiest in the world / the busiest transport hub in Europe.

I had once taken the Eurostar from Waterloo Station to Paris as one of the 81,891,738 travellers during the 13 years (1994 – 2007) Eurostar operated from here, before it began service from St. Pancras.

The clock at Waterloo has been cited as one of the most romantic spots for a couple to meet, and has appeared in TV (Only Fools and Horses) and in the film Man Up.

Waterloo Station has appeared in literature (Three Men in a Boat, The Wrong Box, The War of the Worlds), films (Terminus, Rush Hour, Sliding Doors), theatre (The Railway Children), music (the Kinks song “Waterloo Sunset”) and paintings.

Our destination – typical of travelling with a doctor – a hospital, St. Thomas Hospital, noteworthy for a male serial killer and a lady humanitarian.

Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, also known as the Lambeth Poisoner, was a Scottish Canadian serial killer who claimed victims from the United States, England, Canada and Scotland.


Above: Dr. Thomas Neill Cream (1850 – 1892)

Born in Glasgow, Cream was raised outside Quebec City.

He attended Montreal´s McGill University and then did his post-graduate training at St. Thomas.

In 1878 Cream obtained qualifications in Edinburgh.

He then returned to Canada to practice in London, Ontario.

In August 1879, Kate Gardener, a woman with whom he was having an affair, was found dead in an alleyway behind Cream´s office, pregnant and poisoned.

Cream claimed that she had been made pregnant by a prominent local businessman, but after being accused of both murder and blackmail, Cream fled to the United States.

Cream established a medical practice not far from the red light district of Chicago, offering illegal abortions to prostitutes.

In December 1880 another patient died after treatment by Cream, followed by another in April 1881.

On 14 July 1881, Danial Stott died of poisoning, after Cream supplied him a remedy for epilepsy.

Cream was arrested, along with Stott´s wife.

Cream was sentenced to life imprisonment in Joliet prison.

Cream was released in 1891, after Governor Joseph Fifer commuted his sentence.

Using money inherited from his father, Cream sailed for England.

He returned to London and took lodgings at 103 Lambeth Palace Road.

At that time, Lambeth was ridden with poverty, petty crime and prostitution.

On 13 October 1891, Nellie Donworth, a 19-year-old prostitute accepted a drink from Cream.

She died three days later.

On 20 October, Cream met 27-year-old prostitute Matilda Clover.

She died the next morning.

On 2 April 1892, after a vacation in Canada, Cream was back in London where he attempted to poison Louise Harvey.

Above: Louise Harvey

On 11 April, Cream met two prostitutes, Alice Marsh, 21, and Emma Shrivell. 18, and talked his way into their flat.

Cream put styrchine in their bottles of Guinness.


Both women died in agony.

On 3 June 1892, Cream was arrested and was later sentenced to death.

On 15 November, Cream was hanged on the gallows at Newgate Prison and his body buried in an unmarked grave within the prison walls.

Cream´s name does not appear in later McGill graduate directories.

No mention of those who mourned Cream´s victims is made either.

Ladies of the night lost in the shadows of Lambeth lamplight, fallen and forgotten.

Another medical professional is equally remembered at a site as inconspicuous as a prison burial ground: a parking lot.

On the south side of Westminster Bridge, a series of red brick Victorian blocks and modern white additions make up St. Thomas´s Hospital, founded in the 12th century.

At the Hospital´s northeastern corner, off Lambeth Palace Road, is a car park.

A hospital car park isn´t the most obvious location for a museum, but that where one finds the homage to Florence Nightingale, the genteel rebel who invented the nursing profession.

Born on 12 May 1820 at the Villa Colombaia, three decades before Cream, Florence Nightingale was named after the city of her birth, Florence, Italy.

Florence Nightingale (H Hering NPG x82368).jpg

Above: Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

“There is nothing like the tyranny of a good English family.”

Florence was born into a rich, well-connected family though quite liberal in their attitudes.

Their circle of friends and acquaintances included the author Elizabeth Gaskell, the scientist Charles Darwin and the reform politician the Earl of Shaftesbury.

(For the story of the Earl of Shaftesbury, please see Canada Slim and the Outcast of this blog.)

Her maternal grandfather William Smith campaigned to abolish slavery and Florence´s father William Nightingale educated both her and her sister Frances Parthenope (after her birthplace of Parthenope, Naples) in French, Latin, German, mathematics, philosophy and science, then considered strictly male pursuits,

The Nightingales loved to travel – her parents´ honeymoon lasted so long that they produced two daughters before they returned home.

Growing up Florence visited many European cities.

She travelled to France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.

She enjoyed visiting museums, dancing at balls, and going to concerts, confessing at one point that she was “music mad”.

In 1838, her father took the family on a tour of Europe where they were introduced to the English-born Parisian heiress Mary Clarke, with whom Florence bonded.

Mary Mohl self portrait crop.jpg

Above: Mary Clarke (1793 – 1883)

Clarke was a stimulating hostess who did not care for her appearance, and while her ideas did not always agree with those of her guests, “she was incapable of boring anyone”.

Clarke´s behaviour was said to be exasperating and eccentric and she had no respect for upper class British women, whom she regarded generally as inconsequential.

She said that if given the choice between being a woman or a galley slave, she would choose the galleys.

Clarke generally rejected female company and spent her time with male intellectuals.

However Clarke made an exception in the case of Florence.

They were to remain close friends for 40 years despite their 27-year age difference.

Clarke demonstrated that women could be equals to men, an idea that Florence did not obtain from her mother Fanny Smith.

Florence underwent the first of several experiences that she believed were calls from God in February 1837 while at her family home of Embley Park, prompting a strong desire to devote her life to the service of others.

Above: Embley Park

Devout and scholarly, Florence was not expected to do anything much apart from marry and procreate.

As a young woman, Florence was attractive, slender and graceful.

She had rich brown hair, a delicate complexion and a prominent, almost Roman, nose.

She was slim until middle age and tall for a Victorian woman, about 5´8″ or 172 cm in height.

While her demeanour was often severe, she was very charming and possessed a radiant smile.

Florence received several marriage proposals.

She was certainly not supposed to work, but Florence´s ambition was to become a nurse.

Her parents were aghast.

In the Victorian Age, nurses were known for being devious, dishonest and drunken.

Hospitals were filthy, dangerous places exclusively for the poor.

The rich were treated in the privacy of their own homes.

In her youth Florence was respectful of her family´s opposition to her working as a nurse, but nonetheless she announced her decision to enter the field in 1844.

Despite the intense anger and distress of her mother and sister, Florence rebelled against the expected role for a woman of her status to become a wife and mother.

“I craved for something worth doing instead of frittering time away on useless trifles.”

Florence came closest to accepting the marriage proposal of politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes, but after a nine-year courtship she rejected him in 1849, convinced that marriage would interfere with her ability to follow her calling to nursing.


Above: Richard Monckton Milnes (1809 – 1885)

Whether Milnes´ devotion to the writing of Marquis de Sade and his extensive collection of erotica had something to do with Florence´s decision remains unstated.

She knew that marriage would mean swapping one cage for another and felt that God meant her to remain single.

“Marriage had never tempted me. 

I hated the idea of being tied forever to a life of Society, and such a marriage could I have.” 

In the essay Cassandra, Florence wrote about the limited choices facing women like her and raged against the way women were unable to put their energy and intelligence to better use.

Florence´s parents allowed her to visit Rome in 1847 with family friends, Charles and Selina Bracebridge, hopefully to take her mind off nursing.

In Rome, Florence met the young politician, former Secretary of War, Sidney Herbert on his honeymoon with his wife Elizabeth.

1st Baron Herbert.jpg

Above: Sidney Herbert (1810 – 1861)

Together Florence and Elizabeth visited convents and hospitals run by Catholic nuns.

Sidney and Florence became lifelong close friends and the Herberts would later be insturmental in facilitating Florence´s future nursing work.

Florence continued her travels with the Bracebridges as far as Greece and Egypt.

Her writings on Egypt in particular are testimony to her learning, literaray skill and philosophy of life.

Sailing up the Nile as far as Abu Simbel in January 1850, Florence wrote of the temples there:

Panorama Abu Simbel crop.jpg

Above: The temples of Abu Simbel: the Great Temple of Ramses II (left), the Temple of Nefertari (right)

“Sublime in the highest style of intellectual beauty, intellect without effort, without suffering …. not a feature is correct – but the whole effect is more expressive of spiritual grandeur than anything I could have imagined.

It makes the impression upon one that thousands of voices do, uniting in one unanimous simultaneous feeling of enthusiasm or emotion, which is said to overcome the strongest man.”

At Thebes, Florence wrote of being “called to God”.

A week later near Cairo she wrote in her diary:

“God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for Him alone without reputation.”

During a visit to the Parthenon in Athens, Florence rescued an owl, which she called Athena.

The Parthenon in Athens.jpg

Above: The Parthenon

Athena always perched on Florence´s shoulder or in her pocket, with a specially designed pouch to to catch her droppings.

Bildergebnis für athena florence nightingale

Above: Athena (1850 – 1855)

Athena was a demanding creature who had to be bathed with sand daily.

When the badtempered owl died, Florence wrote:

“Poor little beastie, it was odd how much I loved you.”

Her sister Frances wrote a short story, The Life and Death of Athena, ensuring the little owl´s posthumous fame.

Rather than forget nursing as her parents hoped, Florence´s determination grew even stronger.

Later in 1850, Florence visited the Lutheran religious community at Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein, near Dusseldorf, in Germany, where she observed Pastor Theodor Fliedner and the deaconesses working for the poor and the sick in a hospital, orphanage and college.

Above: Kaiserswerth Clinic

She regarded the Kaiserswerth experience as a turning point in her life, where she received months of medical training which would form the basis for her later care.

Florence learned about medicines, how to dress wounds, observed amputations and cared for the sick and dying.

She had never felt happier.

“Now I know what it is to love life.”

On 22 August 1853, Florence took the post of Superintendant at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street in London, a position she held until October 1854.

When an epidemic of cholera broke out in London, Florence rushed to nurse victims in the nearby Middlesex Hospital.

Florence read about the disaster facing the British army in the autumn of 1854.

Hundreds of soldiers were sent to fight with the French and the Ottoman Turks against the Tsar´s Russian army in the Crimea were dying of disease.

The Crimean War was the first time the public could read in the newspapers about how the troops were suffering.

Above: Map of the Crimean War (Russian version)

When the news broke of the disaster in the Army, polticians were criticised.

More soldiers were dying from disease, and from cold during the winter, than from enemy action.

“In most cases the flesh and clothes were frozen together.

As for feet, the boots had to be cut off bit by bit, the flesh coming off with them.”

The wounded arrived by the boatloads at the British Army´s base hospitals at Scutari in Constantinople (today´s Istanbul).

Reporting from the front lines in the Crimea, William Howard Russell, Times journalist, blamed disorganization and a lack of supplies.

Fellow Times journalist in Constantinople, Thomas Chenery, reported that the French allowed women to nurse, unlike the British.

After the initial battles in the Crimea, the conflict centred on the besieged port of Sebastopol, where Russian and Ukranian women nursed heroically.

Panorama dentro.JPG

Above: The Siege of Sebastopol (September 1854 – September 1855), by Franz Roubaud (1902)

Conditions in the vast hospitals were horrific.

“Must men die in agony unheeded?”, demanded the Times.

The scandal provoked a public outcry.

Sidney Herbert, once again Secretary of War, wrote to Florence asking her to lead a group of women nurses – a new and risky idea.

Florence and her team of 38 brave women volunteer nurses that she trained and 15 Catholic nuns set sail for Scutari.

Florence arrived early November 1854 at Selimiye Barracks in Scutari and found that poor care for wounded soldiers was being delivered by overworked medical staff in the face of official indifference.

Medicines were in short supply, hygiene was being neglected and mass infections were common, many of them fatal.

There was no equipment to process food for the patients.

There was a lack of food, a lack of blankets, a lack of beds.

Casualities arrived, after a long journey, dirty and starving.

“It is of appalling horror!

These poor fellows suffer with unshrinking heroism, and die or are cut up without complaint.

We are steeped up to our necks in blood.”

At Scutari the nurses had to contend with rats, lice, cockroaches and an absence of sanitation and had to cope with long hours and hard physical work.

After Florence sent a plea to the Times for a government solution to the poor condition of the facilities, the British Government commissioned engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel to design a prefabricated hospital that could be built in England and shipped to the Dardanelles.

A 19th century man wearing a jacket, trousers and waistcoat, with his hands in his pockets and a cigar in mouth, wearing a tall stovepipe top hat, standing in front of giant iron chains on a drum.

Above: Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859)

The result was Renkioi Hospital, a civilian facility that had a death rate less than one tenth that of Scutari.

Florence reduced the death rate from 42% to 2% by making improvements in hygiene.

She implemented handwashing and other hygiene practices in the war hospital.

She organized the nurses and soldiers´ wives to clean shirts and sheets and the men to empty the toilets.

She bombarded Herbert with letters asking for supplies and used her own money and funds sent by the public via the Times, to buy scrubbing brushes and buckets, blankets, bedpans and operating tables.

“This morning I foraged in the purveyor´s store – a cruise I make almost daily, as the only way of getting things.  I am really cook, housekeeper, scavenger, washerwoman, general dealer and storekeeper.”

Every night she walked miles of hospital corridors where thousands of casualities lay, holding a Turkish lantern (fanoos) on her nightly rounds of the wards.

Florence would always dismiss the idea that she alone improved the Hospital.

It was a team effort.

In Britain, penny papers popularised the image of “the Lady with the Lamp” patrolling the wards.

Her work went beyond nursing care.

Florence treated the soldiers equally, whatever their rank, and also thought of their families´ welfare.

She wrote letters of condolence to relatives, sent money to widows, and answered inquiries about the missing or ill.

When the initial crisis was over, Florence also organized reading rooms.

As an alternative to alcohol, the Inkerman Café was opened, serving non-alcoholic drinks.

She set up a banking system so ordinary soldiers could send their pay home, rather than drink or gamble it away.

Stories of Florence´s devotion to the men flooded home to Britain.

One soldier wrote home of the love and gratitude for Florence felt by “hundreds of great rough soldiers”.

The men worshipped her.

During her first winter at Scutari, 4,077 soldiers died.

Ten times more soldiers died from diseases such as typhoid, typhus, cholera and dysentary than from battle wounds.

Scutari had been built on top of a huge cesspool.

With overcrowding eased, defective sewers flushed out and ventilation improved, death rates were sharply reduced.

Florence still believed that the death rates were due to poor nutrition, lack of supplies, stale air and overworking of the soldiers.

She came to believe that most of the soldiers at the hospital were killed by poor living conditions.

Florence believed that she needed to maintain military style discipline over her nurses.

“If a patient is cold, if a patient is feverish, if a patient is faint, if he is sick after taking food, if he has a bed-sore, it is generally the fault not of the disease but of the nursing.”

She wanted her nurses to be treated with respect by the men and doctors.

This meant no flirting with doctors or soldiers, no disobedience or drunkenness.

The first image showing Florence as “the Lady with the Lamp” appeared in the Illustrated London News early in 1855.

As the war dragged on, Florence´s work made her internationally famous.

“She is a ministering angel without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow´s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her.

When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.”

Florence hated what she called the “buzz fuzz” of celebrity, but she knew how to use public opinion.

Fame gave her power and influence to make changes, but she knew it obscured the achievements of others and the human cost of the war.

Florence´s image appeared as pottery figurines, souvenirs and even on paper bags.

Songs and poems were written about her.

When the US poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published “Santa Philomena” in 1857, it fixed Florence´s image forever as the Lady with the Lamp.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron in 1868.jpg

Above: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

“Lo! in that house of misery

A lady with a lamp I see

Pass through the glimmering gloom

And flit from room to room.”

After contracting “Crimean fever” from infected goat´s milk, Florence suffered ill health.

After the Crimean War, Florence returned to Britain in August 1856, travelling under the name “Miss Smith” to avoid publicity.

Thin, exhausted and ill, she felt a sense of failure and grieved over the soldiers who did not return.

“My poor men lying in your Crimean graves, I stand at the altar of murdered men.

Florence devoted the rest of her life to ensure that they did not die in vain.

While Florence shrank from public appearances, she skillfully used her reputation and the authority of her name to convincethose in power of the need for health reform, starting with Queen Victoria, whom she impressed greatly when they met in Balmoral.

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

For the rest of her days she would continue to suffer reoccuring bouts of fever, exhaustion, depression, loss of appetite, insomnia and severe back pain.

Unable to continue nursing, she devoted herself to health reform, founded the first training school for nurses at St. Thomas, campaigned to improve hospital conditions and championed the cause of midwives.

Often irritable, highly critical of herself and others, Florence worked on, writing hundreds of letters, gathering and analysing statistics, commenting on reports, briefing politicians and medical experts.

Prompted by the Indian mutiny of 1857, Florence began a lifelong campaign to improve the health of all Indians, not just British soldiers.

She studied the design of hospitals in Britain and across Europe.

Florence wrote Notes on Nursing to help ordinary women care for their families.

Bildergebnis für notes on nursing

She stressed the importance of cleanliness, warmth, fresh air, light and proper diet.

Florence wrote some 200 books, pamphlets and articles, and over 14,000 letters.

As well as nursing she wrote about religion and philosophy, sanitation and army hygiene, hospitals, statistics and India.

She wrote about her travels and the frustrations of life for educated women.

Florence changed society´s ideas about nursing.

She believed in looking after a person´s mental as well as physical wellbeing.

She stressed the importance of being sensitive to a patient´s needs and their environment to aid recovery.

She helped make nursing a respectable profession for women.

Her work proved an inspiration to many, including the founder of the Red Cross movement, Henri Dunant.

Henry Dunant-young.jpg

Above: Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910)

Florence championed causes that are as just important today as they were in her day, from hospital hygiene and management, to the nursing of soldiers during war and afterwards, and healthcare for all around the world.

In recognition of her pioneering work in nursing, the Nightingale Pledge is taken by new nurses.

The Florence Nightingale Medal is the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve and the annual International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world on her birthday.

Florence Nightingale Medal.jpg

The Florence Nightingale Museum doesn´t just celebrate Florence as a devout woman who single-mindedly revolutionized the healthcare industry but as well it hits the right note by putting the two years she spent tending to the wounded of the Crimean War in the context of a lifetime of tireless social campaigning, and also mentions others involved in that same health care crisis.

Bildergebnis für florence nightingale museum

Dimly lit and curiously curated with circular display cases covered in fake grass or wrapped in bandages, this small museum is packed with fascinating exhibits, from Florence´s hand-written ledgers and primitive medical instruments to pamplets with titles like How People May Live and Not Die in India.

The Museum and the neighbourhood of Lambeth are worth exploring, especially in a world too full of Dr. Creams and too few Florence Nightingales.

Perhaps if our politicians visited more museums like the Red Cross Museum in Geneva or the Florence Nightingale Museum there might less incentive to cause war ourselves or to ignore wars far removed from us, such as Yemen – “a pointless conflict (that) has caused the world´s worst humanitarian crisis”.

Perhaps if we followed role models such as Florence we might one day truly find peace on Earth and good will towards man.

Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / Florence Nightingale Museum /


Canada Slim and the Battle for Switzerland´s Soul

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 18 December 2017

Battlefields can be deceptive when viewed long after the battles have been fought.

Take the example of Waterloo.

Battle of Waterloo 1815.PNG

Above: The Battle of Waterloo, Belgium, 18 June 1815

Once the tourist gets beyond the huge pyramid and the facilities set up to view and visit it he/she finds him/her self in quiet tranquil dairy country.

(For a glimpse of today´s Waterloo, please see That Which Survives: A Matter of Perspective of this blog.)

Go to Battle, near Hastings, and beyond the markers that indicate that major events took place here in 1066 resulting in the Norman Conquest of England, it is difficult to picture these tranquil fields the scene of anything beyond a hiker´s pleasant place for a stroll.

Bayeux Tapestry scene57 Harold death.jpg

Above: The Bayeux Tapestry, showing the Battle of Hastings, England, 14 October 1066

Yes, even today a few poppies grow between the crosses row by row in Flanders Field, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in World War One.

A page from a book. The first stanza of the poem is printed above an illustration of a white cross amidst a field of red poppies while two cannons fire in the background.

And while no birds sang back then, today ignorant avian creatures soar and swoop above farmers´ fields that have known the plow for centuries before and will probably know the plow for centuries to come.

It is difficult to understand the past through the eyes of the present.

It is difficult to understand the people of the past through our present perspectives.

As a resident in Switzerland these past seven years I find myself still waging an internal war within, between my preconceptions of the Swiss before I lived here and the reality and the history of who the Swiss actually are and how they got that way.

File:Flag of Switzerland (Pantone).svg

I once viewed the Swiss as nothing more than banking gnomes with the passion of dry toast, similar to the goblins that run Gringot´s Bank in the Harry Potter series.

My view later expanded to see the Swiss through the eyes of Johanna Spyri´s children´s classic Heidi and I began to imagine the rural Swiss as hayseed farmers leading processions of bell-ringing bovine over hills reminiscient of Salzburg, Austria, where Julie Andrews reminds us that those hills are alive with the Sound of Music.

Above: Swiss CHF50 commemorative coin (2001)

To be fair, Switzerland does indeed have bankers and farmers that partially validate my preconceptions, but the Swiss are so much more than these.

If we consider that two symbols of Switzerland are the Swiss Army knife and the Swiss Guard that protects the Pope, it might help us to view the Swiss militarily as well.

Today we view Switzerland simply as a place where conflicting groups go to Geneva, have a little chocolate, discuss a bit of politics, shake hands and sign treaties.

We forget that once the Swiss were considered the world´s fiercest warriors and that warring nations eagerly bought their mercenaries from Switzerland, for even then: Swiss meant quality.

We forget that had it been in Swiss nature to be conquerors beyond their frontiers and had they acted when they held military superiority, today´s political map might look quite different.

Little did I know as I followed the footsteps of religious reformer Huldrych Zwingli that I would encounter the very events that would determine Swiss independence from Hapsburg rule, compel the country to adapt a policy of neutrality and redefine the role of the Swiss mercenary.


Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)


Glarus, Switzerland, 15 November 2017

The walk continues.

My little Zwingli Project begun a month previously has brought me here, back to the Walensee, a beautiful lake  – 24.1 square kilometres of mysterious water that never fails to capture one´s breath.

Walensee vom Kerenzerberg gegen Osten

Above: Walensee and Kerenzerburg Mountain

I had already  walked from Zwingli´s birthplace in Wildhaus to Strichboden (13 km / 4 hours walk), to Arvenbüel (9 km / 3 hours walk), to Weesen (five km / 2 hours walk) and had learned and seen a lot.

(See Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation, ….and the Wild Child of Toggenburg, ….and the Thundering Hollows, ….and the Basel Butterfly Effect, ….and the Vienna Waltz for the events and background of the Zwingli Project in this blog.)

After a train to St. Gallen, another to Uznach and a third to Ziegelbrücke, followed by a bus to Weesen, I set off for Glarus, Zwingli´s first ecclesiastical post.

I walked past Weesen Harbour, the path clinging to the shoreline of the Walensee.

Weesen Hafen.jpg

Above: Harbour, Weesen, Walensee

Summer had clearly abandoned the lake: no boats afloat, no campfires burning, no kiosks surrounded by clamouring kids.

I saw only the occasional woman or retired gentleman walking their dogs.

The path left the lake, climbed to the highway leading to Ziegelbrücke, clung to a bridge crossing the Linth Canal that goes to where the Promised Land of Zürich beckons, descended back to the lake through a campground to a second canal – the Escher.

Der Linthkanal bei Reichenburg, Richtung Süden, im Hintergrund der Mürtschenstock.

I followed canal and towpath straight south, but less than a kilometre later the signage and my travelling companion guidebook failed me.

There were no signs and as beautiful as the ascent and the walk atop the mountains could have been, I lacked important information:

Were there cable cars, up the mountains, then, after hours of walking, back down the mountains, operating?

It was a workday and summer had long since passed.

If there were cable cars in operation, how passable were the mountains?

Were the paths blocked by snow?

Were trail markings still visible?

I decided to err on the side of caution and continued to follow the Escher Canal.

My guidebook ultimately leads the hiker to Glarus and my topographic map suggested the Canal continued straight south to Glarus, so – mountain views be damned – from the Canal I would not stray.

The territory I was walking through wasn´t so alien for me.

I had previously walked from where the Escher Canal (which manages the Linth River) begins in Linthal to Glarus.

I had taken a cable car from Linthal to visit the cars-free town of Braunwald.

Skyline of Braunwald

Above: The village of Braunwald

I had ridden a Postbus from Linthal to Klausenpass and the Uri cantonal capital Altdorf.

Above: Klausen Pass

And to accomplish these adventures to and from Glarus and Linthal I had ridden the train a number of times from Ziegelbrücke.

(For a glimpse of this, please see Glarus: Every Person a Genius of this blog.)


According to the legend, the inhabitants of the Linth River valley were converted to Christianity by the Irish monk St. Fridolin, who, after founding Säckingen Abbey in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, decided to keep travelling and keep on converting those he met during his travels.

In Switzerland, Fridolin spent considerable time where he converted the landowner Urso.

Above: Fridolin (left), Urso (middle) and Landolf (right). Urso´s brother Landolf protests against his brother´s landholdings being passed to Fridolin,  so Fridolin resurrects Urso to confirm the land grant.

On his death Urso left his enormous landholdings to Fridolin, who founded numerous churches all dedicated to St. Hilarius (the origin of the name “Glarus”).

From the 9th century, the Glarus region was owned by Säckingen Abbey until the Habsburgs claimed all the Abbey’s rights by 1288.

St. Fridolin has never been forgotten.

Canton Glarus joined the Swiss Confederation in 1352.

On 9 July 1386, the Swiss Confederation attacked and conquered the Habsburg village of Weesen.

The following year Canton Glarus rose up against the Habsburgs and destroyed Windegg Castle.

In response, on the night of 21-22 February 1388, a Habsburg army attacked the village of Weesen and drove out the Confederation forces.

In the beginning of April, two Habsburg armies marched out to cut off Canton Glaurus from the rest of the Confederation.

The main Confederation army, with about 5,000 men, marched towards Näfels under the command of Count Donat of Toggenburg and the knight Peter von Thorberg.

A second column, with about 1,500 men under the command of Count Hans von Werdenberg-Sargans, marched over the Kerenzerberg Pass above the Walensee.

Habsburgian attempts to reconquer the valley were repelled in the Battle of Näfels in 1388, where a banner depicting St. Fridolin was used to rally the people of Glarus to victory.

The main army, under Toggenburg and Thorberg, attacked and captured the fortifications around Näfels.

As they retreated, the Austrian army spread out to plunder the villages and farms.

The Glarners then emerged from the snow and fog to take the Habsburg troops by surprise as they were preoccupied with looting.

The Battle of Näfels, the last major battle of the Old Swiss Confederation vs the Austrian Hapsburgs, fought on 9 April 1388, was decisive, despite the forces of Glarus being outnumbered 16 to 1.

2,500 Austrians died.

Only 54 men of Glaurus were killed.

The disorganized Austrians broke and fled towards Weesen, but the collapse of the bridge over the Linth River dropped much of their army into the water where they drowned.

In 1389, a seven years´ peace treaty was signed in Vienna.

Above: Monument to the Battle of Näfels (9 April 1388)

That same year, the first Näfelserfahrt (Näfels pilgrimage) to the site of the battle was held.

Bildergebnis für näfelser fahrt bilder

This pilgrimage, which still occurs, happens on the first Thursday in April in memory of this battle.

From that time onwards Canton Glarus has used the image of St. Fridolin on its flags and in its coat of arms.

Glaris-coat of arms.svg

I lingered in Näfels after an hour´s stroll along the Escher Canal.

I visited the Glarus Cantonal Museum in the Freulerpalast (Freuler Palace), the Church of St. Hilarius with the grave of General Niklaus Franz von Bachmann (1740 – 1831) who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, and the Battlefield Memorial.

Above: Freuler Palace, Näfels, Canton Glarus

The diverse history of the Canton is shown here with precious objects and paintings.

Here you can learn interesting facts on immigration and emigration, the practice of direct democracy and the Great Fire of Glarus.

(On the first Sunday in May, the Landesgemeinde brings out traditionally clad voters who publicly debate and decide politics in a manner rarely seen elsewhere.)

Bildergebnis für landsgemeinde glarus

Above: Landesgemeinde Glarus

You can see the development of textile printing that once was the most important industry in Glarnerland, the military and defence of Glarus and the significance of the region in alpine ski sport.

(The Museum is open from 1 April to 30 November, 1000-1200/1400-1730.  Please see

The towpath along the Escher Canal continues to Netstal, a town that lies beneath Wiggis Mountain where the Löntsch River (from the Klöntal) meets the Linth.

Above: Netstal

Here one finds both a Catholic and a Reformed church, a beautiful half-timbered house (the Stählihaus), a plaque on the side of the Ambühlhaus in memory of Battle of Näfels warrior Mathias Ambühl, and a memorial stone regarding an unfortunate mine launcher accident that took place on 15 December 1941 resulting in the loss of four soldiers´ lives.

Netstal was home to cartographer Rudolf Leuzinger (1826 – 1896), the youngest Swiss traitor ever executed Fridolin Beeler (1921 – 1943) and writers Ludwig Hohl (1904 – 1980) and Marcel Schwander (1929 – 2010).

In the 118 years between the Battle of Näfels and Zwingli assuming his post as priest in Glarus in 1506, Switzerland was far from being a peaceful place, for when the Swiss weren´t fighting against others they were fighting amongst themselves.

There had been the Appenzell Wars (1403 – 1428), war with Milan (1403 – 1428), the Basel War (1409), the annexations of Aargau (1415) and Thurgau (1460), the Raron Affair (1418 – 1419), the Old Zürich War (1436 – 1450), the St. James War (1445 – 1449), the Freiburg War (1447 – 1448), the Waldshut War (1468), the Burgundian Wars (1474 – 1477), the St. Gallen War (1489 – 1490), the Italian Wars (1495 – 1522) and the Swabian War (1499).

(The Swabian War is called the Swiss War by the Germans and the Engadin War by the Austrians.)

(For the fascinating story of the Burgundian Wars and how it lead to the Swiss being recognized as the militarily superior force in Europe, please see The Underestimated: The Bold and the Reckless of this blog.)

Often these wars were of Cantons seeking independence from Habsburg control and the Habsburg Empire seeking to regain it.

Bloodshed and violence were commonplace.

As previously mentioned in former blog posts, Zwingli had completed his studies in Weesen, Bern, Basel and Vienna, was ordained in Konstanz and celebrated his first mass in his hometown of Wildhaus, before his first ecclesiastical post in Glarus where he would remain for a decade. (1506 – 1516)

Above: Birthplace of Huldrych Zwingli, Wildhaus

It was in Glarus, whose soldiers were used as mercenaries throughout Europe, that Zwingli became involved in politics.

The hiring of young men to fight in other nations´ wars, including battles for the Pope, was one of the major industries for the Swiss.

During Zwingli´s pastorate in Glarus, the Swiss Confederation was embroiled in various campaigns with its neighbours: the French, the Habsburgs and the Papal States.

Zwingli placed himself solidly on the side of the Roman See.

In return, Pope Julius II honoured Zwingli by providing him with an annual pension.

Pope Julius II.jpg

Above: Giuliano della Rovere (1443 – 1513), “the Fearsome Warrior Pope” Pope Julius II (1503 – 1513)

Zwingli took the role of chaplain in several Swiss campaigns of the aforementioned Italian Wars.

The Italian Wars (also referred to as the Great Italian Wars or the Great Wars of Italy or the Renaissance Wars) were a series of conflicts from 1494 to 1559 that involved, at various times, most of the city-states of Italy, the Papal States, the Republic of Venice, most of the major states of Western Europe (France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburg Empire, England, Swiss mercenaries and Scotland) as well as the Ottoman Empire.

The Italian Wars are: the First Italian War / King Charles VIII´s War (1494 – 1498), ….

Charles VIII Ecole Francaise 16th century Musee de Conde Chantilly.jpg

Above: Charles VIII of France (1470 – 1498), King (1483 – 1498)

(Charles VIII of France invaded Italy with 25,000 men, including 8,000 Swiss mercenaries.)

….the Second Italian War / King Louis XII´s War (1499 – 1504), ….


Above: Louis XII of France (1462 – 1515), King (1499 – 1515)

(Louis XII of France invaded Italy with 27,000 men, including 5,000 Swiss mercenaries.  Julius II became Pope in 1503.)

….the Third Italian War / the War of the League of Cambrai (1508 – 1516), ….

(The Pope hired 6,000 Swiss mercenaries in the War against the French.)

….the Italian War of 1521 – 1526, the War of the League of Cognac (1526 – 1530), the Italian War of 1536 – 1538, the Italian War of 1542 – 1546, and the Habsburg-Valois War of 1551 – 1559.

The attentive reader may note that I do not mention Swiss mercenary involvement in the last five Italian conflicts.

That is because three battles – one in King Louis´ War and two in the War of the League of Cambrai – would make the Swiss question themselves as regards to their military role and their allegiance to the Catholic Church.

While Zwingli was in Vienna, he probably had heard of the Treason of Novara in 1500.

King Louis XII of France had conquered the Duchy of Milan in 1499 with the help of Swiss mercenaries.

In the spring of 1500, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, in his turn hired Swiss mercenaries in his bid to reconquer the Duchy.

Pala Sforzesca - detail 01.jpg

Above: Ludovico Sforza (1452 – 1508), Duke (1494 – 1499)

The two groups of Swiss mercenaries found themselves on both sides of a conflict.

The two mercenary armies confronted one another at Novara, a city west of Milan.

6,000 Swiss under the command of Sforza defended the city, while 10,000 Swiss under the command of Louis laid siege to it.

A meeting of delegates from the Swiss soldiers´ individual cantons called for negotiations between the two sides in an attempt to prevent the worst case scenario of the Swiss being forced to slaughter one another, “brothers against brothers and fathers against sons”.

Louis agreed to a conditional surrender which would grant free passage to the Swiss abandoning the city, under the condition that Sforza would be surrendered.

However, the Swiss on Sforza´s side, under an oath of loyalty to their employer, decided to dress Sforza as a Swiss and smuggle him out of town.

On 10 April 1500, the Swiss garrison was leaving Novara, passing a cordon formed by the Swiss on the French side.

French officers were posted to oversee their exit.

As the disguised Sforza passed the cordon, one Swiss mercenary Hans Turman of Uri made signs giving away Sforza´s identity.

Above: Sforza handed over to the French

The Duke was apprehended by the French and died eight years later as a prisoner in the castle of Loches.

Loches dungeon, aerial view from West.jpg

Above: Loches Castle

The French rewarded Turman for his treason with 200 gold crowns (corresponding to five years´ salary of a mercenary).

Turman escaped to France, but after three years he returned home to Uri.

He was immediately arrested for treason and executed by decapitation.

The Treason left a mark on the Swiss conscience.

Were they nothing more than men without honour, selling themselves to the highest bidder?

Was Swiss unity so cheaply sacrificed?

I am uncertain as to the exact demands required of an army chaplain in Zwingli´s day, but I suspect that in spite of his religious role he was expected to raise arms against the enemy when it was required, for it was in battle in Kappel am Albis in 1531 that Zwingli would meet his demise and Zwingli´s most prominent statue – at Zürich´s Wasserkirche –  shows him with sword firmly in hand.

Zwingli´s battle experiences would make him question the role of the Swiss as mercenaries which mainly enriched cantonal authorities.

On 6 June 1513, in the aforementioned city of Novara (Naverra) where the Swiss had gained the reputation of being treasonous, Zwingli was part of a force of some 12,000 troops that surprised the occupying French and soundly defeated them.

It was a shockingly bloody battle, with 5,000 casualities on the French side and 1,500 for the Swiss pikemen.

Illustration aus der Chronik des Johannes Stumpf, 1548

Above: The Battle of Novara, 6 June 1513

After the battle, the Swiss executed the hundreds of German Landsknecht mercenaries they had captured that had fought for the French.

Having routed the French army, the Swiss were unable to launch a close pursuit because of their lack of cavalry, but nonetheless several contingents of Swiss mercenaries followed the French withdrawl all the way to Dijon before the French paid them to leave France.

This one French defeat forced Louis XII to withdraw from Milan and Italy.

Did Zwingli witness these events and contemplate the morality of such actions?

The citizenry, Zwingli´s parishioners, remained loyal to the idea of fighting for the Pope until 13 September 1515….

16 km southeast of Milan is the town of Melegnano, then called Marignano.

This battle between the French and the Swiss would change everything.

The French army was composed of the best armored lancers and artillery in Europe and led by Francis I, newly crowned King of France and one day past his 21st birthday.


Above: Francis I of France (1494 – 1547), King (1515 – 1547)

With Francis were German Landknechts, bitter mercenary rivals of the Swiss for fame and renown in war, and late arriving Venetian allies.

Prior to Marignano there were years of Swiss successes, during which French fortunes in northern Italy had suffered greatly.

The prologue to the battle was a remarkable Alpine passage, in which Francis hauled 72 large cannons over new-made roads over the Col d´Argentiere, a previously unknown route on the French-Italian border.

Above: The village of Larche, France, and the Col d´Argentiere

This was, at the time, considered one of the foremost military exploits of the age and the equal of Hannibal´s crossing of the Alps in 218 BC.

At Villafranca, the French surprised and captured the commander of the Papal forces in a daring raid deep behind enemy lines, seizing Commander Colonna and his staff, 600 horses and a great deal of booty.

The capture of Prospero Colonna, along with the startling appearance of the French army on the plains of Piedmont, stunned the Papal allies.

Above: Prospero Colonna (1452 – 1523)

The Pope and the Swiss both sought terms with Francis, while the Pope´s Spanish allies en route from Naples halted to await developments.

The main Swiss army retreated to Milan, while a large faction, tired of the War and eager to return home with the profits of years of successful campaigning, urged terms with the French.

Though the parties reached an agreement that gave Milan back to the French, the arrival of fresh and bellicose troops from the Swiss cantons annulled the agreement, as the newly arrived men had no desire to return home empty-handed and refused to abide by the treaty.

Discord swept through the Swiss forces until Matthäus Schiner, Cardinal of Sion and archenemy of Francis, inspired the Swiss with a fiery speech, reminding them of what a smaller Swiss army had achieved against as powerful a French army at the Battle of Novara.

Above: Matthäus Schiner (1465 – 1522)

Schiner pointed out the enormous profits of victory, appealed to national pride, and urged the Swiss to immediate battle.

The Swiss encountered Francis´ forces at the little burnt-out village of Marignano on a featureless plain.

A treaty signed, the French were not expecting battle.

Francis was in his tent, trying on a new suit of armor, when scouts reported the coming of the Swiss.

The French army quickly sprang into action.

The fighting, begun at sunset of 13 September, continued until smoke and the disappearance of moonlight halted the battle during the darkest hours of the night.

At dawn of 14 September the battle began again.

Above: The Battle of Marignano (13 – 14 September 1515)

The midmorning arrival of the French´s allies from Venice turned the tide against the Swiss.

Their attacks repulsed everywhere, their ranks in bloody shambles, the Swiss grudgingly gave ground and withdrew.

The battle was a decisive victory for Francis, for even though the Swiss were heavily outnumbered and outgunned, they had proved themselves during the preceding decades and had habitually emerged victorious from the most disadvantageous situations.

“I have vanquished those whom only Caesar vanquished” was printed on the medal Francis ordered struck to commemorate the victory.

Considering this battle his most cherished triumph, Francis praised Marignano as the “battle of giants” and stated that all previous battles in his lifetime had been “child´s sport”.

This battle ended once and for all Swiss aspirations for conquest.

There never was any Swiss military offensive against an external enemy again.

After lengthy negotiations, a peace treaty between the Swiss and the French was signed in Fribourg on 29 November 1516.

This treaty would be known as the Treaty of Perpetual Peace, a peace that remained unbroken until the French invaded Switzerland in 1798 during the French Revolutionary Wars.

Zwingli was present at the Battle of Marignano.

He would witness the slaughter of 6,000 of his countrymen in the service of the Pope.

Above: Dying Swiss, Retreat from Marignano, by Ferdinand Hodler (1898)

In Glarus, there had been political controversy on which side the young men seeking employment as mercenaries should take service, the side of France or the side of the Papal States.

They wanted to prevent that men of Glarus took service on both sides of the war as had been the case at Novara in 1500.

Zwingli had supported the Pope before the Battle of Marignano, and even after the Battle, he opposed the peace with France and continued to support the side of the Papal States.

Since public opinion in Glarus had shifted towards a clearly pro-French stance, Zwingli was forced to abandon his position in Glarus, taking employment elsewhere at Einsiedeln Abbey.

Above: Einsiedeln Abbey

Based on his experience in the War, Zwingli became an outspoken opponent of mercenary service, arguing with Erasmus of Rotterdam that war is sweet only to those who have not experienced it”.


Above: Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466 – 1586)

He returned from Marignano determined to abolish this mercenary practice of “selling blood for gold”.

Zwingli blamed the warmongery on the part of Cardinal Schiner for the disaster at Marignano and began to preach against the high clergy, the first sign of his radicalization that would culminate in the Swiss Reformation.


I continued to follow the Canal to the Canton Glarus capital also named Glarus.

Above: The City of Glarus

Of interest to the visitor are the Stadtkirche (city church), the Kunsthaus (art museum), the Anna Göldi Museum and the Cantonal library.

Anna Göldi.jpg

Above: Anna Göldi (1734 – 1782)

(Anna Göldi was the last person in Europe to be executed for witchcraft.)

(For the story of witchcraft in Switzerland, please see Five Schillings´ Worth of Wood of this blog.)

Though the Stadtkirche was once the church where Zwingli presided and is today a Reformed Church, there still seems to be no love lost for Zwingli.

Above: Stadtkirche, Glarus

I explored the church inside and out, but I could find no plaques or markers indicating that he had ever been here.

Glarus´ grudge towards Zwingli was neither forgiven nor forgotten.

Glarus was not shaped by Zwingli during his lifetime, but Glarus and Zwingli´s war experiences certainly shaped him.

I have always loved Glarus, this picturesque wee capital dwarfed by the looming Glarnsch Massif.

I have always loved Glarnerland, this tract of mountain territory with widely spaced settlements and very low-key tourism.

Isolation is attractive.

Sources: Wikipedia / Glarus Tourism / Josef Schwitter and Urs Heer, Glarnerland: A Short Portrait / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis




Canada Slim and the Vienna Waltz

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 December 2017

There are moments when one has to accept one´s limitations.

For example, the wife and I were asked to attend her employer´s Christmas Party yesterday evening, but neither one of us was healthy (or motivated) enough to attend.

I have been home all week when I would have rather been working, but it is hard to be a barista or teacher when one has lost his voice.

The demands of work and other personal responsibilities limit my ability to travel very far at present, so some of the places where I would like to visit I cannot visit due to both the constraints of limited time and money to do so.

As regular readers (both of them!) of my blog know I have been retracing the life and “footsteps” of Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531).


Above: Huldrych Zwingli

(See Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation of this blog.)

I wrote about walking from Wildhaus to Strichboden to Arvenbuel to Weesen.

(See Canada Slim and the Wild Child of Toggenburg and Canada Slim and the Thundering Hollows of this blog.)

I wrote that Zwingli was born in Wildhaus and was first educated in Weesen (1489 – 1494)

Zwingli then completed his secondary education in Basel (1494 – 1496), then five years later returned to Basel to complete his Master´s Degree at the University of Basel (1502 – 1506).

I did not walk to Basel, but having frequently visited and worked in the city I felt that my readers would still like a glimpse of the place.

(See Canada Slim and the Basel Butterfly Effect of this blog.)

But what of the years (1496 – 1502) between Zwingli´s Basel educational periods?

Well, Zwingli was sent to Bern, the Swiss capital, and stayed with the humanist Henry Wölfflin.

The Dominicans in Bern tried to persuade Zwingli to join their order and it is possible that he was received as a novice, but as both his father and uncle disapproved of such a course of action, he left Bern without completing his Latin studies.

Zwingli then enrolled in the University of Vienna in the winter semester of 1498 but was expelled, according to the University´s records.

Zwingli´s activities in 1499 are unknown, but history records that he re-enrolled in the summer of 1500 and continued his studies until 1502, after which he transferred to the University of Basel.

After Basel, Zwingli would be ordained in Konstanz, celebrate his first mass in Wildhaus, and then take up his first ecclesiastical post in Glarus.

The walking tourbook Zwingli- Wege mentions Bern, Vienna and Konstanz, but the authors do not extend their book´s walks to these three cities.

As far as I can tell there is little celebration of Zwingli´s life in Bern, Vienna and Konstanz.

And even though Zwingli´s time in Glarus is definitely noteworthy, it isn´t until he began his reformatory crusade for change in the Church in Zürich do the Swiss take much notice of the man.

As I have written of both Bern and Konstanz in the past within this blog, I want to speak of Vienna, not so much in regard to Zwingli but in regards to the wisdom of spending time in this place.

(For stories about Bern, see Capital Be and Canada Slim in the Capital of this blog.)

(For stories about Konstanz, see Konstanz: City of Shattered Dreams?, Flames and Broken Promises, and Canada Slim and the City of the Thousand of this blog.)

Above: View of Vienna (Wien) from the Stephansdom (St. Stephen´s Cathedral)

Vienna, Austria, 2 October 1998

It was my second adventure travelling about Europe, and, as a result of my first adventure, this time I was not alone.

Accompanied by the woman who would one day become my wife, Ute and I travelled by train and bus from Freiburg im Breisgau in southwestern Germany´s Black Forest, north to Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Trier and Köln (Cologne), east to Nuremburg, Praha (Prague) and Kutná Hora, south to Ceske Budojovice and Cesky Krumlov, and finally southeast to Wien (Vienna) arriving by overnight train.

The journey to Vienna had been, for the most part, pleasant, filled with discoveries and missteps as are common to any long adventure spent together.

The arrival to this imperial city started poorly.

I had gotten into my head that Vienna was a place where I was expected to wear a suit.

Somehow I convinced myself that Vienna was an élite environment that would not accept me unless I was wearing a suit.

Said suit had lain balled up at the bottom of my backpack, but at the crack of dawn I rolled it out, put it on and waited for us to arrive.

A sudden braking of the train caused me to split wide open the crotch of my suit trousers, putting me in a frightfully ugly and grumpy mood.

My Ute is never one to let an ugly mood go to waste and she responded in kind, so perhaps it was a mixed blessing that we spent our nights in Vienna in separately segregated youth hostel beds.

And though we would later argue yet one more time during our sojourn there, we were generally happy together in this romantic city of hidden courtyards, mysterious cellars and forgotten cemeteries, of Harry Lime (The Third Man) and Mozart (Rock me, Amadeus!), of Schubert, Strauss and Freud, of Marilyn Monroe and Karl Marx, of Vivaldi and 007, the blue Danube and the kaleidoscope of colour that is the Hundertwasserhaus.

Above: Hundertwasser, Vienna

Vienna conjures up a myriad of memories: impressive imperial palaces and dictatorial failed artists, coffeehouses crammed with cakes and customers, baroque mirrors and angelic choirboys, Art Nouveau architecture and Klimt canvasses, horsedrawn fiacre carriages and lovely leaping Lippanzer stallions.

This is also a city of music: a Strauss waltz, a cathedral choir, an organ recital, an opera performance, a celebration of the talents of Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Liszt and Mahler, a litany of life, melodies of magic.

Above: Johann Strauss II Monument, Stadtpark, Vienna

As is normal in any relationship of two or more travelling companions, there must be a certain amount of give-and-take for harmony to happen.

And I must confess I was searching for the poetry of Canadian balladeer Leonard Cohen to be reflected on the streets of Vienna.

Leonard Cohen, 1988 01.jpg

Above: Leonard Cohen (1934 – 2016)

“Now in Vienna there are ten pretty women.”

Ah, the things men do to woo women….

The Neidhart Frescoes show a thief groping beneath a woman´s skirt, while another uses snowballs to win the favours of a peasant girl.

Bildergebnis für neidhart fresken

Ah, the things men do to escape women….

The Kornhäusel Tower was designed by architect Josef Georg Kornhäusel (1782 – 1860) as a refuge from his nagging wife, having a retractable iron staircase from the first floor rather than a conventional doorway at street level.

Bildergebnis für kornhäuslturm

Above: Kornhäuselturm, Vienna

“There´s a shoulder where Death comes to cry.”

On 15 March 1938 German Chancellor Adolf Hitler came to Vienna to proclaim the annexation (Anschluss) of Austria.

Above: Adolf Hitler, Heldenplatz, Vienna, 15 March 1938

Within days Vienna´s elegant Hotel Metropole at Morzinplatz was commandeered as the regional headquarters of the Nazi secret police and Heinrich Hemmler´s henchmen began rounding up opponents of National Socialism: Fascists, Communists, Jews, men, women and children for interrogation, torture and dispatch to concentration camps.

Above: The former Hotel Metropole, Vienna

Above: Monument to the Memory of the Victims of the Gestapo, Morzinplatz, Vienna

“There´s a lobby with nine hundred windows.”

A lobby is a place where people wait.

Kaballah (Jewish mysticism) teaches that this earthly existence is a lobby where we wait for the “world to come”.

10 Sephirot

Kaballah also teaches that there are 900 – yes, exactly 900 – potential types of death for a human being.

This refers not to the manner or cause of death, but to the inner experience of the person who is dying and the different experiences of death vary in degree of gentleness or painfulness.

The most gentle & peaceful death is referred to as “the kiss”, or “the kiss of Shekinah” and is described as feeling like a hair being pulled from a cup of milk.

The most painful death is described as feeling like a spiked ball at the end of a hairy rope being pulled out of the person’s throat.

Vienna is a city where some people still keep a separate savings account in order to ensure an appropriately lavish funeral.

Above: Grave of Ludwig von Beethoven (1770 – 1827), Zentralfriedhof, Vienna

Vienna´s chief cemetery, the Zentralfriedhof is one of the biggest in Europe, larger than the entire Innere Stadt, and with a much bigger population – 2.5 million – than the whole of the city (1.8 million).

Above: Grave of Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897), Zentralfriedhof, Vienna

It even has its own bus service to help mourners get around the cemetery.

Above: Grave of Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)

Opened in 1874, at the height of Viennese funereal fetishism – when having eine schöne Leich (a beautiful corpse) was something to aspire to, the Zentralfriedhof is still very much a working graveyard.

1 November / All Saints´ Day sees up to a million Viennese make the trip out here and leave candles burning in remembrance on virtually every grave.

And here the music is buried along with its decomposing composers: Beethoven, Schubert, Gluck, Brahms, Wolf and the entire Strauss clan.

Or could the 900 windows be more pedantic and simply be Vienna´s first skyscraper, the 16-storey, 50-metre high Hochhaus, built in 1932?

Bildergebnis für hochhaus wien herrengasse

Above: Hochhaus, Herrengasse, Vienna

“There´s a tree where the doves go to die.”

A cross where the King of Peace was crucified?

Stephansdom, a cathedral that has dominated the Viennese skyline for centuries and an obvious military target that has endured two Turkish sieges, Napoleonic bombardment, American bombers and Russian artillery.

Wien - Stephansdom (1).JPG

Above: St. Stephan´s Cathedral, Vienna

Despite the tourists, it is still very much a place of worship.

The Pötscher Madonna, an object of great veneration even today, wept tears from her unusual large eyes during the Battle of Zenta against the Turks in 1697 and in so doing miraculously secured victory against the invading infidels.

Above: The Pötscher Madonna, Stephansdom, Vienna

In the Apostles´ Choir is the glorious red marble tomb of Emperor Friedrich III (1415 – 1493) with the Emperor´s mysterious acronym AEIOU (Alles Erdreich ist Österreich Untertan / The whole world is subject to Austria.)

Down in the catacombs, around 16,000 locals are buried here, their bones piled high in more than thirty rooms.

“There´s a piece that was torn from the morning and it hangs in the Gallery of Frost.”

A reference to Sisi (1837 – 1898), a young girl torn away so soon in the morning of her life to become Empress Elisabeth to the Hapsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I and whose life and love were lynched to death by her loveless husband and his control freak mother?

Winterhalter Elisabeth 2.jpg

Above: Empress Elisabeth of Austria

Married at 16, her mother-in-law Sophie denied Sisi any privacy by choosing her ladies in waiting for her, denied Sisi any love by having her children removed from her care as soon as they were born.

Princess sophie of bavaria 1866.jpg

Above: Archduchess Sophie of Austria (1805 – 1872)

Later, Elisabeth would tell her daughter:

“Marriage is an absurd institution.


Above: Sisi´s husband, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria (1830 – 1916)

At the age of fifteen you are sold, you make a vow you do not understand, and you regret for thirty years or more that you cannot break it.”

By 1860, Sisi had suffered enough.

She abandoned her children and husband and fled to Madeira for six months.

She then spent the rest of her lonely life travelling around Europe, crisscrossing the Continent, never staying in one place too long and went on endless cruises.

Sisi sought solace in fencing, hiking and horseback riding and in the preservation of her beauty.

When her cousin, King Ludwig, and then her only son Rudolf, committed suicide within a few years of each other, she became convinced that she was mentally unstable.

Above: Photos of Prince Rudolf (1858 – 1889) and his mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera who died together in a suicide pact in the Meyerling Hunting Lodge in the Vienna Woods

From then on, she dressed only in black and carried a black fan to hide her wrinkles.

“When we cannot be happy in the way that we desire there is nothing for it but to fall in love with our sorrows.”

By 1897, Elisabeth´s health began to deteriorate rapidly – a condition partly brought on by anorexia – to the extent that she could barely walk.

Despite her poor health and her obsession with madness and death, few would have predicted her final demise.

On 10 September 1898, the Empress was assassinated by an Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni, on Lake Geneva.

Thousands turned out for Sisi´s funeral in Vienna.

Above: Sisi´s funeral procession, Vienna, 17 September 1898

She is buried in the basement vault of the Capuchin Church beside her estranged husband and her suicidal son, amongst other royal remains – some with death´s heads emblazoned on their coffins.

Above: Tombs of Sisi (left), Franz Joseph (centre), Rudolf (right), Kaisergruft (Imperial Crypt), Capuchin Church, Vienna

It is a gallery of glorified ghosts, a chamber of frost, a cold place indeed.

“There´s a concert hall in Vienna where your mouth had a thousand reviews.”

Could Leonard have meant the Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera), which opened in May 1869 with a performance of Mozart´s Don Giovanni?

Wien - Staatsoper (1).JPG

Above: The Staatsoper, Vienna

“There´s a bar where the boys have stopped talking.

They´ve been sentenced to death by the blues.”

Surveys have shown that the vast majority of Viennese are safely tucked up in bed by as early as 10 pm.

Nonetheless it is still quite possible to keep partying around the clock in Vienna.

Vienna´s late night bars are concentrated in three main areas, the most famous being the Bermuda Triangle, which focuses on Rabensteig, Seitenstettengasse, Ruprechtsplatz and the streets around.

Bildergebnis für bermuda dreieck wien fotos

If I was searching for a blues bar, the Bermuda Triangle is where I would look.

“There´s an attic where children are playing, where I´ve got to lie down with you soon, in a dream of Hungarian lanterns, in the mist of some sweet afternoon.”

The attic of the body is the mind and who we are psychologically is often formed by the events of our childhood.

Few people are as intimately associated with Vienna as Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), for though he was born in Freiburg in Moravia and died in exile in London, in the intevening 83 years he spent most of his life here.

Sigmund Freud, by Max Halberstadt (cropped).jpg

Above: Sigmund Freud

The father of psychoanalysis was the first to come up with having patients discuss their problems while lying down on a couch.

Freud´s The Interpretation of Dreams contains two revolutionary ideas:

  1. All dreams represent the fulfillment of wishes.
  2. The functioning of dreams provides systematic evidence of the unconscious.

Sigmund Freud moved to the second floor of Berggasse 19 in 1891 and remained there until 4 June 1938 when he and his family fled to London.

Bildergebnis für sigmund freud museum wien

His apartment is now a place of pilgrimage, even though Freud took most of his possessions with him into exile.

His hat, coat and walking stick are still here.

There is movie footage from the 1930s, but the only room with any original decor, any ancient atmosphere, is the waiting room with odd oriental rugs, a cabinet of antiquities and some burgundy furniture sent back from London by his daughter Anna after the War.

Rooms of photographs and Freud-inspired art and a library are all that remain of eight decades of living in Vienna.

“And I´ll dance with you in Vienna….

….Take this waltz. 

Take this waltz. 

It´s yours now.

It´s all that there is.”

We would visit the bookshop Shakespeare & Company, have lunch at the University Mensa (cafeteria) and supper at the Restaurant Marché Mövenpick and coffee at Café Bräunerhof with Parisian style snooty waiters in penguin tuxedos.

Parliament Building, Vienna

Above: Austrian Parliament, Vienna

We would tour Parliament and watch horses perform ballet at the Spanische Reitschule (Spanish Riding School).

Above: The Spanische Reitschule, Vienna

The King of the Waltz, composer Johann Strauss the Younger (1825 – 1899) lived on the first floor of Praterstrasse 34 from 1863 until the death of his first wife, the singer Jetty Treffz, in 1878.

Today´s Strauss Museum contains a room with ceiling cherubs, a grand piano, an organ and a standing desk.

There are dance cards and ball pendants which were kept as mementoes of the evenings tripping the light fantastic.

Strauss is, of course, best known for having written Vienna´s signature tune, An der schönen blauen Donau (The Blue Danube), but he also composed stirring tunes such as the Revolution March and the Song of the Barricades.

His operatta, Die Fledermaus (The Bat), written to take Viennese minds off the economic crash of 1873, was another huge success.

Freud would have had a field day had he taken Johann Junior on as a patient.

Johann Strauss the Elder (1804 – 1849) began his career serenading diners in Viennese restaurants, however it was in the dance hall of Zum Sperl that Johann Senior made his mark as a band leader, conducting a frentic mixture of dances, orchestral fantasies and somber melodies.

Johann Strauss I (2).jpg

Above: Johann Strauss the Elder

Papa Strauss´ gypsy-like features and wild, vigorous conducting style became very popular in Vienna and he and his orchestra would gain fame touring Europe.

However Strauss Senior´s touring took a toil on domestic life and he created a public scandal in 1842 when he left the Family home and moved in with a young seamstress, who bore him several illegitimate children.

Strauss Junior, the eldest son, followed in his father´s footsteps, writing his first waltz at the age of six, though his father wished for him to become a banker.

Above: Johann Strauss the Younger (1825 – 1899), photo taken by Fritz Luckhardt

Father and son soon became rivals, both musically and politically, with son surpassing father in fame.

Despite their rivalry, father and son were quite alike, for Johann Junior was a difficult character like his father and something of an outsider.

And like his father, Johann Junior caused a scandal, divorcing his second wife Lili in order to marry his mistress.

What would Freud have thought?


Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 December 2017

Cohen sings when I remember Vienna and think of my emotions towards my wife then and often now:

Take this waltz.

Take This Waltz (film) poster art.jpg

Take this waltz with its “I´ll never forget you, you know!”

….And I´ll bury my soul in a scrapbook, with the photographs there and the moss.

And I´ll yield to the flood of your beauty my cheap violin and my cross.”

I no longer wanted “some hallway where love´s never been”, or to simply be “on a bed where the moon has been sweating”.

O, my love.

O, my love.

Take this waltz. 

Take this waltz. 

It´s yours now.

It´s all that there is.”

I would like to return to Vienna, not to visit the non-descript Zwinglikirche, but to walk on fog-filled streets to pay my last farewell to the impatient young man I was, his coffin lowered into the frozen ground of his impatience.

To perhaps pass him by with incredulity or perhaps no recognition of my present self in his past features, just other stranger on the Strand.


But for now we walk in the cold Swiss air, our freezing breath on the window pane.

Lying, waiting.

I am a man in the dark in a picture frame, so mystic and soulful.

Memory stays with me until the feeling is gone.

The waltz is weaving.

The rhythm is willing.

Cold, empty silence?

Cold grey sky?

These mean nothing to me.

Oh, Vienna.

Ultravox - Vienna.png

“Slow down, you crazy child.

You´re so ambitious for a juvenile.

But then if you´re so smart,

Tell me why you are still so afraid.

Where´s the fire?

What´s the hurry about?

You better cool it off before you burn it out.

You got so much to do and only so many hours in a day.

But you know that when the truth is told

That you can get what you want

Or you can just get old.

You´re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through.

When will you realize….

Vienna waits for you?

….Slow down, you crazy child.

Take the phone off the hook and disappear for awhile.

It´s alright you can afford to lose a day or two.

When will you realize….

Vienna waits for you.”


Sources: Wikipedia / Lonely Planet Austria / Lonely Planet Central Europe on a Shoestring / The Rough Guide to Austria / Richard Appignanesi and Oscar Zarate, Introducing Freud: A Graphic Guide to the Father of Psychoanalysis / Graham Greene, The Third Man / Duncan J. D. Smith, Only in Vienna: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Unusual Objects / Leonard Cohen, “Take this Waltz”, I´m Your Man / Billy Joel, “Vienna”, The Stranger / Ultravox, “Vienna”, Vienna

Canada Slim and the Right Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 December 2017

Is there such a thing as an indispensable man?

This is a question I have often asked myself when considering both my life and the lives of the famous.

I ask myself this question recently as I am, once again, forced to remain at home in bed with, yet another cold that has made both barista work and teaching impractical as I have been reduced to a coughing, sneezing, aching, quivering jellyfish of a man unfit and undesirable for public encounters.

Bildergebnis für man cold meme

My voice sounds tortured and hoarse as if it is painfully emerging from a long tunnel.

My appearance is akin to a homeless street person and our apartment reflects this.

The wife mocks the man cold, but hers is a gender that endures menstruation on a monthly basis and usually survives the incredible ordeal of child birth with little hesitation to repeat or memory of the event.

Bildergebnis für man cold meme

Hers is a mind of multiplicity handling every moment and memory simultaneously, while my mind is a series of boxes which are opened only one at a time, so when illness strikes all my focus is upon how truly horrid I feel.

A woman with a cold is simply a woman with yet another complication in her life, for she will incorporate the cold as part of life´s burdens she must bear and will further complicate her life with tortured emotions about the selfishness of her having a cold keeping her from doing her other duties.

A man, though he is aware of the selfishness of having others assume his duties, will moan and groan impatiently focused on his recovery, even so his conscience is little disturbed about staying at home until he deems himself fit to tackle the world again.

I think about work, of course, and consider what my absence will mean to my students and colleagues.

I know that there are other teachers who could teach in my place and that a barista can be replaced.

But does that mean my presence then is insignificant?

I don´t believe so.

For though I am far from being the most competent or qualified barista or teacher, I possess an entertaining and compassionate personality that I believe my students and colleagues value.

But short of historical accident thrusting me into greatness, I am self aware enough to realise that my eventual absence from existence will not impact history or much of humanity that significantly.

Though the life of my wife might have been greatly different without me in it, would she have been happier or sadder had we never met?

If I had not survived an accident with an axe during my teenage years, or if I had perished on the side of the mountain when I was stranded overnight three years ago, would the world have noticed my absence?

My social circle was and remains small.

I would have been missed by a few people, but I believe they would have found the strength to carry on without me.

I don´t believe I need an angel Clarence to show this George Bailey how It´s a Wonderful Life and how vastly different reality would be had I never existed.

Its A Wonderful Life Movie Poster.jpg

Above: Henry Travis as angel Clarence Oddbody (left) and James Stewart as George Bailey (right), from It´s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Certainly each man leaves his mark on the world by how his actions have affected others.

A man´s greatness could even be said to be measured by how many others his actions affected.

My mind often wonders how reality might be had certain great men never existed or didn´t exist at the time when they were most influential.

The recent resurgence of interest in Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) – with this year´s movies Darkest Hour (starring Gary Oldman) and Churchill (starring Brian Cox) and last year´s Churchill´s Secret (starring Michael Gambon) – have led me to wonder would the world of today be different had Churchill not been present at those moments of yesterday when he made the most impact?

Darkest Hour poster.png

Churchill (film).png

This hypothetical “What If?” exercise is not so far fetched….

On a holiday in Bournemouth in January 1893, Churchill fell and was knocked unconscious for three days.

Churchill saw action as a soldier and war correspondent and risked his life in India, the Sudan and South Africa.

Above: Battle of Omdurman, Sudan (2 September 1898), where Churchill took part in a cavalry charge

It remains uncertain whether Churchill´s life was in any danger when he was present at the January 1911 Siege of Sidney Street when Latvian anarchists wanted for murder holed up in a house and resisted arrest.

Above: Winston Churchill (highlighted) at Sidney Street, 3 January 1911

And it is also unclear whether Home Secretary Churchill gave the police any operational orders during the Siege, though it has been suggested that when the house caught fire Churchill prevented the fire brigade from dousing the flames so that the anarchists burnt to death.

“I thought it better to let the house burn down rather than spend good British lives in rescuing those ferocious rascals.”

On 12 December 1931, during a lecture tour for his writing, Churchill, while crossing New York City´s Fifth Avenue, was knocked down by a car.

Above: The Empire State Building, completed 1931

Had Churchill not survived these events to become Prime Minister (1940 – 1945 / 1951 – 1955), would Britain have remained resolute against Germany during the Second World War?

How indispensable was Churchill to the world?

This question was certainly paramount in my mind when my wife and I visited the Churchill War Rooms six weeks ago….

Above: An external view of the New Public Offices building, the basements of which were chosen to house the Cabinet War Rooms

London, England, 24 October 2017

In 1938, in anticipation of Nazi air raids, the basement of the Treasury building on London´s King Charles Street was converted into “war rooms”, protected by a three-foot-thick concrete slab, reinforced with steel rails and tramlines.

It was here that Prime Minister Winston Churchill directed operations and held cabinet meetings for the duration of World War II.

By the end of the War, the six-acre site included a hospital, canteen and shooting range, as well as sleeping quarters.

Tunnels fan out from the complex to outlying government ministeries.

It is rumoured there are also tunnels to Buckingham Palace itself, allowing the Royal Family a quick getaway to exile in Canada (via Charing Cross Station) in the event of a Nazi invasion.

Above: Buckingham Palace

Walking the corridors of the Churchill War Rooms and exploring its adjacent Churchill Museum are experiences that live long in the memory.

Every corner tells a story.

Today we take for granted the idea of an underground command centre.

How else can political and military leaders run a country and control armed forces, safe from enemy bombardment?

But the Second World War was the first time that Britain faced such a concentrated aerial threat.

Should there be some sort of central war room?

Where should it be?

How should it be protected?

Who should work there?

What space and equipment would they need?

What exactly would they be doing?

Most of these questions began to be answered only in the final fraught months before Britain went to war.

A flag featuring both cross and saltire in red, white and blue

Many of them were still being answered during the War itself, even as bombs rained down over London and the threat of invasion loomed.

The story of the Churchill War Rooms is therefore one of improvisation in the face of deadly necessity.

After the First World War (1914 – 1918), the British government adopted a “ten-year rule”.

Until instructed otherwise, all departments should assume that the country would not go to war again for at least a decade.

Even so, some thought was given to how a future war might be fought.

In 1924, government experts predicted that London would be bombarded by up to 200 tons of bombs in the first 24 hours of a world conflict.

Casualities would be high and the country´s political and military command structure could be severely disabled.

Partly due to the ten-year rule, little was done to heed this warning until 1933 when a belligerent Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany.

Hitler portrait crop.jpg

Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

It came as a complete shock when Hitler declared his intention to have Germany leave the League of Nations, the forerunner of today´s United Nations.

War within the next decade suddenly seemed much more possible and the question of national defence became a priority.

In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria, adding to international tension.

General Hastings Ismay, Deputy Secretary of Britain´s Committee of Imperial Defence, immediately organised a search for an emergency working refuge to house the Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff in case of a sudden attack.

Ismay cropped.jpg

Above: Hastings Ismay (1887 – 1965)

Plans were still in a confused state in late May 1938, when the alarming news was received that German troops were massing on the Czechoslovakian border.

There might be war any day, but still no war room.

On 31 May 1938, the site was confirmed, a site conveniently close to both Downing Street (the Prime Minister´s residence) and Parliament.

It was thought that the steel structure of the Treasury building above the War Rooms would provide extra protection against bombs, but a direct hit on the site would have been catastrophic.

From June to August 1938, work on the War Rooms involved clearing rooms, sandbagging alcoves, replacing glass doors with teak, building brick partitions, installing telephone lines and estabishing a connection with the BBC.

As the site was situated below the level of the Thames River, flood doors had to be fitted and pumps installed.

By the end of August, the Map Room was manned and tested and plans were underway for airlocks and steel doors to defend against gas attack.


Above: The Map Room, Cabinet War Rooms

There could be no hesitation or pause in these preparations.

Hitler had sparked a new crisis on the Continent by threatening to annex part of Czechoslovakia.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain attempted to defuse the situation by diplomatic means.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain

Above: Neville Chamberlain (1869 – 1940), British PM (1937 – 1940)

On 30 September, Hitler signed the Munich Agreement – heralded by Chamberlain as a guarantee of “peace for our time”, but the Central War Room was theoretically ready for use.

Above: Neville Chamberlain showing the Anglo-German Declaration, aka The Munich Agreement. guaranteeing “peace for our time”, Heston Air Force Base, England, 30 September 1938

It would have been desperately uncomfortable for anyone working there, as the ventilation system was poor, there were no overnight accommodations, no bedding, no kitchen, no food, no toilets or washing facilities.

Work continued on the War Rooms.

On 23 August, Hitler signed a non-aggression pact with Russia, leaving the way free for him to attack Poland.


Above: Soviet Premier Stalin and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, after the signature of the (Vyacheslav) Molotov – Ribbentrop German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, 23 August 1939

On 27 August the Central War Room was officially opened.

On 1 September, Hitler attacked Poland.

Above: Adolf Hitler reviewing the troops on the march during the Polish campaign, September 1939

Two days later, Britain was at war.

The immediate bombardment of London that had been expected for so long failed to materialise in the first nine months of the War, though the War Rooms were operational.

A botched land campaign in Norway in April 1940 and Germany´s sudden attack on the Netherlands on 10 May caused Chamberlain to resign and Churchill to take his place.

A few days later, as British Forces were driven back towards the French coast, the new Prime Minister visited the Cabinet War Room and declared:

“This is the room from which I will direct the war.”

Bildergebnis für churchill war rooms

Above: Cabinet War Room

In the summer of 1940, as the fall of France was followed by the Battle of Britain for aerial supremacy over southern England, Britain stood at risk of imminent invasion.

Above: German Heinkel HE 111 bombers over the English Channel, 1940

On 7 September 1940, Germany launched the Blitz – a sustained bombing campaign against British towns and cities, with London the chief target.

Air Raid Damage in Britain during the Second World War HU36220A.jpg

Britain weathered the Blitz for nine long months.

When the Blitz failed to secure victory over Britain, Hitler turned his attention to the east, launching an invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.

Britain was no longer fighting the Nazis alone.

When, on 7 December 1941, Japan attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbour, the United States entered the War, changing the fortunes of Britain.

Attack on Pearl Harbor Japanese planes view.jpg

Above: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, USA

The War Rooms began deception plans intended to divert enemy resources away from genuine Allied operations.

This would play a crucial role in the success of Operation Overlord – the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944.

The success of the D-Day landings helped to turn the tide of war against the Nazis, but they were not finished in attacking Britain.

On 13 June 1944, the first V1 flying bomb hit London, bringing a new threat to the capital.

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1975-117-26, Marschflugkörper V1 vor Start.jpg

Above: A V1 guided missile

Over the winter of 1944 – 1945, the V1 flying bomb attacks were gradually superseded by the more destructive V2 flying bombs.

Fusée V2.jpg

Above: A V2 rocket

By the end of March 1945, most of the V2 production factories had been overrun by the unstoppable Allied advance towards Berlin.

Adolf Hitler spent the final weeks of the War sheltering in his bunker as  Berlin came under attack from Stalin´s armies.

After the fall of Berlin, the Allies declared victory in Europe on 8 May 1945.

By the time Japan surrendered on 15 August, Churchill was no longer Prime Minister having lost the General Election on 26 July.

On 16 August, after six years of continuous use, the War Rooms were simply and suddenly abandoned.

Their historic value was recognised and were mostly left undisturbed.

The preserved rooms were declared a national monument in 1948, with free guided tours given to people who had written to the Cabinet Office.

This practice continued until 1984 when the Imperial War Museum was asked to turn the site into a formal Museum.

Millions of visitors have since walked its corridors, tracing the steps of Churchill and the many men and women – both military and civilian – who helped run this underground complex.

The Churchill Museum was added to the Cabinet War Rooms in 2005 and this expanded Museum was later renamed the Churchill War Rooms.

It has to be said that the Churchill War Rooms is a fascinating place for it is filled with intimate details that bring home the immediacy of those times…

  • The sugar cubes hoarded by a Map Room officer
  • The noiseless typewriters that Churchill insisted be used by his staff
  • Accounts of what it was really like to eat, sleep and work below the streets of London as German bombs fell all around.
  • The coloured lights in the Cabinet War Room that signalled an air raid and the ashtrays positioned within easy reach around the table and the scratch marks on the arms of Churchill´s chair that show how strained the Cabinet Room could become
  • The multi-coloured phones where the men of the Map Room could follow every thrust and counterthrust of the War
  • The actual door that Churchill walked through at 10 Downing Street
  • The tiny Transatlantic Telephone Room where Churchill used to speak in secret to the US President
  • Churchill´s famous “siren suit”, a zip-up coverall that Churchill began wearing for comfort from the 1930s onwards
  • The Union Flag which was draped over Churchill´s coffin during his State Funeral which was broadcast around the world

Above: Grave of Winston Churchill, St. Martin´s Church, Bladon, England

(“I am ready to meet my Maker – but whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”)

  • The weather indicator in the main corridor that would read “Windy” when a heavy bombing raid was in progress
  • The story of how one of the women who worked at the War Rooms had a short relationship with James Bond author Ian Fleming and would be the inspiration for the character Miss Moneypenny
  • One of the Royal Marines guarding the entrance to the Cabinet War Rooms took up embroidery to pass the time.
  • To alleviate the health problems of working underground, staff were made to strip to their underwear and stand in front of portable sun lamps
  • Wartime graffiti on a map in the Cabinet Room showing Hitler fallen on his ass
  • A cat named Smoky that used to curl up on Churchill´s bed
  • A typist who learned that the ship carrying her boyfriend had perished with all lives lost

So, so much to see and learn and discover….

But what of the Great Man himself?

This man of contradictions, this man who took over as Prime Minister when Britain stood alone against the Axis powers, who is remembered for his trademark bowler hat and half-chewed Havana cigars, who is famous for his morale-inspiring speeches and clever wit….

“It is better to be making the news than taking it, to be an actor rather than an critic.”

“I have nothing to offer but blood, tears, toil and sweat.”

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

“….We shall fight in France.  We shall fight on the seas and oceans.  We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.  We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be.  We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds.  We shall fight in the fields and in the streets.  We shall fight in the hills.  We shall never surrender.”

“This is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end.  But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

An American visitor reported in late 1940 that:

“Everywhere I went in London, people admired Churchill´s energy, his courage, his singleness of purpose.  People said they didn´t know what Britain would do without him.  He was obviously respected, but no one felt he would be Prime Minister after the War.  He was simply the right man in the right job at the right time, the time being a desperate war with Britain´s enemies.”

Without this man´s uplifting spirit, would Britain have surrendered against the overwhelming odds of Hitler´s mighty war machine?

I am convinced that Churchill´s uniqueness of character means that its absence would have lead to Britain´s surrender.

Whether Britain´s surrender would mean Hitler wouldn´t ultimately still turn against Russia, or whether America wouldn´t come to Britain´s aid with or without the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour remains a point of conjecture and the province of alternate history / science fiction writers.

But I think a visit to the Churchill War Rooms is well worth the while, because there are several lessons to be learned here under the streets of London.

We are where and who we are because of what came before.

We need to recall the wars that lead us to where we are today, not to glorify in our victories but rather to somberly recall our losses and learn from them so to avoid future war or at least prepare ourselves for another dark future of bloodshed and destruction.

We are a product of our time and place.

It is doubtful whether Churchill could have accomplished what he did had time and circumstances been different.

In examining Churchill´s past carefully, one can see that he was quite an imperfect man, at times rash, impulsive, egocentric and foolish, sometimes to the cost and risk of others.

Nancy Astor: If I were your wife I would put poison in your coffee.

Winston Churchill: Nancy, if I were your husband, I would drink it.

But at a moment when Britain needed a man of courage and conviction, Churchill was indeed in the right place at the right time.

Let us not worship this man, but do offer him our thanks and respect.

Above: Statue of Churchill, Parliament Square, London

As legacies go, this museum and how he is remembered by so many even after so long a time has passed and so many have sacrificed so much blood, tears, toil and sweat then and now, this monument to the dark days of a vicious conflict and a man who steered a nation through them is truly fitting.

This is a living museum, commemorating the lives of those who make our lives possible.

Come to the Churchill War Rooms.

Bildergebnis für churchill war rooms

Live the experience.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to London / Alan Axelrod, Winston Churchill, CEO / Dominique Enright, editor, The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill / Martin Gilbert, editor, Churchill: The Power of Words / Roy Jenkins, Churchill / Imperial War Museums, Churchill War Museum Guidebook

Sir Winston Churchill - 19086236948.jpg

Above: The Roaring Lion, Yousuf Karsh photo of Winston Churchill, Canadian Parliament, Ottawa, Canada, 30 December 1941



Canada Slim and the Outcast

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 13 November 2017

Maybe it´s the endless days of grey skies outside or being restless with being confined indoors by illness that has got me feeling morbid of late.

Perhaps my ghastly mood has been affected by the topics I have written about recently: ghosts and corpses on the London Tube (Canada Slim Underground) and the millions dead in the Thirty Years War (Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation), so maybe I need not wonder that I find myself even dreaming about mortality.

My choice of reading material hasn´t helped, what with police constables talking with ghosts (Rivers of London) and a story about how death stalked three brothers (The Tales of Beedle the Bard) or the news…..

I need to think about happier places and more joyful times.

It´s once again time to write about London.

Maybe this will help….


London, England, 23 October 2017

Day One of our London week and already we had discovered Paddington Bear and Praed Street and rode the Underground.


We left the Tube at Piccadilly Circus, one of the great centres of London life and one of the noisiest and busiest traffic intersections we had ever seen, situated at the meeting of five major streets.

I thought of the hustle and bustle of New York City (Piccadilly Circus resembles, in many ways, Times Square in Manhattan.), and the chaos and clutter of Paris or Rome, the madness of Seoul….

Open Happiness Piccadilly Circus Blue-Pink Hour 120917-1126-jikatu.jpg

This is THE fashionable place to be, a Circus (from the Latin for “a round open space at a street junction”) named after Piccadilly Hall, belonging to Robert Baker, a tailor famous for selling piccadills (large broad collars of cutwork lace that were fashionable in the late 16th and early 17th centuries by folks like Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I).

Above: Potrait of English nobleman Grey Brydges wearing a piccadil (1615)

The myriad of night spots….this is the West (End) World of entertainment, never resting, constantly abuzz with activity day and night, at once both obviously artificial yet vibrantly real and alive.

This is the heart of Theatreland.

Here is the Criterion Theatre, built in 1873, seating for 588 people, featuring The Comedy about a Bank Robbery since March 2017.

The Comedy About a Bank Robbery.jpg

Over there is the London Pavilion, now a shopping arcade and home to Ripley´s Believe It or Not! Museum dedicated to the weird, the unusual and the unbelievable, once was a theatre, then was transformed into a cinema that once premiered The Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. No and A Hard Day´s Night and once housed Madame Tussaud´s Wax Museum.

Come into the world´s largest branch of Ripley´s.

See a chewing gum sculpture of the Beatles and the Tower Bridge built from 264,345 matchsticks.

Nearly 30 pounds just to get in the door.

Wherever that door might be, for on the day of our arrival Ripley´s permanently closed at the Piccadilly Circus location.

Still not as expensive as the Chinawhite.

Nearby is the famous nightclub for the famous, the Chinawhite, where only members and celebrities enter – Membership costs 700 pounds a year.

Bildergebnis für china white london

Here Premier League footballers hobnob with Hollywood actors and supermodels.

The Chinawhite has seen the likes of celebrities like Kate Moss, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jude Law, Paris Hilton, Tom Cruise, Prince Harry, Justin Bieber, to name only a few….

Piccadilly Circus is a high profile location, eternally recognisable by its bright billboards that dominate a curve of this traffic circle.

Coca Cola shouts, the public is updated about Tube closures and delays, new products and promotions are ablaze these days in bright LED glory.

And even this symbol of commercialism gone ecstatic is not immune to politics.

In 2002, Yoko One paid 150,000 pounds to display a lyric of her late husband (1940 – 1980) John Lennon´s song Imagine: “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” for a number of weeks.


The lights have been turned off when national figures of great importance have died, like Winston Churchill (1965) and Princess Diana (1997) on the days of their funerals.

All the people seem to congregate at Piccadilly Circus, so much that the phrase “It´s like Piccadilly Circus.” is used in English parliance to say that a place is extremely crowded.

It is said that if a person lingers long enough in Piccadilly Square that they will eventually bump into everyone they know.

Once seen, this can be believed.

Piccadilly Circus has inspired sculptors, painters and musicians.

Bob Marley (1945 – 1981) mentions Piccadilly Circus in his song “Kinky Reggae”, in his album Catch a Fire.

The sleeve art from the 1974 issue of the album

And where everyone is…. makes Piccadilly Circus the site of numerous political demonstrations.

In the centre of the Circus stands the Shaftesbury Memorial, commemorating the philanthropic Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801 – 1885).

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury by John Collier.jpg

Above: Shaftesbury, National Portrait Gallery, London

Anthony´s early family life was loveless, a circumstance common among the British upper classes, so he grew up without any experience of parental love.

He saw little of his parents and when duty or necessity compelled them to take notice of him they were formal and frightening.

Even as an adult, Anthony disliked his father and was known to refer to his mother as “the Devil”.

This difficult childhood was softened by the affection he received from their housekeeper, Maria Millis, and his sisters.

Ashley was elected to Parliament in 1826 and a year later, he was appointed to the Select Committee on Pauper Lunatics and Lunatic Asylums.

The Committee examined many witnesses concerning the White House, a madhouse in Bethnal Green in London.

Ashley visited the White House on the Committee´s behalf.

The patients were chained up, slept naked on straw, and went to toilet in their beds.

They were left chained from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning when they were cleaned of the accumulated excrement.

They were then washed down in freezing cold water and one towel was shared by 160 people, with no soap.

It was overcrowded and the meat provided was “that nasty thick hard muscle that a dog could not eat”.

The White House had been described as “a mere place for dying” rather than a cure for the insane.

Ashley would be involved in framing and reforming the Lunacy Laws of the land.

After giving his maiden speech, in support of madhouse reform, Ashley wrote in his diary:

“So, by God´s blessing, my first effort has been for the advance of human happiness. 

May I improve hourly! 

Fright almost deprived me of recollection but again, thank Heaven, I did not sit down a presumptuous idiot.”

He had cited the case of a Welsh lunatic girl, Mary Jones, who had for more than a decade been locked in a tiny loft with one boarded-up window with little air and no light.

The room was extremely filthy and filled with an intolerable smell.

She could only squat in a bent position in the room which caused her to become deformed.

Shaftesbury´s work in improving the care of the insane remains one of his most important, though less well-known, of his achievements.

He was better known for his work on child labour and factory reform, mining conditions, the prohibition of boys as chimney sweeps, education reform, the restoration of Jews to the Holy Land and the suppression of the opium trade.

Centered blue star within a horizontal triband

Above: Flag of the modern state of Israel

Forget the Mary Poppins Disney idea of chimney sweeping being a glamourous profession…..


Many of these climbing boys were illegitimate and had been sold by their parents.

They suffered from scorched and lacerated skin, their eyes and throats filled with soot, in danger of suffocation, in danger of cancer of the scrotum.

This show a cross section of two chimneys with an internal diameter of about twenty eight centimetres in each is a climbing boy of about ten years old. To the left the boy is climbing by bracing his back and knees against the chimney. To the right the boy is 'stuck', his knees are wedged up against his chin, and calfs, thighs and torso block the chimney preventing him from moving up or down.

Not so lucky to be a chimney sweep.

Though not Jewish, Shaftesbury believed that the Jews should have their own Homeland – however others might object – that they were “a country without a nation” in need of “a nation without a country”.

The Shaftesbury Memorial is a bronze fountain topped by a cast aluminium figure of an archer, that everyone calls Eros, but was intended by the artist Sir Alfred Gilbert to identify the angel of charity, Eros´ brother Anteros.

Fuente Eros, Piccadilly Circus, Londres, Inglaterra, 2014-08-11, DD 159.JPG

This is fashionable London, where Eros, the angel of love, is more fashionable than Anteros.

This is Piccadilly Circus where anything goes.

Or at least once did.

In 1750, London was disturbed by two earth tremors severe enough to bring down a pair of old houses and a number of chimneys on 8 February and 8 March.

A former member of the Life Guards, on the evening of 7 April, created mass panic after walking up and down Piccadilly shouting out that the world would end on 8 April.

A huge number of Londoners made plans to escape the City, but Piccadilly  was so choked wth traffic that many got no further than Hyde Park.

Women sat out of doors in their gowns while men played cards, awaiting the apocalypse that never came.

The doomsayer was subsequently sent to Bedlam, a madhouse.


Above: “Bedlam”, a word meaning “uproar and confusion” and the nickname of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, London

During World War II so many prostitutes assembled at Piccadily Circus that the men in uniform who enjoyed their services called them “the Piccadilly Commandoes”.

And the idea of assembling together leads to “Piccadilly Circus” being used as the codeword for the spot where the D-Day (6 June 1944) Invasion fleet would assemble in the English Channel before landing on the beaches of Normandy to fight the Nazi hordes.

Above: D-Day assault routes into Nazi-occupied Normandy, France

We would ourselves, the wife and I, assemble with the hundreds that gather at Piccadilly Circus all day and all night.

No apocalypse came, and the prostitutes now frequent another section of London these days.

I know not where.

We did not ask.

But I can read.

I read about Fore Street, Edmonton Green, North London.

When the pubs empty and the night is late, the girls come out.

This is when the work picks up, when the men get loud and want it….bad.

Between the street lights there are no other women walking the street.

Folks reckon there are at least 7,000 prostitutes in London – 96% of them immigrants.

Above: Prostitution worldwide: legal/regulated (green), legal/unregulated (blue), organised illegal (yellow), illegal (red)

Girls from Europe´s east or the Americas or Asia south….

At least 2,000 of them out every night on the streets.

Talk to the police.

Talk to the shopkeepers.

They´ll tell you that there are many more than that.

More and more every week.

There are few streetwalkers in inner London.

There used to be a lot of women of easy virtue in Soho and in Southwark.

But they have mostly gone.

Sex shops are for the tourists.

The girls now live at the fringes, cast out from city centre.

They don´t do this for pleasure, and sometimes it is they who pay.

The need for men´s money is overshadowed by the danger of men.

Some walk away with bruises, others with cuts.

Others never walk back or walk again.

I try not to think about what I have read.

We are tourists.

We follow Coventry Street east towards Leicester Square.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

We are surprised by the Swiss Court with maypole adorned by the coats of arms of Switzerland´s 26 cantons.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

What is that doing here?

Did London anticipate visitors from Switzerland?

To the left/north, we see a church on Leicester Place, the Notre Dame de France.

The French have been in London for a very long time.

The Huguenots built fortunes in the textile industry, but Notre Dame was not built for the wealthy.

It was founded in 1865 to take care of the lower class French.

Soho was once, not that long ago, a kind of French enclave.

Even today Notre Dame operates  a refugee centre.

At first glance Notre Dame looks unremarkable, although circular churches in Britain are rare.

But the glory of Notre Dame is within not without.

Murals by legendary French filmmaker/artist/designer Jean Cocteau fill one side chapel.

Depicting themes from the Crucifixion and the Assumption of Mary, Cocteau´s work is vigourous, seductive, alive in a manner no Brit could ever imitate.

The Jean Cocteau Murals.

A black hole sun, the feet of Christ, muscular soldiers in tiny skirts toss dice for the Saviour´s robe at the base of the Cross.

Above the altar a tapestry by Robert de Caunac….Mary is the new Eve and a huge statue of the Virgin of Mercy by Georges Saupique watches over all.

Light a candle before plunging into the former fleshpots of Soho and Leicester Square.

Most Londoners avoid Leicester Square unless they´re heading for the cinema.

Leicester Square is famous not only for huge cinemas, but also for the old clockhouse which has been converted into a popular tourist information centre where we picked up our London Passes, granting us free access or reduced rates at many of the attractions London has to offer.

Leicester Square, long famous as a centre of entertainment, is built around a small garden laid out by Albert Grant (1831 – 1899) in 1874.

In the centre of the garden is a statue of William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) and at the four corners of the garden are scientist Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1726), painter Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723 – 1792), artist William Hogarth (1697 – 1764) and Scottish surgeon Dr. John Hunter (1728 – 1793), along with a statue of Hollywood actor/director Charlie Chaplin (1889 – 1977).

Above: Self-portrait, William Hogarth

I think of William Hogarth´s most famous pictorial series, A Harlot´s Progress, paintings show the story of a young country woman, M. (Moll or Mary) Hackabout, and her search for work as a seamstress in London and how she eventually ends up as first as a mistress to become a common prostitute who gets imprisoned and then dies from syphilis at the age of 23.

Above: Plate 1, A Harlot´s Progress, brothel keeper Elizabeth Needham (on the right) procures a young woman newly arrived in London

It is suggested that Hogarth either meant for M. to be named after the heroine of Moll Flanders or ironically named after the Virgin Mary.

Moll Flanders film.jpg

Above: Poster of the 1996 film Moll Flanders

(Daniel Defoe´s novel Moll Flanders tells the story of “the fortunes and misfortunes of a woman who was Born in Newgate Prison, was 12 times a whore, 5 times a wife, 12 years a thief, 8 years a criminal in Virginia, who had last grew rich, lived honestly and died a penitent”.)

(Daniel Defoe´s most famous novel Robinson Crusoe is second only to the Bible in its number of translations.)

In the 18th century, this once pleasant leafy square was home to the fashionable “Leicester House set”, headed by successive Hanoverian Princes of Wales who did not get along with their fathers.

In the mid-19th century, Leicester Square boasted Turkish baths and music halls.

Today M & M´s World has taken the sheen off the traditional shine.

Bildergebnis für m & m london

We debate how and when we will use our London Passes.

We opt to visit an attraction that doesn´t require admission, that can allow us to delay until the next day using our London Passes.

We plunge back into the Tube yet again.

South, the Tube propels us under the Thames River, with stops at Charing Cross, Embankment, Waterloo, Elephant and Castle.

(Charing Cross is named after the Queen Eleanor (of Castile)(1241 – 1290)(reigned 1272 – 1290) Memorial Cross in what was once the hamlet of Charing.

Above: The Queen Eleanor Cross, Charing Cross, London

Embankment is the name of a Thames River pier, the main western departure point of the river boat service, the MBNA Thames Clippers.

London Thames Sunset panorama - Feb 2008.jpg

Waterloo Road, Bridge, Train Station and Tube Station are all named to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo, Belgium (18 June 1815).

Battle of Waterloo 1815.PNG

Above: The Battle of Waterloo, by William Sadler

The Elephant and Castle was once the name of a local inn.)

Elephant & Castle, London, England.jpg

Another tube line northeast to Borough tube station.

In the time of Stuart and Tudor kings and queens, the main reason for crossing the Thames to Southwark, was to visit the disresputable Bankside for its pubs, brothels and bear pits around the south end of London Bridge.

Four hundred years later, people come to visit the mighty Tate Modern Museum, the remarkably reconstructed Shakespeare´s Globe Theatre and the Shard with its sublime view which on a clear day stretches on forever.

Restaurante The Swan, Londres, Inglaterra, 2014-08-11, DD 113.jpg

Above: Shakespeare´s Globe, London

We poke our heads up from the Underground, to a junction where the three streets of Marshalsea Road, Long Road and Great Dover Street meet and greet Borough High Street.

Where the High meets the Long, we see the Church of St. George the Martyr, separated from the tiny lane of Tabard Street by the last remaining wall of the infamous Marshalsea Prison.

St. George The Martyr (1).jpg

Southwark was home to many famous literary figures, including Geoffrey Chauncer, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens

Above: Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)

Charles immortalised The Borough area in his novel Little Dorritt, whose fictional father, like Charles Dickens´ own father, was imprisoned in Marshalsea Prison for failing to pay his debts.

Littledorrit serial cover.jpg

Dorritt gets married at St. George and inside the church is a stained glass memorial showing Dorritt kneeling in prayer.

Little Dorrit in stained glass in one of the church windows.

St. George´s steeple has four clocks, but one of them, facing Bermondsey to the east, is black and is not illuminated at night, allegedly because the parishioners of Bermondsey refused to pay their share for the church.

Diagonally across the High Street is Little Dorritt Park.

Go through Little Dorritt Park to Redcross Way, turn right and cross over Union Street, and on your left you will see a wasteland.

This piece of wasteland, owned by Transport for London (TfL), contains the bodies of over 15,000 people, over half of them children.

There is no evidence of their passing, for this was unhallowed ground, for prostitutes and paupers.

Crossbones Graveyard, in medieval times, was an unconsecrated graveyard for the prostitutes, the “single women”/”trulls”/”buttered buns”/”squirrels”/”punchable nuns”, known as “Winchester Geese” as this Liberty of the Clink area of Southwark was administered by the Bishop of Winchester who had the power to licence prostitutes and brothels (“stews”).

The Liberty was a free zone outside the jurisdiction of the Sheriff of London, near the prison called the Clink.

The brothels in the Liberty persisted for 500 years until Oliver Cromwell closed down the entire area.

The Winchester Geese were refused burial in the graveyard of St. Saviour´s parish, even though they owed their jobs to the church.

After the closure of the Liberty, Crossbones Graveyard served as a burial place for the poor.

It was closed in 1853 as it was “completely overcharged with the dead”.

The round brown memorial sign on the gates, where the local people have created a shrine, reads “The Outcast Dead R.I.P”.

The gates are covered with ribbons of sympathy, there are vigils for the Outcast on the 23rd of each month at 7 pm and the perfectly formed Crossbones Garden of Remembrance is open weekday afternoons from noon to 3 pm.

But we are hours too soon for the vigil and are too late to enter the Garden.

Our goal is to whirlwind view the Tate Modern within the space of 90 minutes before it closes at 5 pm then stroll beside and across the Thames before returning to our hotel.

A large oblong brick building with square chimney stack in centre of front face. It stands on the far side of the River Thames, with a curving white foot bridge on the left.

Above: The Tate Modern

The dead of Crossbones remain outcast, the women who shared their bodies forgotten, the destitute have no value.

We haven´t got the time.

After all, we are tourists.

The Shard from the Sky Garden 2015.jpg

Above: The Shard, London

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Baedeker´s- AA London / DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 London 2017 Lonely Planet London Condensed / The Rough Guide to London / Julian Beecroft, For the Love of London: A Companion / Michael Bond, Paddington´s Guide to London: A Bear´s Eye View / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Ben Judah, This Is London: Life and Death in the World City / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London: Tales of a City / Eloise Millar and Sam Jordison, Literary London

Above: The Expulsion from Paradise, by James Tissot

Canada Slim and the Sealed Train

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 4 November 2017

Three thoughts come to my mind when associated with the words “sealed train”:

  1. Easter Monday, 9 April 1917, when Lenin boarded a sealed train in Zürich bound for Petrograd (today´s St. Petersburg), which Winston Churchill described: “The Germans transported Lenin in a sealed train like a plague bacillus from Switzerland into Russia.”
  2. The dark days of World War II when Jews and other “undesirables” were herded into sealed train boxcars bound for concentration camps like Auschwitz
  3. My own adventures in America where I rode empty boxcars in Alabama and was threatened to be shot for trying to sleep under one in Maine

Thoughts #2 and #3 will be left for future posts….


Zürich, Switzerland, 2 March 1917

The news of the February Revolution came as just as much as a surprise to Lenin as to everyone else in Europe.

The outbreak of the February Revolution found V.I. Lenin in Zürich, where he and his wife Krupskaia had lived, in a single-room apartment in Spiegelgasse across the street from a sausage factory, since February 1916.

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-71043-0003, Wladimir Iljitsch Lenin.jpg

Above: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov aka Lenin (1870 – 1924)

(See Canada Slim and the Bloodthirsty Redhead, ….and the Zimmerwald Movement, ….and the Forces of Darkness, ….and the Dawn of a Revolution, ….and the Bloodstained Ground, ….and the High Road to Anarchy, ….and the Birth of a Nation, ….and the Coming of the Fall, ….and the Undiscovered Country of this blog for background on how Lenin came to be living in Switzerland and the events in Switzerland and Russia that lead to today´s story….)

The Polish revolutionary Bronsky first brought Lenin the news of insurrection in Petrograd, stopping by Lenin´s Spiegelgasse flat as Lenin and his wife were leaving for the library.

Above: The Lenins lived on the 2nd floor here at Spiegelgasse 14, Zürich

The effect had been like an electric current.

Lenin paced and shouted and punched the air.

“Staggering! Such a surprise! We must go home.  It´s so incredibly unexpected.”

But the only journey he could make in the short term was down the steep lane to the shore of the Zürichsee, where there were kiosks with a good range of the latest Swiss and foreign newspapers.

He read about it in the Zürich papers, but this is not to say that he was unprepared to take advantage of it.

Lenin had been quietly receiving subsidies from the German government since 1916, when the socialist agent Parvus had first advised Berlin to give Lenin and his Bolsheviks financial support.

(Lenin´s apologists later made much ado out of the agonies Lenin supposedly went through before “allowing” the Germans to send him back to Russia.)

Before the news of the Revolution broke, Lenin´s wife had likened him to the white wolf they had once seen in the London Zoo, the one creature among the tigers and the bears that never grew accustomed to its confinement.


Above: An Arctic wolf

But now his frustration was intolerable.

“It´s simply shit!”, Lenin spluttered after reading a report of recent speeches in the Soviet.

“I repeat: shit!”

Whenever he picked up a pen that March, he might as well have drawn a pin from a grenade.

The news from Petrograd had shaken the entire Russian community in Switzerland.

Flag of Russia

Above: The flag of Russia

Russia had become the freest country in the world as the new government granted an amnesty for political prisoners, abolished the death penalty and dissolved what was left of the Tsar´s secret police.

The Russian consulate in Davos held a reception to greet the new age of liberty and many of the small foundations that supported refugees began to talk of immediate repatriation.

There were 7,000 Russian nationals in Switzerland, and their welcome was wearing thin, but there still was no easy way to get back home.

File:Flag of Switzerland (Pantone).svg

Above: The flag of Switzerland

The newspapers followed the drama of the Revolution day by day, but the trouble was that Lenin remained the comrade who was watching “from afar”.

“You can imagine what torture it is for all of us to be stuck here at a time like this.  We have to go by some means, even if it is through Hell.”

(Lenin´s letter to Yakov Fürstenberg, 11 March 1917.)

There was only one option.

The Swiss exiles would have to travel across Germany to the Baltic coast and from there to Sweden, Finland and home to Russia.


Above: The flag of Germany (1871 – 1918)

The German government was convinced that the financing of extreme elements would hasten Russia´s disintegration and end their war on the eastern front.

Two weeks passed since the abdication of the Tsar.

Nicholas II by Boissonnas & Eggler c1909.jpg

Above: Nicholas II (1868 – 1918), Tsar of Russia (1894 – 1917)

Conditions were agreed upon between Lenin and the German government:

His train carriage would have the status of an extra-territorial entity.

Only Swiss socialist Fritz Platten would have contact between the Russian passengers and their German guards.

No one would enter the exiles´ carriage without permission.

As far as possible, the carriage was to travel without stops.

No passenger could be ordered to leave.

There would be no control of passports and no discrimination against potential passengers on the grounds of their political views.

At the last moment, permission was secured for the group to bring its own food.

News of Lenin´s negotiations spread through Zürich´s cafés within hours.

Irish author James Joyce, who heard the story over a drink, thought that the proposed safe passage was proof that the Germans “must be pretty desperate”.

Portrait of James Joyce

Above: James Joyce (1882 – 1941)

French novelist Romain Rolland dismissed Lenin and his aspiring fellow passengers as nothing more than instruments of Europe´s enemy.

Romain Rolland-1914.jpg

Above: Romain Rolland (1866 – 1944)

The 8th of April 1917 was Easter Sunday in Switzerland, and the authorities hoped to have the Russians packed on their train before the holiday began.

Instead, that weekend was the most frantic of all.

To make the whole business more difficult, a chorus of abuse accompanied the travellers´ every move.

With plenty of time on their hands, emigrés who were still waiting for a formal invitation from Russia´s Provisional Government joined forces with centre-left Swiss in calling Lenin a traitor.

For the Germans, it was important that the military should approve the precise route from the Swiss border.

Russian-speaking German guards were to be discreetly travelling inside the carriage “for security”.

“The émigrés expect to encounter extreme difficulties, even legal persecution, from the Russian government because of travel through enemy territory.  It is therefore essential that they be able to guarantee not to have spoken with any German in Germany.”

(Gisbert von Romberg, Bern consulate, cable to Berlin, 9 April 1917)


Zürich, Switzerland, Easter Monday, 9 April 1917

The travellers gathered in the Zähringerhof, the hotel on the square outside Zürich´s classical railway station.

Datei:Schweizerhof Zurich.JPG

(Today it is called the Schweizerhof.)

Thirty-two adults were set to travel.

The last thing to be done before leaving Zürich was to eat lunch, a noisy banquet in the Zähringerhof that was accompanied by speeches of farewell.

It was Lenin´s final chance to win over the many critics who were still trying to prevent the trip.

Lenin predicted a worldwide revolution that would sweep away “the filthy froth on the surface of the world labour movement”.

“The objective circumstances of the imperialist war make it certain that the revolution will not be limited to Russia….

Transformation of the imperialist war into civil war is becoming a fact.”

They were returning to their homeland, despite the threat of jail that awaited them.

Every passenger knew the conditions.

Every passenger accepted the risks.

Shouts and hisses followed them across the square as the travellers made for their first train.


Zürich, Switzerland, 11 September 2017

This was a rare opportunity.

Between my August trip in Italy and my October trip in London, between work as a teacher (albeit too little work) and work as a barista for Starbucks St. Gallen, I finally had time today to follow Lenin´s route from Zürich to the Swiss border.

I was not unsympathetic to those sadly remembering the anniversary of 9/11, but I felt that the story I had been following of the events leading to Lenin on the train needed to be personally experienced a century later to compare events of yesteryear with the realities of today.

What was it like to travel from Zürich to Singen, following the rail route that Lenin and his fellow travellers took?

I left Landschlacht this morning at 0909, then once in Zürich I bought the day´s New York Times and then walked to the Café Odeon at Limmatquai 2, one of Lenin´s favourite haunts.

Above: Café Odeon and Odeon Apotheke, corner of Limmatquai and Rämistrasse

The place still appears much as it did when Lenin frequented the place, although the clientele has changed considerably since then.

The decor remains Art Nouveau in style, with rich red upholstery, sparkling chandeliers, and brass and marble fittings.

Listing the names of all the writers, poets, painters and musicians who came and went in the Odeon would certainly render a valuable cross-section of the celebrities of well over half a century.

Only a few of those who thronged there and gave the Odeon its reputation of an intellectual meeting place are mentioned here:

Franz Werfel, the Austrian poet and storyteller who had come to Zürich in 1918 to perform his play “The Trojan Women”, which led to peace demonstrations as there had never been before.


Above: Franz Werfel (1890 – 1945)

Stefan Zweig, Frank Wedekind and Karl Kraus, author of Torch, as well as William Somerset Maugham, the author of plays and short stories….

Erich Maria Remarque, the writer of the anti-war novel All Quiet on The Western Front also belong to them.

Erich Maria Remarque.jpg

Above: Erich Maria Remarque (1898 – 1970)

Then come Kurt Tucholsky, Rowohlt, Klaus Mann and Alfred Kerr, not to forget the Irish author James Joyce, who spent a total of about five years in Zürich, of which countless hours were at the Odeon.

In his books, names of Zürich’s streets and squares, bars or people appeared over and over again – in encrypted form.

A confidant of the emigrants and a regular at the Odeon was Dr. Emil Oprecht, a publisher and bookseller on Rämistrasse. who helped many writers by printing and selling their work.


In 1915, a group of young bohemians confused waiters and guests with their strange discussions.

The sculptor and poet Hans Arp with his girlfriend, the dancer and arts and crafts teacher Sophie Täuben, the writer Tristan Tzara, the actor and playwright Hugo Ball with his girlfriend Emmie Hennings, the poet and painter Richard Huelsenbeck and the sculptor Marcel Janco set up their quarters at Odeon – thus conferring to the Café its long-lasting reputation for being a birthplace of Dadaism.

Above: First edition, Dada, by Tristan Tzara, Zürich, 1917

In their theses and slogans, the Dadaists protested not only against the war, but also against all well-established civil convictions.

Amongst the famous musicians who were regular visitors of the Odeon, we have to mention Wilhelm Furtwängler, Franz Lehar, Arturo Toscanini and Alban Berg.

Even scientists like Albert Einstein, who enjoyed discussing here physics with students from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, was one of the regulars.

Einstein 1921 by F Schmutzer - restoration.jpg

Above: Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

Benito Mussolini, then still a fiery anarchist, and Lenin, fully devoted to reading all the available newspapers, as well as Trotsky, are just a few representatives of the politicians who came in and out.

Another long time regular guest was Ferdinand Sauerbruch, director of the surgical clinic of the Cantonal Hospital.

Because of his astonishing consumption of champagne, he offended some Zurich citizens as every day after work, he ordered and emptied a bottle.

Supposedly, he renounced this habit under the pressure of public opinion.

In fact, he had merely become more diplomatic:

The giant coffee pot from which waiter Mateo, with a wink, poured something liquid did not contain steaming coffee but… sparkling champagne.

In the years leading up to the First World War you could sit here all night, curfew being an unknown word.

The newspaper shelves were filled with international titles still leaving enough room for an encyclopaedia and a can of gasoline to fill up the lighters.

Thick smoke haze was a norm in real Viennese cafés just as were experienced waiters and various games.

At the Odeon, chess was always paramount and every Friday, Colonel Wille, later an army General, would walk in to join to a small group of cards players.

I continued my wandering through Zürich to the Cabaret Voltaire.

Above: Plaque on facade of Cabaret Voltaire, the birthplace of Dadaism, founded 5 February 1916

Hans Arp, Sophie Täuben, Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball, Emmie Hennings, Richard Huelsenbeck, Marcel Janco and Hans Richter began staging Dada art performances at the Cabaret Voltaire at Spiegelgasse 1, where according to Janco the belief was that….

Above: Hugo Ball, Cabaret Voltaire performance, 1916

“Everything had to be demolished.  We would begin again after the tabula rasa.  At the Cabaret Voltaire we began by shocking common sense, public opinion, education, institutions, museums, good taste, in short, the whole prevailing order.”

Above: The Janco Dada Museum, Ein Hod, Israel

The performances, like the war they were mirroring, were often raucous and chaotic, and amongst the experimental artists on stage were the likes of Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Max Ernst.

With the end of the war, the original excitement generated at Cabaret Voltaire fizzled out.

Some of the Zürich Dadaists returned home, while others continued Dadaist activities in other cities.

Their efforts eventually helped spawn new and equally controversial artistic genres, such as surrealism, social realism and pop art.

(For more on Dadaism, please see Only imbeciles and Spanish professors: Heidi and Dada and Eternal Bliss and the Edge of Madness: Gaga over Dada of this blog.)

The Cabaret Voltaire still courts controversy today, having been saved from closure in 2002 by a group of neo-Dadaists who occupied the building illegally.

Despite police eviction and an attempt by the Swiss People´s Party (SVP) to cut funding, the building still functions as an alternative arts space.

It also contains the cosy duDA bar and a well-stocked Dada giftshop.

Alongside the fireplace in the original upstairs room can be seen a small black and white picture depicting the Cabaret Voltaire in full swing, with Hugo Ball and his friends on stage….

Bildergebnis für cabaret voltaire zürich 1916

And an enthusiastic Lenin in the audience, his arm outstretched in support.

I climbed Spiegelgasse to photograph the building where Lenin´s flat used to be, then, after lunch and some book shopping, I boarded a train.


Zürich, Switzerland, Easter Monday, 9 April 1917

Above: Zürich Hauptbahnhof

The travellers´ first train was merely a local Swiss service bound for Schaffhausen and the German border post of Gottmadingen, but the Russians approached it as if walking the plank.

Fritz Platten suggested that the travellers should imagine themselves to be like gladiators squaring up before their greatest and final contest.

Above: Fritz Platten (1883 – 1942)

This image was appropriate, for as the engine finally began to move, Lenin noticed a stranger on the train (whose presence was, in fact, legitimate, since this was not a special service, let alone a sealed carriage).

German socialist Oscar Blum had decided to take his chance and join the travellers.

Assuming him to be a spy, the Russian leader seized the uninvited intruder by the collar and physically threw him out onto the tracks.

The first two hours of the ride were almost jolly after that.

From Zürich, the local train rattled along a valley studded with the chilly stumps of vines.

Most of the passengers relaxed.

Dun-coloured farms and distant slopes had been home territory for years.

As the train slowed, just outside Neuhausen am Rheinfall, there was a momentary gasp as everyone looked to the right.

The tracks here curved beside the largest waterfall in Europe, the Rhine Falls.

(For more on the Rhine Falls, please see Chasing waterfalls and The Grand Guestbook of this blog.)

But those short minutes of romance were forgotten as the station at Neuhausen came into view, for it was one of the last stations before the German border.

A posse of Swiss customs men was waiting for the Russian group a few miles up at Schaffhausen.

The Germans might have promised a free passage for this foreign exile band, but now the Swiss were making clear that they had never signed up for the deal.


Zürich, Switzerland, 11 September 2017

Above: Zürich Hauptbahnhof, statue of Alfred Escher in the foreground

At 1630 hours, I boarded the Regional Express to Schaffhausen via Bülach and Neuhausen am Rheinfall.

There were distinct contrasts between Lenin´s journey to the border and my own:

Lenin was filled with impending doom, while I was resigned and determined to finally and firmly see the ghosts of that famous journey disappear from my own thoughts.

I certainly hadn´t needed permission nor did I question the legitimacy of my fellow passengers to ride the rails with me.

Where Lenin had seen fields and orchards in spring blossom, I saw many of these same farms on the cusp of autumn harvest.

Since Lenin´s day, the largest crop production in Bülach seems to be hockey players.

Above: Bülach Railway Station

I already knew both Bülach and Neuhausen quite well as I had walked in the past beside the Thur River from its Alpine origins to its confluence with the Rhine River near Bulach, and I had walked from my village of Landschlacht following the shores of Lake Constance to Konstanz and the Rhine River to Schaffhausen and its junction with the Thur.

So I no longer gasp with astonishment when I see the Rhine Falls, though they still thrill me with their majesty every time I see them.

2016-08-30 18-32-03 347.0 Switzerland Kanton Schaffhausen Neuhausen Rheinfall.JPG

Above: The Rhine Falls

Schaffhausen, Switzerland, Easter Monday, 9 April 1917

Bildergebnis für schaffhausen bahnhof

Lenin´s group were escorted from the train.

As they waited on Platform 3, officials of the Swiss police rummaged through the group´s baskets of blankets, books and provisions that they had brought for the journey.

It turned out that there was a wartime rule about exporting food from Switzerland.

The cheese and sausage and the hard-boiled eggs were confiscated.

It was a shock to watch as an entire week´s supply of sustenance was snatched away, and the humiliating process itself (which left only a few bread rolls, precisely counted, and a stamped receipt) was enough to set anyone´s nerves on edge.


Schaffhausen, Switzerland, 11 September 2017

Bildergebnis für schaffhausen bahnhof

Above: Schaffhausen Bahnhof

The removal of the passport control signage and the use of the platform kiosk as a customs office on Platform 3 is now a relic of the past.

Bildergebnis für schaffhausen bahnhof

Switzerland, though independent from the European Union countries that surround it, signed the Schengen Agreement in 1985, allowing mostly unrestricted border passage from it to its neighbours.

File:Schengen Area Labelled Map.svg

Above: European Union members (dark blue), non-European Union members but signatories of the Agreement (light blue)

(Whether this relaxed attitude towards arrivals and departures will continue remains debateable since the 2015 migrant crisis.

For a discussion of the migrant crisis and the European borders issue, see Burkinis on the beach, Behind the veil: Islam(ophobia) for dummies, and Fear Itself of this blog.)

(Interestingly, the restrictions on food are now on food coming into Switzerland rather than leaving it.

Switzerland wants to encourage the Swiss to do their grocery shopping at home, but considering that shopping over the borders is substantially cheaper, this is a difficult argument for the Swiss government with which to convince the Swiss.)

I took a few photos of what remained on Platform 3, grabbed a coffee at the Station and boarded the 1739 train to Thayngen.


Thayngen, Switzerland, Easter Monday, 9 April 1917

At Thayngen, not far up the line from Schaffhausen, a fresh squad of uniformed men demanded the Russians to go through all their possessions again, for this was the very last station before the German border.


Thayngen, Switzerland, 11 September 2017

Bahnhof Thayngen.JPG

Above: Thayngen Railway Station

I had never been in Thayngen before.

Prior to my reading of Catherine Merridale´s fine history, Lenin on the Train, I had never even heard (nor cared) about this village of nearly 5,000.

This village in Canton Schaffhausen is merged with the villages of Altdorf, Bibern, Hofen, and Opfertshofen to form the municipality of Thayngen.

This is a working man´s village, with an unemployment rate of only 1%, though more people work outside the municipality than within it.

Here the hungry traveller can eat at one of the nine restaurants.

Here the weary wanderer can sleep in one of the 31 beds in one of the three hotels.

The village itself is not that particularly fascinating to the international cosmopolitan jetsetter, possessing only two sites of national significance: the Haus zum Hirzen and the Haus zum Rebstock.

Picswiss SH-03-01.jpg

Above: Thayngen town centre

The explorer must leave the village and visit the nearby prehistoric cave dwelling at the Kesslerloch or the Stone Age riverbank settlement called the Weier.

Above: Prehistoric cave dwelling, Kesserloch

The most common site the visitor sees in Thayngen are trucks passing from Germany into Switzerland.

Historically, only three Thayngen personalities leap off the pages of time to grab one´s attention: Hans Stokar (1490 – 1556), a businessman, politician, historian, church reformer and pilgrim to both Santiago de Compostela and Jerusalem; Martin Stamm (1847 – 1918), a pioneer in American surgery; and Everard im Thurn (1852 – 1932), the son of a Thayngen banker, who became an author, explorer, botanist, photographer, and the Governor of Fiji (1904 – 1910).

The weather this day was as problematic and uncertain as my Lenin-following excursion was: dark clouds wrestling to cover the optimistic sun.

But the result was a beautiful rainbow across the sky above the village.

Here, close to the station that aggravated Lenin´s travelling party, I came across an outlet shop of the company Unilever.

The current Unilever logo used since 2004.

Unilever, a British-Dutch company with headquarters in Rotterdam, a manufacturer of food and beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products, is both the world´s largest consumer goods company and the world´s largest producer of food spreads.

Europe´s 7th most valuable company and one of the world´s oldest multinational companies, Unilever has made its products available in over 190 countries, offering over 400 brands, including Axe, Lynx, Dove, Becel, Flora, Hellmann´s, Knorr, Lipton and Rama, just to name a few.

Unilever was founded in 1930 by the merger of the Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie and the British soapmaker Lever Brothers and has, over time, made many acquisitions, including Lipton and Ben & Jerry´s.

I happily bought a number of items at the outlet price, not knowing that Unilever has been criticised by Greenpeace for causing deforestation, by Amnesty International for child labour and enforced labour practices, by Israel for salmonella in cereals, and by the Indian town of Kodaikanal for dumping mercury.

Most consumers, myself included, rarely think about the business practices of the companies who produce what we buy.

After filling my backpack with Unilever booty and wandering around Thayngen a bit, I then boarded the 1820 train to Gottmadingen.


Gottmadingen, Germany, Easter Monday, 9 April 1917

Bildergebnis für gottmadingen bilder

When the Swiss train came to its final stop at Gottmadingen, the Bolshevik passengers were close to panic.

To their despair, as they scanned the platform outside, they spotted two unsmiling figures in grey uniform, the hard-faced types that people send when they are planning a surprise arrest.

These German officers were hand-picked men.

Lieutenant von Bühring was the younger of the two, his superior being Captain von der Platz.

The travellers were not to be informed, but Bühring had been selected for the job because he understood Russian.

The officers had both been briefed for the mission by the director of German military operations, General Erich Ludendorff, in person.

After the sterile bureaucrats of Switzerland, Bühring and Platz made a terrifying pair, all gleaming boots and razor-sharp salutes.

They ordered the Russians to form two lines inside the third-class waiting room, the men on one side and the women and children on the other.

Instinctively, the men surrounded Lenin.

Several minutes passed, and although no one dared to speak, most wondered privately how they had fallen for this German trap.

The pause gave the Germans time to count their guests, to watch them and to organise their baggage.

It was a calculated move to show the Russians who was boss.

When the officers were satisfied, they ushered their party from the station building without volunteering an explanation.

Outside, the engine awaited, already spewing out white steam.

Berlin had honoured its agreement to the letter.

This was a journey that cost much, in resources and precious time on railway tracks.

The single wooden carriage, painted green, consisted of three second-class compartments and five third-class ones, two toilets and a baggage room for the émigrés´ baskets.

This was to be the famous sealed train, though what the security amounted to was merely that three of the four doors on the platform side were locked after the passengers had all been counted on board.

There was an awkward moment as the Russians debated who might sit where.

After a token protest, Lenin and his wife agreed to take the first of the three second-class compartments at the front.

The other two were offered to families with women and children.

The rest took their places in third class, resigned to stiff limbs and drowsiness.

The German guards sat at the back.

To preserve the illusion that the Russians would have no contact with the enemy, a chalk line had been drawn on the carriage floor between their territory and the rest.

The only person who could cross it was the Swiss socialist Fritz Platten, who had become the entire company´s official middleman.

As the train slowly headed north, Lenin stood at his dark window, a modest figure in a dusty suit, thumbs locked into his waistcoat pockets.

Beyond his own reflection in the glass, he could see that the alder woods were turning green.

Despite the lengthening shadows, it was still possible to make out yellow celandines and white anemones, the first wild flowers of spring.

The valley broadened, opening to fields.

Switzerland vanished into the trail of steam, the rhythmic rattle of the train encouraging a feeling of momentum, of purpose and progress.

The mood was smoothing and hypnotic.


Gottmadingen, Germany, 11 September 2017

Above: Gottmadingen, Germany

Gottmadingen was another town I had never explored and though it is twice the size of Thayngen, I found it half as interesting, for Gottmadingen suffers the fate of all towns too close to more populous and famous locations, it is generally ignored, as it is only 5 km southwest of Singen.

Right up to the 20th century, Gottmadingen remained a tiny village, but economic growth caused by a growing number of new factories demanding workers the village grew to become a town of over 10,000 residents.

Gottmadingen´s industry was mainly based on the production of agricultural machinery.

In the years 1960 to 1970, more than 4,000 workers were employed in the Fahr factory for agricultural engines.


The factory closed in 2003.

Though the town tries to be productive with the highrise Sudhaus, thriving business at the Hotel Sonne and regular customers at Pimp Your Hair, Gottmadingen felt sleepy and decaying.

Even though Alcan Singen, a Canadian company branch that produces aluminium automobile parts, is located in Gottmadingen, the town itself slumbers.

It has four churches, with St. Ottilia possessing Germany´s oldest church bells (1209).

There are castle ruins strewn all around, with Herlsberg and Kapf Castles behaving much like Gottmadingen itself, present but unattractive.

Randegg Chateau, built in 1214, does still stand and once was the home of painter Otto Dix and his family from 1933 to 1936, but it is now in private hands and open to the public only once every two years for an experimental art exhibition.

Otto Dix on April 12, 1957.jpg

Above: German painter Otto Dix (1891 – 1969)

Except for the town´s Tractor Museum, there isn´t much to attract visitors outside of the cities of Schaffhausen or Singen.

While waiting for a train bound for Singen, I read of a train accident near Andermatt, the 16th anniversary discussion of the unaccounted-for victims of 9/11, Republicans accusing Democrats of wanting to remove 9/11 memorials like they wish to remove Confederate statues, and the proposed evacuation of six million residents from south Florida due to the devastation of Hurricane Irma.

There seemed to be life continuing on beyond the town limits of Gottmadingen.


Landschlacht, Switzerland, 4 November 2017

Lenin, like myself, would continue on to Singen, then we parted company.

Lenin and his band of Bolsheviks would travel through Germany via Rottweil, Horb, Tuttlingen, Herrenberg, Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Halle, Berlin and Sassnitz.

They would then take a steamer to Sweden, then another train to Malmö and Stockholm.

After a brief stopover, then yet another train to Lulea and Karungi to the Finnish frontier, then Russian territory, at Tornio.

Then finally arriving at Finland Station in north Petrograd, today´s St. Petersburg.

A few months fraught with uncertainty would follow, but then in October 1917, Lenin and the Bolsheviks would seize control of Russia from the Provisional Government, in a coup d´ état that would later be called the October or Bolshevik Revolution.

Lenin today remains something of a contested figure in world history.

This is a great injustice for all those he would go on to murder and terrorise.

He would be directly responsible for the deaths of 300,000 people at the hands of his secret police.

A famous quote of his: “A revolution without firing squads is meaningless.”

He gave the order for the execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his entire Romanov family.

According to Simon Montefiore, an authority on Russian history, Lenin was the man “who created the blood-soaked Soviet experiment that was based from the very start on random killing and flint-hearted repression, and which led to the murders of many millions of innocent people“.

Lenin “relished the use of terror and bloodletting and was as frenziedly brutal as he was intelligent and cultured.”

Germany wanted the Russians out of World War I, and by sending Lenin to Russia, this is precisely what they would achieve.

But by doing so, they carried across their borders a true monster of historic proportions.

Switzerland was truly well-rid of Lenin.

By retracing his steps, so was I.

I continued onwards from Singen to Konstanz, back across the Swiss border to Kreuzlingen, and from there back home in Landschlacht.

Evil prospers when good men say nothing.

Evil re-emerges if history is not remembered.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Duncan J.D. Smith, Only in Zürich: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Unusual Objects / Tony Brenton, (editor), Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution / Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train / Simon Sebag Montefiore, Titans of History / Robert Service, Lenin: A Biography / Alexander Parker & Tim Richman, 50 People Who Messed Up the World / Café Odeon Website