Canada Slim and the Forgotten

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 May 2017

Marriage ain’t easy.

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“My successful marriage is built on mistakes.

It may be founded on love, trust and a shared sense of purpose, but it runs on cowardice, impatience, ill-advised remarks and low cunning.

But also: apologies, belated expressions of gratitude and frequent appeals for calm.

Every day is a lesson in what I am doing wrong.”

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“Twenty years ago my wife and I embarked on a project so foolhardy, the prsopect of which seemed to us both so weary, stale and flat that even thinking about it made us shudder….

We simply agreed – we’ll get married – with the resigned determination of two people plotting to bury a body in the woods.”

(Guardian columnist Tim Dowling, How to Be a Husband)

Since autumn of 2016 I have been teaching technical English to a company in two locations: Amriswil in Canton Thurgau (the Canton where I reside) and in Neuhaus in Canton St. Gallen (the Canton where I mostly work) on the border of Canton Zürich.

From Neuhaus it is closer to visit Zürich than it is for me to return back to Landschlacht, so when my schedule as a freelance English teacher finds me with a free afternoon after the company class I take myself down to Zürich.

Zürich possesses many temptations for me: museums, bookshops, the Limmat River, the Lake of Zürich, restaurants and cafés.


And as well Zürich is where my wife resides from Sunday afternoon to Thursday evening every week.

And somewhere buried deep within our marriage contract in words only my wife can read is a clause that insists that I occasionally be nice and visit the Wife, aka my own personal She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Upon my arrival in Zürich yesterday a bus ride and a train journey later, I still had a few hours to myself with which I had the illusion of freedom to do what I wished before my wife, the doctor, finished work at her hospital.

I foolishly forgot that most museums in Switzerland are closed on Mondays and I had this explained to me politely by a security guard at the Swiss National Museum.

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But like every bibliophile bookworm I never travel without literature for such situations, so with Duncan Smith’s Only in Zürich: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Ununsual Objects in hand I once again set out to discover Zürich before meeting the wife who would then set my agenda for me.

All guidebooks to Zürich mention the fact that Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) spent time in the city during the years leading up to the First World War.

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Seven years and eight months (1896 – 1900 / 1909 – 1911 / 1912 – 1914 / 1919), to be precise, at six different addresses (Unionstrasse 4 / Klosbachstrasse 87 / Dolderstrasse 17 / Moussonstrasse 12 / Hofstrasse 116 / Hochstrasse 37).

Albert Einstein’s name is now synonymous with genius and his face has become a 20th century icon.

But what about his wife during this time, the gifted mathematician Mileva Maric (1875 – 1948)?

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Few books mention her name and even fewer mention that she was buried in an unmarked grave in Zürich.

Albert Einstein arrived in Zürich in October 1896 to study at the Federal Polytechnic Institute (Eidgenössisches Polytechnikum) – today the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule)(ETH).

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A wall plaque at Unionstrasse 4 marks one of the addresses where Albert lived during this period.

In the same year Mileva attended the same institution and the two soon became close friends.

Born to wealthy parents in Titel (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today a part of Serbia), Mileva was the first and favourite child of an ambitious pesant who had joined the army, married into money and then dedicated himself to making sure his brilliant daughter was able to prevail in the male world of mathematics and physics.

Mileva spent most of her childhood in Novi Sad and attended a variety of ever more demanding schools, at each of which she was at the top of her class, culminating when her father convinced the all-male Classical Gymnasium in Zagreb to let her enroll.

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Above: St. Mark’s Church, Zagreb, Croatia

After graduating there with the top grades in physics and math, Mileva made her way to Zürich, where she became, just before she turned 21, the only woman in Albert’s section of the Polytechnic.

More than three years older than Albert, she was afflicted with a congenital hip dislocation that cause her to limp.

She was prone to bouts of tuberculosis and despondency.

Mileva was known for neither her books nor her personality.

One of her female friends in Zürich described her as “very smart and serious, small, delicate, brunette, ugly”.

But she had qualities that Albert, in his romantic scholar years, found attractive: a passion for math and science, a brooding depth and a beguiling soul.

Her deepset eyes had a haunting intensity, her face an enticing touch of melancholy.

Mileva would become, over time, Albert’s muse, partner, lover, wife, bête noire and antagonist and she would create an emotional field more powerful than that of anyone else in Albert’s life.

Mileva would alternately attract and repulse Albert, with a force so strong that a mere scientist, a mere man, like himself would never be able to fathom it.

Mileva and Albert met when they both entered the Polytechnic in October 1896, but their relationship took a while to develop.

They were nothing more than classmates that first academic year, but they did, however, decide to go hiking together in the summer of 1897.

“Frightened by the new feelings she was experiencing” because of Albert, Mileva decided to leave the Polytechnic temporarily and instead audit classes at Heidelberg University.

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Mileva and Albert corresponded, her letters a mix of playfulness and seriousness, of lightheartednes and intensity, of intimacy and detachment.

Albert urged her to return to Zürich.

By February 1898, Mileva made up her mind to do so.

By April she was back, in a boarding house a few blocks from him and now they were a couple.

They shared books, intellectual enthusiasms, intimacies and access to each other’s apartments.

Friends were surprised that a sensuous and handsome man such as Albert, who could have almost any woman fall for him, would find himself with a short and plain Serbian who had a limp and exuded an air of melancholy.

But it is easy to see why Albert felt such an affinity for Mileva.

They were kindred spirits who perceived themselves as aloof scholars and outsiders, rebellious toward others’ expectations, intellectuals who sought as lovers someone who would also be a partner, a colleague and collaborator.

Above all else, Albert loved Mileva for her mind.

She would eventually gain the same score in physics as Albert.

In 1900 Albert presented his first published scientific paper to the Annalen der Physik, Europe’s leading physics journal, in which his unified physical law of relativity was already apparent.

In February 1901, Switzerland made Albert a citizen, but his parents insisted that he go with them to Milan and live there if he could not find work in Zürich.

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Both in Zürich and in Milan, Albert was unsuccessful at attaining fulltime employment.

He spent most of 1901 juggling temporary teaching assignments and some tutoring.

Waiting for a decent post to materialise, Albert accepted a temporary post at a technical school in Winterthur for two months, filling in for a teacher on military leave, while Mileva remained in Zürich.


To make up for his absences, Albert proposed that they have a romantic getaway by Lake Como.

It was early Sunday morning, 5 May 1901, Albert waited for Mileva at the train station in the village of Como, “with open arms and a pounding heart”.


Mileva became pregnant by Albert.

Back in Zürich preparing to take her exams and hoping to go on to get a doctorate and become a physicist, she decided instead that she wanted Albert’s child – even though he was not yet ready or willing to marry her.

Perhaps as a consequence of her pregnancy or her dissatisfaction that Albert went on summer vacation with his parents and sister in the Alps instead of finding employment after Winterthur as he had promised her, Mileva failed her exams and gave up her dream of being a scientific scholar.

In the fall of 1901, Einstein took on a job as a tutor of a rich English schoolboy at a little private academy in Schaffhausen.

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Mileva was eager to be with Albert, but her pregnancy made it impossible for them to be together in public, so she stayed at a small hotel in a neighbouring village.

Their relationship became strained, as Albert came only infrequently to visit her claiming he did not have the spare money.

Albert was desperately unhappy with his job in Schaffhausen so it was with some relief that his friend Marcel Grossmann told him that a job as a Bern patent office clerk would soon be his.

Albert moved to Bern in late January 1902, while Mileva returned to her parents’ home in Novi Sad to have their baby, a girl they called Lieserl.

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Above: Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad, Serbia

Though Albert wrote to Mileva asking about Lieserl, his love for the child was mainly abstract.

Albert did not tell his friends or family about his daughter and never once publicly speak of her or even acknowledge she existed.

Albert found a large room in Bern but Mileva would not be sharing it.

They were not married and an aspiring Swiss civil servant could not be seen cohabitating in such a way.

After a few months Mileva moved back to Zürich to wait for Albert to marry her as he had promised.

She did not bring Lieserl with her.

Albert and Lieserl never laid eyes on each other.

Lieserl was left back in Novi Sad with relatives and friends, so that Albert could maintain both his unencumbered lifestyle and respectability he needed to become a Swiss official.

The fate of Lieserl remains unknown.

Albert finally was rewarded the position on 16 June 1902.

Albert married Mileva at a tiny civil ceremony in Bern’s registry office on 6 January 1903.

Their son Hans Albert Einstein was born on 14 May 1904.

After gaining his doctorate in 1905 while working in the Swiss Patent Office, assessing the worth of electromagnetic devices, Albert wrote four groundbreaking articles: one concerning the photoelectric effect (for which he received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921) and another containing his now famous mass-energy equivalence equation: E=mc squared.

In 1909 Albert and Mileva along with Hans moved back to Zürich, where Albert was made Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Zürich.

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The Einstein family lived on the second floor at Moussonstrasse 12, where in 1910 their second son Eduard “Tete” Einstein was born.

In March 1911 the family relocated to Prague, where Albert became full professor at Charles University.

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Einstein’s fame would lead him to wander around Europe giving speeches and basking in his renown, while Mileva stayed behind in Prague, a city she hated.

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She brooded about not being part of his scientific circles that she had once struggled to join.

She became even more gloomy and depressed than her natural disposition had often led her to before.

So it was in this instability between them that Albert travelled alone to Berlin during the Easter holidays of 1912 and became reacquainted with a cousin, three years older, whom he had known as a child, Elsa.

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Elsa Einstein had been married, divorced and now at age 36 was living with her two daughters in the same apartment buildings as her parents.

Albert was looking for new companionship and thus began secret romantic correspondence between them.

But after returning to Prague from Berlin, Albert began to develop qualms about his affair with his cousin.

What remained between Mileva and Albert was a feeling that living among the middle class German community in Prague had become wearisome, so they decided to return to the one place they thought could restore their relationship: Zürich.

In July 1912 the Einsteins returned once more to Zürich, where Albert took up a professorship at the Polytechnikum.

Life should have been glorious.

They were able to afford a modern six-room apartment with good views.

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Above: Hofstrasse  116, Zurich

They were reunited with old friends.

But Mileva’s depression continued to deepen and and her health to decline.

After a year of silence, Elsa wrote to Albert.

So, when a few months later, Einstein received an offer to work in Berlin and be with Elsa, he was quite receptive.

This time they lived at Hofstrasse 116 where they remained until February 1914, when Albert became professor at Berlin’s Humboldt University.


Mileva was unhappy in Berlin and their marriage was dissolving.

She had become more depressed, dark and jealous.

He had become emotionally withdrawn.

Mileva became involved with Zagreb mathematics professor Vladimir Varicak who challenged Einstein’s theories.

In July Mileva moved out with the two boys into the house of her only friend Clara Haber and her husband the chemist Fritz.

Albert was prepared to take her back if she agreed to a brutal ultimatum of her duties and responsibilites.

He was prepared to live with Mileva again because he didn’t want to lose his children but it was out of the question that they would resume a friendly relationship but he aimed for a businesslike arrangement.

Mileva and the two boys left for Zürich on 29 July 1914.

She filled her time giving private lessons in mathematics, physics and piano playing.

Einstein returned to Zürich once more in January/February 1919 to lecture on his Theory of Relativity, staying at Hochstrasse 37.

That same year Albert divorced Mileva, giving her the proceeds from his Nobel Prize for her and their children’s support.

Mileva invested the money in three properties in Zürich, occupying one of them herself at Huttenstrasse 62, which has been identified by a memorial plaque since 2005.

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Hans Einstein (1904 – 1973) would go on to study engineering at Zürich Polytechnic, get married, become a father to two sons and a daughter with his first wife Frieda, move to the United States becoming a professor of hydraulic engineering at Berkeley, remarry after Frieda’s death, father two more children.

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Above: Hans Einstein’s final resting place, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA

Eduard Einstein (1910 – 1965) was smart and artistic.

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Obsessed about Freud, Eduard hoped to be a psychiatrist, but he succumbed to his own schizophrenia and was institutionalised in Switzerland for much of the rest of his life at Zürich University Psychiatric Hospital.

Albert would go on to access even greater fame and award, eventually marrying his cousin Elsa.

And what of Mileva?

By the 1930s, the costs of treating Eduard for schizophrenia had overwhelmed her.

She was forced to sell her two investment properties and to transfer the rights to Huttenstrasse to Albert so as not to lose it.

Although he made regular payments to her Mileva died penniless in 1948.

She is buried in an unmarked grave in Zürich’s Nordheim Cemetery and mostly forgotten.

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It was not until 2009 that a memorial gravestone was erected by the Serbian Diaspora Ministry, just inside the cemetery entrance on Käferholzstrasse.

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I visited the places Mileva had known in reverse order from the cemetery to the first apartment she had shared with Albert.

And I found parallels with my own past…

I too had been left behind by my parents like Lieserl.

My mother lies buried in an unmarked grave, but unlike Mileva there is no society to put a plaque on Fort Lauderdale´s cemetery.

Like Mileva I have married a partner more successful professionally than myself, though unlike Mileva I have no illusions about my ever having the same aptitudes as my wife possesses, nor do I feel jealousy or resentment for her success.

Mileva’s partner required that she uproot her life several times to different locations in Zürich and to other cities like Prague and Berlin.

As my wife´s career is more stable than mine, I have moved with/for her from the Black Forest to the Rhine River border near Basel up to Osnabruck and then to this wee village by the Lake of Constance here in Switzerland.

I, like Mileva, am less attractive and outgoing than my spouse.

I, like Mileva, have my own quiet struggles with depression, but, so far, these bouts seem far less serious than those she suffered.

I came from work at the company in Neuhaus dressed for executive type work.

The temperature in Zürich yesterday was 32°, hot and humid.

Elves could have taken a bath in the pools of sweat gathered under my armpits.

Zürich like Rome is built upon hills so seeing the former abodes of the late Mrs. E demanded energy.

Happily if one gets thirsty in Zürich there is no need to find a café or a supermarket because it is quite acceptable to drink from a public fountain.

One never has to travel far to find a fountain because there are few cities with more fountains than Zürich, again compareable to Rome.

At last count, this city boasts a total of around twelve hundred fountains.

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Above: The Napfbrunnen Fountain

With portable Starbucks cup in hand, I drank deeply and often.

Albert, with his great intelligence, achieved great fame and fortune.

Mileva, also possessing great intelligence, gave up fame and fortune for her family.

If Albert was a bad husband and father, history has no record in Mileva’s handwriting.

Her secrets and potential lie buried somewhere beneath the earth of the sprawling necropolis in the metropolis she chose to call home.

Daughter of Serbia, wife of a genius, mother to an abandoned daughter, sons becoming a wandering engineer and an ill schizophrenic, a victim of depression, genetics and passion, Mileva Maric Einstein was many things.

Now she is just a historical footnote lost in the shadows of an uncommunicative cemetery visited by a sweaty Canadian with too much time on his hands.

Mileva had her flaws and made her mistakes, but in the end analysis I am glad I found out about her.

I meet the wife later for a quick bite after her work and before her tango dance lesson and as I watch her speak with drama and passion, and as I consider both are good and bad times I can quietly smile and know that I have met my match, muse, partner, lover, wife, bête noire and antagonist.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I will say that she has made my past quite interesting.

Being a husband ain’t easy, but it sure isn’t boring.


Tim Dowling, How to Be a Husband

Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe

Duncan J.D. Smith, Only in Zürich


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New Switzerland lost and found

Winterthur, 29 January 2016

Wearing my teacher´s hat again this day…conversation class.

Topic of discussion:

The Swiss Family Robinson, written by pastor Johann David Wyss (1812), edited by his son Johann Rudolf Wyss and illustrated by his son Johann Emmanuel Wyss, is a story about a Swiss family shipwrecked in the East Indies en route to Australia.


The novel was intended to teach his four sons about family values, good husbandry, the uses of the natural world and self-reliance.

Wyss’ attitude toward education is in line with the teachings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau:

“The noblest work in education is to make a reasoning man, and we expect to train a young child by making him reason!

This is beginning at the end.

This is making an instrument of a result.

If children understood how to reason they would not need to be educated.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile

Many of the episodes have to do with Christian-oriented moral lessons.

The adventures are presented as a series of lessons in natural history and the physical sciences, and resemble other, similar educational books for children of this period, such as Charlotte Turner Smith´s Rural Walks: in Dialogues intended for the use of Young Persons (1795), Rambles Further: A continuation of Rural Walks (1796), A Natural History of Birds, intended chiefly for young persons (1807).

But the novel differs in that it is modeled on Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, a genuine adventure story, and presents a geographically impossible array of large mammals, birds and plants that could never have existed together on a single island for the children’s education, nourishment, clothing and convenience.

Robinson is not a Swiss name, but rather it is used to show that the family is living in the Crusoe manner.

“It was the 7th day of the storm.

We didn´t know where we were.

Everyone on the ship believed that death was very near.”

(Johann David Wyss, The Swiss Family Robinson)

The ship survives and the family find themselves on a tropical desert island.

The book covers two years and during this time the family explores various environments around the island.

The Unicorn, a ship from Europe, arrives and offers to rescue the family, but they remain, preferring to live tranquilly on their island of New Switzerland.

My job as teacher is to encourage my students to discuss what they read and to further explore themes raised by the book.

I ask questions like:

  • Your ship has hit rocks.  You have to leave quickly and swim to an island.  You can only take three things.  What would you take?
  • It is your first night on the island.  It is dark and you are lying on a bed of dry grass.  How do you feel?
  • You are going to be alone on an island for six months.  You can take one book, one CD and have one favourite meal.  What would they be?
  • You´ve been on the island for a long time.  How would you get off the island if you thought rescue wasn´t coming?
  • You are a parent of four boys, stranded together on the island.  As their sole educator, what will you insist the boys learn?

We discuss questions of geography:

  • What is the largest country? the richest? the poorest?
  • In which country are you likely to live longest?
  • Which is the longest river? the tallest mountain?
  • What are the capital cities of…?

…that kind of thing.

I show them a map of an island of marshes and caves, forest and grassland, edible and dangerous animals, ocean and river.

Where would you search for food? for shelter?

How would you defend yourself?

How would you maintain your health?

How would you deal with the role of religion and the reality of death?

How would you generate industry and trade?

How would entertainment happen?

As we discuss these questions, I find myself wondering:

Has every discovery been made? Every adventure had?

Is there no more uncharted territory? No unmapped places? No nameless corners remaining? No unruly places that defy expectation?

How can we certain?

I think that this question matters.

Although we live with the expectation that the world is fully visible and exhaustively known, we also need places that allow our thoughts to roam unimpeded.

As we attain knowledge, we need to understand that we lose something in its attainment.

We need undiscovered islands.

We need New Switzerland.

I don´t want to live on a world that is totally known.

I want a world that still has the capacity to surprise me.

So either we must look at the ordinary in a new way or we must create a world of imagination.

Let´s boldly go where no one has gone before.

Welcome to New Switzerland, the undiscovered country.

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 lunar mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.




The future: Older dog, newer tricks

Winterthur, Switzerland: 26 January 2016

Wirbeltiere aus aller Welt

Generally speaking I am not a fan of natural museums, for they often seem to me to be: well, unnatural.

“On the Mounted Animal Nature Trail, you’ll be sure to see
All Mother Nature’s favourite pets, all sitting rigidly.
They’re never hungry any more, their last meal left them stuffed.
Don’t worry, they won’t walk away if you try and pet their fluff.

And the dog goes…(silence)
And the cow goes…(silence)
And the bear goes…(silence)
And the pig goes…(silence)
And the crow goes caw! I guess it was alive.
You can see all this
On the Mounted Animal Nature Trail.

Arrogant Worms, “Mounted Animal Nature Trail”

Completely Canadian Compilation

To be fair, I will visit them along with whatever museums happen to be around a new place, but, more often than not, I find myself leaving depressed and disappointed rather than glad I stopped by.

I have visited natural museums in Ottawa, Freiburg im Briesgau, Zürich, Winterthur, etc., hoping against hope that these monoliths to nature will captivate me more than they do.

And there are brief moments when they do.

Ottawa impresses with the sheer size and age of its buildings.


Freiburg celebrates spring every year with live baby chicks and bunnies for the child in all of us to feel delight in.

The Zoological Museum of the University of Zürich has an impressive corner 3D mural inside its halls.

Adam Kerr's photo.


Adam Kerr's photo.

The rats are as big as bears…

Adam Kerr's photo.

You can almost feel the motion of the sea as you travel the oceans in search of natural wonders.

And in a quiet and powerful way one is reminded of two powerful ideas:

  1. In comparison to the actual age of the planet, man´s presence is barely registerable.
  2. And this too shall pass.  Who knows what/who will replace man in the millennia to come?

What would some future archaeologist make of our civilisation?

“I’ve seen the future, brother:
it is murder.

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing
You can measure anymore
The blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul.”

Leonard Cohen, “The Future”

In my typical fashion of overthinking, the fossilised Coca Cola bottle got me pondering…

How will I be remembered when I´m gone?

“I look around me,
But all I seem to see,
Is people going nowhere,
Expecting sympathy

It’s like we’re going through the motions,
Of a scripted destiny
Tell me where’s our inspiration,
If life won´t wait,
I guess it’s up to me.

Procrastination, running circles in my head
While you sit there contemplating,
You wound up left for dead (left for dead)
Life is what happens, while you’re busy making your excuses
Another day, another casualty
And that won’t happen to me.

Because every wasted day becomes a wasted chance
You’re gonna wake up feeling sorry,
Because life won’t wait,
I guess it’s up to you.

We’ll leave the past in the past,
Gonna find the future
If misery loves company well,
So long, you’ll miss me when I’m gone.

Simple Plan, “When I´m Gone”

Landschlacht, Switzerland: 29 January 2016

As the first month of this New Year draws to a close, I consider my own legacy.

Last year I wrote of some plans and ideas I had for this blog:

To those brave souls who have faithfully followed this blog since its genesis on 18 May 2015, and have loyally read all posts that came before, you will have noticed that I have tended to write in three directions:

– Opinion about world events and current affairs
– History (why things are and how they got that way)
– Personal thoughts about events and encounters in my daily life

For the Chronicles of Canada Slim, I will continue to do so, hoping that former readers as well as new followers will get the same pleasure and thoughtfulness in reading them as I put into writing them.

Look for my newest blogs soon:

The Forest of Shadows: “Sometimes evil doesn’t die” (My novel released in serial form)(Feedback and criticism most welcome)

The Anglo Guide to Switzerland: “Life, work and play in the Land of the Edelweiss” (Complimentary, not competitive with others’ existing blogs)

Making It Work: “English for Employment” (mit deutsch Wortschatz)(Perhaps later “avec vocabulaire francais”)”

(See Old Dog, New Tricks of this blog.)

What has happened since?

Well, as my wife would often complain…

I lack discipline and focus, but, hey, a man can begin to change, eh?

I have decided that the Anglo Guide and Making It Work are not really what motivates me, so I have, for now, abandoned these ideas, or at least these ideas will become a part of the Chronicles of Canada Slim.

As for the Forest of Shadows

Thanks to the wonderful couple, Natalie and Ricardo Utsumi who set up this blog for me, I now have a second blog, a blog I want to regularly contribute to as much as I have to this one.

Building Everest: The Writing of Canada Slim will be restricted to novels and short stories, including The Forest of Shadows, I am writing and one day hope to see published.

Check out, starting tomorrow!

In the sheer grand scale of the future unwritten and the universe to come, my words will probably be forgotten.

But one can dream, eh?

Timely sensations of sex in the city

Winterthur, Switzerland: 26 January 2016

View of the old town

I have very little experience of Winterthur as a tourist as I work as a teacher here twice a week.

Ute, my wife, is constantly complaining that I need to get out more and acquire some culture in my life.

And whenever she is at home I allow her to drag me to the occasional museum or concert, theatre play or restaurant.

Letting her do so is not only good for the relationship but she hopes that exposure to a little culture might have a civilising effect on the Canadian barbarian she married.

It´s nice that she remains hopeful!

I have spoken of Winterthur before in this blog…

(See Life Among the Winti of this blog.)

But I have not done much exploring of this city, the 6th biggest in Switzerland, before.

With the exception of a job interview in St. Gallen this morning, my day was free today, so why not see a few of the museums in Winterthur that I had proudly boasted about?

Winterthur´s most popular attraction is the Oskar Reinhart Collection in two locations: Römerholz (Roman Wood) and Stadtgarten (City Garden).

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Oskar Reinhart Collection, Römerholz, Winterthur

Oskar Reinhart Collection, Stadtgarten, Winterthur

This large art gallery was the life´s work of local industrialist Oskar Reinhart, who channeled a large proportion of his vast wealth into acquiring fine works of art.

Oskar Reinhart

“Oskar Reinhart (1885–1965), born into an old family of Winterthur merchants, was one of the most important art collectors and patrons in Switzerland.

His mother, Lilly Reinhart-Volkart (1855–1916), was heir to his grandfather’s company – Volkart Brothers, which was founded in 1851.

His father Theodor Reinhart (1849–1919) expanded the company and successfully pioneered trade between India and continental Europe.

As early as 1907, when still a trainee in his parents’ company, Oskar Reinhart began to collect old master and modern prints.

He did not, however, acquire the bulk of his art collection until after his father’s death.

Until 1924, Oskar Reinhart remained an active – and until 1939 a silent – partner of the Volkart trading company.

Thus, he devoted himself entirely to expanding his art collection.

In addition, he served in various public bodies such as the Gottfried Keller Foundation…”

(See Down the Rhine, Up the Glatt: the Poet´s Path of this blog.)

“While his brother George (1877–1955) and Werner (1884-1951) controlled the company until 1952.

In 1924, Oskar Reinhart purchased a mansion at Am Römerholz, which he converted into his private residence and which he furnished with exquisite works of art.

In 1936, Reinhart helped the Munich-based art dealer Fritz Nathan to immigrate into Switzerland.

In 1941, he also attempted – together with Fritz Nathan and Walter Feilchenfeldt – to enable Max Liebermann’s widow to emigrate to Switzerland.

Furthermore he was mindful not to purchase any artwork from dubious sources during the Third Reich.

He did, however, under the impression of the events of time, create the Oskar Reinhart Foundation on 10 October 1940 and donated his works by German, Austrian and Swiss artists from the 18th to early 20th century to this foundation.

Due to the War, the old school building adjacent to the Stadtgarten that had been remodelled as a museum for the foundation was not opened until 1951.

Reinhart left the collection of paintings and drawings by German, Dutch, English, Italian, Spanish and French Old Masters as well as Impressionists that he had kept in his private house Römerholz to the Swiss Government, while his print collection was given to the Oskar Reinhart Foundation.

The Oskar Reinhart Museum houses around 500 paintings and sculptures from the end of the 18th to the mid-20th century from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, as well as around 7,000 prints and drawings from the 15th to 20th century.

In terms of German art from the 19th century, the Museum is the worldwide leading institution outside of Germany regarding its wealth and quality.

The criteria that Julius Meier-Graefe, Hugo von Tschudi and Alfred Lichtwark had set in 1906 at the Centennial Exhibition of German Art in Berlin were decisive for the Collection as Swiss and Austrian artists were also represented in this exhibition.

This event was significant, because it triggered a revaluation of German paintings:

Everything academic and historically emotive was excluded.

Instead, the exhibition simply featured romantic poetry in image form, living naturalism in realism and the picturesque.

At the same time, artists such as Caspar David Friedrich, Georg Friedrich Kersting and Carl Blechen were rescued from oblivion thanks to this exhibition, whilst the exhibition represented the transnational significance of Hans von Marées, Wilhelm Leibl and Hans Thoma for the first time ever.

Oskar Reinhart saw the legendary Centennial Exhibition and integrated more than twenty works that were exhibited there into his Collection throughout the course of his life.

This included renowned paintings by Arnold Böcklin, Wilhelm Leibl and Anselm Feuerbach.”

(Sammelung Oskar Reinhart)

This is all well and good to know…

But even though it is a Tuesday, the admissions line to see the Museum at Stadtgarten stretches down the broad staircase, along the street and around the corner.

I count, conservatively, at least 300 visitors waiting to get in, with waiting time at least an hour.

Though it is not quite as long as the lines at the Louvre in Paris, I have little patience for standing for a long time in a long line to visit an overly crowded museum.

Instead I head to the nearby Gewerbemuseum.

The Gewerbemuseum (in English: trade museum) has little to do with industry and more to do with pop culture – the entirety of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, images, and other phenomena that are within the mainstream of Western culture today.

Heavily influenced by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of our society.

The most common pop culture categories are: entertainment (movies, music, TV), sports, news (people/places in the news), politics, fashion/clothes, technology, and slang.

It could be viewed as trivial, superficial, consumerist, sensationalist and corrupt or simply good for a laugh.

Three highlights of the Museum today:

  • “Nirvana: Strange forms of pleasure” exhibition
  • the Kellenberger Clock and Watch Collection
  • the Materials Archive

I begin with the clock collection.

“Konrad Kellenberger (1907-1976) was born in Wienacht, Canton Appenzell.

After his training as a metal worker, he was employed as a lab technician at the Winterthur branch of Zürich´s University of Applied Sciences.

Already at 18 years old, Kellenberger began to collect clocks and watches, acquiring a great deal of knowledge in this field.

As a self-taught horologist he restored much of his budding collection himself.”


Kellenberger was a true independent scholar.

(See Underdog University of this blog.)

His collection has attracted visitors from all over the world.

It is a fascinating journey through time.

(See On Time of this blog.)

Upstairs, NIRVANA is remarkable by its contrast.

“The desire for sensual pleasure and seduction is constantly inspiring new fantasies and pleasure can still be experienced through all the senses, even in the digital age.

Mustafa Sabbagh, 'Just in Black', 2014 (1)

The NIRVANA exhibition uses over 200 objects and installations to explore the influence of the erotic on design, fashion and contemporary art, showing how the form, materials and levels of meaning of erotic and fetishistic worlds can be interpreted anew.


Artists and designers from all over the world make use of secret hints, playful allusions and humorous references to ‘the best thing in the world’ in order to present the sensual universe in a fresh way.


Superior workmanship and quality materials, such as leather, glass, velvet and precious metals, which we associate with luxury goods and traditional craftsmanship, feature strongly.

The exhibition is at once a plea for a creative, fantasy-rich approach to the erotic and a tribute to the seductive force of form and material.”


Carrie Bradshaw would wax poetic over the high heels selection.

SATC Title.jpg

To my innocent country boy´s eyes I am in a fetish museum.

Clearly, Toto, I am no longer in Canada.

Fifty Shades of Gray is vanilla in Nirvana´s many flavours, and I am discovering there are many tastes I have yet to experience.

I flee upstairs to the Materials Archive, hoping to calm my racing pulse and disoriented emotions.

I find answers to questions I did not know I was asking:

“Which fragrance makes leather seductive?

What does silk, latex or rubber smell like?

How does amber and musk preserve the scent of a human being?” (Gewerbemuseum)

Above: Gabrielle Anwar/Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman 

“The scent of materials is a series of odoriferous and listening stations focusing on the olfactory peculiarities of sensual materials.

Wilhelm - Der Duft der Materialien

You can sniff wax and resins, explore the attraction of scents such as iris, sandalwood or spruce, sample an aphrodisiac or discover the difference between the smell of a two hundred franc note and a cookbook.”


Learn what the nose knows.

My mind is dazed, my senses overwhelmed, my imagination aflame.

What remained of my innocence is lost.

I have reached Nirvana.