Sunday, April 26, 2009

What about that project thing?

When I got back to Bonn, I met Mike, a graduate student from the University of Michigan. He has working with some of the sauropod material in the department and weeks ago I had offered my dorm as a free place to crash. He had arrived in town the day I left for Berlin, so he had the place to himself for a week.

When I got back, I inflated the air mattress and had a roommate for the next week. He was furiously collecting data, and inspired me to swing into my own research with new verve. I started analyzing the claws I had picked through, digitizing the outlines of the digits to see if the variability in their structure had anything to do with the way the animal moved through the environment. The looming deadline was April 20th when abstracts for next year’s Society for Vertebrate Paleontology meeting would be due.

Along with exploring the mysteries of the fossils under the microscope and on trays, Mike wanted to explore the Rhineland a bit. In his wanderings he checked out Beethoven’s house, and discovered “James Joyce” an Irish Pub down an alley near the center of town. I had no idea such a thing existed so Mike, Koen – a Belgian graduate student in Bonn who is also studying sauropod dinosaurs – and I set off for James Joyce, looking forward to pints of Guinness. They didn’t serve it. We looked around the pub at the cushy chairs and copious Guinness signage and didn’t quite know what to say. “What about Beamish?” I asked, pointing to a sign hanging over a nearby table. “Sorry.” Finally we had something that tasted like Smithicks. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t Guinness. Mike apologized for finding the one Irish pub on the planet that doesn’t serve stout. We told him not to worry. I need to check out those armchairs at some point in the near future.

He also needed to see the Dom in Cologne. Koen, Mike, and I worked furiously to justify taking half a day to go see my favorite cathedral. Mike was appropriately awed by his first glimpse of the nave. I kept my commentary to myself, leading the small group around the altar to the significant religious and artistic artifacts. When there would be a question about the relics of the three kings or the windows, I would supply the answer, as far as I could. Koen noticed I seemed to know my bible stories and started pointing to random panes, asking me to tell the story. I did. “How do you know all this?” “Well, I guess scriptures class in high school helped…” “Oh, that’s it.” I thought about it a bit, and actually, that’s not quite it.
Windows telling the stories of Noah and Joseph. One of my favorites in the Dom.

After eight months of exploring churches and art museums I can tell you how to tell St. Bartholomew from St. Simon (one has a knife, the other a saw) and the story of Susanna. I feel like this should be part of the standard European student’s knowledge bank since it’s all so physically close. But that proximity means it’s taken for granted. In an increasingly secular Europe, churches and museums that house their artifacts are seen as antiquated and are usually ignored. I’m not asking Europeans to become religious zealots but the apathy towards the vibrant history of this continent is a little hard to deal with for an American who’s dreamed of immersing himself in this history for at least a dozen years.

A mosaic depicting an archbishop with the original church that stood where the current cathedral broods (maybe?).

The shrine holding the relics of the three kings. This thing is one of the largest reliquaries in Christendom. It's huge and it's gorgeous.

Our next stop was the Roman History Museum in Cologne. The German name for the city is Köln, and the Romans called it Colonia, as in, The Colony (short or “Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium”). It was a large port of trade for receiving goods from Northern Europe, and was one of the largest cities in Europe for most of the last two millennia. This means archeologists get pretty busy every time someone builds a new house or parking garage.

Who wants to bust out their Latin skills with me? Koen did.

The museum is filled with coins, lamps, gaming pieces and sandals; the average necessities of Roman life. The museum also features more spectacular artifacts like the Dionysus mosaic, a near perfect mosaic that once lay beneath the feet of a wealthy patrician when he feasted. The mosaic was uncovered in 1941 during construction of an air raid shelter. The museum was built on the spot to protect the delicate artifact.
The mosaic is about forty by twenty. That's a whole lot of little tiles.

We wandered through displays on military religious sects and family life until we were chased out by guards who presumably wanted to be at home spending time with their families.

That weekend, Mike took off for Paris while I furiously photographed and analyzed fossils while orchestrating my next trip: Prague. Czech.

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