The Shape of Time (Sand Art II)

No, these dunes are not pink. The Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is purposefully misnamed, but it is still a place worth visiting.

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The cream-orange colored sand offers home to a variety of life forms, all of which seem to be eager to leave some sort of trace. Here, this is in vain, as the rough high altitude has slowed down time. Any efforts of growth are reduced, and feeble attempts of drawing in the sand have become minimalistic.

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Often, it is impossible to discern whether the specimens are still alive or dead.

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But, even if dead, there is still art that can be shaped.

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Stronger forces are attempting to leave longer lasting traces.

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Fortunately, the State Park officer is armed, and time will reduce these tracks quickly to their proper relevance.

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Japanese Gardens

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In À rebours (Against the Grain), the novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans (who features prominently in Michel Houellebecq’s timely novel Soumission), the ‘hero’ Jean des Esseintes furnishes his bedroom as to look as cheaply as possible, using the most expensive materials. In some sense, traditional Japanese gardens are trying something similar: They are designed to look as natural as possible, but simultaneously without any flaws.

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Even the mosses are selected carefully as ground covers to suit their destined location. This is a photographer’s paradise, because literally every view is perfect. No fallen branches or other imperfections spoil the view.

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Often, these nature gardens are contrasted with rock gardens, that are minimalized abstractions of nature.

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The combed patterns of pebbles near islands of rocks or vegetation look like waves at first glance, but reveal a stronger sense for geometric abstraction when looked at from a greater distance. Instead of showing a physically realistic interference of wave patterns, we see a layering of shapes.

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These pictures were taken when I had the chance to stay in Kyoto for two days. This is a city of great tensions between layers of a conserved past and an unknown future. What unifies it is the strong presence of contemplation one can find everywhere.

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Sand Art

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The dune grass or marram grass or ammophila which can be found at the coast of Lake Michigan (for instance) is an interesting plant. It likes to watch and protect the border between the lake and the sand, protecting the latter with its extensive root systems.

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Its religion is that of the wind. Its longest stalks barely touch the ground, but when swayed by the wind, they leave traces in a indecipherable language.

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It is precise, beautiful, and temporary.

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And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, but the grass did it anyway.

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What human artist would dare to compete?

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The Ehrbach Klamm

Germany is a rather densely populated country. I used to think that wherever you are, you can hear a car. You can find an exception in one of the least populated areas of Germany, the rural Hunsrück. This is, incidentally, the region where most of Edgar Seitz’ TV/movie series Heimat (most highly recommended) takes place. This region is bordered by three of the most famous German wine region, the Mosel, the Rheingau, and the Nahe. As a consequence of this surrounding fame, the region itself, which appears to the casual visitor as mostly flat and agricultural, is largely ignored.

There is, however, a peculiar valley, that transports you back several centuries and lets you experience one of the wildest sceneries in Germany. This is the Ehrbach Klamm. Hiking through this valley is a popular summer excursion, so that on busy weekends it can become rather crowded. Not so in early January, when snowfall, freezing rain and low temperatures make the Klamm almost impassable.

Let’s begin by taking a train to Boppard in the Rhine valley. From there, one can either take another local train to Buchholz, or warm up and climb the steep riverside mountains. The latter allows views back that might or might not appeal, depending on weather and taste.

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After a while the trail flattens, and the breaking sun rewards the effort with nice views of ice covered trees.

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After crossing a highway bridge and passing through Buchholz, the trail follows the Ehrbach, which is at the beginning a pleasant stream,
but becomes larger and wilder during the hike. Needless to say, in winter it will display countless frozen waterfalls.

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There are few settlements along the way, including a water mill and a restaurant where (during the warmer seasons) guests can rest and eat fresh trout, prepared quite traditionally.

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After passing the Eckmühle, the proper Ehrbachklamm begins, rather dramatically. The valley becomes narrow, and the trail is often hewn into rock and secured with ropes.

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Bridges sometimes help to cross the stream.

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Niches between rocks offer beautiful miniature frozen landscapes.

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Occasionally the trail becomes dangerous in winter. Be properly equipped and don’t go by yourself. I didn’t meet a single person during the 16km hike.

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In Summer, one can climb up to the ruins of the Rauschenburg and muse about medieval life. This detour I did not dare in winter.

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Close to the end, the gorge opens up into one of the most desolate landscapes Germany has to offer.

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The rest of the hike is a rather tedious descent to the Mosel village Brodenbach, where one can catch the occasional bus to the train station in Koblenz.

Berlin Hautbahnof

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After the reunification of Germany and in particular Berlin, a new central railway station became necessary in Berlin, as the respective eastern and western main railway stations would not suffice the demands of traffic and prestige.

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It has been built on the site of the former Lehrter Bahnhof, using a design by architect Meinhard von Gerkan.

The tracks run on two different levels, meeting at a right angle. The top level has a spectacular glass roof:

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The inside is less confusing as one might expect. The open architecture allows quick orientation. Also, different functional components are clearly differentiated in the architecture, giving each area its own distinctive feel.

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The elevators are both integrated and easily recognizable. This is function and form in perfect harmony.

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I imagine that the nameless city in which Kazuo Ishiguro’s masterpiece The Unconsoled takes place would be full of buildings like the Hauptbahnhof. One can almost hear Mullery’s Verticality while moving through its vast, treeless spaces.

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