On the road: Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, Days 9-10

Posted by David Eicher
on Thursday, November 03, 2011

Last Saturday, October 29, the group of Astronomy magazine readers I was traveling with reached Munich, Germany, after spending the previous week in Stuttgart, Prague, and Vienna. We had been tracing the footsteps of Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and Carl Zeiss, and having a good time with the history of astronomy and lots of European restaurants. Now it was time to make our way back to Germany, and the generally cloudy and cool weather we had experienced broke wide open into blue skies and sunshine when we reached the mountains surrounding Salzburg, Austria.

The world-famous Rathaus-Glockenspiel on Munich's Neues Rathaus in the city's central Marienplatz was constructed in 1908 and puts on a show several times a day with its amazingly crafted figures. Credit: Dave Eicher
The trip was amazing, and our small group of 15 enjoyed every minute of it, largely due to superb planning by Melita Thorpe of MWT Associates, the tour organizer. We had not had general guides here and there, but instead astronomers and physicists leading us to see Kepler’s birthplace, the medieval astronomical clock in Prague, Tycho’s tomb, Kepler’s Prague house, the Zeiss optical museum, and numerous sites in Vienna. I had given three lectures on astronomy during the week and was ready to dissolve into simple fun, and that would be the schedule in Munich.

We toured the city on bus to get the layout of Munich (I had been there three years ago, mostly concentrating on World War II-related sites). We enjoyed seeing the spectacular Nymphenburg Palace; the famous Rathaus-Glockenspiel at the Neues Rathaus, which performed for us at 5 p.m. with its dancing figures; and other magnificent buildings, some of which were reminders of Munich’s darker past — as with the Führerbau, a huge building that now houses an art college but once held Hitler’s office and was the site of the signing of the Munich Accord.

In great fashion, we ended the trip on Sunday the 30th by attending the Mineralientage, a.k.a. the Munich Mineral Show, the world’s largest event for mineral and rock collectors, gemologists, beaders, jewelry makers, and meteorite collectors. More than 1,500 dealers from 56 countries were on hand to show off their wares at the enormous Trade Fair Center east of the city. (If you’re crying foul over me discussing minerals here, remember that Earth is a planet, too, and that minerals give us our best look at planetary geology — how the universe combines atoms and builds planets.)

It was a staggering event. I must have looked at half a million rocks over the nine hours I was there, and I came away with 56 new ones for my collection. I also ran into some friends who are busily promoting mineralogy and meteorite science to a young generation much as many of us are promoting the associated science of astronomy to a new generation. British mineralogist Jolyon Ralph is the founder of the Web’s most successful site regarding minerals, Mindat.org — I encourage you to check it out. A colleague of his, Swiss mineralogist Chris Mavris, is working on finishing up his Ph.D., and is enthusiastic as he discusses minerals and what we know about planets in the solar system. Another friend is the impressive Mike Rumsey, a skilled young mineralogist who is the curator of the collection at the Natural History Museum, London. And equally as impressive is the Dutch mineralogist, adventurer, and collector Frank de Wit, who takes people on excursions to mines and gathers many specimens in unusual locales himself. Frank certainly had the quotation of the week as he carefully unwrapped a black matrix piece coated with hundreds of tiny crystals of native selenium (which is highly toxic): “Dave, don’t breathe unless you have to.”

It was a fantastic trip and a great time, and I hope to see some more Astronomy readers on future trips the magazine will sponsor. Next year is going to be a big one. We have an annular eclipse in the American Southwest (May), the last transit of Venus any of us will ever see, with our trip going to Hawaii (June), and the big total solar eclipse everyone has been waiting for in Australia (November).

To see pictures from my trip so far, check out the Astronomy.com Trips and Tours page.

Related blogs
On the road:
Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic
Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, Days 1-4
Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, Days 5-6
Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, Day 7-8

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