Repair Building

All buildings need repairs from time to time. For most of them the basic structure is solid enough so that isolation or maintenance will do. However, 100 years old buildings that have lived through 2 wars might have deep rooted deficiencies that are not visible at first glance. This can be observed in Berlin near the city center in a popular neighborhood with many visitors in „Schöneberg“ sometimes translated as „pretty hill“. The building at the crossroads seems to have been renovated only a few years ago, but the static of the building is so unstable that the city council has decided to block the whole crossing for circulation due to the danger of an imminent collapse of the building. The neighborhood has mixed feelings. It is great that the danger has been identified in time and blocking the road reduces the nuisance of traffic in the surroundings full of restaurants and cafes. The cover up of the repairs and renovation at the building is shocking as there appears to be just paint over basic structural faults. Construction work has failed to detect and prevent the static risks. An inspectorate that acts promptly to avoid bigger disasters is a societal asset.

Citizens Gardens

There are multiple ways to link citizens to gardens. Most people would link citizens to the property of their own garden. This is more the perspective of people from the countryside. The aim of citizens who can afford it have a garden, many others wish to have one and all of them enjoy public garden spaces. An intermediate version of the public versus private property of citizens’ garden is the joint ownership of groups of like-minded people to work together in the shared property or rented garden space. The recreational and health effects are well documented, if care is exercised with utensils etc. Spring is the ideal time to join projects again as the results of a little bit of gardening will be visible and enjoyable for several months afterwards. Gardens are also meeting points for people of all walks of life as in the vicinity of the European Parliament in Brussels. The Citizens’ Garden has a different function to people gardening there. When you puzzled about Europe after a visit to the Parliament or the Museum of the History of Europe, then it is time for a stroll and relax in the garden nearby.
Alternatively, the Exhibition Centre of Tour & Taxis in Brussels not too far away from the North train station has an impressive indoor garden for the times of rough weather conditions. At the time of the book fair culture in the indoor garden made a splendid combination. There is a green version of Europe. It is like a small plant. It needs a lot of time and care to grow.

Forest Management

Responsible forest management is key. To safeguard against the loss of biodiversity the management of forests can achieve a great deal as the study in Nature of 2024-4-10 has demonstrated. Reducing hunting by humans in dense tropical forests allows bigger species to survive and thrive compared to forests with easy access by roads. FSC certification of forests helps significantly to protect wildlife. The ability to ameliorate biodiversity of forests is assisted by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) through the responsible management, preservation and limitation of access to wild forests. This is an important message that in fact it is still possible to preserve wildlife also of larger species if we only really commit to the cause. It is well worth to support such initiatives and monitor the progress. Of course, any such success attracts new hunters and a continuation of the FSC efforts is needed for the benefit of the whole biodiversity on our planet as there is no planet B.

Berlin Zoo 2024

L’Albatros

Charles Baudelaire has immortalized the albatross in his poem entitled “L’Albatros”. For me it appears like a poem about the beauty of the sea and sea life. The marvelous creatures that populate the sea and its surroundings sometimes seem strange to us. The albatross with its large wings unable to move properly on earth is one of these special animals. They are threatened by human beings in their very survival up to extinction even. A dedicated website to “Les fleurs du mal” with multiple English translations of the same poem may give us the impression that all those who translated the poem wanted to feel this little moment of sublimation like a poet just forgetting for a little while the weight of our earthly existence. The gospel tells us a similar story of life up in the air. It must be so much better to be free and not to be bound to restrictions of gravity. As gods would prefer to stay away from earth just somewhere up in space. The albatross and the sea keep teaching us lessons beyond their physical appearance. (Image bird “dodo” now extinct, model in Berlin Natural History Museum 2024)

Mehr vom Meer

Wir sollten uns mehr um das Meer kümmern. Länder ohne Küsten finden meistens wenig Gründe, warum sie sich um das Meer bemühen sollten. Es ist doch so weit weg. Weit gefehlt. Erderwärmung erhöht die Meerestemperaturen und das wiederum beeinflusst massgeblich die Regenfälle im Inneren der Kontinente. Wir sitzen buchstäblich alle zusammen in einem Boot. Historisch betrachtet war das Meer mindestens seit der Antike Teil des machtpolitischen Kalküls der Beherrschung der Welt und der sie Bewohnenden. Wirtschaftliche Interessen waren ebenfalls Bestandteil der Erkundung und Eroberung des Meeresraums. Die Hansestädte in Europa bieten dazu noch heute gute Beispiele. Nach dem Sklavenhandel sind heute die Überseekabel und Rohstoffe des Meeres die begehrten Schätze des Meeres. Der Artenreichtum der Tiefsee wird erst seit kurzer Zeit intensiver erforscht. Externalisieren von Kosten des Umweltschutzes zu Lasten unserer Meere hat noch wenig Berücksichtigung in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft gefunden. Tourismus- und Migrationsströme zum Meer, auf dem Meer und über das Meer stellen uns vor große Herausforderungen. Wir werden sicherlich mehr über das Meer reden müssen, und das ist keine Mär. Image aus „Europa und das Meer“ (DHM).

Das Meer

Wir haben vielfältige Beziehungen zum Meer. Diese reichen von romantisch geprägten Gefühlen zum Meer, den Wellen und den Fischen bis zur wissenschaftlichen Befassung mit den Meeren, Mangroven und dem Klimawandel. 71% der Erdoberfläche besteht aus Meeren. Das sollte den Festlandbewohnenden eigentlich klar machen, wie wichtig Meere für unseren Planeten sind. „Ocean Literacy“ nennt die UNESCO das. Neben Lesen, Schreiben und Rechnen sollte die Literalität auf unsere Ozeane ausgedehnt werden bevor es zu spät ist. Verschmutzung der Meere passiert hauptsächlich im Verborgenen. Lediglich Beobachtung aus dem Weltraum kann die weitläufigen Routen der Verschmutzenden zumindest teilweise nachverfolgen. Vielleicht hilft die Rückkehr zu der romantischen Sicht auf die Meere eines „William Turner“ zu einer höheren Wertschätzung der Meere, dem Licht und den Wellen.
Die kleine Sammlung von Gedichten „Das Meer“, erschienen im Reclam Verlag, ist eine gute Reisebegleitung für Begeisterte des Meeres. Darin findet sich eine Vielzahl von renommierten Schreibenden, die ihre Faszination des Meeres zum Ausdruck bringen. Mein momentaner Favorit ist Wolfgang Borchert darin (S.41-42) „Muscheln, Muscheln“.
Muscheln, Muscheln, blank und bunt,
findet man als Kind.

Muscheln, Muscheln, bunt und blank,
fand man einst als Kind!

Zoo Visit

The visit of a zoo is always a great event. Accordingly the prices of a visit have reached levels that are beyond prices for a cinema entry. Usually a whole day is spent with high emotions watching animals sleeping, walking or eating. Sometimes we can watch a training session or a brief medical intervention. Learning about the beauty of biodiversity is important because we treasure more what we like. Looking into the eyes of an animal stimulates affection. Gathering support for the preservation of ecosystems was and still is a great effort. And yet, we have to move beyond preservation to the restoration of ecosystems like in the UNDP projects (Link). Animal parks can contribute to this if we encourage such cooperation and co-financing. The awareness, understanding and willingness to engage in restoration projects is largely increased after the visit of a zoo. A second round effect is the potential to reduce international travel to destinations with rich animal diversity. Restoration is a win-win situation for wildlife habitat and our planet as a whole.

Disappeared

We talk a lot in abstract terms of the loss of biodiversity. In the Museums of Natural History, like the one in Berlin, we can follow the trajectory of extinction of species. The dinosaurs are for most children the greatest attraction. No surprise, they are the biggest ones we have had on our planet. But there is a huge collection of disappeared species represented in the museums which we admire as a lost treasure or species threatened with extinction. Evolution had also created this rather big bird-like creature of the “dodo”. It couldn’t fly anymore and was inhabiting the splendid island of Mauritius. Hungry colonists passing have most likely literally eaten up this rather defenseless animal. Many other extinct species can be admired now only in museums and children feel naturally attached to some species that seem to have human expressions. Panda bears and gorillas rank high on such a list, but also some fish, especially if they smile or look at you straight into your eyes. This should help us take biodiversity and biodegradation more seriously. Children feel intuitively attracted to animals as natural companions. Something we have lost as adults and most of do not even realize this as a deficiency. The Nobel price winning author frm Mauritius has published a collection of short stories „Avers“ which captures the spirit of the island and the loss of species. J.M.G.Le Clézio seems to look at us through the eyes of children or a disappeared species. Magic moments are an escape as well as reason for hope.

Natural History Museum Berlin 2024

Fertility BPS-SPB

Fertility is another example of the co-determination of the biological, psychological and societal spheres of life. The latest available data for Germany and Sweden in 2023 show a remarkable decline of 10% in the seasonally adjusted Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in both countries (Bujard, Andersson 2024). The TFR was at 1.3 in Germany and 1.5 in Sweden. This means both countries are well below their population replacement rate. In both countries the populations will shrink further. There are no easy answers to the question: why?
The co-determination of the biological, psychological and societal spheres of life seems to be combined driving force. The biological clocks are ticking for women who delayed birth. Maybe pollution of drinking water or PFAS, nanoparticles of plastics disturb fertility. Psychological reasons such as increased anxieties due to the Covid-19 pandemic, lock downs or closed schools have left parents without adequate support for 2 years. Isolation or loneliness could have delayed partnerships and fertility as a consequence. The social environment has also provided additional uncertainty as the cost of living has risen and affordable housing for families is scarce in both countries.
We have probably underestimated the effects of the “Zeitenwende” on people’s mind sets. Sweden has suddenly sought to join NATO to achieve a broader military safety net for its people. In Germany the experience of damages due to war or as a consequence of Russian occupied territory is very present in people’s mind. The war of Russia in Ukraine may have increased uncertainties, anxieties beyond the immediate effects of higher living costs, interest rates or prices for energy. At best fertility might only be delayed for some years, but the consequences of shrinking populations need to be taken seriously. Making societies more welcoming for children and their parents is part of the solution.

Sleeping BPS-SPB

Sleeping is a good example of the co-determination of the biological, psychological and societal spheres of life. The environment with the daily cycles of light and dark as well as the social norms of work and rest determine the circadian cycles of hormones. Shift work or otherwise disrupted sleep patterns depend on social norms like regulation of noise or light in cities. Healthy sleep patterns, therefore, depend to a large amount on regulation and implementation of those social norms. Birthday parties are tolerated, but much less the irregular partying in shared housing with lots of neighbours. Reducing social contacts during Covid-19 led to the changes in sleep patterns as well.
The psychological determinants of sleep go well beyond the world of dreams as theorized by Freud. Nowadays, we investigate all sorts of behavioural patterns that have an impact on sleeping like “bedtime technology use” of smartphones or the ability to switch off thinking of problems. Sleeping is a particular functional state of our mind. A lot of sorting of daily impressions into memory occurs during the different phases while sleeping. Persistent disrupted or impeded sleep is recognized as torture in severe cases. Stress at work or working overtime is also a major cause of sleep disorders.
The biological indicators used to investigate sleep have revealed a lot of links of sleep and the hormones of melatonin as well as cortisol. Testing has become more accessible and provides good indicators of how the biological clocks tick within our bodies.
However, we are only at the beginning of the analysis of more complex interactions of the multiple forms of interaction of the bio->psycho->social (BPS) as well as the social->psycho->bio (SPB) co-determination of sleeping. Scientific research is faced with a steep challenge as the direction of causality is not uniform except in very controlled experimental settings. Maybe the arts have coined and popularized a useful term in this respect. “I am in a New York state of mind”.
(Image: extrait of Magritte. La clairvoyance, 1936 and The cultural context of aging, Jay Sokolovsky)

Korallenriff

Kinder verstehen direkt, dass es sich lohnt, Korallenriffe zu erhalten. Plastikmüll in den Meeren gefährdet die Korallenriffe und die bunte Vielfalt an Fischen, die darin leben. Ein kleines Theaterstück dazu von Kathrin Brunner begeistert Kinder, weil es sie erleben lässt, wie einfach Lösungen aussehen können. Den großen Leuten zeigen, wie traurig die Welt aussieht ohne die farbenfrohe Pracht der bunten Fische, wird sie schon zu Veränderungen bringen. Das Theaterstück und Buch dazu wurde am 16.3.2024 im FEZ in Berlin aufgeführt. Das Figurenspiel mit überleitendem Refrain, das vom Publikum gleichsam der Promenade in den „Bildern einer Ausstellung“ (Mussorgsky) mitgesungen haben, bildete jeweils eine gelungene emotionale Überleitung und Aufmerksamkeitspause. Wir wünschen uns noch viele kleine und große Besuchende für diese Aufführungen. Die Kinder werden es uns schon lehren, den blauen Planeten noch zu retten.

Symbol

What is it that makes an object a symbol? Probably, it is the widely shared perception of the meaning of a symbol that turns an object into a symbol. The etymology of the word symbol refers back to the Greek word σύμβολον. The earliest philosophical refer back to the Greek philosopher Aristoteles who deals with symbols when he writes about interpretations. Written words have become powerful symbols in the ancient world. We still have them all around us today. The interpretations of the words as symbols, however, may change considerably over time. Some symbols keep their designation and significance over centuries. Maps are well known to contain lots of symbols for roads, railways, tunnels or height. We learn about these symbols and interpret them in a specific societal context. Science is making ample use of symbols, e.g. chemistry. Different cultures define and apply their own symbols. Colonialism has been a form to impose symbols upon other societies. Throughout history symbols of power have changed as well. Each of those topics is an interesting field of application in itself. Young generations create their own symbols to establish a specific cultural identity or subculture. Urban spaces have been invaded by graffiti that tend to spread symbols as messages or symbols for their own sake.
Sociology has taken up the challenge to identify “status symbols” of groups of society. Possession of gold and silver have long ago been symbols of being rich. Maybe, even today such easily visible symbols play a role in how a person’s role is perceived in societies. Not only for priests etc. dresses have been applied as a symbol. Modern fashion is full of symbols as well. Interpretation of the meaning or even no meaning is an act of becoming conscious of the world around you. From the seriousness of symbols, we have come to the playing around with symbols as expressions of ourselves.
No matter whether we use the word, like water, we all know the chemical symbol H20. An image or art work using the symbol in whatever form will be decoded by us accordingly. However, the meaning we attach to water depends on the environment as well as specific context we (or the artists) are using it in. Cross-cultural competences consist in the awareness that symbols grow out of contexts and need to be interpreted accordingly. It needs a lot of openness, willingness to learn about differences and careful consideration in our everyday world to handle symbols. Doing culture is doing symbols.(Image of art work by Anderegg, Andi taken in 2016)

Energy Storage

On a sunny and windy day, even in winter or spring, renewable energy is abundant. If demand is stable prices will drop. Prices will rise again as demand for energy picks up. Hence, this is an obvious case for trading opportunities. All you need is … energy storage. All so-called prosumers, short for producers and simultaneously consumers have a lot to gain if they are able to store energy when it’s abundant and cheap. Sell it when it is expensive or use it yourself if needed. Just keep an eye on the costs of energy storage. A stylish insulated carafe is a well known example of storing hot water for astonishingly long time. Insulation is key to store transformed electric energy here. Other options use kinetic energy like pumping water to a higher level and then generate electricity again when the water returns to the lower level. Of course, batteries are a simple way for energy storage as well. Costs seem to come down rapidly and less environmentally hazardous materials leave the laboratory almost every month. It is about time to consider this seriously. More and more cities have understood that energy storage can generate cash for them (Example Feuchtwangen) and appears to be a worthwhile investment for a local power generating community. For the time being my favorite energy storage is the insulated carafe. It is often the beginning of energizing conversations.

Old school energy storage

Personal Health

Most people would agree, health is a personal issue. From the onset of life, we have package of genes that predetermine a number of factors of our personal health. Epigenetics has taught us there are many factors to take into account additionally. Environmental factors have huge impacts as well. Improvements in the availability of medical devices in the hands of individuals as well as AI systems on portable devices like smartphones facilitate the monitoring of personal health. Several indicators of early-onset of illness can be retrieved from such devices. Dunn et al. (2024) show that prior to the onset of symptoms of Covid-19 or influenza portable devices can indicate the presence of infections through indicators of resting body temperature, heart rate/min, heart rate variability/millisecond or respiratory rate/min. Combined with the indicators of air quality, indoors as well as outdoors, the presence of allergens a much more personalized data set emerges which can easily be part of an AI-assisted diagnosis. More abundant personal health data and analytical power allows remote and digital health applications to inform patients, medical doctors and the public at large. Digital health technologies are only at the beginning to unfold their potential. Prevention becomes more feasible using such devices, medical professionals should be allowed to focus on interpretation of data and treatment rather than simple data gathering. Thinking about digital health technologies points in the direction of dealing with climate and environmental hazards as sickening causes more forcefully. Personal medicine and personal health are, after all, still heavily dependent on health and safety at work, commuting practices and all sorts of pollution. Personal health, however, is a good starting point to raise awareness of the potentials of digital health technologies to better our lives.
(Image: AI MS-Copilot: 2 robots run in a city. They sweat. The air is full of smog. 2 other robots rest near pool. All look at their wrist watch showing heart beats)