How a German city changed how we read

Despite the far-reaching consequences of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, much about the man remains a mystery, buried deep beneath layers of Mainz history.

The German city of Mainz lies on the banks of the River Rhine. It is most notable for its wine, its cathedral and for being the home of Johannes Gutenberg, who introduced the printing press to Europe. Although these things may seem unconnected at first, here they overlap, merging and influencing one another.

The three elements converge on market days, when local producers and winemakers sell their goods in the main square surrounding the sprawling St Martin’s Cathedral. Diagonally opposite is the Gutenberg Museum, named after the city’s most famous inhabitant, who was born in Mainz around 1399 and died here 550 years ago in 1468.

The printing press marks the turning point from medieval times to modernity in the Western world

It was Gutenberg who invented Europe’s first movable metal type printing press, which started the printing revolution and marks the turning point from medieval times to modernity in the Western world. Although the Chinese were using woodblock printing many centuries earlier, with a complete printed book, made in 868, found in a cave in north-west China, movable type printing never became very popular in the East due to the importance of calligraphy, the complexity of hand-written Chinese and the large number of characters. Gutenberg’s press, however, was well suited to the European writing system, and its development was heavily influenced by the area from which it came.

Mainz, Germany, is the home of Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the movable metal type printing press (Credit: Credit: Madhvi Ramani)

The German city of Mainz is most notable for being the home of Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the movable metal type printing press (Credit: Madhvi Ramani)

 

In the Middle Ages, Mainz was one of the most important cathedral cities in the Holy Roman Empire, in which the Church and the archbishop of Mainz were the centre of influence and political power. Gutenberg, as an educated and entrepreneurial patrician, would have recognised the Church’s need to update the method of replicating manuscripts, which were hand-copied by monks. This was an incredibly slow and laborious process; one that could not keep up with the growing demand for books at the time. In his book, Revolutions in Communication: Media History from Gutenberg to the Digital Age, Dr Bill Kovarik, professor of communication at Radford University in the US state of Virginia, describes this capacity in terms of ‘monk power’, where ‘one monk’ equals a day’s work – about one page – for a manuscript copier. Gutenberg’s press amplified the power of a monk by 200 times.

At the Gutenberg Museum, I watched a demonstration of a page being printed on a replica of the press. First, a metal alloy was heated and poured into a matrix (a mould used to cast a letter). Once the alloy cooled, the small metal letters were arranged into words and sentences in a form and inked. Finally, paper was placed on top of the form and a heavy plate was pressed upon it, similar to how a wine press works. This is no coincidence: Gutenberg’s printing press is thought to be a modification of the wine press. Since the Romans introduced winemaking to the region, the area around Mainz has been one of Germany’s main wine-producing areas, with famous grape varieties such as riesling, dornfelder and silvaner.

The page that is always printed at the Gutenberg Museum replicates the original style and font (Gothic Textura) of the 42-line Gutenberg Bible, the first major book ever to be printed using movable type in the Western world. It is the first page of St John’s Gospel, in the Bible, which begins: “In the beginning was the word…”

Gutenberg’s printing press made it easier for the Church to replicate religious manuscripts (Credit: Credit: Madhvi Ramani)

Gutenberg’s printing press made it easier for the Church to replicate religious manuscripts (Credit: Madhvi Ramani)

Writing is often considered the first communication revolution, while Gutenberg’s printing press brought with it the revolution of mass communication. After about 15 years of development – and huge capital investment – Gutenberg printed his first Bible in 1455.

“Gutenberg’s Bible is an extraordinary work of craftsmanship,” said Dr Kovarik, who suggests we can read a strong religious motivation into the perfection of his work. “This wasn’t unusual at the time – for example, a stonemason would try to achieve a perfect sculpture in a remote corner of one of the great cathedrals, not really for the people who would be worshipping there, but rather as an expression of personal faith.”

Gutenberg’s printing press brought with it the revolution of mass communication

Of his original print run of about 150 to 180 Bibles, only 48 remain in the world today. The Gutenberg Museum has two on display. Both are slightly different, because after printing, the pages would be taken to a rubricator (specialised scriber) who would paint in certain letters according to the tastes of their customers. Gutenberg’s Bibles turned out to be bestsellers.

At first, the Church welcomed the new availability of printed bibles and other religious texts. Printing enabled the Church to spread the Christian message and raise cash in the form of ‘indulgences’ – printed documents that forgave people’s sins. However, the disruptive power of the printed word soon became apparent. With the rapid spread of printing technology – by the 1470s, every European city had printing companies, and by the 1500s, an estimated four million books had been printed and sold — came the spread of new and often contradictory ideas, such as Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, in which he criticised the Church’s sale of indulgences. Luther is said to have nailed his text to a Wittenberg church door on 31 October 1517. Within a few years 300,000 copies of it had been printed and circulated, leading to the Reformation and a permanent split in the Church.

Of the 150 to 180 Bibles Gutenberg originally printed, only 48 remain in the world today (Credit: Credit: Ann Johansson/Getty Images)

Of the 150 to 180 Bibles Gutenberg originally printed, only 48 remain in the world today (Credit: Ann Johansson/Getty Images)

But despite the far-reaching consequences of Gutenburg’s press, much about the man remains a mystery, buried deep beneath layers of Mainz history. A plaque marks the place where he was born on corner of Christofsstraße, but the original house is long gone. Today, a modern building stands there, occupied by a pharmacy.

Another plaque outside the nearby St Christoph’s Church marks the place where he was likely baptised. The church was bombed during World War II and remains in ruins as a war memorial, although the original baptismal font from Gutenberg’s time is still intact.

The graveyard where Gutenberg was buried has been paved over, and even though there are statues of him are everywhere in the city, we don’t know what he looked like. He is commonly depicted with a beard, but it is unlikely that he had one. Gutenberg was a patrician and during his time, according to my tour guide Johanna Hein, only pilgrims and Jews wore beards. In fact, the man we all know as Johannes Gutenberg was actually born Johannes Gensfleisch (which translates to ‘goose meat’). If it weren’t for the 14th-Century trend of people renaming themselves after their houses, we would perhaps be referring to his invention as the Gensfleisch Press today.

Despite the far-reaching consequences of his printing press, little is known about Gutenberg today (Credit: Credit: Madhvi Ramani)

Despite the far-reaching consequences of his printing press, little is known about Gutenberg today (Credit: Madhvi Ramani)

But although the traces of the man have all but disappeared from the city, his influence can still be seen everywhere: a poster advertising cosmetics; a woman reading a newspaper in a cafe; the menu on a restaurant table. Furthermore, our current communications revolution, made possible by the internet, digital technology and social media, is a progression of what started with Gutenberg.

“Every time the cost of media declines rapidly, you enable more people to speak out, and you have a greater diversity of voices,” said Dr Kovarik, explaining that this impacts the distribution of power in society, and sparks social change.

Although the traces of Gutenberg have all but disappeared from the city, his influence can still be seen everywhere (Credit: Credit: Lebrecht Music and Arts Photo Library/Alamy)

Although the traces of Gutenberg have all but disappeared from the city, his influence can still be seen everywhere (Credit: Lebrecht Music and Arts Photo Library/Alamy)

Paradoxically, however, our digital revolution can also be seen as a return to the pre-print era, according to a theory called The Gutenberg Parenthesis by Dr Thomas Pettitt, affiliate research professor at the University of Southern Denmark, who argues that there are parallels between the pre-print age and our own internet age.

In the absence of print, news has lost its authenticity, and, as in the Middle Ages, is synonymous with rumour

“Print conferred stability on discourse; works in books were authorities; news in print was true. In the absence of print, news has lost its authenticity, and, as in the Middle Ages, is synonymous with rumour. We are now in a post-news phase, where purveyors of fake news can accuse the legitimate press of purveying fake news and get away with it,” Dr Pettitt said.

Whatever the impact of the 21st-Century digital revolution, just like the printing revolution before it, the effects will reverberate for hundreds of years to come.

By Madhvi Ramani 8 May 2018

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“The sun began to be darkened”: The strange cloud over much of the world in 536 AD changed history dramatically

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In the summer of 536, a strange cloud appeared in the skies over much of Southern Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. Sometimes referred to as “a veil of dust,” something plunged the Mediterranean region and many other areas of the world into gloomy years of cold and darkness.

This foreboding change was recorded by the Byzantine historian Procopius. “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during this whole year.” Procopius also wrote of disease and war resulting from the blocking of the sun’s light.

A Syrian scribe described the change as “…the sun began to be darkened by day and the moon by night, while ocean was tumultuous with spray.” Gaelic Irish records describe a “failure of bread” in the year 536.

For many years, historians and scientists have wondered what may have caused Procopius and others to record notable differences in weather. Modern research has provided some interesting theories.

Much of the rest of the world seems to have been impacted by the cloud as well, at least in the northern hemisphere. Studies of tree rings between 536 and 551 show less tree growth in China, Europe, and North America. Less solar radiation reaching the earth resulted in lower temperatures and abnormal weather patterns. The results for humans included lower food production output, famine, as well as increased social and political disruption.

There were specific events recorded that were likely related to the ominous cloud. A deadly pandemic swept through the Byzantine Empire in 541-542, that became known as the Justinian Plague. Estimates are that up to a third of the population perished during the outbreak. Procopius described some of the horrible symptoms as fever and swelling all over the body.

In 536 China, there was famine and drought with many deaths, as well as reports of “yellow dust that rained down like snow.” At the same time, Korea faced massive storms and flooding. Unusually heavy snowfalls were noted in Mesopotamia.

Scandinavia seems to have been particularly hard hit. Archaeological evidence indicates that almost 75 percent of villages in parts of Sweden were abandoned in these years. One theory is that this displacement of people was a catalyst for later raids by Vikings seeking more fertile land in other parts of Europe and beyond. A Norse poem of the time reads, “The sun turns black, earth sinks in the sea. Down from heaven, stars are whirled.”

The severe weather may have impacted other historical trends. Among them is the migration of Mongolian tribes westward, the fall of the Persian Sassanid Empire, and the rise and rapid expansion of Islam.

Some historians mark these specific changes in weather patterns as contributing to the historic transition from antiquity to the beginning of the era of the Dark and Middle Ages. It certainly emphasizes the impact rapid climate change may have had on human populations.

What could have caused such a sudden and dramatic change in weather? Experts are divided, and we may never know the whole answer. One theory is that the climate around the world changed based on one giant volcanic eruption, possibly from Central America. This could have resulted in a layer of ash and dust covering the skies of much of the planet.

Another suggestion is that there were two large volcano blasts within a couple of years of each other, specifically in 536 and 540, causing darkness and cold around most of the world. Clouds of smoke and debris from massive volcanic fires could have spread rapidly.

Evidence of volcanic eruptions was backed up by material found in both the North and South Poles. In both Antarctica and Greenland, sulfate deposits have been discovered dating back to the mid-6th century.

A third theory contemplates the impact of a comet or meteorite crashing into the Earth. Or the possibility of a near miss from a comet passing by that could have left thick dust clouds of particles in the atmosphere. Experts generally think this explanation is less plausible than that of volcanic eruptions.

Whatever the cause, people living at the time noticed and recorded a rapid change in nature. Human populations around the earth were disrupted and to many it would have felt like the world were coming to an end.

 Mark Shiffer

Two centuries after his birth, people taking a close look at the controversial legacy of Karl Marx

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On May 5th, followers of Karl Marx celebrated his 200th birthday. He is a highly controversial figure based on the theories he proposed in the 19th century and the actions taken in his name in the 20th century and beyond.

Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818, in the city of Trier, in what is now modern Germany but was then known as Prussia. His parents were Heinrich and Henrietta Marx. They both came from a long line of religious Jewish scholars. However, Heinrich converted to Christianity just before the birth of Karl, becoming Lutheran in a mostly Catholic region. Henrietta converted a few years later. Karl Marx was baptized at the age of six and attended Lutheran schools in his childhood. At some point in his early life, Marx became an atheist and grew to hate all religion.

One of Marx’s most famous slogans described religion as “the opium of the people.” This is somewhat ironic as one prominent economist would later refer to “Marxism as a religion itself and Marx is the prophet.” Studying philosophy in university, Marx joined a radical group of intellectuals. After graduating, Marx worked as a journalist and became active in radical politics. It was around this time, in 1848, that he collaborated with Friedrich Engels to publish The Communist Manifesto.

The essential philosophy of communism for Marx was that history itself was an ongoing process of staged changes in economic institutions. Therefore, in this view, capitalism was the second last stage of historical development. Communism was to be the final and victorious system. In this final stage of history, the lower classes of society would violently rise up and establish a communist utopia under a “dictatorship of the proletariat,” a society that would have no economic or social classes or inequalities.

History would thus come to an end, as it would have reached its highest form under communism. But this is the dilemma of Marx and communism. To establish an everlasting utopian society, Marx argued that violence would be necessary, even welcome. This laid the violent foundations for many of the movements that would later establish regimes based on The Communist Manifesto. Marx himself wrote The Communist Manifesto during turbulent times. A series of republican revolts had broken out against absolutist monarchies in Europe in 1848. Armed insurrections took place in Germany, France, Italy, and the Austrian Empire.

They all ended in failure and the backlash resulted in increased repression of dissent. Marx and other radical thinkers became increasingly disillusioned by these defeats. The first successful Marxist revolution would occur 34 years after the death of Marx, in Russia in 1917. After centuries of autocratic rule, the last Tsar of Russia had stepped down earlier in the year. Following a brief interlude, the fledgling republican provisional government was overthrown by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks, a political group that followed the writings of Marx closely, although under their own interpretation of his work.

In China too, another dictatorial regime would be replaced by a communist one in 1947, under Mao Zedong. Countless other nations around the world would fall under the rule of communism or similar ideologies. Some countries still have governments in power that adhere to Marxist ideologies.

Estimates are that communist governments in the 20th century killed as many as 94 million people. Millions more were imprisoned. Karl Marx never explicitly called for genocide, but his writing encouraged the use of force to achieve communist goals. However, it was more than military violence that caused so many deaths. Widespread famines were sometimes facilitated by communist governments.

The largest examples were in China and Russia. Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” of agricultural reforms resulted in 45 million killed in China. Resisting attempts at agricultural peasant collectivization in the early 1930s, six to eight million people died in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, mostly from the Ukraine region.

But the legacy of Karl Marx was not only political and economic. Other academic disciplines incorporated Marx’s ideas. Among them are theories based in philosophy, psychology, sociology, and literature. All Marxist study was based on the effects on the distribution of wealth and power within societies. As an example, Marxists would look at a work of literature and base their criticism of the work on the socioeconomic status of the author, as well as the economic system in place when the work was written.

Karl Marx’s legacy is mixed. He was an important thinker of his time, who looked deeply at the plight of the poor and downtrodden, although Marx reportedly never walked into any of the industrial working factories that he wrote about.

His work also contributed ideas to a number of disciplines. But in the end, Marx’s writing resulted in some of the most repressive and murderous regimes in history

 Mark Shiffer

North of Munich, the oldest continuously operated brewery, founded by monks, is nearing its 1,000th birthday

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If you want to talk the history of beer over a pint, what better place than the world’s oldest continuously operating brewery? Forty miles due north of Munich, braumeisters at the Weihenstephan Abbey have been boiling hops for nearly 1,000 years.

And the seeds of beer history were planted even earlier. In the year 725, Saint Korbinian, along with 12 traveling companions, founded a Benedictine monastery on Nährberg Hill in Weihenstephan, in an area now called Freising. By the year 768, a hops garden was established on the grounds. Records show that farmers were obligated to pay a 10 percent tithe to the monastery for the privilege of growing hops on the land.

In the year 955, the Weihenstephan monastery was destroyed for the first but not the last time when Hungarians plundered the site, forcing the monks to reconstruct.

In 1040, brewing officially began when Abbott Arnold obtained a license from the city of Freising to brew and sell beer.

In its first 400 years, the Weihenstephan Monastery burned completely down four times, endured three plagues, and suffered the effects of one massively destructive earthquake. During that time, the monastery was destroyed and plundered time and again, by the Swedes, the French, and the Austrians. But still, the undaunted monks returned to rebuild—and to brew and sell beer.

In 1516, Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria issued the Bavarian Purity Law, or, in German, Reinheitsgebot. This mandated that only barley, hops, and water be used in the crafting of beer (yeast was later added to the list), thereby establishing the primacy of Bavarian and Weihenstephan beer. The law also set the price of beer, limited the profits innkeepers could collect, and made confiscation the penalty of impure brewing practices.

(Interestingly, Reinheitsgebot is still German law. Modern brewers have lobbied to modify the restrictions so that they can compete with flavored American craft beers. A revised version of the law passed in 1993 allows for a wider variety of malted grains in top-fermented beers.)

In 1803, the Wesihenstephan Monastery was secularized. With the stroke of a governmental pen, all of the land and structures became property of the Bavarian State. Nevertheless, the brewery persisted.

In the late 1800s, an agricultural school was established at Weihenstephan, and by 1919 it had been elevated to the University for Agriculture and Brewery, which was further affiliated with the Technical University in Munich in 1930. Today Weihenstephan shares its site with the University of Munich’s Faculty of Brewing, the most renowned in the industry. The most popular academic disciplines are brew master and brew engineer.

 Today you can take a tour of the nearly 1,000-year history of the brewery, guided by an aspiring beer master from the university. Though the building has been reconstructed many times, the physical footprint and layout haven’t changed much over the past hundreds of years. There are still vaulted ceilings and dark basements, where vast stainless steel vats have replaced the old oak barrels. Tours end with beer-tasting in a souvenir wheat-beer glass. Weihenstephan produces around 6 million gallons of beer a year. Its wheat beer makes up about 88 percent of the brewery’s total output, though 12 different types of beer are on offer, including a dark beer, a pilsner, a seasonal lager, and an alcohol-free version.

The Bavarian region is famously rife with breweries, some of which have challenged Weihenstephan’s claim to be the oldest. The nearby Hofbrauhaus in Freising has been in operation since the 1100s. Some 90 kilometers north, Weltenburg Abbey brewery is by some reckonings the oldest monastic brewery in the world, having been in operation since 1050.

Obviously, the only thing to do is to take a tour of all the breweries and decide for yourself not just which one is oldest but which is best. Perhaps in the year 2040, when Weihenstephan turns 1,000. Prost!

 E.L. Hamilton

Germans find ‘Harald Bluetooth’ medieval treasure

Part of Schaprode treasure trove, 13 Apr 18Image copyrightAFP
Image captionHarald Bluetooth might have buried the treasure while fleeing from enemies

Treasure linked to the reign of 10th-century Danish King Harald Bluetooth has been dug up in northern Germany.

An amateur archaeologist and a 13-year-old boy found a silver coin on the Baltic island of Rügen in January when scanning a field with metal detectors.

Experts kept the find secret until a team dug up 400sq metres (4,300sq ft) of land at the weekend.

They found braided necklaces, a Thor’s hammer, brooches, rings and about 600 coins, probably buried in the 980s.

“This trove is the biggest single discovery of Bluetooth coins in the southern Baltic sea region and is therefore of great significance,” said lead archaeologist Michael Schirren.

Schaprode coins, 13 Apr 18Image copyrightAFP
Image captionChristian crosses feature on many of the coins, but there is quite a variety

Harald Bluetooth was born a Viking and is credited with unifying Denmark and introducing Christianity there during his reign.

In the 980s he fled to Pomerania, now in north Germany, after losing a big sea battle against forces loyal to his son Sweyn Forkbeard. Bluetooth died in 987.

The king was immortalised by Nordic technology firms when they embedded their wireless “Bluetooth” technology in digital gadgets.

Amateur archaeologist Rene Schoen (L) and 13-year-old student Luca Malaschnichenko look for a treasure with a metal detector in Schaprode, northern Germany on April 13, 2018Image copyrightAFP
Image captionRene Schoen (L) and 13-year-old student Luca Malaschnichenko were the first to find the treasure

The site of the treasure trove, Schaprode, is a few kilometres from Hiddensee, where a 16-piece gold hoard dating from Bluetooth’s reign was found in the 19th Century.

The Schaprode discoverers – 13-year-old Luca Malaschnitschenko and amateur archaeologist René Schön – are in a group of enthusiasts looking after historical sites in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania state in north-eastern Germany.

Warrior king

Bluetooth led his warriors in campaigns against Frankish nobles who ruled parts of France and Germany in the Carolingian Age.

After converting to Christianity in 950, he set up bishoprics in Denmark, consolidated his kingdom with forts and seized some territory in Norway and north Germany.

The earliest coin in the Schaprode hoard is reckoned to be a Damascus dirham dating from 714, and the latest ones are Frankish Otto-Adelheid pennies minted in 983.

More than 100 of the 600 coins are believed to have been minted in Bluetooth’s kingdom. They have Christian crosses on them and were given to Danish nobles.

By BBC News 16th April 2018

 

Rare Photos of Martin Laurello, the Man Who Could Turn His Head Around Backwards

Martin Joe Laurello (1885-1955), aka “The Man with the Revolving Head,” “The Human Owl,” or “Bobby, The Boy with the Revolving Head,” was born in May 1885 in Nuremburg, Germany. He was born with a twisted spine that allowed his head to turn a complete 180°. When he had his head turned, his spine was in the shape of a question mark. He was married to Amelia Emmerling, and was a Nazi sympathizer.

He moved to America from Germany in 1921 and began performing with sideshows such as Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Ringling Brothers, and Barnum & Bailey. Aside from turning his head around, Martin Laurello (formally Martin Emmerling) trained dogs to do acrobatics and was a ventriloquist.

When Laurello would turn his head around, he could not breathe, however he was able to drink. Laurello was at Robert Ripley’s first ever Odditorium at the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair and had performed at many Ripley’s odditoriums in the 1930s.

His last recorded appearance was on the show “You Asked For It” on March 24, 1952. He died of a heart attack and was cremated in 1955, at age 70. The video below was taken from the movie “The Incredible Life and Times of Robert Ripley: Believe it or Not!.”

(via wikia.com)