Monthly archives of “April 2014

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Thin Ice? Climate change in Alexandra and skating on the Manorburn Dam

Growing up in Alexandra (Central Otago, New Zealand) in the early 1970s it was the family thing to go ice skating on the Manorburn Dam, a short drive from town. It was a very social occasion, with heaps of the rest of Alexandra there too, daytime and after dark too. You could either go on the natural ice of the dam itself, or restrict yourself to the artificial rink. Even in those days was I impressed with the nonchalance that a Massey-Ferguson tractor was driven over the ice. I have a distinct memory of trying to waltz around the artificial rink to the sound of the Al Martino’s “Walking in the Sand”  on hired skates that probably hadn’t been sharpened since 1950. And then it all stopped. Life went on and somehow skating wasn’t part of it.

Ice Skating on the Manorburn Dam, near Alexandra, 1970s. Photo: A. Pole.

Skating on the Manorburn Dam, 1970s. Photo: A. Pole.

Maybe twenty years later, out of curiosity, I drove back up to the dam – to find the old rink derelict. I should have been expecting it, but it was a kind of depressing shock all the same. What had happened? My gut feeling was that things had warmed (“You young whipper-snappers, when I was a kid the winters were really cold!”). But perhaps that wasn’t the story at all, or maybe only part of it. A bit of Googling and I came across Ryan Hellyer’s blog, who points out that “Since 1992 the number of skaters making use of the dam has plummeted due to the local ice sports organisation no longer officially opening the dam for skating”. There is now an artificial rink in Alexandra. Both of these factors would have killed the activity at Manorburn. But were the concerns driven less-predictable natural ice? That I don’t know, though Helleyer does note that the dam does freeze “most years”.

My curiosity well and truly piqued, I thought it was time to try and chase up some hard data. Most folks probably think the climate is a bit different from when they were kids – but have there been any real trends? It turns out you can register with NIWA (thanks Garth) and access all the old climate records. There are some records for the Manorburn itself, but by far the longest stretch of data is from Alexandra. Unfortunately these are in three sets, from three slightly different locations. Probably of no concern, but worth keeping in mind.

The most basic metric is the run of annual means of temperature (MAT). What immediately stood out was that last year had the highest MAT (12C) since records began in 1929. However, things weren’t quite so straightforward – as the annual dataset misses out a few years. I figured they may be in the monthly record datasets, and sure enough, they were – but many years only include data for 11 months. For example, the year 2000 was missing from the annual averages, but there are only data for nine months in the monthly records. Taken at face value, that year, 2000, has the record at 12.4C. I haven’t the faintest idea what is going on with the missing values, but I doubt they impact on the overall averages. From the data available the first twenty years of records, from 1929 to 1948 had an average MAT of 10.2C. The average MAT for the last twenty years had been 11.3C. Apparently a 1C rise in MAT.

Graph of annual means of temperature (C) for Alexandra from 1920 to the present. Data from The National Climate Database, NIWA.

Graph of annual means of temperature (C) for Alexandra. Data from The National Climate Database, NIWA.

Another metric is the ‘Growing Degree Days’. This is the number of days above a certain temperature, below which little or no plant/animal growth may occur, multiplied by the average temperature. Basically it gives an idea of cumulative warmth. For Alexandra, the Growing Degree Days above 10C have risen from an average of 930 for the first twenty years of records, to 1099 in the last twenty years. The increase of 170 would be equivalent to something like an extra 15 days now that have an average temperature above 10C than there were around 1940.

Graph of Growing Degree Days trend;10C for Alexandra, from  1920 to the present. Data from The National Climate Database, NIWA.

Graph of Growing Degree Days >10C for Alexandra. Data from The National Climate Database, NIWA.

The data indicate that Alexandra has experienced a modest increase in temperature over the past few decades. This may not be what killed our outdoor skating, but it’s definitely food for thought and there are various other climate metrics that would be worth having a look at.

 

 

Kauri (Agathis) forest in New Zealand
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Attack of the Forest-Killing Fungi (Kauri and the Elm Decline)

A respectable-sized kauri tree (Agathis) n the Waipoua Forest, New Zealand.

A respectable-sized kauri in the Waipoua Forest, New Zealand.

New Zealanders are becoming aware of a new threat to their native forests – as if logging, burning, opossums, deer, ferrets, cats, dogs, weren’t enough. This time it’s a fungus (Phytophthora), and it’s attacking our oldest trees – the giant kauris (Agathis). This pest has already devastated parts of Australia, where ‘grass-trees’ (Xanthorrhoea), some of them hundreds of years old, have been left as a pile of rotting tissue within days. It seems scarcely believable that after more than a century of destruction by fire, axe and saw, we finally managed to protect a few small patches of mature kauri forest – only to see a new threat come, one that recognises no mere legal boundaries.

For now, let’s go half a world away and look at the past of the British Isles. Pollen analysis of British peat bogs became a serious topic for study over a century ago. It was realised that peat, because it retained all the spores and pollen that fell on it while it grew, preserved evidence of the local and surrounding vegetation. By counting the grains, one could get an idea of the composition of, not only the peat swamp, but whatever grew around it. In the case of the British Isles thousands of years ago, this was forest. One clear and early conclusion from the peat study, was that that elms (Ulmus, not Alnus, which are alders) suffered some sort of a serious decline about 5000 years ago. The drop in proportions of Ulmus pollen relative to other plants could be seen in peat after peat. But what was the cause? Two suspects quickly came into focus. One was climate change. The pioneering work by the Dane, Axel Blytt (1876) to explain the presence of tree stumps in peat, recognised that climate had changed in post-glacial times. The work led to recognition of the Atlantic (warm, moist) and later Boreal (cool, dry) periods. These periods were shown to correspond to changes in pollen frequencies  in peat by a fellow Dane Rutger Sernander (1908) and then a Swede, Lennart von Post (1930) and another Dane, Johannes  Iversen (1941). The elm decline was so predictable that the drop could be used as the division between the Atlantic and the Boreal periods.

However, the other suspect was human activity. Five thousand years ago was approximately the time when agriculture reached the British Isles, that is, the Mesolithic period passed in to the Neolithic period. One thing farmers tend to do, is to cut down forest. Practically symbolic of the Neolithic revolution in Europe is the flint axe. Farmers cut and burnt down forest to create grazing lands, and in the autumn they would have cut branches for fodder. In other words, the elm decline could be used to recognise the advent of agriculture, in the absence of archaeological evidence. An early proponent of this view was Knut Faegri (1944, and in case you were guessing he was wither a Dane or a Swede – close, he was Norwegian). Neither the climate nor anthropogenic view was conclusive and reality may have been more nuanced. For example, climate change may have caused forest change which and led to farmers expanding into new areas.

More recently a third suspect has been proposed – disease. Just like the grass trees in Australia and now the kauri in New Zealand, the British Isles have been ravaged by ‘Dutch Elm Disease’ caused by a fungus (Ophiostoma).  It seems like this is not the first time. A recent synthesis of the Elm Decline phenomenon (Parker 2002) has suggested that there was a climate change – and this helped agriculture expand in to the British Isles. Farmers would have had various impacts on the forest – and by opening it up, this would have made it vulnerable to the incursions of disease. Thus, the ‘Elm Decline’ is probably a consequence of all three suspects. The first ‘Elm Decline’ appears to have severely reduced elms in Britain, but the current attack is playing out somewhat differently as different species are involved. It turns out that the most prominent elm in Britain, Ulmus procera, is a clone, introduced relatively recently by the Romans (Gil et al. 2004). Because of the resulting lack of genetic variation, without concerted management, the fungus would seem  likely to cause its extinction in the British Isles. The other, truly native species (U. glabra and U. minor), are also susceptible to the disease, but appear to be reacting more slowly.

So this kind of fungal-disaster has happened in the distant past, but humans have been implicated. At least the first Elm Decline in the British Isles was just that – a decline, not an extinction. Back in New Zealand, we can hope that the genetic variability of our kauris will see them through the onslaught, to be a continuing presence in the forests. Now the fungus is here, it’s unlikely we will ever get rid of it – but the ‘human impact’ is one variable we have some control over. The Kauri Dieback website states “These [fungal] spores live in soil and are spread with soil movement.  Dirty footwear, animals, equipment and vehicles are responsible for the large scale spread of this disease.” Sadly, this of course, includes simply walking in the forest.

Climate change, human destruction, and now a fungal disease….   big problems in New Zealand.

References

Blytt A. 1876. Essay on the immigration of the Norwegian flora.

Faegri,  K. 1944. On the introduction of agriculture in western Norway. Geol. Fren. Stockholm F, 66(3): 449-463.

Gil, L., Fuentes-Utrilla, P., Soto, A., M. Cervera, M.T., Collada, C. 2004.  English elm is a 2,000-year-old Roman clone. Nature 431, 1053

Iversen, J., 1960. Problems in the Early Postglacial forest development in Denmark. Danmarks  Geol. Undersogelse, IV, 4(3): 5-32

Parker, A. G., Goudie, A. S., Anderson, D. E., Robinson, M. A. & Bonsalle, C. 2002: A review of the mid-Holocene elm decline in the British Isles. Progress in Physical Geography 26: 1-45.

Sernander R. (1908): On the evidence of post-glacial changes of climate furnished by the peat mosses of northern Eu­rope. Geologiska Föreningens i Stockholm Förhaldlinger 30: 365-478.

Von Post, L., 1930. Die postarktische Geschichte der europ~ischen W~ildernach den vorliegenden Pollendiagrammen. In: S. Petrini (Editor), Verb. Intern. Kongr. Forstl. Versuehsanstalt, Stockholm, 1929, pp. 1-27.

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The Origin of New Zealand in Deep-Time

Anyone who knows anything about New Zealand geology will know that it was once ‘part of Gondwana’. This is true, but how did it become a ‘part’? This is the origin of New Zealand in ‘deep time’.

The question was addressed by researchers Li and Powell in 2000. While no-doubt much has been learned since this time, I am unaware of any fundamental changes to what they proposed. Their paper traced the history of Rondinia – a somewhat hypothetical of the supercontinent that predated the supercontinent of Pangaea (formed of Gondwana and Laurasia).

Pre-Gondwana, the world had a very different geography. Piecing together Gondwana was, in simple terms, a matter of fitting together the modern continents. But in Rondinian times – large portions of today’s continents simply did not exist. On top of that, it seems that the continental fragments that did exist were grouped in ways that could not be guessed by simply looking at today’s globe.

Li and Powell proposed that the eastern part of Australia (roughly the eastern quarter) did not exist around 760 Ma (million years ago). Instead, there was a continuous continental connection with a part of what is now China – and beyond that, North America. To the south, Australia was firmly connected to Antarctica.

The basic structure of the supercontinent of Rondinia around 760 Ma. The South China Block (SCB) lies to the east of Australia - which does not yet have its most eastern quarter.

The basic structure of the supercontinent of Rondinia around 760 Ma. The South China Block (SCB) lies to the east of Australia – which does not yet have its most eastern quarter.

Rifting broke the region up, so that by around 600 Ma the Chinese and North American blocks were separated by what was effectively the Pacific Ocean. At this stage, the eastern margin of Australia/Antarctica and the western of the Chinese block were passive. That is, they were not geologically active, but resembled the margins of the Atlantic Ocean today.

By 600 Ma rifting had separated the South China Block and North America from the Australia-Antarctica region. This rifting formed the Pacific Ocean.

By 600 Ma rifting had separated the South China Block and North America from the Australia-Antarctica region. This rifting formed the Pacific Ocean.

Schematic cross section of passive continental margins.

Schematic cross section of passive margins.

This all changed around 505 Ma, as another Chinese block began to move towards Australia. Simultaneously the east coast of Australia/Antarctica became an active margin. This involved the formation of a deep-sea trench/subduction system and an associated chain of volcanoes. It marks the birth of New Zealand as well as the eastern quarter of Australia. New Zealand’s oldest rocks are about 550 Ma (mid Cambrian). They are partially the remains of that volcanic island arc and also contain limestones that have a variety of fossils, including trilobites. These lived in the shallow seas around the volcanoes – which lay (another surprise!) in the Northern Hemisphere.

Map mid-late Cambrian 505 Ma. Around 505 Ma the North China Block approached from the east and an active margin with a trench/arc formed.

Around 505 Ma the North China Block approached from the east and an active margin with a trench/arc formed.

Schematic cross-section showing an active margin.

Schematic cross-section showing an active margin.

Li and Powell (2001) proposed that proto-New Zealand was born to the south of Tasmania and off the coast of Victoria land in Antarctica and subsequent research supports this. Gutjahr et al. (2006) had a close look at the cobbles in some of New Zealand’s Cambrian conglomerates – and concluded they were exotic to New Zealand. They couldn’t pinpoint where they came from, but it seems reasonable that some of them may have come from what is now Antarctica. Bradshaw et al. (2009) also located proto-New Zealand “to the south of northern Victoria Land, probably in the region of the southern Ross Sea”. This was in the context of a back-arc basin that was being squeezed against a continental margin, and being rapidly filled by sediment from both the continental side and the arc side.

At about the same time as New Zealand was born, Gondwana too, had achieved its basic structure.

References

Bradshaw , J.D., Gutjahr, M., Weaver, S.D., & Bassett K.N. 2009. Cambrian intra-oceanic arc accretion to the austral Gondwana margin: constraints on the location of proto-New Zealand, Australian Journal of Earth Sciences: An International Geoscience Journal of the Geological Society of Australia, 56: 587-594

Gutjahr, M., Bradshaw, J.D., Weaver, S., Münker,C., and Ireland, T. 2006. Provenance of Cambrian conglomerates from New Zealand: implications for the tectonomagmatic evolution of the SE Gondwana margin. Journal of the Geological Society 163, 997-1010.

Li, Z.X. and Powell, C.McA. 2000. An outline of the palaeogeographic evolution of the Australasian region since the beginning of the Neoproterozoic. Earth-Science Reviews 53: 237–277.

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Continental Déjà Vu – the Great Escarpments

Most Australians and many tourists will be aware of a prominent topographic feature not too far from the east coast. For example, the Blue Mountains are a nice day trip from Sydney, while nearly two and a half thousand kilometres to the north, a visitor can pop up to the Atherton Tablelands. Both of these areas feature a rocky escarpment that separates the coastal lowlands from a higher plateau. Fewer people will be aware that what they are looking at in both New South Wales and north Queensland is the same feature – a continuous ‘Great Escarpment’ that snakes its way for some 2,500 km up the east coast of Australia. In fact, much of Australia is ringed by an escarpment – in the north the Kakadu Escarpment separates the dangerous salt-water crocodile infested lowlands from the safe-to-swim-in waterholes with freshwater crocodiles in the higher country. The continuity and significance of this feature was first pointed out by Ollier (1992).

A map of southeast Queensalnd and northeast Ne South Wales. Shows location of the Main Divide and the Great Escarpment.

The ‘location of the Main Divide and the Great Escarpment

Photo of 'The Steamers' - a prominent, narrow rock outcrop along the Great Escarpment in Queensland.

‘The Steamers’ – a section of the Great Escarpment in Queensland.

It has been argued (Bishop 1998) that the Great Escarpment is an erosional feature that goes back to the time of Gondwana. The basic idea is that it is one side of the rift valley that formed as Australia and New Zealand began to break apart around 100 million years ago.

Schematic geological cross-sections of eastern Australia over more than 100 million years showing the development of the Great Escarpment.

Schematic cross-sections of eastern Australia showing the development of the Great Escarpment

Mike Pole stands on the edge of the Kakadu Escarpment (1991).

Mike Pole in the Kakadu Escarpment (1991).

Somewhat unexpectedly, the Main Divide – the line separating drainages that flow east to the Tasman Sea from those that flow west and ultimately either to the central lake Eyre Basin or the Murray River system and out to the Southern Ocean, is not coincident with the Great Escarpment, but is a barely perceptible bump some way to its west.

Cross-section diagram of southeast Queensland showing how the Main Divide is higher than the Great Escarpment, but of much smoother topography

Diagram showing how the Main Divide is higher than the Great Escarpment, but of much smoother topography

Photo of the Blue Mountains, near Sydney. These are a section of the Great Escarpment.

Blue Mountains, near Sydney.

But it doesn’t stop there – further afield, similar ‘great escarpments’ are also to be found in South America, South Africa and India – a Gondwanan heritage indeed. In some of these places the views can be scarily similar. To me these can be the basis of a ‘Great Experiment’ – a great opportunity here to see how ecology and evolution have played out in widely separated, although “same-same, but different” areas.

Schematic cross-sections of Southern Africa, Australia, South America, and India (not to scale) showing escarpments around the edges and low topography in the centres. After Ollier (1991).

Schematic cross-sections of Southern Africa, Australia, South America, and India (not to scale) showing escarpments around the edges and low topography in the centres. After Ollier (1991).

Great Escarpment in south-east Brazil (Alex Borba Duarte, Fernanda Quaglio, Tania Linder-Dutra, Thièrs Wilberger).

Great Escarpment in south-east Brazil (Alex Borba Duarte, Fernanda Quaglio, Tania Linder-Dutra, Thièrs Wilberger).

Northern Drakensburg, South Africa. The Great Escarpment of another country.

Northern Drakensburg, South Africa.

Southern Drakensburg, South Africa

Southern Drakensburg, South Africa

References

Bishop, P. 1988, ‘The eastern highlands of Australia: the evolution of an intraplate highland belt’, Progress in Physical Geography, vol. 12, pp. 159 – 182.
 Ollier, C.D., 1982. The Great Escarpment of eastern Australia: tectonic and geomorphic significance. Journal of the Geological Society of Australia, 29: 13-23.
 Ollier, C., 1991. Ancient Landforms. Belhaven Press, London and New York.

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Pacifism in New Zealand: A Ruined Life?

My Mum always told me that her father was a Pacifist. As a kid, the information was of-interest, but a little bit so-what? He didn’t believe in fighting. Some years later I came across a couple of old books in our bookcase. These had been presented to my grandfather as prizes at school. There was “Brave Sons of the British Empire”, presented on Dec 19, 1912. The cover shows some Brit with a gun in Muslim country. Then there was ‘The Red Army Book’ with some dashing bloke about to bayonet someone on the cover. It was presented on Dec 14, 1913. War in Europe was approaching, and it was clear that our schools, Balclutha High School at least, were pumping up our boys for what was on the way. It may even have been more than that – the particular titles may have been specially chosen for a young man with a known pacifist bent. Up until I saw the dates in the books, I hadn’t twigged that my grandfather would have finished school during the First World War. This timing meant that he would have been immediately called up for service. In New Zealand, unlike Australia, there was conscription. I mentioned this to my mother – and got some more information. After he had died, when my mother was ten, she and her mother were going through some of his belongings. My mother absent-mindedly picked up a diary and flicked through it. “What does “being-inside” mean?” she asked. Her mother snatched the book from her and said “Your father ruined his life”. She never saw the diary again.

The covers of two books given to my Grandfather in New Zealand during the First World War. One is 'Brave Sons of the Empire' and the other 'The Red Army Book'. A deliberate challenge to a known pacifist perhaps?

Two books given to my Grandfather at school.

Older-still, I read Baxter’s “We Will Not Cease”, and was appalled. This book ought to be compulsory reading in every high school in New Zealand (you can get it for free here ). The seriousness of my grandfathers choice to be a pacifist became clearer. Around this time I got to meet two First World War veterans in Australia. At the time I think there were only seven left in the country. On one of my visits to Eric Abraham,  I asked him what he thought of Conscientious Objectors. The question stopped him short, but after a little hesitation, he said “I’d respect his views, but I wouldn’t want him as a mate”. Now this doesn’t mean that Eric was pro-war – far from it. It was a soldier’s response – as he explained later, the last thing that the guys on the Front wanted, was to be with others who didn’t want to be there.

Part of the print out from my Grandfather's First World War military records. It reads " Imprisonment with hard labour for two years"

Part of the print out from my Grandfather’s First World War military records. It reads ” Imprisonment with hard labour for two years”

I emailed the NZ Army, saying that my grandfather was a CO, and asked an abstract question –Would CO’s still have had a military record? The curt response, and I can almost hear the snarl that went with it, was “You failed to give your grandfathers name”. I sent it and immediately received the reply that there was no record. I guess I shouldn’t have expected more from the army, but few years later, thanks to the internet, I got my grandfathers records through the National Archives – and there it was. He certainly did have a military record. He, like Baxter before him, had been called up and had refused to put on his uniform. This was “refusing orders”, and a court-martialable offense. This is how we learned he was given two years hard-labour (Somewhat before this, Baxter and his compatriots had caused so  much trouble for the Army that there were no more forced-trips to France). There is nothing in the military records recording why he did what he did. He refused an order and that was that. Baxter’s book explained that the ‘ruined’ life may have been due more to his life being made a misery by everyone who could after the war, than his time in prison. The irony was – it was so late in the war that if he had simply gone along, the war would likely have ended before he got to the Front.   As for the rest of my grand-mothers family, a brother in law was sent to Gallipoli as a medic. He was lucky – he was evacuated back to NZ with illness. One of my grandmothers brothers was sent to the Western Front and was dead – killed in action, two days short of a month after arriving. He is buried in Ypres. Another brother, I had been told by my mother, had survived being buried alive in France. The Archives helped again – these confirmed he was buried “completely” by the explosion of a ‘minenwurfer’ “less than five yards” from him.  He was unconscious for 24 hours and a complete mess from shell-shock for a long time after. My mother remembers him as a kindly uncle who brought books for her when he visited, but shell-shock seems to have had a permanent effect.

So who was it then, who ‘ruined his life’?

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Traditional Christmas in Hamburg

Late 1984, I was booted out of Denmark and hit the next ferry to Puttgarden  (this was a condition of the local cops when they gave my passport back), then hitched my way south through the mist-swathed Northern German Plain towards Hamburg.  Being the old-days, East Germany was nearby and I could hear the eerie sounds of military manoeuvres coming out of the grey murk.

In Hamburg I fell in with an elderly kiwi couple; the husband had spent his childhood in the city and had finally come back for a visit. We wandered around some of the back-streets and in one met this 82 year-old leaning out of her window (unfortunately I no longer have her name) and struck up a conversation. It was in German, with my friends translating. Her husband had been involved in politics, and ran afoul of the Nazis. “Keep out out of politics, mein Schatz”, she told me. When the war came, she was bombed out, and walked to Vienna and back, spending some time working in a Russian soup kitchen.

Going through my negatives I noticed the plaque below her window. It tells us the house was built in 1969 and is dedicated to Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808-1881), for his efforts at helping Hamburg’s sick and poor. Presumably the original site was bombed-out. The extent of the horrific Hamburg fire-storm seems to have been just to the east, but most of the rest of the city was systematically bombed flat.

An 82 year-old leans out her window in a Hamburg street, 1984.

An 82 year-old leans out her window in Hamburg, 1984.

After a bit of street-side chat, she invited us in for a real treat – to see her living room decorated for a traditional German Christmas – cookies and sweets included!

One of the random joys of travel. An 82 year-old shows us her living room, decorated for Christmas in Hamburg, 1984.. There is a Xmas tree with lights in the corner, and candles on the table.

An 82 year-old shows us her living room, decorated for Christmas in 1984.

The thing that really stands out was the openness. German friends will tell me that in Germany this just doesn’t happen – even next door neighbours may not communicate or have the slightest idea of who they are.  Yet here was a woman living alone in the centre of a city (perhaps already incomprehensible to some cultures) who was happy to initiate an intelligent, friendly conversation with strangers, and invite them in. Wish I could have met her again…

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Traditional Christmas in Hamburg

Late 1984, I was booted out of Denmark and hit the next ferry to Puttgarden  (this was a condition of the local cops when they gave my passport back), then hitched my way south through the mist-swathed Northern German Plain towards Hamburg.  Being the old-days, East Germany was nearby and I could hear the eerie sounds of military manoeuvres coming out of the grey murk.

In Hamburg I fell in with an elderly kiwi couple; the husband had spent his childhood in the city and had finally come back for a visit. We wandered around some of the back-streets and in one met this 82 year-old leaning out of her window (unfortunately I no longer have her name) and struck up a conversation. It was in German, with my friends translating. Her husband had been involved in politics, and ran afoul of the Nazis. “Keep out out of politics, mein Schatz”, she told me. When the war came, she was bombed out, and walked to Vienna and back, spending some time working in a Russian soup kitchen.

Going through my negatives I noticed the plaque below her window. It tells us the house was built in 1969 and is dedicated to Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808-1881), for his efforts at helping Hamburg’s sick and poor. Presumably the original site was bombed-out. The extent of the horrific Hamburg fire-storm seems to have been just to the east, but most of the rest of the city was systematically bombed flat.

An 82 year-old leans out her window in a Hamburg street, 1984.

An 82 year-old leans out her window in Hamburg, 1984.

After a bit of street-side chat, she invited us in for a real treat – to see her living room decorated for a traditional German Christmas – cookies and sweets included!

One of the random joys of travel. An 82 year-old shows us her living room, decorated for Christmas in Hamburg, 1984.. There is a Xmas tree with lights in the corner, and candles on the table.

An 82 year-old shows us her living room, decorated for Christmas in 1984.

The thing that really stands out was the openness. German friends will tell me that in Germany this just doesn’t happen – even next door neighbours may not communicate or have the slightest idea of who they are.  Yet here was a woman living alone in the centre of a city (perhaps already incomprehensible to some cultures) who was happy to initiate an intelligent, friendly conversation with strangers, and invite them in. Wish I could have met her again…