What's a Book Worth?

First Edition Cover
"We all have books that grabbed our hearts and minds, books that changed our lives, books that live with us forever.
But how good are we at remembering that – at communicating the immeasurable value of books?
After all, you can buy a book that might change your life for about the same as two cups of coffee.
But that’s just a book’s monetary value. What’s its real value to you?
How would you describe that?"

Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

As a child, I was allowed to read whatever I wanted. The library played a central role in my upbringing. My mother was an avid library-supporter and we would go every three weeks so she could get her supply. If she had something she thought I would like, she'd pass it on. Is it possible amid all those read books to name and discuss one that changed my life?

Two years ago, I was talking to a friend about one of those books, one that I had read as a teenager. I could only remember a few passages from this particular novel so I ordered a paperback copy for 7.99€. When I read the first chapter I was astonished at how this book had shaped my way of thinking, my beliefs and yes, in a dramatic tone, my life.

Slaughterhouse-Five, the story of American prisoners of war held in Dresden, Germany during the fire bombings towards the end of WWII, cemented a pacifistic and anti-war philosophy in me that was just waiting for proper affirmation. Growing up in America during the Vietnam 'Police-Action,' as they liked to call it, those of my generation were spoon-fed front line images on the evening news. For dessert we had anti-war demonstrations. Somewhere in there I developed a fascination and a revulsion of war.

Over the years those few passages I remembered and have lived by:

     I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.
     I have also told them not to work for companies which make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that.

I was in Dresden about five years back for a music instrument trade fair. I went along with my colleague who was going to drive alone to deliver and unload the company's truck full of guitars for the fair. I'd never been to Dresden and it didn't register where we were when we drove into the Schlachthof. It wasn't until I got home that I realized where we had been. 

Schlachthof 5, Dresden
    And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. 
     So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes. 
     People aren't supposed to look back. I'm certainly not going to do it anymore.
     I've finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun. This one is a failure, since it was written by a pillar of salt.

I'm still working on my war book. The more I study the mechanisms of war, the more I realize that they are all fundamentally the same.

     "I say, 'Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?'"
     What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too.

What's a Book Worth--a social media campaign: https://whatsabookworth.wordpress.com

Spotlight on Germany

Cologne around 1411


The best thing about living in central Europe is the availability of public transportation. Don’t even have to fly. From where I’m sitting, I can be in  Nuremberg in thirty minutes, I can be in Munich two hours, Prague in four hours, Vienna in five, Brussels in, say, seven hours, and London in twelve. 
High-speed trains. The railway expansion is causing chaos on Bavarian streets at the moment. Everywhere you turn, and I mean everywhere, bridges are shut and roads are dug up. But when it’s done, those trains’ll be faster than ever. 
View from the train station
I can get to the city of Cologne in about four hours. After passing Frankfurt, the train makes a picturesque journey along the Rhine River, past the mystical Lorelei, impressive at the least, breathtaking at the best. 
Breathtaking: the first impression of the famous Kölner Dom, the Cologne Cathedral as one exits the train station.

View from the Rheine

Some bullet-point facts about the cathedral: 

  • Work began on the cathedral in 1248 and stopped in 1473. It was finally finished in 1880.
  • It is 474 ft long, 283 ft wide and its towers are approximately 515 ft tall.
  • It is the world’s largest Gothic cathedral.
  • From 1880 bis 1884, the Kölner Dom was the highest building in the world.
  • 20,000 people a day visit the cathedral, that makes how many million every year?
  • The cathedral has eleven bells, the largest which weighs 24,000 kilos. 
  • It costs about 10 million Euros a year upkeep.

After WW II-courtesy of NS DokuZentrum Köln

Kleider Machen Leute


You can tell a lot about a person by the clothes they wear. Just one glance and you can imagine where that person lives, what they do for a living, how much money they have and how they feel about their lives in general. Or can you? ‘Clothes make the man’ is an age-old idiom that means just that: you are what you dress to be.

The practical usage of clothing has long been secondary to its actual function, hasn’t it? Yes, practically speaking, we clothe ourselves to stay warm and protect our soft, unshielded exteriors from the harsh elements. But clothing is a personal expression and always has been. Cavemen wore skins and furs, if you believe modern interpretation of that period, but I’ll bet the head caveman had the thickest, most luxurious fur. The higher the social standing, the more people could afford to adorn themselves with better skins, more costly fabrics and decorations of all sorts.

Clothing is an important element in a historical novel. What did they wear and how did that affect their daily lives? The heroine won’t be shovelling manure in a ball gown. All I have to go on when I write about people in the 1600’s is the illustrations and the documents left behind: paintings and drawings of any type and literature. Can I rely on these materials? (Imagine someone trying to reconstruct the 21st century based on the pictures and the literature we’re leaving behind.)  

Since 2012, the German National Museum in Nuremberg has been restoring and cataloguing their collection of Early Modern clothing. The last update of this collection took place in 1926 and was never completed. Along with their own pieces and other archeological findings, the museum is opening an exhibition on December 3rd 2015 to display clothing of the period. Along with this collection and other pieces on loan from other museums, they will be reconstructing a tailor’s workshop and addressing the very strict dress code in Germany in the 1600’s.

For more information, visit the GNM website: IN FASHION

Museum Monday

Veste Coburg www.coburg.de

The Veste Coburg

Today we're riding on a regional train from Nürnberg. The journey takes an hour and a half and costs 20€. We're feeling quite fit, the weather is perfect, so we take on the half hour walk from the train station in Coburg up to the fortress, The Veste Coburg.

In the 11th Century, the hilltop above Coburg housed a monastery. Over the generations, the buildings underwent exstensive expansion the walls were fortified. Today the fortress houses an impressive collection of historical artifacts, paintings and sculptures.

The collection of historical weapons and armor dates from the 16th and 17th Century and is the largest collection of its kind in Germany.

Exhibits from the armoury

The huge collection of historical hunting weapons dates from the 16th Century to the present and includes weapons from all across the European continent.

Exhibits of hunting weapons

On the ground floor of the Duchess's wing, carriages and sleighs are on display; a bridal carriage from 1560 and Queen Victoria's Gala Coupe from 1840.

Carriages and sleighs
And the high point of this visit is the Intarsia Hunting Room. This masterpiece of 60 panels of inlaid wood was completed in 1632. Follow the link under the picture for an impressive panoramic view of the room.

Intarsia hunting room
The Veste Coburg has an informative website, translated into English. Check them out here:  Veste Coburg

Here's the link to the city's website:  www.coburg.de

Riding the train in Germany is great:  Deutsche Bahn

Hoydens & Firebrands


The Dutch East India Company


The Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, the Dutch East India Company, was a trading company founded in 1602. Considered by some to be the first corporation in the world, the VOC was in any case the largest and most impressive trading company in Europe during the Early Modern Period. The Company ruled the trade zone between South Africa and Japan and was granted authority by the Dutch government to build forts, appoint a governing body and to form an army, as well as conducting trade and establishing colonies continue reading...

Painting: Willem van de Velde, The Cannon Shot (ca. 1670) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


Hoydens & Firebrands



Judging by the images and the books that are popular today, can you imagine how someone 400 years from now will view our society? How will they reconstruct our day in age based on the records we leave behind? That is, if they can even access our information. What impressions will they have of our culture? continue reading... 




Greetings from the Chaos Kitchen

The Most Awesome Raisin Bread

Bread baking is easy. All you need is flour, yeast, salt and water. And a baking apparatus. Bread dough can be wound around a stick and held over a fire. Bread dough can be placed in a clay form with a lid and buried in a fire pit. Or bread dough can be laid out nicely on a parchment-covered  baking tray and placed in a preheated electric oven for an hour.

Compared to other periods in history, the flour we buy today is of a high quality. For that matter, the bread we buy today is cheap and also of a very good quality. (Both points can be disputed and I invite you to dispute here in the comments.)

So why bother baking your own?

I like to bake bread because I can control the amount of salt going into it. I can decide what type of grain I want to use. The sweetish, yeasty, not-too-fermented smell of rising bread dough fills the room with a nostalgic, warm nuance.  The smell of baking bread is the heart-racing epitome of all baking experiences put together.

Have we forgotten chocolate chip cookies so quickly?

For the moment, yes. Another reason I bake: because in Germany I can’t buy some of the products I would like to have, like decent cookies. So I make them myself. Now in Germany, the bread is excellent. No doubt about that. But I can’t get a decent raisin bread.

And as easy as writing down the four ingredients for baking bread, I slammed together a raisin bread last night that knocked my socks off. And I actually wrote down the ingredients and their approximate measurements because I would like to do this again. So here’s my recipe in the Chaos Kitchen style. Minus the wine.

Raisin Bread

Soak in just enough hot water to cover and set aside:
1 c Raisins (more or less to taste)
2 T Crushed Linseed (optional--Omega-3 oils)

Mix together in a bowl:
4 c Flour of choice (Keep another cup or two in reserve)
Yeast (one packet dry yeast, ½ - 1 cake fresh yeast--mine are 42 g)
4 T Olive Oil
250 ml Buttermilk
½ c Dark Brown Sugar
2 T Cinnamon (more or less to taste--add nutmeg, allspice, ginger, anything you’d like)

Mix with a fork or get in there with your hands. Now, if you’re using fresh yeast, you might want to activate it. I mixed it with warmish water and a bit of sugar, put the flour on the top, then the oil and the buttermilk.

Add the raisins.

Now you have to get in there with your hands. Knead for about 10 minutes. The structure of the dough changes. If it’s too wet, add more flour. If it’s too dry, add warm water, oil or buttermilk, depending on how many calories you want to add to the bread.

Where’s the fun in this, you say?

Bread dough takes on the feel of flesh. The manner in which one kneads is entirely up to the kneader. Punching is a great way to release tension. Think of it as a physical workout! Takes some of the guilt away when we add more butter. And I quit smoking a few weeks back, so it gives my hands something to do.

Knead, knead knead, punch, Punch, PUNCH!  When the dough has that silky, smooth feel, place in a bowl, cover with a dish towel and put in a warm dry place to rise, about an hour. (I’ve read that the dough can turn too ‘beery’ and smell too fermented when left too long. Check this out: The Fresh Loaf)

Speaking of more butter: I melted one good tablespoon of butter and added some brown sugar and cinnamon. After the dough had risen, I wanted to roll it out, dribble the butter and sugar over it, then roll it up like a sort of swirl. Ha. That didn’t work. I ended up kneading the butter and the sugar into the dough. Which seemed to be ok. So I divided the dough into 3 loaves, put them on a parchment-lined baking tray and allowed them to rise again, like 20 minutes. Which didn’t happen in a cool room, so I put them in the oven at 150° C--no fan.  300° F, that is.

I have an electric oven with a fan. I have arrived.

After maybe 20 minutes or so, I turned the fan on. I may even have turned the temperature up to 350°. After only having a wood-powered oven for so long, I am so used to keeping my eye the goods, that I don’t pay a lot of attention to the temperature or the time. At some point I took the loaves out when the tops were lightly browned.

I allowed them to cool as long as I could contain myself. The loaves felt soft and I was worried I hadn’t left them in long enough. But after they had cooled, the knife slid through the cakey texture and the aroma of cinnamon and brown sugar almost moved me to tears.