Operation Bernhard


Operation Bernhard was the name of a secret German plan devised during World War II to destabilise the British economy by flooding the country with forged Bank of England £5, £10, £20, and £50 notes.

The plan was directed by, and named after, SS Major (Sturmbannführer) Bernhard Krüger, who set up a team of 142 counterfeiters from among inmates at Sachsenhausen concentration camp at first, and then from others, especially Auschwitz.

Beginning in 1942, the work of engraving the complex printing plates, developing the appropriate rag-based paper with the correct watermarks, and breaking the code to generate valid serial numbers was extremely difficult, but by the time Sachsenhausen was evacuated in April 1945, the printing press there had produced 8,965,080 banknotes with a total value of £134,610,810. The notes are considered among the most perfect counterfeits ever produced, being extremely difficult although not impossible to distinguish from the real thing.

Although the initial plan was to destabilise the British economy by dropping the notes from aircraft, on the assumption that while some honest people would hand them in most people would keep the notes, in practice this plan was not put into effect.

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Cows, Kaiser Wilhelm and Daylight Saving Time


Billions of people around the world experience general fatigue all day after losing an hour of sleep to daylight saving time. For years, conventional wisdom has been that it benefits one particular group: farmers, but that’s not actually true. There are no farming activities that benefit from daylight saving.

‘Of course daylight saving doesn’t benefit farmers, cows don’t care what time it is, because they’re cows, and cows are idiots.[1] So if it’s not for them, who is it for?

The modern daylight saving was introduced during the first world war as a fuel saving measure by the Germans. – That’s right, you lost an hour of sleep this morning thanks to Kaiser Wilhelm!

And while back then, daylight saving may indeed have saved fuel, in the modern era, energy consumption is a little more complicated. In fact, when Indiana adopted daylight saving in 2006, guess what happened: the data shows that daylight saving actually led to a 1% overall rise in residential electricity.

Of course it did, because switching on a lamp an hour later in the summer doesn’t really matter when you’re blasting an air conditioner and staying up all night psychotically scrolling through instagrams of your ex’s honeymoon to Morocco.

But that’s not to say daylight saving doesn’t have any effects at all. Studies show there is an increase of car accidents and work-related injuries the week after the time change. – That’s right, what you lose in sleep, you gain in mortal danger.

Despite all this, 70 countries around the world still observe daylight saving and yet by going by local news reports, none of them could tell you why. […]

So if it doesn’t benefit our energy bill, our health or our stupid, stupid cows, it has to make you wonder: daylight saving time, how is this still a thing?’

– Oliver. J. et. al. (2015, March 8) Daylight Saving Time – How Is This Still A Thing?: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)


[1] The authors would like to underline they do not endorse the view that all cows are idiots. A 2004 study by Cambridge University researchers revealed cows have “eureka” moments, taking pleasure in their own learning achievements. When the cows made improvements in learning, they showed emotional and behavioral reactions that indicated excitement.

Ostalgie


Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, almost all symbols of the former German Democratic Republic (DDR in German) have been removed. Regardless of the fact that former inhabitants of the DDR now live in a predominantly free-market economy, many still prefer to purchase household items that remind them of life in the old republic.

This socio-economic and sociocultural phenomenon is known in Germany as Ostalgie; it is a portmanteau that describes nostalgia for East Germany combining the German words Nostalgie meaning ‘nostalgia’ and Ost meaning ‘east’.

‘Now some people are longing for the old hermit’s cell like a childhood treehouse. That’s harmless; West Germans find it horrifying, East Germans find it touching.’ – Christoph Dieckmann (10 December 1993) “Der Schnee von gestern”, Die Zeit

‘The archival practices of collection and display can have a similar, if unintended, implication. Imagine what it must be like for many eastern Germans to walk into a museum and be surrounded by the things in their own living rooms. The effect of such historicizations of the present is uncanny (in the sense of a ‘strangeness of that which is most familiar’ [Ivy 1995:23]); The past is connected to the present by distancing it in space and time. […]

‘Ostalgic’ practices reveal a highly complicated relationship between personal histories, disadvantage, dispossession, the betrayal of promises, and the social worlds of production and consumption. These practices thus not only reflect and constitute important identity transformations in a period of intense social discord, but also reveal the politics, ambiguities, and paradoxes of memory, nostalgia, and resistance, all of which are linked to the paths, diversions, and multiple meanings of East German things.’

– Berdahl, Daphne (1999) ‘(N)Ostalgie’ for the present: Memory, longing, and East German things, Ethnos, 64: 2, 192—211

8/x mmxv


The charango, a unique musical instrument found only in Bolivia, is made from the shell of an armadillo.

Every year about 98% of the atoms in your body are replaced.

For every American killed by terrorism in or outside the U.S., more than 1,000 died from firearms inside the U.S. during the recent decade.

One in four Dutch smokers does not reach their pension-age.

The 1919 Treaty of Versailles explicitly forbade Germans form calling their sparkling wine ‘champagne’, so they called it by another, informal name: ‘sekt’ (from the Latin siccus, ‘dry’).

See other: Quite Interesting Facts

Geographic Illiteracy


Over a decade ago, National Geographic organised a global survey to measure the developed world’s geographic literacy.[1]

On average, fewer than 25 percent of young people worldwide could locate Israel on the map. Only about 20 percent could identify international news hotspots like Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

‘Geographically Illiterate: Someone who sucks at geography.’ – Urban Dictionary

More recent research shows no improvement. When the Russian Federation invaded the Ukraine in 2014, the Washington Post conducted a survey which showed that only 16% of Americans was able to locate the Black Sea nation on a map.[2]

More importantly, it was found that this lack of geographic knowledge is related to preferences and decision-making: namely, the farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene with military force.

Whatever your views on this political squabble, the following conclusion is inevitable: whether people are in possession of a certain geographic fact determines their opinion in a certain way.

As for geography, knowledge of the location of places and the physical and cultural characteristics of those places are a requirement to function more effectively in an increasingly interdependent world.

On top of that, knowledge of the geography of past times and how geography has played an important role in the evolution of a society, their ideas, and its environment are not only prerequisites for historical knowledge, but also necessary for making sound decisions in the present.[3]

“If geography is prose, maps are iconography.” – Lennart Meri

These findings only underline the importance of teaching Geography. However, as always with formal education, it does not tell the whole story: besides teaching Geography as a core subject on the national curriculum, National Geographic researchers found that geographic knowledge also increases through travel and language proficiency.

In the highest-scoring countries of the National Geographic Survey (Sweden, Germany and Italy) at least 70 percent of the young adults had travelled internationally in the last three years, and the majority spoke more than one language (at the time, no less than 92 percent of young people in Sweden).

In the U.S. and Mexico only about 20 percent of young people had travelled abroad during the same period and the majority spoke only one language.

“All I ever wanted was a world without maps.” – Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

‘Our daily lives are interwoven with geography. Each of us lives in a unique place and in constant interaction with our surroundings. Geographic knowledge and skills are essential for us to understand the activities and patterns of our lives and the lives of others. We move from place to place, aided by transportation and navigation systems. We communicate using global networks of computers and satellites. We strive to live in healthy physical and social environments. We work to avoid the negative consequences of exposure to natural and technological hazards. We search for interesting destinations and vacations. We observe and learn about our own culture and other cultures around the world. We want to lead satisfying lives and contribute to the welfare of our communities. Geographic knowledge and understanding is fundamental to reaching our goals, and in attaining a higher quality of life.’
Why Geography Is Important (2005), Grosvenor Centre of Education


[1] The National Geographic–Roper 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey polled more than 3,000 18- to 24-year-olds in Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and the United States.
According to Robert Pastor, professor of International Relations at American University, in Washington, D.C., “The survey demonstrates the geographic illiteracy of the United States.”
About 11 percent of young citizens of the U.S. couldn’t even locate the U.S. on a map. The Pacific Ocean’s location was a mystery to 29 percent; Japan, to 58 percent; France, to 65 percent; and the United Kingdom, to 69 percent. Less than 15 percent could locate neither Israel nor Iraq.
“War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” – Ambrose Bierce

[2] From March 28 to 31, 2014, The Washington Post asked a national sample of 2,066 Americans what action they wanted the U.S. to take in Ukraine, but with a twist: in addition to measuring standard demographic characteristics and general foreign policy attitudes, they also asked the survey respondents to locate Ukraine on a map as part of a larger, ongoing project to study foreign policy knowledge. The newspaper wanted to see where Americans think Ukraine is and to learn if this knowledge (or lack thereof) is related to their foreign policy views. The survey also found that 5 out of 2,066 Americans thought the Ukraine was located in the U.S. corn belt.

[3] The importance of geographic knowledge is of paramount importance, not only for a better understanding of historical and present geopolitical issues, but also as a scientific measuring device to help humans to make better decisions about the environment. Consider the intellectual poverty of young people who are ignorant of:

  • The basic physical systems that affect everyday life (e.g. earth-sun relationships, water cycles, wind and ocean currents).
  • Relationships between the physical environment and society.
  • How the processes of human and physical systems have arranged and sometimes changed the surface of the Earth – and still do.
  • The fact that the Earth is the homeland of humankind and knowledge of that planet provides insight for wise management decisions about how the planet’s resources should be used.

Exonym


Exonyms are names used in a particular language to refer to a foreign nation or country; they can be completely different from the name that country uses (in its particular language) to qualify itself. Quite often, they can be of interest from a historical point of view because they can be surprisingly conservative. The exonym is sometimes preserved for hundreds of years after the political or ethnic entity it originally referred to ceased to be.

One of the best-known cases is Germany. Many nations share their linguistic origin with the German term Deutschland, even though they have sometimes assumed a quite different form i.e. Duitsland, Tedesco or Tyskland – from the Proto-Germanic Þeudiskaz. The Slavic peoples call the Germans Niemcy or similar which means ‘a mute’, someone who does not speak Slavic. The French and Spanish, among others, employ the name of the Alamanni tribe. The English, Italians and Russians, to name a few, use a derivative of the Latin Germania or Greek Γερμανία. And the Finns and Baltic states either refer to the name of the Saxon tribe or employ a word of unknown origin, like the Latvian Vacija or the Lithuanian Vokietija.

Consider these other cases:

  • The Latvians call Russia Krievija, referring to an ancient Slavic tribal union, the Krivichi;
  • The Turks call Greece Yunanistan and the Greeks Yunan, another very old exonym which probably has for origin the word ‘Ionia’, that is the Greek region on the coast of Asia Minor;
  • In a kind of an opposite logic, Russia was called Muscovy by the Poles, and then by other Europeans as a way to deny the claim of the Moscow-based government on the totality of Russian lands;
  • The Japanese used to call China Tang even hundreds of years after the end of that dynasty. In the late 19th- and early 20th century they resorted to an even older and more obscure word Shina, which had the advantage of being similar to the equivalent Western terms.

Also, there is something particularly curious about Roman exonyms; it seems the Romans gave completely random names to any people they encountered. A people that called itself Rasenna received the name Tuscans or Etruscans. The inhabitants of Carthage became Punics, and the Hellenes or Achaeans were Greeks. Celts became Galli or the Gauls.

“Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it.”
– George Bernard Shaw

Did Hitler Chew The Carpets?


A lot of gossip, nonsense and hearsay is often spoken about people with great historical significance. Adolf Hitler is no exception.

Stamp of the Greater German Reich, depicting A...

Stamp of Nazi Germany, depicting Adolf Hitler as the Führer of the Reich

Contrary to uneducated popular belief, Hitler was not a homosexual, communist, socialist, atheist, or vegetarian (Reichsführer-SS Himmler was a strict vegetarian; he also believed in astrology and homoeopathy, and claimed to speak with the dead), Hitler never tortured animals, he did not only play White in chess, nor is there any evidence to suggest that he had only one descended testicle (a phenomenon known as cryptorchidism – Mao Zedong suffered from this condition).

The Führer was however, a bit unstable. In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest that the Führer was a paranoid rageaholic.

In his novel HhhH (Himmler’s brains are called Heydrich), Laurent Binet examines the historical evidence whether, once or twice during a meeting, Hitler leaped onto the floor and started chewing the carpet in a blind fit of rage.

‘During the Sudeten crisis the first signs of madness of the Führer were revealed. In those days, the mere mention of Beneš and the Czechs made him so livid he would lose his self-control completely. People have witnessed him throwing himself to the floor and chewing the carpet out of sheer anger. Those fits of madness gave him the nickname Teppichfresser (carpet-eater) among his enemies. I do not know whether he made a habit of chewing the carpets when he completely lost his temper, or whether the symptom disappeared after the Munich agreement.[*]

* Some argue that ‘carpet-eating’ is a German expression which is comparable to the French ‘eating one’s hat’ (to change one’s opinion) and that foreign correspondents have interpreted the expression too literally, which would explain how Hitler got sullied with this legend. However, I have examined the evidence and found no trace of the idiomatic use of the expression.’

– Binet. L. 2010. HhhH [Hitler’s Brains are called Heydrich] Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Meulenhoff (2013) p. 82

Landsknecht and Whore


The Landsknechts were German mercenary soldiers who excelled on the battlefields of Europe from approximately 1487 to 1556.

Hopfer, Daniel (ca 1470-1536): Landsknecht wit...

The 15th century landsknecht with his wife

Landsknecht literally means ‘servant of the country’. They were originally created as a force to support the Holy Roman Empire, but they soon began hiring themselves out to the highest bidder.

Men who joined a Landsknecht company (known as a Fähnlein) usually brought along a sister, wife, or daughter to care for them. These women were called Hure – which literally means ‘whores’, but they were not quite prostitutes.

The women of the landsknechts cared for the men between battles; some even participated in battles, looted the dead or killed the almost-dead. Some of the women even assisted with the heavy artillery, and stripped enemy houses of wood that was used later for earthworks.

Despite the assistance, the life of a landsknecht was not easy – punishment for breaking contract was swift and violent, battles were bloody and fierce, and the living conditions were usually very poor and uncomfortable. The primary benefit of landsknecht existence was the pay; a Landsknecht earned more in a month than a farmer earned in a year. If he survived, he could retire wealthy.