Recently by Bernd Brunner:

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The following is an excerpt from Birdmania, the latest book by author Bernd Brunner, translated by Jane Billinghurst.

The science of eggs is called “oology” (from the Greek “oion”) and not, as one might have guessed, “ovology.” Is interest in the outer covering of an egg an expression of the joy the observer feels as they anticipate the new life forming, unseen, inside? That is doubtful, because the act of collecting blown eggshells and storing them in boxes, drawers, and cupboards — taking them out from time to time to dust them off — pretty much shoots that theory down. Is there any connection at all between marveling at the object and appreciating the bird? It hardly seems possible that the urges to collect eggs and to delight in birdwatching could coexist in the mind of one person. Perhaps it is only the egg in all its flawless perfection that fascinates, and what the observer experiences is an appreciation for the object in and of itself?
More… “The Allure of the Egg”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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A hotel is a living organism, a microcosm with a strict hierarchy, an orchestrated timetable of actions and events that unfold according to a particular dramaturgy. Some hotels have even reached the status of living myths — they have succeeded in forming an identity of their own. And in many cases, their status is owed to the writers and actors that have stayed in them. Agatha Christie stayed in room 411 of Istanbul’s neo-Rococo-style Pera Palace Hotel and is said to have written Murder on the Orient Express there. The Park Hyatt Tokyo certainly owes some of its appeal for foreign visitors to Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, who filmed substantial parts of Lost in Translation there.

More… “If Walls Could Talk”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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I have been wondering recently why it’s essential for politicians or diplomats at high-profile meetings and film stars in Hollywood or Cannes to stroll along a red carpet. I assume that the red carpet is supposed to highlight the esteem the public holds towards these famous individuals (or, in the case of hotels, managers want their guests to feel famous — maybe more so than they are in real life). Once the red carpet is brought out, it becomes part of peculiar ritual, and the people and scene around it take on a different meaning.  “Red-carpet outfits” become necessary. Obviously a carpet of superior quality is not enough to be the epitome of fame, power and glamor – it has to have this particular, vibrant color. Why, of all things, does it have to be red?

If we believe the historical record, a red carpet first made its appearance some 2,500 years ago, in the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus. On his return from Troy, Agamemnon – the leader of the Greeks and king of Mycenae — was offered a red path to walk upon rather than touching the Earth with his feet directly. At first, he resisted treading upon it because he believed that it was reserved for the gods: “I cannot trample upon these tinted splendors without fear thrown in my path.” Eventually he gives in, and the red carpet wickedly leads him to the door that will open to his death: his wife takes revenge on him for killing their daughter by murdering him with an axe.

More… “Seeing Red”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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At the end of the 18th century, a Frenchman by the name of Xavier de Maistre had to undergo house arrest for dueling. He made the best of it and traveled about his room. He was inspired by the paintings, the books on the shelf, his servant, his dog, his lover. And he wrote a book about it. Voyage Around My Room is a stroll across a room where in fact nothing really happens. Nevertheless, he developed a real taste for it. Among the praise of his “voyage” was the following (for the infirm, in this case): “They need not fear the inclemency of the elements or the seasons. As for the faint of heart, they will be safe from bandits, and need not fear encountering any precipices or holes in the road. Thousands of people who, before me, had never dared to travel, and others who had been unable, and still others who had never dreamed of it, will now, after my example, undertake to do so.”

More… “Between Everywhere and Nowhere”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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If German visitors to the United States shop at a supermarket, they will probably notice beer cans on the shelves bearing familiar-sounding names like Pabst, Schlitz, or Anheuser-Busch. But if they ask Americans unfamiliar with modern-day Germany what it means to be German, the answers might surprise them. For many Americans, “typically German” things include Christmas traditions and baked goods, classical music, or brass bands and marches, and they may know a few terms like Kindergarten or Gemütlichkeit. Often, these traces of Germany are just regionally specific cultural leftovers that have managed to survive — in distorted form — into the present.

No other country has exerted such a powerful, centuries-long fascination over German emigrants than the United States. And the German-speaking countries are second only to Great Britain as a continual source of new inhabitants of America. This emigration began with isolated groups in the 17th century and continued in bursts for more than a hundred years, when a wave of mass emigration began. Until this tipping point, however, the number of relocated Germans was never more than a few hundred thousand. In his novel, Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years, the famous German author Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote of the “lively impetus toward America in the beginning of the 18th century” that was “encouraged by the desirable possessions which could be obtained.” In the 19th century, immigration patterns reflected the larger transition from an agricultural society to an industrial one. Between 1815 and 1914, about 40 million people came to America from Europe, including approximately seven million Germans. More… “Destination Amerika”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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Both Jews and Muslims consider the pink, snout-nosed animals we know as pigs to be unclean. The question of why this is so has not been conclusively resolved. Did the Koran follow a Jewish rule? Or does the ban stem from the fact that eating raw or undercooked pork meat can contain roundworm larvae, which cause trichinosis? People may have made a connection between pigs and disease, resulting in a fear-based taboo. For the anthropologist Marvin Harris, the main reasons for prohibiting the eating of pork were ecological and economical. Pigs require lots of water and shady woods with seeds, conditions that are scarce in the Middle East.

But the full story may be even more complicated. Whether pigs are considered “clean” or “unclean” has differed from culture to culture, and no clear dividing line based on climate conditions is evident. As a result, it’s difficult to determine what exactly people in the distant past thought about meat. Could it be that this taboo was chosen more or less randomly to create a sense of community among believers of the same religion? To the Egyptian pharaohs, pork was unclean, to the ancient Greeks it was not. The hoggish Romans had a great deal of sympathy for the genus sus, and one pig in ancient Rome even had its own tomb. The inscription reads “Porcella hic dormit” — here rests a piglet. This particular pig lived for three years, ten months and 13 days. Its modern descendants “enjoy” much shorter lives, as they are usually slaughtered when they are between six and ten months old. Christianity’s Saint Anthony, a monk who was born in Egypt, serves as the patron saint of farmers, swineherds, and butchers. Legend has it that at some point he worked as a swineherd, and Hieronymus Bosch painted him with a pet pig at his side. In the Middle Ages, pigs, like many other animals, were held culpable for criminal acts and could be taken to court and executed. All in all, the pigs do not exactly have the best reputation in the Christian tradition — but people still eat them. More… “Between Porcophilia and Porcophobia”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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In 1817, a former forester by the name of Karl Drais undertook an excursion on the paved road from Mannheim, Germany to Schwetzingen, just west of Heidelberg, and back. These eight miles took him just an hour (a stagecoach would have needed about four). Instead of merely walking, he drove himself or rode on a special vehicle he had constructed for himself: the Draisine, or dandy horse, made from wood. The local newspaper didn’t even take notice. We don’t know if Drais was aware of the importance of his vehicle, which we remember today as the prototype of the first bicycle — in other words, the first mechanical individual means of transportation without a horse.

The revolutionary aspect of the Draisine was the fact that it had two wheels in a line rather than next to each other. Drais acquired something like a patent in his home state of Baden, and later in Prussia and France. However, his invention was not yet a bike in the sense that we know today. It didn’t have pedals yet, and was propelled by the rider pushing on the ground with his or her feet. This direct connection with the ground gave riders the feeling of being somewhat in control, while the bike as we know it today requires more trust in the device. It was something the people back then simply didn’t have. More… “Revolution on Two Wheels”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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Ever since single-pane windows have given way to their double-glazed cousins, frost patterns have widely disappeared, but these icy coatings can still be found on other surfaces, like car windows. They used to be common on windows of trains traveling across icy landscapes. Appearing where inside and outside meet, they are always threatened with melting. The frost consists of crystals produced when moisture in the air comes in contact with a smooth surface that is colder than the freezing point of water. The moisture thus goes directly from gas to solid.

The sparkling, glittering patterns, growing from below, are delicate, complex, often fantastic. They immediately capture our attention and divert our thoughts into other directions. Seemingly painted by an invisible hand, they can both delight and irritate. They may even suggest a story. Among the most-heard comparisons are with leaves or ferns. Some observers see coastlines, mountain ranges, fig trees. A spider’s web or a peacock’s tail. Of course, frost patterns never look exactly the same, and the interpretations are almost endless. More… “Crystalline Botany”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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The polar bear is not only the planet’s biggest land-based carnivore, but it also has a long and colorful, if often violent, history of interaction with humans, which is the topic of an illustrated new book titled Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon (University of Washington Press, November 2016) by Michael Engelhard. Michael Engelhard is both a cultural anthropologist and a wilderness guide. He is the author of two essay collections, Where the Rain Children Sleep and American Wild, and the editor of four anthologies, including Wild Moments: Adventures with Animals of the North. Engelhard lives in Fairbanks, Alaska.

More… “Big as a Calf, White as a Swan”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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The past centuries, if not millennia, have been characterized by the unprecedented spread of certain plants to other continents. Crops such as bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and rice are classic examples. Many others did not require human help; their seeds were spread by wind and birds and encountered favorable conditions, as has happened since time immemorial. Some plant types are particularly aggressive, spreading and replacing other plants. They are usually called “invasive” types, and they sometimes succeed with the involuntary help of humans. Now, due to climate change, vegetation zones are changing: Conifer forests, for example, are spreading to tundras, and in the tropics, the rain forest is becoming denser. More… “A Fruit of Many Names”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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