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How East German Maps Made West Berlin (Almost) Disappear
On East German transit maps of Berlin, the city's western enclave was an unmentionable obstacle
Every map holds a promise, and hides a lie. Cartography purports to represent reality, so the map reader can navigate the world. But maps only exist because their makers manipulate reality, if only by selecting what to show. Maps always represent some kind of truth, but never the whole truth. If you know who made the map, you’re generally able to make a stab at the narrative behind it - and which story it isn’t telling.
Take this map of the urban transport network (1) in Berlin. At face value, it is a purely utilitarian map, giving its readers a no-nonsense, schematic overview of the transportational possibilities of the German capital. But context matters: this map was produced by the East German government, for its captive citizenry. It mixes information with propaganda as it tries very hard to ignore an inconvenient truth - too big to hide completely: the existence of another Berlin.
During the Cold War (1945-1989), world politics interfered with even the most basic elements of German toponymy. The country was divided in an eastern and western half, aligned with the Soviet and Western blocs respectively. The nomenclature reflected either state’s carefully maintained fiction that only it represented Germany as a whole (2). West Germany never officially referred to itself as ‘western’ but called itself the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany). Similarly, East Germany never self-applied the moniker Ostdeutschland, but chose Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic). The geographic, limitative name was generally reserved for the other half (3).
This national schizophrenia was replayed on an urban level in Berlin. Its eastern half was capital of East Germany, the Soviets’ most westerly outpost in Europe; its western half an enclave of West Germany, and a showcase for its Wirtschaftswunder (4). Both hemi-cities aspired to be Berlin’s one and only true incarnation, uncorrupted and unoccupied by the evil forces of either communism or capitalism. Hence the reluctance of either side to label itself as merely half of Berlin - official certificates for birth, marriage and death in both parts of the city were always issued in ‘Berlin’.
The official East German nomenclature treated the city’s division with the most circumspect of euphemisms - at least when referring to its own half, successively Groß-Berlin, demokratischer Sektor (Democratic Sector of Greater Berlin) over demokratisches Berlin (Democratic Berlin) to Berlin, Hauptstadt der DDR (Berlin, Capital of the German Democratic Republic). Never, ever: Ostberlin. After all, it was the Wessis who were enclaved, not the Ossis (5). Those Ossis therefore had no qualms in referring to the western sector as Westberlin or Berlin (West), whichever sounded more diminutive. Correspondingly, the official West German names for East Berlin were Berlin (Ost), Berlin (DDR), Ost-Berlin, Ostberlin, and even Ostsektor (Eastern Sector).
Because of its special political geography, Berlin became a flashpoint in the Cold War, which almost turned hot when the Soviets blockaded the city’s western half in 1948. The freedom and prosperity of West Berlin also challenged the communist East’s claims of moral superiority (or at least equivalence). The hemorrhaging of East German talent, ‘voting with its feet’ to live in the West, led to the construction in 1961 of the Berlin Wall (6).
This map shows what happened next in the minds of the East German authorities: West Berlin atrophied, ceasing to exist as anything but a minor irritant to cartographers.The area served by the green S-Bahn is proudly marked as Berlin, its lines overflowing into the neighbouring districts of Potsdam and Frankfurt-an-der-Oder. A clever ruse explains the diminutive size of Berlin (West): the lines extending westward into Potsdam district are shown on a separate map, overlapping the main map. The missing distance is rendered by arrows, connecting the lines on both maps. Those lines completely encircle West Berlin, greatly diminished by the overlap. Intriguingly, the overlap, where East eats West, creates two holes in the Staatsgrenze (national border) between both Berlins. Loopholes in the East’s cartographic logic? The encircling East Berlin lines look a bit like Pac-Man, the puny West Berlin nothing more than a freshly eaten, half-digested enemy.
It is quite remarkable how Berlin (West) is presented simply as a nondescript obstacle: not a single landmark is named, as if it is deepest, darkest Africa at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Nor are any of the S-Bahn or U-Bahn lines shown. This is due to the underground counterpart of the Berlin Wall, severing almost all links between the transport systems of both sides. This resulted in numerous so-called Geisterbahnhöfe (ghost stations), abandoned as the Wall went up (and projected downward) on 13th August, 1961, particularly on two U-Bahn lines and one S-Bahn line connecting different areas of West Berlin via the Mitte (centre), in East Berlin. Western trains would not stop, but slow down, permitting close visual inspection of these eerie metro stations.
The one exception was the station at Berlin-Friedrichstraße in East Berlin, where West Berliners could switch between one U-Bahn and two S-Bahn lines. Western traffic flowed next to Eastern, both flows hermetically sealed off from one another by an airport-style border control installation.
Many thanks to Mark Ovenden, who provided this image. It’s in his book Railway Maps of the World.
Strange Maps #513
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(1) Consisting of U-Bahn (short for Untergrundbahn, or underground rail) and S-Bahn (short for Stadtschnellbahn, or urban rail, a more extensive, largely suburban and mainly overground network of lines).
(2) Not as big a leap of the imagination as it might seem. For most of its existence, Germany had been a fragmented jumble of dukedoms, principalities and kingdoms, an idea rather than a state.
(3) The East German authorities often deviously rephrased the official geonym for West Germany as Deutsche Bundesrepublik, thereby consciously highlighting the ‘Democratic’ adjective (and the supposed democratic nature) of their own state. This made it quite easy to spot Western apologists for the East: they used the abbreviation DBR for West Germany, instead of the more common BRD.
(4) West Germany’s ‘economic miracle’, which saw the country transform itself, post-war, from rags to riches at breakneck speed.
(5) Shorthand for West and East German(s), also after Unification (which itself gave rise to neologisms like Ostalgie, for many former East Germans' hankering for the comforts of their demised state.
(6) Dubbed an ‘antifascist defensive wall’ by the East German authorities.
Why mega-eruptions like the ones that covered North America in ash are the least of your worries.
- The supervolcano under Yellowstone produced three massive eruptions over the past few million years.
- Each eruption covered much of what is now the western United States in an ash layer several feet deep.
- The last eruption was 640,000 years ago, but that doesn't mean the next eruption is overdue.
The end of the world as we know it
Panoramic view of Yellowstone National Park
Image: Heinrich Berann for the National Park Service – public domain
Of the many freak ways to shuffle off this mortal coil – lightning strikes, shark bites, falling pianos – here's one you can safely scratch off your worry list: an outbreak of the Yellowstone supervolcano.
As the map below shows, previous eruptions at Yellowstone were so massive that the ash fall covered most of what is now the western United States. A similar event today would not only claim countless lives directly, but also create enough subsidiary disruption to kill off global civilisation as we know it. A relatively recent eruption of the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia may have come close to killing off the human species (see further below).
However, just because a scenario is grim does not mean that it is likely (insert topical political joke here). In this case, the doom mongers claiming an eruption is 'overdue' are wrong. Yellowstone is not a library book or an oil change. Just because the previous mega-eruption happened long ago doesn't mean the next one is imminent.
Ash beds of North America
Ash beds deposited by major volcanic eruptions in North America.
Image: USGS – public domain
This map shows the location of the Yellowstone plateau and the ash beds deposited by its three most recent major outbreaks, plus two other eruptions – one similarly massive, the other the most recent one in North America.
The Huckleberry Ridge eruption occurred 2.1 million years ago. It ejected 2,450 km3 (588 cubic miles) of material, making it the largest known eruption in Yellowstone's history and in fact the largest eruption in North America in the past few million years.
This is the oldest of the three most recent caldera-forming eruptions of the Yellowstone hotspot. It created the Island Park Caldera, which lies partially in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and westward into Idaho. Ash from this eruption covered an area from southern California to North Dakota, and southern Idaho to northern Texas.
About 1.3 million years ago, the Mesa Falls eruption ejected 280 km3 (67 cubic miles) of material and created the Henry's Fork Caldera, located in Idaho, west of Yellowstone.
It was the smallest of the three major Yellowstone eruptions, both in terms of material ejected and area covered: 'only' most of present-day Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, and about half of South Dakota.
The Lava Creek eruption was the most recent major eruption of Yellowstone: about 640,000 years ago. It was the second-largest eruption in North America in the past few million years, creating the Yellowstone Caldera.
It ejected only about 1,000 km3 (240 cubic miles) of material, i.e. less than half of the Huckleberry Ridge eruption. However, its debris is spread out over a significantly wider area: basically, Huckleberry Ridge plus larger slices of both Canada and Mexico, plus most of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri.
This eruption occurred about 760,000 years ago. It was centered on southern California, where it created the Long Valley Caldera, and spewed out 580 km3 (139 cubic miles) of material. This makes it North America's third-largest eruption of the past few million years.
The material ejected by this eruption is known as the Bishop ash bed, and covers the central and western parts of the Lava Creek ash bed.
Mount St Helens
The eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980 was the deadliest and most destructive volcanic event in U.S. history: it created a mile-wide crater, killed 57 people and created economic damage in the neighborhood of $1 billion.
Yet by Yellowstone standards, it was tiny: Mount St Helens only ejected 0.25 km3 (0.06 cubic miles) of material, most of the ash settling in a relatively narrow band across Washington State and Idaho. By comparison, the Lava Creek eruption left a large swathe of North America in up to two metres of debris.
The difference between quakes and faults
The volume of dense rock equivalent (DRE) ejected by the Huckleberry Ridge event dwarfs all other North American eruptions. It is itself overshadowed by the DRE ejected at the most recent eruption at Toba (present-day Indonesia). This was one of the largest known eruptions ever and a relatively recent one: only 75,000 years ago. It is thought to have caused a global volcanic winter which lasted up to a decade and may be responsible for the bottleneck in human evolution: around that time, the total human population suddenly and drastically plummeted to between 1,000 and 10,000 breeding pairs.
Image: USGS – public domain
So, what are the chances of something that massive happening anytime soon? The aforementioned mongers of doom often claim that major eruptions occur at intervals of 600,000 years and point out that the last one was 640,000 years ago. Except that (a) the first interval was about 200,000 years longer, (b) two intervals is not a lot to base a prediction on, and (c) those intervals don't really mean anything anyway. Not in the case of volcanic eruptions, at least.
Earthquakes can be 'overdue' because the stress on fault lines is built up consistently over long periods, which means quakes can be predicted with a relative degree of accuracy. But this is not how volcanoes behave. They do not accumulate magma at constant rates. And the subterranean pressure that causes the magma to erupt does not follow a schedule.
What's more, previous super-eruptions do not necessarily imply future ones. Scientists are not convinced that there ever will be another big eruption at Yellowstone. Smaller eruptions, however, are much likelier. Since the Lava Creek eruption, there have been about 30 smaller outbreaks at Yellowstone, the last lava flow being about 70,000 years ago.
As for the immediate future (give or take a century): the magma chamber beneath Yellowstone is only 5 percent to 15 percent molten. Most scientists agree that is as un-alarming as it sounds. And that its statistically more relevant to worry about death by lightning, shark, or piano.
Strange Maps #1041
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The pandemic has many people questioning whether they ever want to go back to the office.
If one thing is clear about remote work, it's this: Many people prefer it and don't want their bosses to take it away.
When the pandemic forced office employees into lockdown and cut them off from spending in-person time with their colleagues, they almost immediately realized that they favor remote work over their traditional office routines and norms.
As remote workers of all ages contemplate their futures – and as some offices and schools start to reopen – many Americans are asking hard questions about whether they wish to return to their old lives, and what they're willing to sacrifice or endure in the years to come.
Even before the pandemic, there were people asking whether office life jibed with their aspirations.
We spent years studying “digital nomads" – workers who had left behind their homes, cities and most of their possessions to embark on what they call “location independent" lives. Our research taught us several important lessons about the conditions that push workers away from offices and major metropolitan areas, pulling them toward new lifestyles.
Legions of people now have the chance to reinvent their relationship to their work in much the same way.
Big-city bait and switch
Most digital nomads started out excited to work in career-track jobs for prestigious employers. Moving to cities like New York and London, they wanted to spend their free time meeting new people, going to museums and trying out new restaurants.
But then came the burnout.
Although these cities certainly host institutions that can inspire creativity and cultivate new relationships, digital nomads rarely had time to take advantage of them. Instead, high cost of living, time constraints and work demands contributed to an oppressive culture of materialism and workaholism.
Pauline, 28, who worked in advertising helping large corporate clients to develop brand identities through music, likened city life for professionals in her peer group to a “hamster wheel." (The names used in this article are pseudonyms, as required by research protocol.)
“The thing about New York is it's kind of like the battle of the busiest," she said. “It's like, 'Oh, you're so busy? No, I'm so busy.'"
Most of the digital nomads we studied had been lured into what urbanist Richard Florida termed “creative class" jobs – positions in design, tech, marketing and entertainment. They assumed this work would prove fulfilling enough to offset what they sacrificed in terms of time spent on social and creative pursuits.
Yet these digital nomads told us that their jobs were far less interesting and creative than they had been led to expect. Worse, their employers continued to demand that they be “all in" for work – and accept the controlling aspects of office life without providing the development, mentorship or meaningful work they felt they had been promised. As they looked to the future, they saw only more of the same.
Ellie, 33, a former business journalist who is now a freelance writer and entrepreneur, told us: “A lot of people don't have positive role models at work, so then it's sort of like 'Why am I climbing the ladder to try and get this job? This doesn't seem like a good way to spend the next twenty years.'"
By their late 20s to early 30s, digital nomads were actively researching ways to leave their career-track jobs in top-tier global cities.
Looking for a fresh start
Although they left some of the world's most glamorous cities, the digital nomads we studied were not homesteaders working from the wilderness; they needed access to the conveniences of contemporary life in order to be productive. Looking abroad, they quickly learned that places like Bali in Indonesia, and Chiang Mai in Thailand had the necessary infrastructure to support them at a fraction of the cost of their former lives.
With more and more companies now offering employees the choice to work remotely, there's no reason to think digital nomads have to travel to southeast Asia – or even leave the United States – to transform their work lives.
During the pandemic, some people have already migrated away from the nation's most expensive real estate markets to smaller cities and towns to be closer to nature or family. Many of these places still possess vibrant local cultures. As commutes to work disappear from daily life, such moves could leave remote workers with more available income and more free time.
The digital nomads we studied often used savings in time and money to try new things, like exploring side hustles. One recent study even found, somewhat paradoxically, that the sense of empowerment that came from embarking on a side hustle actually improved performance in workers' primary jobs.
The future of work, while not entirely remote, will undoubtedly offer more remote options to many more workers. Although some business leaders are still reluctant to accept their employees' desire to leave the office behind, local governments are embracing the trend, with several U.S. cities and states – along with countries around the world – developing plans to attract remote workers.
This migration, whether domestic or international, has the potential to enrich communities and cultivate more satisfying work lives.
The potential of CRISPR technology is incredible, but the threats are too serious to ignore.
- CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a revolutionary technology that gives scientists the ability to alter DNA. On the one hand, this tool could mean the elimination of certain diseases. On the other, there are concerns (both ethical and practical) about its misuse and the yet-unknown consequences of such experimentation.
- "The technique could be misused in horrible ways," says counter-terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke. Clarke lists biological weapons as one of the potential threats, "Threats for which we don't have any known antidote." CRISPR co-inventor, biochemist Jennifer Doudna, echos the concern, recounting a nightmare involving the technology, eugenics, and a meeting with Adolf Hitler.
- Should this kind of tool even exist? Do the positives outweigh the potential dangers? How could something like this ever be regulated, and should it be? These questions and more are considered by Doudna, Clarke, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, psychologist Steven Pinker, and physician Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Measuring a person's movements and poses, smart clothes could be used for athletic training, rehabilitation, or health-monitoring.