Wednesday, 14 April 2010


Mid-February is the climax of the Karneval season in Germany. It starts on the 11th of November at 11:11 and is immediately suspended until after Advent but it only really gets going in the final week. The Köln and Düsseldorf region is the main area of Karneval in Germany and despite it not being an official holiday most businesses are closed for several days.
I had been repeatedly warned that the whole area goes totally 'crazy' and 'descends into chaos' at this time, drinking, singing, dancing, dressing-up and going to parades etc. This sounded to me like the most cringe-inducing, organised 'fun' and a microcosm of everything I hate. It turns out that I'm not alone and many locals choose to escape on holidays. However one must not judge (well, not before trying it) and so I decided to go with Michael (a local and veteran Karneval goer), Aris, Karen and Ralph to the biggest parade in Köln on Rosenmontag.

Snow sticking to the telescope Deep  snow on the road to the observatory

Our plans were nearly scuppered when we were given observing time over the weekend but we organised around it. As it happened it snowed almost the entire time and so we could not observe due to snow sticking to the dish. Ralph and I nearly got stuck at the telescope and had to drive through deep, drifting snow back to Bonn.
On the Monday Michael (dressed as a clown) hobbled into the station having slipped on ice and hurt his ankle. Despite the pain he still wanted to go and see the parade. Karen had painted her face but Aris, Ralph and I remained steadfastly undecorated.

Aris, Karen, Ralph and Michael on the way to Karneval The  parade

The train was full of people dressed up and Köln was thronging with costumed Germans shouting "Kölle Alaaf!", the traditional local-dialect greeting at this time. We made our way to the parade route and joined the crowd. The parade had tens of floats (often with political themes), marching bands etc. From the floats people were throwing candy and flowers into the crowd, the crowd egged them on by shouting for more. Everyone was drinking, singing (to truly awful marching band music), eating candy and enjoying themselves immensely. The crowd was also very well behaved (as drunken mobs go) and there were plenty of families.

The parade A  marching band

After the parade we had some beers in bar nearby and listened to some more bad music before getting an U-Bahn back to Bad Godesberg. It was a rather sorry sight seeing Michael limping back home in his clown costume.
In the end I think the 'craziness' that I had been warned about was much over exaggerated. It was really just a few days of carnival and partying, the only thing that makes it crazy is that it's in Germany. Of course the next day everyone was back to studiously ignoring each other. I'm glad I went but I'm not sure I'll be back next year.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010


Back at the end of January I went to the Gravitational Wave Data Analysis Workshop meeting in Rome. I was invited to give a talk about pulsar timing arrays to an audience made of largely LIGO/VIRGO and LISA people.
It was snowing as I wheeled my bag through the deserted streets of Bad Godesberg at 6am but it was sunny (if not actually warm) when I eventually arrived in Rome. After I found my hotel went out to take a few photos. I made my way to the Coliseum, I've been there before but it was a long time ago. Coming from the city centre you would think that you could see it for miles but I walked for ages with no sign of it. I was just wondering if I was going in the right direction, when I turned a corner and there it was!

The Coliseum The  Moon through an arch in the Coliseum

The meeting was interesting. The LIGO/VIRGO and LISA people have a great deal over overlap with the pulsar people but they come at it from a totally different angle. As one of the few pulsar people I gave a general review of the pulsar side of things. It's nice to see the interest the pulsar work gets now.

A Roman sending an SMS Through  an arch in the Coliseum

Unlike most conferences I didn't know most of the attendees but I met up with a few colleagues who I hadn't seen in a while and we had some dinners in town. The conference dinner itself was excellent. The restaurant had picturesque views of the city and the Vatican and the food was spectacular.

The  Coliseum and the Arch of Constantine The  Basilica of Santa Francesca Romana

Before I left I went and had a look at the Roman Forum and some of the other sites in the vicinity. Unfortunately the weather all week was pretty miserable with overcast skies and drizzle. Still it stopped long enough for a quick tour.

The  Roman Forum Foro di Augusto

Then I was back on the aeroplane to Düsseldorf (because there wasn't a flight to Köln) followed by a train ride home to Bad Godesberg where it was still snowing.