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A week in Germany


October 7, 2012 by IPAlchemist

I have been spending the last couple of weeks involved in the transfer of my blog from its old home at to its current location, hence the lack of posts for a little while.

However, these weeks have been eventful ones, and I hope to post in due course about what has been going on.

Starting with last week, where I have been visiting friends in Germany.

Thorsten Volk was a post-doc with me in Japan in the laboratories of Professor Mikami at the Tokyo Institute of Techmology, and I have been well overdue a visit to him and his wife Michaela, and two sons Nico and Corin.  So last week I went to visit them in their home in the lovely town of Alsbach (not far from Frankfurt).  It is a pretty town nestled in hills, with an old castle at the top, and very picturesque.

Thorsten works for BASF in Ludwigshafen.  On Thursday I got to visit – a great joy for a chemist to see an amazing plant in action.  The site at Ludwigshafen is the size of a town, snuggled up to the Rhine (opposite Mannheim), and is entirely given over to chemical plants, making all kinds of things.  There is cracking of natural gas, and then elaboration of the products into a huge variety of chemicals.

Thorsten’s plant, just one tiny part of the whole, is the size of several blocks, and makes butanediol, which is the raw material for a vast array of useful products, including the solvent THF and the plastic poly-THF.  We got to poke around in various bits of it – a fascinating collection of reactors, columns, towers and separators, all connected by walkways, like a giant meccano set.  From the walkway at the vertigo-inducing top of the tallest column, you can see the whole site spread out before you on all sides.

The site is not as big as Jurong Island in Singapore, where I have also had the pleasure to visit, but I got to see a lot more of it.  In both cases, naturally, pictures are not permitted, so I can’t show you how wonderful it was – you will have to take my word for it, or visit yourself!

In the afternoon I briefly visited Heidelberg.  I have visited once before when I was inter-railing when I was 19, but that was a long time ago.  I was unlucky with the weather, as it rained most of the afternoon, and I didn’t have a lot of time, so I went to the castle and spent most of the time looking at the Pharmacy Museum which is inside the castle.  This seemed appropriate enough for a chemist.  The museum is not enormous, about 10 rooms, but they have rescued 18th and 19th century pharmacy interiors from various towns and monasteries, which are absolutely gorgeous, as well as the assorted jars, vials, and cases that medicaments were kept in, and the tools and apparatus used to crush, grind, process, and extract the various materials.  And there is one room with example of traditional medicaments – herbs, animal parts, and minerals.  After that, I just had time to take a quick peek at the Heilige Geist Kirche and the Old Bridge, before calling it a day.

The previous day was the German holiday celebrating the reunification (3 October).  This was the main reason for this timing of the trip.  So we had a family outing to the Felsenmeer at Reichenbach.  A felsenmeer is a bunch of boulders gathered up and then deposited by a glacier as it melts.  So what you see is a huge procession of enormous stones.  In the case of the one at Reichenbach, the stones are granite.  This did not escape the attention of the Romans, who used it as a source of pre-quarried stone.  In some cases, they started working on the stones, but did not eventually extract them, and so you can see the half-finished pieces with the ancient tool marks.  I am posting a few pictures on a separate post – examples of the part-worked stones are the Column and the Sarcophagus.



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