Cologne, Germany - August 9, 2003
Copyright Reinhard Krischer
It’s way past midnight, but who can sleep during a heat wave? It’s not only a regional heat wave. It’s even worse in other parts of Europe.
But not only there, it’s global too.
Cologne is situated smack in the middle of western Europe. We have the River Rhine and a couple of big artificial lakes (“recultured areas” from open-pit lignite mining). But no seashore with a fresh breeze. For that you’d have to take one of our big European Autobahns, like the A4, that takes you via Aachen, Liege and Brussels to the Belgian Northsea coast in about three hours.
That’s not really far, but it is in Europe.
Why do I say that?
Because I recall my family’s Pacific Northwest days (thanks to the Alweg Company). When we arrived there from Old Germany in 1962 my father’s American Alweg colleagues enthusiastically bundled us into their big American cars for Sunday outings.
“Show you around a bit!”
They drove distances that at home would have taken us halfway across Germany.
Just like that!
To the Pacific shore, to the Canadian border, up into the Cascades.
Just like that!
“Have a coffee, a piece of pie or maybe a hamburger!”
And back to Seattle.
We quickly got used to American distances.
That was back in 1962.
This is 2003 and we’ve got a heat wave in Old Europe.
There are indications of global warming.
Was there anything like that back in 1962?
Oh, things were worse then. You had a global nuclear threat back then. Sort of a possible global warming too (at first at least).
That’s history (even though Castro is still around and certain members of the Washington, D.C., intelligentsia want little nukes to crack bunkers)! This is 2003 and we’ve got a heat wave.
So what do I do?
Pacific beaches are too far away. The Belgian coast is closer, but, you know, there are 10 million Belgians. And they got summer vacation and the same hot weather and their coast is only about 70 kilometers wide and two million Belgians were on that coast last weekend.
I don’t like crowds.
Way past midnight. We’ve got 2003 and a heat wave. Why not go surfing?
Global village and all that.
Web cams showing empty beaches.
Check your e-mail!
Lots of “Seattle Monorail” contributions again.
Which puts me right back into history again.
What’s this, - let the old Alweg conquer Capitol Hill? And images of iris-shaped columns along Second Avenue for the new monorail. And Disney’s Anaheim monorails being mothballed.
Eh, this is way past midnight now in Old Germany. 2003.
The Belgian coast may be crowded, but it’s closer than American monorail woes.
Memories are always closer. And the Internet time-machine always calls up memories.
What has that got to do with monorails in Anaheim?
Well, it has to do with history. With Alweg history, with Disney history. Maybe without Disney Alweg never would have come to America? Certainly would never have been called “nothing but a theme-park-ride”.
Walt Disney’s image, particularly in Europe, never included the term “visionary”. A cartoonist, a movie-maker, a theme-park-creator.
Is that the stuff of visions?
Walking along a Northsea beach a kid’s ball comes flying my way. Children shout. I save the ball from disappearing in the surf. Pick up the ball. It’s a Disney, Inc. © product with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves printed round and round and round!
“Nice ball!” I shout and throw it back to the kids up on the beach.
Everybody is happy.
It’s part of the Disney vision. A German fairy tale turned into an American cartoon becomes a global success and images from it are printed in China onto synthetic rubber balls that children on a Belgian beach play with, thinking that Snow White is an American cartoon character.
Don’t you just love globalization!?
Was Walt Disney an early globalizer? Probably, - without knowing that term during his life-time.
And he dreamt of cities of the future, including modern transport, and, yes, that’s how he found the monorail.
No doubt inspired by all those monorail visions and experiments that had preceded Alweg’s practical concept.
The Disney-Alweg story follows, developing into the various Mark-so-and-so monorail updates by Disney. Leading finally to two trains making it big in Las Vegas and soon making Las Vegas monorail capital of the world.
What a story, one would think.
But now we’ve got a heat wave and I’m surfing the Internet and I’m also reading e-mail signals about Disney mothballing monorail history just prior to the Las Vegas spectacular next year.
Is that unfortunate timing or disdain for history?
Professional historians would probably just wipe their brows and ask: “So what?”
Or maybe: “Who cares?”
So let’s do things the way they’re always done, - demolish or mothball for progress! And a couple of years later we’ll wail about the loss of tradition, heritage, lost cultural icons and irretrievably scrapped evidence of man’s technical progress.
Maybe I’m just a bit touchy because in my Alweg book I included a chapter about Disney-Alweg. The chapter doesn’t look like a lot of work, but it was! And now these Magic Kingdom administrators are going to mothball history!
We’ve got a heat wave and I don’t feel like thinking about administrators.
For me: identical with bureaucrats.
Where ever the march of time has let bureaucrats take over once creative enterprises creative progress has been halted. Unfortunately modern administrators know how to camouflage their bureaucratic passions so they look like very progressive measures.
Cutting deficit always looks progressive.
No matter how it’s done!
Eliminating cost-intensive reminders of a company’s past is progressive. Even if that means scrapping part of a company’s soul. It’s not a new phenomenon. Family businesses, after being sold or merged, usually lose their soul. Suddenly the company and its product are no longer the soul, instead their administration has taken priority.
It’s the same in politics. That’s why Californians (and not they alone) now want someone to kick bureaucracy’s ass!
And maybe “mouse-fans” are already hoping for strong words in Buena Vista Street: “Monorail, you are not terminated!”
Maybe simultaneously iris columns will sprout up north in Seattle and maybe the old Alwegs will get a soulful reprieve and will be allowed to continue what they were built for: operation !?
After all, they helped Seattle reach Century 21!
Might be a nice way to show that progress can be achieved without demolition.
Let’s not get political again.
After all, we’ve got a heat wave!
You know, demolishing the old is a bit like creating missing links for future generations. That of course would create new jobs in the jobless future: search for missing links.
But why not create or keep jobs now by preserving “live history still capable of profitable service”?
Maybe the active preservation of innovation will someday serve as an antidote to rampant administration? What better lesson is there than to demonstrate the interaction of creative concepts that defied administration?
Like modern city planning, ecology and sustainability.
Administered to death by bureaucrats who fear nothing more than sustainability. Because true sustainability needs no self-inflating administration that thrives on endless planning of projects that nobody needs, - planning that leads to systematic exclusion of innovation.
Which takes me back to the frustrating history of Alweg.
In Cologne, Alweg’s hometown, we recently had the honor to see the last showing of the excellent exhibition “Your private sky – R. Buckminster Fuller” by Claude Lichtenstein and Joachim Krausse (21.9.- 15.12.2002, Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln in cooperation with Stanford University, USA, and Museum for Design, Zurich). Fuller’s unconventional approach to engineering reminded me of my impression of the way the Alweg engineers had worked. In their time they had already considered factors that would today be described with terms from the fields of (the previously mentioned) city planning, ecology and sustainability.
While looking at models of Fuller’s Dymaxion and Wichita Houses and particularly Dymaxion Car parallels to Alweg- work came to mind. And of course there are the photos of the geodesic “ ’67 Expo Dome” (World’s Fair Montreal) with a small monorail line entering the dome that call to mind further parallels.
This small monorail was by the way not an Alweg. In fact it is the type of “exposition and theme-park” monorail that was (is) used to give Alweg a bad name. ((Sadly enough a German journalist (?) not too long ago did just that by using a photo of this monorail and Fuller’s famous dome to illustrate his version of the Alweg story, published on the webpages of the Cologne-based West German Radio/WDR. He also uses a photo of Disney’s EPCOT © dome with a monorail in front of it; the images are without captions and not explained in the text.))
So in Alweg’s hometown the significance of Alweg in a larger context is still not understood or appreciated. (Though I suspect that once the Las Vegas Monorail has become a well-known success some clever Cologne know-it-all will suddenly see the light and claim to have rediscovered the importance of Alweg.)
Interestingly enough a Cologne exhibition called “Norman Foster – Architecture is about people” (Museum für Angewandte Kunst, October 25 to December 30, 2001) was accompanied by a book with the same title. It contains a very interesting study by Joachim Krausse “Environment controlling – For a World of Many – Buckminster Fuller’s Impact in Great Britain”. In his text Joachim Krausse emphasizes the importance of “inventive engineers” like R. Buckminster Fuller who refused to be classified by any single professional title because he felt that thinking “in fixed categories and a conditioning to create specialists” were responsible for “undesirable developments” of society. Krausse also describes the cooperation between the then already famous Fuller and the younger (soon to be innovative and influential) architect Norman Foster. What is remarkable is that the ideas presented could just as well (in my opinion) have contained the Alweg concept.
As already mentioned special visual parallels are striking because in front of the “ ’67 Expo Dome” one sees a monorail, - and in front of the nowadays famous geodesic EPCOT © dome in the Florida Disney Resort © one can also see monorails, - the modern version of Disney-Alweg’s monorail (it is said that Disney never mentioned Fuller in connection with this dome, even though it is quite clear that this and other EPCOT themes are genuine Fuller concepts - see letter from Kiyoshi Kuromiya - http://www.grunch.net/synergetics/docs/epnote1.html ).
But so far Alweg’s legacy is more or less nonexistent in scientific texts or publications. (Luckily the monorail department of the Hitachi Company of Japan stands by its Alweg roots thus giving considerable weight to my conclusion that the Alweg concept did not fail!)
Disney’s disdain and Seattle’s demolition scare are new chapters in the Alweg history.
For Alweg history it would be good if Alweg’s role were honoured more seriously. Maybe Las Vegas may change that (even though right now no one in Las Vegas seems interested in Alweg history).
Yes, the heat is still on!
One of the things I like about the Seattle Monorail Project is the involvement of the citizens. That’s the way such things should be done. The “users” are able to decisively participate in the planning of “their” transit system. It is after all “their” money, “their” town, neighborhood, street. Like participating in the planning of stations.
Driving to the Belgian seashore you come through the Belgian capital Brussels. They have an “underground” with lots of stations and every station boasts art. Even though it’s “underground” a look may give some inspiration for station planning in Seattle.
( Go to the "Artworks" page of the official Brussels subway website: http://www.art-public.com/caid/index_g.htm )
Yes, we’ve still got that heat wave. Surfing the net helps cool off, but don’t end up on European Union administration pages!