Friday, September 30, 2016

John’s pics

Every once in a while, something lands in my PO box that pretty much deserves its own video. Such is the case with a letter I received with some photos taken in Aschaffenburg in the mid-1950s, which immediately prompted a video in which I was able to compare the town as it was then with the modern town. The best thing about this video is that the historic images are ones you won’t find anywhere else — not those exact photos, in any case.

But while it was a great video (at least, I think so), it doesn’t really let you study the photos (either the old ones or the new ones) at your leisure. So here they are, in order they appear in the video (remember you can click to expand).

First, looking up Herstallstraße:

A few people commented on the video to complain about the ugly new building on the left. Bear in mind, though, that German cities did have to rebuild very extensively, and very rapidly, after the war. In the decade after, the emphasis was on building homes to deal with a massive shortage of housing stock. That said, Germany did a much better job of preserving or recreating historical buildings than, say, the UK.

Next, the Collegiate Church:

You can quite clearly see how I was unable to get the right angle. I found one photo taken from the air just after the completion of the new Town Hall, which was in 1958, and most of the buildings opposite the church simply weren’t there: it was basically a parking lot. I think that must be where John was standing when he took the photo, because try as I might I couldn’t get the whole spire in and also get the fountain where it appears on the old photo. Not without stepping backwards through a plate-glass window.

The Hotel is up next:

I like this one because at first sight it looks as if it’s hardly changed at all. And it hasn’t: it’s still run by the same family (well, at some point it passed to the in-laws, but I still count that as “in the family”), as it has been for over 100 years. It’s only when you look closely that you notice the little changes.

Finally, the castle:

What a shame that tower is under scaffolding, but the reality is that historic buildings like this require an awful lot of maintenance. I am, though, surprised that nobody picked me up on mentioning the “symbol of the six-spoked wheel” while showing images of wheels with at least eight spokes each. I probably should have watched the rough cut more closely before recording the commentary, but in fact the Mainz Wheel is supposed to have six spokes. It’s often depicted as having more, and in previous centuries people didn’t always pay attention to such fine details: nevertheless, the symbol of Mainz is supposed to have exactly six spokes.

Also notice that there are more trees (and vines, too) in the newer picture. John did take his photos in the winter (you can see a light dusting of snow in some), but still air raids and things like the lack of firewood during the war took their toll on the local tree population: this has, as you can see, since been corrected.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Public transport in Frankfurt: Additional notes

I could have picked a better day to make my video about the public transport system of Frankfurt; it was, if not the hottest day of the year, certainly not the ideal weather to be stomping about in the city. But into every life a little rain must fall (metaphorically, in this case), so I braved the elements and tried not to choke on the smog.

Of course, it’s tricky getting everything into a five-minute video (any more and people would have fallen asleep), so here are a few little extra bits — starting, though, with the map of the airport that did actually make the final cut:

There are, as I mentioned in the video, two stations. Or rather, the station is divided into two: tracks 1, 2 and 3 are in the older station, right below the entrance to Terminal 1, and are for local traffic; while tracks 4 to 7 are on the other side of the autobahn, and are for long-distance trains. You’d notice if you were going for the long-distance station by mistake: it’s quite a long walk. Printed timetables helpfully number the tracks “Regio 1” to “Regio 3” for local trains, and “Fern 4” to “Fern 7” for long-distance trains.

To get there from Terminal 2, you can walk if you’re a glutton for punishment, or you can take a courtesy bus or the SkyLine monorail. Currently under construction is Terminal 3, which is at the other end of the airport to the south, and will require an even longer journey by SkyLine.

I’m not completely sure of the logic of using an “S” to indicate the regional station and “T” to indicate the long-distance station, but that’s what’s on the signs at the airport.

For S-Bahn trains into Frankfurt, you need track 1: during the day, there should be one train every 15 minutes. Any S-Bahn train will do. Other regional trains departing from that platform will be travelling in the right direction, but those headed for Hanau or Aschaffenburg will call at Frankfurt Süd (also known as “Südbahnhof”): that’s okay, because you can still get off there and take the U-Bahn into the centre.

Some regional trains going towards Frankfurt depart, rather confusingly, from track 2, which also has trains travelling away from the city. It’s probably best simply to go to track 1 and take whichever S-Bahn train comes in next.

Regarding the Hauptbahnhof (“Hauptbahnhof” or “Hbf” indicates a city’s most important — not necessarily the most central — station), don’t be worried by the fact that track numbers go up to 104. It’s common, when a station is in two separate sections, for tracks in one section to be numbered beginning at 1, and in another section beginning at 101. That way, you can tell at a glance which part of the station the track you need is going to be. In this case, ground-level platforms are numbered 1 to 24, and low-level platforms (for most S-Bahn trains) are numbered 101 to 104.

The next map shows Frankfurt’s railways, with the S-Bahn in green and other lines in red:

Names of regional and long-distance stations are given, along with the types of train that stop there: anything in red is long-distance; “RB” indicates the “RegionalBahn”, with trains that call at every stop; and “RE” is “RegionalExpress”, with trains that, well, don’t call at every stop. The main point about this one is to give a brief overview of where the various long-distance stations are: probably a bit useless, but it might be useful for somebody.

Potentially more useful is this map of central Frankfurt:

Here, names of S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations are in white, while blue-green is for important areas of the city.

The only other thing to say is that the area around the Hauptbahnhof is not particularly pleasant. Frankfurt has, by German standards, a very high crime rate, and this is concentrated around the Hauptbahnhof area. This mostly involves drugs, and with it associated problems like violence (due to turf wars) and the like. The authorities have been unable to get a proper handle on the issue, and attempts to clean it up only result in temporarily moving it elsewhere. At the time of writing, the dealers have left Münchener Straße and are instead on Niddastraße.

It’s important to stress that while the crime rate is high, it is high by German standards — compared to many US cities, for example, it’s really not that bad. Still, walking out of the station to get a lungful of the aroma of urine is not a pleasant introduction to Germany, or to Frankfurt. You might, if this sort of thing worries you, want to avoid getting hotel or hostel accommodation in this area.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A clapperboard would look more professional

In my latest video, about the history and possible future of the geographic centre of the EU, I went “on location”, as we in the (cough!) film business say. After all, I live very close to it, so it would be stupid of me to stay at home to do it. Of course, since I don’t have a car (or a driving licence), that meant a sweaty trek cross country, over one ridge and up to the top of the next... with all my gear. To all those who still cling to the belief that making these videos means just sitting in front of a camera for five minutes, I hope you begin to appreciate just what is actually entailed.

Up until now, filming on location has meant using a long extension cord to connect my lapel mic directly to the camera and vaguely wondering if I could justify the expense of getting a radio mic. This does mean I am severely restricted in how far away I can position the camera and what movements I can make.

But then I had one of those forehead-slapping why-didn’t-I-think-of-that-before revelations: I have a digital sound recorder. I can plug the mic into that, and (as long as I am wearing relatively loose-fitting trousers) put it in my pocket.

The only real downside to that is that you end up with separate sound files that you then have to synchronize with the video. But there’s a very simply remedy to that: before you start talking, clap your hands.

In Hollywood, they use clapperboards for the same purpose. It’s not just a meaningless ritual: the clapperboard has, written on it, information about the scene and take, which is also verbally repeated, then the clapperboard is snapped shut. The camera records the visual part of that, the sound recorder the audio part. Later, it’s a simple question of getting the right audio file for the visual recording (that’s why you record the scene and take numbers), then lining up the sound of the clapperboard snapping to the visual cue of the clapperboard closing.

For a quick video like this, where you only have a couple of scenes, just clapping your hands serves the same purpose. A clap is ideal, because it’s a very short sound and so easy to line up with the visual: it shows up on the waveform in the video editor as an obvious peak.

It helps that my camera still has its own built-in microphones, which are recording the sound at the same time, so in the video editor I can also line up the peak in the audio file with the peak in the audio from the camera — although, depending on how far away the camera is and what other noise it’s picking up (wind, for example), it might not be so easy to find. But the image of me striking my hands together is very easy to find. Line everything up, delete the audio from the camera, and voilà!

Incidentally, you may have noticed that on some shots, the sound is quite bad. I think I must have initially had the sound turned up too high on the recorder, and it was peaking too much: at some point I accidentally knocked the dial to a more sensible level. I should have done some trial runs first to determine the right level, but at least now I know.