Tag Archives: travel

Strolling the Heidelberg Altstadt

To visit a city with as much history as Heidelberg only to spend 100% of one’s time at a conference would be a great injustice. Between my wanderings on my arrival day and this evening, I have really come to appreciate the beauty that this city presents at unexpected moments.


The lovely banks of the Neckar River

Heidelberg architecture begins its ascent in the twelfth century, with a local Benedictine monastery dating to 1130; the name “Heidelberg” didn’t appear in writing until 1196, though. Over a period of five hundred years, the Counts of the Palatinate and the Prince Electors resided in this city. A fortification on a hill overlooking the Neckar River was mentioned as early as 1303; today, this site is dominated by the ruins of a majestic castle!


A schloss by any other name…

In many respects, though, Heidelberg gained fame as a center of learning. Prince Elector Ruprecht I founded the “Ruperto Carola University” in 1386, making it the oldest university in Germany. After an early 19th century reorganization, the institution came to play an even greater role, with luminaries such as Hegel advancing philosophy while Robert Bunsen invented gas-analytical methods (and inventing the Bunsen Burner) and Hermann von Helmholtz investigated visual perception.


The old university plaza, featuring a tower from the nearby Jesuit church, was an ideal place to read a book!

For two decades in the early 19th century, Heidelberg became the focus of the “High Romanticism” literary movement. At the opening of the 20th century, the city constructed a palatial university library in the heart of its old town. In December 2014, UNESCO named Heidelberg as its tenth “City of Literature.”


The library in the old town is tremendously impressive!



The churches of the city are really striking, as well. Peterskirche, the oldest, was originally constructed in the 12th century. Its tower almost seems like a post-modern deconstruction of a Gothic chapel, with flat faces in each cardinal direction and shuttered windows flush to the surfaces below its clock dials. I would have loved to explore its insides, but its doors were shut late on Tuesday afternoon when I visited.


No nave is complete without a giant, reflective cross!

I also loved the Jesuitenkirche and its accompanying college. The church encompasses three parallel naves of equal height. I stepped inside and was delighted to see all the light pouring into the nave from the setting sun. I listened surreptitiously to an organist rehearsing for a service. I tried to set my phone down on a large table at the back so I could make an audio recording, only to realize that it was a fountain of holy water! I pulled it out of its damp case and got the recorder working properly.


Springtime on Philosopher’s Walk

Learning that the “Philosopher’s Walk” led to a beautiful vista of the castle and old city from above on the opposite bank of the Neckar River, I began my walk up the slope. What I hadn’t seen mentioned is that the Philosopher’s Walk is steep. This middle-aged professor huffed and puffed, particularly on the initial parts of the ascent. After a while, the slope calmed down and I only needed to take care of the sun, which was beating down pretty well for a day in early spring!


The Church of the Holy Spirit, as seen from Philosopher’s Walk

The climb was definitely worth it! I found a lovely flower garden at one scenic overlook, and the vision of the old city below was astonishing. To see the churches standing tall among the surrounding buildings helped separate them from the background. The castle’s architecture makes it seem like a fantasy rather than anything brooding. As I looked to the west, I saw modern Heidelberg spilling out along the riverbank. Heidelberg’s history, its legacy, and its charm make it a very appealing package.


The first leg of the triangle: from Cape Town to Heidelberg

April 17, 2018

When my travel itinerary gets too intense, some of the plates I am always spinning may slip away and smash. Almost everything was right for this journey to Heidelberg, Germany, but I left something rather important out of my plan!

My journey started with a pleasant taxi ride. The driver was the same fellow who had carried me to the airport for my Russian adventure last year, and he remembered my ambitious plan to tour three cities there. It was nice that he had taken the time to listen and remember. I was at the airport in plenty of time, which was helpful when we encountered a logjam behind a completely burned car in the approach road to the drop-off site.


My JNB-FRA flight used a Boeing 747-8.

My flights to reach Frankfurt started with a quick dog-leg to Johannesburg.  I had initially thought I would be flying from JNB during the first part of my planned sabbatical at the Human Metabolomics Centre, so the dog-leg was a late addition. Happily my Visa card lets me use the Bidvest lounge at both CPT and JNB airports. With a well-fed belly, I boarded the ten-hour flight to Frankfurt. I was happy to watch “The Last Jedi” for my third time, and I enjoyed “The Shape of Water” after a fitful patch of sleep. An hour later, (just after 5AM) we touched down in Frankfurt!


Your life will be easier if you learn to read these diagrams!

My next task was to make the run south to Heidelberg, the site of this year’s HUPO-PSI workshop. The train station at the airport, however, is not the same as the hauptbahnoff at Frankfurt, and that added some complexity. In the end, I used the S8 subway to get to Niederrad and then caught a stopping train to Mannheim. After that I had just another fifteen minutes south on a final train to Heidelberg. Not so bad for 23 Euro!


Alas that I could not also visit Worms!

To be honest, I was hoping for someone holding a sign at the train station, directing me to the conference destination. I had come to understand that EMBL was quite a bit off the beaten path. As things were, I waited a couple minutes for the tourist information center to open at 9AM. I learned that city bus number 39 would run directly to EMBL, but I’d need to catch it at Bismarckplatz, the central point for the bus network. Since it was a “twenty minute” walk to reach the site, I set out with my backpack and 26 inch roller bag in train.

Have I mentioned spring is my favorite season? Tired dirt suddenly springs forward bits of green, and trees burst out with unexpected sprites of color. Breathing the air along my road hike was just the inspiration I needed to get past my night on the plane. I was able to walk directly to the bus stop where I could catch bus 39 away from the madding crowd. I was a bit disoriented when I realized the bus was chock-full of American accents! Yes, many of the researchers doing their work at EMBL are American or set their English accent in the United States. I funneled off the bus at the same place as they did.


Route 39 (purple) gets you from the center of Heidelberg to EMBL. The lower star is the train station. The upper star is where I found lodgings!

I should mention that I have gotten spoiled by the HUPO-PSI meeting in the last two years (Ghent and Beijing). In last year’s meeting, the Phoenix Center hosts set me up with a lovely suite knowing that the lovely Natasha was joining me on the trip. I had misunderstood a couple of comments on the HUPO-PSI Steering Committee phone calls and mailing lists to suggest that at least the Steering Committee would be housed at EMBL. Imagine my shock when I learned that EMBL has zero housing on-site at its training center! I had no place to stay for these four nights!

I went into damage control mode. I hit up my favorite hotel booking website to see what lodgings I could find for four nights starting with TODAY. Understandably, the pickings were pretty poor. Badly-located cots did not appeal, and paying more than $1000 USD for a hotel seemed a bit extreme. I decided on the youth hostel next to the zoo. It was on the wrong side of the river, but one bus would bring me back to the central hub for the buses, and another would bring me to EMBL.

On a trip already featuring a taxi, two planes, a subway, two trains, and now two different buses, I was relieved to pay my 2.60 Euro to retire to my hostel room, shared with five other men. I took a “Hollywood shower,” lingering under the steamy water for longer than strictly necessary. It was my first proper boiler in months, since Cape Town’s water crisis prevents this luxury.

In my next post, I’ll talk about my experiences walking around the lovely, historic city of Heidelberg!

Arniston: a Town with three names

April 1, 2018


It’s a tricky descent.

Our stay at Bredasdorp gave us good access to Arniston, a coastal town with good things on offer. Happily the R316 road that brought us there was paved and smooth rather than compelling us to bounce down a gravel path! We arrived easily within a half hour. On our jaunt to the southeast, we were reminded that the military has a significant presence in the area. Much of the zone between De Hoop Reserve and Arniston is used as a test range. We passed Air Force Base Overberg and base housing not long before reaching the town itself.

Our first stop in the area brought us to a lovely public beach. Our goal, however, required a bit of a hike over sand dunes, over a hill, and down sandstone steps to a field of smoothed stones. We were headed to Waenhuiskrans, “Wagon House Cliff,” and its fascinating sea cave. The cave contributed the first name for the town in this area. Natasha and I checked the tide tables to be sure that we would get the chance to see the cave, since it cannot be visited when the tide is in!


The sea’s entrance to Waenhuiskrans Cave is dramatic!

The path to the cave, however, leads along the water front, and Natasha had sighted many inviting tidal pools. I missed the entrance to the cave, at first, and walked further along the rock face than I meant to. I could see into the cave from the water side, but I had no path to walk in. I had to double back to a small cave and crouch through an archway at its rear to enter the Waenhuiskrans Cave.


The cave interior is delightfully ripply.

Once you’re inside, no more crouching is required! The cave was reputed to be big enough to turn an ox team inside; this is similar to the traditional requirement for the width of streets in Salt Lake City. While one can find both historical and modern graffiti inside, the cave is mostly in its natural state. The floor was a bit treacherous at first, especially before my eyes had adjusted to the darkness inside. After a while I was striding about without a problem. This natural feature provided the first of the names for the towns at this site.


Sea urchins!

I came back outside the cave to catch up with Natasha. She had been investigating the tidal pools with joy. The lovely red anemones were pretty sizable, and the fish caught in the pools were doing well to stay clear. Natasha taught me how to recognize a limpet; their remains were everywhere to be found on the rocks projecting into the sea. She really hoped to find an octopus, but we didn’t want to run ourselves onto rocks from which we couldn’t return!


Stones in a hollow

She and I ventured from one beach to the next by hopping across the rocks. The waves were crashing with a lot of energy, though, and I decided to head back up the bluff after I had to sidestep a wave to save my camera from a dousing. We dodged trucks driving up the walking path to return to Strawberry, our car. This time on the path, we looked around a bit more, and I realized that the sand dune separating the land from the beach at Armiston were just about as large as the ones we had seen at De Hoop! Kids were trying to slide down the slopes on their “boogie boards.” It looked like fun.


Who doesn’t love a good cairn?

We drove the car into the town proper. Arniston takes its English name from an 1815 shipwreck in this area of an East Indiaman. For lack of a chronometer, the Arniston ran into a reef offshore here, and the wreck killed 372 people onboard, mostly wounded English soldiers. Only six people survived! The mourning parents of four children killed in the wreck built a memorial near the wreck site, and a replica was emplaced on the site in 2010.

As we drove along the main road, we encountered one of the biggest businesses in the area. The Arniston Spa Hotel is easily the largest building in the area. Its position on the beach gives a commanding view of Kassiesbaai, with lines of sand dunes stretching to the northeast for miles. The name of the bay is yet another name for the town.

Kassiesbaai is the set of buildings on the hill just north of the Hotel. The narrow streets and white-washed buildings of the old fishing town seem quite distinct from the vacation homes to its south. In trying to navigate Kassiesbaai, we found ourselves turned around in an adjoining area that featured a fair number of shacks. When we encountered a person transacting business with people in a passing vehicle, Natasha reminded me that the fishing industry has an entangled history with the drug trade. Poachers sometimes exchange their catch for “tik,” or crystal meth, and the drugs can ravage these coastal towns.

With our short tour complete, Natasha and I headed back to Bredasdorp for lunch.

Testing the waters at De Hoop Nature Reserve

March 31, 2018

South Africa features a promontory just east of Cape Town that points down toward Antarctica. This area, reached by climbing Sir Lowry’s Pass over the Hotentots-Holland mountains, combines the high Overberg plateau with l’Agulhas peninsula. Natasha and I set our sights on visiting “De Hoop” Nature Reserve to the east of this peninsula, using the historic town of Bredasdorp as our base camp.

De Hoop is centered on a massive brackish body of water fed by the Sout River that has been cut off from the Indian Ocean by 2.5 kilometers of sand dunes. It draws its name from a farm established in 1739 by Frederick de Jager, a free burgher, on lands granted by the Dutch East India Company. De Jager had “the hope” that this sandy, rocky soil could be coaxed to produce good crops.

Driving to De Hoop, however, is a bit of a challenge. On the map, it seemed straightforward. We would follow R319 east from Bredasdorp and then diverge to the east on the road to Malgas (pronounce the ‘g’ with a good throat-clearing). Finding R319 was fine (it’s the same thing as “All Saints”), and we followed it for a couple of miles before finding our sign for Malgas. We were less than thrilled to discover that our path from that point forward was entirely gravel and rock, leading from one dusty sheep farm to another. Forty cautious minutes on the Malgas spur brought us to the sign for De Hoop, and we followed a rougher road still to the entrance gate.


The view of the reception area from the bluff

I must say, at this point, that I was skeptical of the claims that De Hoop was a beautiful pearl. Natasha’s report that the reserve had been closed for a period in the early 2000s due to a fire, combined with our area’s historic drought, did not fill me with confidence. Just the same, we paid our 80 Rand to a charismatic gate guard, and over the hill we went. As soon as we began our descent from the 200m bluff to the coast, the variegated greens of this coastal plain became apparent.



Natasha and I both caught the thrill of the place as we drove down a side road to the reception area. It lies between two plains, and each featured quite a few groups of animals. The most common type we saw was the bontebok, an antelope that was generally outnumbered by springboks when we visited the Northern Cape. We were particularly excited to see a Cape mountain zebra, but we didn’t have the camera handy until we reached the parking lot. Natasha spied an eland at a distance, too!


We walked on a shelf that mirrored this one.

The reception office had a handy and well-executed booklet available for 20 Rand that supplied a historical, geographic, and biological appraisal of the area. We grabbed a copy since it documented the points of interest on the 3km hike that we elected to follow along the vlei (like “flay,” frequently meaning marsh, but here meaning the body of water). In no time we had started our walk. For much of the path, we were striding along a limestone and sandstone conglomerate shelf, approximately eight meters above the water’s surface, though we did occasionally dip down to meet it.



Where fuzzy creatures were concerned, our hike was something of a bust. The dassies were MIA, though their droppings were not, and our much-anticipated visit with the Cape clawless otter was fruitless, though we did see evidence of their dinners of crab. We did enjoy the little blooms along our path, though. The area is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site spanning to Cape Point due to its wildly diverse fynbos plants. We also enjoyed the touch with the area’s history as “Die Melkkamer” (the “Milk Room”) mansion complex came into sight on the opposite side of the water. The earliest building dates from 1872.


Not a beach for swimming

Eventually, the path dumped us onto a pebbly beach that was covered in some sort of salt-tolerant grass. We didn’t dip a hand in to feel the water. Instead, we turned back to the north to return to the reception center. We passed a long-dusty watering hole, along with a tree that we eyed warily, since it looked like it might serve as a home for baboons. As we approached the reception center, more bonteboks came into view. A scout from the herd kept a watchful eye on us. We loved the massive fig trees (brought here from KwaZulu-Natal) that have graced that drive since the 1950s.


Fynbos, dunes, and tidal pools, oh my!

One must be careful when using the phrase “tidal pool” near Natasha. She was intent on seeing the Koppie Alleen (“Lonely Hill”) Rocky Shores. We drove toward the beach and took the side road heading east to the site. We had once again found a long gravel road stretching into the distance. For an added bonus, this one was limited to half its width for traffic in both directions since the park is paving a new road with strong bricks. We puttered along for half an hour at 20 kph until we found the Koppie Alleen parking lot in good repair.


Looking southwest from the top of the dune wall

Just as De Hoop is separated from the rest of the region by a 200m wall of hills, the hills and plain of De Hoop are separated from the beach by a range of sand dunes. At Koppie Alleen, one can follow the right fork of the path to the to nearest dune top, or one can follow the left fork down to the beach.


Sandstone beach

We started on the beach. We arrived with the tide already high and rising. Many of the pools in which Natasha might play with stars, anemones, coral-worms, and limpets were already submerged by the waves. The rocks were fun to climb on though, and the sandy beaches were as near unspoiled as one can imagine. I shot a few moments of video to remind me of their crash.

I saw some odd bubbles enclosed in a blue membrane in the sands though. Natasha warned me off the “blue bottles” right away. Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish are quite prone to stinging the unwary finger.


Dave, moments before succumbing to sunstroke

At this point, I fell into a bit of a swoon. Natasha coaxed back up the walkway to the food trailer and poured a Diet Coke into me. I had touched too much sun and not enough water today! From there, we climbed to the dune top to get one last look at the beautiful coast.



As Natasha drove us along the endless gravel road back to Bredasdorp, she spotted a female ostrich, outlined beautifully by the declining sun. We paused for one last snapshot.


Dar es Salaam: The Cultural Village Museum

An index to this series appears at the first post.

Natasha and I spent our last full day in Dar es Salaam visiting the Cultural Village Museum! The National Museum of Tanzania has five component institutions, but the only two institutions in Dar es Salaam are the museum we visited yesterday and the Village Museum. Visiting Zanzibar had given us a great perspective on how the Arabs and specifically the Omanis had shaped Tanzania, but Natasha wanted to understand better the indigenous chiefdoms that existed here before and after Zanzibar became a sultanate.


A 2005-2007 Toyota Spacio, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

We had arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 9:30 AM for our journey to the Cultural Village, wait for us at the site, and then drive us back to our hotel (for a cost of 60,000 shillings = $27.00 USD). Happily, the taxi arrived about ten minutes before the scheduled time. He was driving a Toyota Spacio, which confused me since it looked very like a Prius V that didn’t shut off its engine at traffic lights! As we moved north from downtown, we reached Ocean Road, a road curving along the shoreline. I felt a little tingle to realize that the road had been renamed “Barack Obama Drive” in the aftermath of the President’s visit to Tanzania in 2013. We saw some lovely beaches, though the sight was marred by quite a lot of rubbish. Soon we passed the old U.S. Embassy compound, closed since the terrorist attack of 1998. The new one is considerably more substantial and more secure.


A tuk-tuk, courtesy of Getaway.co.za.

As we continued to the northwest, we passed into an area under extensive construction. It seemed that every block had a sizable office building or apartment tower underway, with a large sign naming the construction company (frequently in Chinese lettering). The driver said that Chinese firms had been hugely involved in construction for quite some time. Our route on Bagamoyo Road separated Oyster Bay (a very wealthy area) from the middle-class Kinondoni area. After a while, our progress slowed considerably, and a fair amount of pooled rain water had gathered on the shoulders. Through the night, we had heard several rain storms pass through the area. Insufficient drains in this area had nearly rendered the road impassible! Just the same, three-wheeled tuk-tuks were trying their best to create their own lane on the shoulder. Our taxi pushed through a large, submerged area to reach the muddy and rocky Cultural Village parking lot.

The Cultural Village Museum


Yao homes


The migrations that proliferated Bantu languages

How many ways can you make a hut? It turns out that there are plenty of different materials and designs to choose from, and the chiefdoms of Tanzania have sampled an impressive variety. The groups who had structures represented by the museum included the following: Sukuma, Zanaki, Washambaa, Swahili, Haya, Yao, Makua, Kwere/Doe, Iraqw, Rundi/Ha, Wamwera, Zaramo, Chagga, Gogo, Ngoni, Pimbwe, Fipa, Hehe, and Nyakyusa. Almost all of these groups can be described as “Bantu-speaking,” but it’s worth noting that Bantu is a highly diverse family of languages (both Zulu and isiXhosa languages from South Africa fit this category). Swahili is a widely-known African language in the world at large, but in fact it represents a combination of several Bantu languages with Arabic; it became a widespread trade language across several nations in East Africa.

I would highlight the Yao as a chiefdom that played a key role in the historic slave trade in East Africa; additionally, their commitment to Islam made this group a stalwart against European powers’ domination. The Ngoni are a group that migrated up relatively late from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa in the aftermath of the Zulu Wars. I mentioned the Fipa in connection with a one-piece carved wooden door that we saw at the museum yesterday. Depending on the type of farming, the climate of the regions they occupied, the contact they enjoyed with other groups, and so on, these chiefdoms turned to rather different approaches for home construction.


Fipa iron-smelting furnace

I would emphasize that the Bantu-speaking chiefdoms spread to cover a huge fraction of Africa because they developed iron-working technologies and had a rich and diverse agriculture to keep their populations fed. Many of the movies about African populations in the last century stereotyped them as bloodthirsty savages, but this image has little to do with reality– these groups were actively participating in international trade back in the fifteenth century and before! That’s why I was delighted that the cultural village included a smelting furnace in connection with the Fipa people. The smelting furnace, constructed almost entirely of clay, reflects that the Fipa were producing iron as far back as the seventeenth century. This process combined iron ore, charcoal, and flux (various types) at a temperature approaching 1000 degrees Celsius (~1800 degrees Fahrenheit) to produce liquid iron which could then be smithed.


The Hawa hut is an example of the “Mushonge” type.

The huts that we observed were large enough to be subdivided into several spaces, in some cases by internal walls. I particularly liked the Haya homes, called the “Mushonge” type. These banana and coffee farmers use bamboo, sticks, and grass to build round huts with an entry hall that can be divided into storage, cooking, and sleeping spaces.


The Gogo people of the Dodoma region are pastoralists.

Structures for the Washambaa, Sukuma, and others featured internal ceilings that left room for storage (or children!) above and work and sleep space below. The complexity of these homes definitely stretches well beyond what we think when we say “hut.” By the time we examined the clay walls and verandas of Mwera houses, it was clear that only a small step in complexity differentiated it from a Swahili house with plastered coral and lime walls.


The matrilineal Mwera community built homes with clay walls on wooden pole frames.

As we finished our tour of the village, Natasha and I were treated to a rousing music and dance performance by a troupe of six. They put their all into the show, even though their audience numbered only two! At the close, the group sang a local song including the words “hakuna matata” (not the Disney one), and a dancer enticed Natasha and me to join them. Each of us was adorned by cowrie shells and headdress to join them dancing.


Some of our musicians

On the drive back to our hotel, I was startled to feel a roach crawling across my neck. I shrieked and swatted it into the air. Sadly, it was flung in Natasha’s direction. She responded with greater aplomb. When we reached the hotel room, the roach scuttled out of her backpack. I smote it with my flip-flop.

Our excellent adventure in Dar es Salaam had come to a close.  The next morning we were on a flight back south to Johannesburg and Cape Town!


Dar es Salaam: the National Museum of Tanzania

An index to this series appears at the first post.

In many ways, the National Museum of Tanzania is the obvious tourist destination for Dar es Salaam.  Natasha and I were especially excited to see the controversial “Nutcracker Man” remains housed there.  We were somewhat uncertain what we would find, though, since we could not find a responsive web server for the museum!

The National Museum and House of Culture


This is the street-facing side of the museum, not the more ornate House of Culture!


Al Qaeda killed many Africans in its quest to defeat Western powers.

After photographing some historic buildings along the waterfront, we strolled northeast along Sokoine Drive.  We spotted two or three casinos within a mile on our walk.  The National Museum complex has greatly expanded since it originally opened its doors in 1940.  The main museum building has an open structure lining Shaaban Robert Street.  Our two tickets cost 13000 shillings ($5.85 USD).

When we entered the courtyard, my attention was immediately drawn by a display of thoroughly wrecked vehicles.  I wandered closer, and my attention was transfixed.  I was looking at a memorial remembering the 1998 al-Qaeda attack on the United States embassy in Dar es Salaam.  It combines three destroyed vehicles (a bicycle, motorcycle, and a light truck) with a sheet of shattered bulletproof glass and a statue of a woman without arms.  It’s important to remember that the first al-Qaeda attacks (this one was simultaneous with another in Nairobi) cost many Muslim lives.


The brownish structure behind the Sacred Fig houses most exhibits and classrooms for the National Museum.


This door from Ufipa was carved with iron tools.

The courtyard also features a truly massive Sacred Fig tree.  This specimen was planted in the early 20th century by the Germans as part of the botanical gardens (just across the street to the Northwest).  It’s the same kind of tree that Siddhartha Gautama sat beneath in the 6th century B.C. as he became the Buddha.

With that, Natasha and I climbed the stairs to the exhibit hall of the museum.  She and I both returned several times to examine a door that had been carved from a single tree trunk by the Ufipa in southwestern Tanzania.  By contrast a bed frame created in the 18th century for the grandfather of Sheikh Hussein of Kilwa was a sublime example of both woodcarving and joinery.  Many of the photographs and maps emphasized the history of Kilwa, an East African coastal city that played a substantial role in the slave and other trade networks leading to Zanzibar from the 13th century to the 15th century.  The World Heritage Site comprising the ruins at Kilwa is far off the beaten track, though, so it seems unlikely I shall ever see it!


Master-work from Kilwa

I was glad that the museum covered the history of Kilwa, but more about the history of Dar es Salaam would have been nice.  For example, why were the British so powerful in Zanzibar during an era when the Germans were dominant on the mainland (“German East Africa“)?  I appreciated a bust of Dr. Richard Hindorf, who introduced sisal as a drought-resistant crop (of 1000 bulbs sent from Florida, only sixty-two arrived safely).  The museum also featured a 1951 radio transmitter used to launch Radio Dar es Salaam!


Hindorf: some Europeans were able to contribute to the growth of this area.

Three art galleries complemented the art collection.  The first featured prehistoric and historic rock art, to Natasha’s delight.  A second, contemporary, gallery featured a variety of art from modern Tanzania.  Julius Nyerere, the first president of the modern state, featured prominently.


President J.K. Nyere: two 1970 paintings from B.N. Desai

We saw another example of the banana leaf art we had first observe at Zanzibar’s art museum.  This gallery had several carved ebony pieces including one titled “socialism,” in which each level of figures supported the one above it.


The House of Culture occupies the original building of the National Museum.

The third gallery, over in the original building for the museum, was largely photographic, detailing traditional methods for food preparation, iron smelting, and for crafting dance masks.  I came back to the contemporary gallery to photograph a few of the masks for Mapiko dance.


These Mapiko masks are for dance, not candy-gathering!

What can I say about the museum’s star exhibit, Louis Leakey’s discovery of “Nutcracker man?”  On this front, I must say I was profoundly disappointed.  The museum exhibit was being renovated, and the fossils were not available for view.  The front desk reported that it was expected to reopen in February, 2018.

As the sun lowered in the sky, we ventured over to the Bibi Titi Mohammed loop to find Mnazi Mmoja Hospital and Park.  Amongst the street hawkers and some child pick pockets-in-training, we found the eternal flame of the Uhuru Monument.  This word, meaning “Freedom” in Swahili, is commemorated by a flaming torch.  Well, the flame looks a bit like red plastic.  I liked the fact that Lieutenant Uhura’s character on Star Trek was adapted from this term!


Uhuru for all!

Natasha and I celebrated freedom by eating barbecue chicken at Mamboz Corner BBQ again.

Dar es Salaam: peaceful harbor, thriving city

An index to this series appears at the first post.

Just as we cannot tell the history of St. Petersburg without Peter the Great, to tell the history of Dar es Salaam without Majid bin Said, first Sultan of Zanzibar, would be impossible.  In 1862, Mzizima was a fishing village beside an extensive harbor, populated by Swahili who had moved down from Somalia and Zaramo inhabitants who had come from further inland.  By 1879, many partially-completed city blocks had been constructed along the waterfront to form the nucleus of Dar es Salaam, the “harbor of peace.”  What would inspire the Sultan to invest so heavily in constructing a city from scratch?

From village to city


Sultan Majid bin Said, from the British Library

Zanzibar’s economy thrived on two sources: transit trade and plantation agriculture.  The area that became Dar es Salaam incorporated the largest natural harbor in close proximity to Zanzibar.  The Sultan saw that a well-developed port could further boost the flow of goods from Sub-Saharan Africa into Zanzibar.  As his reign progressed, the attractions of a second home away from the constant strain of the court at Zanzibar also became apparent.  Sultan Majid passed away in 1870, however, leaving the sultanate to his brother Barghash, who had contested Majid’s selection as Sultan.  The second Sultan of Zanzibar was much more interested in developing the infrastructure of Zanzibar than he was in building a city on the continental coast.  A French missionary visited the city site in 1886 and had this to say:

Situated on the shore of its harbour, like an Arab woman in rags in the home of her former husband, Dari Salama appears to mourn its isolation and poverty. To the left, the palace of Said Majid is still to be seen, half concealed by mass growth… (Brennan and Burton, pg. 18)

Because Natasha and I had found a hotel close to the ferry terminal, we were quite close to the oldest structures in Dar es Salaam.  The “Old Boma,” constructed in 1866-1867, stands just opposite the ferry terminal.  Many British colonies in Africa constructed bomas as a single building housing government offices and police startions.  The building currently houses an organization dedicated to architectural heritage.  When I see the walking tours they made available, I really wish we had signed up for one or more!  Sultan Majid’s palace has been demolished, but an ancillary structure, possibly built to house his harem, evolved in time to house the “White Fathers” organization in 1922.


Atiman House may have begun life as a harem, but now it houses missionaries.

Rebirth at the close of the 19th century


A mission stands near St. Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral.

These older buildings were subsequently joined by two substantial churches that were for years the tallest buildings in the city.  A building that was once a mission has been repurposed as some sort of government building.  Quite close by we found St. Joseph’s Cathedral.  The foundation stone was laid in 1898, and the construction was completed in 1902. Just a couple blocks away one finds a rather different kind of church.  German missionaries constructed a Lutheran church at roughly the same time… and they used a Bavarian Alpine style!  It’s quite a striking departure from the Catholic design.


The Azania Front Church was constructed starting in 1898.

Carl Peters, violent colonizer

If the Sultan of Zanzibar had turned his back on Dar es Salaam, what led to this growth boom at the end of the nineteenth century?  At this point we must introduce Carl Peters, a German colony builder who was largely responsible for the creation of “German East Africa.”  Representing his “Society for German Colonization,” he toured what is now Tanzania through 1884 securing “treaties” with leaders throughout the region.  He returned to Germany to found the German East Africa Company. He attempted to convince an initially unwilling Otto von Bismarck to grant him an imperial charter to transform these pieces of paper into an actual German colony.

The influence of Carl Peters on German East Africa was highly aggressive, first in the sense that he single-mindedly pursued more “treaties:” “most of [the Society’s] funds were absorbed by financing treaty-gathering expeditions” (Perras p. 113).  In the second sense, Carl Peters actively advocated for the use of violence to maintain control of the local citizenry.  He was apparently fond of asking “Haven’t you shot a negro yet!?”  It was in connection with Carl Peters’ efforts to achieve leverage in this region that Emily Ruete (sister of Sultan Barghash) returned to Zanzibar with a German fleet.  Peters’ heavy-handed aggression led to a late 1880s rebellion against the German East Africa Company which was overcome through use of the German military.  After that involvement, it was clear that the colony would be officially supported, and an 1890 treaty swapped territories between British and German areas in East Africa to reduce the tension between the two (Perras p. 168).

In other words, the last decade of the nineteenth century brought the “Scramble for Africa” to what is now Tanzania.  What the Sultan of Zanzibar had started at Dar es Salaam would be expanded upon by the Germans.  The church buildings I showed above reflect this area passing from Sultanate to German control.  World War I, however, brought a substantial shift in power.  The Treaty of Versailles stripped Germany of its African colonies, and France and Great Britain were the recipients (apparently returning the inhabitants to self-rule wasn’t a popular idea– that would wait until the independence movements long after World War II).

Today’s Dar es Salaam

In 2009, the World Bank estimated the population of Dar es Salaam as 2.7 million.  Tanzania has become the second most populous country in East Africa (after Ethiopia) with 40.4 million people.  The city is the economic centre of the country, even if the capital is the much smaller Dodoma.  In 2012, Tanzania’s national bureau of statistics reported that Dar es Salaam had reached 4.4 million out of 45 million; people continue to migrate to the city from the countryside to find work.


The Port Authority (left) and twin towers (right) dominate the area near the ferry port.

The Dar es Salaam skyline has been changing dramatically in recent years.  The Tanzania Ports Authority (2015) and PSPF Commercial Twin Towers (2014) are the only buildings in Tanzania to exceed 150 meters in height.  The PSPF is the Public Service Pensions Fund for the country, while the Tanzania Ports Authority is a parastatal organization to manage the busy port of Dar es Salaam.  These are just the most visible examples, though; the tallest seven buildings in Tanzania were all constructed since 2010, and all were in Dar es Salaam!