As a rule, soft parts do not withstand the ravages of time; hence, the majority of vertebrate fossils consist only of bones. Under these circumstances, a new discovery from the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Messel Pit” near Darmstadt in Germany comes as an even bigger surprise: a 48-million-year old skin gland from a bird, containing lipids of the same age. The oldest lipids ever recorded in a fossil vertebrate were used by the bird to preen its plumage. The study is now published in the scientific journal Royal Society Proceedings B.
Birds spend a large amount of time preening their plumage. This makes sense, since the set of feathers adds to each bird’s particular appearance, isolates and enables them to fly. In this preening ritual, the uropygial gland, located at the lower end of the bird’s back, plays an important role.
From enchanting architecture and stylish gardens to historic towns, Germany’s Thuringia, a favourite destination of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, has got it all.
The Ernestine dynasty, which ruled Thuringia for centuries, not only left delightful palaces and gardens behind, but also established links with a great many European royal families through a busy marriage policy. The most famous offspring are Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Queen Victoria, his cousin and wife.
The handsome town of Gotha was one the favourite residences of the Ernestine Dukes and the royal couple and their children were frequent guests. Albert had a special relationship with Gotha, as it was home to his beloved grandmother Duchess Karoline Amalie of Saxe-Coburg-Altenburg. With Friedenstein Castle, the Ekhof Theatre, the Ducal Museum, the Orangery and the gardens, the 16th-century Baroque ethos has survived in the charming town to this day.
With summer already feeling like a lifetime away, it’s time to stop chasing the sun and start embracing the cosy autumn temperatures – and there’s no better place to do it than at one of Europe’s old towns.
What could be more romantic than breathing in a healthy dose of fresh air while strolling aimlessly amongst chocolate box towns, stopping only to admire the fairytale views with a warming glass of gluhwein?
If you want to avoid heaving crowds of tourists in Bruges and Prague, there are plenty of lesser-known options on the continent for the intrepid traveller.
From hidden German gems to a the next big Insta-destination in Estonia, we’ve got your winter hit list sorted.
You’re either an Elbe river or an Alster lake kind of person,” said Lydia, a geborene Hamburgerin, or a local born and raised in Hamburg, who I met on a bridge in HafenCity.
The maritime city is defined by the ebb and flow of water. The Elbe, the city’s industrial shipping artery, is an immense tidal river that courses into the North Sea. On my visit, the second largest harbour in Europe seemed endless, with rows and rows of vessels from all corners of the globe, locks, canals and titanic cranes that from afar look like characters straight out of Transformers.
Then, emerging from the banks of the river like a glacier, was the glass-panelled Elbphilharmonie, the city’s new concert hall designed by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron.
The German city is working to shake off the coal dust of the industrial Ruhr, but will green tourism be profitable enough to regain its former economic strength?
The shores of Baldeneysee, a ribbon of a lake that feeds into the Ruhr river near Essen, are busy. Schoolchildren cannonball into the water as sunbathers sit on beach chairs, nurse their beers and watch the paddleboarders pass by.
It wasn’t always like this. “When I was a little boy in the 70s, every morning we used to sweep coal dust and ash off our window panes,” recalls Frank Martini, an Essen resident. “Emissions from the furnaces and ovens of coal and steel industries stained our clothes left outside to dry.”
Some 35 to 40,000 years ago, humans took up residence in six caves in the Swabian Jura, and left behind unique evidence of their creative endeavours. These are the oldest works of art and musical instruments yet discovered anywhere in the world. Hailed as an archaeological sensation, the caves featuring the oldest Ice Age art were added to the list of World Heritage Sites in 2017.
By Karen Rubin
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has included a new site to its list: the caves of the Ice Age in the Swabian Jura in Baden-Württemberg. More than 50 artifacts mostly made of bone and ivory, were discovered in six caves in the Ach- and Lonetal. These archaeological sites and prehistoric works of art from the Ice Age allow researchers to draw conclusions about the earliest traces of human settlement.