Tilburg

Starting my 5th year coming to Tilburg University

Yesterday was the kick-off of the new intake of the Master of International Management at Tilburg University. Vivacious, smart, and mature students. Today I taught them the first time, and it was great fun. There is a lot of construction happening on the Tilburg University campus. It’s shaping a lovely learning and teaching environment. Frequently arriving on new schools, I know how tedious the first few hours of setting up logistics can be. But here, no matter what: consider it done. And it will be done. Tilburg is sometimes seen as an “underdog city” - a former wool and textile capital which had to reinvent itself. And it did reinvent itself without considering its limits but building on its possibilities. It is my 5th year coming here, and I enjoy every bit of it.

My longest summer since 1976

It is the end of August and I am thinking what to pack for Tilburg, where I am going to spend a month at the University. It is that time of the year, and I am looking forward to it. I have a good memory of what I packed up for last September, and it included a jacket and some wollen pullovers. Over the last 4 years, it has been this time in Tilburg, in which I witnessed the beginning of autumn.

But this year, it appears all differently. Today, in Frankfurt (Main), the forecast is a maximum temperature 33°C. That's more than 10°C above the long term average maximum temperature in August. In terms of rainfall during the core vegetation period, we have not been that dry since over 50 years, Just a few days ago the government decided to compensate partially losses in agriculture. It is for sure, the prices for many basic food items will rise soon. On top of that, there are response measures taken by the EU in response to the agressive US protectionism. This includes some food categories. I am generally not in favour of having long supply chains for food, and for sure many US products are of inferior quality anyways. But no doubt, it will add pressure on food prices. 

Today, I went to the Niddapark, behind the house. That's my running trail, from spring time. Also spring this year was warmer than average: both April and May about plus 3°C. But it was still a healthy landscape. Now, the grass is yellow, trees show severe signs of drought stress, and my plan to get some wild Sambucus to make a syrup and jam, ended with looking at the dried berries. Also for yesterday night's picknick at the Main river bank, it was not easy to find a green spot of grass to sit on. Luckily some gardener of an office block decided not to care about the municipal request to cease watering decorative plants, and there was a patch. These are the joys of a financial industry which does not care. Actually, nobody does. I remember, when I studied Geophysics in the late 80s, there were already numerical models showing the direction and the energetic effects of composition changes of the atmosphere were available - even the full complexity was not really understood. Desertification, water scarcity, loss of arable land and it's effects on food supply, living conditions and even resulting migration were already back then quite seriously researched and discussed. I remember very well, a project with Münchner Rückversicherung, doing number crunching to adjust their loss models for future natural disasters. That's why I am a bit puzzled why people are surprised now.

Now I am hoping for an "Indian Summer", which we call "Goldener Herbst". I would not be too surprised though, that while the sun's Zenit moves further South and the Westerly winds kick in at such temperature deltas over the North Atlantic, there will be a bit of wind ahead and winter won't come easy. It was a long summer. The only memory I have of such a year, was the summer drought of 1976. I was just aged 10 back then, and time was endless anyway. Now, this is special. 

Dried up  Sambucus  spoiled my effort to make myself a seasonal jam. 

Dried up Sambucus spoiled my effort to make myself a seasonal jam. 

Janthinobacterium lividum

In the Earth Matters exhibition of the Tilburg Textile Museum, I came across an interesting application of Janthinobacter Lividum, and aerobe bacteria, which dark purple colour can be used to dye textiles. Laura Luchtmann and Ilfa Siebenhaar additionally applied sounds at different frequencies to achieve different and very fine patterns. Unfortunately, the photo I took is not clear to show the real colour and its structure. But it's really interesting and very pretty. 

One of the exhibits by Laura Luchtmann and Ilfa Siebenhaar showing the color patterns achieves by the application of different sound frequencies on Janthinobacter lividum dying silk (Tilburg Textile Museum, 27.08.2017)

One of the exhibits by Laura Luchtmann and Ilfa Siebenhaar showing the color patterns achieves by the application of different sound frequencies on Janthinobacter lividum dying silk (Tilburg Textile Museum, 27.08.2017)

I liked all the museum. It is a mix of historical introduction into the textile industry, which was a commercial pillar of Tilburg. But beyond old machinery, it contains a lab with modern looms and brings the visitor to the innovative side of fabrics. 

View into the lab area of the Tilburg Textile Museum.

View into the lab area of the Tilburg Textile Museum.

Already time to leave Tilburg again

My Tilburg visit is already over and I have to say, this time, it was too short due to other travel arrangements and my delayed arrival. Students and colleagues were great and it was a real pleasure and privilege to be here. I am looking forward to come back to campus in 2017 and also to explore the Netherlands again a bit more then. Now it is nearly time to head for Malta with a short stop over in Frankfurt. Still no sign of autumn here, which is very exceptional this year. 

Exploring the land of canals from the waterside.

Exploring the land of canals from the waterside.

Tilburg arrival

Unfortunately, I arrived a week delayed in Tilburg due to my Malaria. And I find the recovery of fitness is going rather slowly. Of course, this is not a complaint, as this kind of Malaria is still a life threatening disease and it seems no surprise that a full recovery is not done in days but weeks. I am visiting Tilburg University and Lecture in the Master of International Management, as I also did last year. It is a very enjoyable environment with bright students, nice colleagues and good infrastructure. It is an amazing late summer this year, while in the same period of 2015 I was taking pictures of a commencing autumn here. Most of Northern Europe is experiencing record temperatures these days. And of course many people see this with pleasure and concern at the same time. 

I am also looking a bit deeper into the economic development of Tilburg, including the recovery from the time after the decline of the textile and leather industry. One of the newest achievement is that Tesla has opened an assembly plant, in the commercial zone. The city revived after depression with services, logistics, food and beverage production. It is experimenting with "unconditional minimum income" for every citizen, no ties attached. And it turned itself, not into an architectural beauty, but a modern and clean habitat, which in many ways appears like it could serve as a model for others and future cities. This fits into a research topic I am going to deepen in 2017 with some projects.

Tesla at Tilburg. After a great test drive of the Model S (photo snapped by Jeroen Kuilman).

Tesla at Tilburg. After a great test drive of the Model S (photo snapped by Jeroen Kuilman).

Dutch light

There is a myth around a special kind of light, which is said to have been the greatest source of inspiration for the painters of the Dutch golden age from the 17th century. In the 1970s the German artist Joseph Beuys postulated that this light has lost its radiance for good in the 1950s and with its disappearance it ended a special visual culture which lasted for centuries. Beuys saw the reason for its disappearance in the massive land reclamation project in the Zuyderzee (also Zuiderzee), which was a shallow bay, cut off the North Sea by a man made barrier which turned parts of it into the freshwater lake IJsselmeer. In a massive land reclamation project, the Netherlands gained a new province, called Flevoland. Peter-Rim DeKroon and Maarten DeKroon produced the documentary movie Dutch Light which compiles views on the subject, for example by the arts historian Svetlana Alpers, the painter Jan Andriesse, Jan Dibbets, as well as the astronomer Vincent Icke, who often refers to Marcel Minnaert, also an astronomer and author of The Nature of Light in open Air. There are numerous articles exploring the field, like for example Robert Greenler and David K. Lynch in 30 OPN Optics & Photonics News on A Return to Optics’ Roots. A special Dutch light on paintings might have also been a certain technique and skill, which was more strongly represented by the Dutch painters' style. When browsing through paintings of that period, I also noticed quite a few indoor scenes and portraits which are very deceptive in terms of light and brightness. But it could as well be an atmospheric phenomena, as some claim. To me the land reclamation of the Zuyderzee, which is said to have changed atmospheric conditions, albedo and reflection in a way that the Dutch light might have disappeared, seems, even given its size, too small to cause such changes on a broader level. The physicist Günther Können, who is the head head of the climate analysis department of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, is also skeptical that there is anything like a Dutch light today. It is likely that it was not the light, but the flatness of the landscape, the low clouds and the steady line of the horizon which gave a special perception of light in the Netherlands. The "low sky" (meaning the clouds) is really one of the things I noticed in my month here in the Netherlands. And when the sun breaks though the clouds, the landscape looks sometimes very dramatic. Perhaps that's what makes the light appear more radiant: the contrast.

IJsselmeer by LANDSAT (Public Domain, NASA, https://zulu.ssc.nasa.gov/mrsid/)

IJsselmeer by LANDSAT (Public Domain, NASA, https://zulu.ssc.nasa.gov/mrsid/)