Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The German Reinheitsgebot

A crown cap, reading "500 Years of Reinheitsgebot in Munich
On April 23, 1516, in the city of Ingolstadt in the duchy of Bavaria, Duke Wilhelm IV. and Duke Ludwig X. of Bavaria publish a new law that contains regulations about the price and the ingredients of beer. These Regulations later are called the 'Reinheitsgebot' (German Beer Purity Law), which states that the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer are water, barley and hops.

The law was introduced at a meeting of an assembly of the Estates of Bavaria, at Ingolstadt, about 60 miles north of Munich. Next to the listed ingredients, the original law set the price of beer at one Pfennig per Maß. On this day however, the law is not longer active and was replaced by the Provisional German Beer Law, introduced in 1993. With the new law, some changes, which allowed the ingredients yeast, wheat malt and cane sugar were introduced. Back in the Medieval era, many brewers had used many problematic ingredients to preserve beers, including soot and fly agaric mushrooms. When the Reinheitsgebot came into effect, several penalties for not following the law were set, for instance, the confiscation of all questionable barrels is assumed to have occurred quite often. It is also believed that the Reinheitsgebot was introduced for economic reasons. The prevention of price competition with bakers for wheat and rye was intended in order to guarantee affordable bread.

The Reinheitsgebot started to spread very slowly across Bavaria and later Germany. Bavaria insisted on its application throughout Germany as a precondition of German unification in 1871, to prevent competition from beers brewed elsewhere with a wider range of ingredients. Many brewers opposed the new law and they claimed that the Reinheitsgebot would lead to the extinction of many brewing traditions and local beer specialties, for instance the North German spiced beer and cherry beer were affected. In 1988 the law changed again and from then on, any ingredient that was allowed in other foods was not allowed in beer as well. However, these changes only applied to imported beers and beer brewed in Germany still has to abide to the law. On this day, many German breweries claim to follow the original Reinheitsgebot, even though this is often false.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture titled 'The Bitter, Twisted Truth of Hop'

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Encore un Moment - The Life of Madame Du Barry

Madame Du Barry
(1743 – 1793)
On April 22, 1769, Jeanne Bécu, comtesse du Barry, better known as Madame du Barry, was introduced at the French court. Originally being only a seamstress, Madame du Barry should become Maîtresse-en-titre of Louis XV of France and the most powerful woman in France.

Madame du Barry was born in Lorraine, France and had to support herself financially at the age of 15 or 16. It is assumed that she had started selling rather cheap jewelry on the streets of Paris and continued her career as a companion to an elderly widow, Madame de la Garde. Madame du Barry, back then still known as Jeanne Bécu, was considered highly attractive and her beauty also drew attention to Jean-Baptiste du Barry around 1763. He owned a casino and made Jeanne his mistress. He supported her career as a courtesan in Paris and made it possible for her to take several aristocratic men as brief lovers or clients. Jeanne became widely known across Paris as Mademoiselle Lange. To her clients belonged numerous aristocratic men and Jean du Barry started to see a huge potential of influencing the politics of Louis XV. In order to become a maîtresse-en-titre, Jeanne had to get married to Comte Guillaume du Barry.

Jeanne moved in the King's quarters and had a hard time fitting in. Many of the nobility would not accept the fact that a woman of the street had the audacity to interact with those above her station. Still, it is assumed that her husband often reminded her to speak of presentation with the king. After Jeanne had finally been presented to the Court at Versailles, she started to make friends and quickly accustomed herself to living in luxury. Madame du Barry became known as a very extravagant woman, who wore diamonds covering her neck and ears combined with extremely costly dresses. She became the king's maîtresse déclarée and historians assume that she made as many friends as enemies at Court.

Duchesse de Grammont should become her most bitter rival, who did not hesitate to develop several plans to remove Jeanne with her brother. Still, Jeanne's power in Court grew stronger as Choiseul sided with the Spanish against the British for possession of the Falkland Islands. When Jeanne found out about it, she exposed the news to the king, which resulted in the removal of Choiseul and his sister. This period is regarded as Jeanne's golden age and her family received great benefits from her position. She became well known as a supporter of artists and the king often praised her in front of his acquaintances. Unfortunately for her, she grew increasingly unpopular because of the king's financial extravagance towards her. For instance, Louis XV requested that Parisian jewellers Boehmer and Bassenge create an elaborate and spectacular jeweled necklace for du Barry in 1772. The necklace was neither completed nor paid for when the king passed away, which triggered a huge scandal. Queen Marie Antoinette was wrongly accused of bribing the Cardinal de Rohan, Archbishop of Strasbourg in the Alsace, to purchase it for her. These accusations would figure prominently in the onset of the French Revolution. This incident became well known as the famous Diamond Necklace.

After the death of Louis XV, Jeanne was quickly exiled to the Abbey du Pont-aux-Dames near Meaux-en-Brie. After about one year, she was allowed to visit the surrounding countryside on condition, she returned and slept behind the abbey’s walls at sundown. Jeanne started to slowly recover and even managed to purchase some property. Later on, she fell in love with Henry Seymour while having a liaison with Louis Hercule Timolon de Cossé, Duke of Brissac. Brissac was captured while visiting Paris, and was slaughtered by a mob during the French Revolution and an angry crowd threw his head through her open window. Madame du Barry herself was arrested in 1793 for treason and beheaded by means of the guillotine on 8 December in the same year. Her last words to the executioner were Encore un moment, monsieur le bourreau (One more moment, Mr. Executioner).

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture on the French Revolution.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

The Passionate Life of Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1854)
by George Richmond, 1850
On April 21, 1816, English novelist and poet Charlotte Brontë, the eldest of the three Brontë sisters was born, whose novels are English literature standards. Most notably she wrote Jane Eyre under the pen name Currer Bell.

Following the usual stereotype, computer scientists are nerds and the only literature they read - if they read any literature at all - are science fiction stories or fantasy novels. Of course I like science fiction stories - at least it was the kind of genre I've read first. It was also the kind of genre which started my love for literature at all. It took a while until I also read the classical and romantic English novelists, but it was worth while. I really love the novels of Jane Austen, who understood to sketch the very pinpoint characteristics of English society in the early 19th century - always with a twinkle in the eye. And there are also the Brontë sisters. While Emily Brontë wrote "Wuthering Heights" - for sure you will know the heartache epic of Heathcliff, Cathy, and the moors (that's even too much for me :) ... not to forget the famous Kate Bush song - Charlotte, her eldest sister, has left us 'Jane Eyre', a gothic like novel containing elements of social criticism, with a strong sense of morality at its core, but nonetheless a novel many consider ahead of its time exploring also sexuality, religion, as well as feminism.

Charlotte was born in Thornton, West Riding of Yorkshire in 1816, the third of six children, to Maria and Patrick Brontë, an Irish Anglican clergyman. In 1820 the family moved a few miles to the village of Haworth, when Charlotte's mother died of cancer in 1821, leaving five daughters, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Emily, Anne and a son Branwell to be taken care of by her sister, Elizabeth Branwell. After the deaths of her older sisters Maria and Elizabeth of tuberculosis in 1825, Charlotte acted as "the motherly friend and guardian of her younger sisters". She and her surviving siblings - Branwell, Emily, and Anne - created their own literary fictional worlds and began chronicling the lives and struggles of the inhabitants of their imaginary kingdoms. Between 1831 and 1832 Charlotte continued her education at Roe Head in Mirfield, where she met her lifelong friends and correspondents, Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor. In 1833 she wrote a novella, The Green Dwarf, under the pen name Wellesley. She returned to Roe Head as a teacher from 1835 to 1838. In 1839 she took up the first of many positions as governess to families in Yorkshire, a career she pursued until 1841.

In 1842 Charlotte and Emily travelled to Brussels to enrole at a boarding school. In return for board and tuition, Charlotte taught English and Emily taught music. After the death of her aunt Elizabeth Branwell, who had taken care of the children after their mother's death, Charlotte returned alone to Brussels in January 1843 to take up a teaching post at the school. But, her second stay was not happy and she returned already to Haworth in 1844. In May 1846 Charlotte, Emily and Anne self-financed the publication of a joint collection of poetry under their assumed names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. The pseudonyms veiled the sisters' gender whilst preserving their initials, thus Charlotte was "Currer Bell".

Charlotte's first manuscript, The Professor, did not secure a publisher, although she was heartened by an encouraging response. Thus, in September 1847, she published her best known novel Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. It tells the story of Jane, a plain governess who, after early life difficulties, falls in love with her Byronic employer, Edward Rochester, the lord of Thornfield Hall. (Please skip the rest of the paragraph, if you don't want to spoil your reading experience...) They marry, but only after Rochester's insane first wife of whom Jane initially had no knowledge dies in a dramatic fire.

In Jane Eyre Charlotte transformed her very own experiences into a novel with universal appeal. Commercially it was an instant success, and initially received favourable reviews. The book's style was innovative, combining naturalism with gothic melodrama, and broke new ground in being written from an intensely first-person female perspective. Speculation about the identity of Currer Bell and whether the author was male or female heightened with the publication of Emily's Wuthering Heights by "Ellis Bell" and Anne's Agnes Grey by "Acton Bell". Following the success of Jane Eyre, in 1848 Charlotte began work on the manuscript of her second novel, Shirley, when the Brontë household suffered a tragic series of events. In September 1848 Branwell died, when Emily became seriously ill and died of pulmonary tuberculosis. One year later in 1849, Anne died of the same disease. Nevertheless, Charlotte resumed writing as a way of dealing with her grief and finished Shirley which deals with themes of industrial unrest and the role of women in society was published in October 1849. Before the publication of Charlotte's third novel Villette, she received a marriage proposal from Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father's curate who had long been in love with her. After initially turning down this proposal, she accepted in 1854 and got married. Charlotte became pregnant soon after the marriage but her health declined rapidly. She died with her unborn child on 31 March 1855, aged 38.

At yovisto you can learn more about Charlotte Brontë's most famous novel 'Jane Eyre' in a lecture at DLD college, London.

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