First meeting of the Open University Geological Society, Mainland Europe Branch
By Ann Wiltner, Vienna, Austria.
On Friday 27 October 2000, members of the newly formed OUGS Mainland Europe Branch met in Basel, Switzerland, for our first AGM and our first branch field trip to Germany Significantly, as you'll read, the diversity of the group made for a terrific get-together.
I (English, living in Vienna) was one of eight members staying at the Youth Hostel in Basel. I arrived from the airport at around 6 pm and was welcomed on the doorstep by Annette Kimmich (English, living in Berne), the founder of the OUGSME branch, who had co-ordinated this event with help from her daughter Daniela, who lives in Basel. Jackie Lodin (New Zealander, living in Berne) and Ole Nielsen (Danish, living in Brussels) were also there to meet and greet. A little later we left for dinner at the Gifthütli Restaurant in old Basel, together with Mike Molloy (Kent Irish, living in Munich) and Sylvine Palliser (Belgian, living in Ghent). We expected the walk to be about 15 minutes but on the way were caught up with a parade of about 70 musicians from the Mohrekkopf Band who normally play in the Basel pre-Lent Carnival, but were moving from one permanent practice location to another. We enjoyed the typically Basel deliberately-contrived, slightly-out-of-tune musical entertainment. The walk to the restaurant took us 30 minutes, but the rest of the party was patiently waiting there: Mike Gilmore (English, living near Bordeaux) and his wife Jennifer, and Ann Cripps (South African, living near Montpellier) and Dick, her husband. After an excellent dinner, Annette gave us the briefing and field notes for the following day's geological field trip.
The next morning we met up at the Baden station, joined by three members who could only join us for the day: Mojca Bandelji (Slovenian, living in Lausanne), Elisabeth D'Eyrames (French, living in Arbois), and Gill Ewing (English, living in the northern Jura). We boarded a train for Freiburg, Germany, then transferred to a local train to Ihringen, arriving around 10.15 am. The route followed the Rhine Graben, which is one of the major tectonic structures in Western Europe, being an active rift zone and prone to earth tremors - Basel suffered a 6.5 - 7 Richter magnitude earthquake in 1356. This sediment filled basin forms an alluvial plain stretching from Karlsruhe to Basel, bounded by the Vosges mountains to the west, the Black Forest to the east and cut by the Jura mountains to the south.
At Ihringen we were met by Annette's husband, Hans, with the picnic lunch, and we set off in a 20-seater coach in glorious autumn sunshine. Our first stop was by a vineyard just outside Ihringen, above which was a rock face consisting of two distinct basalt lava layers from flows from one of six or seven ancient, ruined, volcanic craters which make up the Kaiserstuhl.
After examining the rocks at the roadside edge of the vineyard, we walked up a 30° slope through the vines to the rock face itself. We spent quite some time discussing the constituent minerals, such as pyroxene crystals with iron staining, the vesiculated veining and carbonatites (checked with Annette's HCl), and the up to 30 metre thick loess deposits from the last Ice Age, and generally comparing notes.
Our second stop was at the local wine co-operative, Winzerverein Oberrotweil, where we were able to taste the product of vines grown in volcanic soil. That was our excuse, anyway! According to Mike Molloy, "This was no dry geology!" The Winery's tour guide made a great fuss of us and gave us three local wines to taste during our excursion around the huge premises. We were a little disappointed that the shop was closed when we had finished our tour so we were unable to buy any produce to bring home. However, Annette did manage to get six bottles for drinking with our picnic lunch and honour was more than satisfied!
After the aperitifs, we were all ready for lunch, and headed up to the top of a crater rim called Mondhalde which, at 370 metres above sea level, overlooked the terraced vineyards in glowing autumnal shades, the Rhine Graben and the hazy line of the Vosges on the western horizon. At the site was a basalt monolith with inscriptions extolling aspects of the region, and a circular brass plaque detailing compass directions of major European cities.
Having eaten well and admired the extensive views we made our way down the side of the crater to our final stop near Limburg, next to the old Rhine. The Rhine itself has been canalised to allow ocean-going ships to reach Basel. We followed a footpath along a hillside and examined the loose rocks in search of limburgite, but time was running short and we had to make our way back to Freiburg station in some haste to be back in Basel for the Inaugural Branch Meeting at 6.30 p.m.
Annette's daughter, Daniela, had arranged for us to meet in the gaily decorated room normally used for practice by her band, the Schnoogerl, and we were surprised and delighted when five members of the pipe band entered the room dressed in their costumes and full head masks to entertain us. There followed the official welcome by Annette and the Meeting got under way. Afterwards a delicious celebration dinner had been arranged at the neighbouring Steinmühle Restaurant. Grateful thanks were given on behalf of the members to Annette and her daughter for their enthusiastic organisation of the weekend's events, then we slowly made our way back to our various hotels and Youth Hostel.
Sunday dawned, and one look at the weather was enough to dissuade any but the staunchest to venture again into Basel, in spite of it being the Autumn Fair. Our congratulations to Annette for the perfect autumn day she had produced on the Saturday for the field trip. Sadly, I had to leave the group at 10 a.m. to catch my return flight to Vienna.
As a result of the great support of the members who attended the weekend in Basel it was strongly felt that this weekend marked the beginning of a truly important and worthwhile branch of the Open University Geological Society.