Building Zeppelins Took a Lot of Guts

cow zeppelin
photo credit: Alexander Sovpel. Used by permission.

During much of World War I, sausage consumption was illegal in Germany. The reason was to preserve the supply of cow intestines, which were needed to seal Zeppelins and prevent hydrogen from leaking from the vehicle.

Ultimately, 140 Zeppelins were constructed. Each one required the intestines of 250,000 cows.

The Zeppelins themselves posed minimal military value. As a result of the 35,000,000 cows who gave their lives for the airships, Zeppelins claimed 1,500 human lives through bombing raids from 1915-1917.

Surprisingly, these floating bovine balloons were rather difficult to bring down. Simply shooting a bullet through the vehicle’s skin was insufficient, because the relatively small hole, compared to the massive size of the ship itself, made little difference. It wasn’t until the British designed a combination tracer/exploding bullet capable of tearing open the hydrogen bags and allowing sufficient oxygen to enter that the era of the Zeppelins came to an abrupt — and explosive — end.

The end of the Zeppelins meant a sudden spike in the sausage market. Butchers were happy. Sausage lovers were happy. The cows failed to see much of a difference.


The Christmas Truce of 1914


British and German soldiers lay down their weapons for a few hours and celebrate Christmas
British and German soldiers lay down their weapons for a few hours and celebrate Christmas

On Christmas Eve, 1914, many German and British troops sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.

At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer.

Some soldiers used this short-lived ceasefire for a more somber task: the retrieval of the bodies of fellow combatants who had fallen within the no-man’s land between the lines.

The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.


The Little Man from Nuremberg

Matthew Buchinger
Matthew Buchinger

Matthew Buchinger (1674-1740) was known as “The Little Man of Nuremberg.” Buchinger was born without hands, legs, or thighs and was less than 29 inches tall.

Despite his disabilities, Buchinger led a very accomplished life. He could play a half-dozen musical instruments including the bagpipes, dulcimer, hautboy, trumpet, and flute, some of which he invented himself, was an expert calligrapher, and was one of the most famous stage magicians of his day. He performed tricks with the cup and balls that have yet to be explained.

He was married four times and had at least fourteen children by at least eight different women.

Despite his having small, finlike appendages for hands, his engravings were incredibly detailed. One such engraving, a self-portrait (pictured above), was so detailed that a close examination of the curls of his hair revealed that they were in fact seven biblical psalms and the Lord’s Prayer, inscribed in miniature letters:Buchinger detail


Additional Space Needed on iPod


The longest musical performance in history is currently taking place in the church of St. Burchardi in Halberstadt, Germany. The performance of John Cage’s “Organ²/ASLSP (As Slow As Possible)” started on Sept. 5, 2001, and is set to finish in 2640. The last time the note changed was October 2013; the next change isn’t due until 2020.


History’s Shortest War

The Bombed Remains of the Palace of the Sultan of Zanzibar
The Bombed Remains of the Palace of the Sultan of Zanzibar

The Anglo-Zanzibar War was fought between the United Kingdom and Zanzibar on 27 August 1896. With a duration of only 45 minutes, it holds the record of being the shortest war in recorded history.

The war broke out after Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini, who had willingly co-operated with the British colonial administration, died on 25 August 1896, and his nephew, Khalid bin Bargash, seized power in what amounted to a coup d’état. The British favoured another candidate, Hamud bin Muhammed, whom they believed would be easier to work with, and delivered an ultimatum ordering Bargash to abdicate. Bargash refused. While Bargash’s troops set to fortifying the palace, the Royal Navy assembled five warships in the harbour in front of the palace. The British also landed parties of Royal Marines to support the “loyalist” regular army of Zanzibar. Despite the Sultan’s last-minute efforts to negotiate for peace via the U.S. representative on the island, the Royal Navy ships opened fire on the palace at 9 am on 27 August 1896 as soon as the ultimatum ran out.

With the palace falling down around him and escalating casualties, Bargash beat a hasty retreat to the German consulate where he was granted asylum. The shelling stopped after 45 minutes. The British demanded that the Germans surrender the erstwhile Sultan to them, but he escaped to sea on 2 October 1896. He lived in exile in Dar es Salaam until captured by the British in 1916. He was later allowed to live in Mombasa where he died in 1927. As a final act, Britain demanded payment from the Zanzibar government to pay for the shells fired on the country.The Zanzibar forces suffered losses of about 500 men; the British had one sailor who suffered injuries.


The Liberace of the 17th Century

Duke Charles II of Brunswick

Duke Charles II of Brunswick (1804-73) was known as “the Duke of Diamonds” because he wore them in such profusion that he could have been mistaken for an animated chandelier. He had thirty wigs, all made of black silk thread, drank nothing but iced milk, doused himself with strong violet perfume, took a chessboard to the opera, and had all of his clothes made twice too large.