All that remains… return to Cologne

cologne site jun 09

I’m on travel this week in Europe. My first start was Cologne to meet with the gang from the Franhofer Institute and to present plaques to them and the Cologne Fire Department, thanking them for allowing us to participate in the State Archive Building Collapse. Hartmut, Sebastian, and Thorsten came down from Bonn for dinner and a walk by the collapse site, now leveled, waiting the conclusion of lawsuits, new officials, etc. It is hard to believe that it has only been 3 months. Not only has it only been 3 months, but the city had erected a temporary roof (like those used at stadiums) and removed it.

BTW, I was told the oldest, most valuable manuscripts were among the 20% forever lost.


Prof. Thomas Christaller was receiving a prestigious medal, so the timing was bad, but Harmut arranged a “mini-symposia” at the Franhofer Institute with Capt. Rorhle and me giving talks. All of Capt. Rorhle’s slides were in English, so despite him talking in German, it was totally fascinating. Perhaps the most fascinating was to see the timeline of events, from getting a call 2 minutes before the collapse throughout the first hours. The flow of information (and mis-information) is apparently the same there as it is in the US– which really emphasizes the need for emergency informatics.

Prof. Stefan Wrobel attended and my hats off to him and Thomas for an amazing place! It’s a lovely combination of old (a castle) and new (the buildings and especially the robotics high bay lab) with an artistic and eco sensibility (“green” roofs).

So looking at the cleared site, similar to the WTC site, it is hard to tell that two people lost their lives there, that a physical connection to the past was lost as well. But given that Cologne appears in some ways defines itself by the bombings from WWII, I suspect every resident can feel the tortured earth and have added it to their long memories.

Day 1.5 at Cologne

Quick notes before getting some sleep… we have been on standby since going to the site on Friday around noon. City of Cologne and fire department (still fuzzy on naming translations) have been terrific and the Fraunhofer Institute IAIS incredibly supportive.

The Archives buildings was a new, modern multistory commercial building surrounding by multistory residential buildings. When it collapsed into the hole, some of the surrounding buildings were damaged. The one where the two victims are missing is an older (like more than a 100 years old looking) brick building. When brick buildings collapse, the brick crumbles into sand and small pebbles, filling every possible void. Even the ASC couldn’t get in.

The robots were requested this afternoon for the mixed rubble from the houses and the Archives, but it wasn’t a good fit. There were small voids but we couldn’t stand at the face of the rubble due to safety reasons- and the ASC requires us to be right there. The voids big enough for the larger Extreme, which we could operate from the safe location ~10m away, were shallow and thus didn’t require a robot. More notes on how to build better robots.

We’re back on site tomorrow- a huge crane is being brought in to do more excavations and more voids may open. It looks like the old fashioned tedious manual rubble removal is the best technology for this job for now.

Lots of pictures but haven’t gotten permission to release them yet, here’s link to pics from the media and gratuitous coverage 😉

Local news in English: