Truly spectacular was the reconstructed housing complex. The new houses were built over the foundations of the original Roman houses but with a security layer so the originals wouldn’t get harmed in any way. The whole complex was surrounded by roof covered sidewalks. The ground of the sidewalks differed from one property to the next since every home owner had their preference. They were allowed to use different sorts of paving or stamped earth.

Visiting the houses brought to life the way humans have lived so long ago. Each house had a little garden with a shed or another small building on it. The outhouses usually contained the toilet and rooms for the slaves, equipment, and provisions. In the main house the family rooms were on the first floor. The ground floor consisted mostly in a shop that was open to the paved road outside. Only a wooden counter separated the shop from the sidewalk.

The houses were built of tamped loam and decorated prettily with bright colors. The roofs were mostly tiled, only a few of the sheds were shingled. An interesting fact is that none of the houses had chimneys, even though every room had a small fire place, and the houses of the richer people had floor heating. The view from a rear window or balcony resembles those of a serial house today: long, narrow garden, walls (today it’s fences) between the properties, and grass (often with a few bushes) on the ground.

The rooms of the family on the first floor were beautifully decorated but sparsely furnished. Romans were very fond of bright colors and regular patterns. The room in the picture would have been the bedroom of a whole biological family (there was a crib in the other corner but it didn’t fit into the picture and I didn’t dare move it), most likely the home owner’s. The parents would sleep in the double bed, the children in the spare bed, and the baby in the crib. Servants slept on the same floor in rooms with less decoration. Everyone owned a trunk for their belongings.

Only the slaves did not stay in the houses over night. They had a separate platform above important equipment and/or provisions. All slaves slept on the platform in bedrolls.

I found it surprising how much comfort the Romans already had. Their lifestyle wasn’t all that different from ours. When one thinks of the Iron Age, one doesn’t expect this kind of lifestyle. The recreated houses impressed on me how much the Germans missed out on when Arminius defeated the Romans. True, they weren’t exactly easy masters, and freedom is important. However, the kind of civilization they would have brought might have changed my home country in a way that would still matter today.

 

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When I kept to the dietary recommendations of the doctors I’d been talking to, I hated every minute of loosing weight (although I was happy with the result). The constant hunger made me think of food all the time, and the added sport ate into my writing time until I began to loathe it. Enter Holly Lisle, writing coach extraordinaire. She’d been battling tongue cancer and beginning diabetes successfully and recommended two books by Dr. Jason Fung, a nephrologist (specialist for kidneys) who had decided it would be better to battle diabetes than handling the fallout (kidney failure with dialyses).

So I bought The Obesity Code and The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Fung and read them both. They were eye opening and pointed into a direction I’d been unconsciously aware of for a long time.

Like all other doctors I’d consulted, he recommends weight loss to battle diabetes. However, he said that reducing fat and carbohydrates was the wrong strategy. And the reason—how surprising—is the body’s reaction to such a diet: the permanent craving of food. His solution is as simple as it is logical.

Reducing fat and carbohydrates forces the body to live on proteins, and they do not provide enough energy. Since carbohydrates are what’s causing the biggest insulin problems (I’ll talk about that next week), the amount of fat in the diet needs to go up.

When I was studying in Scotland (about x years ago), I was always pressed for time. So my main dish was bread with fried cheese and some cress or salad. Naturally the bread dripped with fat. I lost a lot of weight back then, an unforeseen but welcome effect. Unfortunately I drew the wrong conclusions thinking the weight loss a result to the stress at university, especially when it came back after returning to Germany. With Dr. Fung’s finds, I finally got the right perspective.

Dr. Fung also said that the time a person eats has a significant influence on how the body reacts to food (read the books for proof). Since that was exactly what I found when I monitored my diabetes, my initial skepticism melted away and I set out to see if his method truly worked.

Right before the summer holidays, I followed his recommendations for six weeks and lost 10kg/22lbs without feeling hungry once. During the holidays, with the kids at home, it was impossible to keep this up, but I did manage to keep my food intake to two low carbohydrate meals a day. I did not gain a singe gram over the summer (something I normally find very hard to do). Next week I’ll tell you more about the method and why it works.

For more information watch Dr. Jason Fung’s videos on YouTube.

 

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Eventually we came to the reconstructed houses and the part that interested my husband a lot: the toilets (after all, he’s head of a waste water disposal facility). As we already knew from books, the Romans used toilets with more than one seat and no separations between (see photo). They often met in toilets to talk business. Below the wooden (or sometimes stone) seats, there was running water that took the feces away. The Romans used sticks with a cloth wrapped end that they dipped into the water to clean their private parts.

No one was offended by using a toilet with other people. There were toilets for men and for women but also toilets where men and women went together. As our guide said, toilets were a favorite place for whores to hang around.

Interesting enough, the proverb ‘money does not stink’ (pecunia non olet) does not come from a tax on multi-people toilets as I’d thought. It is ascribed to the Roman emperor Vespasian who put a tax on the distribution of urine from public urinals (the Roman lower classes urinated into amphorae which were emptied into cesspools). The urine collected from public urinals was sold as an ingredient for tanning, for laundry, and for cleaning and whitening woolen togas.

The Romans also knew that waste water for more than a handful of people needed to be taken care of (after all there were ca. 5,000 people living in that town). Therefore, they build a deep, covered canal (the Cloaca Maxima, see photo) with sidearms to every block of houses. Smaller canals came from the individual houses to these sidearms. The water that ran constantly through the toilets flushed the Cloaca Maxima and the feces ended up in the Rhine that took them away.

In some places there were access hatches indicating that there were people who took care that the Cloaca Maxima didn’t get clogged. Imagine the stink in the tight place there (the height of the Cloaca Maxima in Xanthen was barely 1.5 m), and you know how miserable a person had to be (or how high the pay) to take that job. 😀

Clean drinking water did not come from the Rhine (and for very good reasons, imho) but from a spring in the nearby mountains. An aqueduct brought it directly into the city where it was distributed to the houses, to the bath houses, and especially to the toilets. However, for washing and other water-consuming tasks, Romans often used rainwater collected in cisterns. In other towns there were also water supply wells but not here.

 

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