Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Carpenter's Tale

After yesterday's post several readers have asked where they might learn more about the untimely death of Johann Dieter Wassmann. The best source is Maime Stombock's eloquent essay, "A Carpenter's Tale."

A CARPENTER'S TALE by Maime Stombock

"At 56, Johann Dieter Wassmann should have known how to board a tram. Clumsy is not a word many would have associated with a man who, as one of Leipzig's foremost civil engineers, led a meticulous life. But in the half light of morning on January 6, 1898, late for a meeting and distracted by the gentle solitude of a new fallen snow, he raced to board a slow moving tram outside his home on the corner of Schonbach and Äuss. Hospital Strasse (now Prager Strasse). With briefcase in hand, he leapt onto the forward running board. As he did, his footing gave way -- he did reach the running board, but missed the handrail and fell backwards, slipping under the carriage. Despite having the wherewithal to roll as he fell he was unable to roll far enough. The rear wheels of the tram, in their deliberate progress, crushed his left leg just below the knee, leaving a stump with a dangling calf and booted foot secured only by his few remaining calf muscles.

"But Johann Dieter Wassmann wasn't clumsy, as I have said. He was in a hurry. Herein lies the none-too-subtle irony in his death from these injuries three months later: It was the very pace of modern life and man's obsession with time, at the expense of the wonder of the space around him, that had come to preoccupy Johann's personal and creative life in the closing decade of the 19th century, although it was his more celebrated professional life that had given him pause to ask: where is it all going? Renowned in the burgeoning field of sewerage management, he had experienced the toll of industrialization and urbanization first-hand. But he did more than just experience it; he spent the whole of his illustrious career battling to thwart this dual assault on the human condition..."


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