Skyscrapers, Turbines And The Problem Of 'Horizon Pollution'

Skylines evolve over time, but that doesn't mean cities like Bremen, Germany should let developers erect whatever kind of tower block they want.

Michael Pilz


BREMEN — The horizon is the final frontier, what separates the sky from the earth. Below the horizontal line live people, and above it are the gods and the ether, the sun, moon and stars, and the ozone hole and greenhouse gases. As long as the horizon can be seen, the sun disappears behind it in the evening but rises again in the morning on the other side, and the sky is not falling on anyone's head. The sky remains the sky.

The cleverest and most beautiful song about the line between the two elements comes from the Berlin band Knorkator. It is called How Far is it to the Horizon (Pythagore) and happily sings the math to calculate how far the horizon is: "The distance is a / The radius is b / the center to the head is the side c / let's take the theorem of Pythagore: a² + b² = c² / Earth's radius b / Measures approximately 6,378,000 meters / C = 6,378,000 and 1.70 meters / Let's look at the squares / And their difference is/ 21,680,000 / And the square root is / 4,650 meters!"

The horizon is quite close, in other words. And it's for that very reason that historian Georg Skalecki — who heads the Bremen State Office for the Preservation of Monuments — is so concerned these days about horizontverschmutzung, a relatively new terms that translates in English as "horizon pollution."

The horizon is sacred.

Skalecki is particularly opposed to a plan by architect Daniel Libeskind to erect four towers along the edge of Bremen's city center, in the area around the bank. The four towers are supposed to honor the world-famous Town Musicians of Bremen, of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

The highest building on the city's horizon is the centuries-old, 98-meter-tall cathedral. One of the four new towers should not be quite as tall, but would have a wider top. The architect wants to broaden Bremen's horizon, and is inspired by New York, where he is involved in the renovation of the World Trade Center.

Street in Bremen, Germany — Carlos Ibáñez

In Libeskind's opinion, Bremen should become a global trading metropolis again with office towers and hotels that are taller than wide. But the preservationist Georg Skalecki wants Bremen to remain Bremen, with its narrow but clean horizon.

Horizon pollution has become a common term in German since some huge white wind turbines were erected in the sea, affecting the landscape and the open view. The expression first appeared in written complaint by the mayor of Wangerooge, on the North Sea island of the same, opposed a wind farm that went into operation in 2017, despite being planned for 2008.

Horizon pollution is a more elegant way of saying "spoiling," as in spoiling the landscape. What is meant by the term is not only the disturbing shadows over the meadows, dead songbirds under the masts and the silence following the death of the bees. It means more. Because once it's been blocked from view, the horizon is longer the dominating expanse in Caspar David Friedrich's famous The Monk by the Sea painting, no longer the thing that makes the monk seem so meager.

The horizon is sacred, even when it's not a line, but rather the shape-shifting silhouette of a city. In Berlin, the skyline traces the contours of Prussian history. In Cologne it's marked by the unique Central Mosque. In Bremen, it's characterized by the cathedral towers.

Horizon pollution is a more elegant way of saying "spoiling."

Claude Lévi-Strauss, the well-traveled ethnologist, saw the horizon as an idea shared by all peoples: the horizontal stands for everything earthly and human, the vertical for the supernatural and the divine. Thus the steeples and other towers that men built to assure the longevity of their power.

Horizon pollution caused by wind engines makes people aware that they cannot do otherwise. That they must put the climate above it all so that the sky doesn't fall on their heads. Bu altering the horizon of Bremen, in contrast, would be a purely spiritual choice.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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