food / travel

In East Prussia, Old Towns Reinvented

Whether in Elbląg, Olsztyn or Kaliningrad, city centers throughout East Prussia are being reinvented with modern interpretations of historical architecture.

central Olsztyn

By 1980, even as post-modernism was just taking root, German architects had already declared it dead. German architectural historian Heinrich Klotz's "The Belling Stags of Architecture: Kitsch in Modern Building Art" and his English colleague Charles Jencks' "The Language of Postmodern Architecture" had sparked lively debate in the late seventies about the new post-modernism in buildings and urban planning, but the German architectural establishment was already bringing the conversation to a close.

Architectural postmodernism never gained a true foothold in Germany. After a brief run in the eighties, the movement's energy fizzled quickly. In neighboring countries to the East, however, it continues to thrive - much to the surprise of German architects, who encounter these styles only when they travel abroad on summer educational trips. In the East, however, the movement that was laid to rest by German architects in the 1980s has shaped the architectural landscapes of entire cities and regions.

In Poland, post-modernism flirts with the typology of old cities. This is most clearly visible in the 700-year old city of Elbląg. The former capital of West Prussia has been a part of East Prussia since 1920, and is home to 126,000 inhabitants. Well into the post-war period, the city played a special role in Polish reconstruction. "In Elbląg there was nothing: no conservation movement, no available funds, not even a decision to rebuild the old city," says the conservationist Maria Lubocka-Hoffmann.

She developed the reconstruction strategy for Elbląg in the spirit of postmodernism, an approach which has few parallels in Western Europe. In the 1980s, the headstrong Polish professor created a revolutionary proposal for the reconstruction of the old towns of Gdansk, Wroclaw, Warsaw and Poznan. She has become the patron of old city-postmodernism throughout Poland.

Rebuilding Elbląg would be a different challenge, however, because of the city's unique history. After the war, with most buildings reduced to rubble, the bricks of the city were taken away to help rebuild historic Warsaw. Until 1980, 98 percent of the old city of Elbląg remained destroyed, and the community had no clear center – and the newly established Polish population lacked any concrete attachment to its new home.

A reconstruction of the pre-war German city of Elbing was not an option. Professor Lubocka-Hoffmann undertook a three-year archaeological excavation to expose the roots of the old Germanic town. The project revealed a complete stone map of what was then a medieval German trading city. Architects used this 700 year-old grid, rather than images of the old facades, to design the new town center.

It was on this basis that the reconstruction project was launched. A team of archaeologists, historians, art historians, and architectural historians was gathered to create an archive of all old towns that existed between the mid-14th and mid-19th centuries. In addition, an archive was created of all former homeowners, including their professions and socio-economic statuses. According to Lubocka-Hoffmann, this research yielded the most comprehensive archive of old city centers in the whole of Northern Europe.

When the research was completed in 1983, she created a building program for up to 600 new town houses. First, a "stylistic canon" was established to guide the architects. The goal was to produce harmony between contemporary architecture and the historical environment, which consisted of only a few reconstructed monumental buildings such as the Gothic Church of St. Nicholas.

The project has risked being derailed several times, but in nearly 30 years of reconstruction, some 300 new buildings have been constructed in the vicinity of St. Nicholas, to widespread local and critical approval. Under Lubocka-Hoffmann's disciplined guidance, the "new town" has taken on a very harmonious physiognomy.

All of the new buildings have been built on the historic ground plan, many of them on the old foundations. Street names and even the house numbers used in previous centuries have been brought back. Elbląg's newly invented "old town," developed under the influence of postmodernism, puts the historical and the poetic back in town planning.

In this respect, Elbląg is not unique. From Szczecin to Olsztyn, new neighborhoods are being developed through an imaginative reinterpretation of historical architecture. Even in the Russian city of Kaliningrad, there are plans to revitalize neighborhoods using old styles. The "new old town" is a neo-bourgeois city that celebrates individualism and the public space. This stylistic pluralism may be seen as eclectic, but as such, serves all the more in the protection of individual sovereignty that characterizes the post-modern eclecticism of civil society.

Read the original article in German

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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 but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

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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