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My first ever visit to Ensisheim, June 2014

To see all the photos of my visit please see here

After an initial enquiry by BIMS member Luther Jackson, BIMS was asked if we would like to put on a display of British and Irish meteorites at the Ensisheim meteorite show in 2014. On behalf of BIMS Luther accepted and began to raise interest among members. Luther and Graham Ensor had been to the show many times before but I had never visited. However, the chance to put on an exhibition there prompted me to commit to attending in summer 2014. Between the three of us we decided to use specimens from our own collections for the display and we also sourced additional supporting material to enhance the planned display. As UK and Irish meteorites are something that I particularly enjoy and focus on collecting I was especially excited to be able to display these in such a prestigious and historic venue. After all they would be sat next to the famous Ensisheim meteorite that fell in 1492 and you can’t get much more historic than that!

The planned exhibition also was rather aptly timed as all three of us had been recently involved in UK meteorite related events and these stories would fit in very well with our display…………….

Story Number One – Barwell is known as the Christmas meteorite and on Christmas Eve 1965 when the meteorite fell Graham was nine years old. As the famous shower of festive space rocks broke the silence of that Christmas Eve evening Graham was watching from his bedroom window and the event resonated deeply and sparked off the enduring passion he has for the hobby today. One of the many stones that fell went through the roof of a local hosiery factory and was featured in the press at the time with photos of the specimen and the hole in that it had made. An engineer employed in the Smallshaws Knitware Factory at the time – Ernie Wright found the stone that penetrated the roof when he returned to work after Christmas. He kept it in a wooden tool box in his factory workshop. When he subsequently tried to take it home, his superstitious wife refused to allow it in the house, believing it to be radioactive, and so it was unceremoniously relegated to the garden shed cocooned in its wooden box. There it stayed for forty-seven years until Ernie passed away and his son Phillip began to clear the house and shed where he found the wooden tool box and its cosmic contents. He decided to sell the specimen and after much negotiation Graham happily acquired it along with its amazing story and of course the wooden box that had been it’s home for all those years!

Story Number Two – My own Barwell specimen was acquired only a few months after Graham’s piece and came to light after the owner, who was also the original finder in 1966, decided to sell it. At the time of the fall Jean Ferguson was keeper of geology at the local Leicester Museum. In the days and weeks after the fall many scientists flocked to the area from all over the country and Jean accompanied them as they hunted for meteorites. Jean herself found two specimens and was allowed to keep both of them. They were taken home and then regularly taken out to show interested visitors. As the years went by however they were taken out less and less and eventually lay forgotten in a kitchen drawer. Jean herself told me that it wasn’t until about twenty-five years later when the Chelyabinsk meteorite fell in Russia on 13th February 2013 that she remembered about her Barwell specimens and got them out to look at. She then decided to sell them and through a lucky chain of events I was able to acquire one of them along with photos from Jean and a handwritten account of its human interactions since it fell to earth in 1965.

Story Number Three – Luther also had a story about a long forgotten meteoritical piece of history, this time not Barwell and not actually even a meteorite but a cast of an important UK fall. The Ashdon meteorite fell on 9th March 1923 in the village of that name in Essex. It was a single stone fall and turned out to be a superb oriented dome-shaped individual that weighed 1.3kg. The meteorite was acquired by the Natural History Museum in London and a cast was made and given to the Saffron Walden Museum. In 1937 a further cast was made from the Saffron Walden cast by a jewellery and artefact replication company and was given to the local Ashdon Museum for display there. Fast forward to January 2014 when Luther made contact with the cast-making company and found that the original maker of the cast was deceased but that the business was still being run by his son. After tracing the history of these casts Luther found out that the original mould used to make the Ashdon Museum cast was still in the company’s workshop. Luther commisioned a new cast from the mould, after which the mould sadly disintegrated. A new mould using modern techniques was then made from that cast and after a few attempts Luther acquired a cast of the Ashdon meteorite, the first in private hands. More work needs to be done to perfect the process but at Ensisheim we were able to display this prototype cast. What is amazing is that even from this third generation cast the delicate flowlines can still be seen.

So, three separate stories, two very different but equally impressive Barwell specimens and a cast made available of the historic Ashdon meteorite, all along with their associated tales.

And so on Friday 19th June the three of us found ourselves at Gatwick Airport along with suitcases containing many specimens of UK and Irish meteorites, including the two Barwell specimens and Ashdon cast along with associated display materials. I made good use of a fishing rod transport case to hold the posters we were displaying, which unfortunately did look suspiciously like a bazooka. Luckily the security man had a sense of humour when I answered his question; “What’s in the tube?” with the answer “It’s actually a bazooka”!

En route to to Ensisheim we stopped at the actual fall site of the Ensisheim meteorite where there stands a monument and commemorative plaque.

First group photo of the trip!
First group photo of the trip!

Arriving in Ensisheim around lunchtime we went straight to our hotel, the Domaine du Moulin to unpack before heading to the square to meet everyone and begin installing our display. The first job was to track down Zelimir Gabelica the organiser, which took longer than expected……….  While we waited we met up with lots of other meteorite folk in the square, some of whom I was meeting for the first time and it was fantastic to be able to cement online relationships by putting faces to names.

View of the hotel from the end of the drive.
View of the hotel from the end of the drive.

When Zelimir arrived we were introduced to Jean Marie Blosser, the ‘Grand Maitre’ of the Confrérie Saint Georges des Gardiens de la Météorite d’Ensisheim. The Confrerie was founded in June 1984 and their mission is simply to protect and honour the Ensisheim meteorite. Organising the meteorite show every year in June forms part of this mission and also to ‘enthrone’ new members to the Confrerie as guardians of the meteorite, which is rightly regarded as quite an honour among the meteorite community. 2014 was therefore the 30th anniversary of the Confrerie and also the 15th anniversary of the meteorite show so we picked a good year to put on an exhibition!

Left a bit, right a bit. (Photo copyright of Luther Jackson)
Left a bit, right a bit. (Photo copyright of Luther Jackson)

With Jean Marie’s assistance we found everything we needed and spent a few hours setting up our display. We filled all the available cases to make a great looking display that we were really pleased with. One of the first visitors who Graham gave a tour to was French astronaut Michel Tognini, who was very charming. During the show he tweeted to a friend of his, an astronaut who was on the International Space Station saying that he was enjoying the meteorites at the Ensisheim show!

French astronaut Michel Tognini in front of our Barwell specimens. (Photo copyright of Graham Ensor)
French astronaut Michel Tognini in front of our Barwell specimens. (Photo copyright of Graham Ensor)

It was then time to head back out to the square to watch the official opening ceremony and see the new guardians being ‘enthroned’. This year there was Greg Hupe, Eduardo Jawerbaum, Michel Tognini, Achim Karl, and a few others who were involved in the brewing of the Ensisheim meteorite beer. Whilst watching the ceremony we sampled the two beers available, one of which was a very refreshing lemon beer and the other the specially brewed meteorite beer where a meteorite had been infused into the beer during the brewing process. Both were very tasty indeed and as well as on draught the meteorite beer was offered in a variety of bottles with custom labels, and one of these was added to my ‘must buy’ list to take home as a memento. All served on meteorite beer coasters!

The guardiens de la meteorite D'Ensisheim.
The guardiens de la meteorite D’Ensisheim.

After a few drinks we collected our tickets for the meal which was served in the tents in the square and sat at a table with Don and Linda Hurkot who were a lovely couple and who were there with Don’s sister Rose. It was great to chat to Don after seeing all his Facebook posts showing his amazing collection, and his wife Linda was absolutely charming. The food was definitely to my taste with me being half French, but unfortunately there was a delay in the main course being served. As Don, Linda and Rose were staying in nearby Colmar they had to leave early, so missed out on their main course and pudding. We enjoyed a few bottles of both red and white wine with our meal, the white being a Pinot Gris with an Ensisheim meteorite label on the bottle. Another item to fill my suitcase with for the return journey! Andre Besson also very kindly bought us a bottle. I had known Andre for a few years but had never met him and it was nice to talk space rocks over a glass or two of meteorite wine. Andre also won the award for having travelled the furthest to get there, having travelled all the way from Tahiti! As we sat chatting we noticed Marcin Cimala in deep discussion with Sergey Afanasyev, with much vodka drinking interspersed with the talking. Sergey then decided to have a nap on the table and so Marcin came over to join us along with the last remaining drops of his home brewed pinecone firewater, which was actually quite tasty but of an undisclosed strength! Mark Jost also joined us along with his partner and we shared meteorite tales till the wee small hours.

Marcin's pine cone firewater, yum! (Photo copyright of Luther Jackson)
Marcin’s pine cone firewater, yum! (Photo copyright of Luther Jackson)

The next day we were up bright and early as after a brief look the day before we had each worked out which tables we wanted to visit first to get particular items on our wish list. Alain Carion had some beautiful specimens of Libyan Desert Glass at good prices and which had been collected back in the seventies. Both Luther and myself had earmarked specimens to add to our collections. I also had on my list to visit Anne Black, who as always, had an amazing collection of thin sections. Some of these were from historic and unusual meteorites and had been obtained via a trade with ASU. I was lucky enough to pick up thin sections of Weston and Parnelee, both from ASU and both very high quality with huge surface areas. I was a very happy chappy! Graham seemed to have earmarked specimens on every single table and so we each moved at our own pace around the room marvelling at the breadth of specimens available. They ranged from very rare historic specimens with amazing provenance and old labels, and Lunars and Martians through to tables groaning with plenty of UNWA stones. Something for everyone, that’s for sure! After making a few purchases I bumped into Darryl Pitt in the main room and we headed for the square for a coffee and to conclude a trade that we had previously agreed. Darryl was someone else I was meeting for the first time and  after all the emails it was great to be able to shake his hand. Unfortunately he was only in Ensisheim for a few hours and had to leave soon after to head back over to Switzerland.

Anne Black had a steady stream of visitors to her table so much so it was hard to get a look in!
Anne Black had a steady stream of visitors to her table so much so it was hard to get a look in!

During the day we also periodically went to our exhibition and every time we visited it was always busy. I gave a tour of the display to Tomasz Kurz who I had met in the square earlier and enjoyed a nice chat with, he was impressed by what we had put together. Also sharing our display space along with the Ensisheim meteorite was a superb display by Vincent Jacques. Vincent was someone else that it was good to meet, having exchanged numerous emails and specimens over the years. His display was a large custom-made acrylic dome with specialist LED lighting that displayed his amazing specimens beautifully. Of particular interest to me were two large chunks of the French meteorite Hainaut weighing 464.29 grams total. I have a small piece of Hainaut in my collection acquired from Vincent but seeing these two chunks was amazing! Vincent mentioned to me that he had taken these specimens to the main mass weighing 8.7 kilograms and had managed to match up the two specimens perfectly to the broken faces.

Andre and Martin talking with Vincent next to his dome display.
Andre and Martin talking with Vincent next to his dome display.

Whilst roaming the stands in the main room I found another outstanding specimen, a large crusted fragment of Orgueil from Sergey Vasiliev weighing 14 grams, a very substantial size for this very rare, historic and scientifically important meteorite. This was also a specimen that I had a piece of, a 1.6 gram crusted fragment to be precise which came from the original 24 gram specimen and which Sergey’s 14 gram specimen had also come from.

Sergey's 14 gram crusted fragment of Orgueil with old labels.
Sergey’s 14 gram crusted fragment of Orgueil with old labels.

Lunchtime, and time to head down to the square to grab a bite to eat sat outside ‘Le Yacht’ in the famous blue chairs, an Ensisheim institution that I wasn’t going to miss out on. As we ate we passed around our purchases so far: Luther and myself had bought Libyan Desert Glass specimens and Graham and Luther had bought a load of individual Mundrabilla iron meteorites with lovely shapes. We passed an hour fitting them together and building them into puzzles on our table. Graham had also bought a selection of fifteen small UNWA stones and whilst we sat poring over these we were joined by Professor Knut Mezzler. Knut does some classification and so gave us his opinions on the stones, which pretty much mirrored Graham’s guesses too. Amongst them a possible CV carbonaceous chondrite, a howardite, a diogenite and a lovely little oriented shield.

Knut Mezzler, Graham, Kally Wombacher and Luther.
Knut Mezzler, Graham, Kally Wombacher and Luther.

Saturday night, myself, Luther and Graham opted for a meal at a pizza restaurant just around the corner from the main square. There was a vast selection of pizzas and ‘tarte flambée’, which is an Alsatian speciality. However after seeing some of the salads that were coming out of the kitchen both Graham and myself plumped for a goats cheese salad whilst Luther opted for a pizza. All were delicious and the salads were huge! Back to the square then and time to buy one of the Ensisheim beer bottles as a memento of our trip. Unfortunately the smaller bottles were now sold out so we had to go for one of the decorative two litre bottles. This turned out to be a bonus as we soon emptied the bottle and could then get it refilled at the bar which we did a few times!

A very happy chappy! :-) (Photo copyright of Luther Jackson)
A very happy chappy! 🙂 (Photo copyright of Luther Jackson)

We sat with Martin Karmaka and as with others we met I greatly enjoyed his wit and wisdom in person even more than his many meteorite-related postings I had appreciated before actually meeting him. We were joined by Mike Farmer who regaled us with more great tales, before being joined by Sigrid Wengert and Greg Hoeher who stayed with us until the early hours. Martin unfortunately had to leave fairly early on in the evening to get home in time to spend Sunday with his family.

Graham, Luther Greg Hoeher and Sigrid Wengert enjoying a drink together.
Graham, Luther Greg Hoeher and Sigrid Wengert enjoying a drink together.

There was music and dancing and the beer was flowing and there was a very relaxed atmosphere, which I noted throughout the entire weekend. We all remarked on the similarity between the lead singer in the band and Rob Elliott……………….. Rob can certainly belt out those tunes! 😉 There was a good mix of locals and meteorite folk enjoying the revelry but there was one local in particular who caught our eye. A chap who was obviously enjoying himself with a huge grin on his face playing air guitar in front of the stage. The thing was, he had not moved from that spot for many hours, all the time with his arms in position playing his ‘guitar’. We decided to reward him by taking over an empty beer glass and placing it at his feet, we all donated a few euros for his efforts! He was a good sport and came over to our table later to introduce himself. I forget his name now but he explained that that weekend was a festival of music all over France and he said he had had a brilliant night and enjoyed himself thoroughly. It was great to see all the meteorite folk having fun and drinking and dancing away, Sergey Vasiliev was a particularly good mover! Sergey Afanasyev seemed to have developed a penchant for chasing Jim Strope all over the square, glass of vodka in hand trying to entice Jim to dance……….not sure if he caught him at all. In the end myself, Graham, Luther, Sigrid and Greg were the last remaining in the square and we reluctantly retired back to our hotel. Not before a bit of hilarity en route trying to drain the last few drops from my coveted meteorite beer bottle trophy!

Cheers Marc and Sergey, Nasdrovya! :-)
Cheers Marc and Sergey, Nasdrovya! 🙂

The next morning we got up and headed off to the square to get breakfast only to find no croissants or pain au chocolat so we found a café/boulangerie and promptly ordered one of each for each of us and a large coffee. Others had the same idea and we bumped into Rob Lenssen and Kally Wombacher sitting inside. After a leisurely breakfast we headed back for another wander around the stalls – there was always something to see that you had missed the previous time round. I particularly enjoyed Moritz Karl’s and Mark Jost’s stands with plenty of amazing historic French and UK specimens that I drooled over. Moritz had awesome slices of Agen and Chateau Renard, two rare, historic 19th century meteorites. Marc had some specimens that were from Peter Marmet’s collection of historic meteorites and I recall seeing many specimens that had appeared on Peter’s initial sales list. I was lucky enough to secure a four gram fragment of Ensisheim from Peter at the time of his sale that I was extremely pleased with. It was a Monnig specimen with label and painted number and I am in the middle of researching it’s provenance trail as it appears listed in some old catalogues. Because of this acquisition I had not been able to secure many other pieces from Peter’s list and so I was here in heaven dribbling over many specimens and locations on my wish list.

Lovely slice of Agen on Moritz's stand.
Lovely slice of Agen on Moritz’s stand.

At lunch we sat at one of the tables in the square and finally had the chance to sample a ‘tarte flambée’. There was a wood-fired oven set up in the square making and selling them, and very nice they were too. While we sat eating Marc Jost came running over to grab Graham, as it appeared that a photo of Graham had appeared in the local paper that morning and the lady behind the bar had a copy. Graham came back with it and realised that it was actually a photo taken last year of him poring over a table full of meteorites. Graham was kindly given a copy of the paper by the lady who had initially spotted it.

The local newspaper with a photo of Graham poring over space rocks.
The local newspaper with a photo of Graham poring over space rocks.

After sharing a glass of wine with Sergey Vasiliev who was roaming the square with a bottle and glasses, Luther and myself hooked up with Achim Karl and enjoyed a nice chat. Achim had not seen our display so we took the opportunity to give him a guided tour. He had lots of interesting tales to tell and we enjoyed showing him around. Afterwards he commented, saying “Not bad, not bad at all”. Now, as Achim has one of the finest private collections of meteorites in the world, we took his comment as a huge complement!

Achim Karl in front of our UK and Irish meteorites display.
Achim Karl in front of our UK and Irish meteorites display.

The afternoon was spent doing final deals and searching around for last minute bargains. Graham acquired a nice kilogram fragment of an UNWA chondrite with a large area of primary crust, some secondary crust, and an exposed matrix that very much resembled Barwell, with similar looking basaltic clasts.

After packing up the display we returned to the hotel to load the hire car. We were then able to return to relax and enjoy the last few hours of the show knowing we were all ready to leave for the airport with nothing left to pack. We ate a last meal from ‘Le Yacht’ while sitting on the edge of the stage soaking up some sun and enjoying the last part of our weekend at the show. It was at this point, that we were approached by Jean Marie Blosser with two cases of the Ensisheim wine which he very generously gave to us to thank us for putting on our display. We were very touched but also unsure as to how we would be able to return home with the cases as all our baggage was packed and already full to straining point. After some discussion we were very kindly given a solution by Laurent Jaworski who offered to take the cases home and store them in his wine cellar for us and then bring them back next year. We took him up on his kind offer (Merci Laurent!) but first removed a couple of bottles to give to Sergey Vasiliev who was celebrating his birthday, and joined him for a few glasses before we had to leave for the airport.

And so it ended as it began with the three of us at the airport, only this time with slightly heavier bags and instead of anticipation rather a great feeling of contentment from a hugely successful and fun trip. My only slight niggle was that the weekend had passed all too quickly and I wished for another day soaking up the atmosphere that the show had provided.

You will notice as you have read through this report that it was not just all about the meteorites for me. The meeting of so many folk I felt as if I had already known for years through the Metlist, IMCA, French meteorite forum and Facebook etc. meant so much to me. Finding other shared passions with meteorite aficionados further cemented existing and new friendships. Talking fly fishing with Andre Besson, sharing recipes for sweetbreads with Karen Ziegler and discussing the finer points of Scotch whisky with Greg Hoeher are moments that still make me smile. Meeting Mike Farmer, Greg Hupe, Jim Strope, Sergey Vasiliev, Marc Jost, Anne Black, Roger Warin, Eduardo Jawrbaum, Kally Wombacher, Martin Karmaka, Laurent Jaworski, Moritz and Achim Karl, Fabien Kuntz and Marie Gerbet, Darryl Pitt, Don and Linda Hurkot, Tomasz Kurz, Marcin Cimala, Pierre Marie Pele, Vincent Jacques, Alain Carion, Giorgio Tomerelli, Sergey Afanasyev, Sigrid Wengert, Hanno Strufe, Siegfried Haberer and Karin Schneider, Karen Ziegler, Zelimir Gabelica, Jean Marie Blosser and everyone else whose names I have forgotten was a joy. Every corner of the square and town hall felt like déjà vu as I had seen so many photos and videos over the years that I already knew the layout despite never having set foot there before. Ordering a burger and chips from ‘Le Yacht’ and sitting outside on the blue chairs that appear in every single set of photos I had seen over the years was such a pleasure. Sat in the square drinking meteorite beer on meteorite-themed beer mats fulfilled me more than I had ever expected it would. I grinned from ear to ear to watching the enthroning of new guardians of the meteorite, thrilled to see the flowing red robes of the ‘Grand Conseil’ members doing the presentation and listened intently to their words. Visiting the fall site of the Ensisheim meteorite and the monument that stands there gave me chills down my spine in the same way as visiting the Wold Cottage monument still does every time I go. And the fact that I could enjoy all of this in France, whilst practicing my French, was the icing on the cosmic cake! The meteorites were superb but the company for me was even better. Huge thanks to both Graham and Luther for keeping on at me and persuading me to finally make the trip.

Everyone said to me before I went and during the show that it wouldn’t be my last visit. I was told that the Ensisheim meteorite show was like some huge, oversized packet of Pringles – ‘Once you pop, you can’t stop!’ I thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of the trip from the initial preparations and anticipation of going, the experience of all the meteoritic and human interactions throughout the weekend and the glow of contentment emanating from me as I relived all the special moments in my head afterwards. Like anything that is looked forward to it went through stages from anticipation, through experience and into memory proving the ephemeral nature of the daily experiences we have and re-enforcing the mantra of making the most of every moment we have available to us.

Expectation of the moment precedes the moment then recedes into memory of the moment.
Expectation of memory of the moment and memory of expectation of the moment both concede to the brevity of the moment.
All moments occur only in the present and the present moment occurs only as the interval between then and now, now and then.
Then becomes now, now becomes then.
Then has been now, now has been then.
Now is then, then is now.

(Martin Goff – June 1998)

And so to put the above into simpler less philosophical terms – I had been excited for months in the run up to the show, I loved my visit and it lived up to every expectation and more. I will remember and re-live it throughout the year and I am already looking forward hugely to next year.

À bientôt Ensisheim   🙂

Luther has put together two excellent videos of the weekend, one of our UK meteorites display and another more general one of the weekends activities. Also Laurent Jaworski took a video of me talking about our UK meteorites display (In French) All three videos are below:

To see all the photos of my visit please see here

Further reading and links

Luther Jackson’s Ensisheim 2014 photos