Da Vinci Painting Sells For Almost 500 Million

Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Christ was sold for $450 million at an art auction at Christie’s  in New York. It was more than double the price of any art object ever sold.

The painting, Salvator Mundi,  is one of the rare masterpieces of the Renaissance painter. Created at around 1500 it is one of 20 da Vinci paintings still in private possession.

Salvator Mundi was once owned by King Charles I  of England in the middle of the 17th century.  The painting was believed to have been destroyed until it resurfaced in 1900.  In England, it was sold for a mere $125  because art experts at the time thought it was a worthless copy, either done by one of da Vinci’s followers or students. Even today, the painting’s authenticity is still in doubt.

After being restored several times, a Russian billionaire bought the painting in 2013. The new owner intends to remain anonymous.

The oil painting shows the upper body of Jesus Christ as the world’s saviour. In one hand he holds a glass sphere in, while the other hand is raised in blessing.

Currently, there is only one da Vinci in the United States. Ginevra de’ Benci can be observed in public at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

 

Da Vinci's masterpiece "Salvator Mundi"
Da Vinci’s masterpiece “Salvator Mundi”

Words

  • anonymous = not known by name
  • auction = a public meeting where paintings and other things are sold to the person who offers the most money
  • authenticity = the quality of being real or true
  • billionaire = person who has one thousand million dollars, euros etc..
  • in blessing = with the help or protection from God
  • century = a hundred years
  • Christie’s = famous auction house in New York
  • currently = now, at the moment
  • destroy = to damage completely so that you no longer can use it
  • in doubt = here: it may not be real
  • in public = where everyone can see it
  • intend = want to be
  • masterpiece = a work of art that is of very high quality or the best of a famous artist
  • mere = only
  • observe = see something
  • own = possess; if something belongs to you
  • possession = something that belongs to you
  • raise = hold up
  • rare = not found very often
  • Renaissance = period of time in Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries, when art, literature and scientific ideas became very important
  • restore = repair, so that it appears like it once was
  • resurface = to appear again after being lost or missing for some time
  • saviour =  a person who saves someone in a dangerous situation – here: Jesus Christ
  • sphere = shape of a ball
  • worthless = without any value , cheap

Russian Revolution – One Hundred Years Ago

One hundred years ago, in 1917, the Russian Revolution ended the monarchyTsar Nicholas II had to step down and the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin took control of the country. As a result, the Soviet Union evolved and became the biggest Communist country in the 20th century.

The centennial celebrations did not stir up a lot of publicity and Russian media did not report extensively on the topic. The Russian government under Vladimir Putin all but ignored the anniversary.

In contrast, thousands of Communist party members marched through downtown Moscow in honour of the Bolshevists, holding up flags of Lenin and Stalin.

During the Soviet era, November 7th  was always a state holiday with military parades and a display of power on Red Square. It was stopped after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Public opinion on the Russian Revolution is divided . While most citizens have a positive view of Lenin’s role in history they are opposed to the events that took place under Joseph Stalin’s  authoritarian regime. On the other side, many Russians are proud of having won World War II and of the country’s military and scientific achievements.

Lenin’s legacy collapsed in 1991. After years of chaos and a massive gap between the rich and poor, stability returned in the new millennium. While many cities and towns still honour Lenin in some way, others, like St. Petersburg, have returned to pre-revolutionary names.

Poster showing a Bolshevik in 1920
Poster showing a Bolshevik in 1920

Words

  • achievement = something important or successful that you have done  and can be proud of
  • anniversary = a day on which something special happened years ago
  • authoritarian regime = government that forces people to do what it wants and  where the citizens cannot state their opinions
  • Bolsheviks = group of people who supported the communist party at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917
  • centennial = day or year exactly 100 years after a special event
  • century = a hundred years
  • citizen = a person who lives in a country and has rights there
  • collapse = break down; when something stops existing
  • divided = split
  • downtown = the centre of a city
  • evolve = grow
  • extensively = in detail, very much
  • gap = big difference
  • ignore = pay no attention to something
  • in honour = to show how much you admire or respect someone
  • legacy = here: what is left over from a certain period in history
  • massive = very large
  • millennium = the beginning of the next one thousand years
  • monarchy = country in which a king, queen or another person rules
  • oppose = to be against something
  • parade = here: public celebration where soldiers and weapons move down the streets for the people to see
  • pre-revolutionary = before the revolution
  • publicity = attention that something gets  from newspapers or TV
  • public opinion = what the people on the streets think
  • Red Square = large open area in the centre of Moscow
  • scientific = about science
  • stability = being in the same condition
  • step down = give up power
  • stir up = cause, lead to
  • tsar = king of the Russian empire before 1917

 

 

Vatican Bans Cigarette Sales

Pope Francis has announced that the Vatican will ban the sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products in the Roman Catholic state beginning in January 2018. A spokesperson for the Vatican said that the mini-state cannot allow the sales of a product that is clearly damaging to a person’s health.

Vatican employees, diplomats and a few other fortunate ones who have a so-called “shopping card” are allowed to buy cigarettes, groceries and even gas in the duty-free stores of the small country. Some employees have been buying cartons of cigarettes and selling them cheaply on the streets of Rome.

The Vatican earns about $11 million a year through the sales of cigarettes. Tobacco products are the second-largest source of income after tax-free gas.

Italy, which has a 22% sales tax has been urging the Vatican to stop selling products tax-free. It is thought that about 5,000 employees, diplomats and other residents are in possession of such a card and can shop in the Vatican’s stores.

Birds-eye view of the Vatican
Birds-eye view of the Vatican – Image: Dnalor_01
License CC-BY-SA 3.0

Words

  • announce = to say something officially, in public
  • ban = forbid, not allow
  • damage = to do physical harm to someone
  • duty free = sell products without paying any taxes
  • earn =  here: to get money for the products that you sell
  • employee = someone who is paid to work for someone else; worker
  • fortunate = lucky
  • groceries = food  and other goods that are sold at a supermarket
  • in possession = to have something that is yours to keep
  • mini-state = very small country
  • sales = selling a product
  • spokesperson = someone who has been chosen to speak for a company, country  or the government
  • source of income = the place from which the money comes that you earn
  • urge = to strongly suggest that someone should do something

Protestantism Celebrates 500th Anniversary

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant religion. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther published his 95 theses, which criticized the Roman Catholic Church. As a result, the new religion broke away from the high church in Rome.

Luther nailed his list of criticism on the door of a church in Wittenberg, where he taught theology. He attacked the Church because it claimed that a sinner could reduce God’s punishment by giving money to the church. He also claimed that popes were too powerful and abused their power.

A few years later Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. However,  because of the printing press, which was invented at that time, his message spread across most of Europe. The Reformation caused widespread change in Europe. It led to wars and people leaving their home country in pursuit of religious freedom.

In England, Henry VIII broke his ties with the Roman Catholic Church and, based on Luther’s theses, founded the Anglican Church.  Over the centuries Protestants have created many different branches of their religion.  Many Protestants are found in Scandinavia, Germany and the United States.

About 800 million Protestants live in the world today. Even though there are still many disagreements between Protestantism and Catholicism, both churches have overcome their differences. Their relationship has improved since the 16th century.

The anniversary was celebrated throughout the Protestant world. Most ceremonies took place in Germany, the cradle of Protestantism.

 

 

 

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

Words

  • abuse = to use something in the wrong  way
  • anniversary = date on which something important happened in the past
  • attack = to criticise something in a strong way
  • based on = here: to create a new church out of Protestant ideas
  • cause = lead to
  • century = a hundred years
  • ceremony = important event that is performed in a traditional way
  • claim = to say that something is true
  • cradle = here: where everything began
  • disagreement = when two or more people do not have the same opinion
  • even though = while, although
  • excommunicate = to punish someone by no longer allowing them to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church
  • found – founded = create something new
  • however = but
  • invent =  to make or design something new
  • message = news
  • printing press = machine that prints newspapers, books  etc.. in large numbers
  • publish = to make something official, for everyone to see
  • pursuit = follow
  • nail = to fasten something to an object
  • overcome = here: not to argue anymore
  • reduce = make something smaller or less
  • Reformation = religious changes in Europe in the 16th century that led to the creation of Protestantism
  • sinner = a person who does not obey or follow God’s laws
  • spread = to move from one place to another
  • theology = the study of religion and religious ideas
  • theses = an opinion about something, often in writing
  • widespread=  something that happens in many places at the same time

Estonia – A Digital Society

Estonia is a small Baltic state with a population of 1.3 million. Despite its size it is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world and has been creating a digital society since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In Estonia, citizens are allowed to do most things online.  Every inhabitant has a unique ID card that they use for a number of purposes.They can file tax returns, get medical prescriptions  and manage their health records online. They can pay for a parking ticket via mobile phone and don’t have to go to a registration office when a child is born. Parents can check their children’s grades  and communicate with teachers. For many years Estonians have been able to vote online.

In 2014 the small Baltic country started a new digital initiative. It allows non-citizens to become digital residents for 100 euros. The government wants to bring qualified people to the country because the working population is steadily decreasing. The country desperately needs new programmers, web developers and media experts. Up to now 20 000 people from other countries have applied for digital citizenship.

Many countries, among them Finland and Japan are trying to copy Estonia’s digital society. However, authorities point out that the country’s smallness is an advantage. Such a system may not work very well in larger countries with millions of people.

Digital Summit in Estonia
Digital Summit in Estonia – Image: Anna Piperal

Words

  • advanced = very modern
  • advantage = here: something that helps you to be successful
  • apply = to make a request
  • authorities = the people who are in charge of a government organisation  or department
  • Baltic = region in the northeastern part of Europe
  • citizen = person who lives in a country and has rights there
  • collapse = breakdown , end
  • create = make
  • decrease = go down
  • desperately = very much
  • despite = even though
  • file tax returns = here: to send information  on how much you have earned to the local government; it then tells you how much tax you have to pay
  • government = the people who rule a country
  • health records = information about your health
  • however = but
  • ID card = small plastic card that has information about a person
  • inhabitant = a person who lives in a country
  • initiative = a new plan
  • point out = to show something that is important
  • population = the number of people living in a country
  • prescription = a piece of paper on which  the doctor writes down what medicine a sick person should take
  • purpose = what something is needed for
  • qualified = with special skills and talents
  • registration office = place where you have report to when a baby is born or someone dies
  • resident = a person who officially lives in a country
  • society = people in general and the way they live and work together
  • size =how large the country is
  • smallness = not large in size
  • Soviet Union = largest Communist country that existed between 1922 and 1991
  • steadily = slowly
  • unique = being only one of its kind
  • via = by way of , through

 

Ocean Wind Farms Could Give Energy To Everybody

Winds and storms in the Atlantic are so strong that wind-powered turbines in the Atlantic Ocean could provide the whole world with clean energy. Energy experts now claim that ocean wind farms  can produce three to five times more energy than wind turbines on land. Over water wind speeds are up to 70% higher.

Winds on land create friction because of mountains and buildings. They slow down as they move inwards . In addition, turbines are built closer together, which takes some of the wind speed away .

Winds are especially strong across the northern Atlantic Ocean because of differences in water temperature. When the warm Gulf Stream moves up the North American coast it mixes with cold water in the northern Atlantic. This leads to higher storm activity and more winds, especially during the winter months.

Norway’s energy company Statoil has been operating floating wind turbines in the shallow North Sea for over a decade. These are connected via cable to the ocean floor.  In order to make them work  in the deep sea , however, they must be attached to vertical poles that have massive weights in the water.

One of the biggest problems that face ocean wind farms is transporting energy from the deep sea to land. Energy companies , like Statoil, are looking for high-wind areas that are closer to shore.

While wind farms on land are becoming more  and more common, production costs of running them are becoming lower. In the near future wind energy is expected to become one of the cheapest alternative energy sources .

Europe is the number one wind energy producer at the moment. Every year, about 12 gigawatts of energy are produced by wind power, whereas in America green energy from wind is still in its infancy. If  produced more effectively, the solution to the world’s energy problems may lie in ocean wind farms.

 

 

Offshore wind farm in the North Sea
Offshore wind farm in the North Sea – Image : Harald Pettersen / Statoil

Words

  • alternative energy source = energy that does not come from fossil fuels, like, coal, oil or gas
  • attach = fix, connect to something
  • claim = to say that something is true even if you cannot prove it
  • coast = where land meets the sea
  • common = widespread, popular
  • connect = fix or tie to something
  • decade = ten years
  • deep sea = far away from land
  • Gulf Stream = warm water that flows to Europe from the Gulf of Mexico
  • effectively = here: to produce more with less money
  • especially = above all
  • face = deal with, manage
  • float = to move on water without sinking
  • friction = when something rubs against a surface
  • gigawatt = one thousand million watts
  • in addition = also
  • infancy = at the beginning
  • inward = here: away from the sea
  • massive = very big
  • provide = give
  • shallow = not deep
  • shore = land near the coast
  • speed = how fast something is
  • turbine = energy or motor  in which pressure pushes a wheel around
  • weight = a very heavy object
  • whereas = on the other side

 

 

Gold Found in Switzerland’s Sewers

Researchers have found that 3 million dollars worth of gold lands in Switzerland’s sewage system every year. After taking a close look at Swiss waste-water treatment plants, they claim that over a hundred pounds of gold and 6,000 pounds of silver  are washed away with waste. However,  it would be too expensive to remove the gold from the wasted water.

Switzerland is a country that processes and refines gold on a large scale.  About 70% of the world’s most precious metal passes through Switzerland in some way or other. Gold is used especially in the country’s watchmaking industry, which dominates the world market.

Other valuable metals pass through the country’ sewage system, but they do not pose an environmental threat.

Most of the refineries lie in the southern canton Ticino, only a short distance from the Italian border.

Swiss watch
Swiss watch – Image: Joe Haupt

 

Words

  • border = line between two countries
  • canton = province of Switzerland
  • claim = to say that something is true
  • dominate = to be number one
  • environmental threat = danger to the world around us
  • especially = above all
  • pose = cause a problem
  • precious = very valuable
  • on a large scale = here: large factories refine large amounts
  • refine = here: to make gold purer
  • remove = take something away
  • researcher = person who studies a subject in order to find out more about it
  • sewage system = a place where waste water  from households is collected; the water is cleaned and returned into rivers or the sea
  • valuable = expensive
  • waste-water treatment plants = place where waste water from households is cleaned from unusable material
  • waste = unwanted material that we do not need

90% Vote For Independence in Catalonia

Over 2 million people voted in Sunday’s referendum on whether Catalonia should become an independent state. The government of the province has claimed that over 90% were in favour of breaking away from Spain. Before the referendum took place , Spain’s Supreme Court ruled that the vote  was unconstitutional.

The Spanish government in Madrid sent thousand s of policemen and other security officers to Catalonia to stop people from voting. Police in Barcelona and other towns fired rubber bullets at protesters and tried to stop people from going to schools and other public buildings used as voting stationsHundreds of people were injured, many of them seriously.

About 7 million people live in Spain’s northeastern province. Catalonia has its own language and  culture. In the past decades it has received more and more autonomy. However, Catalonian separatists still want independence and their own country.  They say that the region is a rich part of Spain and keeps pouring money into poorer parts of the country. Catalonia is highly industrialised and represents about a fifth of Spain’s GDP.

The European Union fears that Catalonia may declare independence on its own and trigger a political crisis on the Iberian peninsula. This may lead to the rise of other nationalist movements, for example in Scotland or Belgium.

People protesting for an independent Catalonia
People protesting for an independent Catalonia – Image : Manifestació Som Una Nació, Nosaltres Decidim! 13

Words

  • autonomy = the right to have your own parliament and make some decisions on your own
  • claim = to say that something is true
  • decade = ten years
  • declare = to say officially
  • GDP = gross domestic product = the total value of all the goods and services that a country produces in one year
  • government = the people who rule a country
  • Iberian peninsula = southwestern part of Europe, made up of Spain and Portugal
  • independent = free
  • in favour of = to be for something
  • injure = hurt
  • nationalist movement = group of people who want to the region to become an independent state
  • pour = here: give
  • receive = get
  • referendum = when people vote in order to decide on a certain subject
  • represent = here: to have a share of
  • rubber = a soft material, usually used to make tires or boots
  • security officers = people who are responsible for the safety of others
  • separatist = person who wants to break away from his home country and become independent
  • Supreme Court = the highest court in a country
  • trigger = start
  • unconstitutional =  not allowed by the set of rules that a country is governed by
  • voting station = place or building where people can vote

 

 

Italian Supervolcano May Erupt Soon

Scientists have discovered that one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes , Campi Flegrei, a huge caldera near Naples may erupt soon. Geologists have  found evidence that magma may be  building up inside the volcano, which could blow up soon.

The supervolcano is only a few miles west of Naples, Italy’s third largest city. To the east lies Mount Vesuvius,  the famous volcano that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in a massive eruption in 79 A.D.

The last eruption of Campi Flegrei happened in 1538 after a series of earthquakes hit the area. A catastrophic outburst, however, occurred 39,000 years ago when an eruption formed today’s caldera and sent 48 cubic miles of ash and magma into the atmosphere. Geologists fear that a similar eruption could be catastrophic for the 2 million people who live in Naples and the towns around it.

In the last few decades scientists have  discovered a hotspot, a zone of magma, that lies about 4 km under the town of Pozzuoli , a few miles away from the supervolcano. They think that this zone of magma has been in motion in the past years but cannot locate in which direction. At the beginning of the 1980s,  the surface of the caldera rose by 2 metres but sank again shortly afterwards. This may be a sign of building pressure inside the volcano.

While geologists cannot predict when a major eruption will take place, they are sure that there is activity going on inside Campi Flegrei.

 

Caldera at Campi Flegrei
Caldera at Campi Flegrei – Image : Donar Reiskoffer

Words

  • activity = here: magma that is moving
  • ash = soft grey powder that comes from an eruption
  • atmosphere = the mixture of gases that is around the Earth
  • caldera = a large crater at the top of a volcano; in some cases it is filled with water
  • cubic mile = one mile high, long and wide
  • decade = ten years
  • destroy = to damage something completely so that it no longer exists
  • discover = to find out something for the first time
  • earthquake = a sudden shaking of the Earth’s surface  that often causes a lot of damage and may kill people
  • erupt = break out
  • evidence = facts that show something is true
  • geologist = a person who studies rocks that make up the Earth and the way they have formed
  • in motion = moving all the time
  • locate = find out where exactly something is
  • magma = hot melted rock below the Earth’s surface
  • major = important, very large
  • massive = great
  • predict = say that something will happen
  • pressure = weight that is put on something
  • occur = happen
  • outburst = eruption
  • shortly afterwards = a short time later
  • similar =like; almost the same
  • surface = top part of an object

Olympic Games in Paris and Los Angeles

The next Olympic Games have been awarded to Paris and Los Angeles. Both cities will host the games for the third time. 2024 will mark the 100th anniversary of the second Paris Olympics. The city had already organised the summer games of 1900. The 2028 Olympics will be held in Los Angeles for the third time,  after 1932 and 1984. It is the first time that the International Olympic Committee has named host cities for two summer games at once. Los Angeles originally wanted the 2024 games but agreed to hosting them 4 years later.

The IOC presented the new hosts at a time when the organisation is troubled by corruption and accusations that some members took bribes to vote for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The 2024 Paris Summer Olympics are expected to provide jobs and growth to the city. According to city officials, the games will generate 11 billion dollars in income and create jobs for 250 000 people  in the next seven years. Although Paris already has many venues ready for the games, several new ones will be built. The city wants to attract  visitors not only with the best sports stadiums  but also with its unique  cultural and historical sites.

Los Angeles organizers have also said they want to use many existing structures  built in the 1980s in order to make the games as cost-efficient as possible.

After recent terrorist attacks in Paris, London, Barcelona and other major cities , security is expected to be the main factor for both events.

Today, not very many cities are keen on organising  major sports events. On one side bidding costs millions of dollars and on the other side holding the games themselves costs local authorities  and governments billions.

 

Olympic Torch Tower at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles
Olympic Torch Tower at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles

Words

  • according to = as said by …
  • accusation = statement that says someone has done something wrong or against the law
  • agree = to say yes to something
  • although = while
  • award = give to someone
  • anniversary = date or year in which something important took place
  • bidding = here: to offer to organize an event
  • bribe = to give someone money illegally and you expect them to do something for you in return
  • cost-efficient = here: to save money by using buildings or infrastructure that already exist
  • generate = produce , create
  • growth = businesses and the economy grow in a certain region
  • host = here: city that holds a special event
  • income = the money you get for the work you do
  • keen on = happy to do something
  • local authorities = here: the people who are in charge of ruling a town or city
  • main factor = most important thing
  • major = very important; large
  • mark = celebrate an important event
  • official = person in an important position in a country
  • security = safety
  • several = many
  • site = interesting place
  • structure = building
  • troubled = worried; having many problems
  • unique = unusually special; very good
  • venue = here:place where a sports event takes place