One of the largest star parties of Europe, the International Telescope Meeting Vogelsberg (Internationales Teleskoptreffen Vogelsberg, or ITV) drew a huge crowd May 28 – June 1 in central Germany. Held at a grassy field near the village of Stumpertenrod about 70 kilometers northeast of Frankfurt, the ITV is organized by astronomy dealer Martin Birkmaier of Intercon-Spacetec and local amateur astronomer Walter Kutschera (Sky & Telescope, October 2002, page 70). This year's was the 12th annual gathering. It attracted more than 2,000 astronomy aficionados from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Scandinavia for a weekend of camping, deep-sky observing, astrophotography, solar observing, lectures, telescope competition, mirror-making demonstrations, and bargain hunting at the astro flea market.
The largest telescope in the observing field was Erhard Hännsgens's 1.07-meter (42-inch) f/4.5 Dobsonian reflector, nicknamed "Leviathan" by attendees (being nearly 2/3 the size of Lord Rosse's famous Leviathan of Parsonstown, Ireland, the world's largest telescope during much of the 19th century). Not surprisingly, clear nights brought long queues to the telescope, with people eagerly climbing the 15-foot ladder to have a peek through the eyepiece. "The view of [the spiral galaxy] M51 made me nearly fall off the ladder," exclaimed one observer. Although it weighs about 350 kilograms (770 pounds), it is designed to be disassembled and transported by a single person. Hännsgens uses the telescope base's built-in wheels and a winch to load the scope into and out of its trailer.
On Friday evening, attendees were treated to a fine aurora borealis. "From midnight to 1 a.m. local time the northern sky was aglow with curtains of red and green light that often reached up to Cepheus and drew applause from spectators," said German amateur Chris Plicht. "The partial solar eclipse on Saturday morning, however, was drowned by thunderstorm, rain, and hail."
"Many people were really annoyed by the green laser pointers, which are now more and more widely used at star parties," noted Dutch amateur Guido Stein. These are bright enough to guide spectators to exact spots on the sky — even novices looking for deep-sky objects with binoculars — but a lot of them at one observing site can be a distraction (and possibly a danger to eyes if carelessly aimed). "Many — often quite emotional — discussions took place about this new gadget," said Stein.
On Saturday, before the swap meet, winners of a telescope-making competition received prizes ranging from eyepieces to books. "A special award went to Stathis Kafalis, who is well known to the local ATM community for his large, thin mirrors," reported Plicht. "Stathis was slightly handicapped — he accidentally dropped a mirror blank on his foot as he was cleaning it. The disk is still fine, and Stathis may show up with a new telescope in 2004."
Next year's ITV will take place May 20–23. The star party's Web site offers more information (in German).