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Simple Twist of Fate

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The music died because of dirty laundry, a gate left open felled the Byzantine Empire, a death and a homage saved Europe. Seven unremarkable causes that changed the course of history...

Allianz SE
Munich, Apr 03, 2018

Insurers as well as those who buy insurance know one thing – things don’t always go as you expect them to. Worse still, the causes of big changes can sometimes be really small.

Here are seven major changes that happened to the world, all because of small, insignificant causes...

  Washing can be deadly

Late January 1959: Rock legend Buddy Holly is fed up. The logistics of his Winter Dance Party tour are a catastrophe. Not only does the tour bus not have heating – and it's minus 30 degrees outside – he's run out of clean laundry. So he charters a small private plane to have enough time to wash his laundry at the next tour stop.

On February 3, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper board the plane that is supposed to take them to North Dakota. The three stars never arrive: The plane crashes in a snowstorm. That was "the day the music died" – all because of underwear.

Sculpture of Buddy Holly in Dallas, Texas

  The last one out, please close the door

In 1453, Sultan Mehmed II has laid siege to the city of Constantinople for 53 days when coincidence comes to his aid: His troops notice that someone forgot to close a small gate to the fortress. The Osmans invade through the gateway and hoist their flags on the segment of wall, unleashing panic among the defenders. And leading to the fall of the city.

The consequences: The Byzantine Empire falls, that of the Osmans flourishes, the Balkans convert to Islam and advance as far as Vienna. Constantinople is henceforth known as Istanbul.

Memorial of Sultan Mehmed II in Fatih Park, Istanbul

  Not helpful, but delicious

A slow-healing saber wound from the American Civil War gets pharmacist John Pemberton addicted to morphine. To fight his dependence, he starts looking for an antidote and fiddles around with all sorts of substances, including cocaine and wine. But in the end, he leaves out the alcohol and carbonates his product because carbon dioxide was thought to be healthy back then.

He markets it in 1886. He calls it Coca-Cola.

Statue of Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton near the World of Coke museum in Atlanta, Georgia

  A death and a stroke of luck

At the end of 1241, Mongolian commander Batu Khan is on the verge of conquering Europe: The Golden Horde has already reached the Adriatic, and between them and the Atlantic there is nothing that can stop them. But then on December 11, Oegedei Khan dies back home – and Batu Khan must return to Mongolia to pay last respects to the ruler.

Europe is saved.


A silver coin of the Golden Horde 


  No place under the sun

The witch hunts are a result of religious zeal? Not quite. They're primarily the result of – bad weather. During the "Little Ice Age" (15th to 19th centuries), average temperatures decline noticeably all over the world. This is especially severe between 1570 and 1630: Summers are cold and wet, and winters long and harsh. One harvest fails after another. Food is scarce, and epidemics spread.

Witch hunts in Europe reach manic proportions precisely during this time – people need scapegoats for the endless misery. And belief in witches delivers those scapegoats. Thousands die just because summer is a long time coming.

Painting of three women being executed as witches in Derneburg, Germany

  Night becomes day

People who wake up in the middle of the night and are suddenly wide awake don't have a sleep disorder – they're just following a habit thousands of years old. Up until the mid-19th century, it was completely normal to get up during the night for a few hours to do things by candlelight and then go back to sleep.

Once electric light became widespread, the end of the day shifted because – unlike candles – it can actually extend the day. And our biorhythm loses out. To this day.


  All in one boat

In the 1930s, Andrew Higgins is just a small shipyard owner with a predilection for swear words. Ten years later, he ensures that Germany and Japan lose World War II. Because he builds a boat that changes everything: It renders harbors unnecessary. It has a ramp in its bow, so it can drop troops directly on the beach. The landing in Normandy? Not possible without Higgins. Not the island hopping in the Pacific, either. Hitler calls him the "new Noah;" Eisenhower honors him as the man "who won the war for us."

To this day, the Higgins boat is the only piece of U.S. military equipment that bears the name of its inventor.

This article is a reproduction of a story published in Result for the Customer 2017 report by Allianz Deutschland. All rights reserved


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