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Tag: architecture (page 1 of 5)

Blauwbrug in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

My summer travel destination was chosen mainly for the fact that it promised to hold many, many, many bridges. And man, did it deliver!

Blauwbrug, Amsterdam, NetherlandsAmsterdam was, of course, never going to disappoint me, the fangirl of water, of rivers and canals, and of bridges. I’m afraid my Bridges on Sundays series will contain Amsterdam pictures for a long long time to come. Bear with me. I’m starting you off with one of the prettiest though.

The Blauwbrug, or Blue Bridge, is a late 19th century architectural marvel across the Amstel river. It is thus not one of the many canal bridges. The Amstel river is much wider than the average Amsterdam gracht, and thus allows for a more elaborate bridge structure. Elegant looking young business people were crossing the Blauwbrug in the drizzling rain. In its majestic grandeur the bridge differed from the more laid-back, relaxed and proverbial liberal side of the Dutch capital. I took to its beauty nonetheless. Especially since, when standing on it, you had the next gorgeous bridge in eyesight. But I’ll leave more on the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge) for another day.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Memory as Morbidity – Mostar’s Partisan Monument

I came to Bosnia this time around wanting to relax, to let go, and to find inner peace. I wanted to go somewhere I knew, without feeling the inner pressure of needing to discover a new place and finding out how it works. I didn’t want to wake up in the morning thinking: Today I need to see the following twenty-five things, or else I won’t feel like I have properly visited this place. So I came to Mostar, strolled the familiar streets, noticed how it had changed, but also felt very much at home.

Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaIn spite of that, I wouldn’t be me if at some point the urge hadn’t occured to dig deeper and expose myself to as of yet unknown impressions. And so I went to a place in Mostar I had never been to, that hadn’t even been on my inner map of the city. I went to the Partisan Memorial Cemetery, or Partizansko Groblje. And I discovered yet another part of Mostar that helped me understand the city and the complexity of the Balkans‘ history.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaThe Partisans of the former Yugoslavia are somewhat of a founding myth of the state. I have colleagues who do extensive research on them, and not only their military history, but also their culture – their songs, their manifestos etc. The way it was explained to me, there is a very plausible reason that they are so important. You may know that during the Cold War, Yugoslavia was a non-aligned nation. They were socialist, yes, but they didn’t „side“ with the Soviet Union. That was possible only because the Red Army didn’t free them from fascist rule in World War II – their own people, the Partisans did. Based on their victory, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia could come into existence, and was a really well-functioning state until Tito’s death in 1980. But that’s a different story.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaI had learned about the monument that it was set up in the 60s, so during Yugoslav times, to honour the Partisans who died fighting against fascists. It is a Bosnian national monument, however, even upon entering it was visibly unkempt and overgrown. I didn’t understand why at first, since the Partisans are such a pan-yugoslav motif of remembrance. But then my friend Majda pointed out to me that the Partisans didn’t only fight German Nazis, but also Croatian fascist Ustashas. Mostar’s local government is made up mainly of ethnic Croats, and apparently some of them are not too keen on remembering the fascist part of their own heritage in any way at all. It is a shame. If you google pictures of the monument in its prime, you will see how beautiful it was.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaPartizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaNow, grasses, ferns and weeds have taken possession of the originally neatly kept three terraces with their cleanly kept gravestones, and moss is covering the walls and grounds in the shadier places. The gravestones are strewn about haphazardly. It is likely that quite a few of them have been broken – purposefully? Vandalism does seem to be a problem, and there is lots of rubbish hiding in the greenery. I still stand and contemplate the names and numbers I see on the uniquely shaped stones. The lives that hide behind them – what may they have been like?

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaPartizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaI wish I understood more about the tradition or the symbolism behind the strange, uneven shape of the gravestones. Most of the decor of the monument seems to me to contain some hidden meaning that is inaccessible to me. A lot of it reminds me of war, though. Gun barrels. Crenels. Sniper hideouts. For the life of me I can’t make sense of the big ornament in the center of the top terrace.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaAgain the pointy part in the middle looks to me like it might be symbolizing firing guns, but the circles around are a mystery to me. I am still very much intrigued. The whole area reminds me of the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin’s Treptower Park (a place I have been wanting to write about in forever and may now just have to very soon!), they share a similar kind of aesthetics which is of course grounded in their relative contemporaneity and common ideological socialist background – and the fact that they are both monuments and cemeteries at the same time. Pompous, impressive, very much thought through, carefully arranged with clear shapes and their play on perspective. The Berlin one is a bit more blunt to me, very rectangular, whereas this one is softer with its winding walls and circles. To me, they are both really beautiful in their own way.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaThis used to be a well, and the water ran down the middle of the terraces to be collected in a pond a few levels below. Now it is filled with garbage and dried up. I imagine that water must have added a yet more peaceful quality to the place. But it is a pretty peaceful place today in the heat of late May – summer has definitely begun in Mostar. However overgrown, the place invites one to laze around, and I do lie on one of the walls in the sun for a while just daydreaming away.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina From up here, it almost still looks as pretty as it used to be. The high grass next to me with the chirping crickets, however, reminds me of the wilderness this is now. It is hard to recognize, but in the circleshaped round down below someone has graffitied „One Love“ and a peace sign in the middle. It’s a beautiful gesture, especially when one also comes across indicators of Croat nationalism tagged on the wall, such as Ustasha signs or this line that says „God and Croats“:

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaI do wander what will become of the place, if it will ever rise to former glory. It would be a brilliant place for Sunday strolls. Funnily enough, I even pictured it as a great concert venue – slightly inappropriate, I take it, with it being a cemetery. But now people come to hang out here anyway – is that more appropriate? Granted, there are very few of them. I, however, see myself coming back here when I’m back in Mostar. For some quiet time away from the growing masses of tourists in the old town. But then, I am a fan of the morbidity of forgotten places. I am somewhat torn. I think this is a place that needs active memory culture, that needs appreciation and care. But I also love the way that nature has come to take it back for her own and made it so morbidly eerie.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

Spiritual Places in Hercegovina

The reason that Bosnia and Hercegovina is equally as complicated as it is beautiful is hard to explain, and I am the last person to claim that it can even be understood at all. Part of it, however, is how nationalities and religion are weirdly intertwined in the Balkans. Talking about a Croat means talking about someone who is Catholic, a Serb is someone who is orthodox, and a Bosniak is Muslim. A Bosnian Croat is a Catholic from Bosnia, and a Bosnian Serb is an Orthodox from Bosnia. Adding to the confusion quite a few of the people there are not even that religious. They grew up in Yugoslav communism and don’t identify much with their religious heritage that was to define their identity in the Balkan wars in the 1990s.

Travelling in Bosnia and Hercegovina, however, the impact of religion on the country in its political and societal struggles is impossible to miss. At the same time, it is its multiethnic and multireligious history that founds its potential as a modern country that has an amazing amount of beauty to show. Today I want to talk about two places in Hercegovina that have significant spiritual meaning for Catholics and Muslims respectively, and that still are so fundamentally different from one another.

The first one is Međugorje, a small town that lives up to its name which means „between mountains“. It is set between the barren karst hills that turn the gorgeous green colour with thick forests only further North. About 30 years ago this was an insignificant village. Today it is the third largest pilgrimage site for Catholics in Europe.

Medugorje Cathedral, Medugorje, Bosnia and HercegovinaIn 1981, six teenagers witnessed an apparition of the Virgin Mary in the hills outside the village, and some of them have continued to have visions of her ever since – or so the story goes. Not much is known about the nature of the apparitions, and they aren’t recognized as a miracle by the Vatican, but that doesn’t stop pilgrims from coming here – thousands of them!

Souvenir shops, Medugorje, Bosnia and HercegovinaMeđugorje has turned into a huge industry. There are souvenir shops upon souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants, a huge sports centre, and a retail industry that might be unmatched elsewhere in the country. People who live here are wealthy, rents  and land prices have skyrocketed. A highway is being built from Croatia where a lot of the pilgrims are coming from. But it is by far not restricted to the neighbouring countries. They are coming from all over the continent, if not all over the world, to walk up the now so-called Apparition Hill, to catch the tears from the weeping Jesus statue (another miracle, supposedly) and to visit services in the Cathedral.

Rosaries for sale, Medugorje, Bosnia and HercegovinaSince there is so much commerce around, I have to say that Međugorje doesn’t feel like a very spiritual place to me. But I very much agree with Bata, my friend who has taught me so much about this country, who says, in a gist: „You don’t have to believe the miracle of the apparition. But 30 years ago there was absolutely nothing in this place, and look what it’s become. I’ll easily call that a miracle.“ Certainly the pilgrimage site illustrates how religious matters can influence the economy and thereby the politics of a region.

Tekija, Blagaj, Bosnia and HercegovinaThe second place I want to introduce to you is Blagaj. Not only does it hold the ruins of Stjepan grad, or the Blagaj fort, a medieval fortress that was seat to the dukes and counts of Hercegovina region – but also it is home to a beautiful Tekija. Tekija is the Bosnian term for what in Albania is usually called a Tekke or what is found on Wikipedia by the name Khanqah. It is a place for retreat and meditation of members of the Muslim Sufi Order.

Tekija, Blagaj, Bosnia and HercegovinaAs is the case with a Tekija traditionally, it is set in a place of natural beauty and power. The house is cuddled under the mighty hill that carries the fortress, right next to a cave in the cold stone. Out of this cave flows ther river Buna, shooting out with all its might. The place is called Vrelo Bune, source of the Buna, but the actual source is 19 km away somewhere deep inside the mountain. Satellites have been sent down there to find out about this after divers had unsuccessfully tried to find the source.

Vrelo Bune, Blagaj, Bosnia and HercegovinaI love Blagaj. I have been there seven times in total now, and my favourite moments were when I had time to enter the Tekija, scarved up and wearing a long skirt, sit down and listen to the forceful sounds of the river and absolutely nothing else. There is a scent of peace in the air, a quiet feeling of content that settles right in my heart whenever I go. The beauty of the house, in- and outside, is of great simplicity. Not much is needed here. Just an honest and open heart to hear the spirits of the earth and skies, and the voices inside of oneself as they slowly calm down simultaneously with the body. Yes, Blagaj holds a very special place in my heart.

Inside the Tekija, Blagaj, Bosnia and HercegovinaDon’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Međugorje is a bad place while Blagaj is wonderful. There are places sacred to Christianity in the world that really speak to me as well – not least in the Balkans! And Međugorje certainly has that feel, that indiscribable aura. It is just a lot more frequented and, as I said, commercialized which I find a bit unfortunate, but that is certainly a very personal thing. Both places are absolutely worth a visit, and both tell a lot about Hercegovina’s history and its situation today.

What are spiritual places you have visited? And how have they spoken to you?

Stari Most in Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina (III)

Yes, yes, this is the third time I am blogging this bridge for Bridges on Sundays. But it did give the blog its name. And isn’t it fantastic? Starim Most, Mostar, Bosnia and Hercegovina Stari Most, which I have talked about previously here and here, is not just an architectural marvel. It is a symbol for many things that have taken place in Mostar through the ages. The economical and political significance of a bridge in the middle ages is probably quite obvious, and city life has always centered around it.

When now I stand in this probably most favourite spot for taking pictures of the bridge, at night time, seeing it in the spotlight against the schemes of the hills in the background, my heart is full of love. But it is not because of the beauty, or because I understand the historical impact fully – I could probably never get to a point where that was the case. No, I stand, deeply moved, because this place means something to me that I have no words for. It symbolizes too many things to phrase in even a whole book. And yet so many people just walk idly by, admire it for a moment, only to basically forget it just after having left Mostar. This is not to judge – au contraire. This is to express my heartfelt gratitude that I have been given the gift of loving places as much as I do.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Lohmühlenbrücke in Berlin, Germany

On a recent short photo tour along the canal, I realized just how pretty the Lohmühlenbrücke was that connect the districts Neukölln and Treptow, with Kreuzberg just around the corner.

Lohmühlenbrücke, Berlin, Germany

I am sure I have mentioned how much I love blogging and the way it drives me to learn more about the places I want to tell you about. I only now learned what a „Lohmühle“ is. The English word is bark mill, and it’s a mill that grinds kindling into a poweder that is then used for tanning leather. Apparently there used to be bark mills around this area. None of that to be seen today, but I still like the bridge a lot. Just behind it, one canal flows into the other. Water all around, and the Neukölln coat of arms glistening colourfully in the centerpiece of the bridge.

Until 1989, the Berlin wall stood at right angles to the bridge on the Treptow side of it, which made the bridge lead into a dead end. The idea of a bridge being thus bereft of its intentional use fascinates me, as do so many broken, ruined and disfunctional things. But there is nothing like witnessing their restauration to their original use, as is the case with the Lohmühlenbrücke.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Bridge at Rheinsberg Castle, Germany

One does stumble upon amazing little gems in the vast Brandenburgian nothingness that surrounds Berlin. My latest discovery is the beautiful Prussian castle in Rheinsberg.

Bridge at Rheinsberg Castle, Rheinsberg, GermanyOverlooking Lake Grienerick, Rheinsberg castle sits idyllically in a sleepy little town. It is surrounded by a moat that opens out into the lake in two places, and bridges cross it on either side of the pretty building. People were lazing on the parapets, and promenaders walked along idly in the hot late April sun when I visited. A family of ducks waddled out of the water toward the wide footpath. In the distance across the lake, one could spot a monument. It was almost too neatly arranged in its flawless symmetry, standing eye to eye with the castle. Architectural perfection.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Fieldstone Churches in Brandenburg

Last week I had a day so bad that I knew right away that it was time to take some distance, get out, and leave my job and my life behind for one day of discovery and enjoyment. I rented a car, not knowing where I wanted to go. Just out.

Blossoms, Lindow, GermanyI picked up the VW Polo at Alexanderplatz and took random turns through the city. Finally there was a sign directing me towards the Autobahn. I took that turn. On the Autobahn there was a sign toward Stralsund. I knew I probably wouldn’t make it that far, but I love that town, so I followed it off of the Autobahn. And then all there was were rape fields, lakes, forests, and a horizon so wide that it made my heart jump.

Rape Fields, Brandenburg, GermanyThere is something about rape fields. The bright yellow spreading for miles and miles like an overdimensional carpet. I’ve often met southerners who think Northern Germany’s landscapes were boring due to the lack of hills and mountains. Well not to me they aren’t. There is nothing like the tree lined alleys and the  contrast of juicy green grass, the intense blue skies sprinkled with white cotton clouds and golden yellow rape.

I felt so wonderfully free, there was music on the radio, and the day awaited me with nothing but beauty to show. I spotted a gorgeous small church in the distance – so I took a few turns and went there to take pictures. The signs told me I was in Herzberg – wasn’t a village that had the word Herz, heart, in it, the perfect first stop.

Herzberg, Germany

Fieldstone church in Herzberg

There is fieldstone churches galore in the Northeastern part of the country. A lot of them are not well-kept, but this one must have been recently restored. The little cemetery was lovingly cared for, fresh flowers lined the graves, and daisies and dandelions drew patterns on the lawn. Someone was laying new bricks on the steps from the street to the church, he was listening to well-known German hip hop singer Jan Delay on a portable radio which seemed unfitting for work on a cemetery – but I didn’t mind, I thought it was funny. The guy eyed me suspiciously as I entered the church yard. Surely they don’t get many visitors. I just smiled at him and he shyly smiled back. I booked that as a success. To my surprise, the church was open, so I took a look around.

Church, Herzberg, Germany

„I am the light of the world“ – the church altar and pulpit in Herzberg

The inside was every bit as pretty as the outside. The beautiful wooden ceiling with its dark red, yellow and grey colours was intricately done, and had me look up at it for a long time. Of course I was overcome by the powerful urge to sing, and so I did. It’s not like anyone would have been disturbed by it. It was just me and the presence of that unseizable something that is bigger than all of us – call it God, call it fate, call it life itself, I don’t care. I just know that there was something there when my voice rung through the tiny church.

Church, Herzberg, Germany

Levitating angel in the church in Herzberg

There were two levitating angels, one of which I stood eye to eye with for quite a while. Presenting his stoup, it had a mysterious look on its face. I say it, because it was weirdly genderless which I quite liked. Angels aren’t male or female. They are bigger than the dichotomies we use to grasp our lives. I felt like it was there to give me a small blessing and reassure me that I was watched over, but that I nonetheless had all the power I needed to prevail inside of me already. I left the church feeling stronger, smiled at the construction worker at the steps again, got in my car and drove on.

A few rape fields and shadowy alleys later, I found another church that prompted me to stop.

Radensleben, Germany

Church in Radensleben

I had missed the town sign, so I had to check my smartphone to see where I was (and I loved the fact that it was of no real importance whatsoever, but just my curiosity that made me do so!), and it was a village called Radensleben. The churchyard was much more overgrown than the one in Herzberg, but I loved its romantic atmosphere. The church was closed, so I just aimlessly wandered around the church.

Chapel, Radensleben, Germany

Chapel at the church in Radensleben

There was a brick stone chapel on the backside of the church. The low walls with the cross pattern in them allowed for a beautiful play with light and shadow, and of course all my avid readers know that I love red brick stone more than any other material. Moving on, I found a wooden gate behind which I spotted a small cemetery. As I pushed down the handle, thick cobwebs tore on it, and the door creaked loudly as though I was about to enter the Secret Garden from Frances H. Burnett’s childrens‘ book. Magic was about to happen.

Church, Radensleben, Germany

The cemetery behind the church in Radensleben

The small cemetery was partially buried in deep black shadow, but the sun still shone hotly on most of the pretty tomb stones. The daisies were so big that they bordered on marguerites. While from the front the church had looked somehow bigger and cooler than its sister in Herzberg, from this angle it radiated the simplicity I find so inviting about field stone churches. They are down to earth. They don’t look to impress with pomp and grandiosity. They just are.

Walking out of the creaking gate and making my way back to the street, my eyes lost themselves for a little while on the cute cobblestone street that the village arranged itself around. Deadstraight it ran into the distance, as though it lead right into eternity. Dusty, empty. Peacefully sleepy. No one about. The moment was perfect. But I think it was so only because the road promised so much more to be ahead.

At the next rape field outside of the village that lined the country road, I stopped, got out of the care and walked into the rape. The smell of nature embraced me, and I realized how very far away my very bad day was, even though it was only two days ago.

Point proven. Travel heals.

Mariella in a rape field, Brandenburg, Germany

The Things I Love About Poland – Part I

My self-imposed focus when it comes to travel and thus, to writing (since most of the time one means the other for me) is Eastern Europe. How that came about is a long story. But one part in it is certain: that it all starts – and possibly ends – with Poland.

I would be lying if I said I had always had a fascination for that part of the world. When asked on a study trip in high school, I distinctly remember saying: „What in the WORLD would I want to see in POLAND?!?!?“ I went to Greece instead, which was nice. But it is no Poland.

Pasym, Poland

Pasym, a beautiful small town in the Mazury Lake District

How did my love affair with Poland come about then? In college I needed a second major adding to the one I had always known I wanted to get – German literature. I chose Polish. One of the questions I must have been asked most in my life is certainly: „Why Polish???“ – usually asked with an undertone of utter disbelief. Well, it was a mixture of random reasons, but really, most of it was gut feeling. And the older I get, the more I believe that this is a better reason for decisions than most others.

From then on, it all just added up. Poland and I are, in a way, meant to be. I’ve come to love it more and more. And here is why.

1. The Cities

Poland’s cities are special. They are different from the cities I have seen elsewhere – they are beautiful and ugly, and full of atmosphere and history. And they are very different from one another. That is best displayed in contrasting Warsaw and Cracow – without feeding on the rivalry between the two. They compliment each other in the best possible way – Warsaw is grey, progressive, and full of hipster culture and modern art. Cracow is traditional, conservative, and insanely pretty.

Palace of Culture, Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw’s Palace of Culture – a gift from Stalin to the country and an impressive example of socialist architecture

Sukiennice, Cracow, Poland

Cracow’s main market square, the largest medieval square of its kind in Europe, with the beautiful Sukiennice (Cloth Hall)

Travelling in Poland, one should obviously not neglect the other urban gems, though. Wrocław might be the most accessible city for foreigners, and it somewhat combines the best of the two previously mentioned cities. Gdańsk has the added selling point that it is right by the Baltic Sea and, as an old hanseatic port city, has a tradition of being very open-minded and down-to-earth. Poznań may have the prettiest market square I have ever been to. And I haven’t even been to Łódź or Lublin. Indulge!

Market Square, Poznan, Poland

Poznan’s beautiful market square

2. The Sense of History

When travelling in Poland, it is impossible to miss the active memory culture that the country has. Memorials are all around. For a history freak like me, that is just plainly wonderful. Poles generally know their country’s history much better than Germans from my experience. They are aware of their country’s proud past as a mighty kingdom in the middle ages, and their painful loss of territory which forced them to exist as a nation without a country between 1795 and 1918. They have been in an unfortunate geographical position in the 20th century, wedged between the Germans and the Russians, and it has shaped their identity. They have fought for their culture time and time again, and they are proud of it while still being critical of it. And they know that it is important to remember the past.

Shipyards, Gdansk, Poland

Memorial to the victims of the strikes in the Gdansk shipyards in 1970. Most of the fight against the socialist regime was yet to come. The memorial was one of the early achievements of the Solidarnosc movement that contributed significantly to the downfall of socialism in Europe.

3. The Hospitality

None of the above would mean a lot if it wasn’t brought to me by the most hospitable, caring, genuinely kind and wonderful people. If for a woman the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, for a country the way to my heart is through its people. Hospitality in Poland is of dimensions that were unknown to me before I came there. They are so much less distrustful than Germans are. Don’t be surprised if you ask someone for directions and they walk you to your destinations. Don’t be surprised either if they invite you to their home for dinner – and don’t say no. I’m getting to the food in the follow-up post! In short, it is easy to make friends in Poland – and you will want to make friends there if you want to truly see through the more complicated dimensions of the country’s history and culture and get to taste the truly amazing vodka.

Friends, Grudziadz, Poland

My friends Agnieszka and Karol are among my favourite people in the world. I met them in Gdansk, but this was when Karol took us on a roadtrip to visit his hometown Grudziadz.

4. The Language

Ah, that singsong sound of the Polish language with all the freaky consonants and a few nasal vowels. That grammar that drove me up the wall when I learned it, but is capable of expressing things so precisely, so uniquely, most of all so differently from German. The germanisms like wihajster, literally whatshisname and used for any random thing you can’t find a name for; and the anglicisms with their weird spelling that turns manager into menedżer.

I have been learning Polish for ten years, I cursed it and loved it, and was always pretty sure I’d never actually be able to speak it. But I’m getting there, one tongue twisting hell at a time, and loving every step of the way.

Signs in Gdansk, Poland

German – Polish – English. How I love it when translations come out all weird and funny as they do in this German sign outside a ramshackle building. It sounds as though the building was a person, verbally threatening to cripple or kill the visitor.

5. The Music

When learning a language as twisted as Polish, music is of huge help. I know about half my Polish vocabulary from song lyrics – singing along, trying to understand what’s going on, sometimes actually translating the lyrics at home at my desk. Over the years I have been in touch with Polish pop, rock, rap, reggae, folk, and basically everything in between. I will just give you a few examples here. The Polish equivalent of the Rolling Stones is the rock band Dżem. Their song „List do M“ was the first Polish song I knew by heart, and it is a beautful and sad rock ballad.

A specific kinf of music I got to know in Poland is Klezmer. It is a Jewish musical tradition, not so big on lyrics, but mainly instrumental, using different instruments to make beautiful, yearning, sighing, swinging music played often at celebrations of any kind. The band Kroke may be the most famous Polish Klezmer band.

My personal favourite is the Polish singer / songwriter tradition that brought forth many wonderful artists I listen to almost every day. It is quite folksy, and if we translated the lyrics, most would run away screaming for they drip with Kitsch – but in Polish, they somehow work. There is a tradition called Poezja śpiewana, Sung Poetry, that is especially well known for its poetic song lyrics. Jacek Kaczmarski, whose most famous song „Mury“ I put here for you, is a bit of a special case. His songs are much more political, and he is often referred top as the Barde of the Solidarność, the trade union and political movement that brought down socialism in Poland.

If you find I am missing things, rest assured that I will probably mention them in my follow up post on more things I love about Poland. It will discuss the landscapes, the food (and the vodka…), the literature, the beauty of Polish swearwords, and the incomparable Polish sense of humour.

Have you been to Poland? What do you love about the country? Or was there anything you didn’t like at all?

Outrageous – Leipzig’s Monument to the Battle of the Nations

There are places in Germany I am dying to see. I love discovering my own country, and there is more than enough to see that I haven’t seen yet, or that I haven’t seen enough of. Leipzig had for a long time been one of the places I felt a strange pull toward, and when I went there for the first time in September for a conference, I knew that it was a city that I would keep coming back to. If only for the famous Monument to the Battle of the Nations, which I hadn’t managed to see.

When my three girlfriends from grad school and I decided that our annual meet-up would be held in Leipzig this year, I claimed a visit to the Monument at once. I mean, who wouldn’t want to visit a place with such an impressive name? Especially being the history geek that I am. So my girls and I left our pretty airbnb apartment one morning for a nice one hour walk from the centre to the site.

Völkerschlachtdenkmal, Leipzig, GermanyI realize most non-Germans won’t have heard of the place, so let me give you some background. The Völkerschlachtdenkmal on the outskirts of Leipzig commemorates the Battle of the Nations which was fought in 1813 by Prussians, Austrians, Swedes and Russians against Napoleon. The very abridge version of history is that after the French revlution, Napoleon went a bit ahead of himself and started to try and conquer all of Europe. In the Battle of the Nations, he was beaten and in 1814 forced into exile on Elba. There was a comeback and another battle, at Waterloo, that broke his power for good in 1815. After this Europe was re-organized in the Congress of Vienna.

When walking up to the monument, one realizes at once that it is supposed to architecturally mirror the immense impact of the battle, which was to remain the greatest battle in history until World War I. The monument was opened in 1913, for the one hundredth anniversary of the battle, which explains its expressionistic style. It looks like a massive mausoleum, or, as my friend pointed out, an ancient temple of the Inka. Everything about it is huge. Materialized outrage.Relief at Völkerschlachtdenkmal, Leipzig, GermanyThe entrance is guarded by a relief of archangel Michael, and above his head the words „Gott mit uns“, God with us, are chiselled into the stone. To the sides, more elaborate carvings decorate the walls. Eagles, storming fighters, but also the fallen dead can be seen in the decor. Overly stylized, all the figures scream visions of power and victory. It is not exactly pretty. But it is impressive for sure. And that is the sole purpose of this kind of art.

Two of my friends stayed to enjoy the sun, while one of them came with me to enter the monument and climb to its top. Entrance is a whopping 6€ (4€ for students), but I just had to see the insides for myself.

Ruhmeshalle Völkerschlachtdenkmal, Leipzig, GermanyThe first level you get to inside the monument is the Crypt. Eight guards of the dead stand watch here as the light falls through the glass stained windows and the cupola. The light only emphasises the expressionist character of the statues. They are massive. But when you look up to the next storey, you can already see that yet more outrageous figures await.

Bravery Allegory at Völkerschlachtdenkmal, Leipzig, Germany

Bravery

Fertility Allegory at Völkerschlachtdenkmal, Leipzig, Germany

Fertility

The second storey is called the Hall of Fame, and the four statues here are 31 feet tall. They represent „Germanic virtues“ – bravery, fertility, sacrifice and faith.

My mum had told me about these, and she always mentioned that what most impressed her were the feet of the statues. When I saw for myself, I understood what she meant. Standing next to one of the statues, even just looking at a foot would make you feel dwarfed, minimized. It was strange for me to not be able to shake the feeling that it was so intentionally done. I did feel dwarfed, but at the same time my intellect wanted to push aside that feeling that was forced upon me. I could feel myself being manipulated into feeling awed.

Foot of Allegory of Sacrifice statue at Völkerschlachtdenkmal, Leipzig, Germany

Feet of the statue representing Sacrifice. The second, smaller pair of feet belongs to the dead child the figure is cradling in their arms.

The glass stained windows gave the hall a church-like atmosphere. Granted, it was designed as a crypt, but it is still estranging to see battle intertwined with the sacral to this degree. In general the monument has a lot of elements that can later be seen in fascist architecture, which I have always had a weird thing for. It fascinates me how political ideology can be formed in stone, and all of this reminded me greatly of projects the Nazis did later. The common denominator is nationalism, of course. German virtues. German power. I shivered under the cold stone and at the notions that I saw represented here and that, knowing history, would turn out so desperately destructive and horrifying.

Windows at Völkerschlachtdenkmal, Leipzig, GermanyCloser and closer we got to the cupola which is lined with knights on horses, storming forward. They display ancient Germanic fighters, and the design is supposed to remind of runes from ancient civilizations. I must say it does the job. Yet again it sends a very clear ideological message: The German nation is ancient and traditional, and it has prevailed throughout history. Powerfully so. I think back on how design like this has been used to intimidate people since antiquity. I shiver again.

Cupola at Völkerschlachtdenkmal, Leipzig, GermanyFrom yet another balcony, the gallery of singers, you look down, and the massive figures look a lot less significant. Again this displays power structures. The more you lift yourself above things, the more empowered you feel. But is that a good thing? Shouldn’t power consist of recognition of other beings – not of decreasing their position?

View from Gallery of Singers at Völkerschlachtdenkmal, Leipzig, Germany

Fertility is to the left, Faith to the right

Finally when we made it to the top, a view of Leipzig unfolded itself on this beautiful, but hazy Spring day. Looking over the lake in front, the Lake of Tears, symbolizing grief for the approximately 100,000 killed, wounded or missing soldiers of the battle, the modern, thriving and beautiful city shone in the distance. It was a world away.

View from Völkerschlachtdenkmal, Leipzig, GermanyI am glad I finally got to visit this site. It left me thoughtful, and more aware of how powerfully art can shape thought – visual arts including sculpture and architecture as much as literature or music. It also made me contemplate the concept of manipulation, of inducing awe or fear, and how easily it can be done and abused in the name of any ideology. I can only hope that as human beings, we all strive to be aware of these mechanisms and reflect them carefully before we fall victim to them.

Have you visited memorials or monuments that reflect an ideology? How did they make you feel? Would you still want to visit the Monument of the Battle of the Nations or did my description put you off?

Stari Most in Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina (II)

Lately I have developped a strange fascination with the ground. I think it is because I feel literally grounded these days, both in the sense of being slightly captive and of having to be realistic. When life gives you lemons, make them lemonade – so I am looking to discover beauty in and on the ground. And how would that be easier than re-travelling some of my favourite places in my mind.

Stari Most, Mostar, BosniaThe bridge that gave this blog its name, Stari Most in Mostar, that place that stole my heart in that country that holds part of my soul, Bosnia & Hercegovina. The stones are just as shiny and soft as they look in the photo. The material is calles Tenelija, as I recently learned, and seems to be a specific local stone that I did not find an English (or German) equivalent for. They are slippery, the raised parts are necessary to even walk across the bridge without falling. I have managed to slip on it a few times anyway. I am so proud and happy to know that I have walked that ground so many times. I feel like every time I crossed the bridge, a piece of me was left clinging to the stone.

It is strange, but with Stari Most, the Old Bridge, it never bothered me that it was a reconstruction. The bridge was destroyed by Croat forces on November 9th, 1993. Just one more historically significant thing that happened on that day (next to the November progromes of 1933 in Nazi Germany, or the downfall of the Berlin wall in 1989). The reconstructed bridge has only been opened for ten years, so it isn’t actually the 400 years old that it looks. But it’s still full of history, and of individual stories. It is full of life.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

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