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Tag: history (page 1 of 6)

The Wall That Once Was

Tomorrow Germany will celebrate an important anniversary. Tomorrow 25 years ago, the Berlin Wall came down.

It is one of my favourite topics to write about, the past of the devided Germany and what it means to me and my life. Everything would have been different. I wouldn’t have majored in the same field. I wouldn’t work in the same field. I wouldn’t have lived in the same places. I wouldn’t have met the same people.

25 years ago tomorrow, Günter Schabowski announced new regulations on Free Travel for GDR-citizens in a press conference, and when he was asked when they would come into effect, he said he supposed they would come into effect right now. It was more of an accident than a thought-through, political decision, but it gave the peaceful revolution its decisive twist. So many people went to border crossings that the guards couldn’t control them for long. People were crossing. People were going back and forth. By the end of the night, people were dancing on the wall.

Footage of that night drives tears to me eyes every single time.

Today and tomorrow, an installation set up in Berlin. White balloons are set up to mark the line where the wall used to seperate East and West. Tomorrow evening, they will take flight, the balloon border will vanish, and this will remind us all of the way the wall disappeared.

Balloon Wall, Berlin, GermanyI live in the old West. This morning, I had a doctor’s appointment in the old East. I went there by bike. I have mentioned before how there is a cobblestone strip in the pavement where the wall used to be, and I cross it every day when I go to my work which is also in the old East. It often elates me. But today it was different. Going through the balloons indicating the wall, the eerie feeling I sometimes have in this spot was much stronger. I very significantly realized that 25 years ago, the world would have ended here. No trespassing, or else I would have been shot.

What I found stranger yet though was that I also realized how little one knew of this border as soon as it was out of sight. The balloon wall had been up for a couple of days already, or at least in the making. I hadn’t noticed much of it. People ask how it was possible to live in a divided city – the difficult truth is that it must have been fairly easy as long as you didn’t live right next to a visible sign of it. Thomas Brussig, a German author, once wrote that the strange thing about the wall was that the people closest to it took note of it the least. It was an unquestioned fact. How incredible it must have been when it actually did change – when it actually moved until it fell. And without violence. Dancing on the wall, where days before one would have been shot. A gap was bridged. Ultimately.

Going through the balloon wall felt like crossing yet another bridge.

Living in this city is amazing. I am reminded of the historical dimension of things constantly, and it doesn’t only make me understand better how this country and this world came to be what they are, it also allows me to understand myself. I feel myself in relation to everything that has been and will be in this place. And I love Berlin, I love it for making me aware of things I couldn’t have learned anywhere else in the world.

This is my last post on this blog. I have written on it for almost 5 years, with higher and lower levels of professionalism. It has been about travel and about culture, about identity and alterity, about myself and all the things I have seen that were so different from everything I knew before. I have loved sharing my views with you, but it is time to move on. Time to settle. I have new projects lined up in my personal and professional life, also writing projects, but those will be in German. I really miss writing in German. And I miss writing about things other than travel, as much as it has meant and does mean to me.

Be assured of one thing though: I will always be keeping bridges.

A Medieval Ruhr Surprise – Hattingen

The beauty of life is that you always find things that defeat any kind of stupid prejudice about any area in the world that is supposed to be boring, ugly or not worth visiting.

The Ruhr area is Germany’s industrial hub. Coal has been mined in the region since the 19th century. It has a reputation of being quite ugly. North Rhine-Westphalia, where it’s situated, is the most populous federal state, and in the Ruhr, city follows upon city when you travel through by train – and well-known, big ones, too: Dortmund, Essen, Duisburg. All of them have largely fallen victim to architectural catastrophes committed in the 1950s and 60s after being horribly bombed during World War 2. Although the area was Culture Capital of Europe in 2010, it is hardly your most obvious travel destination in Germany.

Hattingen, GermanyYes, the beauty in the world lies in how it surprises you. I at least never would have placed a town as charming and pretty as Hattingen in the Ruhr area if you had shown me pictures of it beforehand.

Hattingen, Old Town, GermanyShowers of rain had come down in the morning, but when Jan and I get to Hattingen, the sun is out in glorious early autumn warmth. The day is bright and beautiful and lies ahead of us in all its weekend peace. The first thing we come across even before we enter the actual old town is a church. We both have a thing for churches, and I don’t see us passing one by in our foreseeable travel life without at least checking if it’s open. This one is. Quite plain inside, beautiful red brick stone buttresses line the cupolas. We stand, just the two of us, and look up quietly. I link my arm in Jan’s and start singing. The acoustics are amazing, and the way the sounds ring through the church makes me feel utter joy. Stepping back out into the sunlight, there is one more little blessing hanging upon this day.

Hattingen, Old Town, GermanyWe move on and into the old town. Signs send the visitor through the centre with little information boards that explain any point of greater or smaller interest. I am instantly taken. There are half-timbered houses, some overgrown with ivy or wine, the leaves already changing colour into bright autumn red. The tiny tollhouse – which, we learn from the board, was never used as such – is especially pretty.

Tollhouse, Hattingen, GermanyOther houses are made of schist (boy, have I never heard that word in English before!), and while I might have thought before that schist would turn out rather dark and dull, it is shimmering in the sunlight. Medieval tiny streets are opening up onto small squares, and there is street cafe upon street cafe.

Schist house, Hattingen, GermanyIt’s a lively little town with people all out and about. We window shop our way through the main walkway until we see a tower to the side that looks like it might belong to an interesting building – it turns out to be the town hall.

Town hall, Hattingen, GermanySaint George, the city patron, sits proudly on its stele in front of it. In fact he is everywhere in the city: as a statue like here, as a mural in the old town, as a bronze in the entrance to the biggest church that is of course consecrated in his name. And that is what we’re off to see now. On we go down the small streets, following the church tower that is slightly bent and crooked.

St George, Hattingen, Germany Finally we pass through a narrow passageway that opens up to the friendly market in front of the church. There’s a noticeable memorial called Hattingia which commemorates the victims of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71 that ultimately led to the unification of Germany in 1871. Jan comments that you don’t get many of those anymore. I realize how true that is. Commemoration of the World Wars has almost extinguished a living memorial culture that refers to anything that happened earlier. There are good reasons for that I guess, but I only just now realize that it’s probably quite remarkable.

Hattingia, Hattingen, GermanyLots of little retail shops line the square, not just the big chains you have everywhere. One we enter is, the friendly clerk explains to us, a “shelf shop” where people can rent space on a shelf or two to expose their own handcrafted items. There are scarves, pillow cases, little dolls and puppets, beanies, pacifier keepers, handbags, jewellery and all sorts of cute little selfmade giveaways. It’s incredibly unique and I wonder why us arrogant metropolitan hipsters always think that these things can only be found in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg. I had already noticed the many shops for wool and needlework all over town – Hattingen seems to be a creative place.

St George, Hattingen, GermanyThe church itself, a protestant one, is yet much plainer than its catholic sister we visited earlier. We don’t linger long but move on through the alleyways to come across more pretty houses, more cute shops, more inviting cafes.

City wall, Hattingen, GermanyWe finally end up at the old city wall. There’s another memorial that shows statues that are… interesting. But maybe I am a philistine. They surely have artistic value – they are supposed to remind of the history of steel refining in the area.

Iron Men, Hattingen, GermanyWhen we feel like we’ve walked the old town thoroughly, we return to the church square for some coffee and cake. The waitress notes our order down on a plate of slate with chalk. When she’s brought us our cappuccinos and cake (which is heavenly, I should add!), she sits with a friend and starts knitting. It’s beautifully down to earth, unpretentious and comforting in its comfortableness.

Hattingen, GermanyAnd at the end of the day, it is Jan again who points out what makes this little town so unique and special. It is a small reminder that everything has always been here much longer than we think. The Ruhr didn’t come into existence with industrialization. It’s been around as long as any other place. And Hattingen shows us part of the region’s history that is much older than 200 years.

Bikes, Sand Dunes, a Memorial, and the North Sea

You read me, so you know I love the Baltic. Now the important question is: Can you really love the North Sea when you love the Baltic? My hometown Hamburg is approximately the same distance from either sea. Most of my family and friends have a clear preference. It is either North or Baltic Sea. You can’t have ‘em both. My sister once phrased it as follows: “I like the North Sea better than the Baltic, because I like the Elbe River better than the Alster.” For someone from Hamburg, that makes immediate sense. Baltic Sea and Alster River are calm and domesticated, while Elbe River and North Sea are moody, wild and untamed. Now here’s the kind of girl I am: I like the Baltic Sea and the Elbe River. I’m annoying. I want it all.

North Sea, Zandvoort, NetherlandsGranted I hadn’t been to the North Sea in a very long time. You see, as opposed to the Baltic Sea, it is not in Central Eastern Europe which made it hard to integrate it into my travel schedule. But when Jan and I did our trip to Amsterdam, we agreed that we would absolutely have to rent bikes at some point, and where prettier to do that than at the coast. So on the second day in the big city we took the car out to Zandvoort, found rental bikes quickly (and very decently priced at 10€ per day per person) and off we went.

Zandvoort, NetherlandsThe town of Zandvoort is a beach resort, the likes of which I know from Germany (and from both teh North and the Baltic Sea) – too many buildings with questionable aesthetics line the coast and make the view from the beach inland rather grey. Looking out to see is grand though. And the good thing about this being a town with good infrastructure is that there are also decently tarmaced bike trails. They lead us out of the immediate town and into the National Park Zuid Kennemerland.

Zuid Kennemerland, NetherlandsThe soft up and down of grown-over sanddunes. The width of the clear blue sky sprinkled with solid-looking clouds. The fresh air and the smell of the sea. The wind in my hair as I speed up on the bike. There is no route planned, no final destination, nowhere to get to. Just moving along through the landscape that I find so beautiful in its simplicity. I don’t need mountains. I just need a wide sky.

The bike trail leads us away from the immediate coast line, inland. Trees line the freeway we drove down when we came into Zandvoort by car. Bike trails are on either side of it. Yes, Holland is bike country. There is a path heading away from the street, and out of curiosity, we take it, unsure where it will lead us. A few hundred yards into it, we come across a small bike park where we place the bikes and make our way along the path on foot. I look back as we leave our bikes, locked together, almost looking like their cuddling. So symbolic. It looks like I am definitely not travelling alone this time.

Bikes, Zuid Kennemerland, NetherlandsWalking on sandy ground, but through beautiful wildlife, I find everything to be very green and leafy. Generally this reminds me a little of the bike tour I did on te Curonian Spit two years ago, but the forests lining the Baltic Sea there are coniferous. The deciduous plants around here give make the green so juicy, the smell so fresh, not as earthy and wooden as I am used to. The path we follow offers new pretty outlooks and views around every corner.

We find a small outdoors theatre that looks like it may once have been a memorial and goof around behind the stone stand. Not a soul around – although that is not true. There are animals, most notably the toad I almost stepped on walking down the path. It’s a very peaceful place. As we move on, we climb up some stairs, and finally come across this:

Memorial for Resistance Fighters in WW2, Zuid Kennemerland, NetherlandsAlthough information is scarce, we realize quickly that it is some kind of burial ground for victims of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Later, research online will tell us that it is a memorial cemetery for resistance fighters who were shot in these exact dunes. There is almost no background given, and really almost none to be found on the internet either, which I regret. Walking around, Jan and I get into a discussion on war and peace, on the surpremely priviliged position our generation finds itself in in Western Europe, on Ukraine, on World War II, on our parents and grandparents. It is quite intense, and it leaves us more grateful for this day than we could have imagined.

Zuid Kennemerland, NetherlandsWe linger at the memorial for quite a while before we get back to the bikes and move on. Down into the forest. Out of it. Coming across meadows (although protected by fences, so we can’t throw ourselves onto them). Along the freeway. And finally, when it is almost time to go back into town to return the bikes, we find the sea again.

North Sea, Zuid Kennemerland, NetherlandsThe North Sea. It is indeed much more untamed. It is also very blue and not as grey as I generally perceive the Baltic to be, but I’m not sure if that’s just its mood today. I find the North Sea to be quite moody. It just goes away every now and then, what is up with that! But today, I have to admit it: The North Sea is being really really good to me. The way the light glistens on its surface, and the sand on its beach is as shiny and as rich in different shades of colour as the water, and the sea grass on the dunes moves in the breeze – all of this touches me.

After we’ve returned the bikes – much too soon for both our tastes – we go back to the beach for dinner, and then stay to watch the sunset for as long as our shivering bodies allow us to. It was warm during the day, but once the sun is down it is quite chilly. The light show that nature has prepared for us is amazing though. Nothing can be said against a sea that allows you to see the sun set in it, slowly, every so slowly disappear into the depths of its water, reflection turning the waves into shimmering bodies of liquid light. Magic moments. And I think I am more of a North Sea fan than I knew before.

North Sea, Zandvoort, NetherlandsWhat do you say – North Sea or Baltic? Or is it another one entirely for you?

Guest Post: Lift Bridge in Karnin (Usedom), Germany

Guest post are a rare event on my blog, mainly because I am not monetized and I don’t do backlinks or anything like it. The more joyous the occasion wheh a friend wants to write about a bridge nonetheless. And possibly even more wonderful when it’s a real life friend and not a travel blogger I met on a social media channel. My friend and former flatmate Luise is an avid traveller and came to travel blogging just a little later than me. On her site Such a Lot of World to See she blogged about her trip through the Balkans, Turkey and Georgia to Azerbaijan. I’m excited she’s bringing you such an insightful post – much longer than my own usual bridge post; she sent it to me saying she „got carried away a little“. That should tell you more than enough about her curiosity and passion for the world.

This year the First World War is more present in German public discourse and consciousness than WW II – usually it is the other way round for various reasons. But anyway it is a “super memorial year”: 100 years since WW I started, 75 years since WW II started, 25 years since the Wall came down. It’s always a mix. When my parents visit me in Greifswald in the North Eastern corner of Germany where I study, we also get to see a colorful mix of old and older, traces left both by the wars and the GDR, and new, what the decreasing population in this region outside the university town do to give it some new direction.

We visit Anklam, a small town 40 kilometers from Greifswald. It was heavily destroyed in the end of the war and modestly rebuilt. When industry closed down after the reunification people started to leave and there are some problems with right wing extremists round here. So I have to admit we are somewhat surprised to see some creative projects going on here. Young people and artists built all kinds of gliders and flying devices decorating the half destroyed church – which even has a roof again – of the hometown of aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal. It is a bright May afternoon and so we have a fantastic view from the tower all across the wide flat lands where he took his first flights.

Flying Equipment, Anklam, GermanyFar to the East we can see the enormous structure of the Karnin lift bridge which is worth a visit as the guide at the church tells us. After criss-crossing through the fields and along small alleys (some of them remarkably bumpy) we reach the harbor of Kamp where we have a fish sandwich and then start out for the bridge. We just have to walk around the corner at the pier and there it is, the huge lift bridge once enabling Berliners to reach the fancy beach resorts on the island of Usedom within two hours by train. It also gained military importance when the Army Research Center was opened in Peenemünde in the Northern part of Usedom in 1936.

I have been listening to quite some documentaries on 1914 lately, the war that was sparked on a bridge, a quite small one. Here is a bridge that after being an icon of German engineering was sacrificed by its own people at the very end of the next war. When German forces retreated they blew up all parts of the bridge except for the lift. That part was drawn up to allow for the German navy operating in the Szczecin Lagoon to escape to the Baltic Sea if necessary. And that is how we can still see it, the way it was left in the final defeat nearly 70 years ago. Eerie.

Lift Bridge, Karnin, GermanyThe 50x30m lift bridge was part of a two way railroad bridge opened in 1875. It wasn’t rebuilt, partly because of the new German-Polish border now dividing the island across the main railroad. Ever since the war people have to drive further to the North West to Wolgast, cross the bridge there and drive a long way back on the island to reach the so called Kaiserbäder (Emperor’s resorts), more or less doubling travel time from Berlin. There are actually talks of rebuilding the railroad and the bridge, we don’t have border controls between Poland and Germany anymore. This region is trying to become less of an outpost at the far edge.

Usedom, GermanyUntil then the former railroad dam is accessible by a nice sand path populated by salamanders and the waters on its sides are home to beavers while the birches that died in the rising waters hold an incredibly huge colony of the prehistoric looking cormorants.

Change is the only constant, even with a door left open by a fleeing army several decades ago.

(Photos by my mother D. Schmidt)

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!

Šeher Ćehaja Bridge in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Hercegovina

My life has been rich and colourful lately, even without me travelling much (at least not internationally). I do have some exciting plans for the summer, but as of now I am revelling in the quiet excitement I find in routine. And yet every now and then I dream myself away. Away to countries that hold my heart. Away to my most recent adventure – away to Bosnia.

Seher Cehajina Bridge, Sarajevo, Bosnia & HercegovinaThe first bridge in Sarajevo across the Miljacka River that comes to mind is certainly the Latin Bridge – especially in the year of the one hundredth anniversary of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand which happened just around the corner from the pretty little Ottoman bridge. I must say, though, that I almost prefer the one in the picture above – Šeher-Ćehajina ćuprija. „Ćuprija“, by the way, is a Turkish loan word in Bosnian and means bridge (when standard Croation or Serbian would be „most“). I love the word in all its intercultural richness.

I couldn’t find out what the name of the bridge refers to or much about its history. I just know how beautiful it is to look at when you sit on a bench next to the river on a hot day in early June, eating Burek and, for desert, strawberries that are so sweet you wonder what people actually need candy for. I know how I felt looking at the city hall, to the left in the photo, which was still a brown grey-ish burnt out ruin when I last visited the city and is now restored to its old beauty (even though it can’t be entered yet). I know how full of giddy anticipation I was when I crossed it with a small crowd of people to go for dinner in the Sarajevo Brewery; and also how well-fed, deeply content and happy I was when I returned from that dinner. What can I say. It is a good place.

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!

Germany. Football. Patriotism Revisited.

Just over a year ago, I wrote a blog post on Germany and its perhaps peculiar relationship to patriotism. For a long time it was my most successful post, and it is still among the most read on the blog.

Only last week I closed comments on the post. It may be a bit cowardly of me to do that, but frankly, I was tired of justifying myself for my very personal view on the matter (which happens to be shared by quite a few people). In fact, from all the discussions I have had on the issue, my view is fairly moderate. I love Germany, although I have my (personal!) problems with the expression „national pride“, and I am very much aware of historical responsibility without wanting to propagate or feeling myself a personal and individual guilt. Other positions exist and I never denied that they did. There are, as the comments on the mentioned post show, people who do take pride in the fact that they are Germans and are not afraid to say so. Others find anything remotely patriotic completely unsuitable for Germans and equate patriotism with nationalism. And then there’s loads of people somewhere in the middle of that. Why would Germany differ from any other country in that respect? It wouldn’t. Only, and this was my one central point in the post, the connection between patriotism and nationalism has history in my country, and I think it suits us to be aware of that and handle the subject with care.

German flag, Berlin, GermanyThe post’s viewing numbers recently spiked, and I am fairly sure that it is to do with Germany’s performance during the football world cup. In fact I expect them to spike again today in the course of the discussion that is marked on twitter by the hashtag #gouchogate. I am not sure if it’s made international media yet. The story goes as follows: The German team was welcomed at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin yesterday with celebrations for winning the World Cup, and a few of the players did a little dance that goes „This is how the gouchos walk, the gouchos walk like this“ – crouching down, looking beaten, and then „This is how the Germans walk, the Germans walk like this“ – walking upright, jumping, celebrating.

Now some of the German media, and I quote here, find this performance to be a „gigantic own goal“ because they think that it defames Argentina in unacceptable ways, turning the German  team that has played a tournament of fairness and tolerance into a bunch of idiotic nationalists.

Excuse me, but WHAT A LOAD OF CRAP!

The German twittersphere has largely reacted by pointing out how ridiculous it is to make a dance – one that is a well-known and established part of German football culture – a national affair and basically play the Nazi card yet once again. They have also shown that it is completely out of proportion to claim that the #gouchogate affair throws shade on the entire tournament and the achievements of the German team. But the story does prove that showing German pride is a problematic issue still when patriotism is not a big deal in other countries.

Throughout the whole world cup I have been confronted with it. It starts with the anthem. I always sing along, however sometimes quietly. I don’t, however, put my hand on my heart. It feels weird to me. That is just my very personal standpoint. I sometimes wish I could do it. But I don’t. And that is my very personal choice, as is singing along. Back to that: I have watched games with people who thought it was sad that no one else sang along. I have also watched games with people who said (if in jest): „If you sing along I might have to spit in your face.“

Football plays a huge role in the whole patriotism debate in Germany, and always has. It is weirdly connected to big historical moments and the evolution of German cultural identity. When Germany won the World Cup in 1954 they called it a miracle. It was a moment when Germans won back their dignity, when for the first time after World War 2 the country was associated with something positive again. I can’t say much about 1974 because I am not an expert, I am just relating my own thoughts here, unresearched. But in 1990, just before reunification and after the downfall of the Berlin Wall, it was one of the defining moments for a new era, a new Germany coming into existence, because the GDR followed and cheered for the West German team as much as the the Federal Republic did. 2006, when the World Cup was held in Germany, flag waving and the general display of black-red-gold felt normal for the very first time since the 1940s, and it was a four week celebration of happiness down to the game that got Germany third place and beyond that on to the final between Italy and France.

And now, in 2014, it’s done. Germany has won the cup. WE have won the cup. Together as one. And it feels wonderful, truly truly wonderful.

The day after the final I wore a shirt to work that had black-red-gold rims and four golden stars on it. And I was actually surprised that no one judged me for that.

When I went home after work yesterday, after the celebrations at Brandenburg Gate were over, I passed by the Monument for the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial. A drunk football fan dressed in black-red-gold stood on one of the stelae and loudly sang songs about beer and schnaps. I will say that it made me feel uncomfortable. But it would have done so without him wearing national colours. He didn’t respect the idea of the place, and it bothered me.

What I am trying to say is: It is not as easy as saying „Get over it, Germany, and be proud of what you are today.“ It is not as easy as saying „We may never be happy and celebrate our country ever again“, either. There are implications, contexts, and what’s most important, there are people involved, with feelings and emotions and standpoints in this debate, and they should all be heard and acknowledged, however much either one side does not agree.

I do hope very much that one day Germany, and we as Germans, will find our balance when it comes to this. Because I truly love my country. I’m not proud of it as a whole, in fact I’m really quite critical of it at times. I am not proud of being German because, really, it’s not an achievement. But I am, and I repeat myself from an old post, immensely grateful and happy that I am allowed to live here and for all the things this culture has taught me and given to me. And right now I am proud of my national team that has fulfilled a collective national longing and won a sports tournament for us, and I applaud them and thank them for the face-splitting grin they have put on my face these last few days.

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

Moltke Bridge in Berlin, Germany

Like probably every decent traveller, I love airports and I love train stations. Berlin has one of the biggest train stations in Europe, and when you exit toward the Spree river and walk towards the water, this view is your reward: Moltkebrücke, Berlin, GermanyWhen I’ve spent a weekend away inside of Germany, I often take an early morning train back to Berlin and walk from the main station to my work. I could public transport instead of walking. But I love arriving in Berlin and being welcomed by the river, the bridges, even the government buildings you see in the background of the picture. This is also part of the pulsating, thriving capital I love, even far away from cool hipster neighbourhoods like Kreuzberg and Neukölln.

The bridge in the picture is called Moltkebrücke. Helmuth von Moltke was chief of staff of the Prussian army in the late 19th century. The bridge certainly shows Prussian grandeur with its red sandstone structure and its delicate ornaments. If you google it, you will find pictures of it with the old Lehrter Bahnhof in the background – the beautiful historicist train station that once stood in the place of what is now the modern, steel and glass main station. Berlin, a palimpsest made up of different time layers – if only you want to see them.

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!

Bullet Shells and Bullet Holes

Mostar, that town that gave my blog its name, is pretty. It is thriving and gorgeous and attracts more and more tourists every year. But that is not why it caught me so much. I only fell in love with it when I started to understand how torn it was. I am drawn to complicated things. Mostar has a pretty face, but it also has many scars from the war in the Balkans. And nowhere did I find them to be so painfully visible as at the Sniper’s Nest.

Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

There is a building in Mostar that had been just newly built when the war came here in 1992 for a bank. It is set right by where the front line was – the line that still divides the city into a Croat and a Bosniak side. Croat snipers were set up in here to have good aim at Bosniaks down in the street. It was never torn down nor rebuilt. I haven’t been to Mostar in nearly 3 years, so I am not sure what it looks like now, but between 2010 and 2011 when I visited the city frequently it never changed much.

Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaEerie, abandoned, somehow even belligerent with its jagged design, it sits there with no purpose. Upon entering I feel a little strange, but there is not even a cutoff or a sign that says to „Keep out!“ or „Beware!“. What’s more, there are no signs of life, really. I would imagine that in Germany a ton of homeless people would live in a building like this.

Sniper's Nest, Ground Floor, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaWhat strikes my eye even at first glance is that the naked walls have been made canvas for street art. Some is more elaborate, some is just wild scribble and nonsense. A lot of it, however, is not just illustrations, but writing, and the things written there show sadness, sometimes desperation, but also hope for a better tomorrow. A lot of them are most certainly very political, and when you look at recent protests in Bosnia and Hercegovina, the problems addressed are still the same.

Walls at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaSome other things that you can read there are a lot more personal. Like this scribble which almost tore my heart:

Walls at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

„When everything I love and everything I dream cannot be…“

As you move upward floor by floor, the building shows you different faces. In terms of creepiness, I think the first floor might top the list. My pictures were taken in 2010 and 2011. The war had been over for 15 to 16 years. Yet it looks like the building was bombed out only yesterday.

First Floor at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaYou can find account statements, customers‘ files, accounting documents… and they are strewn about as though people had had to leave in a hurry and never managed to take anything. The papers are dated to the early Nineties, too. History that you can touch.

The next floors are as empty and eerie as the ground floor. They are were the snipers sat. And what would be more obvious, yet horrible proof of that than the many many bullet shells that line the floors.

Bullet Shells at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaTourists take them as souvenirs. I am not even sure how I feel about that, but I have one too. When I picked it up from the floor, I thought that I wanted to make it a lucky charm. Cruel? Ironic? Sometimes you have to take something that means something bad and turn its meaning so it can become something good. The bullet shell is a link to one of the places in the world I love the most. It has the ambivalence if Mostar written into it.

Floor at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaOn the upper floors, the paintings and writings on the wall change. There is now much more evidence of the nationalist scene, the Ultras, and of racist ideas. Not seldomly are they accompanied by the Croatian coat of arms.

Walls at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaWalls at Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaIt is still so hard for me to grasp, the strange interlacement of ethnicity, nationality and religion in this part of the world. In the Balkan wars of the Nineties, it is not quite correct to say that Croatia fought Bosnia fought Serbia (or whichever way around you would want to phrase it). There is such a thing as a Bosnian Serb (someone of Bosnian nationality who is orthodox and an ethnic Serb). „Bosniak“, „Croat“ and „Serb“ are notions that assign ethnicity, and ethnicity is linked to religion – Islam for Bosniaks, Catholicism for Croats and Orthodoxy for Serbs. But in a secularized world, how religious are these conflicts? How much are religion and ethnicity an excuse to redefine power structures? I am not an expert in all of this, and I am still in the process of getting a hang of it. But it is so complex – and so sad.

View from Sniper's Nest, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaFrom the top of the Sniper’s Nest, you look down onto the Spanish Square. The big orange building is a high school that operates in a segregated system. Bosniak and Croat children go to the school, but they are taught by different curricula and in different languages (even if the differences in Bosnian and Croatian are minute and speakers of both languages understand each other with ease most of the time). Knowing this, it really makes you wonder when the war will be truly over.

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