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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

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


Fertility Allegory at Völkerschlachtdenkmal, Leipzig, Germany


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?

My Happy Place – Tempelhof Airport

It is the week of the Berlin Tourism Fair ITB again, and just like last year, I felt like I should share some valuable information on things to see in my home of choice. A lot of travel bloggers will come to town for this, and I do hope that some of the visitors will make time to see Berlin – ideally beyond Brandenburg Gate and the (admittedly amazing) East Side Gallery.

Last year I indulged in the history that this city has to offer. The place I am bringing to you today, the airfield of the closed down Tempelhof airport, is one that I have wanted to write about for a long time. Only I never quite knew how, because it is special to me in a way that probably no other place in Berlin is.

Grass and Sky, Tempelhof, Berlin, GermanyWhen I was in Berlin apartment hunting just before I moved here, I got of the metro at what is now my stop, and made a turn to the left from the big street. It was February, and bitter cold had a lock on Berlin. At the end of the street I had turned on, I saw – nothing. Not a house, not a tree, it was as thought the street led right up to a hole. I had no idea what that might be and I was early for the meeting with the property manager who was supposed to show me what is now my flat. So I went down the street and to see what the great nothing was. This is approximately what I found.

View of airport building, Tempelhof, Berlin, GermanyWidth. Air. Freshness. A horizon that wasn’t limited by the nearest skyscarper or even just three storey building. In the distance the old airport terminals can be seen – built under the Nazis, they are impressive, functional, and of their own estranging fascist aesthetics that one is compelled to dislike, but can’t help finding impressive. I looked across the great barren field and  knew that I desperately wanted the flat that was so close to it. And I got it. The field is now basically my backyard.

View, Tempelhof, Berlin, GermanyWhen you walk either one of the two airstrips and you look North, you have a beautiful view that includes the old radio tower with its funny looking white ball on top, you see the TV tower in the distance, church towers, and one of my personal favourites, the two minarettes of the mosque that is close by at Columbiadamm (and that has a beautiful small cemetery worth checking out!). Maybe it is the Northern German gal inside of me that feels drawn to this place. I am just in love with being able to see that far while no mountain, not even a hill disrupts the view.

Kites, Tempelhof, Berlin, GermanyOn a clear summer’s day, when there is wind on the field, you can see people doing all kind of kite sports. Not just the kite skaters in this picture – there are people on windsurfing  skateboards, or just people flying stuntkites. The sky is completely bestrewn with kites of all colours, shapes and sizes, and there is wooshing noises as you walk past. I especially love the skaters with the traction kites. They make amazing stunts and fly several meters high, pulling themselves up in the air with their skates attached to their feet, only to land on the airstrip again and be drawn by windpower with amazing speed across the concrete desert.

Kite Skater, Tempelhof, Berlin, GermanyI love to come to the field on weekends for a walk or just to sit somewhere, in some remote corner, or even inmidst of everything, and think. It is amazing that even on a day when the field is packed with people, you will always find a way to feel as though you were the only person there, because people scatter. When there is only wind and the wide sky, my thoughts can run free and I can find peace.

View of airport building, Tempelhof, Berlin, GermanyOn the East Side, there is a Guerilla Gardening Project. On the North Side there is a minigolf course made out of trash and a baseball field. On the South and West Sides there is virtually nothing. The airstrips stretch out betwen the West and the East, and walking them always feels a bit like that slow motion scene in Armageddon.

The most indescribable thing is the field in winter, just before they close it for the night (because you cannot enter at night as to prevent vandalism). If you walk on there just before closing time, you will be completely alone on a 355 hectar area before long. The moon will hide behind clouds, and the air will be pregnant with humidity. It will set on your clothes like a cover. You will feel cold and damp and very alone. And alive like you have hardly ever felt before. At least that is how I experience it. I usually start singing. Loudly, desperately against the noises of the wind and the emptiness. The city is glowing at the margins of the field, and I am all by myself, fighting the demons of my thoughts, bowing to the good spirits inside of me. No picture can bring across the atmosphere of those moments.

My favourite time of the day on the field though is, without a doubt, dusk. There aren’t just the special weekend walks or the long reading sessions, not just the people watching or all the funny little interim arrangements that can be found there. The most intimate moments on the field are the ones I have every day when I come home from work from early Spring through late fall. I used to have a cigarette on the field before I went home. Now I just sit and watch the sun set. The sky is so wide, the colours so intense, and I feel so at home in this big, crazy moloch of a city.

photo 5

No, I never quite knew how to write all of this down so far. I always figured that I needed to go there just one more time to get that one special anecdote, or take that one beautiful picture. But then again there will always be another perfect moment, another extraordinary experience on the field, and yet I will never be able to describe it sufficiently in all its width, greatness and beauty.

Leipzig Instagrammed – A Fragment

As I leave Leipzig on the train to go back to Berlin, the sun is setting in bright golden colours, sinking, falling onto and into the Saxonian fields and woods, swiftly changing the sky from grey to yellow to orange to red until the light fades entirely. I am quite sure that I will be on this train again fairly soon. I have had an initial fix. And now I want more.

Conference trips are great. They often take you to interesting cities, and if you’re lucky all expenses are paid. That is beside the fact of course that there is an ideally interesting conference to enjoy. The problem with conference trips is: You never have enough time to actually see the city. I want to take you to Leipzig with me nonetheless because I can see a love affair starting here, and my small number of impressions may be all the more powerful because they are few. I did not even take out my proper camera. Therefore, my impressions come to you through the filters of our ever so beloved instagram.

Town Hall, Leipzig, GermanyGranted I had been quite sure I would enjoy Leipzig. It had been described to me as the new Berlin; or as Berlin, but more cozy; or as Berlin, but less gentrified; or as Berlin, but *gasp* cheaper (I know, incredible, right?). Basically it had sounded like a more perfect version of the German capital. And it may very well be. It is green and friendly, incredibly lively, the streets are lined with the secession buildings I love so much, beautifully restored and glowing in their clean white, pale yellow or light grey paint – or with colourful street art.

Südvorstadt, Leipzig, Germany The city centre combines modern architecture and old buildings to a harmonic whole. Street musicians entertain the crowds, and people take their time to linger for a while and listen. There is an exceptionally high number of kids running and playing on the green strips downtown, and your obligatory group of punks is hanging out right next to the screaming children. I must admit that I thought Leipzig would be somewhat more morbid, dark, and bohemian. I find it quite clean. But I instantly feel that it would be a city that I would absolutely love to live in. I feel comfortable here.

City Centre, Leipzig, Germany The conference is in Specks Hof, an old trade fair building with beautiful secession windows in the stairway showing allegories of different professions, but also of virtues. I especially enjoyed this man, symbolizing “Love for Peace”, and the woman standing for “Talkativity”.

Specks Hof, Leipzig, Germany In one of the lunch breaks I walk over to the market square. At the Forum for Contemporary History, a sign reads: “Careful! History leads to insights and causes consciousness.” Just in front of this, there is a statue that a colleague once sent me a picture of and that I am happy to now have seen myself because I find it deeply impressive. It is called “The step of the century” and shows a figure whose right side is stretching in the Hitler salute and marching in goose step, while the left half of the body is bowed down in submission and with the arm performs the socialist greeting, usually accompanied by the word “Friendship”. The figure’s head is crouched into the coat, as though in hiding, trying to gain distance from the totalitarian regimes the body language is so affirmatively demonstrating. The statue symbolizes a willing support of the system with the body; and an opportune and deliberate closing of the eyes to the injustice of it. I think it is, in its simplicity, one of the most powerful monuments to German history in this country.

Jahrhundertschritt, Leipzig, Germany

Before I make my way to the train station on the last conference day to return home, I stop by Nikolaikirche which unfortunately is closed. Massive and influential protests against the regime of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), socialist East Germany, took place in and around this church in the autumn of 1989 and played a significant role in the soon to follow downfall of the wall. This part of German history, I feel, is quite present in the city centre. On the ground in the square behind Specks Hof I find an unobtrusive, small reminder of the Volksaufstand, uprising, in 1953, one of the first occasions when GDR citizens protested against their gouvernment. They were brutally chastised. The monument shows the date and the traces of the tanks that were used by the state power to regain power.

Monument 17 June 1953, Leipzig, Germany Since I cannot visit this Nikolaikirche, I make my way to Thomaskirche where the great German baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach was cantor for quite a while and found his last home. There is a devotion taking place, and I am so lucky as to enter the church as an acapella choir is singing a beautiful and sorrowful piece that almost tears my heart apart. The church is very plain – after all this is deeply Lutheran country. Protestantism came into existence not very far from here. I love the beautiful dark red crossed struts in the dome of the church, and the plain white walls and pale reddish marble of the arches.

Thomaskirche, Leipzig, Germany When I say that these few excerpts out of my perception of Leipzig are all I could muster this time around, I am sure you agree with me that it is not enough. I am once more convinced that there are diamonds to discover in close proximity of home – it is not always necessary to travel far.

Luftbrücke (Air Lift) Monument in Berlin, Germany

Today we are back on metaphorical bridges. This is not an actual bridge, but a monument for one – the Berliner Luftbrücke, or as it is called in English, Air Lift. Only the literal translation is Air Bridge.

Air Bridge Monument, Berlin, Germany

As you might know, after World War II both Germany and Berlin were under the control of the allies who had split country and city in four sectors for control. Berlin, having itself an English, American, French and Soviet sector, was in the middle of the Soviet sector of the country that was later to become the socialist German Democratic Republic. Between June 1948 and May 1949, the Soviets blocked the Western allies‘ access to Berlin. They wanted to take control of the entire city.

But the Western allies did not give in. They set up an air lift by which they flew supplies to West Berlin, and succeeded to keep West Berlin in their control so that it became part of the Federal Republic. The planes, called Rosinenbomber (Raisin or Candy Bombers), landed on Tempelhof airport, the Nazi built inner city airport that today is shut down, but open to the public for recreation. It always gives me the chills to go there and think about its history. The monument is just outside of the airport building.

Ernst Reuter, mayor of Berlin, gave a moving speech in September 1948 in which he called upon the Western allies and said: „People of this world – look upon this city and recognize that you should not, cannot abandon this city and this people.“ And they didn’t. The Air Lift is a symbol for solidarity and for the will to freedom and democracy, a bridge between peoples in times of need.

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!

How I found Europe in Chicago

Even before I came here, I noticed in my travel guide that Europe is ever present on the map of Chicago: The Ukrainian Village. Little Italy. Greektown. Pilsen, as in the Czech town. The Holstein Park, as in the region in Northern Germany. Not only were there geographical allusions, but many places were named for famous Europeans: Humboldt Park. Goethe and Schiller streets. Pulaski Park. Dvorak Park (yes, they have a LOT of parks in Chicago!). I thought it was interesting how a country whose population is traditionally made up of immigrants to some extent tries to reconstruct its heritage this way, and I was curious if I would find Europe elsewhere in Chicago, too. I was not disappointed.

The neighbourhoods that take their names from Europen countries or cities are not only named that, but many are inhabited by immigrant population. This leads to funky combinations, like the neighbourhood with the Czech name of Pilsen being inhabited mainly by Mexican Americans today. Also there is the Old Town which used to be the German neighbourhood – and not only do you find a big European grocery store there, said grocery store also has a rooftop terrace on which you can have beer and, brace yourself, Currywurst!

Currywurst, Old Town, Chicago, IL

Germany in America: Currywurst with Sauerkraut…

Maibaum, Old Town, Chicago, IL

… and a Maibaum!!!

You also can hardly fail to come across signs of the Polish population. At the blue line stop Division, you will find the so called Polish triangle, and there is the renowned restaurant Podhalanka, a place that supposedly has really good Polish food. Along Milwaukee Avenue I saw several Polish Restaurants with Polish names that Americans who don’t share this descent probably cannot even pronounce – or how would you say Czerwone Jabłuszko (Little Red Apple)?

Polish Triangle


And at the Polish Triangle another piece of Poland: The Chopin Theatre! (Yes he was Polish – NOT French!!)

 Not only do you see the Polish influence in the cityscape, you can also hear it. I went on the blue line one morning and waited at my stop for the train to come in. Two middle aged guys next to me were chatting animatedly in Polish. The first thing I noticed was how much they cursed. Every sentence was generously lined with the word „kurwa“, Polish for whore or bitch. While that amused me only slightly, my face split into a wide grin when they started discussing about Germany and what a dirty country it is. Sweden, yes, Sweden was clean, but Germany, kurwa, unbelievable, the amounts of rubbish in the streets. I chuckled.

Obviously, all of this stems from immigration, like I already said. I found this noticeable not least at Graceland Cemetery, a beautiful graveyard well worth a visit which I have written about here. A lot of the tombstones displayed foreign heritage, like this one showing that the deceased had been born in Hungary.


Also, the Germans were here again, not only with their names: Many tombstones did note say „born“ and „died“, but „geb.“ and „gest.“ – short for geboren and gestorben. It means the same, obviously, but I found it quite remarkable that the Germans kept their own culture alive to the point of having their tombstones signed in their own language rather than English.


Austria came into play when we went to a cute coffeehouse called Julius Meinl that saved the famous coffee and had interieur that resembeld classical Vienna coffeehouse furniture. The coffee was fantastic, and the menue carried things such as Einspänner, Melange and Verlängerter – with the umlaut writing!



Finally the immigrants have not only named places after people and brought parts of their culture in food and drink and architecture, but they also saw to the fact that their greatest heroes would be commemorated in the city. There is a memorial for Alexander von Humboldt, one for Kosciuszko, one for Copernicus, one for Havlicek, one for Hans Christian Anderson, one for Goethe and one for Schiller – and I would have been bound to find more if I had been able to stay longer, I’m sure.






Have you ever found Europe on another continent? Where was it and what made it so European for you?


The Rough Charms of Nottingham

Inspite of my recent train ride from hell, I feel unspeakably lucky for why I took it – a spontaneous weekend trip to see Andrew in Nottingham. Although it had never been on my list, I at once got excited about going to the city that is mainly famous for Robin Hood. I don’t know England particularly well and any chance to change that fact was more than welcome.

Andrew has a whole program planned out for us, which is honestly something I have to get used to after such a long time of solotravel. I don’t just walk wherever I feel like going, but I follow Andrew around who has known this town for his entire life. I feel a bit like relinquishing control, and the die-hard solotraveller in me comes through as I think of a quote from my favourite sitcom, Friends: „‚Relinquish‘ is just a fancy word for ‚lose‘.“ But in the course of the weekend I will get used to that feeling and learn to enjoy being shown stuff as an alternative model to discovering everything on my own.

Rhododendron at Wollaton Hall, Nottingham, England First on the list of Nottingham sights is Wollaton Hall. The city bus takes us through a quiet area of the city with the significantly British low-roofed houses. Most of them are made from red brick stone, my love for which I have mentioned numerous times. It is somewhat idyllic – not quite in the nostalgic, idealizing sense of the word, but it seems quiet and settled and in a calming way uneventful.

Wollaton Hall is a country house that starred as Wayne Manor in Christopher Nolan’s last Batman film The Dark Knight Rises. There is pleasantly little annoying advertisement that mentions that. I am guessing that the place could get more visitors if it played more on the „Home of Batman“ bonus, but I’m glad it doesn’t. The walk around the lake with the rhododendron in rich lilac blossom dipping into the water, families with excited children and scout groups, and all the while the view of the architectural marvel on the hill in its majestic beauty make for a wonderful introduction to Nottingham – although this is a different world from the bustling city center, an alternate space where time seems to have stood still for a hundred years.

Wollaton Hall, Nottingham, England

After the peace and quiet of the immense manor park, the city center seems almost crowded, although it is still rather quiet for me, being used to Berlin. We walk around the Old Market Square and I try to feel myself into the place – it is difficult for some reason. Elements of the cityscape seem familiar, but in combination they make for something that feels more foreign than many places I have encountered in Eastern Europe. Again I muse how people think that Eastern Europe is a world away, when it’s not. I perceive Nottingham to be much more foreign to me than, say, Gdansk. It’s somehow – uncontinental. That is the only word I can come up with.

Old Market Square, Nottingham, EnglandWe walk uphill towards the castle and pass by the Robin Hood monument. Being a child of the 90s, his legend is familiar to me mainly from the Kevin Costner film, as I must only half bashfully admit. So I try to reenact the scene where Maid Marian distracts Robin from shooting his arrow straight by breathing a kiss on his wrist.

Robin Hood Monument, Nottingham, EnglandNottingham Castle costs money to enter, but through the gates the flower beds and little paths up to the proud stone walls look so intriguing that I really want to go in. We stroll along and up to the castle building from which there is a beautiful view into the wide country. Andrew points out different places to me in the city and my orientation becomes a bit better.

Nottingham Castle, Nottingham, EnglandView from Nottingham Castle, Nottingham, EnglandThe pretty church towers over in the city center call for me alluringly, and so finally we make our way back to close off the day by seeing them. After a quick stop to St Peter’s we walk over to St Mary’s. We enter the churchyard and approach the closed doors – and already I can hear that there is a choir rehearsing in there. I want to just press my ear on the mighty old door and listen to the saintliness of it. We find an open door on the other side, a small one, and I stand and peek through the door frame into the interior of the nave reaching up so high. Pure voices fill the space in unison, as they fill my soul.

St Mary's church, Nottingham, England

On our way between Andrew’s home and the center, we have walked past a bus stop that advertises a Nottingham image campaign – it says: „A safe, clean, ambitious Nottingham. A city we’re all proud of!“ I’m amused at this loftiness that is so unintenionally funny, but looking around, I find that I quite like the city. I am not head over heels in love, it’s not heart-breakingly pretty and overwhelmingly charming. But it is one of those places that to me seem to be honest, that leave you knowing where you’re at with them. It is attractive rather than beautiful, real rather than unearthly. Nottingham hasn’t ravishingly encompassed me like other places – but it has touched my heart.

What do you think? Do you feel Nottingham is a place worth a visit? Have you been? Do you think it has a different style from continental European cities?

Danube Bridges in Budapest, Hungary

Today’s photo on Bridges on Sundays brings you several bridges – a bridge cluster, if you will: The bridges over the Danube in Budapest.

1Ungarn - Budapest

It is a little more than three years ago that I started my South Eastern Europe adventure. Budapest will forever hold a special place in my heart, because it was the first stop in a non German-speaking country – the place where the whole magnitude of my adventure started to actually feel real and concrete. When I got off the train here, I knew it: It had started. These months were to belong to no one but me, and they’d be full of life and joy. And they really were.

On my last night in Budapest I climbed up Gellert Hill at sunset and looked down at the Danube river between Buda and Pest. The day had been beautiful and sunny, not yet really warm, but Spring was in the air. As the sky turned darker, the city turned lighter – lights were turned on first in the houses, then on the streets, finally the bridges were floodlit. I loved how light transcended from the skies to the earth, and I had such hopes and dreams and never knew to which degree they were to be exceeded. It was a happy moment indeed.

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!

Failures and Successes – History Alive in Berlin

Surely you’ve noticed by now that I have a thing for history. I think countries are the same as individual people: It is easier to understand them if you know their personal past; their experiences, their baggage, their most wonderful successes and their greatest failures. Germany has a lot to offer in that department, and not only in the 20th century – although that is usually what everyone focusses on, understandably. And German history of the 20th century can’t be seen better anywhere in the country than in Berlin. Some of the places around allow you to truly understand Germany’s past – if you let them.

Standing freely between Humboldt University’s splendid main building and the German Museum of History, across from the State Opera at Unter den Linden boulevard, there is this fairly small and maybe unspectacular building.

Neue Wache, Berlin, Germany

Neue Wache (New Guard House)

In 18th century Prussia, the city castle of the Prussian kings was not at all far from here, and this was the armory. Today it is the „Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Tyranny“yes, that is its official name. Very long and technical, very German. Most of us just refer to it as Neue Wache (New Guard House), but the long version should begin to tell you about its function which is much more important.

There are specific memorials that commemorate the Jews killed in the Holocaust, the Roma and Sinti, and the homosexuals. There is a memorial that reminds of the burning of undesired books during the Third Reich, and there are living relics of Nazi architecture such as the Olympic Stadium or the airport in Tempelhof. Neue Wache is much less specific, and instead more inclusive. Here, we commemorate everyone who suffered from National Socialism and any form of tyranny and dictatorship before and after. We try to make amends for what this country has done and for what others have done. We include the victims and the resistance, the well-known heroes and every single footman, all countries, nations and ethnicities in our prayers, whatever that means to every single one of us. Personally I have always found this place to be deeply spiritual.

Neue Wache, Berlin, Germany

Käthe Kollwitz‘ „Mutter mit totem Sohn“ („Mother with her dead son“)

When you enter the building, it is but one big and almost empty room. In the middle there is a replica of a work by expressionist artist Käthe Kollwitz whose work I love deeply. She was considered a degenerate artist herself under the Nazis. The sculpture is called „Mother with her dead son“, and the intensity of it drives tears to my eyes whenever I go there and take a few minutes to think about what this place means. Buried here are also the remains of an unknown soldier and of an unknown concentration camp victim. The writing next to the sculpture says: „To the victims of war and tyranny“. The memorial is very plain, but it does invite you to linger and think about what it is there to remind you of. Take that moment. Calm yourself. And find in yourself the urge to make this world a place where cruelties like these will never happen again. You will go out a changed person if you allow it to happen.

And then there is a second dark chapter in recent German history – and while I feel that the history of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), or „Eastern Germany“, is a very complex matter that is quite usually immensely simplified, there is not much to argue about the end of this „other“ German State which began by the fall of the Berlin Wall. This event may be the greatest triumph, the most joyful moment in modern German history, and it means the world to me personally. If you’ve got time, I highly recommend a visit to te former secret police prison in Hohenschönhausen or to Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Memorial Berlin Wall) at Bernauer Straße. But if you want the immediate experience, if you want to touch and feel history and find a place where you could imagine what it must have been like, you should go to the East Side Gallery.

East Side Gallery Demonstration, Berlin Germany

There has recently been a fight over the East Side Gallery because investors are threatening to take parts of it down. This is the first part that construction workers moved a few days ago. I took this at the demonstration to save the East Side Gallery on Sunday, March 3, 2013.

The East Side Gallery is the longest preserved piece of the Berlin Wall. It starts between U-Bahn stations Warschauer Straße and Schlesisches Tor, line U1, right on the Friedrichshain side of Oberbaumbrücke. The wall was built in 1961 when more and more people started to leave the GDR. Only two months prior to that, the Secretary of the Socialist Party, Walter Ullbricht, had uttered the famous sentence: „Nobody has the intention of building a wall!“ The utter mockery of it…

The official state boarder at this point was actually on the Kreuzberg side of the river, meaning that the Spree river belonged to the GDR, even though the wall excluded it from Eastern Berlin territory – it was part of the so-called death strip. I read that children would sometimes drown on the Western shore because authorities weren’t allowed to help them once they had fallen into the water.

Death Strip, Berlin, Germany

This is the former Death Strip, imagine the Wall behind you as you have this gorgeous view of Oberbaumbrücke and the Spree River.

The East Side Gallery is famous because artists from all over the world have contributed to its design. The side of it that faces Friedrichshain district holds incredible artwork that usually has immense political power, the way only street art can. I have recently noticed that it feels a lot like the Zaspa District in Gdansk, Poland with its famous murals. This is why most people come here, and it’s well worth a good look. However, I also recommend you pass through to the river side of the wall and into the death strip and think about the fact that this was no man’s land only 25 years back, that you would have been shot immediately, had you been found on this side of the wall coming from where you just now actually came from – the other side.

For many more great pictures of the East Side Gallery, I recommend this post by my friend Sarah at Wake Up Mona.

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