Brückenschläge und Schlagworte

Schlagwort: ruins

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.

Vukovar – a lesser known take on the Balkan Wars

I have always tried to see to the fact that my blog will show the beauty of the former Yugoslavia and not purely concentrate on the remnants of war; and I chose to do so because from my experience people will think about war anyway, while the amazing charms of the Balkans have yet to be made known to them. Kami of Kami and the Rest of the World has recently reminded me of my own reaction to the most recent Balkan history when she wrote this moving and accurate post about Mostar. It brought back to mind that it is very important to speak not only of the beauty, but also of the dark past of this region, because people are sadly uninformed. But the war is still part of society in the Balkans – and not only in destroyed buildings, but in people’s heads, in politics, plainly spoken: in life.

It is a difficult, messed-up story that brought about the war, and I can’t say that I’ve fully grasped it. I certainly shall not try to explain it. I will resort for now to speak of a place that is little known, but that made the recent past’s events more visible to me than any other, and that is Vukovar in Croatia.

City Center, Vukovar, Croatia

Downtown Vukovar – only at a second glance did I notice that the pretty but run-down building was still without windows

Vukovar would never have made it to my list, even if I’d had one. It was recommended to me by one of my favorite couchsurfing hosts of all time. Roni said to me: „If you want to feel what the war meant, you must go to Vukovar.“ So after seeing Mostar’s captivating beauty and the miracle that is the restored Old Bridge, after Sarajevo’s tunnel museum, after the whole Bosnian take on the war, I went back through Slavonia, which is Croatia’s most inland region, to stop in Vukovar for a night before I would go to Serbia’s Novi Sad.

It was one of the first places I went to on my trip that didn’t have many tourists. I walked around asking random people if they knew of a place where I could stay for the night, and I found a nice little guest house well outside of the city center – funnily enough I had already seen it from the bus window. It may have been the only place in town. After dropping off my backpack, I made my way right back into town.

War Ruins, Vukovar, CroatiaWhile at first, on the way out to find a bed for the night, my priorty hadn’t been on looking around so much, everything struck me with greater force now that I didn’t have a backpack and the fear of sleeping outside on me. The long street into town was lined with buildings that were covered in bullet holes. I had seen houses like these in Bosnia, but in Mostar and Sarajevo they weren’t nearly as plentiful.

Bullet hole houses, Vukovar, CroatiaAs I said: Vukovar doesn’t have tourism. There hasn’t been much need, let alone funds, for restorations. You probably haven’t ever heard of the place. Here’s the deal: Vukovar was under an 87-day siege in 1991 and was the third most destroyed city in the former Yugoslavia in the Balkan Wars – after mentioned cities in Bosnia. There was also an ethnically motivated mass killing of more than 250 Croatians in the year of the siege.

War Ruins, Vukovar, CroatiaThe walk into town was tough for me, because the atmosphere struck me as so bleak and desolate that I felt the weight of recent history with a power that hadn’t come upon me before. I had cried in Bosnia, cried over the countries losses and hardships, cried at fates of people I was told, and cried over the incomprehensible divide between the beauty of the country and the sadness of its history. But there had been beauty. In Vukovar on the road into town, I couldn’t even cry. A feeling of utter hopelessness crept upon me, and I was scared of giving in and allowing myself to feel the terror entirely, because I was afraid of breaking at the immensity of it.

Destroyed house, Vukovar, Croatia

What always gets to me is the intact tapestry on the wall.

This was the first moment that I began to understand that in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, there is no one good side and no one bad side. It isn’t World War II, where the essential info is that Germany is the villain. The Balkan Wars are much more complex. There is no clear image of a victim and a perpetrator, and I think that comes clearest when looking at Croatia. I can’t place the Croats‘ role in the war on either one side of the scale between evil and good; or rather: I have to place it on both sides equally.

War Memorial, Vukovar, Croatia

The War Memorial in the city center reads „To Those Who Died For A Free Croatia“

Finally I reached downtown, and there was something I noticed. The houses in the center were in ruins still – mind you, the siege had happened almost 20 years ago. But while the first floors didn’t have windows and were not habitable, the ground floors – well, they were!

City Life, Vukovar, CroatiaThey held shops and coffee houses and ice cream parlors. People were working on the restored ground floors to make money in order to rebuild the top floors. They were trying to reanimate their city, to defy the odds, to make a living inspite of previous deaths. This was the amazing attitude I had also found in Bosnia. The desolation was much harsher and more present here in Vukovar, but the readiness to fight it and restore good living conditions, to not give up or bend, was the same.

Downtown, Vukovar, CroatiaIt is this spirit that kindles and constantly rekindles my deep love and admiration for this region, its people and its culture. I do not think I could have fully understood this, had I not come to Vukovar. It was very important for me to see war remnants outside of the central and well-known places. They showed the tragedy and complexity of it all to me with detail that I didn’t see anywhere else – unabridged, unadorned, unvarnished.

What do you think? Would you visit a place like Vukovar – or have you even been? Is this kind of „war tourism“ unethical or weird to you?

Tsarevets Castle in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

This Bridge on Bridges on Sundays seemed to stretch out between different layers of time throughout history.

Tsarevets, Veliko Tarnovo, BulgariaThis is the bridge that leads to Tsarevets castle in Bulgaria’s proud medieval town Veliko Tarnovo. It may have well been my favorite place in Bulgaria – small and cozy, of great beauty, and the people there were extremely friendly. While in many other places in Bulgaria I found the people to take some getting used to, in Veliko Tarnovo they were a lot more open, they smiled much and were very helpful and welcoming. I was in Veliko Tarnovo in late June. Inland Bulgaria at this time of year is really hot, and by that I don’t mean 30 degrees, but more like 45 to 50. As beautiful as Veliko Tarnovo was, in my four days there I did have moments when I just lazily stuck around the hostel terrace in the shade, wanting to roar like a lioness at anyone who would dare to try and tear me out of my heat coma.

But I did go to explore the fortress. Veliko Tarnovo was the capitol of the medieval Bulgarian kingdom at a time when this country was a true power in Europe. The bridge leads the way over the moat to the beautiful fortress remains. The church on the castle hill is fully restored, and its insides are dominated by modern art paintings that I adored and that I looked at for a long time – partially also because inside the church it was nice and cool. The same way that the church bridged the gap between the middle ages and today with its medieval architecture and its contemporary wall paintings, the bridge in the picture seemed to overcome a time lapse between a modern lively student town and Bulgaria’s proud and long history as a kingdom. If only it hadn’t been this hot… the flickering air and the burning sun are a ver dominant part of my image of that truly beautiful 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!

Saranda / Ionische Kueste / Korfu / Ohrid

Von Berat aus nehmen Steve und ich in aller Herrgottsfruehe den Bus nach Saranda. Es wird immer heisser und die Landschaft immer karger, deswegen ist die fruehe Stunde kein Nachteil. In Saranda an der Bushaltestelle, die durch kein Schild und keinen Hinweis gekennzeichnet ist und eigentlich nur aus einer grossen Ansammlung von Bussen besteht, stuerzen sich die Leute mit Angeboten fuer Unterkuenfte auf uns. Wir entscheiden uns trotzdem fuer das Hostel, um dort Internet und Reisetipps nutzen zu koennen.

Das Hostel liegt im 8 Stock eines grossen Appartmentblocks mit herrlichem Blick auf die Bucht von Saranda und auf Korfu. Es haelt uns nicht lange dort, wir gehen gleich schwimmen und schlendern durch das Staedtchen. Es ist nicht gerade huebsch, vielmehr kommt es sehr touristisch daher und am Hang stehen tonnenweise halbfertige Gebaeude. Mit dem Fall des Kommunismus musste man auf einem Stueck Land bauen, um es fuer sich in Anspruch zu nehmen. Viele Leute haben damals ein qualitativ minderwertiges Fundament auf den Hang gesetzt und niemals fertig gebaut. Die schiere Menge an Haeuserskeletten steht in krassem Kontrast zu den aufbluehenden Strandbars und hippen Restaurants an der Promenade. Der Tourismus kommt im grossen Schritten auf dieses Land zu.

Ausser uns ist mit Noveed aus den USA nur noch ein weiterer Gast im Hostel, die Saison ist noch nicht richtig losgegangen. Am Morgen fahren wir zu dritt nach Butrint, um die Quote an UNESCO Weltkulturerbe-Staetten hoch zu halten. Die antike Stadt hat roemische, venezianische und osmanische Ruinen zu bieten – ein herrliches Amphitheater, eine Basilika, ein Kastell auf dem Berggipfel. Die Gelder fuer eine vernuenftige Restaurierung fehlen, alles ist ein bisschen ungepflegt. Das kenne ich aus Griechenland anders. Dafuer kenne ich aus Griechenland aber auch, dass man keinen Tempel betreten darf und ueberall nur auf den ausgeschilderten Wegen laufen darf. Hier koennen wir nach Herzenslust herumklettern. Auch das wird sich sicher bald aendern.

Auf dem Weg zurueck nach Saranda halten wir in Ksamil, der Strand soll sehr schoen sein – aber es sind uns schon anderswo schoene Straende versprochen worden, die dann nur mittelmaessig waren. Umso groesser ist die Ueberraschung:

Ein traumhafter kleiner Kiesstrand mit netten Restaurants und drei kleine Inseln, die man schwimmend erreichen kann. Das Wasser ist glasklar und von einem hellen tuerkisblau wie es mir noch nie untergekommen ist. Abends machen wir alle drei bei Annette, der das Hostel gehoert, eine Sitzung Akkupunktur – entspannter geht es einfach nicht.

Fuer den naechsten Tag haben Steve und ich ein Auto gemietet und fahren die ionische Kueste hoch. Ein herrlicher Strand jagt den naechsten. Wir springen fast ueberall kurz ins blaue Mittelmeer und machen auf der Kuestenstrasse staendig halt, um die herrliche Landschaft zu photographieren. Kuehe am Strand und Ziegen auf der Hauptstrasse machen das Flair malerisch und urspruenglich, wir finden eine verlassene Festung und essen herrlichen Fisch zum Mittagessen am Strand, es wird einfach immer besser. Das aendert sich auch nicht, als wir nachmittags das uns gesteckte Ziel erreichen: den Strand von Drymades. Der Lonely Planet schickt uns auf eine „dirt road“ – aber die gibt es nicht mehr, alles ist frisch asphaltiert, wir muessen die „dirt road“ um wenige Wochen verpasst haben. Deswegen wird die Idylle, die wir erleben, auch nicht mehr lange anhalten. Wir finden voellig verlassene grosse Buchten mit herrlichen Ausblicken auf die Weiten des Meeres. Wir breiten unsere Schlafsaecke unter einem Felsvorsprung aus, Steve macht Feuer, wir haben eine Flasche Wein, die Sonne geht unter, die Sterne zeigen sich. Es ist definitiv eines der Highlights meiner Reise.

Morgens bringen wir das Auto zurueck nach Saranda und nehmen die Faehre nach Korfu. Die drei Tage, die folgen, sind ein Urlaub vom Urlaub: Strand, Sonne, gutes Essen und das ein oder andere Bier in einem Hostel, dessen Anlage eher an Cluburlaub erinnert. Ich habe diese Art von Entspannung dringend noetig und geniesse es in vollen Zuegen.

Der Abschied von Korfu ist auch der Abschied von Steve, der ueber Athen weiter zu den griechischen Inseln in der Aegeis reist. Ich habe mich sehr an ihn gewoehnt und muss mich nun erstmal wieder ins Alleinsein hineinfinden. Die Fahrt nach Ohrid hilft dabei nicht: Ich soll morgens um halb 6 einen Bus in Saranda nach Korca bekommen, der nicht faehrt. Ein Taxifahrer bringt mich fuer ein horrendes Geld nach Gjirokaster, von wo aus der Bus angeblich fahren soll – das stimmt natuerlich auch nicht. Ich bin fast am Verzweifeln, bekomme dann aber einen Bus in ueber Fier Richtung Tirana, der mich irgendwo in der Wallachei bei einem Furgon (einem Minivan, den die Leute hier privat als Bus betreiben) absetzt, welcher mich wiederum nach Elbasan bringt. Von Elbasan bringt mich ein weiterer Furgon an die Grenze zu Mazedonien. Ich muss ueber die Grenze laufen, das ist ziemlich skurril. Auf der anderen Seite erwische ich wieder ein Taxi nach Ohrid. Ich mache drei Kreuze, als ich endlich ankomme, und gehe erstmal schlafen. Wer die Reise auf der Karte nachschaut, wird die absurde Kurve entdecken, die ich da gefahren bin. Aber was lehrt es mich? Man kommt immer irgendwie an.

Ohrid ist ein wunderschoenes Fleckchen Erde. Von der Festung aus ist der Blick ueber den Ohrid-See, das antike Amphitheater und die zahlreichen Kirchen und Kirchlein unfassbar. Die Kirchen gefallen mir am besten. Sie haben eine ganz eigene Architektur mit vielen Kuppeln und Backstein und sind alle mit wunderbaren Wandmalereien geschmueckt. Fast immer stehen die Heiligenbilder vor dunkelblauem Grund, der einen tiefen, unendlichen Nachthimmel suggeriert.

Die Kirche Sveti Jovan Kaneo ist winzig klein und steht auf einem hohen Kliff ueber dem See. Ich zuende dort zwei Kerzen an und muss ploetzlich, kniend auf dem nackten Steinfussboden, bitterlich weinen. Etwas in meinem tiefsten Innern ist angeruehrt von diesem Ort. Ich klettere ueber die hohe Tuerschwelle aus der Nachtstimmung ins Tageslicht zurueck und vor mir liegt in seiner ganzen Schoenheit der See. Es ist bewoelkt in Ohrid, aber auf dem gegenueberliegenden Ufer ueber Albanien funkelt die Sonne. Dankbarkeit durchflutet mich. Nachmittags gehen wir mit einer Menge anderer Reisender aus dem Hostel schwimmen. Wir klettern unmoegliche Wege in eine kleine geheime Bucht hinunter. Das Wasser ist kalt, aber angenehm.

Es giesst in Stroemen, als ich am naechsten Morgen den Bus zum Kloster Sveti Naum nehme. Der Klosterhof ist von sicherlich um die 15 Pfauen bevoelkert, wie ich lerne symbolisieren sie den byzantinischen Glauben. Ich habe noch nie so gepflegte, stolze Pfauen gesehen. Sie wissen sicher um ihre Schoenheit, jedenfalls machen sie einen dementsprechenden Laerm. Das ist skurril, wenn man in der Klosterkirche steht und die Fresken bewundert. Ich sitze lange in der Exedra der Klosterkirche und denke nach. Ich finde langsam wieder zum Alleinsein zurueck. Mir wird klar, dass es mir in Gesellschaft nicht so vorkam, als wuerde ich mich viel und staendig bewegen, weil es eine Konstante in meinem Reisealltag gab. Jetzt strengt mich die viele Bewegung wieder mehr an, aber sie bringt mich auch zurueck zum kribbelnden Aufgeregtsein, wenn es an einen neuen Ort geht. So hat alles seine Zeit, die Geselligkeit und die Einsamkeit, die Unruhe und die Stille.