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Tag: Sehnsuchtsort (page 1 of 4)

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

Stari Most in Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina (III)

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

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

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

The Irony of Finding Peace in Bosnia

On my last night in Bosnia this time around (because let’s face it, I will come back!) I sit with new friends in a beautiful tea house in Sarajevos Baščaršija quarter, the ottoman downtown. We drink Salep, a delicious hot drink made of ground orchid spice cooked with milk. It is naturally sweet and tastes like thick vanilla milk. Heaven in a glass.

Salep in Sarajevo, Bosnia

The magical Salep – a true Sarajevan drink from what we learned

The owner of the place, Hussein, speaks German and French, we translate into English for each other, of course the occasional Bosnian word is thrown in. The country’s multicultural heritage comes alive again.
At one point, Hussein excuses himself to us and explains that the call for prayer is on outside and for the next two minutes he will turn off the music. We start listening. Hussein encourages us to keep talking, but I tell him in German that we think the muezzin’s prayer is too beautiful. So he opens the door of the tiny shop and we listen to prayers being thrown and juggled from minaret to minaret. Deeply spiritual, peaceful sounds.

Cajdzinica Dzirlo, Sarajevo, Bosnia

Hussein’s beautiful tea house

When I came to Bosnia this time, I was thoughtful. Overworked and a bit worn out from different things on my mind, yes. But also thoughtful in terms of cultural sensitivity. I do love the country, and I came here looking for peace. Is that ironic concerning not only the country’s history, but also its recent struggle with the floods? Overflowing rivers have done great damage in the North, drowned out whole villages and taken everything from people that have taken 20 years to rebuild their lives after the war. Is it even right to come here looking for peace?

Kovaci, Sarajevo, Bosnia

War graves are ever present in the cities where the cemeteries aren’t shunned to the outskirts

In Mostar I talk to Majda, the hostel owner and, I am proud to say, my friend. During my four previous stays we have formed a bond. We have coffee in town, just the two of us, and talk about life. About finding yourself, getting to know yourself, personal growth. She says such profound things in her beautiful singsong Bosnian accented English. She says: „Politicians are dishonest. I like to surround myself with things that make me happy. Just because bad stuff is out there, I don’t have to talk about it all the time.“
Majda is a heroine. She has seen tough stuff in her life. But she has pushed through and emerged ever stronger, creating a wonderful life for herself. When she links her arm in mine on the way back, I feel the warmth and strength she radiates even more. The many things I can learn from her amaze me.

Majda's, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

Majda’s Hostel – one of my safe havens and favourite places in the world

I also talk to Bata, Majda’s brother and every bit as much the heart and soul of the hostel as she is. We speak about me coming back so often, and I confess my deep love for and neverending fascination with Bosnia and Hercegovina. Bata says: „That’s cool, you’re becoming a bit of an expert on our region. It’s your destiny I presume.“
Bata is a hero. He has taught me almost all I know about the war and the lingering ethnic and religious conflicts in the region. Many travellers gain perspective through his stories and his outlook on the past and the present. He has opened up his life to people from other countries and let them in, and hundreds must have gained a deeper understanding of BiH, but also of life itself through conversations with him. I am pretty sure I would be a different person today if I had never had the honour and pleasure to speak with him.

Bosnian Coffee, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

Bosnian coffee – a drink so intense and delicious you will never forget the taste of it

It may be strange that, looking for balance, I come to a country struggling with inner conflicts, with poverty and corruption, with deep cultural and political abysses and with coming to terms with its own past. But I maintain that it does it for me. It brings me peace. It puts things into perspective. Most of all, it teaches me humility, a widely underrated quality.

Lillies, Pocitelj, Bosnia & HercegovinaIn Sarajevo, the day I leave, I have a breakfast coffee with Unkas, the hostel owner. It is the first time I stay at his place, but I think I may have found my favourite. Unkas is a bubbly, friendly and talkative man. He says: „It is such a beautiful country, my country – and such stupid people.“
I perceive him to be very much a Yugoslav. He’s been married to a Croat and a Russian woman, being of Muslim heritage himself. He embodies the peaceful coexistence of different ethnicities and nationalities that Yugoslavia was all about. But while that is somewhat what they call „yugonostalgic“, he never loses the smile on his face. He speaks about the beauty of our mutual favourite Croatian island Vis with as much verve as he speaks about the beauty of Sarajevo. There is hope.

Slatko Cose, Sarajevo, Bosnia

Having coffee at an amazing patisserie at Slatko Cose in Sarajevo

The taxi driver who takes me back to the airport and I get into talk about travel. I say that I think it’s important to travel while you’re young and see different things. He says: „I was 16 when the war started. I was 20 when it finished. They say those are the best years of your life. They were sure hard for me. When it was over, I struggled to understand there was peace. Then I found a job, made a life. Now I have no job and…“ – he starts laughing hard – „…I think: God, why did you not kill me in the war?

How do you even respond to something like that?

Vandalized monument, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

A memorial to the Bosnian victims of the war – vandalized. The conflict still swelters in some places.

The driver goes on to imitate the different sounds grenades make, and tells me how your most animal instincts tell you when to duck and when to run. He speaks about looking for joy in war time, in the midst of misery, sharing five cigarettes between five people over a period of twenty days, playing music with a guitar and making each other laugh.
Humour is crucial to me when I try to understand Bosnia and Hercegovina. When a Bosnian laughs, it means so much. Because they have prevailed. They have stuck. They have survived. They laugh in the face of life. As Bata puts it: „You tell us you hate us? Well, we’re gonna love you some more!“

Mariella, Pocitelj, Bosnia & HercegovinaI go back to Germany having realized once more that my life is small and in many ways insignificant. The journey has shown me beauty and sadness – inside myself and in this country I love so much. It has above everything, reminded me that I should and will fight for my happiness or die trying.

If you would like to stay at the places I talked about, here you’ll find information on it:
Majda’s in Mostar for Majda and Bata
Balkan Han Hostel in Sarajevo for Unkas
Čajdžinica Džirlo in Sarajevo for Hussein
None of them asked (let alone paid) me to mention them. I just think meeting them will enrich everyone’s life.

 

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?

Stari Most in Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina (II)

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

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

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

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

Photo Hunting in Gdansk

My thing will always be writing. Going somewhere, slowly walking about, trying to take in the space with all my senses and transforming the feeling that I get into words. It is a somewhat sacral act to me. And while I love music and art in general, what I truly am is just a writer.

Yet what would be a more perfect place to elaborate my skills of visual artistry than Gdansk – one of the places that I have tried to capture in words several times, a place I love and cherish, and that I can never get enough of? When I set out with my camera to capture the essence of this true love of mine in photos, I am sure that looking for images that respresent Gdansk to me will open up new perspectives to me and, in turn, inspire my writing anew. And so it does.

Dlugie Pobrzeze, Gdansk, PolandThe crisp winter air is painful in my lungs because it is so cold. Yet I breathe it in deeply as I walk along Dlugie Pobrzeze, the street that lines the Motlawa River, enjoying the crunching sounds the snow makes beneath my feet. The sun is mirrored in the frost and makes everything glisten. I turn right on Mariacka street.

Mariacka, Gdansk, PolandI have always had a thing for this street with its beautiful houses that have strange little front buildings: stairs leading up to terraces from which you enter the houses. I think I have read about their history somewhere, but I forgot what it was. The street is narrow and, now in winter, it is wonderfully secluded and quiet. The way the sun hasn’t reached the street, but only the church that you see in the very end (the largest brick stone church in the world), makes it a more magical little alley, all toned in shadow. Like from a Harry Potter movie.

Details on Mariacka, Gdansk, PolandMaking a turn, there are yet more details to discover. Cast-iron grates. Little pillars. Lanterns screwed onto otherwise unremarkable houses.  Small things that don’t mean anything to your regular by-passer. But I like the way the pillar has that round little nub on top, and I like the leave ornaments moving down from it. I like the grate with its twists and unobtrusive beauty. I like the lantern on the wall, old-fashioned and reminiscent of gas lantern times.Details on Mariacka, Gdansk, PolandLantern, Gdansk, PolandThe turn from Mariacka street has brought me to a little alley that leads right up to the Long Market. This is the core of the old Gdansk. This is where its classic beauty manifests. This is also where it sometimes feels like Disneyland, because after World War II none of this was there anymore. It was all re-made. But I never had the fake feeling here like I had it in Wroclaw or Warsaw. I just think it’s beautiful. It is not my favourite place in the city (we’ll be getting there). But it make my heart wide to stand in sight of the town hall. Town Hall, Gdansk, Poland Looking further up the street, beautiful house borders beautiful house. You’ll find the best Bar Mleczny, Milk Bar, on that street, to the left. It serves delicious Polish food for virtually no money. I love how in this picture I captured the old couple holding hands. I want to walk in a city I love with someone I love, with this natural intimacy on display, when I am that age.  Long Street, Gdansk, Poland Back toward the river, I walk through the Green Gate onto the Green Bridge and turn, and the view that opens up is what makes this my favourite place in Gdansk’s Old Town. View from Green Bridge, Gdansk, Poland But to tell you the truth, I honestly think that if this was all that Gdansk was I wouldn’t love it as much. I would think it too clean, too tidy, too dressed up or perky. I love it because it also has a very different side.

The next day (which you will be able to tell by the weather change in the photos) I go with my friend to Dolne Miasto, a slightly less central, but especially less wealthy part of town. Actually it is just across the Green Bridge and thus very close to the pretty Old Town. But here the streets aren’t well kept and the houses are run down – with few exceptions.

Dolne Miasto, Gdansk, PolandThe houses here have the exact same potential for beauty, but for some reason gentrification doesn’t hit. There is no sensible reason for that, but laws of market seem to work differently in Poland from Germany. Surely the beautiful Kamienice, secession houses, would be renovated and rented out for a LOT of money if this were in Munich, Berlin, or Hamburg.

Dolne Miasto, Gdansk, PolandI adore this picture. It shows the place in all its morbid beauty. The brick stone. The balconies. The way time has gnawed its way into the cold stone. And the woman in the red coat carrying home her groceries on the slippery snowed in sidewalk.

Dolne Miasto is also where there is wasteland left in the middle of the city. Economically that is not good, not smart for the city I am sure. But I like it because it opens up potential as of yet unfulfilled. Once the potential will be fulfilled, this won’t be half as interesting a place anymore. Ironic, I know. But my heart wants what it wants – morbidity and wasteland.

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And things are changing already. Walking back towards the Old Town, with a beautiful view onto the towers of Mariacki church and the town hall, there seems to be construction work going on at the Island of Granaries that cuts through the Motlawa River. But now, all snowed in, the place looks as morbid and out of time as the wasteland above. The ruin of the old granary adds to that. Fugitive. Momentary. Perishable. What a strange thing time is, and how sweetly strange it is when it is visible like this.

Island of Granaries, Gdansk, Poland

Galata Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey

Today, I thought about which bridge I might write about in my Sunday post for quite a while, and digging through my archive I didn’t really come across anything. That is partially due to the fact that ever since I started using my new camera (so much love for my Sony NEX 3n!!), my old photos look crappy. But then I came across this. And I cannot even believe I haven’t used it yet when it makes my heart sing songs that no earthly words can possibly describe.

Galata Bridge, Istanbul, TurkeyThis is Galata Bridge, in Turkish: Galata Köprüsü, in Istanbul. This is the bridge that connects the two sides of the Haliç, the Golden Horn, connecting the districts of Karaköy and Eminönü. Tourists often get confused standing on one side of the bridge thinking that on the other side they see Asia. This is not the case – the Golden Horn is an inlet of the Bosphorus, stretching into Europe, and the bridge connects two European parts of the city.

Being on this Bridge, the Bridge of the Golden Horn, is very hard for me to put into words. I don’t know what it is about Istanbul that caught my heart so forcefully. The fishermen that cast their lines from behind the bridge’s bannisters. The smell of salt water. The sound of waves, ships, seagulls, and of so many people all around you.

The first day I ever spent in Istanbul, I got there early in the morning on a night bus and, before checking in with my couchsurfing host, had breakfast in one of the touristy restaurants under the bridge. It was simple, fresh, overpriced, but delicious. And I felt my heartbeat accustom to the city’s pulse. It didn’t take long until it was in sync. And when I returned to the city, it was the same feeling right away. Istanbul has placed a kiss on my soul, and I have never been the same person ever since.

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!

Sopot on a Winter Day

Sopot. I first got to know it by its German name Zoppot which sounds so much harsher and less accessible than the soft-sounding, sinuous Polish equivalent. Thinking about the place has come to evoke pictures in my mind of when it was a German spa town and people would come here to enjoy their summer retreat, or as the German old-fashioned expression goes: Sommerfrische, a word I love and that translates to summer freshness. I blame that on the beautiful books I have read that are set here and that paint pictures of a distant past that are coloured in the soft tones of patina.

Baltic, Sopot, PolandI have never been to Sopot on a hot summer’s day when the pier costs an entrance fee and the beach must be overcrowded with tourists. My personal associations with the town are not ones of summer freshness. I have, however, been here in the winter. So far most of my visits were accompanied not only by great cold, but also by grey skies. I always liked it anyway because I love the Baltic in all its shades of grey. But the last walk I took through Sopot on this crisp winter day was special. And I will try and share some of my impressions with you.

I walk around the last house that seperates me from the open view ontop the sea, and as I pass the corner, my heart jumps, as it does when I see the Baltic – my favourite sea.

Baltic, Sopot, PolandWhen I finally set foot onto the beach, I can hardly see anything because I am blinded by bright sunlight, mirrored by the snow that has covered the sand in a pocketed white blanket. Wind is making my eyes tear up, and the cold is crawling into my sleeves as I take off the glove and reach for my camera.

I make my way toward the Sopot pier, the longest wooden pier in Europe with its old fashioned ambience. It invites for strolling, dandering, sauntering. If only it wasn’t around -16 degrees today.

Pier, Sopot, PolandLooking North toward Gdynia, the water is smooth as glass and reflects every soaring seagull, every ray of sunlight. To the South, toward Gdansk, the is greyer and less calm. The thick wooden stilts the carry the pier are entirely frozen over with a dense icy coat that produces funny looking outgrowth. They look like mammoth legs.

Pier, Sopot, PolandThe day is blue and white. I cannot even fathom what it could be like in the summer. The idea of green doesn’t seem to fit. This place belongs in the clear and transparent colours of winter. Even the clouds play along with it. Big and white, with silver-grey linings, they collect just above the horizon as though they wanted to cushion the bright blue skies. Looking left and right, the Baltic has frozen over, and a thick layer of snow grazes the ice. Poeple are walking on it.

Snowed in Baltic, Sopot, Poland Snowed in Baltic, Sopot, PolandIt looks a little bit like the froth that waves make. In the original fairytale of the Little Mermaid, when mermaids die, they lose their soul and become froth on the sea. Such a melancholy thought. The little mermaid herself gains immortality for her undying love and joins the spirits of the air. I am sure she is around somewhere.

Walking along the beach it looks surreal how at times it is the sand covering drifts of snow, then again it is snow that overcasts the sandy beach. Different animal tracks can be seen on the untouched surfaces, mainly birds‘. The bare branches are dark and dead against the intense winter colours, but there is life all around, if only it doesn’t always show itself openly.

Beach, Sopot, Poland Beach, Sopot, PolandWhen dusk is setting, the light changes. The colours grow warmer, but the temperature goes colder yet again. Little flakes of ice are in my scarf just below my mouth – from breathing. The light fades, but the beauty is increasing. I find an abandonded boat on the beach. The sight of it sets free all the longing, all the craving, all the wanderlust I carry in my heart year round.

Beach, Sopot, PolandOnce more, I walk down the pier. Because I can. And because as heartfelt absolutely certain as I am that I am going to come back, as much does it pain me to say good bye. Every time. I walk the pier to the very end. On the ice cover in the marina, there is slight, weird movement. I only see it at second glance: The seagulls. They have cuddled up in a huge swarm and sit on the ice in a huge crowd, warming one another. It looks beautiful, a symbol of „united we stand“, of „together we are strong“.

Seagulls, Sopot, PolandThen, something seems to have disturbed them in their corner as suddenly they rise as one into the air. So many individual animals, yet moving in one swift movement, together, forming one body, and setting again as a breathing living cover onto the ice, onto the sea.

Seagulls, Sopot, Poland If this isn’t all too symbolic of my yearning for travel, my craving for flying and still having a home to come back to, of my wish to be myself in all my individuality and still have attachments to others, I don’t know what would be.

Green Bridge in Gdansk, Poland

There had to be a bridge in Gdansk. There was no way one of my favourite cities of all times did not have a bride. In all honesty, though, the most well-known bridge in Gdansk’s Old Town, across the river Motlawa, is not all that exciting. But when you cross it coming from the Old Town onto the Island of Granaries and then turn around to look back – that is when it is stunning.

Green Bridge, Gdansk, PolandThis bridge is called the Green Bridge, Zielony Most, as it leads up to the Green Gate, Zielona Brama. There has been a bridge in this place since the 14th century, while the gate was built in the late 16th century and, so I read, shows Flemish architectural influences – something I have yet to find out for myself since I have never been to the Netherlands.

I have to say that to me the gate is just very hanseatic with its red bricks. Also I quite like gates. In a way, they complement the idea of the bridge – they allow you to pass through somewhere. Of course they have another semantic component when they are closed. But I have never seen the Green Gate closed. Instead, it is always inviting with its four passage ways onto the Long Market and onto the Long Street – the gems of Gdansk’s Old Town. From the bridge you have a view of the Dlugie Pobrzeze, the street that lines the banks of the river Motlawa. In the summer souvenire stands are pressed up against each other there side by side. In the winter it is wonderfully empty and quiet. And cold. Seriously cold. But even the cold is different in Gdansk. It is crisp and genuine and of amazing clarity. Oh, the beauty.

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!

Anecdotes – The Time I Was Taught About Defiance

When I travelled in Central and South Eastern Europe, I had my heart stolen by the town of Mostar in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Mostar is the inspiration for this blog’s title and theme – the place is all about the bridge. And not only about THE Old Bridge, the city’s symbol, but also about metaphorical bridges – between time layers, between ethnicities, between people. I had many experiences there that put my own fortunate life in perspective. One of them was particularly noteworthy, and as is the case with most good stories, it is about an encounter with someone who impressed me.

It was the thrid time on my trip that I came to Mostar, in the worst heat of July. Majda, my gracious host, measured 50 degrees on her balcony in the morning. All one wanted to do was sit by the cool waters of the emerald green Neretva river. One of these insanely hot days, I made it into town anyways in search for a Bosnian coffee kit (a post on the deliciousness that is Bosnian coffee is absolutely in order and will follow!).

Old Town, Mostar, Bosnia and Hercegovina

The Old Town cuteness of Mostar with its many souvenir shops

In the burning heat, going into the air conditioned shops was a temptation, but I was careful not to go into any place I didn’t want to buy anything from, because all the jewellry, scarfs and handbags were hard to resist as it were. Finally there was a shop that sold the cannikins called „džezva“ and the little cups called „fildžani“, and the ones on display outside were really pretty. So I went in.

It was nice and cool in the little room, and behin a small cashier counter there was a man in his thirties sitting and smoking a cigarette. He asked if he could help, and in broken Bosnian I said I was looking for a džezva and fildžani, and he motioned me smilingly to take a look around, obviously happy I spoke his language. He then asked me, again in Bosnian, where I was from. I told him, and he asked which city. „Hamburg“, I said, and he got very excited and said „HSV!!“ – which is Hamburg’s professional football club. I nodded, and he added: „Mostar klub – Velež!“ I knew that Velež was the Bosniak football club of town, and that their motto was „Mostar in the heart – Velež to the grave“. So I said this motto, in Bosnian – „Mostar u srcu, Velež do grobu!“, and my counterpart nearly exploded with enthusiasm. In one quick motion, he got up, obviously to fetch something – and it was only then when I noticed. He was missing a leg.

Shells in Snipers' nest, Mostar, Bosnia and Hervegovina

If you go to the bombed out bank building known in Mostar as the Snipers‘ nest, you will find bullet shells abound spread on the floor – a reminder of war

By this time our little talk and my looking around the shop had been going on for a good few minutes, and I had just thought he was being comfortable sitting there. When he got up, he did it with such matter of course and ease that it baffled me. I didn’t even have time to think it horrible, tragic, or anything of the sort. I was just completely taken aback how I could not have noticed it!

War is ever present in Mostar. You can see it in the buildings – although the vast majority has been restored – and in the people’s faces; you will find someone who is willing to share their story of loss and suffering easily, and you can see the ethnic city divide into a Croat and a Bosniak side of town easily. I had spoken to people about war. I had been to the museums in Mostar and Sarajevo, I had heard of flight, fight and fate. I never spoke to this salesman about his personal story. But the way that he got up so swiftly on his one leg, showing me that this was his daily life, his normalcy, impressed me deeply. He smiled at me with an untainted, open, whimsical look on his face. He had lines in his face, sure, but there was nothing speaking of tragedy in his behaviour. He was just there, making the best of life, his cigarette locked between his lips as he employed his crutches.

He had moved to his board of magnets and looked for one with the Velež sign on it, but hadn’t found one. Instead he gave me a regular Mostar fridge magnet that is on my fridge to this very day.

So in the end, Mostar showed both its torn and difficult past and present and its sublime beauty again – its beauty, which lies in the will of its people to persevere, not give up, and believe in a happy ending inspite of all the ugliness of history. They defy tragedy. They defy life, or better yet, death. It feels like things are condensed in that town. You look into the abyss. And then, again, you find yourself face to face with unearthly beauty and peace.

Waterfront View, Mostar, Bosnia

View from the Western side of the Neretva onto Old Town houses on the river’s other bank

The value of travel has been discussed at large in many different places. All our favourite travel quotes speak of it, innumerable songs have been written about it and hostel common room walls are probably bored with the stories of how amazing and life-changing travel is. I am not here to convince anyone of it who isn’t already. But I will tell you anecdotes that happened to me in my travel life that have changed my perspective on life forever. This is an irregular series on the blog tagged „anecdotes“.

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