Video Blog: Bank Robbery in Tirana

Walking around Tirana one beautiful afternoon, minding my own business and not suspecting anything evil, I spotted these armed men in front of a bank.

bank robbery 1

bank robbery 2

Quite obviously a bank robbery was in progress. In broad daylight. On the main boulevard of Tirana. Millions of Albanians who had invested their savings in solid pyramid schemes were about to lose everything. And no superhero was around to stop the robbery.

Always quick to analyze any situation and keeping a cool head despite the danger, I realized that I had three options:

  • I could call the police. Except that I didn’t know their number.
  • I could stop the bank robbery myself. Except that I hadn’t eaten anything yet that day and therefore didn’t have much energy.
  • I could film it to provide you with a good story.

So I ducked behind a car, still staying as close to the action as I could, and filmed the ensuing shootout:

(Diesen Exklusivbericht gibt es natürlich auch auf Deutsch.)

Posted in Albania, Films, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Where George W. Bush is still popular

I have never seen a “George W. Bush Boulevard” or “George W. Bush Square” anywhere in the world. For some reason, he is not very popular anymore. I am not even sure if there is any “George W. Bush Street” in the US, except maybe in Texas.

But then I saw these signs just around the corner from my hotel in Tirana, the capital city of Albania: “George W. Bush Street”

rruga George W Bushrruga George W Bush 2

I wonder what American islamophobes will make of the fact that some of the most pro-American countries in Europe are those with a large Muslim majority (especially Albania and Kosovo).

Posted in Albania, Islam, Photography, Politics, Travel, USA | Tagged | 4 Comments

Going West

ferry into sunset

17 July 2014. In the Albanian port city of Vlora (in which Albanian is merely a geographical description because Vlora is such a typical Mediterranean tourism and port city that it might as well be in Italy or in Turkey) I go aboard a slightly older and not too large ferry for the passage to Brindisi in Italy. I am looking forward to a few hours on the sea, which happens to be absolutely calm today.

The setting off is delayed by an hour, probably because there are too many cars trying to squeeze into the ferry. Some of them have to back out again to make space for others and to use the storage room in the most optimal way. The banksmen are playing Tetris with caravans and station wagons. Only later upon disembarkation will I see the result: some of the cars are parked at a right angle, and all of them stand so close to each other that some of the drivers could have gotten out of their vehicles only through the roof hatch.

Yet the ferry is not really overloaded. There are still plenty of free tables and comfortable armchairs. The restaurant is almost completely empty. But I am drawn to the fresh air. Enjoy sun, wind and the sea for a few more hours before I have to return to my desk and my computer after two weeks of holiday.

Sazan view from ferryThe ferry is still in the port, but my basic knowledge of interstellar constellations tells me that if we are going west on the northern hemisphere, the sun will be shining from the port side at noon. Thus I spread myself out on the starboard tween deck. At first the sun hits me directly, but after leaving the port and chugging past the island of Sazan, which is exclusively used for military purposes, a welcome shade is covering me. Only my two feet, liberated from the sneakers and stretched out as far as I can, are reached by the sun’s rays. I light my first cigar; the backpack serves as my pillow. That’s the way to travel. Silly people who pay extra money for a cabin.

Flashback. Vague memories of TV news from back then, refreshed due to my trip to Albania now. 1991, on exactly the same route from Vlora to Brindisi, but also from Durrës to Bari, boats were going west on which no car would have had space and on which nobody could stretch their limbs the way I do now. The boats back then were packed full. More than full. Albania was in a phase of upheaval after decades of communist dictatorship, the future was highly uncertain. Many Albanians feared a violent crackdown by the government against the revolutionary people. Thus they hijacked ships in the Albanian ports and forced the captains to sail towards Italy.

Albania 1991 refugees

The freighter Vlora allegedly had around 10,000 people aboard on its journey to Italy.

Albania 1991 refugees boat

Albania 1991 refugees boat full

Back in the present, July 2014. Albania has become a stable and peaceful country. My personal impression was extremely positive. Some things, from foreign language skills to internet speed, were better than in some parts of Western Europe. And of course the geniality and helpfulness. Three weeks ago Albania became a candidate for accession to the European Union.

It is mostly Albanian families who are on the ferry with me, many of whom have been living in Italy for a long time and have Italian citizenship by now. In Brindisi they carry and roll huge suitcases with clothes, food, electronic equipment and books onto land. In the photos from 1991, nobody even had a little bag or a small backpack.

(Diesen Artikel gibt es auch auf Deutsch.)

Posted in Politics, History, Travel, Photography, Italy, Europe, Apulia, Albania | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

He was a Football Fan

Fussball Friedhof

(Photographed at the cemetery of Prilep in Macedonia.)

Posted in Death, Macedonia, Photography, Sports, Travel | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

We didn’t have money for a real church

After a very steep climb on my hike from Prilep to Treskavec Monastery in Macedonia, I was greeted by this model of a church in the middle of a field which will never be harvested due to its inaccessibility and altitude. I thought I had been duped and that there wasn’t any real monastery and that I had hiked for 10 km into the mountains under the glaring sun to see this toy.

model Treskavec

I didn’t mind because the view was spectacular.

view hike TreskavecAfter a long rest (with lots of healthy fruits for lunch) I continued and finally found the real Treskavec Monastery.

I actually saw these models of churches many times in Macedonia, often outside the real church, sometimes isolated. Does anyone know anything about their purpose?

(Zur deutschen Fassung.)

Posted in Macedonia, Photography, Religion, Travel | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Flower Power


(Photographed in Prilep in Macedonia.)

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Video Blog: Final of Football World Cup 2014

Some people use their annual holiday for the Football World Cup. I only noticed that there even is a World Cup after planning my trip to Greece, Macedonia and Albania. I didn’t care, as long as it wouldn’t lead to trains being cancelled.

Thus, I was in the Albanian capital Tirana on 13 July 2014, the day of the final match between Germany and Argentina. The whole day I had seen people in Germany jerseys, German flags in front of restaurants and bars and on cars, and other black-red-golden markings. During a hike on Mount Dajti, I had met an Albanian who had pointed out that the parents of one of the German players, Shkodran Mustafi, actually came from Albania. But the enthusiasm for Germany seemed to be more general and independent of one player (who had to drop out due to an injury anyway). Already the day before, the lady who owned the pension where I stayed, had told me that she couldn’t wait for this World Cup to be over because she couldn’t bear the constant talk of “Germany, Germany” by her husband any longer.

The match was shown in every bar, ever restaurant, every garden. I could walk through all of Tirana without missing a second of the match. The largest congregation was in the center, where several huge screens had been put up, back to back, to that the viewers could watch from both sides. Each 50 or 100 meters there was another one of these sandwich screens, all the way through the pedestrian zone.

This is where I happened to pass by when the only goal of the match was scored:

And this was no neutral jubilation just because a goal had been scored. Even prior to that, the cheers had obviously been for the German team. I was however shocked to see that even in Albania, which had once been occupied by the Nazis, someone ran around with a “Deutschland über alles” placard. Lack of historical knowledge is a global phenomenon.

This boy couldn’t wait until the final whistle and started burning his flare prematurely:

When the match was finally over, the crowds were dancing as if Albania had become world champion:

Someone had brought along some fireworks (and I wonder if he would have used them for Argentina as well):

From the minaret of the nearby Et’hem Bey Mosque, the muezzin called “Allah u akbar”: God is great. That was really over the top, I thought.

Keep in mind: if you plan to escape the football frenzy during future European or World Cups, Albania is not a good destination. Apart from that, it is a very likeable country.

(Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Beitrags.)

Posted in Albania, Films, Germany, Sports, Travel | Tagged , , | 1 Comment