Spooky Tree

Walking around the island of Zvërnec on the Albanian coast, I had the impression that this tree was watching me.

tree with face

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

Am I too late for the war?

Sorry, but my tank got stuck on the Golan Heights.

But let’s get serious now: why haven’t I written anything yet on the skirmish between Israel and Gaza? There are two reasons.

First, I had been on holiday, and when I don’t have at least a few hours every day to read and analyze the news, then I prefer not to write at all. But then I notice that other commentators are less slow and immediately have a full understanding of everything as soon as they have seen a photo of a dead child (which might well have been killed in a completely different conflict).

Second, I don’t expect any meaningful debate. The same arguments like two years, five years or ten years ago will be exchanged. Two firmly hardened camps will attack each other with the same slogans that I have heard in all other discussions on Israel and Palestine since 1948. The particularly dim-witted one will seek attention by making Nazi comparisons. Nobody will change their mind just because they learn new facts. Nobody will pause and think.

Most of the current debates are so intellectually undemanding and unsatisfying, that war might indeed seem as the better alternative to settle disputes. At least there will be a victor in the end, and then there will be calm for another two years again.

These short Gaza wars are really only useful for one purpose: thanks to them, it’s easy to tell whom you don’t need to take seriously as a conversationalist, journalist or Middle East expert anymore. If someone ignores that a few hundred missiles have been fired from Gaza into Israel since mid-June 2014 but then screams “genocide” and “war crimes” upon the first response by Israel, he is a very selective pacifist. If someone ignores that Hamas hide their missiles in school and private houses and that Palestinians remain in their houses after the Israeli air force asked them to leave, she can’t very credibly discuss the responsibility for killed civilians. Those who use any normal military conflict to start a tirade against “Zionism” put themselves in the far right corner. And I still wait for the person who will provide me with the historical example of a state who didn’t try to defend itself militarily against a continuing missile barrage on its civilian population.

(Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Beitrags.)

Posted in Death, Israel, Military, Philosophy, Politics | Tagged | 33 Comments

These books don’t fit together

On my trip through Albania, I saw some small bookshops in the parks which sold what looked like second-hand books. Most of them were in Albanian, and the only English titles were often textbooks or encyclopedias. Very old ones, usually.

The assortment of different books was sometimes very peculiar, for example when works by Adolf Hitler were next to those by Paulo Coelho, Sigmund Freud and (maybe more fittingly) by Donald Trump.

Mein Kampf CoelhoVolume 14 of a work by or about Stalin was placed next to the Lohengrin saga.

Lohengrin Stalin

Posted in Albania, Books, Travel | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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 , , , | 7 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 | 5 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 Albania, Apulia, Europe, History, Italy, Photography, Politics, Travel | 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