Tonight in Târgu Mureș

From my kitchen window in Târgu Mureș, I enjoyed this view tonight while cooking my famous pasta bolognese.

7April2015-1 7April2015-2 7April2015-3

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Bosača – Does anyone live here?

On Mount Ćurevac I had been completely engulfed by fog. It was still bitterly cold. From the surrounding forests of Montenegro the dogs, wolves and bears were barking. The days in October are short. Daylight might last just long enough for the descent into Tara Canyon, 1,300 meters (4,260 feet) deep, but never for the steep climb back up.

Thus I set out to walk back to Žabljak, straight through the forest. The map showed a hamlet called Bosača. Maybe I could get a cup of tea there or warm up my hands. After not having encountered any human being the whole day, it would also be nice to exchange a few words with a farmer, a shepherd or a lumberjack.

To anticipate the outcome: Bosača was the wrong place for a friendly chat next to a warm stove. No sound came from the village. I saw not a single car, no light, no human being. The spooky thing was that I didn’t even see colors. Everything was gray, dark, foggy. Dead, in a way.

Bosaca1Some of the houses stood several hundred yards apart, with barren meadows and remains of wooden and barbed-wire fences between the plots of land.

Bosaca2There, a few cows on top of the hill! At least something is alive.

Kühe1In any other Balkan mountain village, you are surrounded by dogs. Here I neither hear nor see a single one. No bird sings, chirps or flies. The only sound comes from the wind.

Does anyone actually live here? Most of the houses don’t look like it.

old houses

On the other hand, there are still power lines going to some of the houses.

StromleitungHalfway through the settlement, I see the first sign of human life: a fire, already mostly extinguished, but still emitting smoke across the path I have to take.

FeuerI look around to find the fire’s creator and keeper. No one to see. But now I can hear something. Chop. Silence. Chop. Silence. Chop. Somebody is cutting wood, but he is hidden behind one of the houses. The echo in the valley makes it impossible to determine from which direction it comes.

A lonely man with an ax in a village that looks as if only once every few years a stranger is passing through – who in this particular case doesn’t even speak Serbian/Montenegrinan – is not the kind of human contact I am longing for right now. I proceed with a fast pace, trying to make as little sound as possible.

old houses (2)Only once I have reached the forest, I dare to look back. Checking my watch, I notice that today is 31 October. Halloween. This village in Montenegro doesn’t need any hollowed-out pumpkin faces to make you shudder.

(Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.)

Posted in Montenegro, Photography, Travel | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Bahai and their Rules

If I may join the English-speaking tour at 12 o’clock, I inquire from the guard in front of the iron gate. The enormous gardens of the Bahai religion dominate the cityscape of Haifa.

von unten

The landmark of the third-largest city of the Jewish state is the compound of an altogether different religion, just as the Temple Mount with its two mosques is the landmark of Jerusalem. In Tel Aviv only the beach has similarly religious importance. Freedom of religion is nothing remarkable for most of my readers, but here in the Middle East it’s the absolute exception. In the countries neighboring Israel, people are being imprisoned, persecuted and murdered if they belong to any other than the currently dominant strand of Islam. For that reason too, the Bahai came to Haifa.

“This is a religious place. No eating, no chewing gum, no smoking,” the guard in a dark uniform rattles out. He and his three colleagues carry guns in their holsters. My bag warrants only a brief glimpse, then he scans me. To be on the safe side, I arrived 40 minutes early. “The tour begins at the upper level,” he explains. We are standing at the lower level of the hanging gardens. No problem, I still have 40 minutes, I will simply run up the stairs to the top through the gardens. From an earlier visit many years ago, I remember that the upper and lower level of this admittedly steep hillside are connected by an exaggeratedly meticulously trimmed park.

“No, you must take the road and walk around the whole complex.” Great, that will take me three times as long. Apparently, the 700 steps can only be walked from top to bottom. The Bahai always present themselves as peaceful, open-minded, conciliatory. In reality they are pedants, hell-bent on their rules. One could have thought as much, considering the fussily manicured lawn. A religion for stiffs, indeed a market niche in the otherwise rather chaotic Middle East.


Walking towards the direction of heaven, I gasp up the switchback road. At the middle level there is another entrance. The same procedure. May I walk through the park to the top? No, that is not permitted. On foot I won’t be able to make it before 12 o’clock. A taxi driver (who isn’t available at this spot out of coincidence) offers to give me a ride for 40 shekels (10 $). Then I rather come by bus tomorrow. Now I have lost all passion for the Bahai and instead set out to find the cave of the prophet Elijah. I did find it, but you’ll have to wait for a separate article on that.

The next day, there is no tour because it’s Wednesday. That’s OK. Every religion has to offer at least one day off each week, otherwise it couldn’t survive the competition against other beliefs.

I return to Haifa on 21 March. Now the gardens are closed for the New Year, which is celebrated on its Persian date. New Year at the beginning of spring does indeed make more sense than celebrating it in the middle of winter, although none of these alternatives makes any sense to our friends on the Southern hemisphere.

On Sunday, 22 March, my chance has finally come. I get up early enough, climb up Carmel mountain for the third or fourth time during my visit to Haifa and present myself at the upper gate in due time before 12 o’clock. I am turned away. For the guided tour there is an extra gate, a few hundred yards further down. So I trod back. 11:30. “Happy Nowruz,” I greet the guard there, and for the first time a smile appears on the face of one of the members of the Bahai Army. But the registration for the English tour will only begin at 11:45, she informs me, clasping her blue clipboard with both hands and holding it in front of her chest. Exact procedures, by the minute. Under palm and pine trees, in the warm sun, looking on the turquoise Mediterranean, I feel like in a German tax office.

von oben mit Hafen 2

Fittingly, there is an obelisk on the other side of the road commemorating the visit by Kaiser Wilhelm II in the year 1898.

Wilhem II Haifa

A board lists not only the general admonishment to dress appropriately, to refrain from smoking and from carrying weapons on the premises, but also warns that the several hundreds steps may be too much for visitors with weak knees. If the Bahai are running up and down these steps all the time, they can’t have any overweight members. The further warning to always watch one’s step is explained with some level of immodesty: “The beauty of the gardens can be distracting.” A stray dog runs past, a T-shirt in its mouth. Animals are not permitted either, of course.

Then the show gets started. The guard reels off the rules once more. “This is a holy place. No food. No chewing gum. No smoking. Only water to drink, all other drinks are not allowed. You may take photos, but only at the stopping points.” Rules as if I am about to visit a military base run by Mormons. Each visitor is asked to provide first name and country of origin. Because no checks are carried out, one could make the Bahai statistician happy by pretending to be Tongalese or Bhutanese.

Marina, our guide, is out of breath when she arrives. She just gave a tour in Hebrew. But she didn’t have to run up the stairs because there is not enough time between the tours. We are about to fast-forward down the stairs and through the history of the Bahai.

It began in Persia in 1844. The “Bab”, as a Mr Ali-Muhammad called himself from that day, claimed that he had been privy to a divine revelation. The Shiites and the Persian state didn’t find this too funny and arrested the Bab in 1847 in order to execute him in 1850. But this was only the beginning of the religion inspired by the Bab because he had 18 disciples (50% more than Jesus, ensuring that he would have won any football match against the Christians).

Among these disciples, Baha’ullah became the most famous, which again meant that he was imprisoned in Persia. Because his father was a minister, he was not executed but exiled. Stations of his exile were Baghdad, Istanbul, Erdine, Alexandria, Port Said and finally Akko in today’s Israel, but then like all of the previous stops on that journey part of the Ottoman Empire.

Baha’ullah’s shrine in Akko is the Bahai’s most important pilgrimage place, in whose direction all 5 million Bahai pray once a day, as Marina assures us. When I wish her a “Happy Nowruz” as well, she clarifies right away that she is not Bahai herself but simply a tourist guide. Only 30% of the guides are Bahai. If, among 5 million believers, one cannot find enough people to guide tour groups in a beautiful park in a beautiful city in a country where they are not persecuted for their belief (which they still are in Iran), then maybe there aren’t really 5 million, I wonder. Are the Bahai the Greece of religions?

The shrine in Haifa, the marble and granite building with the golden dome, houses the remains of the Bab since 1909. The gardens were only completely finished in 2001. Mount Carmel was chosen as the location because the prophet Elijah, whom I have already mentioned and as whose reincarnation the Bab saw himself, had lived here 2,900 years ago. In the mid-19th century, Elijah was actually quite busy, because already in 1836 he had met with Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormons who did however have visions of God and all 49 other characters from the Bible.

Schrein Bab

Above and below the shrine, there are nine terraces each. This makes 18 terraces in total, like the number of disciples. Very creative. Marina is telling us now that the Bahai faith is a monotheistic religion which accepts all other prophets and which doesn’t rule out further prophets. All human beings, in particular men and women, are equal. The latter point must have been quite revolutionary in the 19th century Middle East. Actually, if I take a look around the region, it still is.

To the left and the right of the polished stairs, water purls down step by step in a 4-inch wide canal. A sea of flowers that puts any botanical garden to shame. If you visit at different times of the year, you will experience different colors. Because Baha’ullah had no light in prison, this element is of special importance. 2,200 lamps lighten up the compound at night.


The next building, which like all other buildings we can only marvel at from the distance, is an acropolis with a turquoise-colored roof. I can’t help it, but the “Universal House of Justice”, the parliament of the Bahai, reminds me of Legoland, at least from this perspective.

Weltregierung Bahai

Nine members are elected for five years. There are no priests and no religious leaders, and the nine-member board is supposed to ensure that no single leader evolves, Marina explains. What she doesn’t say and what I have to research myself later is that all nine current members are men. This whole gender equality thing shouldn’t go too far, after all. I read that women are excluded from the election and that the reason for this shall be revealed at some undetermined time in the future. – And then religions are surprised that people don’t take them seriously.

Between the flowerbeds we walk on pleasantly crunching red pieces of broken tiles.

rote Kacheln

The animal statues on the railings – I notice many eagles – have no religious meaning according to our guide. So they are just kitsch. I believe Disneyland was built at the same time.


Now Marina tells us that Israeli citizens are banned from becoming Bahai. Not Israeli law bars that, but the rules of the Bahai. When they settled here, still at the time of the Ottoman Empire, the Bahai bosses wanted to assure the country that gave them protection that they would not upset the religious status quo. Thus, they ruled out the local population’s possibility to adopt the Bahai faith. The current rules of the Bahai state that questions by Israeli visitors shall be answered, but that this must occur “in a manner without stimulating further interest”.

The English-language tour seems to be run according to the same instructions. Quickly and languidly, dates, names and facts are given. The “Any questions?” at the end of each block of information carries the threatening “DON’T!” with it already. Meanwhile we have reached the shrine, but it is only open from 9 to 12. It is therefore impossible to visit it as part of the guided tour. Very logical. So I’ll take a look at the toilets instead. Luckily, these are not from Persia.

Admittedly, the site is a very beautiful park. It would benefit from secularization.

Garten(Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Berichts.)

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Cable Clutter

In Prilep, Macedonia:

KabelsalatIn Romania (photo by Dominik Lenz):


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First Trailer for James Bond “Spectre”

We still have to wait until 6 November 2015 for the new James Bond film Spectre to be released, but here is a first teaser:

I am not too happy to see the storyline from Skyfall being continued and characters from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace popping up again. All of the older James Bond films did have minor references to other films, but they were completely comprehensible to a newcomer. With this continued storyline and the overload of references, I fear that people who aren’t huge fans won’t enjoy the film as much. Not everyone can be expected to watch the last three films in one session before going to see Spectre. Also, is Mr White trying to copy my hobo look?

Ever since I saw Inglourious Basterds in 2009, I was hoping for Christoph Waltz to play a villain in a James Bond film, so I am looking forward to that.

The part in the trailer about James Bond’s past and the shot of a “temporary order of guardianship” fills me with dismay. The films used to benefit from James Bond being the guy without an interesting past. I don’t want to hear any more about his parents, his siblings and whether he had a dog or a cat when he was a young boy. I want to see contemporary plots with interesting twists. If it will turn out that James Bond is somehow connected to the villain and this connection dates back to his childhood, I will yawn out loud in the cinema.

In any case, I might be on Gran Canaria at the time of the movie release, waiting for my boat to Brazil, so I will have to watch it in Spanish, understanding very little, much like Quantum of Solace which I saw in Mexico in 2008.

(Hier gibt es den Trailer und meinen Kommentar auf Deutsch.)

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Mein Kampf

While in Germany the debate is still raging whether an annotated version of Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf” should be published after the copyright protection will expire (I am in favor of such a publication, because what do we do historical research for, if its results won’t be published), in Romania it is being shown in theater. That’s what I thought, not without some consternation, when I saw this poster outside the National Theater in Cluj-Napoca:

Mein Kampf Plakat

Mein Kampf TheaterResearch carried out once I got home revealed that the only thing giving rise to consternation are the gaps in my arts education. “Mein Kampf” is an anti-Nazi farce about the young Adolf Hitler by the Hungarian director George Tabori.

(Diesen Beitrag auf Deutsch lesen.)

Posted in Books, History, Photography, Romania, Travel | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

I was only gone for two weeks…

Returning home from two weeks of traveling, I step on the balcony to air out my sneakers, which I had been wearing without interruption for far too long. That is when I notice the new tenant which has moved in while I had been gone.

Nest1Of all the prefabricated balconies in the neat residential area, mine must have been the most inactive one, so that the bird couple selected it as its nesting place.

Unfortunately the pigeon is scared and flutters up each time I step on the balcony. Because I don’t want to disturb the brooding of the egg, I am very careful whenever I move onto my balcony now. Slowly, the birds are getting used to me. – Does anyone know how long the hatching process takes? I hope my balcony won’t need to be declared a bird sanctuary zone for the whole summer.


By the way, I don’t put my shoes on the balcony anymore. I don’t want the bird baby to be born with any deformations.

If you are interested, I will keep you posted about further developments.

(Zur deutschen Fassung.)

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