Facebook page archive 2018 - Dark Tourism (2024)

Again, these are recreations of most posts I put on my DT page on Facebook that has been purged (see full story here), and like the 2020 and 2019 sets it's not 100% complete, for the same reasons (so see the explanation there). And again, the order is reverse chronologically, newest at the top, oldest at the bottom,like it would have appeared on a Facebook feed, but of course you can also go through the posts chronologically by starting at the bottom and scrolling up.

More years are linked up here.


26 December 2018 – morning – Mao galore

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On this Day, 125 years ago, on 26 December 1893, Mao Zedong was born. So here's some cult-of-personality galore to cheer the former “Great Helmsman” of China.

This mass of badges showing Chairman Mao was a display that was part of an exhibition about “Art & Politics” in Vienna a few years ago.

That sort of level of exaggerated cult of personality is these days only to be found in North Korea.


24 December 2018 - evening – apples in Chernobyl

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Season's greetings à la Chernobyl!

These are apples I spotted still hanging on a tree in wintry Pripyat when I was there last month. I thought they made for a nice X-mas-y image – with a twist … since tempting as these apples may look, one should of course not eat anything within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (unless you can be absolutely sure it's from a spot that hasn't been contaminated … they do exist, but Pripyat is unlikely to feature many such spots).

Still, I found this a magical juxtaposition: innocent and yummy-looking red apples in a more or less black-and-white frame with one of Pripyat's abandoned residential apartment blocks in the background. It was one of the more unexpected visual highlights of my latest Chernobyl trip.

Have a nice Xmas!


23 December 2018 – propaganda

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On this Day, 76 years ago, on 23 December 1942, the Nazi German propaganda at home was keeping up its lies (the headline says, basically “everything hunky-dory on the Eastern Front”), while in Stalingrad the most massive defeat of the Wehrmacht by the Soviet Red Army was unfolding, which was soon to be the key turning point in the war. Christmas was not merry for the encircled German troops, ill-equipped for the harsh Russian winter and lacking food and supplies. But hey, you can still lie about it at home or in not-yet embattled occupied territories (as in this case Norway).


Friday 21 December 2018 – Lockerbie

[photo could not be reconstructed as it was a re-post]

On this day, 30 years ago, on 21 December 1988, the deadliest plane crash happened in the history of the UK, when Pan Am flight 103 exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing 270 (including eleven on the ground).

To mark this I'm re-posting the photo from last year's anniversary – it shows the Lockerbie memorial stone at Arlington cemetery, USA.


Thursday 20 December 2018

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Photo of the day: angel detail at La Recoleta cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina.


Wednesday 19 December 2018 – Sakharov's headaches

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On this Day, 32 years ago, on 19 December 1986, Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov was finally released from exile by Mikhail Gorbachev.

Sakharov had originally been one of the USSR's pre-eminent nuclear scientists and is credited with being the “father” of the Soviet thermonuclear bomb (first tested as RDS-37 in 1955). But later in life he became one of the most prominent advocates for peace and an activist against nuclear proliferation, later extending his efforts to broader topics of freedom and human rights. This won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.

However, none of this obviously went down well with the Soviet authorities at home, and so he was eventually exiled to the closed city of Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod) and put under strict surveillance by the KGB.

Only when Gorbachev's policies of perestroika and glasnost were established it paved the way for Sakharov's release and rehabilitation. Yet he didn't live to see the end of the Soviet era – he died on 14 December 1989.

Today's photo shows a bust of the legendary man (either in deep thought or with a bad headache) which is on display at the Sakharov Centre in Moscow.


Tuesday, 18 December 2018, afternoon

Looking on the bright side, as it were, these constant hospital runs have at least educated me further, including on the topic of radiation. Last week I had a head CT scan, and since my interest in all things nuclear had been rekindled by my recent return trip to Chernobyl, I asked the guy who operated the machine if he could tell me the exactly what kind of dose I'd received. He said he'd give me the reading afterwards (as the exact amount varies from person to person and from scan to scan). It was: 137 microgray (µGy).

Now that was a measurement unit that was new to me, so I enquired how that relates to the familiar microsieverts (μSv), the unit those dosimeters used in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone show radiation levels in. He wasn't sure, so I looked it up when I got back home. Apparently “Gray” measures actual radiation absorption of the body, whereas “Sievert” is the radiation itself, “in the air”, as it were. Nominally these two units are numerically identical. So that would suggest that I was exposed to 137 μSv of radiation in the scan (to remind you: the ambient radiation in Chernobyl town is 0.12 μSv, the highest we measured in November was ca. 15 μSv, and on a flight at 35,000 feet it's 1.8 μSv).

HOWEVER: microsievert is measured in connection with a time constant, usually “per hour”, hence the radiation readings were actually 0.12/15/1.8

Can anybody clarify this?


Tuesday 18 December 2018 – Stalin's golden aura

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On this Day, 140 years ago, Joseph Stalin was born. This item seen in today' photo – featuring a gold halo of the Red Tsar – is an exhibit in the (in)famous Stalin Museum in his birth place Gori in Georgia.

The museum is highly controversial for its celebratory depiction of Stalin (though they've meanwhile added an extra section about the dictator's purges and the gulag terror in a separate room), but from a dark-tourism perspective this actually adds a unique layer of time-travel and surrealness.

In the main part of the museum it really feels like time stood still in 1953. The cult-of-personality level is second to none (well, the North Koreans can actually beat it easily, to this day).

Yet the giant Stalin statue that used to stand in the middle of the main square of Gori, was removed in 2010. It was the last one of its type that until then was still in its original place.


Monday, 17 December 2018 – Pripyat 3

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Photo of the Day: just another atmospheric image from my own recent trip to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone … an old sofa and a chair with a light dusting layer of snow; in Pripyat.


Sunday 16 December 2018 – late afternoon

The roller-coaster ride, in terms of my health issues, continues. Instead of doing the full op today, as I had been led to expect, the doctors suddenly decided to do only a partial one (without anaesthetic … really not nice … I'll spare you the details), and after a few hours sent me home again.

The plan now is to get me into the new year “conservatively”, i.e. without any further invasive operations for now, just with meds, and then we'll see how it goes in January. At the latest, the op will now be in mid February. But it may be brought forward again. If only I could be certain.

So I'm (partially) back already, though still a bit shell-shocked. I now have to go back to the hospital as an out-patient every day for post-treatment. But I should be fit for flying, they say.

So on the one hand at least I don't have to cancel Xmas and the post-Xmas trip, which is good. Yet on the other hand I kind of had myself psyched up for finally getting it over and done with. Oh well, now I have to try and be a patient patient again.

All this to-ing and fro-ing, back-and-forthing is a bit annoying, but I guess they know what they're doing …


Sunday 16 December 2018

And here's a pretty cool video of Chernobyl's unfinished Block 5 and the associated cooling towers. The inside shots of Block 5 are especially exciting – as these guys went far deeper into the ruin than we did on our recent trip last month …

Although the over-dramatic element of that guy wearing camouflage fatigues and a full-on gas mask while climbing up some ladder I find a totally unnecessary exaggeration. Nobody needs a gas mask at that site. It would actually be a hindrance in the dark interior, which is full of potential pitfalls, so you really have top watch your step.

My guess is that that guy never wore that mask when off-camera. It's just a dramatization to re-enforce, or at least ride on, those vague misconceptions about the Zone that many people still hold …


Saturday 15 December 2018, evening

Things are suddenly moving more quickly … most likely my operation will be brought forward ... to tomorrow! If so I'll be out of action for a bit, of course. (And it'll also mean that for me Xmas, as well as the fully-planned post-Xmas Malta trip, will have to be cancelled. Bummer!)

BUT: you won't notice, really. That's because I've already prepared and lined up a schedule of posts up until the end of Xmas, so you'll still get daily posts (if FB's automatic scheduling function works, that is). It's just that I won't be able to interact with any comments or messages until I'm back home. If all goes well, that should be in just a couple of days.

Fingers crossed.


Saturday, 15 December 2018

Here's link to a cool website about Chernobyl, mainly a plethora of excellent photos (including some of very rarely seen locations within the Zone – see under “galleries”), but it also features very sound background info about the 1986 disaster, radiation, the NSC, etc. … Warning: browsing this site is an absolute time vortex. If you're into Chernobyl, you may well find yourself exploring this for hours on end (as I did).


Friday 14 December2018

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Photo of the Day: final one in this week's urbex/abandoned places series. This is the fabled unfinished Sathorn Unique Tower in Bangkok, Thailand.

< more on this – and some interior photos – here:

<... and the Wikipedia entry on this:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sathorn_Unique_Tower>


Thursday 13 December 2018

[photo could not be reconstructed]

Photo of the Day: and yet another one in this week's 'urbex' theme. This one shows that sometimes it can involve historic buildings too, outside the modern industrial sphere that is so much more typical for urbexing. This photo was taken in India, more precisely: in the abandoned Taj of Bhopal. Nice symmetry!

<comment: see here for more info:http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/india/15-countries/individual-chapters/1193-taj-bhopal>


Wednesday 12 December2018

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Photo of the Day: and another instalment in this week's “urbex” series … this one was taken inside the ex-canteen at the Soviet former coal-mining ghost town of Pyramiden on Spitsbergen, Svalbard (see the link I added in the comments section).

<comment: for more on Pyramiden see here:http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/svalbard/15-countries/individual-chapters/709-pyramiden-ghost-town-on-spitsbergen-svalbard>


Tuesday 11 December2018

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Photo of the Day: another classic of 'urban exploration': Chernobyl – more precisely: inside an abandoned apartment building in the ghost town of Pripyat …

… atmospherically peeling paint … beauty in decay!

(btw. taken not on my latest trip but the previous one, in May 2015)

< comment: the topic of Chernobyl has featured here so often that it probably doesn't need much background explanation. Otherwise check DT's extensive, and freshly updated, chapters:http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/ukraine/15-countries/individual-chapters/481-chernobyl>


Monday 10 December2018

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Photo of the Day: Beelitz Heilstätten.

Entering and exploring abandoned buildings, so-called 'urban exploration' ('urbex' for short), is a niche category of travel that often overlaps with dark-tourism – as in this absolute classic case (for background see the link I posted in the comment section below!).

< comment: for more on Beelitz, and its various dark associations, see this chapter on DT's main website:http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/component/content/article/15-countries/individual-chapters/1201-beelitz>

< comment: … btw. I've never quite understood why it's called “URBAN exploration”, given that a large proportion of urbex destinations are actually often quite remote and isolated – Beelitz included – and not in cities at all (note: the Latin root “urbs” means 'city', so “urban” should mean 'related to cities'). But maybe it's more some sort of modern, vague, hipster kind of usage of “urban” ...>


Monday, 10 December 2018 #2

To clarify potential misunderstandings about my previous post:

It wasn't meant to say that I'm taking a hiatus from posting on this page altogether. I will continue with the photo-of-the-day posts. The only change will be that I'll cut down on the amount of text that I add to the photos.

There'll still be short descriptions, just not several paragraphs of historical background and evaluation every day, all week (unless it is occasionally especially warranted). It's just an attempt to make my life a little easier while I have other things to deal with – though some of them are actually quite positive and promising-looking, while others I could indeed have done without, i.e. those health issues.

But don't worry too much about the latter. It's nothing life-threatening, just very annoying, distracting, and with somewhat debilitating symptoms at times (e.g. severe migraines). Unfortunately it's taking a long time to deal with and apparently 'conservative' treatment (medication) cannot sort it out any more. So at some point next year – hopefully not too many waiting months away – I'll have to undergo an operation, but it's supposed to be a routine procedure. We'll see. When the time comes that I do have to take a break from posting here because of that op I'll let you know in advance.

But for now I'll keep posting photos ... in fact I already have a themed series lined up for this week, starting later today …


Monday 10 December 2018

I'm afraid I'll have to introduce a change to the regular posts during the week. I will still post a daily “Photo of the Day”, but it will be what it says on the tin: a photo of the day, not an essay of the day, day in day out, week in week out, as some of you may have become used to. But I just can't keep that up at the moment. Sorry.

To partly make up for it, I'll try to add links in the comment sections that take you to more background info elsewhere. And: feel free, everybody, to add your own contributions, links, observations, etc. in the comments too.

The reasons for my cutting down the amount of text in my posts are manifold. On the one hand I have several other things on at the moment that have to take priority (I'll disclose more when the time comes), and on the other hand I also have to deal with health issues that limit my productivity somewhat. So I have to find corners to cut. And I thought that one such corner could be cutting down the amount of text I write to accompany the Photo of the Day posts on a regular basis.

I sincerely apologize to those of my followers who read every post's text in full and have come to expect this daily service. I do hope that after my op next year I can find the time and energy to resume writing lengthier posts again, as I have done for the past few years, but for now I have to limit this effort … On suitable occasions (certain anniversaries, say) I may still write more, but by default I'll limit Photo of the Day posts to just a short one-liner or so for the time being.


Friday 7 December2018

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On this Day, 77 years ago, on 7 December 1941, Imperial Japan staged its surprise attack on the US naval base of Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii (as well as on a few other targets on the island). This was the trigger that dragged the USA into World War Two.

Worst hit in the attack was the USS Arizona, a battleship originally built in the WW1-era and modernized in the 1930s and again in 1940, when one of the Japanese bombs hit the ammunition magazine, causing a massive explosion. Well over a thousand sailors on board perished in the sinking of the USS Arizona, about half of the total death toll of the whole attack on Pearl Harbor.

The superstructures poking out of the water were later removed and the gun barrels salvaged. But the hull and two of the gun turrets were left in place. What remains of the wreck forms the core of the whole Pearl Harbor memorial complex to this day.

Today's photo was taken from the USS Arizona Memorial, a structure that straddles the wreck above water (without touching the hull), and from here you can see bits of the wreck under water. Almost all of the wreck is submerged – only a few bits and pieces poke out above the water's surface.

You can also see that oil still seeps from inside the wreck – as evidenced in today's photo! (The ship in the background, btw., is the USS Missouri, also part of the memorial complex).

Oh, and here's some up-to-date extra info: note that the USS Arizona Memorial is currently closed for refurbishment. Reopening, and resumption of the ferry service to the memorial is scheduled for March 2019.


Thursday 6 December2018

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Photo of the Day: a war game!

On this historic board game it does literally say 'War + Play' (“Krieg + Spiel”), and at the top it says 'Who will win?' (“Wer wird siegen?”). In between are the portraits of the Prussian/German and the Austro-Hungarian emperors. So the context should be clear: World War One.

This is actually an exhibit in the WW1 section in the HGM, the “Heeresgeschichtliches Museum” ('military history museum') here in Vienna, Austria.

This section, like the one at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London, received a complete overhaul and reopened in 2014 to coincide with the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War.

The exhibition in Vienna (previously just a dire, old-school collection of mainly pieces of artillery and hardly any information to go with it, and certainly no historical context explanations) needed this modernization much more badly than its equivalent in London did, but the eventual outcome, I think, even beats the much more famous IWM ... not least in that it captures the aspect of war propaganda more. This applies to the respective WW1 sections only, mind you. Overall, the IWM is still far ahead of the HGM, in particular in its coverage of post-WWII military conflicts. To be fair, little Austria fortunately hasn't had any such armed conflicts since the end of WWII and since the lifting of the Allied occupation in 1955 has been militarily neutral. Whereas Britain … well, you wouldn't know where to begin ...


Wednesday, 5 December 2018

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On this Day, 29 years ago, on 5 December 1989, people stormed the Stasi HQ in Dresden, East Germany, as the GDR was rapidly collapsing in the popular protests that had already led to the opening (and subsequent dismantling) of the Berlin Wall.

At the Stasi, the GDR's secret service, responsible for the persecution and arrest of political dissenters (or even people who did nothing worse than expressing a desire to emigrate to the West), they obviously took note of the changing tide and began destroying incriminating documents – and that's what the protesters wanted to stop when they stormed the HQ, as others had already done at further Stasi HQs, including in Leipzig and at the very top one in East Berlin.

Today's photo was taken in the remand prison that's adjacent to the former Stasi HQ in Dresden. It's now a memorial site that is very much worth visiting. The cell blocks have been more or less preserved as they were. It's certainly very “photogenic” (in that dark sense of the word).

A little aside: just round the corner from this memorial site is the villa that was Vladimir Putin's residence during the time he was head of the KGB in Dresden. It's now a private school, so you can only look at it from the outside, but still … There's certainly plenty of the weight of history to be felt in this area.


Tuesday 4 December 2018 – singed sow from Kurchatov museum of the STS

--- WARNING: cruelty against animals alert!!! ---

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Photo of the Day: a singed pig's head.

Two weeks ago or so I mentioned in a post (on 22 Nov) the Soviet Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan, where the USSR conducted the majority of its atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons, that the test set-up often included pens with animals that were to be subjected to the effects of the atomic explosions.

Pigs were often chosen because they're not so hairy and their skin somewhat resembles that of humans. Unsurprisingly, the test delivered the predictable results, namely that the pigs' skin did indeed get badly burned …

As mentioned in that earlier post, the museum of the STS in Kurchatov has one such singed-pig-head-in-formaldehyde exhibit on display. This is a photo of that. The label says “first and third degree burns on pig's skin” (in Kazakh and Russian).

About the warning at the top of this post … isn't it odd that the topic of cruelty against animals seems to necessitate such a warning … whereas that of cruelty towards humans does not? Maybe that's just because the latter features in the context of DT all the time, and therefore is expected anyway. Or has it to do with the “innocence” of animals, mistreated by us evil humans? I don't know.


Monday, 2/3 December 2018 – Bhopal

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On this Day, or rather last night, 34 years ago, the worst industrial disaster in history happened in Bhopal, India, when during the night of 2 to 3 December 1984, several tonnes of the highly toxic substance methyl isocyanate (MIC) leaked from a tank at the Union Carbide chemical plant in the city. The gas cloud was blown over a densely populated part of the city and over half a million inhabitants were exposed to the poisonous gas.

At least some 4000 people died, possibly four times more (the figures, as you would expect in such a case, are controversial and contested). Since the gas was clinging close to the ground, children were especially affected. And those who died had a really horrific death. The effects of exposure to the MIC gas are burning of the respiratory tract and the eyes and vomiting as the initial symptoms, death frequently followed as a result of choking, convulsions, kidney failure, circulatory collapse, and/or a build-up of fluid in the lungs and brain. The scenes in the streets, as people were trying to run away en masse, must have been totally apocalyptic. And those who made it to a hospital found staff and resources completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster they had to deal with.

To this day there are campaigns for proper compensation, but Union Carbide was later bought up by the mighty chemical-industry corporation Dow Chemical, who deny any responsibility for what happened under the previous ownership.

The plant is still there, abandoned and only partially cleaned up. Locals go in and out as they please, even though there are still toxic substances about. When I was there I was denied access to the plant (foreign visitors are clearly deemed more worthy of protection than locals), so this photo was taken from a distance. Note that the smoking chimney isn't actually at the disaster-stricken chemical factory but is part of some other industrial plant in the distance. Still, I thought it made for an evocative image having it in the background …


Sunday 2 December2018

From The Guardian last week – an example of what can come out when an author writes about a subject he's evidently not remotely familiar enough with. It's full of inaccuracies, half-truths and downright factual falsehoods. Shame on The Guardian for publishing something like this! As a fellow writer once put it to me: it's the “amateurization of writing” that's taking over, evidently including The Guardian. It's a deplorable development, I find.

Btw. I'd normally steer clear of the comments section, but in this case I was alerted to a few fairly good ones. Possibly the best one is this – I quote it here so you don't have to scroll through the section in order to find it:

“So what happened with this article is that a privately educated English guy thought that he could just be a journalist without studying the subject. And he was right! At least that publications would put this utter crap on their website

I say this as someone who lived in Ukraine last year and who spent a reasonable amount of time in Chernobyl. So this guy clearly hasn't gone on a tour of the place because it's relatively expensive (a few hundred bucks). Nothing wrong with that, but at least try and educate yourself about the place

'Scientists say Chernobyl will not be safe to inhabit for 24,000 years.'

Total bullsh*t. Parts of it are very radioactive, but they are out of bounds to visitors. There are several hundred people living there who have a higher life expectancy than the rest of Ukraine. And also several thousand workers who live and toil there daily

'The Zone was once home to more than 120,000 people. Now the population s estimated at around 200, most of whom called Chernobyl their home before the disaster and who refused to leave during the evacuation. Graffiti is evident: the Zone is also home to numerous counterculturalists who secretly found a way in.'

Again, crap. People came back after evacuation to make their lives - they didn't stay. Also, Chernobyl is the region, not the village/town. What this guy says is kind of the equivalent of talking about people who live in New Orleans but saying Louisiana.

'In the weeks after the disaster, swathes of the pine forest downwind from the reactor turned red from the radiation, withered and died. Chernobyl was a wasteland. Now, it could be described as the largest nature reserve in Europe. On YouTube, there are numerous videos of mutated creatures – catfish with flowing whiskers, flower-like fins and long, serpent-like tails. Infact, the Zone has become a haven for endangered animals.'

So one part of the forest is called the red forest - near the border with Belorus. But there aren't any videos of animals roaming this part of the zone because any living creature that goes there dies pretty quickly. Other parts of Chernobyl, yes, there has been an explosion in wildlife, but not the part that this guy talks about; people have to go in wearing robot suits to dump bits of the reactor. Nothing lives there.

'A soldier holds a Geiger counter to a manhole. It reads 36. Anything over 40, I’m told, is bad news. “That’s when the magic happens,” Mila says, with an off-kilter laugh. I am told to stay on the authorised paths. “They have been cleaned.'

The amounts of radiation he talks about are equivalent to background radiation that you'd get in any city in the world over a 24 hour period.

Also, there have been raves and parties and art installations there for years. There are also hotels that you can stay in overnight. And thousands of workers that go there every day. You get checked for radiation at several points going into the zone.

Guardian, this article is woeful. Really inaccurate and sensationalist.”

OK, there is some inaccuracy in this comment too, e.g. about the Red Forest. For starters, that's not “near the border with Belarus”, it's right by the road south of the NPP (Belarus is to the north). And when we drove past we measured only a bit over 5 mSv/h inside the car. In the forest, levels will obviously be higher, but it's nowhere near as deadly as this commentator makes out. The original reddened and dying trees were all bulldozed and buried together with a layer of topsoil in the clean-up operations after the disaster. Today a new forest (not red) has grown there (i.e. is very much alive) and there is animal wildlife too (though apparently a shortage of microbes and insects, so decomposition of leaves and tree trunks is impaired). You shouldn't be camping in this forest, obviously, but you could certainly go in for a short while without wearing special protective clothing. The radiation is primarily in the soil anyway.


Friday, 30 November 2018 – first Rumbula massacre

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On this Day, 77 years ago, on 30 November 1941, the first of the two Rumbula massacres took place (the second followed on 8 December) in a pine forest near the the Rumbula suburb of Riga, Latvia, which was occupied by Nazi Germany after its assault on the Soviet Union in WWII.

It was one of the worst mass shootings of Jews at the hands of the Nazis (and some Latvian collaborators) in the Holocaust. Some 25,000 were murdered at this site. It was a meticulously planned logistical operation … the victims were marched in separate columns all the way from the ghetto in Riga – under some pretext of relocation, so they were instructed to each pack a suitcase with their most important belongings (which were later looted and “redistributed”). But when they got to Rumbula they were forced to strip and were then led to their executions in batches, forced to stand at or inside pits that had specifically been dug out before the operation, where they were shot at close range and fell into the pit. Later batches had to lie down directly on the layer of corpses from the previous batch. Those who didn't die from their gunshot wounds immediately were simply buried alive. The organizer of this “system”, SS officer Friedrich Jeckeln, who had already been one of the key perpetrators of the Babi Yar massacre, cynically called his method “sardine packing”.

After the war, Rumbula became the only place in the Soviet Union where surviving Jews (from Riga) managed to get a memorial erected that did not, as was usual in the USSR, fail to mention that the victims were Jewish, even though some compromise mention of the fight against fascism was included too. This stone, originally erected in 1964, is still there, but the site has been much developed and expanded since the collapse of the USSR. Now there are several symbolic mass graves, some stone plaques and a memorial consisting of a small patch of upright stones (reminiscent of the memorial at Treblinka) and a steel tree in the shape of a menorah.

At the base of the steel menorah tree – as seen in today's photo – visitors often leave little mementoes such as pebbles (as is the Jewish tradition), flowers or little soft toys. If you look closely you can spot a very wet little teddy bear with a bow tie to the left of the steel tree's trunk …


Thursday 29 November 2018

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On this Day, 32 years ago, on 28 November 1986, the Moiwana massacre took place in Suriname, the former Dutch Guyana colony in the north-east of South America. During the Suriname Civil War, the military regime under dictator Dési Bouterse attacked the village of Moiwana, which was the base of the Maroon guerilla group “Jungle Commando” led by Bouterse's former bodyguard Ronnie Brunswijk. Some 35 or so villagers were murdered, mainly women and children, and Brunswijk's house was burned down. The survivors mostly fled across the Marowijne River to neighbouring French Guiana.

At Moiwana there is a memorial to the victims of the massacre – seen in today's picture – and it will be on my itinerary when I visit the Three Guianas next summer!

Bouterse, who had come to power in 1980 in a military coup d'état, was in 1999 sentenced in absentia in the Netherlands (the former colonial power) to 11 years in prison – though not for the Moiwana massacre, but for drug trafficking.

Despite all this, Bouterse managed to have himself democratically elected president of Suriname in 2010 (imagine that!), for which he even collaborated with the party of his old arch-enemy Brunswijk! In 2015 Bouterse was re-elected so he is still running the country as we speak … All this has severely strained Suriname's relations with the Netherlands, which has dropped the country from its development programme and maintains only limited relations with Suriname's president.

Today's photo is obviously not my own (since I haven't been to the site myself yet), but was again taken from Wikimedia, where it is marked as free to use; the source is quoted as “UMBdatabase”.


Wednesday 28 November 2018

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Photo of the Day: Having mentioned Chernobyl Block 5 in Monday's video post, I thought I could follow this up with another post about that very special place.

Here's a photo of the fabled collapsed crane at this site, lying in the water next to another crane that is still standing ... seen from the roof of Block 5. The sprinkling of snow added even more atmosphere to this post-apocalyptic-looking sight. It was certainly another highlight of my recent return trip to the Zone.

Both cranes are in the flooded foundations of what I believe would have become the turbine hall of Block 6, adjacent to Block 5 (whose turbine hall was almost finished – see Monday's video). As construction was halted following the explosion at Block 4 of the NPP in April 1986, the whole site was just left as it was – unfinished forever.

As the foundations flooded, the concrete stumps for the supporting columns became a refuge for birds, who built their nests in them, safely away from any land predators. Of course no birds were nesting when I was there this winter, but I had seen loads of them when I was on the edge of the foundations at the far end of this picture on my previous trip in May 2015.

I always find it amazing to observe life's resilience in such places of disaster and decay. Life always seems to find ways of exploiting new unexpected niches. In general, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone shows very clearly that life benefits more from the absence of humans than it suffers from the radiation contamination left by the disaster. Wildlife is thriving!


Tuesday 27 November 2018 – evening:

For those who understand German – here's a podcast featuring a rather substantial interview with me, for an Austrian travel platform …

– – – – – – – –

Für alle, die des Deutschen mächtig sind, hier ein ziemlich ausführliches Interview mit mir für die österreichische Reiseplattform Urlaubsguru:

<comment: and here the link to the travel platform itself / und hier der Link zu jener Reiseplattform an sich:


Tuesday, 27 November 2018

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On this Day, only four years ago, the eruption of the Pico de Fogo volcano on the Cape Verde Island of Fogo, which had started on 23 November 2014, began destroying the settlement inside the caldera. The settlement, which is/was called, aptly, Chã das Caldeiras, had to be evacuated. On 27 November, the lava flows first cut off the road leading into the caldera, and a few days later the lava reached the houses of the settlement, engulfing most of them and making a community of over a thousand local people homeless. It also destroyed the local small-scale winemaking industry of Chã das Caldeiras. I found the news very sad when I finally heard about it (the disaster was hardly reported at all in the international media), as I had been to this unique place only the year before.

Today's photo was obviously taken back then. It shows a building of an agricultural co-operative that had been destroyed by a previous eruption in 1995 – and in the background the peak of Pico de Fogo looms menacingly ...

Meanwhile, however, I've learned that the community of Chã das Caldeiras has not been completely wiped out for good by the 2014-15 eruption and that some resilient villagers have returned and rebuilt their homes – right on the still warm lava flow that covered their previous houses (so underfloor heating comes for free here, as one commentator quipped).

Even some of the tourism industry has returned as at least two guest houses have reopened, including the one I had stayed at in 2013, whose name is now amended by a “2:0” version tag. These businesses are mainly aimed at visitors intent on climbing Pico de Fogo. And mountaineering tours to the summit have indeed resumed. I'm not really a mountaineer, but I'm tempted to pay a return visit to Fogo just to see what the place looks and feels like now ...

The wine-growing business, on the other hand, still hasn't been resurrected. It's a shame, as I remember especially the white wine from the caldera having a particularly distinctive and intense flavour … But that incentive to visit the place would now not be available any more … I hope it can be brought back somehow as well.


Monday, 26 November 2018

[video could not be reconstructed]

And here's another treat in the form of a video from my recent return trip to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. This was taken inside the turbine hall of what would have become Block 5 of the NPP (but construction was halted for good after the 1986 disaster at Block 4). At first I held by breath as it was cold and breathing out created steam obscuring the camera's field of vision. But then I discovered that it actually looks rather atmospheric with the white whirls against the dark background … so I began to use the effect deliberately. It starts from ca. 20 seconds into the video.

And yes, we “infiltrated” this building, even though it is officially “verboten”, but only briefly. There was an eerie noise coming from the rear of the hall – and at first I thought it was the wind making these noises. But I was later told that there were actually workers doing some decontamination work or something. So it's a good job I didn't venture much deeper into the hall or I might have been caught …


Friday 23 November 2018

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On this Day, 74 years ago, on 23 November 1944, the Nazi concentration camp of Natzweiler-Struthof was liberated by US troops – at least according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's online archives. Apparently the SS had already evacuated the main camp in September, while some of Natzweiler's satellite camps were not disbanded until as late as March 1945.

Today's photo shows the dissection room in the former “medical” department of the main camp, adjacent to the crematorium. At Natzweiler, like as several other such sites (e.g. Dachau, Neuengamme, etc.) the Nazi doctors performed barbaric “medical experiments”, including gassings in a purpose-built gas chamber outside the main camp's grounds to “test” possible antidotes to the chemical weapon gas phosgene.

Natzweiler was the westernmost proper concentration camp of the Nazis, located in the long-contested territory of Alsace, which after WWII became part of France again. Today's memorial complex at the site is thus the only one of its type within France (the camp at Drancy, on the edge of Paris, was “only” a transit camp, not a proper concentration camp). The memorial has been modernized and added to over the years and is now a worthwhile site to visit, including several exhibitions.

However, unlike at the camp memorials in Germany and Poland, an admission fee is levied at Natzweiler (but only for the museum and documentation centre – the original historic site of the camp as such is still free of charge, though you still need to pick up a free ticket to visit this).


Thursday 22 November 2018

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On this Day, 63 years ago, on 22 November 1955, the Soviet Union tested its first true hydrogen bomb. There had been a test of a hydrogen-“boosted” fission bomb before, but this test, dubbed RDS-37, was the first proper, staged thermonuclear fusion device tested by the USSR. The test took place at the Polygon, aka Semipalatinsk Test Site (STS), in the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Today's photo shows a model of the Opytnoe Pole test site at the Polygon, namely a set-up in the museum of the STS in Kurchatov, the administrative town of the nuclear test programme, named after the director of the Soviet atomic bomb research programme.

You can see the array of items involved in such a nuclear test: radiating out from “ground zero” in the centre, are measuring towers at different distances from the explosion, as well as objects such as planes, tanks, trucks, even whole houses and a bridge. The pen represented here to the right of the epicentre would have held farm animals such as goats and pigs – basically 'guinea pigs' on which the Soviets studied the effects of the heat of the bomb on living organisms. One exhibit in the museum is an actual singed pig's head. Gruesome!

But back to nuclear physics: RDS-37 was designed according to what's become known as “Sakharov's Third Idea” (after the Soviet nuclear scientist, designer of the nuclear weapons, and later exiled political dissident Andrei Sakharov). It was basically the same principle of what in the USA was named the Teller-Ulam design. Yet in this case the design was not “stolen” by the USSR through espionage, as had been the case with the very first Soviet A-Bomb RDS-1 (or “Joe 1” as it was called in the West, after Joseph Stalin). Instead, Sakharov is believed to have arrived at basically the same H-bomb design as his US counterparts independently.


Wednesday 21 November 2018

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On this Day, 78 years ago, on 21 November 1940, the Bernburg “Euthanasia” Centre began operating, i.e. murdering mostly disabled and mentally ill patients as part of the so-called “Aktion T4” under the euphemism of “mercy killings”.

Today's photo shows the actual gas chamber in the basem*nt at Bernburg in which these murders took place. The little black slit in the wall is the window through which the Nazi doctors could look in while the steel doors were sealed during the gassings. It can hardly get any more sinister than this.

Almost 10,000 people were killed at the mental hospital of Bernburg using carbon monoxide gas. The victims had been declared “undesirables” by the Nazis, seen as human “ballast”, a burden on the Nazis' idealized Aryan, racially pure and healthy society, and as such “had to be” systematically murdered as part of the “euthanasia” programme.

The name T4 derives from the address Tiergartenstraße 4 in Berlin, where the branch of the Nazi Chancellery was located that was responsible for the organization of the “euthanasia” programme.

In total there were six “euthanasia centres” across the German Third Reich, of which Hartheim in Austria and Hadamar in Germany are probably the most infamous names.

At Bernburg, in addition to the “euthanasia” killings, another 5000 inmates from concentration camps who were too ill to work were also murdered, bringing its total death toll to almost 15,000.

Irmfried Eberl, the head doctor who oversaw the gassings at Bernburg until the “euthanasia programme” was officially halted in 1941 (although it carried on elsewhere in more concealed forms until the end of the war) was in 1942 made commandant of the Treblinka death camp in occupied Poland.

In fact,“Operation T4” can be seen as a direct precursor to the systematic gassing of Jews in “Operation Reinhard”, the most murderous phase of the Holocaust, which also gave the world the nasty euphemism “Final Solution”. It was in fact at the Wannsee Conference, chaired by Reinhard Heydrich, at which methods of implementing this “Final Solution” were discussed, that the “tried-and-tested” way of gassing victims, as in the T4 programme, was decided upon as the “most efficient” way to conduct the systematic, industrial-scale mass murder of Europe's Jews.


Tuesday 20 November 2018

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On this Day, 73 years ago, on 20 November 1945 the Nuremberg Trials began in the German city the trials took their name from and that is located in Franconia, Bavaria, in southern Germany.

Today's photo shows the actual courtroom in which the trials took place – although the furniture is not original. After the Nuremberg Trials the interior design of the courtroom was changed. The room is still in use, but when no court proceedings are actually ongoing you are allowed to look in. This was taken through a viewing window at the “Memorium Nuremberg Trials”, the museum exhibition next door that opened in 2010.

It is well worth a visit, even though the memorial is a bit short on original artefacts (although amongst them are two benches that the defendants sat on in the dock during the trials). But the topic is represented in quite some depth and from all angles imaginable. It also includes an extra section about the equivalent trials held in Tokyo, Japan, from 1946-1948.

The trials made history: it was the first time war criminals were held legally responsible, in this case whoever the Allies could still get hold of from among the Nazi German leadership after the end of WWII. The only “top dog” still alive and captured was Hermann Göring. Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler et al. had all already committed suicide to evade justice. And after Göring had been sentenced to death he too took a cyanide pill the night before the scheduled execution. Someone must have smuggled it into his cell. Who and how is still a matter of controversy


Monday 19 November 2018 #2

[video could not be reconstructed]


I went on a return trip to Chernobyl last week – and amongst the ghost-town gloom and post-apocalyptic appeal there was a surprise chance for a musical interlude. I found an old piano, with a broken keyboard, but some of the strings could still be played by hand. The lowest bass string was particularly inspiring, slightly rattling against the metal of the frame. Obviously all the strings are seriously out of tune, so don't expect perfect harmonies, but it's still a cool piece of improvised musical “avant-garde-ism”. Obviously you have to turn the sound on – preferably loud!


For the more musically-minded amongst my followers: another treat from my return trip to Chernobyl last week. In one of the abandoned school buildings I found a battered piano, whose keyboard was totally damaged but it was still possible to play some of the strings by hand. So I grabbed the opportunity for an unexpected musical interlude – obviously the strings are quite out of tune by now, but it was still possible to create some cool, avant-garde-like modern-musical atmospheres. Turn on the sound – ideally loud (your environment permitting, of course) – and play. I found this quite a wondrous contrast to the snowy ghost-town silence of the Zone.


Monday 19 November 2018

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Photo of the Day: another one from my trip to Chernobyl last week, and one you rarely see in photographic representations of the Zone. This was taken inside the train station of Chernobyl, where every day the workers arrive from Slavutych.

Slavutych is the town constructed at great speed to replace Pripyat, the town that used to house the employees of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant until the disaster of April 1986. After the inhabitants were evacuated, they initially had to find temporary housing until they could move into new apartments in the new town of Slavutych, some 50 km east of Chernobyl.

On my return trip to the area last week I actually went to Slavutych first, visited the local Chernobyl museum there and stayed overnight in a hotel, and next morning boarded the train to Chernobyl, together with hundreds of people en route to work in the Zone. And that was rather special, I must say.

The train route actually passes through the territory of Belarus, but since the train never stops no transit visa was required (nor was a fare charged for the ride). The train crosses the Dnieper River and passes through mostly empty, swampy lands before crossing the Pripyat River and arriving at the station near the Chernobyl NPP. The platforms, as you can see in this photo, are completely covered in metal sheets reminiscent of the “golden corridor” inside the NPP. The atmosphere is made even eerier by piped music being played on loudspeakers dotted around the station (a practice that is also a hangover from Soviet times).

At the end of the platform is a checkpoint where we were met by our guide with the required paperwork, especially the permit for visiting the Zone. It certainly made a difference to the usual entry to the Zone at the checkpoint at Dytyatky through which almost all other visitors pass when going to Chernobyl (and through which we exited in the evening of the following day). At that checkpoint, well-stocked souvenir shops have now sprung up. Nothing of that sort here at the station. And our small group of three were the only ones on the train with luggage.


Sunday 18 November 2018

On this Day, 40 years ago, on 18 November 1978, the so-called Jonestown Massacre happened in a remote northern part of Guyana, South America.

It was actually a mass suicide, not strictly speaking a massacre (a word which implies a perpetrator doing the killing of victims, but here both were rolled into one), when almost the entire commune of the “Peoples Temple” of cult-leader Reverend Jim Jones, on his order, drank or injected a cyanide concoction. Some 900 people, including many children, were left dead after the event – the single largest mass suicide in American history.

The order for the mass suicide (which had already been regularly trained under the code name “white nights”) came after a US Congressman was shot dead at the Jonestown airstrip by Peoples Temple guards. He had been on a fact-finding mission to Jonestown after families of cult members voiced concerns about the well-being of their estranged loved ones.

The Peoples Temple was a strange sect-like community combining twisted religion with ideals of communism and an agrarian utopia that's actually not too dissimilar to that of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge. The increasingly paranoid Rev. Jim Jones had only relocated his flock to a new base in the Guyanese jungle in 1977, as he had come under pressure back in the US.

Today, almost nothing remains of Jonestown. Yet I will still go and visit the place when I'm in the Three Guyanas next summer (the other two are French Guiana and Suriname, the former Dutch Guyana). This has already been arranged, even though I was clearly told that there won't be much to see. Still, I thought it was an important part of my fieldwork in this corner of the world, even if the outcome may well be so meagre that I won't recommend visiting Jonestown to others on my website when I return. But we'll see.


Saturday 17 November 2018

[video could not be reconstructed]

Another special treat ... and for once in the form of a video!

At the funfair in the ghost town of Pripyat in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, this carousel was eerily turning, slowly and as if by its own volition, in the light snowfall and wind ... occasionally the carousel was also even emitting creepy faint screeching noises (unfortunately not audible in this video - but you can hear some birds in the background occasionally!).

Getting to the Zone in the first snowfall of this winter made our arrival extra special. And it created a visually entirely different atmosphere compared to my previous visit, which had been in May 2015, when it was warm and sunny and very green.

I thought that in the snow the whole Zone was even more atmospheric. It also enhanced photography, through the extra light the whiteness of the snow provides. And it made it all much quieter too.


Friday, 9 November 2018

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Photo of the Day: back to Chernobyl!

Please NOTE that next week there won't be any posts on this page – and that is because on Sunday I will set off on another return trip to Chernobyl, Ukraine, until next Friday. This time I'm going to see some interesting additions that'll be all new to me. I'm very intrigued and looking forward to it.

Today's photo is from the last time I was in the Zone (in May 2015) and shows the New Safe Confinement (NSC) structure being prepared in the background, and Reactor Block 4 to the right (with the relocated ventilation chimney stack).

This time I will see the NSC in place, covering the old reactor. So one of the most iconic images in all of DT is gone (and the left part of my logo has become outdated, in a way). But of course it is a good thing, because now the crumbling old sarcophagus can be securely dismantled and thus the site is now much less at risk.

But what I am looking forward to more than seeing the NPP again is the bits in the Zone I haven't yet seen … and also the town of Slavutych, which was purpose-built after the 1986 disaster as a replacement for Pripyat to house all those workers who'd otherwise have become homeless after the evacuation of Pripyat.

I'll report back in more detail on my return.


Thursday, 8 November 2018 – Iron Curtain at Hötensleben

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On this Day, 29 years ago was the last day of the Berlin Wall still standing, and also the rest of the GDR border with West Germany, the most fortified stretch of the Iron Curtain, still looking impenetrable, menacing, deadly … The following day, on 9 November 1989 the Berlin Wall “fell”. Well, not strictly speaking, it was just that the borders were opened, i.e. people were allowed through freely for the first time. Hence in German there is the alternative term “Maueröffnung” ('opening of the wall') in addition to the common, but misleading “Mauerfall” ('fall of the wall').

Obviously the wall didn't just “fall” in its entirety, i.e. it didn't completely disappear over night. Though the speed with which it was almost 100% demolished after the opening of the border was quite remarkable.

The East Germans in their peaceful revolution of 1989 had demanded “Die Mauer muss weg” ('the wall has to go'), and when it was indeed taken down, most people were happy to see it disappear, and fast. Only here and there were a few people aware that perhaps some of it should be preserved as a memorial. In Berlin itself only a few very small portions of the Wall survived, at the official Berlin Wall memorial at Bernauer Straße, a small bit at Liesenstraße, a badly battered stretch at Niederkirchnerstraße (incorporated into the Topography of Terror memorial) and the famous East Side gallery, where a long stretch of Hinterlandmauer (i.e. facing East Berlin) has been turned into a kind of open-air art gallery. None of these relics give even a faint impression of what the wall and the border fortifications really looked like (the ca. 50 metre stretch of “reconstructed” border strip at Bernauer Straße certainly fails resoundingly in that task).

And so, somewhat ironically, it is a part of the border outside Berlin that these days gives you the best impression of what the Berlin Wall looked like. It's this bit at Hötensleben, where the local mayor quickly decided to protect a few hundred metres of the wall and border strip, as well as a couple of watchtowers. The reason why at this point of the inner-German border there was not just the usual metal fence (as seen in the background here in continuation of the wall) but a concrete wall of exactly the same type as in Berlin was the fact that the village of Hötensleben happened to be almost directly adjacent to the border, so the GDR authorities felt they had to make absolutely sure the villagers had no chance of communicating across the border with the West.


Wednesday 7 November 2018

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Photo of the Day: deep inside Mittelbau-Dora.

At a casual glance this may look like it's something for those amongst us who are into “urban exploration”, i.e. the entering (often not strictly speaking legally) of abandoned buildings and underground structures for exploration and, in particular, photography.

However, this place is much, much darker than just that. Nazis, WWII, wonder weapons, concentration camps, slave labour, death … This tunnel forms part of what used to be the Mittelwerk, a huge underground facility inside a mountain in central Germany for the production of V-1 and V-2 missiles, the Nazis' alleged wonder weapons dubbed “Vergeltungswaffe” (hence the “V”), 'retaliation weapon', though in reality they were plain terror weapons aimed at cities such as London and Antwerp to randomly target civilians.

What's more, the work at the Mittelwerk was done mostly by slave labourers from the adjacent concentration camp of Mittelbau-Dora, which was located partly outside (the usual rows of barracks) and partly even within the tunnel system itself. Conditions were amongst the worst of any concentration camp and accordingly had one of the highest death rates (ca. 30%).

Today, there is a good memorial centre in a purpose-built museum and some of the original structures of the former camp can still be seen. But the most important bit is the stretch of tunnels inside the mountain that has been made accessible for visitors. It's only a comparatively small part, but still its as impressive as it is oppressive being in there. In some of the tunnels you can still clearly make out rusting V-1 parts, and near the entrance a whole V-2 engine is on display. This particular side tunnel is just full of unidentified junk.

Needless to say, this wasn't urban exploration in the strict sense, and it was completely legal to enter. However, I had to make special arrangements in advance in order to be allowed to take photos (normally forbidden): after the regular guided tour I was assigned an employee of the memorial centre to take me back into the tunnels so I could set up my tripod and take photographs with long exposures without the feet of fellow visitors on the metal walkways causing shake and blurring the images. I was very grateful that these special arrangements were possible – and it didn't even cost anything extra.


Tuesday 6 November 2018

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Photo of the Day: a dead colonialist.

We haven't had anything from India in quite a while, so today I bring you something from Lucknow, the capital and largest city of the Indian state Uttar Pradesh.

This bas-relief is to be found within The Residency memorial complex, namely in its small museum. It depicts the British commissioner/governor Sir Henry Lawrence who was killed by shrapnel during the first siege of Lucknow in the summer of 1857. You can clearly make out that wound!

The siege of The Residency was part of the general Indian Rebellion of 1857 (in then British parlance “the Mutiny of 1857”, and in contemporary Indian terminology “First War of Independence”), a revolt in several parts of India, in particular in the north, in which the native Indian population rose up against the colonial masters … but were eventually defeated. In Lucknow that took until March 1858, when The Residency was finally taken back by the British.

The brutal reprisals that followed the crushing of the rebellion belong to the darkest chapters in India's colonial history. Captured rebels were tortured and many executed, by hanging, impaling, flaying, burning alive or being tied in front of cannons which were then fired. Human inventiveness clearly knows no bounds when it comes to planned brutality and revenge …


Monday 5 November 2018

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Photo of the Day: in Tirana, Albania, a sign pointing towards, well, not very much in particular … I certainly can't make out a castle, as the sign promises, just an empty plot of land.

Maybe there are some foundations there? Anyway, a quick search on the Internet revealed ... well, also not very much, just that there apparently is a short section of a defensive wall of what used to be the Fortress of Justinian, which is sometimes also called Tirana Castle – except the location of that is given as somewhere else, not where this sign is pointing.

Right in the background however, beyond this empty plot of land, is the National Arts Gallery, well, its back yard. And if you look very closely you can just about make out the shape of two statues (under that solitary tree). Indeed, these are a Lenin and a Stalin, shoved out of main street view into the courtyard behind the gallery after the collapse of communism in Albania.

The inside of the National Arts Gallery is also of interest from a dark-tourism perspective because it has a good selection of fabulously over-the-top socialist realist paintings (think glorious workers, celebrations of heavy industry, jubilant peasants and all that).


Friday 2 November 2018

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On this Day, 2 November, All Souls' Day in Christian countries, it's also Day of the Dead, “Dia de los Muertos” in Spanish – it's a festival, a celebration of death and the dead that is a really big thing especially in Mexico.

People gather in cemeteries at dusk, light candles, eat and drink by the graves of their families and are generally having a good time. Many make and bring colourful mementos, often involving flamboyant skulls. And many also dress up and wear elaborate skull-themed make-up or masks.

Rarely is the topic of death so convivially celebrated anywhere in the world. It's become rather iconic for Mexico in general – hence all those painted Tequila bottles in the shapes of skulls and what not.

I've not had a chance of experiencing a Dia de los Muertos in Mexico itself, and today's photo was obviously not taken there. Instead it is yet another one taken at the unique Museum für Sepulkralkultur (Sepulchral Museum) in Kassel, Germany. Obviously the Day-of-Dead tradition had to be covered in that museum, and this is one of the exhibits in that section.


Thursday, 1 November 2018 – Ivy Mike

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Another follow-up of sorts … On this Day, 66 years ago, on 1 November 1952, the USA detonated the world's first full-scale hydrogen bomb in the test code-named “Ivy Mike” that was conducted at the Enewetak Atoll of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific.

It was the first proper thermonuclear device tested, using the Teller-Ulam design of staged fusion. Its yield was a massive 10.4 megatons! The islet it was tested on (Elugelab) was completely vaporized by the blast, leaving just a crater. The fireball created by the detonation was some 5 km wide and the mushroom cloud reached 17 km into the atmosphere.

And that gave us one of the most iconic images from the Cold War era of atmospheric nuclear testing, probably second only to the famous images of the Baker shot at Bikini in 1946 (which featured here before as well).

I don't know about you, but I am still totally captivated by images like this. It looks scary and menacing, but is also of unique aesthetics, I think. I have to admit I'm somewhat envious of all those who ever had a chance to see such an otherworldly spectacle with their own eyes. Though I am of course not calling for a resumption of atmospheric testing (it screwed up Earth's atmosphere enough back then), let alone any use of nuclear weapons “in anger”. Getting rid of them altogether would be ideal (but it's a hopelessly idealistic wish, I know). Yet I just cannot escape the allure of the visual beauty of images of those tests.

This image was, again, gleaned from Wikimedia, and is marked as free to use (taken from a photo collection of the CTBTO (Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization).

I'll put a link to the page that clarifies the copyright situation in relation to this image in a comment below.

<comment: here's the link to the Wikimedia file citing the copyright clarification:


Wednesday 31 October 2018

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Photo of the Day: a follow-up to yesterday's post, as it were. This is the lid of a Minuteman ICBM silo in North Dakota, USA.

We often comfort ourselves by being relieved that the Cold War came to an end without turning hot – i.e. without the total nuclear apocalypse it would have been, most likely wiping out human civilization and much of the planet's natural world in the process too.

But it's not like that danger has completely vanished. On the contrary. There is currently talk of a new kind of Cold War developing … as the West's relations with Russia have been strained in recent years, and with increased military spending both in Russia and in the USA, but also in the emerging new superpower China.

And it's not that the Cold War nuclear weaponry ever went away. The US and Russian arsenals were merely reduced – but still hundreds of missiles have remained in service and are ready to fire.

In America the mainstay of this arsenal are the ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) of the type Minuteman III. These solid-fuel rockets with nuclear warheads are stored, ready to be launched at any time, in underground silos dotted around northern states of the USA. Some 400 in total.

This site in North Dakota is actually a memorial now, a decommissioned silo, no longer containing a missile, the lid permanently closed. It is associated with the nearby Oscar-Zero Launch Control Center that has been turned into a tourist attraction. Both spooky and strangely fascinating, I found …


Tuesday, 30 October 2018 – Tsar Bomba

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Sorry for not posting anything yesterday – but I'm making up for it today – with a bang ... a big one!

On this Day, 57 years ago, on 30 October 1961, the Soviet Union detonated the largest thermonuclear device in history, the so-called “Tsar Bomba” (officially RDS-220), with an unbelievable yield of 50 Megatons! (And it was even scaled down, originally it was supposed to be 100 MT).

Today's photo shows a model of the bomb casing for the Tsar Bomba, which is on display at the Atomic Weapons Museum in Sarov, Russia.

Unfortunately I've never been to that museum and probably never will, because Sarov is a closed city for foreigners, as it is still Russia's centre for nuclear research.

So this photo isn't mine, but again one taken from Wikimedia where it is classed as (CC), licensed under Creative Commons, so I'm free to use it as long as I attribute it to the author, who is given as “User:Croquantwith modifications by User:Hex".


Monday, 29 October 2018 - NOTHING


Friday, 26 October 2018

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On this Day it's Nationalfeiertag (National Day) in Austria, when the Austrian military shows off its hardware, such as this helicopter, with great pride (which, given the size of the country and its military, I've always found this a bit over the top).

The location seen in this photo is "Heldenplatz" ('Heroes Square') in Vienna, with the Hofburg Palace in the background, with that balcony from which Hitler declared the “Anschluss” back in 1938, when the people of Vienna so heroically resisted … er ... hang on … no … er … hmmm

Anyway, it's usually a real “Volksfest” (tricky one to translate, that … it's certainly not 'folk festival', rather a 'popular event', though that doesn't really capture it either) with lots of people attending. In addition to hardware demonstrations and displays there are always also food and drinks stalls, music, talks, and games … especially, of course for the kids (gotta get them early).

This photo was taken a couple of years ago. Today, however, I won't attend. Instead I'm actually flying away, namely to the UK (only to attend a wedding, no dark tourism is planned). And therefore I also won't be posting anything until Monday at the earliest, possibly not before Tuesday.


Thursday 25 October 2018 – Cosmonaut glorification

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Photo of the Day: a follow-up to yesterday's post about early US space exploration. Today I give you one from the other side of the (former) Iron Curtain, a mosaic glorifying Cosmonauts of the Soviet space programme, depicting a “spacewalk” by a cosmonaut (note the “CCCP” helmet!) with a Soyuz spacecraft above the surface of planet Earth in the background.

I love such socialist-realist artwork – and fortunately you can still encounter such artwork all over the former Eastern Bloc, even more than a quarter of a century after the demise of the USSR.

This particular piece, however, may be under threat. It's to be found on the walls of what used to a regional government IT department (“Rechenzentrum”) in Potsdam, near Berlin, in the former GDR (East Germany). It's long been vacated and currently provides space for some artists' studios. But its future is uncertain. The reason is the location, partly on the ground of the former Garnisonkirche ('garrison church') that was damaged in WWII and later torn down by the GDR authorities. Currently, however, there is an initiative campaigning for the reconstruction of the church – with some powerful and prominent advocates for that idea. If the whole church, and not just the spire, is to be rebuilt that would mean the Rechenzentrum has to be demolished. There's still a lot of controversy about all this and a final decision has not yet been made. But the clock is ticking, as contracts for the use of the building will run out in a couple of years' time.

I just hope that the magnificent socialist-realist mosaics that ring the outer walls of the ex-Rechenzentrum at the ground-floor level can somehow be saved, whether on-site or by moving them somewhere else.


Wednesday 24 October 2018

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On this Day, 72 years ago, on 24 October 1946, the very first image of Earth as seen from outer space was taken from an altitude of ca. 105 km.

It was taken by means of a camera mounted to a rocket that was fired from White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, USA.

Now, what's the dark link? Well, for one thing the White Sands Missile Range was also the place where the very first atomic bomb was detonated (in the Trinity test). And secondly, the rocket used, officially called V-2 No.13, was indeed a modified V-2 missile …

As is well enough known, the V-2 was the first terror weapon in the form of a missile, and was devised by the Nazi German research team at Peenemünde under Wernher von Braun – who was later also the man to kick-start the American space programme … and before that of course also the military development of ICBMs to deliver nuclear warheads. So the Americans not only happily used German hardware but also the same personnel that had previously worked for Hitler. Wernher von Braun managed to become much better known later as the “father” of the US Moon landings in the Apollo programme. But it all started with the V-2 and the Nazis.

I think that is enough of a dark link …

The photo, by the way, is obviously not mine but a public domain one, as it is the work of the US Federal Government (produced for the US Army), and I gleaned it from Wikimedia.


Tuesday, 23 October 2018

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Photo of the Day: a follow-up to yesterday's post about battlefield tourism. In a way visiting war ruins is also a form of battlefield tourism. And this is an example from my trip to Bosnia & Herzegovina back in 2009. Today's photo shows a monument in Mostar, which was damaged by the war that raged there in the 1990s. You can also see bullet holes in the concrete block to the right in the foreground. And in the background you can make out a whole house left an empty ruined shell by the war.

The monument, or fountain, to the left, has meanwhile been repaired, as I know from having seen more recent photos from Mostar online.

When I was there, a whole street of ruined houses was undergoing refurbishment too, which I presume must by now long have been completed. The most famous ruin of Mostar, its iconic “Old Bridge”, had already been reconstructed in 2004.

The most dramatic war ruin in Mostar that I encountered, however, was a gutted former bank building, a hyper-modern plate-glass-and-concrete affair, whose tinted window panes were all shattered in a fantastically aesthetic manner, real beauty in ruin. I wonder whether that fabulous war relic is still there … I somewhat doubt it, as modern war ruins – and of a modern utilitarian building at that – are rarely seen as worthy of preservation. So it's probably been either refurbished too or possibly torn down and replaced with something different.


Monday, 22 October 2018 – battlefield tourism

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Photo of the Day: inside the Military History Museum, Dresden, Germany

This excellent museum also featured last week (that exploded suicide skull!), so I'd like to come back to it and point out that the thematic exhibition part has so many angles, not just death, but also, for instance, “war and music”, “war and animals”, “war and play”. And one section is entitled: battlefield tourism, as seen in today's photo.

But what exactly is battlefield tourism, and to what degree can it be understood to form part of 'dark tourism'? As far as I can see, there are at least three very distinct interpretations of the compound noun 'battlefield tourism'.

One is travel to actual battles, in order to watch as the battle rages. Apparently that wasn't so uncommon before the modern age, and battles such as Waterloo (Napoleon's final defeat) are said to have attracted a number of bystanders who were just onlookers. And this is what that section at the Dresden museum is about.

Such casual battle-watching, for entertainment of sorts, has more or less disappeared with the advent of modern warfare. There is no longer really any safe distance from where to watch modern wars. If you're close enough to see, then you are IN it, endangering your life. War correspondents often have to do this, but tourists? Hardly. Although it is rumoured that some rich Russians travelled to Bosnia in the 1990s to get up close to the ongoing war there (and even paid money so they could take a few shots themselves at Sarajevo civilians as the city lay under siege). If you can even call that tourism at all (I have my doubts) then at least I wish to make it absolutely clear that this sort of thing is firmly excluded from my definition of dark tourism.

Another interpretation of 'battlefield tourism' is “battle re-enactments”, as featured in one of the episodes of the recent Netflix series “Dark Tourist”. This action-game-like activity is practised in various parts of the world, and with regard to various wars (American Civil War, Napoleonic Wars, Spanish Civil War and of course WW1 and WW2). People dress up in uniforms of the two sides, and play war, with fake explosions and guns firing blanks. They are theatre-cum-fun-games gatherings of like-minded people. But is it tourism? Isn't it more like meeting up with some mates for match of football? Again, I have my doubts it can be classed as dark tourism. (After all, there's no sightseeing involved, unless you count people not actually taking part and simply watching from the sidelines – but does that happen? I genuinely don't know, because it's a scene I'm quite unfamiliar with and I have next to no interest in changing that.) And if it is something other than tourism, then it can't be 'dark tourism' (sorry, logic dictates).

This leaves us with a third interpretation of 'battlefield tourism': travel to sites of PAST battles. And here we finally do get firmly and unequivocally into prime dark-tourism territory. There is in fact a whole tourism industry specialized in this, in particular with regard to the battlefields of the First World War , e.g. around Ypres, Belgium, or the Somme in France. Another classic of battlefield tourism in this war-history-travel sense, are the D-Day beaches in Normandy, France, and all the memorials, museums & war cemeteries in the area. More exotic battlefield tourism also exists in the Pacific, as many islands such as Guam or the Solomons are rich in WW2 relics such as plane and tank wrecks, Japanese fortifications and also diveable shipwrecks.

So in that sense of 'battlefield tourism' it is one of the categories of dark tourism. In the other two senses, I contend, it is not.


Sunday 21 October2018

I uploaded a couple of long-overdue reviews of books about dark tourism onto DT's main website – here's the link to the first one, a book by Lonely-Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler called “Dark Lands” (already published in 2013, but I just re-read it and thought it worthy of a review). Do take a look.


And here's the review of a more recent book that I had already announced on this page a while back: “Shadow Trails – Adventures in Dark Tourism” by Tom Coote. Now the review is ready for perusal … also worth a look.



Friday 19 October 2018

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Photo of the Day … and the last one in this week's skull theme: a smashed-in skull on display in a temporary special exhibition a few years ago at the Museum für Sepulkralkultur (Museum of Sepulchral Culture) in Kassel, Germany.

The special exhibition was mostly about torture and the death penalty and the various methods employed for inflicting pain and executing people throughout history, from ancient historic (for instance they had a replica of the Tollund Man in Denmark on display) to the present day (e.g. with statistics about which countries still have the death penalty and how much they make use of it … can you guess who's number one?).

There were also a few displays exemplifying that sometimes death wasn't even enough and the shaming had to continue in the way the body was buried – e.g. with the head severed and placed separately between the legs, or by burying dead dogs with the human corpse.

Unfortunately I cannot recall what the story with this smashed-in skull was. I checked my photo archive, but I don't seem to have taken a picture of the accompanying text label/info panel for this exhibit. So I could only speculate … But I'll leave it.

Have a nice, preferably headache-free weekend …

< comment: chapter on the Sepulchral Museum here:

http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/germany/15-countries/individual-chapters/212-sepulchral-museum-kassel >

< comment: and more on the Tollund Man here:

http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/denmark/15-countries/individual-chapters/175-tollund-man-silkeborg >


Thursday 18 October 2018

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Photo of the Day: next one in this week's skull series, this time a 'suicide skull' ...

This artefact is on display at the Military History Museum in Dresden, Germany. It's the skull of a WWII soldier who committed suicide by shooting himself through the mouth with a 7.9 mm gun. He had taken a whole mouthful of water first so that when he fired the shot, the water expanded like an explosion, cracking the whole front of the skull.

The name of the soldier is unknown, the exhibit was prepared in the 1960s. You can only imagine what level of desperation must have pushed this person into this drastic method of escaping the horrors of war.

The display of such exhibits at the museum is discreet, by the way, not openly shocking. It's part of a section separated from the rest of the main exhibition, and you have to enter through a separate entrance where a sign warns of the graphic content. So visitors of a weaker disposition have the option of avoiding it. It's just one of the clever and thoughtful elements of the design of this museum, which I regard as possibly the best war/military-themed museum in the world. It's just so different, so non-celebratory of war and military “honour” and all that, but looks at its subject matter from a multitude of angles. Death is just one of those. But of course the one that's at the core of the topic … That is why war museums are dark-tourism attractions, after all.

< DT's chapter on the Military History Museum in Dresden:

http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/germany/15-countries/individual-chapters/370-military-history-museum-dresden >


Wednesday 17 October 2018

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Photo of the Day: another one in this week's skull theme, this one in the form of a mosaic.

Apart from real skulls for display, or replica ones (I own a few myself), the skull is also a popular decorative icon. You find it in fashion everywhere these days, or as shop window decoration, as jewellery, and what not.

Here is a skull that formed part of mosaic I saw in the staircase leading to the Siege Exhibition at the History Museum in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, when I was there in 2009.

The exhibition had a few rather graphic images from the days of the Yugoslav wars and the almost four-year-long siege of Sarajevo. Yet there is no connection between the horrors and deaths that dark chapter in history brought and the skull in this image. The building was there before, and, so I very much presume, was this skull mosaic. Whether there is any meaning to it beyond the decorative, I don't know. It's part of a larger, rather modernist, mosaic in the staircase … I'll post a full image of the mosaic in a comment below. If anybody can enlighten me to its meaning/symbolism, I'd be much obliged.

<comment: this is the full mosaic – can anybody say anything about its meaning, and especially the role of the skulls in it? >


Tuesday 16 October2018 - Trunyan skull with coins

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Photo of the Day: skull with coins at a Trunyan burial site, Bali, Indonesia

Putting coins next to (or even inside) skulls seems to be a practice common in various parts of the world – I've seen it, for instance, in Bolivia and Colombia too. It's probably for good luck or to ward off any evil spirits or some such superstition.

This Trunyan burial site is better known in dark-tourism circles rather for its unique kind of funeral tradition. Here the bodies of the deceased are not actually buried, i.e. in holes in the ground (“six feet under”), but put inside bamboo “cages” on the ground where they are left to decompose in the open. (A “fragrant” tree is said to get rid of any bad smells from the rotting corpses – but that may just be mythology.)

When the bodies have fully decomposed, the bones are scattered in the forest and the skull is placed on a ledge for display, as the only permanent memento of the deceased to be kept.

This particular skull is special in that it is separate from the others and placed at the entrance to the site. So it's the one that greets you first when visiting the place.


Monday 15 October2018

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Photo of the Day: skull perched on a ledge inside the Paris Catacombs.

In a convoluted way, this a follow-up to last Friday's post, with that sunset photo of the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima. I described the ruin as one of the most iconic DT sites, the dark-tourism equivalent of the Eiffel Tower.

Images of skulls are another classic in dark-tourism illustrations. They feature on the cover of books about dark tourism, and a skull image is the key component in the logo of the Institute of Dark Tourism Research.

Nothing symbolizes death as much as a skull.

This particular skull is just one of thousands upon thousands you encounter when visiting the fabled Paris Catacombs. Whole walls are formed of skulls. This one sits separately atop a ledge made of bones.

Even so, it has no individuality. There's no name tag. We know nothing about the person it once belonged to. We know nothing about what went on inside this head when it still had a functioning brain. And we know nothing about what brought the person's life to an end. Although you have to wonder whether those two holes are a clue … But maybe these were made after the body was buried and had decomposed? Again we have no way of knowing … We are just left with the visual aesthetics such images doubtlessly have.


Sunday 14 October 2018: moving to Chernobyl

Wanna move to Chernobyl? Apparently property prices are really low there.

But seriously, people have indeed done so, and for that reason … but also because they had to flee their original homes in eastern Ukraine, where the war between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces goes on with no end in sight. So some people, whole families even, moved to new homes right outside or even inside the Exclusion Zone. "It's better to live with radiation than with war", they say.

In fact, the risk from radiation is limited, but complicated. Atmospheric radiation levels are negligible these days, but the distribution of radioactive particles in the soil and in plants is complex. And it is from ingestion of such particles that the real risk comes from. Still, there are plenty of perfectly safe patches where growing vegetables, and even picking wild mushrooms, is quite unproblematic.

Anyway, this is an article well worth a good look – not just for the fascinating stories, but also for the excellent photography.


Saturday 13 October 2018

Update on Buzludzha, looks encouraging ...


Saturday 13 October 2018

Taking selfies at concentration camp memorials is bad enough, but this is another step too far, way too far. It corroborates what I just read the other day about Holocaust education getting ever more difficult (that was about the UK, but I guess in Poland it's no easier, especially in the current nationalist climate).

But still, if you actually ARE at Auschwitz, then you must have at least a basic clue as to why you're there and what kind of place it is (quite probably they were on a school trip, in fact), so this kind of prank must be beyond ignorant and insensitive, i.e. deliberately provocative and offensive. Or else just infinitely stupid!


Friday 12 October 2018

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Photo of the Day: A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima at sunset …

I noticed that over the past several weeks we've had various less well known, often off-the-beaten-track or even obscure and exotic dark-tourism sites featured on this page. So I though it was time to have something famous and prototypical again for a change. And it really doesn't come much more iconic than this … And I also like it as a picture, with the sun captured just as it passed behind that low window …

The A-Bomb Dome is still Hiroshima's prime landmark, and it's so iconic that it's something like what the Eiffel Tower, Tower Bridge or the Colosseum in Rome are for mainstream tourism – instantly recognizable and almost symbols of travelling …

The story of the A-Bomb Dome is probably well-enough known, so I can spare myself a summary here. Otherwise look for the link I put in the comment section below and follow that up to learn more.

<historical info on the A-Bomb Dome here:

http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/japan/15-countries/individual-chapters/456-a-bomb-dome-hiroshima >


Thursday 11 October 2018

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On this Day, 119 years ago, on 11 October 1899, what became known as the “Second Boer War” or “Anglo-Boer War” started, which took place in what today is South Africa. It ended less than two years later with a British victory.

But that victory came at a high cost, including moral costs. During this conflict, the British resorted to a ruthless 'scorched earth' policy, in which they burned down homesteads, destroyed crops, slaughtered livestock, poisoned wells, and salted agricultural fields so they couldn't be used again.

The extreme measures directed at Boer civilians included the creation of the concept of 'concentration camps' (yes, I emphasize this again: it was a British idea first, not a German one, though admittedly the German Nazis took it to altogether worse levels later). These camps on the African mainland were mainly for women and children. And about 25,000 of those interned in these camps did not survive, about a quarter of the total number.

The captured men, POWs, on the other hand were sent to camps outside Africa, into exile. And the first such place to receive Boer POW exiles was the remote island of St Helena, which I visited in August this year.

Some 5,000 Boers were housed in tented camps at two locations on the island. One of them, on Deadwood Plain, is marked by this sign. Of the camps themselves, nothing remains, since they were built only for temporary use, with no solid structures. So without the sign, you'd never suspect anything at all at this location …


Wednesday 10 October 2018

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"Can you control the unstable reactor?" ... (see below!)

On this Day, 61 years ago, on 10 October 1957, the “Windscale Fires” became the first major nuclear disaster to raise the public's awareness of the risks of nuclear technology. It still stands as the worst such accident in Britain.

The plant where it happened is what later became known as Sellafield. The actual reactors have been undergoing decommissioning for a long time, but parts of the plant, especially storage facilities for highly irradiated materials, remain in operation.

Until only a few years ago, there still was a visitor centre at Sellafield, with a relatively large and highly educational exhibition. Unfortunately this has meanwhile been closed. Parts of the old exhibition have been integrated into a new one in nearby Whitehaven, namely into the “Sellafield Story” exhibition within the “Beacon Museum”.

One particular exhibit that I remembered well from the original Sellafield exhibition, and which is shown in today's photo (taken in 2008), I could not find in the new one, though. It was an interactive console, on which you could play a kind of “game”: in it you had to try to bring reactor 4 at Chernobyl back under control (the one that blew up in 1986)! These were the instructions:

"Can you control the unstable reactor? / Use the + and – buttons to keep each part of the reactor in the safety zone. / A warning siren will go off if any of them go too far. / If you let any of the dials move out of the safety zone, or take too long to get the reactor under control, you'll hear another siren as steam builds up and the reactor explodes. / Switch the reactor into test mode to begin" … I tried it, and it was hard, near impossible.

But I found the very concept remarkable: playing nuclear catastrophe in an interactive kids' game!?! It takes some dark humour and, let's say "unconventional pedagogy" to come up with such an idea …

<comment: here's my chapter about that new exhibition in Whitehaven:



Tuesday 9 October 2018

Today I allow myself a repost from last year, on the occasion of the 55 anniversary of the Vajont Disaster. I don't think I could put it much better in words or find a better selection of photos to go with it than last year. So I decided, for once, to make an exception from the no-serial-repeat-posts rule I've normally imposed on myself (because those things annoy the hell out of me on clickbait sites such as “Abandoned Spaces”). But I promise I won't make a habit of it on this page … But here we go, this was the post from this day last year:

[not reproduced here - look in the archive for 2017]


Monday 8 October 2018

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Photo of the Day: Green Hell, The Lost World

After last week's theme of deserts and extreme dry spots, following the previous week's watery disasters, I was trying to find some middle ground to return to. And then I thought of this.

This photo was taken from a little Cessna plane over the jungle of the Venezuelan hinterland of the Gran Sabana, the “green hell” of the “Lost World”, with its mystical table mountains ('tepuis') and endless swathes of impenetrable jungle. You don't want to go down with your plane in such a remote jungle …

Flying so close to the towering rock face of the tepui felt a bit dicey, given the uninhabited jungle green hell below, but those pilots flying there know what they're doing.

This was when we were coming back from a flyover of Angel Falls, the world's tallest waterfall, which drops almost a kilometre from the top of Auyan Tepui, which itself is the largest of the fabled table mountains of the region.

It also bothered me somewhat on the transfer flight to Canaima, the tourist oasis within the Gran Sabana, which took a good couple of hours in such a tiny five-seater plane over endless jungle, that the fuel indicator on the pilot's dashboard hovered just above 'empty' the whole time. It was obviously just broken (the plane was over 30 years old), so you had to trust the pilot having fuelled up properly before the flight.

This is an old photo, by the way. My trip to Venezuela was over ten years ago, around the end of 2007 and New Year 2008, long before Hugo Chávez popped his clogs and the country descended into free fall under his successor. I didn't have the best camera equipment at the time, so please excuse the comparatively low photographic quality of this image.


Sunday 7 October 2018

I've meanwhile managed to watch the recently released documentary “Michael Palin in North Korea” (you can still find it on YouTube … but probably not for long, so hurry, or else you'll need a suitable VPN to access it if you live outside the UK).

I must say I very much enjoyed the programme! Firstly, it brings back plenty of incredible memories from my own trip to the DPRK all those years ago (it was still the reign of Kim #2 then, and I even saw him!). Secondly, I like Palin's style in general, and especially in this. He was clearly positively surprised by the experience, and at some point calls it the “most revealing” of all his travels (and he has travelled a lot!).

Watch this live interview with him to learn more … it's also highly entertaining in its own right.

(The example clips don't play in this, though, so maybe you should watch the two parts of the programme in full length beforehand, to get the most out of this.)

<obviously many things have also changed since I was in North Korea in 2005. Back then all those apartment blocks were still grey. Now they've been painted in those crazy, kindergarten-like bright colours, they look almost surreal. And those new high-rises on the riverbank are quite remarkable too – and of course the now mirror-glass-clad Ryugyong Hotel. Back then it was just a concrete shell. Yet so many things remain exactly the same, including the cult of personality and the propaganda and the absurdity of so much of it …>


Saturday 6 October 2018

What destruction can mean in the strange parallel universe of art auctions:

A painting just sold for the incredible sum of one million Pounds at Sotheby's instantly begins to self-destruct by feeding itself through a shredder cunningly built into the bottom of the picture's frame.

Now you'd think this prank (by incognito artist Banksy) would create despair and outrage … but no. They reckon that this spectacle may actually have INCREASED the value of the work … Possibly even doubled it!?!

That's the crazy world of modern art. But to be quite honest, I, too, prefer the piece in its semi-ruined state over its original, comparatively rather mundane appeal.

… not that'd have the ludicrous funds necessary to buy anything like this anyway. And even if I did, I think I'd find other ways of investing the money … Just think of how much dark travelling you could do for a million!


Friday 5 October 2018

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Photo of the Day: dry valleys, Antarctica

Having mentioned the desert-like moonscape of Iceland on the edge of the Arctic in yesterday's post, here's the absolute extreme at the other end of the globe … to finish the 'dry theme' of this week.

This is a satellite photo of the area in Antarctica called the McMurdo Dry Valleys, a string of valleys devoid of ice cover and with extremely low humidity.

This is in fact the driest spot on Earth, drier even than the Atacama (see Monday's post), though unlike the latter, the dry valleys are not classed as a 'real' desert.

The reason these valley are ice-free is due to the mountain ranges around it holding back the glaciers and the ice shield that otherwise covers almost the entire Antarctic continent. Yet even those parts that are covered by that ice shield, which in some places is miles thick, are in effect desert-like. As all the water is bound in ice, and almost constant strong winds sweep across the ice, so the humidity in the air remains extremely low.

This image is obviously not my own photo, but one I gleaned from Wikimedia and that is classed as in the public domain by NASA. It was taken with the Japanese 'Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer' (ASTER) technology on board the Terra Satellite, which was launched by NASA in 1999. This particular image was taken in December 2009.


Thursday 4 October 2018

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Photo of the Day: the moonscape-like interior of Iceland (on the Kjölur Route).

We normally think of deserts as places in hot climate zones, with sand dunes baked by the relentless sun and daytime temperatures in excess of 50 degrees Celsius.

But not all deserts are like that. Even the Arctic has deserts. This is one of them. The highland interior of Iceland is indeed quite arid – at least where there are no glaciers or lakes or rivers. As you can see here: large swathes of terrain are completely barren, just dry volcanic rubble.

No wonder, then, that NASA used locations in Iceland's interior to train astronauts for the Apollo Moon landing missions and tested the moon rover here.

By the way, even though this looks like a completely lifeless desert, you are not allowed to go fully off-road here, i.e. drive off that track you can see meandering through this moonscape. That's because life does try to get a foothold, even on such scraggy land, and steering a 4x4 through the extremely thin and delicate topsoil that is trying to form would wreak havoc on it.


Wednesday 3 October 2018 – Aral Sea

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Photo of the Day: more dry desert desolation …

Not all deserts are natural. Here is an example of one that's entirely man-made: the Aralkum. It's named after the former Aral Sea. That's where it is located and that's what was once one of the world's largest lakes has become: a dry, salty, toxic desert. (See also my post of 22 September!)

This photo shows one of the former fishing vessels that got left on dry land after the desiccation of the Aral Sea. A silent reminder of a fishing industry long gone but that once supplied hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fish to the rest of the Soviet Union.

But then came irrigation for agriculture – in particular cotton. The two rivers feeding the Aral Sea were almost completely diverted to irrigate a vast monoculture of this thirsty cash crop. Overambition, misplanning, lack of environmental understanding and the Soviet mindset of following orders from above and that five-year-plans model of the economy are probably all to blame for this catastrophe. It stands as one of the largest-scale man-made environmental disasters ever …

This photo is actually a repost from two-and-half years ago, and it was originally taken in 2011 on my grand tour of Kazakhstan, namely at the Zhalanash ship cemetery. Scrap metal scavengers were already taking these wrecks apart bit by bit then. My guide estimated that in a few years down the line nothing at all would be left of them. So this is by now probably a historic photo of something that is no longer to be seen. Everything's ephemeral …


Tuesday 2 October 2018

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Photo of the Day: continuing on the theme of dry land … The Atacama desert featured in yesterday's post may be the driest desert on Earth, but for most people, so I presume, when you say the word 'desert' it's going to be the Sahara they first think of, conjuring up images of endless sand dunes with the odd camel caravan ploughing through the inhospitable landscape.

And OK, I can feed that cliché too, so here we go: sand dunes and camels.

However, this was taken not in any of the countries typically associated with the Sahara desert, such as Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, Mali, Niger, Chad, Mauritania … but in the country bordering the latter to the south: Senegal. So nominally outside the Sahara proper.

Yet this is a desert, called “Desert de Lompoul” and it is a kind of “exclave” of the Sahara, a small area, comparatively (only 18 square kilometres), of Sahara-like landscape, and actually filled with sand just like in the Sahara. In fact Sahara sand is regularly blown into Senegal by the wind – and onwards across the Atlantic – from the Sahara. So there is a real connection.


Monday 1 October 2018

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Photo of the Day: desert!

Dry ground I promised you at the end of last week, and dry ground I'm giving you. Especially also after last weekend's new disaster involving deadly water too (the Sulawesi tsunami – see yesterday's post).

In fact it doesn't get much drier than this, not on Planet Earth at least. This is the so-called Moon Valley in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. Given the colour of the rock and sand, “Mars Valley” would perhaps have been more appropriate. In fact this scenery has stood in for Mars as a filming location in sci-fi movies about Mars. Moreover, NASA tested their Mars landers of the Viking 1 and 2 missions here.

Anyway, the Atacama desert is indeed the driest true desert on Planet Earth – in fact some parts of it never receive any precipitation (and are hence completely devoid of any forms of life), others do occasionally get minimal rainfall but the water evaporates before it hits the ground. Those parts that do receive some rain occasionally average at as little as 0.04 to 0.12 inches annually. That's as good as nothing.

Geologists have a word for this: hyperaridity. I guess a few of you reading this will have learned a new word there ;-)


Sunday 30 September 2018

Just heard about the earthquake and tsunami disaster in north-west Sulawesi, Indonesia. The images bring back memories of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami (also Indonesia, then off the northern tip of Sumatra near Banda Aceh). Such horror.

And as I was looking through a photo gallery that came with the article in The Guardian online an advert interspersed between the disaster photos must be a candidate for the worst-placed ad of the year: promoting a last-minute beach holiday in Greece, complete with a happy young couple frolicking about in beach holiday gear and the waves of the sea in the background. How inappropriate! In the context of a tsunami! I took a screenshot for evidence – the picture below ...

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Now, in the past you would have asked yourself who that unthinking idiot was who placed that advert there, but these days of course it's all automatic, IT, just algorithms, etc., so you can't blame either The Guardian or TUI for this (but perhaps Google?). Anyway, this case is really not the best example of 'artificial intelligence' … more like 'algorithm stupidity/callousness' …


Saturday 29 September 2018

Article about the difficulty of managing historical sites associated with the Nazis in a time of resurging neo-Nazism.

So far the few remnants of the Berghof have simply been ignored and commodification focused on the documentation centre and the tunnels of what were the bunkers underneath Platterhof, as well as the so-called "Eagle's Nest" (actual name: Kehlsteinhaus), of course, which survived the war unscathed.

The latter is often confused with the Berghof. While the mountain-top teahouse, a gift to Adolf Hitler on his 50th birthday from Bormann and his circles, was visited by Hitler only on a couple of occasions (and he never stayed there), his actual home at Obersalzberg was the Berghof. It was here that all those famous images of him holidaying in picture-book mountain scenery were shot ... or those amateur film snippets shot by Eva Braun.

After the war, the ruins of this house were bulldozed over and what little was left was just left to rot and become overgrown. But now even the smallest bit of rubble seems to attract unwelcome attention again ... So what to do?

One option could be the approach applied to the Führerbunker in Berlin – sealed, concreted over, not a trace to be seen. (It's been called “the world's most infamous non-site”.)

But I tend towards agreeing with the curator interviewed for this article. Actually facing it and tackling it head-on, by making the former Berghof a proper memorial site included in the general circuit of Obersalzberg and thus bringing lots of proper heritage tourists (and that includes us dark tourists) there would make it more difficult for neo-Nazis to use the site as a kind of Hitler-worshipping shrine. For that they'd need it to be secluded and almost secret, certainly not with lots of other “ordinary” people about.

Nuremberg-like mass gatherings may be the neo-Nazis' ultimate goal, but for now they prefer to operate more undercover and within their small closed circles. So making the Berghof a proper, officially visitable part of the documentation centre and thus getting a majority of visitors of a non-Nazi persuasion there could indeed help to outweigh the Nazi attention.

Some commodification through information panels that leave no doubt about the evils of the Nazi era should probably accompany this. (A similar thing has been quite cleverly done at the documentation centre at the Congress Hall in Nuremberg!) Disgruntled neo-Nazis may not like it (and there is a risk of desecration and vandalism), but it may indeed be better than just letting them have the site to themselves, unwatched and unchecked.


Friday, 28 September 2018

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On this Day, 24 years ago, on 28 September 1994, another one of history's worst civilian maritime disasters happened (cf. Wednesday's post!), when the “MS Estonia” ferry sank in the Baltic Sea en route between Tallinn, Estonia, and Stockholm, Sweden. 852 lives were lost in the disaster.

Today's photo shows one of the monuments commemorating the sinking of the “MS Estonia”. This one is in Tallinn, just outside the Old Town. It's called “Broken Line” and you can see why: its main part consists of two halves of a symbolic bridge that don't quite meet but leave a gap.

The “Estonia” disaster came about through a combination of design faults, material failure, incompetence on the part if the crew and bad weather. The latter alone would not have had such disastrous effects, as autumn storms in the eastern part of the Baltic Sea are far from uncommon. The main cause for the sinking of the fully laden vessel (which was already slightly listing due to uneven weight distribution) was that water entered through the bow, as the bow visor and ramp (for loading/unloading cars through the front) failed and partly tore off in the heavy waves. The bow visor/ramp were not visible from the bridge, and the inspections that were carried out when the first metallic noises were heard from the bow visor failed to detect the problem.

Once water entered the car deck it created the so-called free surface effect: water swirling around on the deck, as the ship rolls in rough waters, accumulates on one side which makes it difficult for the ship to right itself and stabilize. Soon this caused the vessel to list so much that it capsized. Apparently the crew also failed to raise the alarm properly and generally were found too passive in handling the crisis.

The disaster led to several changes in the safety requirements for ferries – but the sunken wreck remains in situ. Since most of the dead bodies are still inside the hull it is considered a mass grave and is out of bounds. The Finnish Navy monitors the position of the wreck by radar to prevent any illegal dive operations …

So, this week has been quite full of watery tragedy. Next week I'll try to stay on dry land more …


Thursday 27 September2018

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On this Day, 54 years ago, on 27 September 1964, the British TSR-2 made its maiden flight from Boscombe Down in Wiltshire.

Today's photo shows one of only two surviving airframes (and the only complete one). It is on display at the RAF Museum at Cosford, which I visited in December last year. (Don't look for a chapter about that on DT's main website; I still have to draft that …).

The TSR-2 was probably the most ambitious project in British aviation in the Cold War era, and one of its biggest failures. The plane was supposed to be a supersonic nuclear bomber and reconnaissance aircraft, utilizing state-of-the-art technology in every aspect of the design. It was begun in 1959, but only three flight-ready prototypes were completed before the project was suddenly cancelled in 1965 due to a large number of technological problems and, primarily, because costs had spiralled out of control. For many British aviation enthusiasts this cancellation still leaves a bitter taste

Yet it remains an absolute icon of the Cold War era (for Brits at least). This particular prototype is on display not in the museum's Cold War section, however, but in the Test Flight part, which also features a number of similarly wild designs that are less well known.


Wednesday 26 September 2018

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On this Day, 16 years ago, on 26 September 2002, one of the worst civilian maritime disasters happened, when the Senegalese ferry “MV Joola” capsized off the coast of the Gambia. Only 64 survived, 1,864 did not.

Today's photo shows the memorial dedicated to the disaster in Senegal's capital city Dakar, which I visited in 2013. Of course, the French “Place du Souvenir” does not designate a 'place for buying souvenirs' but means 'square of memory', or rather 'memorial site'.

The ferry sank during a violent storm, but the main reason it capsized was that at the time it was carrying about three to four times the number of people than had been its design capacity … and about half of the passengers didn't have tickets. Many slept on deck, making the vessel additionally top-heavy and unstable. Moreover, the ship was supposed to sail only in coastal waters but was actually far out to sea when it capsized at about 11pm.

What's worse, many could have been saved, since the ferry didn't sink immediately after capsizing but stayed afloat for about four hours with hundreds of passengers trapped inside. Survivors reported of screams and hammering from inside the hull. When the ship finally sank at about 3am, it took all those who couldn't get out and were awaiting rescue with it to the bottom of the sea.

Local fishing pirogues managed to fish a few survivors out of the water, but proper official rescue operations didn't start until several hours later, arriving at the scene in the morning when it was already too late.

Needless to say, the circ*mstances of the disaster caused a major outcry and even political crisis in Senegal and soured relations with its former colonial power France (several French nationals were amongst the victims, and hence France launched its own investigation into the causes of the sinking).

Senegalese football star Aliou Cissé, who played for the English club Birmingham City at the time (and is currently head coach of Senegal's national team), lost twelve members of his family in the Joola disaster and took part in a charity match against Nigeria to raise money for the families of the victims.

The government offered only some 22,000 dollars compensation per victim … and though several officials were fired because of the mishandling of the disaster, nobody responsible for the overcrowding of the vessel was ever prosecuted.

Sadly, overcrowding of ferries continues to be a major issue, in South-East Asia and Africa especially, as the recent ferry disaster on Lake Victoria in Tanzania demonstrated yet again. Here too, the boat carried well beyond twice as many as was its official capacity …


Tuesday 25 September2018

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Photo of the Day: oil industry detritus off the coast of the Caspian Sea near Baku, Azerbaijan.

This image was taken at the northern tip of Artyom island, which lies just off the Absheron peninsula, namely back in 2010, on my grand round trip of the Caucasus.

I was reminded of this the other day by a reader who enquired about some obscure structures (not oil-industry-related) in nearby Sumqayit. The latter is more infamous for its crumbling chemical industry, while some parts of Absheron and the coast south of Baku are littered with remnants of the oil industry … as well as quite active parts. Oil is still the major export of this little country in the Caucasus.

In fact it is one of the oldest centres of the oil industry in the world – and home to the world's first off-shore oil-drilling platforms – some of which you can see in today's photo in the background. It was hard enough to get to this location, and I've heard that meanwhile it has become even more difficult. Apparently officials don't want normal mortals, and certainly not foreign tourists, to see this. So I'm glad that with the help of a daring enough guide I managed to get to see this. I found this a most wondrous otherworldly scenery with an almost post-apocalyptic Mad-Max-like aura. I was totally captivated by it.

And if you've seen the 1999 James Bond film “The World Is Not Enough” this may look a bit familiar. In fact parts of the movie were shot at Neft Daşları, the oldest of these structures (built from 1949), and one of the biggest: a whole city on stilts 55 km off the coast, reachable only by helicopter. Hundreds of oil workers live there, on and off, mainly in a residential core with several-storey-high blocks of flats, while the rest of the structure consists of oil-drilling platforms stretched out over a vast area, connected by some 300 km of roads on stilts... and of course pipes galore. Only a part of that system is still active, many others are no longer maintained and so are slowly rusting away.

Unfortunately, without the influence and money of an international film crew, or some insider connections to the very secretive Azeri oil industry, it's impossible to visit that wonder of the industrial world that is Neft Daşları. I would have loved to, but there's simply no way. If anyone of you reading this do know of a way, please let me know …


Monday, 24 September 2018

Photos of the Day: at Polhawn Fort, Cornwall, Great Britain.

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I've recently been asked a lot (mostly in interviews) how I got into dark tourism. And part of my standard reply to that is that I've always been into it, even long before I became aware of the fact that this term 'dark tourism' even existed. I first encountered it some time in 2007. By then I had already been to such quintessential dark-tourism destinations as Ground Zero in New York, North Korea, Robben Island in South Africa, various concentration camp memorials, and: Chernobyl. The latter was even part of my honeymoon! That was because in 2006, exactly 12 years and a day ago, to be precise, I got married – and it was a Gothic wedding. Dress code: black! The venue was Polhawn Fort in Cornwall, seen in the first of today's photos, and the so-called “first dance” involved a theatre prop coffin we had hired, seen here in the second photo. So it was 'dark' … in a theatrical, fun way.

Given that context you may understand why at the time I first came across the concept of dark tourism, the word 'dark' had no negative connotations for me. On the contrary, in the Gothic scene (music & fashion alike) 'dark' is rather a positive term and an integral part of it all (there is even the sub-genre dubbed 'dark wave' – and nobody who is part of the scene finds it morally dubious). I think that's also why I did not have that reflex of puzzlement and repulsion on first encountering the expression 'dark tourism' that so many others seem to have (along the lines of: “huh? What's that? Sounds dodgy …”). Instead I thought: “hey cool – so that's what I am, a dark tourist – should have guessed it ...” And I instantly wanted to know more and devote more travelling time to specifically exploring this niche. The idea for starting my website dark-tourism.com was soon born out of this.

But back to Polhawn Fort. This in itself can almost count as a DT site, given that it was a coastal fortification constructed between 1862 and 1867 as part of a series of so-called Napoleonic Forts – built at a time of tension between the UK and France (during the reign of Napoleon III, hence). Its purpose was to prevent hostile landings on Britain's shores. Given that nominal function, Polhawn Fort was actually a bit of a folly. That's because it's located at the rear of the Rame peninsula, looking towards Whitsand Bay, not towards the English Channel. In other words: it was built facing the wrong way. Had there been any hostile landing, it would much more likely have taken place on the south coast of the Rame peninsula facing France. And the enemy troops could have just walked across and entered the Fort through the back door. Hence the military soon lost interest in the upkeep of the Fort and sold it into private hands in 1925. Today it's used as an unusual wedding venue. Just the ticket, we thought, when we discovered it.

<comment: actually, when I said “dress code: black” that's not quite correct, because other permissible colours for the Gothic theme include dark purple or red … as you can see in the background (that's in fact me and wife, well, our legs ;-) ). >


Sunday 23 September 2018

Interesting: out of these TripAdvisor list of “Top 25 Museums” of the world, just released a couple of days ago, at least five have to count as dark-tourism destinations – proving that DT isn't necessarily as weird and exotic as the media routinely try to portray it as.

At No. 2 is the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York (that's not such a huge surprise to me, though), the National WWII Museum in New Orleans at No. 8 (much more surprising to me – and I haven't even been to that one yet!), the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) at No. 10 (and that's an extremely dark museum!), Tuol Sleng at No. 21, and Yad Vashem at No. 25. You can possibly argue that the Vasa Museum in Stockholm at No. 12 can also count as at least in part dark (as it is about a shipwreck)

And all these sit comfortably (?) amongst such world-leading institutions such as the British Museum, the Louvre and the Hermitage. Remarkable.


Friday 21 September 2018

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On this Day, 19 years ago, on 21 September 1999, the Jiji earthquake hit central Taiwan. At a magnitude of between 7.4 to 7.7 it was the second deadliest quake in Taiwan's history, claiming almost 2500 lives, injuring over 11,000 and causing massive damage to buildings and infrastructure, making ca. 100,000 people temporarily homeless.

The earthquake also raised questions about shoddy construction methods which many believe exacerbated the damage and death toll.

The town of Wufeng was particularly badly hit by the disaster. Today's photo shows the former Guanfu High School building that sustained major damage. It is now part of the “921 Earthquake Museum” (921 obviously after the date, in the order of month-day, as in America – cf. 9/11).

I haven't yet been to Taiwan, but this museum would be top of my priorities if/when I go (together with the similarly named “2-28 Museum” in the capital city Taipei, which commemorates the uprising and massacres that started on that date in 1947.)

And since I've not yet been to the site myself this photo is obviously not my own. I gleaned it from Wikimedia Commons, where it is marked as free to use, as long as I provide the following info


Date: 3 May 2003

Source: own work

author: Hsu.shihhung


Thursday 20 September 2018

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Photo of the Day: another medical one, following on from yesterday's jars for pickled brains, here is an image of one of the grossest exhibits in the generally extremely icky Meguro Parasitological Museum in Toyko, Japan.

This specimen is also a brain pickled in formaldehyde. But one that's been infested by some kind of parasitical worm …

I don't know if it's any consolation, but at least the brain is not that of a human, but a dolphin's. Still, the mere thought of worms eating away a living creature's brain is horrific enough. I wonder how the impacts on cerebral capacities that this must surely have manifest themselves …

The Meguro Parasitological Museum is said to be the only one of this specific kind in the world, and going by the many English-language newspaper cuttings also on display at the museum, it had already acquired quite a degree of international fame/infamy at the time I was there back in 2009.

There's even a little shop with souvenirs such as T-shirts with images of tapeworms or other parasites printed on the front. I abstained from buying one … though I admit that only a year later I purchased a fluffy toy in the shape of an E.Coli microbe from the shop at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia; and earlier this year I couldn't resist the fabric shopping bag with the image of a (healthy) brain on it that I bought at the shop of the Medical History Museum at the Charité Hospital in Berlin.

< comment: having mentioned it in the text – meet the plush E.Coli !!! >

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< comment: and here's the brain bag >

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< [I also recall a comment by one of my followers on FB that corrected the claim that today's photo was of a brain, instead it was said to be a stomach. At the time I visited there were no English-language labelss of the exhibits, but apparently there now are. So I apologize for having made the wrong assumptions with regard to this picture, and note the correction] >


Wednesday 19 September 2018

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Photo of the Day: … continuing on the medical theme, this image shows two jars that were used to store brains in, pickled in formaldehyde.

Now for the squeamish that may already be dark enough, but it gets much darker, in terms of history: these jars are on display at the memorial museum at the “Spiegelgrund” in Vienna! If that name doesn't mean anything to you, read on …

The Spiegelgrund was/is a wing at the large psychiatric hospital complex called Steinhof, located on the edge of Austria's capital Vienna. After the Anschluss/annexation by Nazi Germany (under the Austrian Adolf Hitler), the hospital became one of the places where the Nazis carried out some of their medical crimes, including the so-called “euthanasia” programme, based on the Nazis' crude interpretation of “eugenics” and social Darwinism.

And so it came that countless people, including many children, who the Nazi doctors deemed “useless” or “uneducable” ended up here, shut away, subjected to cruel medical “experiments”, or left so neglected that they starved. Some were specifically sent on to be murdered at of one of the dedicated killing centres of the “euthanasia” programme, Hartheim. These centres and their gas chambers were the “experimental” precursors of the later extermination camps of Operation Reinhard, the most murderous part of the Holocaust.

Some 7500 people are believed to have lost their lives through these crimes at (or through) Steinhof. Many were sterilized. Most survivors were left traumatized. But the perpetrators, as so often, largely got away with it.

It's hard to believe, but some of the “specimens” collected from patients during these medical crimes were still in use for research up until the 1980s (they were later buried in a special section at the Vienna Central Cemetery), probably including the brains that these jars once contained.

The Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance set up a special museum at the Spiegelgrund about this very dark chapter of history and there is also a monument to the victims outside a building closer to the entrance to the complex.

< comment: the memorial museum at Spiegelgrund is in German only, but their website has a very well-translated English equivalent – here's the address:http://www.gedenkstaettesteinhof.at/en/exibition/steinhof-vienna >


Tuesday 18 September 2018

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Photo of the Day: boxes with emergency amputation and intubation gear in the medical section of the Marienthal government bunker at Ahrweiler, near Bonn. This used to be the West German “relocation facility” for the government in the event of nuclear war – yet it was already outdated when it was finished. That's because by then ICBMs had taken over as the main nuclear threat, and they would not have left enough time for forewarning and relocation before the warheads hit.

I have a string of doctor's appointments coming up this week, so I decided on a medical theme for today and the next few days …

Don't worry, though, I'm only undergoing a series of routine checks I've been having annually for years. So unless the tests detect a sudden serious deterioration in my health that I haven't even noticed myself yet, then I should be fine. It's just a bit unpleasant and takes time that I would otherwise have used more productively. But it has to be done.

< more on the Marienthal bunker:http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/germany/15-countries/individual-chapters/213-marienthal-government-bunker >


Monday 17 September 2018

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Now I wonder whether anybody can guess the connections that these three photos have with today's piece of history. … the story is this: On this Day, 110 years ago, on 17 September 1908, one Thomas Etholen Selfridge became the world's first aviation fatality. He was actually the first US military pilot of heavier-than-air aircraft, but on this occasion he was a passenger. The plane was the Wright Military Flyer (or “Flyer A”) developed by aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright. The Wright Brothers had been the first to manage a flight in such a (self-built) powered aeroplane only less than five years earlier on 17 December 1903.

On 17 September 1908 the aircraft (meanwhile they sold planes commercially) was flown for demonstration to the military and was actually piloted by Orville Wright. With Selfridge as passenger it had to carry more weight than it had ever done before. Yet they completed four circuits above Fort Mayr, Virginia, near Washington D.C., when suddenly one of the engines failed and a propeller split, causing the plane to nosedive and crash. Wright was badly injured but survived whereas Selfridge fractured the base of his skull and died three hours later. He hadn't been wearing any kind of helmet or other protection. The subsequent introduction of mandatory helmets for US military pilots was an early example of the long string of learning from aviation accidents that continues to this day …

Now I let you wonder what these photos could possibly have to do with this story for a while before revealing it in a comment later … Meanwhile feel free to venture guesses in comments :-)

< comment: here's what the photos above have to do with the story: the first one was taken at the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio, USA. This museum has a replica of a Wright Military Flyer on display – but since my interest in the earliest chapters of aviation history is a bit limited I didn't even go into the respective hall and instead concentrated only on the more modern stuff. Hence I don't have a photo of the very machine, but plenty taken in other parts of the museum – and this is one of them.

The second photo was taken in Munich, Germany. That city's Deutsches Museum has the only original Wright Flyer on display, but since I didn't visit that museum during my last two trips to Munich I don't have a photo of that exhibit either.

The third photo was taken at Arlington cemetery, where Selfridge is buried (it's directly adjacent to what was Fort Mayr), but as I wasn't even aware of this story when I was at Arlington eight years ago, I didn't go and search for his grave, so I don't have a photo of that either.

But I thought the story was still good enough to be told, even though the associated photos are only loosely connected to it >


Friday 14 September 2018

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Photo of the Day: abandoned train at the border between Bolivia and Chile near Ollagüe.

I'm making it easier for myself for once – no big story today, just an atmospheric picture for those who (like me) appreciate beauty in decay … ;-)


Thursday 13 September 2018

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On this Day, 82 years ago, on 13 September 1936, the second Lovatnet disaster happened in Norway: in a massive landslide, ca. one million cubic metres of rock of the steep-sided Mt Ramnefjell crashed into Lake Lovatnet below causing a huge tsunami that swept down Lodalen valley destroying the villages of Bødal and Nesdal. Over 70 people were killed.

The villages had been rebuilt only two decades earlier after another landslide from the same mountain already caused a similar tsunami in 1905, which killed 63 inhabitants.

In 1950 there was yet another landslide off Mt Ramnefjell, but this didn't have such catastrophic consequences because the second Lovatnet disaster had deposited so much debris in the lake that the water was too shallow to cause another giant wave.

You can still see the “new land” in the lake and the scar on the mountain's side where it had come from. Otherwise there is only minimal commodification: a memorial plaque by the road and a cross on top of the “new land” from the 1936 landslide, connected by what's called “Pilgrim's Path”. En route you pass the wreck of a boat that was swept inland by both tsunamis, the first time it survived intact, but the second time it was wrecked.

Today's photo shows the deceptively peaceful-looking scenery of Lovatnet looking south towards Jostedalsbreen National Park, with the largest glacier in continental Europe. Mt Ramnefjell is on the right and if you look closely you can see the “new land” deposited in the lake in the centre below the glacier tongue.


Wednesday 12 September 2018

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On this Day, 28 years ago, on 12 September 1990, the so-called 'Two Plus Four Treaty' (in German: “Zwei-Plus-Vier-Vertrag”) was signed. Its official full title was 'Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany' (in German: “Vertrag über die abschließende Regelung in Bezug auf Deutschland”). The two were the GDR and the FRG (East and West Germany) and the four the victorious powers of WWII: Britain, France, the USA and the USSR.

Through this treaty the former Eastern German state (the GDR) ceased to exist and Germany was reunified and finally granted full sovereignty by the former Four Powers that until then had reserved several rights within Germany (and maintained a sizeable military presence). Until then Germany had technically still been at war with the Allies, since WWII was ended only with a ceasefire but not a proper peace treaty. That was because the Cold War got in the way, so such a treaty had not been in the interests of either the Eastern Bloc and the USSR or the Western Allies.

This is why the reunification of Germany is seen by many as the most significant event that ended the long era of the Cold War.

But that didn't mean the dark days were completely over – for some, the so-called losers of reunification (“Verlierer der Wiedervereinigung”), i.e. especially in the East, a new kind of struggle was only beginning … And we can still see the rift between East and West in Germany to this day …

Today's photo shows a reconstructed typical GDR-era living room that is on display at the DDR-Museum (GDR museum) in Berlin. It's a place full of “Ostalgie” (a blended word incorporating “ost”, 'east', and “Nostalgie”, 'nostalgia'), i.e. fond memories of the “good old days” of life in the GDR. Yet the museum does not shy away from also covering the very dark sides of that era, e.g. with a reconstructed Stasi listening post reminiscent of the movie “Das Leben der Anderen” ('The Life of Others').


Tuesday 11 September 2018 – Allende statue

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On this Day it's 9/11. But this post is not about that 9/11 of the year 2001 in the USA. Instead it's about another 9/11, an earlier one, and one in which the USA was not the victim but rather played its part on the side of the perpetrators.

This is a statue of Salvador Allende, the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, who on 11 September 1973 lost his life in the bloody coup staged by the Chilean military under general Augusto Pinochet (and with a good dose of assistance by the CIA!).

Whether he was assassinated or forced into suicide during the aerial attacks and subsequent storming of the presidential palace that day has long been a matter of debate – though after an exhumation and forensic examination it was officially concluded in 2012 that he must indeed have shot himself.

The statue seen in today's photo stands right in front of the presidential palace La Moneda in Chile's capital city of Santiago de Chile. In addition to Allende's full name and his birth and death years it features a quote from Allende's “farewell speech”, which was transmitted on radio directly from the palace during the coup, with gunshots and explosions audible in the background. In that speech, Allende already spoke of himself in the past tense but encouraged his people to keep up the fight for a better society. It took a long time, but Allende's prediction, also made in that speech, that those dark days of military dictatorship wouldn't last forever was ultimately borne out.


Monday 10 September 2018 - evening

[video link could not be reproduced here as it had been a share]

... and here's a video of those North Korean festivities (see previous post!). The whole wackiness of those parades just comes across better in an animated format. And those interviews at the end ... fabulous propaganda stuff. And look at those "state-of-the-art" aircraft flying in "70" formation (to me they look even older than that). Yet, there was a lot of politics in it too, or rather in what was not it in: no display of any long-range missiles this time! And: the "Arirang" mass games are back on, after a five year break! I remember witnessing an Arirang show way back in 2005 (when Kim #2 was still at the helm - and was actually there in the stadium, hence cameras were not allowed, so I can't show you anything first-hand). But I can assure you: it truly is the greatest choreographed spectacle in the world. It's full of baffling stuff but just going by the sheer size of it all (and you know, sometimes size does matter) it's really, undeniably, the greatest show on Earth!


Monday 10 September 2018

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On this Day it's the day before September 11, aka “9/11”. I remember reading in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington in 2001 that the phrase “oh, that's so September the 10th” entered informal youth language usage as a phrase to signify something that was perceived as outdated, no longer relevant, behind the times or something like that. I found that quite fascinating. Sometimes the old linguist in me is still alive and well (for those who don't know: linguistics is my original field of academia and what I have my PhD in).

The first of today's photos is not my own but was gleaned from Wikimedia where it is marked as unspecified for restrictions of use, so it has to be regarded as in the public domain. I don't have any photos of my own showing the World Trade Center's Twin Towers before they were destroyed, as my first trip to NY wasn't until August 2002, less than a year after the 9/11 attacks.

At that time the site was still very “raw”, the missing persons signs were still posted all along the fence of St Paul's chapel and elsewhere, the site of the destroyed towers was a building site, some of the surrounding buildings were still damaged and covered with black tarp, and a wild tourism infrastructure had emerged. Some of the souvenirs offered by (quite probably unlicensed) vendors included some items so tasteless that it beggared belief. One piece in particular came to my attention and I decided to purchase it, just so that I can show it back home, because otherwise nobody would have believed me that such a thing could possibly exist. It was a snow globe with a crude representation of the Twin Towers inside and a little red fire engine at the bottom. Of course, when you shake it, all those “snowflakes” are inadvertently more reminiscent of all those papers that were flying out of the WTC South Tower after it had been hit by the second plane … It's certainly one of the most dubious souvenirs I have ever obtained anywhere … See the second photo and judge for yourself ...


Sunday 9 September 2018

The recent Netflix series has also led to media enquiries with some travel agents / tour operators, so I've been told. And one that I have used several times (and who I had written pieces for before) thus recently asked me for an interview for the company's blog. Here's the link. Do take a look and read the full text. It's the most recent piece I've done on how I see dark tourism and what I think it really is and should be and what it perhaps should not be.


Saturday 08 September 2018

[link could not be reconstructed]

For those who can read German – here's an article from that incorporates parts of an interview I gave to a DPA journalist a while ago. The bits featuring me are OK, though I find the focus on relatively dubious activities like the “Helter Skelter Tour” in LA and the Escobar escapades in Colombia a bit much in parts of the rest of the article. Nevertheless, it's far from the usual all negative representations of DT that you can find in the 'moral panic' media all too often.

[second link could not be reconstructed either]

Having mentioned negative media representations of DT, this short article is probably the worst I've seen yet. When it was shared elsewhere I felt compelled to post this comment:

this probably has to rank as the most colossally oversimplified take on dark tourism yet ... and it drastically misquotes me! I never said this: “The dark features of history and humanity are simply enjoyable.” No idea where the author got that from - probably thin air. Just as the idea that dark tourists "seek misery". What nonsense. Nor do I look for frightening and dangerous spots. At least it gives me credit for a "respectable and enlightened" approach (no matter how much that seems to conflict much of the rest of this short article).

I suspect it is based on that DPA article I shared in the previous post, it's basically a drastically compressed and partly mistranslated corruption of that article. Sloppy, careless, bad journalism, if you ask me.


Friday 07 September 2018

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On this Day, 40 years ago, on 7 September 1978, one of the most bizarre episodes of the Cold War era occurred, when Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov was assassinated by poisoning. The bizarre thing: the poison was administered by means of an umbrella!

Today's photo shows a replica of such a “Bulgarian Umbrella” that is on display at the Spy Museum in Berlin.

The umbrella had been adapted in such a way that a small pellet of the poison ricin could be injected into the victim's leg through the tip of the umbrella. The injection mechanism is shown in this exhibit, including the trigger button near the handle.

On the day of the assassination (incidentally the birthday of Todor Zhivkov, the Bulgarian leader at the time and a frequent target of the dissident's critical writing) Markov was walking across Waterloo Bridge in his exile home of London when we felt a sharp pain in his calf. He turned round and saw a man pick up an umbrella and run away to a taxi on the other side of the road, by means of which he disappeared. Markov inspected the wound and found a small red blister on his calf. As the pain wouldn't subside he was admitted to hospital, where he died a few days later.

It is assumed that the umbrella assassin was Bulgarian secret agent Francesco Gullino and that the poison had been supplied by the Soviet KGB. Although, as so often in the murky world of international espionage, nothings is ever fully for certain ...


Thursday 06 September 2018

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On this Day, 42 years ago, on 6 September 1976, Soviet pilot Viktor Belenko flew his MiG-25 fighter plane to Japan to defect to the West. He was indeed granted asylum and went on to live in the USA.

The US military was invited by the Japanese to inspect the plane, and for Western military intelligence it was a field day! The MiG-25 had been shrouded in secrecy and mystery, so the chance to actually get their own hands on one for the first time was a great opportunity for the Soviet's main Cold War adversary.

It turned out that the plane wasn't quite as advanced as had been suspected, even though it was still quite a powerful brute of a machine – capable of speeds in excess of Mach 2.8 and of reaching extremely high altitudes. It was built as an interceptor, not a fighter-bomber as had at one point been assumed, but its range was quite limited. Yet it still stands as the second fastest serial-produced manned aircraft of all time (after the American SR-71 reconnaissance jet, of which 32 were produced, as opposed to the MiG-25's over one thousand!).

The MiG landed in Japan and was disassembled and thoroughly investigated before being returned to the Soviet Union in crates (minus a few missing parts). It was an embarrassment for the USSR, of course, so the matter wasn't pushed further.

Today's photo shows a MiG-25 that is on display at the Monino aircraft museum outside Moscow, Russia, which I visited as part of my extensive Russia trip last summer.


Wednesday 05 September2018

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Photo of the Day: Changi chapel, Singapore. We haven't had anything from South-East Asia in a long while, so I decided to pick one from my Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor & Singapore trip about four years ago.

After Singapore (then a British outpost) had to surrender to the invading Japanese Imperial troops on 12 February 1942, thousands of Britons but also Australians and other Commonwealth nationals became POWs. The Japanese housed many of these at the infamous Changi prison. This had been designed for a maximum of 600 inmates, but at its peak as a POW concentration camp up to 5000 were crammed into it.

In 1944, Australian prisoners constructed a small chapel at the prison, which was later disassembled and re-erected in Canberra, Australia's capital, as a memorial. But at the original site this replica was set up in 1988.

After the site at the old Changi prison was demolished to make way for a new prison complex, the chapel replica was moved to a new location, where it was soon joined by a museum about the prison, the Japanese occupation and the plight of the POWs during that time. Well worth a visit when in Singapore (which itself is an immensely visitable place!).


Tuesday 04 September 2018

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Photo of the Day: at the weekend I was going through a selection of the photos I took on my epic South America trip in 2011 again, which was one of my best trips ever in terms of photography. And a particularly photogenic place I visited on that trip was Chacabuco. Today's photo shows a ghost town scene encountered there.

Chacabuco has featured on this page several times before, but here's a short reminder of its historical background: the town was developed as one the “oficinas salitreras”, the potassium-nitrate (aka salpeter or saltpetre) mining and processing-factory towns that sprung up in the Atacama desert during the boom years of the salpeter industry, which during the second half of the 19 century supplied much of the fertilizer used globally. This once lucrative business ended in the 1940s when artificial fertilizers took over. Chacabuco, like so many of its sister “oficinas”, was abandoned and became a ghost town.

The main reason it features on the dark-tourism radar, however, is the fact that it was then used as a concentration camp for political prisoners during the early phases of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, namely between 1973 and 1974, after which the place was abandoned again. It took many years for it to be developed into a memorial/heritage site too, though most of the abandoned structures have simply been left to slowly crumble away to this day.

It is certainly one of the most desolate and isolated dark attractions in Chile – but also one with plenty to delight those (like me) who appreciate some beauty-in-decay aesthetics.


Monday, 03 September2018

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On this Day, 14 years ago, on 3 September 2004, the three-day-long Beslan school siege in North Ossetia, Russia, ended in bloodshed on a scale that was a momentous shock to the world.

Today's photo shows a monument dedicated to the ca. 350 victims who lost their lives in the incident (over half of them children). I found this monument quite by chance, when wandering the streets of Moscow last summer. It certainly brought back unexpected sudden memories of watching the unfolding horrors of the siege on TV back then. I found myself lingering longer at this monument than I would normally have done for a sculpture of this sort …

As you can see, in addition to the monument's own symbolism (I won't go into that) and bronze teddy bears, people also left soft toys and other mementos at the site. So it clearly is still getting some local attention.

The Beslan school siege, which ended in chaos with explosions and gun fights between the hostage takers and the Russian police/military, echoed the similarly horrific Moscow Theatre hostage crisis just under two years earlier. In both cases the Russian authorities were later accused of having used disproportionate lethal force in the handling of the crisis. Yet much of what exactly happened at Beslan is still highly contentious and remains shrouded in mystery, with so many controversial claims and counter-claims that it is impossible to come to any definite conclusions. Even what the identity and exact demands of the hostage takers were isn't clear, except that it was somehow connected to Chechnya – though it's been denied that the terrorists were actually Chechen. Since this is such a murky subject, I'll abstain from trying to provide any more background info.

Suffice it to say that it was such an unimaginably horrifying event that the surprise find of this monument in Moscow actually shook me quite a bit … even though I attribute that more to sudden remembrance of the events than to the monument itself, the design of which, let's be honest, is rather on the kitschy side ...


Sunday 02 September 2018

As promised, I'll post a few links to reviews of that recently released Netflix series “Dark Tourist”, in lieu of my own verdict, which I can only properly arrive at once I've had a chance to watch it myself.

This first review is a rather critical take, but I found it quite interesting. Its main points are that the show is seen as overgeneralizing, oversimplifying and failing to ask deeper questions for lack of time given to the respective sub-topics (only between 10 and 15 minutes each).

Here's another critical review, from The Atlantic, that I found interesting too. Again it criticizes the series as “ghoulish” and for its “superficial kind of thrill-seeking”, “cashing in on people's morbid curiosities without caring what real wisdom it could impart if it tried”. That's a pretty damning verdict … but unfortunately this sort of criticism does indeed apply a lot when the media pick up the topic of dark tourism in a sensationalist and not thoroughly enough researched manner. I've been working to rehabilitate dark tourism from such approaches, and I fear that this series is not helping this more sober, non-sensationalist view of DT (as something enlightening, educational as well as challenging, both emotionally and intellectually). And I'm not alone in this. I've heard it many times from others that they too see “real” dark tourism as something far removed from just cheap morbid thrill-seeking. That does exist, no doubt. But that's more “accidental”, superficial dark tourism. Those few who actually call themselves dark tourists have a deeper approach than that (also remember: most people doing dark tourism things have most likely never heard of the term … even if the release of this series and the media attention it is generating may somewhat change this)

And here's an altogether more positive review, especially with regard to the presenter in this Netflix series …

Here's a more tabloidy review (well, as tabloidy as it gets – from The Sun!), which I include here mainly for the brilliant riposte to the article's opening line (“MOST of us prefer to spend our holidays sunbathing on the beach with a drink ”) in one of the comments: “I can't imagine anything duller than lying on a beach for a week ” … exactly my thinking too.

This is an overview of reviews the Netflix series has attracted (including some references to reviews linked in previous posts here):

And finally, here's an interview with the Netflix show's presenter himself.

I'll leave it at this for now. If I find more reviews that add anything significant to those already shared I'll post more.


Friday 31 August 2018

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On this Day, 21 years ago, on 31 August 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales died from the injuries she sustained in a car crash in the Pont de l'Alma road tunnel in Paris, France.

Today's photo shows a monument near the entrance to the tunnel. It's actually a version of the flame held by the Statue of Liberty in New York (which was a gift from France), but the location and the frequent references to Diana at the time of having lived her life “Like a Candle in the Wind” (Elton John) made me think it fits in here for today's post.

The attention from tourists that the spot at the tunnel entrance was receiving in the wake of the accident and the grand funeral of Diana was an early case study in dark-tourism research, at a time when the subject was just beginning to establish itself as an academic field of its own. It was also a case of the media's typical moral panic about such tourism attention to sites of tragedy, which periodically flares up in the context of dark tourism too … just as it's doing at the moment due to that Netflix series “Dark Tourist”.

About the latter: I still haven't had a chance to watch that series myself, as I've only just returned from my long summer travels (see the posts of the past four weeks) and have yet to find someone near me here in Vienna who is on Netflix (or else I'll have to get on it as a trial myself, though I certainly wouldn't subscribe long-term … simply because I don't have time for watching enough movies to make it justifiable). Hence I still can't comment on that series first hand … but what I glean from the (more or less outraged) media makes me, on the one hand, intrigued, and, on the other, somewhat sceptical. The latter especially with regard to the choice of places/activities, some of which I regard to be at best on the fringes of dark tourism but hardly representative of DT as a whole (e.g. visiting an allegedly “haunted” house or the Noah's Ark replica in Kentucky or participating in a battle re-enactment in England). However, I've started reading a lot of reviews of the series … and I might post a few links to some of them over the weekend …

[UPDATE: meanwhile I've watched the series and have found much fault with it - see my in-depth review here]


Thursday 30 August 2020

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On this Day, 44 years ago, on 30 August 1974, one of the worst rail accidents in European history, and the very worst to this day in Croatian history, occurred at Zagreb: 153 people were killed when an express train from Belgrade bound for Dortmund, Germany, derailed at the entrance to Zagreb's main station, due to the train driver having exceeded the regular speed limit for entering the station by over 150%, rushing in at over 100 km/h. All carriages derailed and were crushed, only the engine went through to the platform intact. The driver and his assistant were subsequently sentenced to long terms in prison, despite the mitigating circ*mstance that they had been severely overworked (they had been on duty for some 52 hours at the time of the accident). The victims were mostly “Gastarbeiter” ('guest workers') and their families who were on their return journey from holiday at home in then Yugoslavia to their places of work in Germany.

This photo is only vaguely related to the disaster, but it was taken at Mirogoj cemetery in Zagreb, where there is also a monument to the 153 victims of the disaster. At the time I was in Zagreb at around Easter this year I hadn't yet heard of the 1974 train disaster and the presence of a dedicated monument at this cemetery, so I didn't try and find it and hence have no photo of it.

However, I found this statue of a man holding his hand forward – as if to say: “stop” (or at least “slow down”) – somewhat fitting for this post's topic ...


Wednesday 29 August2018

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On this Day, 69 years ago, on 29 August 1949, the Soviet Union undertook its first nuclear test with the detonation of RDS-1.

Today's photo was taken at the nuclear testing museum in Kurchatov, Kazakhstan, and shows what I was told was the original control- and remote-triggering console used in this first test at the Semipalatinsk Test Site (aka Opytnoe Pole and/or Polygon). Apart from obviously having such grim historical connections I found it had a fantastic “retro” look, so typical of Soviet technology of that time.

The atomic bomb itself that was used in the RDS-1 test was an almost exact copy of the plutonium implosion-bomb design used by the Americans in both the Trinity test and in the Nagaski bomb. And that's no coincidence. It soon emerged that the Soviets had their spies inside the Western nuclear weapons development programmes – even already at Los Alamos at the time of the Manhattan Project.

Anyway, with this test the world became aware that the Soviet Union too now had nuclear capabilities and the Cold War became an ever more dangerous confrontation. In reference to the then Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, the test also became known in the West as “Joe One”.


Sunday 26 August 2018

The controversy over Spain's former dictator Franco continues … apparently the exhumation of his remains has just been approved.

Since 1975, the dead dictator's had his (now not quite so) final resting place at a pompously grand mausoleum called Valle de los Caidos ('Valley of the Fallen').

The return to democracy following Franco's death in 1975 came at the price of a “pact of silence”, or “national amnesia” … as well as amnesty for the remaining perpetrators of the atrocities committed during the Civil War and the subsequent decades of the dictatorship.

As this article points out, it's only been in recent years that this “amnesia” has been challenged. I noticed the beginning of this when I was in Spain a good three years ago and went on an intensive field trip of Civil War battlefields, especially at the Ebro.

The addition of visiting Valle de los Caidos made for an eerie contrast, especially as it was on a Sunday, when there was a church service on inside the underground basilica that contains Franco's grave. It was attended by some well-dressed elderly people who were quite probably old followers of Franco's … They won't be happy about this new decision now, of course.

Next question is where Franco's remains will now be buried instead … and what will happen to the site of his present tomb inside Valle de los Caidos ...


Saturday, 25 August 2018

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Photo of the Day: I visited Lichfield Cathedral the day before yesterday to see a light-and-sound installation + exhibition that's been put on to mark the centenary of the end of World War One.

It's entitled “Imagine Peace”, and as that title implies it's not so much about celebrating heroes and the sacrifice made by soldiers, as is normally the customary approach here in Britain. Instead it's a mix of church-y and even somewhat hippie-like “romantic” calls for peace … as exemplified by lines like “Give Peace A Chance” or “I have a Dream” featuring in the light installations. (The biblical line “Blessed are the Peace Makers”, however, always makes me think of Monty Python and dairy products …)

The main light animation, as seen in this photo, in the central part of the nave is obviously a version of the classic symbolism of red poppies, whirling all over the Gothic interior of the cathedral. It's really quite stunning visually. I took that picture actually lying on my back on the floor … you don't get to do that so often in a cathedral!

If you're in the area and want to see this exhibition/light-and-sound show, however, you'll have to hurry. It's only on until Monday, 27 August.


Monday, 27 August 2018

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Photos of the Day: Halema'uma'u crater, Kilauea volcano summit, Big Island, Hawaii … then and now …

There have been yet more dramatic developments at Hawaii's continually active volcano. In addition to the destructive lava flows of recent months (reported here too), the summit crater area of Kilauea has changed completely.The first photo is one I took three years ago,the other one is a new photo I gleaned from the Volcano National Park website. On the latter you can see on the right-hand side the Volcano Observatory and Jaggar Museum and Overlook. That is where my older photo was taken from.

As you can see, much of what used to be the crater floor has been subjected to large-scale subsidence. They reckon the volume of soil that has sunk away is in the region of a quarter million cubic metres! The collapse of Halema'uma'u is due to the draining of the magma chamber below it, which also led to the lava flows and fountains from fissures further east. Like a deflated balloon, the emptied magma chamber just falls in on itself. The transformation of the summit is likely to carry on for a while. I'll keep checking back and will post updates occasionally.

Tomorrow, I'll be flying back home … let's see when I can resume regular photo-of-the-day posting ...

< comment: source of the Volcano National Park website's photo (where there is also plenty more information about the ongoing and recent events at Kilauea):https://www.nps.gov/havo/planyourvisit/lava2.htm >


Friday 24 August 2018

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Photo of the Day: Lavrentiy Beria's former house in Kurchatov, Kazakhstan.

I was recently reminded of this photo (which I had taken in 2011) and the story behind it when I watched the movie “The Death of Stalin” on my long-haul flight from Johannesburg to Dubai, The role of Beria was crucial in the film's plot and was portrayed superbly by the actor who played him in the film.

For those who're not so familiar with Soviet history and the significance of Beria, here's the shortest of summaries:

Beria, also of Georgian origin, was one of Stalin's closest associates (though still not fully trusted by the Red Tsar) and as chief of the secret police, the NKVD (the predecessor organization of the KGB), he wielded enormous influence, possibly more than any other of the top guns in the Soviet system at the time of just before WW II and the years following the war. He oversaw the vast expansion of the gulag system – as well as that of the so-called “sharashka” research and development laboratories, which often were kind-of “white-collar” gulags, or perhaps rather ”lab-coat gulags”.

Beria's greatest achievement was overseeing the development of the Soviet atomic bomb programme, helped along with heavy reliance on espionage (even right inside the Manhattan Project), culminating in the nuclear test of RDS-1 (also called “Joe One” in the west) on 29 August 1949.

The test was undertaken at the Polygon in the Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan (then part of the USSR). And the city of Kurchatov was the research and development centre for this test site. So, naturally, Beria had a house in that secret and closed city too. In fact it is one of the oldest buildings in the city.

Ironically, the house has since been converted into a church … The little onion-dome on the top is in fact a recent addition. Beria must be turning in his grave, given that, as a staunch Stalinist, he would also have been keenly atheist and anti-clergy. The house could easily have become a mosque, in predominately Muslim independent Kazakhstan of today, but the fact that it's a Russian Orthodox church must be even more of an insult to the ghost of Beria ...

Btw. the movie “The Death of Stalin” also includes a depiction of the death of Beria. Nikita Krushchev, as part of his coup to take over power in the USSR following Stalin's demise, had Beria arrested and tried on accusations of treason. The over-ambitious Beria had anticipated himself as the winner of the power struggle after Stalin's death, but now suddenly found himself high and dry and deserted by old allies. He was executed in December 1953.

The movie “The Death of Stalin” was mostly met with critical acclaim, though not in Russia (where the film was even banned). A few in the West also criticized the odd historical inaccuracies in the film, and for some the deeply biting sarcasm of the whole satirical approach was just too much. I do enjoy very black humour, however, so I quite enjoyed the film, especially at its most absurd and surreal moments. And actor Simon Russell Beale's portrayal of the infinitely ruthless Beria I found the most convincing of the whole cast.


Thursday 23 August 2018

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Photo of the Day: I'm now in Birmingham, UK. Haven't done anything new in terms of dark tourism yet this time, but I can post a photo from last time I was here, when I visited the National Cold War Exhibition at the Royal Air Force Museum branch at RAF Cosford near Shifnal in Shropshire, just a ca. 40 minutes drive from Birmingham.

This photo shows one of the many Cold War exhibits, namely a Blue Steel missile – a British-made kind of precursor to modern-day cruise missiles. The Blue Steel was designed in the 1950s and entered service in the early 1960s. It carried a one-megaton thermonuclear warhead and was launched in mid-air from a Vulcan or Victor bomber (one of the latter type forms the backdrop here). It was basically a replacement for the planned land-based missile Blue Streak, which proved too complicated and expensive so it was cancelled in 1960.

Yet Blue Steel missiles only remained (nominally) in service until 1970 when the Polaris SLBM (submarine-launched ballistic missile) arsenal took over as Britain's main nuclear deterrent.

Blue Steel was thus one of the controversial and costly, and ultimately failed British “home-grown” efforts of developing a nuclear-weapons delivery system. By the time it was deployable, it was basically already redundant. Moreover it was highly unreliable too. And its short range (coupled with the comparatively short range of the bombers carrying it) made it vulnerable to enemy air defence systems.

The RAF sought to replace the Blue Steel with a similar, but longer-range equivalent made in the USA, called Sky Bolt, but that was cancelled too in the early 60s. In the end, Britain wound up with US-built missiles after all (first Polaris, then Trident), but still made its own nuclear bombs … until 1998, that is, when the last of the mainstay British-made nuclear weapons, the WE.177, was finally withdrawn from service. Now it's only Tridents that are in service for the UK … and their continuation/upgrade is a highly controversial issue in contemporary British politics ...


Tuesday 21 August 2018

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Photo of the Day: the site of the former concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen in northern Germany …

… it looks like I won't actually make it back to that site on this occasion, but I still had this photo in my collection. I took it there a few years ago on my first visit to Belsen.

It was a VERY rainy day, so I only explored the relatively recent museum (which is excellent!!!) and gave the outdoor parts a miss then. This image was taken through the window at the far end of the museum building.

There isn't that much to see in the open air any more anyway. Of the camp itself next to nothing actually remains, because the British (in whose occupation zone this part of Germany fell after WWII) burnt all barracks and other structures down because of the infestation with typhoid and other diseases that the camp was plagued by when it was liberated.

Today, the former camp's area is mostly symbolic and with just a few individual memorials dotted around. This includes one for Anne Frank and her sister Margot, who died here in April 1945 …

I have enough reasons to go back to northern Germany (family visits) so one day I will make it back to Belsen and explore and photograph the outdoor parts in person.

Tomorrow, however, I'll first head to the UK – again mainly for visiting friends & family, but who knows, maybe I'll find some more dark bits over there too ...


Monday, 20 August 2018

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Photo of the Day: I'm now in the middle of “nowhere” in Lower Saxony, northern Germany. I haven't made it back to Bergen-Belsen (yet) but I looked in my archives and found something from a place near where I am now. It's from the German Emigration Center in Bremerhaven.

It was from that harbour city that some 7 million people departed from Europe to seek new lives in the Americas (the USA and Argentina mainly, but also Australia) during the great emigration waves of the 19 centuries.

It's the reasons why so many people left that makes the background to this museum full of dark elements, though some aspects of what they found at their destinations were also on the dark side, including the strict immigration regime at Ellis Island, New York, which a whole section of this museum is devoted to.

Today's photo, however, shows an earlier section, namely what has to rank as the museum's visually most impressive part, the full-scale mock-up of a quayside facing the hull of a big steel ship. The quayside is full of mock cargo and is peopled by dummies in period clothing, and with their minimal belongings, awaiting embarkation. As a visitor today you first walk through the quayside mock-up and then climb some steps and find yourselves entering the “ship”, where the permanent exhibition continues.

< comment: see the full description of the German Emigration Center in Bremerhaven (and a comparison with its rival equivalent in Hamburg) here:http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/germany/15-countries/individual-chapters/208-bremerhaven-emigration-center >


Friday 17 August 2018

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Photo of the Day: final one from St Helena, for now at least. And it's one that isn't particularly dark in terms of history. Yet it is one of the things that attracted me to the island the most – that bleak, rugged, multi-coloured volcanic scenery.

St Helena is of volcanic origin (being located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the African & European and the American tectonic plates meet), but its two volcanos have been dormant for a long time, yet the vestiges of violent volcanic activity are still very well visible, as you can see here (in fact parts of the island are a geologist's dream).

This photo was taken on the pretty strenuous (and in places potentially hazardous), hike from Sandy Bay to the so-called Lot's Wife's Ponds on the south coast of the island.

Lot's Wife is the name of an old volcanic stack of rock seen here in the top right corner of this image (while “Lot” is the name of another, and bigger such stack nearby, out of the frame of this photo).

And the big rock in the centre of the image, the one “looking out” to the sea, is called “gorilla head” (zoom in a bit and you'll see the resemblance). The latter used to be called “nigg*r's head” before this became untenable, obviously enough, in terms of political correctness. The new name is also much more appropriate descriptively, as the rock does indeed look a lot more like a gorilla's than a human's head.

Today I'll be off travelling again, this time not to any exotic or glamorous DT destinations, but only to see friends and family, first in northern Germany then in the UK. There is a slim chance I might slot in a little bit of DT as well (maybe a return visit to Bergen-Belsen), but mainly it will be time off. And this could well mean also less regular posts on this page … though I will try to post a few things on and off, provided I get good enough Internet connections. Please bear with me.


Thursday 16 August 2018

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Photo of the day: another one from St Helena, and another one showing some of the military heritage of the island.

This is one of the remarkably well-preserved (though by now very rusty) cannons at a battery on the hill between the capital Jamestown and Rupert's Bay (where the new main cargo harbour has been established).

The island was heavily fortified over the centuries since it became a British territory (in the 17century), when it was an immensely important port of call for ships on the trade routes to India and further on in South East Asia. This only changed when the Suez Canal was opened.

St Helena also played a role in the slave trade – and even more importantly in the abolition of slavery by Britain, when the Royal Navy hunted down slave ships. During that time many thousands of freed slaves would find themselves temporarily “stranded” on St. Helena (and in living conditions not necessarily so much better than during their previous plight).

During the late 19century St Helena's military role was rather minor, though it saw one German U-boat attack on a ship in James Bay during WWII, and during the Falklands War of 1982, St Helena also played small role, namely in that the Royal Mail supply ship RMS St Helena (see yesterday's post!) was requisitioned by the Royal Navy to serve as a mine sweeper support vessel in this conflict (thus cutting off the regular supply service to the island for the duration of that war).


Wednesday 15 August 2018

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Photo of the Day: inside Munden's Battery, St Helena

Having mentioned Munden's yesterday in the context of the last exiles on St Helena in 1957-1961, I thought I could follow this up by posting a bit of the “urbex” highlights to be had on this island.

Mostly these are old fortifications from the 1800s or early 1900s. St Helena played a small role in both WW1 and WWII, and Munden's Battery shows elements from all those eras.

This photo was taken inside what would once have been a gun emplacement bunker built some time between WW1 and WWII.

On the outside of these massive walls is an old, somewhat yellowed inscription: “Welcome R.M.S. St. Helena”, and above it in new, fresh, white letters: “Good bye R.M.S. St. Helena, 2018”. This is a reference to the former Royal Mail boat RMS St Helena, which provided the only connection between the island and the outside world until the airport was finally opened in October 2017. The boat, usually referred to simply as “The RMS” by islanders, continued on a few final crossings until March 2018, when the service was terminated for good.

In the past, visiting St Helena required a five day crossing on the RMS St Helena from Cape Town, South Africa, with the return voyage a week later (in the meantime the RMS sailed on to Ascension Island and back to St Helena), so in total you had to factor in a good three weeks in order to make it there. Now, with the airport, this has been reduced to a week and a half or so (flights are once a week, plus time to make it to Johannesburg or Cape Town for the flight, depending on where you travel from).

Despite the practical advantages of the flights, the RMS is still very much missed by the islanders. It was a ritual, a regular festival of sorts, when the whole population of Jamestown would assemble by the seafront to greet the arrival of the boat and any visitors disembarking (and also the supplies brought in with the boat's cargo).

The arrivals/departures of the plane are also still quite convivial affairs, when islanders welcome back or see off friends & family every week, but it's not quite the same as with the boat. There's also the factor that the promise associated with the airport, namely that it would bring a huge increase in tourist numbers, has not yet been fulfilled. It's quite a sore point, actually. We've encountered a lot of disappointment, even bitterness, with regard to the airport. But it's also that too many people made too many advance investments on the basis of the expected increased visitor volume, instead of first waiting and seeing whether that would actually materialize. It's one thing to have the infrastructure in place, but quite another to generate the prerequisite heightened interest on the part of large numbers of tourists. The potential is there, but St Helena as a travel destination is still “the secret of the South Atlantic”, as the island's tourist board's slogan actually goes.

I'm in two minds about this issue, really. On the one hand I wish the islanders the commercial success they thought they'd gain with the arrival of the airport. But on the other hand, the fact that the island is still so un-touristy adds a lot to the special charm of being on St Helena (there were only about a dozen or so other visitors when I was there – and we'd meet several of those regularly at various sights and/or the few places where to have dinner, so we almost became a “community” for a week).


Tuesday 14 August 2018

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Photo of the day: carrying on with the theme of exiles on Saint Helena. Apart from Bonaparte and the Boer POWs, this remote Atlantic island also housed exiled captured Zulu royalty (obviously during the British-Zulu wars).

And the very final exiled persons here were a trio of Bahraini nationalists (some sources say they were princes too) – and that was as recent as 1960.

The buildings they were kept in are now ruins, just beyond Munden's Point, and a not too long or difficult walk from Jamestown. I visited them as part of my Munden's hike a week ago. And since it said “enter” on the crumbling gate, as clearly seen in this photo, enter I did! (Though I suspect that a “do not” preceding the “enter” may have crumbled away, so at least at some point going in could have constituted trespassing ;-) .)

I'm now back home in Vienna, but will set off again – this time “only” on family visits, on Friday – and posts may become more scarce then (depending on Internet connections). But until then I'll keep posting St-Helena-themed photos. Once I'm back for longer, from 29 August, I'll resume posting more general DT-related photos and stories.


Monday, 13 August 2018

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Photo of the Day: Boer POW cemetery on St Helena.

Napoleon wasn't the only one exiled to this remote island, though arguably the most prominent person ever to have set foot on St Helena. But the very largest number ever sent here involuntarily were in fact a couple of thousand prisoners of war from the Anglo-Boer war between 1900 and 1902.

It was actually during that war that the British invented the concept of concentration camps (yes, you've read that right – contrary to popular belief, it wasn't actually a Nazi German invention, but originally a British one), and on St Helena two such camps were established.

Of those two Boer POW camps on the island nothing remains, as they were only tented camps with no permanent structures.

Those who died on the island were buried in this special cemetery, which is now one of the most sombre places to visit on St Helena.

The Boers actually made quite constructive contributions to the development of the island as well, including a desalination plant in Rupert's, just across the hill from Jamestown – and of that a solid yellow brick chimney still remains to this day. The St Helena Museum also has lots of other artefacts associated with the Boers.

I'm posting this en route home from St Helena, namely from Johannesburg OR Tambo airport, as on St Helena the Internet connection really wasn't up for much more than that one post on Friday … When I'm back home from tomorrow (if it all goes to plan) I'll post more on this theme …


earlier in August: Napoleon's ex grave on St Helena

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Friday, 3 August 2018

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Finally a photo post from on the road, now that I'm back in Johannesburg, with halfway decent wifi, and time to download, back-up and view the photos so far.

For this post I've selected a picture from a few days ago when I was first here and went to the Apartheid Museum. This is the entrance. As you can see, it's actually two entrances, one for whites, one for non-whites, in true (mock) apartheid style.

On your admission ticket it says whether you are "white" or "non-white", i.e. which entrance you're supposed to take, thus getting a "feeling" for the segregation built into apartheid.

This ticket thing is similar to what they do at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, where your ticket also functions as an "ID card", by means of which you can follow an individual's particular story (and find out whether that person survived or not). Likewise at the Emigration Museum in Bremerhaven, Germany. Or the Tolerance Center in Los Angeles, where there's a door for "prejudiced" and one for "non-prejudiced" (the latter is actually fake, there is no door to open, so you are forced to use the "prejudiced" one!).

I'm never quite sure about such impositions, but at the Apartheid Museum it at least only applied to this initial intro section. The rest of the museum exhibition wasn't affected by it. And it's an extremely good exhibition, well laid out, a good balance of artefacts, texts, photos, and multimedia elements! You could spend a whole day in there. Highly recommended.


Friday, 27 July2018

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Later today I'll be off for my summer travels, which will take me first to South Africa, then Zimbabwe and, most importantly, to the remote island of St. Helena for a good week. On St. Helena I won't have much Internet access (if any), so there will be a period of silence on this page too!

But to mark this upcoming trip I give you a photo that has a direct link to St. Helena, even though it was taken in Paris, France: this is the sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte at the Les Invalides complex. Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena and actually died there in May 1821, after five and a half years in this remote British exile, but his remains were transferred to Paris in 1840 where he was given a belated state funeral. The remains were entombed in this grand stone sarcophagus in 1861

He was probably the most prominent inhabitant St. Helena ever had. The house where he stayed – and then died – is one of the prime visitor attractions on the island, as is his now empty grave. Both places have actually been given to the French, so the “Tricolore” is flown there.

Needless to say, they will also be key points of interest on my itinerary on St. Helena, as will be various fortifications, and the infamous Jacob's Ladder, and also Plantation House, home to the oldest known land animal, at 187 years (!!!), namely Jonathan the Seychelles giant tortoise. In addition I'll go on a boat tour and independently on various hikes and drives through dramatic volcanic scenery.

In Johannesburg I will also do some serious dark tourism, in particular by going on a Soweto tour and visiting the Apartheid Museum. From Jo'burg I may even be able to post something. We'll see.


Thursday 26 July2018

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On this Day, 55 years ago, on 26 July 1963, at 05.17 a.m., an earthquake struck the Macedonian city of Skopje (magnitude 6.9 on the Richter scale), lasting some 20 seconds. Over a thousand people were killed, up to 4000 injured and three quarters of the city's buildings were destroyed, leaving some 200,000 people homeless. In short: it was a massive disaster.

After the earthquake Skopje was re-built, with the help of donations by many countries. And it was rebuilt with a difference. Under the leadership of the famous modernist Japanese architect Kenzō Tange, a master plan for the reconstruction of Skopje was drawn up, and thus the city became a model showpiece of a futuristic architectural style that's become known as 'brutalism'.

And this is what today's photo reflects on – literally. In the reflection you can see the spaceship like concrete post-office building, one of the most fantastically brutalist structures of the city.

But there is good reason to reflect further on the topic of brutalism in the context of Skopje, namely because there it is under threat – this time not from earthquakes but from the architectural politics of Macedonia's city planners. Rather than preserving the modernist heritage of the city they aim for a kind of faux classical revisionism. Not only are new buildings constructed in “nationalist kitsch” styles, even some of the surviving brutalist structures are simply being clad in fake classical façades and cheap-imitation Doric columns made of plaster. Like a theatre stage set.

I've just been to a special exhibition about brutalism at the Architekturzentrum here in Vienna, which brought together images of many of the best brutalist structures in the world … and Skopje features in it as “endangered”. The exhibition catalogue summarizes the recent urban development in Skopje thus: “What used to be an international modern urban experiment nowadays is a grotesque, parochial Potemkin village”.

That's a tragedy too, in my opinion!


Wednesday 25 July 2018

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On this Day, 18 years ago, on 25 July 2000, an Air France Concorde crashed shortly after take-off from Charles-de-Gaulle Airport, Paris. It was the only fatal accident this type of plane ever had, but it was maximal: all 109 on board (100 passengers and nine crew) perished, as did four people on the ground in the hotel that the plane crashed onto. After that all Concorde planes were grounded while the accident was investigated, and three years later the entire fleet of Concordes was retired.

Today's photo shows an Air France Concorde that ended up as a museum piece in 2003, namely at the Technik Museum Sinsheim in Germany that I visited a couple of years ago. This particular plane (number F-BVFB) had flown since 1976, completing a total of 14,771 flight hours on almost 5500 flights.

I remember seeing a Concorde for the first time as a teenager in Hamburg (it was only a one-off visit, they never used Hamburg for scheduled Concorde flights). It attracted thousands of spectators. Later I would regularly see one flying over my house in Shipley, West Yorkshire (when I was a lecturer at the University of Bradford). It was always on Sundays, so I was at home (probably marking papers) and I could hear the plane approaching before I could see it (Concorde were an infamously noisy plane!) so I could rush out into the garden and watch it fly over. It never ceased to amaze me seeing this technological wonder … possibly the most beautiful machine ever designed.

I also remember a few years later reading a book (“I Know You Got Soul” by Jeremy Clarkson ) about famous machines, and in the chapter about Concorde (chapter 1 … of course!) the author observes, that the Paris Concorde crash was such a shock worldwide not only because of the casualties, in fact “we were actually mourning the loss of the machine itself” (p.13). There were plenty of things in this book I could take issue with, but on reading this particular observation I found myself just quietly nodding in agreement …

These days you can only see Concordes on the ground, or, as in this case, on sticks. I often saw one parked in a corner of Heathrow Airport as well, and I always turned my neck to see as much of it as possible from a plane window when taxiing past it … The fascination with this “white Princess of the Air” just refuses to go away …


Tuesday 24 July 2018 – Guardian article about Dark Tourism (Netflix) – edited and reposted

There's a lot of talk about this Netflix programme “Dark Tourist” at the moment.

This post is in parts actually an edited/amended version of an earlier post (which I took down yesterday evening because it started to attract comments in a style and tone that I'm not prepared to tolerate on this page). I've meanwhile also heard some good things about this new series, so I'm intrigued. But I'm not on Netflix, so can't check it out for myself straight away. It'll have to wait.

Anyway, I'd like to emphasize that my post was/is not about the Netflix series as such but about this article and where it's published, as I still think it is below The Guardian's usual standards. Yet in the comments section there are some fairly good and thoughtful points being made … (whereas it usually tends to be the other way round rather – which is why I normally avoid reading these comments sections; but in this case I was explicitly directed towards it).

I find it strange that the Guardian article doesn't really engage with the term 'dark tourism' at all in this – especially given that it was through another article in The Guardian back in 2007 that I first encountered the term. So they have done it before.

That article was based on an interview with one of the authors of the first academic book on the topic (Lennon/Foley's “Dark Tourism”, published in 2000). It was through reading that article that I became aware that what I had already been doing on my travels largely consisted of what is in fact dark tourism without me knowing it (that's probably still quite common). Effectively that article back in 2007 became the starting gun for my DT website project. So it's a bit disappointing to see The Guardian now revert to that moral panic reflex you encounter so often in other media …

Btw. the comment below the Netflix article accusing the makers of the programme of “stealing” the title directly from Dom Joly and his book “The Dark Tourist” (London, 2010) is of course not quite correct, really, as the term isn't copy-righted and was used widely before. Also, if anything, it was taken from an obscure American psychological thriller called exactly “Dark Tourist” (no definite article) that was released in 2012. The latter, despite the title, actually had very little to do with any real tourism, though (instead it's about somebody obsessed with serial killers, which is at best a small peripheral niche within the larger context of dark tourism).

But back to the Netflix series that this Guardian article so chaotically complains about. So far I've only seen an online trailer for it myself. Going by that it seems that the series features some classic destinations along some things that I would see as rather on the fringe of DT, or even beyond it (like battle re-enactments). But maybe that's just part of the series trying to explore how far DT goes / should go and where it ends.

So far I've never felt any need to subscribe to Netflix, as I hardly ever find the time to watch movies anyway. But maybe I should contemplate a trial period just to see this series … But all that will have to wait at least until I'm back from this summer's actual travels … (wait for this Friday's post!)


Tuesday 24 July2018

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On this Day, 75 years ago, on 24 July 1943, Operation Gomorrah started, the eight-day WWII aerial bombing by the Allies of the north German city of Hamburg ... the place where I was born a couple of decades later …

Today's photo shows the Bunkermuseum Hamm, inside a preserved original “Röhrenbunker” (literally 'tube bunker') a common type of (not particularly heavily reinforced) air-raid shelter that many people sought refuge in during the bombings.

The bombing was at the time the heaviest assault in the history of aerial warfare. The use of a combination of roof-cracking explosive bombs and subsequent showers of incendiary bombs created the most massive firestorms ever seen. Well over 40,000 civilians were killed (many through asphyxiation, as the firestorm sucked all the oxygen out of their air-raid shelters), almost as many were injured, and due to the large-scale destruction of housing (and for fear of further attacks) over a million of the surviving population fled the city.

The code name for the Allied bombing couldn't have been more cynical, as it's of course a reference to the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, the places that the Old Testament records as having been destroyed by God through raining “fire and brimstone” from the heavens … Are we to conclude, then, that “Bomber Harris” thought he was playing God? (“Bomber Harris” was the nickname of Arthur Harris, the British chief of the RAF Bomber Command that planned these aerial attacks).


Monday, 23 July 2018

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Photo of the Day: a Yugoslav MiG-21 jet – on display at the aviation museum next to the international airport of Belgrade, Serbia.

I picked this to mark the fact that I finally, finally, managed to finish writing all those chapters that have come out of my Easter trip to Croatia and Trieste. (I'll upload the remainder of these to DT's main website over the next few days.)

Many of the sites there were related to the Yugoslav era and especially to the wars that broke out as the former Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia fell apart. The part of these that is commonly referred to as the Croatian War of Independence (but better known in the country itself as the “Homeland War”) is commemorated in quite a number of memorials, monuments and museums, and there are also still many ruins and abandoned structures that are evidence of this conflict, which after all wasn't all that long ago (for Croatia it ended in 1995).

Some of those “Homeland War” museums even had wreck pieces on display of precisely the type of plane seen in today's photo, also with the old Yugoslav Air Force markings. And one of the most adventurous urbex sites we visited was Željava, a former Yugoslav Air Force underground base, inside a mountain, where squadrons of such MiG-21s used to be stationed. That's how it all fits together with today's photo ...


Saturday 21 July 2018

another article in the media, in German, that is in some parts based on an interview I gave recently ...


Wieder einmal ein Medien-Artikel, auf Deutsch, der in Teilen auf einem Interview mit mir basiert, das ich vor einer Weile gegeben hatte. Und unterm Strich ist der Artikel meines Erachtens in Ordnung; es kommt am Ende schon relativ gut rüber, was 'dark tourism' ist und was eben nicht. Aber wieso der Artikel dann aber dennoch so eine, na ja, doch eher reißerische Überschrift ("Reise ins Grauen") tragen musste, ist mir nicht ganz verständlich, zumal er so im Gegensatz zum Fazit des Artikels steht, der ja klarstellt, dass es für echte 'dark tourists' eben nicht um bloßes "Grauen" geht, sondern um Geschichtsverständnis, Gedenken, und Horizonterweiterung. Aber na ja …


Friday 20 July2018

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On this Day, 74 years ago, on 20 July 1944, an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler went wrong, when a bomb placed by Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg under a table in a conference barrack at Hitler's HQ at Wolfschanze, Poland, failed to kill the Führer. Instead he escaped with comparatively minor injuries … and instantly began a campaign of revenge and purges. Stauffenberg and some co-conspirators were summarily shot in Berlin the very same day.

Today's photo shows the memorial plaque placed at the location of that barrack where the bomb went off at the Wolfschanze, Masuria, Poland, which I visited almost 10 years ago in August 2008.

This anniversary features here year after year, naturally. But instead of recounting the full story yet again, let's not forget that this date is also the anniversary of several other significant world events. A short selection:

On 20 July 1949, the Israeli-Syrian nineteen-month war ended.

On 20 July 1960, the first Polaris SLBM was test-launched.

On 20 July 1974, the Turkish military invasion of Cyprus began.

On 20 July 1977 a flash flood in Pennsylvania killed 84 people.

On 20 July 1982, the “Provisional IRA” detonated two bombs in London killing eight and injuring 47.

On 20 July 2013, the Colombian revolutionary rebel organization FARC launched an attack on government soldiers, killing seventeen.

And on a positive note: today's also the 49th anniversary of the first manned Moon landing by the Apollo 11 mission, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin becoming the first humans to set foot on an extraterrestrial body.


Thursday 19 July2018

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On this Day, 62 years ago, on 19 July 1956, the Brioni Declaration was signed by Yugoslavia's leader Tito, Egypt's president Gamal Abdel Nasser and India's prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. This was in effect the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The Non-Aligned Movement was intended to offer a “third way”, or “middle course”, in the Cold War era, namely neither taking sides with the West nor with the Eastern Bloc, at least not militarily. It's basically a declaration of non-aggression and non-interference.

The declaration takes its name from the location where it was signed, Brioni island, then Tito's private summer residence/resort.

The 1956 Brioni Declaration is not to be confused with the 1942 Brioni Agreement (between Croatia, Germany, Italy and Hungary) or the 1991 Brioni Declaration (by Slovenia, Croatia, Yugoslavia and the European Community).

After Tito's death in 1980, Brioni, or “Brijuni” to give it its name in Croatian ('Brioni' is Italian), was turned into a National Park, and today is again a popular tourist destination. The aura of Tito still permeates the place, though, nowhere more so than at the museum and its photo exhibition, opened in 1984 and entitled “J.B. Tito on Brijuni”. It's a wonderful cult-of-personality relic and has pictures of the great man with celebrity guests (such as Liz Taylor or Sophia Loren) and a motley crew of world leaders, such as Colonel Gaddafi, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh and Leonid Brezhnev (the photo of Tito with Brezhnev is especially noteworthy as both look totally worse for wear from all the wine they've been drinking together!).

And the Brioni Declaration of 1956 is specially celebrated by this memorial stone on the ground floor of the museum building.


Wednesday 18 July2018

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On this Day, 23 years ago, on 18 July 1995, the Soufrière Hills volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat began erupting again after a long dormant period.

Being a stratovolcano with mainly phreatic explosive eruptions it's especially prone to pyroclastic flows and surges. It was these that necessitated the evacuation of the island's capital, Plymouth, and indeed the town was soon covered by several metres of ash.

Subsequent lahars exacerbated the situation, and bit by bit Plymouth was turned into what's become known as “the Pompeii of the Caribbean”. A guy I met on the island described going into Plymouth as “like walking into a Mad Max film set”.

Unfortunately, when I was on Montserrat (in December 2009/January 2010), Plymouth was completely out of bounds, given the high activity level of the volcano at that time (it did blow its top again shortly afterwards). On the other hand, it gave me the chance to witness some dramatic ash venting and pyroclastic surges, as seen in this photo taken from the safety of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (photo reposted from ca. three years ago).

To get a sense of the scale of this event, note the little houses at the bottom of the huge ash column! Obviously, this is an evacuated part of the island. No one has lived there since 1995.


Tuesday 17 July 2018

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In a way a follow-up to yesterday's post … On this Day, 56 years ago, on 17 July 1962, the last atmospheric nuclear test was conducted at the NTS (Nevada Test Site) in the USA. After that all tests at the NTS were done underground, in accordance with the Partial Test Ban Treaty that was signed in 1963.

The devices tested in this series (Operation Sunbeam) were small “tactical” nuclear weapons, especially the mobile “Davy Crockett” warhead (in the aptly named “Little Feller” tests). This was a very small nuclear device, fired from a bazooka-like recoilless launcher, with a yield of only between 10 and 20 tons TNT equivalent (compare that to the 20 kilotons of the Fat Boy Nagasaki bomb, let alone the multi-megaton warheads typically carried by ICBMs by the early 1960s).

Today's photo shows another tactical nuclear warhead in the American nuclear arsenal, the M454 AFAP (Artillery-Fired Atomic Projectile), the smallest nuclear artillery round ever deployed by the USA, namely from 1963 to 1992. It was intended to be fired by the M-109 155mm self-propelled howitzers. This atomic shell is on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The problem with such “tactical” nuclear devices was, however, that their small yield might have lead to them being used more willingly than any of the strategic high-yield bombs which could easily have led to MAD (mutually assured destruction). Yet at the same time the forward battlefield use of such tactical nuclear weapons could just as easily lead to a quick escalation from a conventional war to an all-out nuclear war.

So even though these were very small atomic bombs, the danger they entailed was immense. Yet all attempts to ban this type of weapon have so far failed. Instead both Russia and the USA seem to be working on upgrades of their tactical nuclear arsenals …


Monday 16 July 2018 – Trinity

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On this Day, 73 years ago, on 16 July 1945, the world was forever changed when the Manhattan Project culminated in the world's first ever detonation of an atomic bomb, in the Trinity Test near Alamogordo, New Mexico, USA.

At 'ground zero', the hypocentre of the explosion is marked by this 12-foot obelisk made of volcanic rock with a commemorative plaque on it. This marker was erected in 1965, the same year that the site was officially declared a National Historic Landmark.

However, since the place is still within a restricted military area, namely the White Sands Missile Range, it is not freely accessible for non-military normal mortals.

On two days each year, though, there are “open house days”, also informally known as “Trinity Day”, when the general public is allowed to visit the site. These are usually in April and October. You either have to go as part of an organized convoy from Alamogordo, or use the access gate to the north of the White Sand Missile Range.

In 2014 in was decided, due to budgetary restrictions, that there would only be one Trinity Day a year, but the following year the decision was reversed back to two days annually. However, it's still a place requiring accurate time planning if you want to visit it ... I went there as part of my South-West US road trip in the spring of 2012.


Sunday 15 July 2018

Buzludzha is getting more attention, now even from the BBC's Travel Show! Hope this helps raising awareness about the monument and how badly in need of it is of being saved from becoming completely derelict beyond repair.

The presenter's side-swipe at urban explorers "breaking in" illegally, however, is a bit hypocritical.

For one thing, without urban explorers having gone in and posting photos on the Internet, the Travel Show would probably never even have become aware of the monument's existence.

Also: most people didn't actually break in, they were using gaps you were able to slip through without causing any damage.

It may have been nominally illegal, yes, but until not so long ago there weren't even any signs or guards or anything. So it wasn't even clear it was “trespassing”.

That's what it was like when I visited Buzludzha. My guide simply said, OK the doors are locked but there's a hole in the wall on the side where you can get in. No mention of any illegality. So that shouldn't be blown out of proportion.

Moreover, most visitors adhered to the fundamental rules of the ethos of urban exploration: take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. Only a few broke those rules and actually caused damage, stole parts of the mosaics or left graffiti.

That THIS has been stopped now is certainly good news. But I do hope that the proposed rescue scheme can go ahead so that people will be able to see the interior of this unique place again before too long.


Friday 13 July 2018

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On this Day, it's already another Friday the 13 this year (the last one was in April). So those superstitious enough are expecting some bad luck today … especially if a black cat happens to cross their path … ooooooooh!

… this particular black cat, however, seems to find such superstitious beliefs as yawn-inducing as I find them …

If you need to know, this cat was photographed on my recent trip to Croatia in March/April 2018, namely in the Old Town of Rab, on the Adriatic island of the same name (which I travelled to mainly to visit neighbouring Goli Otok).

The day I took this photo wasn't the Friday 13th that April, though, nor did this cat strictly speaking cross my path (he was just sitting there – and later came up to us and was quite friendly). So maybe this does not fully count as counter-evidence to the ominous Friday-the-13th superstition ...


Thursday 12 July 2018

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On this Day, 12 years ago, on 12 July 2006, the so-called Second Lebanon War (aka 2006 Israeli-Lebanese Conflict) started. It was a military confrontation principally between the Israeli Defence Forces and Hezbollah (with some Iranian support) that lasted for 34 days until a UN-brokered ceasefire came into effect.

I went to Israel in early August that very year. And that was the only time I travelled to a country that was technically, actively at war – but the original reason I went was to attend a friend's wedding (so much for dark tourism being confused with 'danger tourism' or 'war tourism'). Where I was, however, in Tel Aviv and its environs as well as on day trips to Jerusalem and to the Dead Sea & Masada, very little gave it away that the war was on.

OK, security was perhaps a bit tighter than it is normally anyway, and there were navy ships and fighter jets patrolling along the coast off Tel Aviv's beaches .. as well as helicopters – as seen in today's photo!

Other than that, the only time it was really evident was when we picked up a few participants in our Dead Sea/Masada tour from the central bus station (prime terrorism target, so not a place where you want to linger unnecessarily long in Israel): here you could see hundreds of soldiers boarding buses to take them to the front … including plenty of pretty female soldiers, in fatigues and with machine guns casually slung over their soldiers – also something you don't see a lot elsewhere in the world!

There was a little extra tension in the air in the old town of Jerusalem too. Our guide abstained from taking us all the way up to Temple Mount, in the Muslim quarter, and as we passed a police station in the warren of alleyways in the Old Town, I saw a ca. 10-year-old kid (Palestinian, presumably) casually giving the police station's intercom a good knock with his fist as he was passing.

And in one Tel Aviv restaurant they had a promotion on for wine from the Golan Heights, an area also affected by the war, to show their support. Interestingly, they used the euphemism “the problems we're having in the north” when referring to the war.

The main effect this war had on us was that we were almost the only non-Jewish tourists. Most of the other people had cancelled their trips because of the war. I was being given pressure from my mother to cancel too. But we didn't want to disappoint the wedding party any further, so still went. And that was greatly appreciated on the day, as apart from the bride's father we were the only guests who still had travelled in from abroad.

Because of the unusually low volume of tourists, the tours we went on were comparatively small, with just six or seven other participants in contrast to the usual coachloads of 30+, so in those terms it was an advantage. The small numbers also allowed for some interesting conversations with the other people on these tours, all Jews from abroad, from the US, France and Britain … but that's for another story. This post has become too long already.


Wednesday 11 July 2018

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Photo of the Day: abandoned former battery factory at Potočari, Srebrenica, Bosnia & Herzegovina.

I'm posting this because on this Day, 23 years ago, on 11 July 1995, the Srebrenica massacres began, generally regarded as the worst instance of “ethnic cleansing”, or even genocide, in the whole of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s.

These 'genocidal' systematic killings of some 8000 Muslim Bosniaks at Srebrenica were perpetrated by the Bosnian Serb Army of the Republika Srpska, who entered a UN-declared “safe zone” in this Bosniak enclave. But the few Dutch UN peacekeeping troops were overwhelmed by the Serb military. The Serbs' commander, Ratko Mladić, who's also held responsible in large part for the siege of Sarajevo, had long been on the run after the war, but was arrested in 2011, tried for genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment (though not explicitly for genocide).

The site of the UN “safe zone” where the Bosniak Muslims had taken refuge – and where the men and boys were separated from their families and carted away to be killed at massacre sites elsewhere – was actually at the battery factory in Potočari, several miles to the north of Srebrenica town. This is also where today the large cemetery of the victims and the main memorial are located.

Also part of the commemoration at the site is the former battery factory of Potočari itself, where there's a small extra exhibition and a film theatre where groups of visitors are shown a documentary film about the events of 1995 here. The abandoned factory adds an eerie element of urbex to the whole thing.

When I visited this place in 2009, it was arranged at short notice with a driver from Sarajevo. When we got to Srebrenica/Potočari, this coincided with the arrival of a coachload of visitors from Turkey, who were given a guided tour, including the Potočari site. And our driver managed to get us permission to just tag along. Otherwise I guess we would not have seen the inside of the Potočari factory, exhibition and film …


Tuesday 10 July2018

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On this Day, 33 years ago, on 10 July 1985, the Greenpeace vessel “Rainbow Warrior” was bombed and sunk by the French foreign intelligence service (DGSE) in the harbour of Auckland, New Zealand.

I've not been to New Zealand myself yet, so instead I give you a picture of another rusting wreck – this photo was taken in the Exclusion Zone of Chernobyl.

But more on the “Rainbow Warrior”: the boat of the environmental activist organization Greenpeace had been on its way to a protest mission against a planned French nuclear test at the Moruroa atoll. These French plans of continuing nuclear testing in the Pacific had caused worldwide outrage already.

When two French agents were captured by New Zealand police after the bombing and it became public that France had been behind this incident (which they had initially denied), the outrage grew even bigger and severely soured New Zealand's relations with France.

Since one person on board the boat, Dutch photographer Fernando Pereira, was killed in the sinking, the two agents were tried for manslaughter and sentenced to ten years in prison. However, they were handed over to the French and were confined to the island of Hao instead, itself part of the French Moruroa atoll.

When France repatriated the two agents after only a bit over two years, this caused another diplomatic crisis between New Zealand and France.

Yet France eventually agreed to pay several millions of dollars/francs in damages, both to Greenpeace (to finance a replacement vessel) and to Pereira's family.

Today, there is a monument to the “Rainbow Warrior” at Matauri Bay, not far from where the actual wreck ended up. This was first salvaged for forensic investigations but then scuttled again off the northern coast to serve as a dive wreck and artificial reef.

I know someone who very nearly went on a dive to the “Rainbow Warrior”, but unfortunately the dive trip was cancelled due to bad weather. Otherwise I might even have been sent some photos of it! But since that didn't happen we have to make do with this stand-in image of another wreck.


Monday 9 July 2018 – Mother Armenia

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Photo of the Day: since a friend of mine who visited Vienna en route is flying to Yerevan, Armenia, this evening, I salute this by posting a photo from when I was there in 2010.

This is Mother Armenia, a giant statue on a giant plinth with a Great Patriotic War museum inside, plus the usual bits of Soviet military hardware dotted around outside (spot the SAM missile and the MiG plane on the left and the T-34 tank on the right).

It's a typically grandiose example of Soviet-era monumentalism, marrying aspects of Soviet over-the-topness with some traditional Armenian elements (such as the type of stone used for the plinth and museum, the same as in typical Armenian churches).

Originally, the plinth was occupied by a 22-metre-tall Stalin statue, erected in 1950, but in the wake of de-Stalinization in the USSR it was eventually toppled in 1962 and replaced a few years later with this Mother Armenia statue of the same height. The sword she is holding threateningly in her arms is half her length.

The “eternal flame” at her feet (in the foreground here) has long been extinguished, but Mother Armenia keeps staring threateningly westwards … towards Mt Ararat and (NATO member) Turkey, that is ... and animosities between Armenia and its western neighbour linger to this day. But since that friend I mentioned is British, I'm sure he won't have to fear being struck down by Mother Armenia's mighty sword …


Saturday 7 July 2018

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Photo of the Day: War Cabinet Room, London, England


Friday 6 July 2018

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Photo of the Day: barbed wire at Fort Breendonk, Belgium


Thursday 5 July2018

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On this Day, 43 years ago, on 5 July 1975, the Cape Verde Islands gained independence from their former colonial master Portugal.

This photo was taken inside the prison/concentration camp for mainly political prisoners at Tarrafal in the north of the main island of the archipelago, Santiago.

When I visited the islands, Tarrafal was the definite dark-tourism highlight of the whole trip. I found the largely abandoned and only sparsely commodified nature of the former camp eerily fascinating … and very, very photogenic. I thought this half-opened door leading from an isolation cell block into the open air was most evocative.

I posted a version of this photo once before two years ago or so, but here I picked another version, to which I applied a subtle bit of colour-extraction to further create a contrast between the grim grey interior and the promising pale blue sky outside …

For more historical background I quote a part of my original post from back then:

”During the dictatorship of the Salazar regime in Portugal, political prisoners were sent to this remote and desolate prison camp in the then Portuguese colony of Cape Verde, an archipelago in the Atlantic west of Senegal in Africa.Inmates included rebels and underground resistance fighters from Portugal's other African colonies, in particular Angola and Guinea-Bissau. But until the 1950s political opponents, alleged communists and other 'undesirables' from the homeland were also incarcerated here.The camp was also known as “Campo da morte lenta” ('camp of slow death') for the horrific torture methods used here.It wasn't until 1974 that the camp was finally closed, following the Carnation Revolution in Portugal that ended the dictatorship. Soon after this, Portugal also released its colonies into independence”


Wednesday 4 July2018

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On this Day, it's 4th of July, a big holiday in the USA …

Yet there's plenty that's dark about America, these days in particular, what with the US exiting the Paris Climate Agreement, ripping up the Iran deal, starting trade wars with old allies, random accusations of “fake news”, insults and threats all round, plus big-data-based manipulations, increased talk of “white supremacy” and rising racism, gun lobbies prevailing amidst yet more mass shootings: And then there's unprecedented military spending, but tax cuts for the super rich, “Intelligent Design” gets into textbooks, there are attempts at “Muslim bans”, talks of a border wall with Mexico is still ongoing, and small children are separated from their families at the border … the list could go on. Quo vadis, America?

I guess Miss Liberty feels a bit like this at the moment – as if confined to a dimly-lit cage.

The photo was taken at the BallinStadt Emigration Museum in Hamburg, Germany, in the section about Ellis Island. This exhibit illustrated the view the people quarantined at this immigration reception centre would have had of the Statue of Liberty – though in reality they wouldn't have seen her from the front, of course. Still, it's a reminder of times when the USA was quite open to immigration …

[ I remember that in response to this post I had a scary intrusion: it attracted a (troll?) comment by “Team Trump” … doing the usual Trumpeters' denial of reality, loudness instead of facts, insults instead of arguments, attack on “fake news”, all the stuff we've already become way too accustomed to. For example: calling the Paris Climate Agreement a “scam”, blaming immigrants themselves for the child separations at the US border, praising economic growth (an aspect I hadn't even brought up) and simply ignoring my points about gun laws, military spending and racism, etc. and instead calling me “ignorant” and “probably not from the US” … the latter I could have gleefully reacted to with a happy affirmative, but didn't want myself to be drawn into such a non-reason-based argument.

Anyway, having that sort of thing hit you personally was quite a shock, I have to admit. How did they find me even? And why did they even care? I mean Trump has millions of followers or so, whereas my DT page has just 1200, but still they detected me as being a little critical of US developments in recent times, and I too get the full propaganda onslaught. Anyway I took great pleasure in a) instantly taking the comment down, and b) using the “ban Team Trump” option that FB offered me. Didn't take much thinking. Still, a bitter taste remains ... Looks like none of us are safe from this departure from the once generally agreed norms of civilized debate and decency …]


Tuesday 3 July2018

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On this Day, 49 years ago, on 3 July 1969, one of largest-ever non-nuclear explosions in history destroyed a Soviet N1 rocket on its launch pad in Baikonur. The launch pad was completely levelled. Debris was spread several miles around. It was one of the worst disasters in the history of the space race and a major blow to the Soviet attempts to stay in this race.

Today's photo shows a model of the N1 on display in the Cosmonautics Museum in Moscow. The thing may look like out of a cheesy Science Fiction movie of the 1950s, but no, it was quite real … except it was a complete failure and never worked.

The N1 was a super-heavy-lift launch vehicle, 105 metres tall and 17 metres in diameter at the base, and was intended for the planned Soviet programme of a manned Moon landing. Its payload would have been nearly twice that of the American equivalent, the Saturn V. Both were of a similar hight, but the Soviet one had a higher thrust – theoretically. Yet the biggest difference was: the Saturn worked (without a single accident).

The design of the N1, in contrast, was too flawed, as became clear soon enough. All four tests with the rocket failed (the one involving the explosion on the launch pad was the second), and eventually the Soviet Moon landing plan was scrapped. Meanwhile the Americans had successfully landed on the Moon, repeatedly, so the race to the Moon was lost anyway. For a while, the Soviets toyed with the idea of using the N1 for different missions, but in 1974 all work on the N1 was terminated.


Monday 2 July 2018

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Photo of the Day: a griot shrine in Senegal, West Africa ...

In a way, this is another, albeit belated, indirect reference to the ongoing football World Cup: none of the African teams managed to progress to the next round. But the last to go out and also the one that came the very closest to progressing was Senegal's team, who only landed behind Japan in third place due to the “fair play” score (they had seen two yellow cards more – but of course that's a pretty mechanical, and unrepresentative measure of “fairness”, not taking into consideration at all, for instance, Japan's refusal to engage in actually playing football for the last part of their match against Poland, which got them booed off the pitch by the disappointed spectators).

But to honour Senegal's excellent effort, I searched my archives and decided to post this picture, which was taken in Senegal, namely in the Réserve de Bandia. It shows a small griot shrine inside the base of an old baobab tree.

Griot are/were the carriers of oral history in West Africa, semi-holy men who learned from older griots for decades before themselves becoming the tellers/reciters/singers of oral historical records. They were both teachers and artists, as many stories would also be delivered in the form of music/songs.

Remains of deceased griots are/were apparently often kept in special shrines or mausoleums, such as this one. Why the skull on the left has such a prominent hole in the forehead, I have no idea, though.

The tradition of oral history telling through griots was dealt a massive blow through slavery, of course, which severed many a line of passing the history on from one generation to the next.

And indeed one of the best-known stories in the West that's related to griots and the slave trade is that of Kunta Kinte in Alex Haley's influential book “Roots” (later turned into a TV drama miniseries of the same name in 1977), in which a descendent searches for the griot roots of his ancestor in Gambia (Senegal's neighbour, or rather an enclave within Senegal).

This also gave rise to the notion of “roots tourism” (aka 'genealogy tourism'), as many African Americans, inspired by Haley's example, began searching for their own West African ancestors. Ghana in particular has tried to capitalize on this trend by marketing sites such as Cape Coast and Elmina Castle (former slave trading posts) particularly to an African American clientèle. This can be seen as one of the most specifically/narrowly defined subcategories of dark tourism.


Sunday 1 July 2018

Short but excellent article about dark tourism … also coming from India.


Saturday 30 June2018

If you've followed this page for a while you'll be aware that I'm highly sceptical of the current selfie craze and totally opposed to selfie-taking at sites of tragedy, which most dark-tourism destinations are in one way or another.

This article seems to confirm that selfies are a bad idea. In fact they can even be deadly, especially in India, it appears.

I do actually remember from when I was there (a year and a half ago) how obsessed the domestic Indian tourists were with selfies, even at a place like the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre Site! They seemed to have no feeling at all for the sanctity of a place like that and how to behave respectfully. Instead it was selfies, selfies, selfies … everywhere.

… at the wall with the bullet holes from the British guns that mowed down so many peaceful protesters, selfies, too, by the well into which so many jumped to escape the bullets, only to be crushed to death.

It was almost as horrific to watch this selfie mania as to contemplate what had happened at this tragic site, as far as that was even possible under the circ*mstances of “merry selfie-taking” all round.

But going by this article it looks like selfies can also be a danger to the selfie-taker, so maybe the best strategy is not to get in the way of Darwinian natural selection ...

As for Jallianwala Bagh, here's more info:http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/india/15-countries/individual-chapters/588-jallianwala-bagh


Friday 29 June 2018 – Wiedersehen!

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Photo of the Day: I admit it – the choice of today's picture was inspired by the current football World Cup in Russia, where the first round, the group stage, has just finished, i.e. half the teams now had to go home, including, most notably, that of defending champions Germany.

After they went out with a whimper on Wednesday, the social media were instantly flooded with all manner of sarcastic posts and plenty of Schadenfreude. And I confess that I've made myself guilty of that too, even though I'm German. But they were so dreadful that they deserved having the mickey taken out of them.

So I could just as well carry on with such black humour on this page, I thought. (Btw. I wasn't surprised by Germany's shambolic underperformance – they had been playing that badly for months).

This photo was taken at St. Marx cemetery here in Vienna. The inscription is of course the short form of “Auf Wiedersehen!”, a common phrase of farewell in German (also famously featuring in the British TV comedy series “Auf Wiedersehen, Pet”).

To see this on a tombstone at a cemetery is a bit unusual, though, especially as it can be read as deeply cynical, since the phrase can also be used to mean “good riddance!”, though it was probably intended to indicate “we will meet again” (in another place).

But then again, here in Austria and with regard to the German football team, that kind of cynicism wouldn't be a surprise. For Austrians the football world is perfectly in order now. Never mind that their own team didn't even qualify for the World Cup. That's almost irrelevant, as they care much less about what their own team does anyway. The main thing is to see Germany lose. And that's not just my observation, several Austrian friends of mine here confirmed that this is indeed so.

It's probably just a symptom of the small-neighbour-of-a-big-country syndrome, but it can get ugly. So I, as a German, wouldn't go and watch a Germany match in a public viewing venue here in Austria – not any more, that is. I made that mistake once, back in 2002, after I first moved here. I saw Germany lose to Brazil in the final on a big screen in a pub. The 2-nil for Brazil sent the Austrian viewers into raptures, not because they were happy for Brazil. Brazil didn't matter. They were chanting anti-German songs with glee. It was pure Schadenfreude let loose. I'd rather not expose myself to that again …


Thursday 28 June 2018

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On this Day: 104 years ago, on 28 June 1914, the Austrian Crown Prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were killed by Bosnian Serb underground rebels in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The assassination is generally believed to have sparked off World War One.

In previous years, to mark this date, I gave you photos of Franz Ferdinand's bloodied uniform on display at the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (Military History Museum) in Vienna, or his car, also on display in that museum, with the bullet hole well visible.

Today, however, I give you a photo from the actual site of the assassination in Sarajevo at the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo what is today the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina. It was at the corner to the left of the bridge that the incident happened.

You can see that it says “Muzej – Museum” on the building at that street corner. Inside is indeed a small museum exhibition about the assassination and its background. The prime exhibit here is the gun that the museum claims was used by the assassin Gavrilo Princip, though there are others who also claim to be in possession of that highly historical artefact …, possibly including the Military History Museum in Vienna, where two guns of the type are on display. The accompanying label, however, only says “pistols of the assassins” (plural!). Apparently more than one of them had such weapons. Whether one of those two on display is the one that fired the fatal shots is not made clear.


Wednesday 27 June 2018

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On this Day, 38 years ago, the Ustica Tragedy happened. I give you a new photo from the memorial site that features the largely reassembled plane wreck, but for the story behind it I'll just repost last year's text:

WARNING: people with a fear of flying look away now!On this Day: 37 years ago, on 27 June 1980, Itavia flight 870, a DC-9 en route from Bologna to Palermo, crashed into the sea near the island of Ustica north of Sicily, killing all 81 people on board. This is the actual wreck, laboriously reassembled from the debris salvaged from the seabed. It is now on display as a museum-cum-art-installation in Bologna. It's a true one-of-a-kind sight!The “Ustica Tragedy” was the second-deadliest air disaster in Italy ever, and its most mysterious. Initial theories of a bomb on board that blew up the plane were soon refuted. Instead it became clear that the plane had been brought down by a missile!

After decades of investigations shrouded in secrecy and suspicious “disappearance” of evidence, which in turn fuelled all manner of conspiracy theories, a high court in Italy ruled in 2013 that the plane had indeed been shot down by an anti-aircraft missile and that relatives of the victims were entitled to compensation by the Italian state.

But who did it? Was it on purpose or a tragic mistake? We will probably never know but there are various theories, involving a French aircraft carrier, some other NATO planes, Libyan fighter jets and even Colonel Gaddafi's private plane that apparently was in the region's airspace at the time too. Maybe the civilian plane was mistaken for Gaddafi's and it was a blotched assassination attempt that went tragically wrong? French, Italian, US and NATO officials, however, all denied any involvement.

The Ustica Memorial in Bologna is an incredibly moving site. In addition to the reassembled plane wreck there are 81 slowly flashing lights hanging from the ceiling. Black boxes next to the plane contain personal belongings of the 81 victims. And along the walls a sound installation plays 81 short recordings of ordinary utterances passengers may have been making before the plane was hit by the missile.


Tuesday 26 June2018

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On this Day, 70 years ago, the first flights of the Berlin Airlift started on 26 June 1948.

As we all know this was in response to the Soviet blockade of West Berlin, which in turn had been a response to the introduction of the Deutschmark currency in the US, British and French sectors of Berlin and in West Germany. This led to one of the critical early crises of the beginning Cold War.

With all road, rail and waterway access cut off, the Allies launched the Airlift, which lasted over a year and still stands as one of the most commendable achievements in aviation history.

Not only did the Airlift keep West Berlin in vital supplies of food and fuel, some pilots also started dropping little gifts of chocolates and other treats from their planes as they approached the airport, using little parachutes fashioned from handkerchiefs. These were intended for children waiting down on the ground. This gave rise to the informal expression “Rosinenbomber” (literally 'raisin bombers', but more commonly translated as 'candy bombers').

Today's photo shows one of those iconic “Rosinenbomber”, a Douglas C-47, the military cargo version of the DC-3, which is now mounted atop the Deutsches Technikmuseum (German Museum of Technology) in Berlin, which I visited earlier this month on my short weekend trip to that fascinating city.


Monday 25 June2018

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On this Day, 142 years ago, on 25 June 1876, the Battle of Little Bighorn began, also known as “Custer's Last Stand”, after the 7 US Cavalry's General Custer, who was killed in this two-day battle. It ended in what was one of the last decisive victories for the natives in the American Indian Wars, in this case mainly Lakota Sioux.

I've not been to the site of this battle in Montana, but when I went to the memorial museum for Wounded Knee in Wall, South Dakota, I spotted this poster. I found it quite fitting for today's context too, as it represents the “other side”, as it were. And Wounded Knee was also one of the worst atrocities committed by the US Cavalry against the Lakota after Little Bighorn. So the two episodes are somewhat linked.

For many decades, Custer was portrayed in American popular culture as an icon and great shining hero, while the Indians were portrayed as barbaric savages. That simplistic good-guys-bad-guys thing. This only began to slowly change in the 1960s and 1970s.

I can even remember this change manifesting itself in my childhood. TV and cinema-wise I was raised on a diet that included cheap Western movies, starring John Wayne and/or other cliché archetypes of that genre, and they all fitted in with the “white” view of history (i.e. cowboys = good, Indians = bad), I remember how that established world view was shattered with the release of movies such as “Little Big Man” (directed by Arthur Penn and starring Dustin Hoffman). In contrast to the typical Westerns until then, this one was firmly sympathetic to the other, i.e. the Indian side, and portrayed Custer as a vain lunatic.

In adult life I left the whole Western movie genre behind me (with the occasional exception of “Once Upon a Time in the West”, the ultimate and unbeatable pinnacle of that genre), but was inevitably reminded of it again on my US road trips in the past few years that took me to places like Oklahoma, Arizona, and the Dakotas, and particularly, of course, at Wall and Wounded Knee ...


Friday 22 June2018

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Photo of the Day: final one on this week's funeral theme … featuring another coffin.

I spotted this billboard in Sarajevo a few years ago. Back then I just found the juxtaposition of this image with the war ruin in the background quite striking.

Meanwhile I had the text on the billboard translated too, and as it turns out this is not an advertisem*nt for some funeral directors' services (as I had surmised), but instead a rather harsh, and very black, criticism of the public health system in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

The big line at the top says: “... and he just about got his radiologist and check-up appointments” and the smaller text at the bottom says: “long waiting times for radiologist and doctor's appointments in public health institutions is the biggest problem that citizens with public health insurance are facing.”

Hmmm, although I live in a country where such problems aren't as acute as to be potentially deadly I'd better get myself my doctor's appointments sorted that are due (annual check-up, dentist, ENT again, ...).


Thursday 21 June 2018 – Klappsarg

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Photo of the Day: yet another one in this week's funeral culture theme.

This photo was taken in the old Funeral Museum in Vienna at its previous location (the objects on display here are also included in the new exhibition, but not in this constellation).

The larger coffin at the top is a so-called “Josephinischer Klappsarg”, aka “Sparsarg”. This was a coffin ('Sarg') with a hatch (hence “Klapp-”) at the bottom, so that it could be re-used, which obviously saved money (hence 'spar-'). It was an effort under the great reformer Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790) to make funerals more cost-efficient.

As you can guess, this move wasn't especially popular amongst the Viennese as it went against their love for a pompous and expensive funeral (the “schöne Leich” mentioned in Monday's post). So the career of the “Sparsarg” was somewhat limited.

In the old Funeral Museum, when visits were by guided tour by the curator (no longer the case at the new location, where you are free to visit on your own) the mechanism was actually demonstrated. i.e. the display was with the hatch closed, and the curator would gleefully activate the (rather noisy) hatch mechanism. Also gone is the positioning of the small infant coffin just below the Klappsarg – which looked a bit like the big coffin had given birth to the little one.


Wednesday 20 June 2018 - Herzstichdolch

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Photo of the Day: another instalment in this week's sepulchral culture theme … and another object on display at the Funeral Museum in Vienna. This is a so-called “Herzstichdolch” ('heart stabbing dagger'). It has just that one purpose in life, er, death: to ensure the deceased really is dead for certain, a specially certified doctor pierces the corpse through the heart. To this day you can include the request of such a procedure in your will here in Austria.

It dates back to the 19th century when the fear of being buried alive was especially widespread, partly because advances in medical sciences began to call into question what exactly constitutes death.

This was also the topic of a special temporary exhibition I saw recently at the medical history museum at the Charité hospital in Berlin that was entitled “Scheintod – über die Ungewissheit des Todes und die Angst, lebendig begraben zu werden”. The word “scheintod” is a neat expression in German that doesn't really have an equivalent in English (or can any of you translators out there help me out here?). It's literally something like 'apparent death' or rather 'looking like dead, but maybe isn't really dead'. The rest of the title simply translates as “about the uncertainty of death and the fear of being buried alive” .

And there were two approaches to safeguards against this happening. One is such a stabbing through the heart (the Charité exhibition, by the way, also had such a dagger on display – on loan from Vienna!), the other was adding contraptions to a coffin by means of which the body would a) still be supplied with air to breathe, through some pipe to the surface, and b) a string with which the not-quite-dead-yet body could activate an alarm bell.

However, at the Funeral Museum Vienna you learn why these were not such a clever idea after all … can you guess why not?


Tuesday 19 June2018

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Photo of the Day: next one in this week's funeral culture theme.

This photo was taken in the Museum für Sepulkralkultur ('sepulchral culture museum') in Kassel, Germany. This museum covers the subject of funeral culture in a breadth unmatched by any other such museum. And it's not just about history but reaches up to the present day. This exhibit is an example of that. It represents a modern method called “Diamantbestattung” ('diamond funeral'), meaning that after a cremation part of the ashes are not put in an urn but compressed under enormous pressure into a small diamond (the amorphous carbon parts, that is, the rest of the ashes are still buried or stored in an urn). This synthetic diamond can then be worn as jewellery or displayed in a box like this.

The text on this little display box says “Ein Juwel Von Mensch – Ihr Erinnerungsdiamant”. The latter simply translates as 'your memorial diamond', but the former is wordplay and as such not so straightforward to translate. Literally it says 'a jewel/gem of a human/person', an expression of praise, usually for a morally exemplary personality. But here it's of course also, literally, a gem * a human body!

Note, however, that this form of “funeral” is only legal in a few countries (Switzerland or the Netherlands, for example), as most countries' legislation requires either a burial or a cremation (and then burial of the ashes or storage in a cemetery columbarium). Note also that the cremation has to be conducted differently (at a lower than normal temperature) in order to obtain the prerequisite amorphous carbon from the ashes.

An alternative is to use parts of the corpse, in particular hair, prior to its burial or cremation, and incinerate this separately to obtain the amorphous carbon required. This is then separate from the actual funeral and such a gem stone is instead called, as in this example, “Erinnerungsdiamant” rather that “Diamantbestattung”.


Monday 18 June 2018 - entreprise de pompes funèbres

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Photo of the Day: last Thursday's post with the urn in the shape of a football inspired me to make this week follow on with the theme of sepulchral culture (funeral culture).

This photo was taken in the current incarnation of the Bestattungsmuseum Wien (Vienna Funeral Museum) at its new location within the Zentralfriedhof (central cemetery, on the edge of the city).

It shows an elegant horse-drawn hearse from the 19 century. The inscription “entreprise de pompes funèbres” is the name of one of the undertaker's companies that were operating in Vienna at the time. The name also gave rise to the informal expression “Pompfineber” as a synonym for undertakers.

The “pomp” element can be seen quite literally – as huge sums were spent on elegant hearses like this, and the kinds of uniforms also seen in this photo, that were used on long and ostentatious processions. Having a “schöne Leich” (literally: 'beautiful corpse'), i.e. a funeral as pompous as possible, was a Viennese custom that is one of several reasons why there's the saying “Der Tod muss ein Wiener sein” ('death must be a Viennese'). It's part of that special relationship this city has with the topic of death and funerals …


Friday 15 June2018

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Photo of the Day: yesterday, 36 years ago, on 14 June 1982, the Falklands War ended with the surrender of the Argentine invasion troops' commander General Mario Menendez in Port Stanley, the archipelago's capital.

This picture was taken in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina (the southernmost city in the world, by the way). I spotted this inscription/graffito by the gate to the harbour; the Spanish translates roughly as “the mooring of English pirate ships is forbidden”. Clear evidence of ongoing anti-British sentiments due to the lost war.

Other graffiti I saw proclaimed Ushuaia to be the capital of “Las Malvinas” (the name the Falklands are known under in Argentina and much of the Spanish-speaking world). Indeed, had Argentina won the war, the islands would have come under the umbrella of the “Provincia de Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur”, of which Ushuaia is the administrative capital. (So much for the claim that the Argentines wanted to “liberate” the islands.)

My wife and I don't take many pictures of each other, and hardly ever take selfies, but on this occasion I had to make my British wife stand next to this sign for a picture … and she somewhat reluctantly obliged, but only after first making sure we were not being watched by anybody … (you want to keep a bit of a low profile as a Brit in such spots in Argentina – though we never really encountered any open animosities).


Thursday 14 June 2018 – football forever

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Photo of the Day: it's the beginning of the Football World Cup in Russia this evening, so I searched my archive for something with which to mark this occasion … and found this image.

An urn in the shape of a football! This was obviously for someone who was a football fan right to the end!

I spotted this at the old Bestattungsmuseum (funeral museum) in Vienna a few years ago (before it moved to its new location and was completely reworked).

Otherwise the link between football and dark tourism is perhaps a bit thin, except for when there's a disaster (like at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels 1985 or at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield in 1989), of which Russia also had one, namely in 1982 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow (a stampede which left 66 dead). The latter, by the way, has been completely rebuilt for the 2018 World Cup and will host both the opening match today and the final on 15 July!

Maybe give a thought to the dark chapter in that stadium's history when (if) you watch the opener this evening ...

But let's hope the World Cup will proceed without any disasters or major violence. From a dark-tourism perspective, however, it will be interesting to see whether some DT sites in Russia will receive increased attention from all those international visitors coming to the country.

Beyond the obvious, like Red Square and the Kremlin in Moscow, the one site I can imagine getting a lot of such attention is the giant Rodina Mat statue in Volgograd … and the England team will play there on 18 June (against Tunisia). Though it pains me a little to imagine rowdy hordes of English football fans in shorts and colourful football shirts taking group selfies in front of this grand old dame of socialist realist art and monumentalism. Hopefully, she will make them feel small at least ...


Wednesday 13 June 2018

I just noticed today's date: Wednesday 13 … coincidentally that's also the stage name of a comparatively obscure (in Europe at least) American “horror metal” act I quite like for their deeply black humorous music.

The debut album, Transylvania 90210, I often refer to as “the best Alice Cooper album Alice Cooper never made”.

If you like very tongue-in-cheek horror humour and some supreme heavy-metal song-writing, it's a real recommendation. Be warned though, it really is very, very heavy, and very dark.

But for that reason I thought I could for once deviate from the usual Photo of the Day routine and post something totally differently dark.

This is one of my favourite tracks … “Bad Things”, the video's a bit lo-fi, but OK; lyrics here:


A bullet in your head is how I want it
Your body on the floor -- a Kodak moment
You're a waste of air and a waste of space
I want sharp objects to fly into your face
I hate you now more than I ever did
I wanna kill you, dig you up and do it again
I want a car to run over your head
Put it in reverse and do it again

And I would be lying if I said that it wasn't true
I only want bad things to happen to you
I want bad things to happen to you
I want bad things to happen to you
I want very bad things to happen to youIt would be really great if you drowned in a lake
Or put a bag over your face and watched you suffocate
I'd celebrate at your wake, I'd bake myself a cake
'Cause you're my favorite person that I love to hate
And you're the reason that murder should be legalized
If it was, you'd be dead and in the ground by five
Just in case I forgot to say --
I hate you motherf***er in the very worst way

And I would be lying if I said that it wasn't true
I only want bad things to happen to you
I want bad things to happen to you
I want bad things to happen to you
I want very bad things to happen to you

<comment: and here's a brand new track, with a more professionally produced video … classic gothic metal here. I like the chilling atmosphere and the fact that it never really is totally serious, just great cheeky horror-musical theatre


Tuesday 12 June 2018 - afternoon

[see below]

… a repost from February.

Back then things looked much more confrontational, what with nuclear tests, missile tests, military practice operations and plenty of sable-rattling, war-mongering propaganda coming from both sides (though much of it grossly exaggerated).

Yet, despite all the hype surrounding today's Singapore summit, I still have the feeling that Kim Jong-un's grandfather Kim il Sung can still be grinning away contently in the great Politbureau in the Sky when he's looking down on his grandson's political manoeuvring ...

Whether anything lasting will come of all this in the mid to long term, remains to be seen, of course.


Tuesday 12 June 2018 – Anne Frank birthday

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… follow up to yesterday's post … On this Day, 12 June, it is Anne Frank's birthday. She would have been 89 today, so could quite possibly have been still alive now had she not been discovered and deported to first Auschwitz and then to Bergen-Belsen, where she died in March 1945 just weeks before that camp's liberation.

Until August 1944, Anne and her family had been living successfully in hiding, but were somehow betrayed, so that the SS did find them after all.

While in hiding, Anne wrote the diary that was later published by her father, who was the only member of the family to survive the war. The (initially somewhat bowdlerized) diary went on to become one of the best-known (and best-selling) stories related to the Nazi persecution of Jews and the Holocaust.

The house on Prinsengracht in which the family had been hiding has been turned into a memorial museum and is now one of the most popular dark-tourism destinations worldwide. The hideout in the annexe has been restored, and the story is retold at the site in a captivating fashion. Yet the enormous visitor numbers somewhat detract from the atmosphere.

Inside the Anne Frank House photography was not allowed, but I can give you a photo of a small Anne-Frank statue that stands just a hundred yards to the south in front of the Westerkerk church, also by the banks of the same gracht (canal) in Amsterdam ...


Monday 11 June 2018 – the return journey was empty

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Photo of the Day: since I've just returned from a short weekend trip to Utrecht in the Netherlands, I decided to pick a photo from that country. But it's about a much, much darker kind of travel ... one-way.

It shows a sign that was on a deportation train from the Dutch “Durchgangslager” ('transit camp') of Westerbork to the extermination camp of Auschwitz in Poland during the Holocaust. The Nazis transported some 100,000 Jews to the camps in the east, amongst them Anne Frank and her family. Only about 5000 of these survived (including Anne Frank's father – the family's sole survivor – who later published his daughter's famous diary).

So these trains would have made the outward journey crammed full, but were presumably empty on the return leg. The sign, other than the place names, states: 'do not disconnect any carriages, the whole train has to be returned to Westerbork'.

This particular specimen is on display not at the memorial site of the former camp at Westerbork itself, but as part of the main exhibition in the Dutch Resistance Museum in Amsterdam. That museum not only covers the topic of resistance against the Nazis, as the name implies (though that's still its main theme), but goes much beyond that. In fact I found it more engrossing than the much more famous (and crowded) Anne Frank House.


Friday 8 June 2018 – empty multi-lane motorway in North Korea

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Photo of the Day: North Korea is in the news a lot again these days, what with the planned summit meeting of Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump that is scheduled for next week (and I'm curious about what the actual outcome will be, if any …). So I dug out an old image I took in this “hermit state” when I visited it back in 2005.

This is one of the memorable things we saw: a multi-lane motorway completely devoid of any traffic.

… well, not quite “completely”. Look closely and you can see two limos in the distance. Indeed, very occasionally we did see the odd vehicle actually using those roads, presumably state officials or party functionaries, since “ordinary” people don't drive cars in the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea). If you see any civilians on or by the side of these highways they're on foot or on bicycles. The only other motorized vehicles occasionally turning up on these highways are army trucks … otherwise our bus had all the lanes to itself most of the time.

At one point our driver simply stopped the bus in the middle of the motorway and we all got out to take pictures (including this one), some in our group were even lying down on the tarmac. Try that on a highway anywhere else in the world!

Of course, these motorway weren't ever intended for normal cars in the first place, but in order to facilitate rapid movement of military units towards the border with the South. In that way their inception can be likened to that of the German Autobahn system in the Third Reich. That too was done more with military reasoning in mind, much less so to be a generous “gift” for the benefit of the people and a job-boosting programme (which is what the propaganda obviously said – and not so few still believe it to this day; it's often the first thing those people adduce when they claim that “Hitler wasn't all bad” … oh well, some clichés die hard).


Thursday 7 June 2018 – Pervitin

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Photo of the Day: another one from my recent Berlin trip, and again taken at the Deutsches Technikmuseum ('German technology museum').

Pervitin. That's the stimulant drug that the Nazis used to keep Luftwaffe pilots alert during long night-time bombing raids during the Blitz and the Battle of Britain, for example. It was also used by the Wehrmacht (army), where it was nicknamed “Panzerschokolade” ('tank chocolate'). The agent in the pills is methamphetamine, better known today as “crystal meth”!

Initially it seemed to be the ideal war drug: it stopped tiredness and made the user alert and euphoric … and forget the danger to their life in war. But beyond that it was of course not so ideal. Apart from being addictive it also caused side effects of psychosis, impaired judgement, aggression, and depression in the longer run. It could be deadly, e.g. through heart failure or suicide …

Hence health officials in the Third Reich called for limiting the use of the drug or even withdrawing it altogether. Distribution was indeed cut back from 1940, but it kept being rolled out by the Temmlerwerke pharmaceutical plant in Berlin. 35 million doses were produced during the war.

And it didn't stop after the war. Production continued. Apparently it wasn't until the late 1980s that the drug was finally taken out of the East German military's medical stock.

Today many militaries in the world (including the US) still use performance-enhancing drugs, but methamphetamine is now mainly a “recreational drug” (and illegal in many parts of the world). It's also a component (together with caffeine) in the health-devastating drug called Ya Ba, which is used mainly in South-East Asia.


Wednesday 6 June2018

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On this Day, 74 years ago, on 6 June 1944, it was D-Day – the beginning of the Allied landing operation in Normandy, France, which opened a new Western front against the Third Reich in WWII, and as such further ensured that the Nazis no longer had any chance of an “Endsieg” ('final victory'), even though its propaganda nonetheless kept harping on about.

Today's photo was taken at the American war cemetery just above Omaha Beach. I visited this as part of a half-day tour around the D-Day beaches and its various sites that was organized by the Mémorial de Caen, Centre for History and Peace in Normandy.

Though not on a par with the losses the Soviet Union suffered on the Eastern Front, the Allied sacrifices on D-Day and the Western Front were still significant. This very sombre cemetery is only one of many, and the area is studded with memorials and war relics. The museum in Caen is the largest and most important one of the lot. Well worth a trip in itself. I spread my visit over two days, such is the size of the main permanent exhibition alone. (To my shame I have to admit that I still haven't got round to writing a proper chapter for DT's main website for this – it's part of the huge backlog I still have to work my way through. Hopefully by the end of the year ...)


Tuesday 5 June 2018

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Photo of the Day: the plane Mathias Rust flew to Moscow in 1987!

Remember the post on Monday last week? About West German amateur pilot Mathias Rust managing to fly his little Cessna all the way to Moscow to make a surprise landing near Red Square right in the heart of the city. I mentioned that the plane is now a museum piece. Well here it is: it's the first object greeting visitors in the foyer of the Deutsches Technikmuseum ('German technology museum') in Berlin, which I visited this past Sunday.

Rust had risked not only his own life in this daring landing (in fact he was lucky that some overhead power cables had been taken down for maintenance that day otherwise his plane would have got caught in them where he landed), but also endangered the lives of people on the ground, of course.

After Rust was arrested, the plane was naturally also confiscated by the Soviet authorities, but they actually released it quite quickly. It was bought by a German cosmetics company that briefly used it for advertising after its return to Germany later in 1987. As a concession to the Soviets the plane's license to be flown again was withdrawn so it had to be transported overland.

The plane then moved on all the way to Japan where it was on open-air display for some fifteen years. It was eventually tracked down by the Deutsches Technikmuseum and brought back to Berlin in 2008.

Were it not for its role in this historic stunt back in 1987 there would be nothing unusual about this plane at all. The type, the Cessna 172, is very common – in fact it's the commonest type of plane in existence. Over 43,000 have been built since 1955, and about a quarter of these are still in operation.


Monday 4 June 2018 – Tiananmen Square monument in Wroclaw

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On this Day, 29 years ago, the peaceful protests by mostly students on Tiananmen Square in the heart of China's capital Beijing, were violently ended by the military, with several hundred killed and yet more injured.

Today's photo shows a monument dedicated to the victims of Tiananmen Square. It's located on a busy intersection in the centre of the western Polish city of Wrocław (formerly Breslau, until the end of WWII). It's a university town and thus saw itself connected with the protesting Chinese students. The symbolism is quite obvious: a tank's track marks running through the cobbles, a crushed bicycle and red paint representing the bloodshed. Simple but effective.

The Tiananmen Square Massacre shocked the world and in China ended the phase of hope for democratic reforms in this communist country – just as protest waves were clearing the way for the end of communism and the East-West conflict in several European Eastern Bloc countries, not least Poland, which had kind-of led the way in the changing political landscape of Eastern Europe, thus encouraging people in neighbouring countries such as the CSSR, the GDR and Hungary in their peaceful revolutions.

But China proved it was different and that the regime would not budge. It still doesn't. It gave English the idiomatic meaning of the phrase “Chinese Democracy”, meaning something that's probably never going to happen (which also ended up the title of an album by rock act Guns N' Roses whose release was delayed and delayed for about a decade … and there's the surprising link to last Friday's post! The GNR gig, by the way, was cool!)


Friday 1 June 2018 – Olympiastadion Berlin

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Photo of the Day: I'm heading out to Berlin once more! The main reason is to see a gig at the Olympic Stadium, but that venue alone makes it an overlap with dark tourism.

This arena, the “Olympiastadion”, see in today's photo, was purpose-built for the 1936 Games, which took place in Nazi Germany, and Hitler et al. did not miss out on that opportunity to exploit the event and turn it into a massive, pompous propaganda show. You may have seen footage from the (in)famous film made by Leni Riefenstahl documenting the games in an iconic way that was both innovative in terms of cinematography as well as a visualization of Nazi ideology. (This still caused controversy in the late 1990s when the German band Rammstein used some of Riefenstahl's footage in their video for their Depeche Mode cover “Stripped”.)

The stadium itself is a prime example of typical Nazi “intimidation architecture”, what with those columns, the campanile and all that. But today it is primarily just a sports stadium, meanwhile with a roof, as well as occasionally the venue for big acts like Guns N' Roses who'll play it on Sunday evening (support by Manic Street Preachers!).

Before that I'll do some DT duty as well, and visit a couple of places that have opened (or have come to my belated attention) since my last trip to Berlin in 2017. I'll report back …


Thursday 31 May 2018 – driving in fog, India

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Photo of the Day: … not much to see here. And that's the point. That's what makes it scary. Because this was taken on a road in India. Dark tourism and road traffic!

Now, those of you who have been to India in the past decade or two or so will know what a chaotic mess Indian traffic can be these days, certainly in cities and on busier trunk roads in the countryside too. It is heart-stopping much of the time. And that in perfect visibility conditions.

Now add a thick fog like this, with visibility under 10 metres, and it gets totally spooky as well as scary as hell. Fortunately this happened on a rather minor road in a not so busy part of Uttar Pradesh, one morning as we were leaving the Chambal River (which was probably the source of all that fog) to drive to some remote abandoned former fortress and onwards to Etawah (by the time we got there the fog had fortunately lifted).

Had the road been as busy and chaotic as most of those I saw on that trip in 2016/17, with big trucks and buses forcing their way through throngs on scooters – and cows and dogs in the middle of the street – then it wouldn't have taken two seconds for there to have been some serious accident.


Wednesday 30 May 2018 – Catholics dig cruelty

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Photo of the Day: back to Europe. This is a detail spotted on one of the heavily decorated doors of the Duomo (cathedral) in Milan, Italy.

That massive church is full of little (and not so little) dark details. Depictions of beheadings, beatings, torture and all manner of other brutal scenes. It looks like Catholics really dig cruelty, then. That line in Latin under these depictions literally means “I am a Christian”, by the way.

In actual fact, though, it's not intended to imply “I am a Christian and therefore I dig cruelty”, but it's rather the other way round. It's a reference to the early Christians and their brutal persecution in the Roman Empire. So it's the victims of all that depicted cruelty seen here who are the Christians, not the perpetrators.

Still, the level of detail with which these works of art depict those most brutal scenes makes you wonder to what degree the sculptors who made these bas-reliefs and statues “got off on” making them … or the Church superiors on commissioning them and having them put up. I've long wondered that about the ubiquitous Jesus-on-the-Cross depictions (which tend to be a lot bloodier in Catholic churches than in Protestant ones). But the Duomo in Milan takes it all to an altogether different level.


Tuesday 29 May 2018 – New York rats of steel

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Photo of the Day: after yesterday's long post, here's a shorter one from the other side of the world. These are curious sculptures of three little mice – or rather, more likely: rats!

I spotted these in New York near Grand Central Station (on the Graybar Building, to be precise). They seem to be leaving their ship and infiltrating the building/city – as in fact happened quite a lot. It's seen as a tribute to New York's maritime history.

The link to DT is somewhat loose, it's only dark in so much as rats are seen as pests spreading diseases. They do, I know that. But again I am also quite fascinated by these ingenious and impressively successful creatures. Probably no other mammal has managed to adapt to and exploit human presence so comprehensively. They are thus the quintessential 'hemerophiles' (“culture followers”, in zoological terminology). And in this depiction on the steel ropes in New York, they are simply cute, especially in their perfectly parallel arrangement ...


Monday 28 May 2018 – Mathias Rust lands in Moscow

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On this Day, 31 years ago, on 28 May 1987, one of the most bizarre incidents of the Cold War period happened, when West German amateur pilot Mathias Rust managed to steer his hired Cessna monoplane all the way through the Soviet Union's air defence system and made a surprise landing on Red Square in Moscow. Well, strictly speaking only next to Red Square, as the square itself was too full of people at the time so he headed for the emptier area south of St Basil's.

The freak appearance of a Westerner literally a stone's throw from the Soviet heart of power, the Kremlin, did not only make bystanders in Moscow rub their eyes in disbelief (he was soon encircled by pedestrians who asked questions and even requested autographs). The fact that an 18-year-old amateur pilot in a little private plane had been able to get through the reputedly impenetrable Soviet air defence sent shock waves through the military and political leadership. Obviously, because if a little Cessna can get through, how easy must it be for NATO bombers? Apparently, however, Rust had been noticed by radar stations and interceptor planes did catch up with him. Yet, through a combination of incompetence, misunderstandings, reluctance, flaws in the chain of command, and probably simply disbelief, he was let through.

In the end the incident gave Gorbachev the chance to fire some of the old guard in the military command and thus advance his course of change in the USSR. In that sense, Rust's rather naïve claim that he had intended to build a symbolic bridge between East and West to calm the tensions of the Cold War, ended up being actually not totally off the mark.

Anyway, Rust was obviously arrested quickly and later tried and sentenced to four years, but released into the West early. It turned out that his Moscow escapades remained his only claim to fame, as his subsequent years were spent as an “oddball” (his own words) without the newspaper headlines, frequently getting into conflict with the law.

Today's photo shows St Basil's Cathedral and the area in front of it, which is roughly where Rust landed. This was taken 12 years after his flight, i.e. in 1999, on my first trip to Moscow. It was the pre-digital age, so this is a scan of an analogue print (which explains the low image quality).


Friday 25 May 2018 – suicide head

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Photo of the Day: final one in this week's series of mummy photos.

This is a particularly spooky image, I find (and others have told me the same upon seeing it). This was found in the Crime Museum here in Vienna, Austria! And it is the mummified head of a person who had committed suicide.

And suicide is regarded as, perhaps not a crime proper (you can hardly be punished for it either) but as a “sin”, from the point of view of the Catholic world view that has long been prevalent in Austria.

Apparently, though, it is seen as not at all ethically dubious to put the head on public display here, amongst all those artefacts and specimens related to all manner of serious crimes (lots of them capital crimes).

The Crime Museum in Vienna is in fact a very interesting little dark-tourism gem that isn't so well known, but deserves more attention. But be warned, it's not for everyone – and this mummified head isn't the only scary thing to see here. There are plenty of other gory displays, including another mummified head, in this case that of a person executed the 18 century.

Have a happy weekend! Sweet dreams!


Thursday 24 May 2018 – mummy puma

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Photo of the Day: and more on this week's mummy theme.

This was also taken at the undisclosed location near Uyuni, Bolivia (see the previous two posts!), but this is obviously not a human mummy.

It's the mummy of a puma (aka cougar or mountain lion). This was hung above the top of the entrance to the cave with the human mummies – inside, so you only see it when you turn around after having entered the cave or when you're leaving. That's when I suddenly discovered it – which lent an extra dose of scariness to the visit.

Why the puma mummy has been placed there isn't entirely clear. My guide ventured something like to protect the entrance in a spiritual way … but I haven't been able to ascertain that or find anything else out about this particular place.

But it was an unexpected bonus highlight of that trip through the Andean Alto Plano of Bolivia … that was back in 2012.


Wednesday 23 May 2018 – coin in the eye socket

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Photo of the Day: continuing the mummy theme – this is a follow-up to yesterday's post (the mommy mummy with a baby mummy and a can of beer), actually taken at the same place, and showing the same mummy, but from a different angle. Here you can see that the mommy mummy has a coin placed in her left eye socket.

In fact it is quite common that the mummies in Bolivia (and elsewhere in the Andes) are given “gifts”. This tradition of leaving grave goods also explains the can of beer and the coca leaves in yesterday's photo. That has the same function.

So it wasn't (as some my have suspected) trash left behind by disrespectful visitors. Actually these mummies don't get many visitors – other than locals, who would not do such blasphemous things anyway. But the place is not a tourist attraction. It's normally kept secret (and this is why I can't disclose the exact location beyond “near Uyuni”).

However, my guide took me there to make up for the fact that we had to change plans. The original plan would have been to drive across the Salar de Uyuni to the foothills of Tunupa volcano to see the much more famous Coquesa mummies (which ARE on the usual tourist trail). But the Salar was too flooded at the time to allow for a safe drive. My guide reported that the night before two jeeps with tourists who had risked the drive anyway got stuck in the salt slush and had to overnight out there before they could be rescued the next morning. We obviously didn't want to follow that bad example.

On balance I think the outcome was better in terms of mummies – going by photos I've seen online, the Coquesa mummies look less striking than these at the undisclosed location. OK, the drive to the volcano would have been cool, but we were at least able to drive around on the water-covered salt flat for a bit in the vicinity of Colchani, so I did get to see the fabled mirage-like mirror-surface optical effects at Uyuni.


Tuesday 22 May2018

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Photo of the Day: more mummies!

Here's a mommy mummy with a baby mummy … and a can of beer!!

(More comments in tomorrow's post.)

At an undisclosed location near Uyuni, Bolivia.

<Comment: … oh, and a handful of coca leaves too! (This being in Bolivia ...)>


Monday, 21 May 2018 – mummies, Dublin, Ireland

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Photo of the Day: two mummies in the crypt of St Michan's in Dublin, Republic of Ireland.


Sunday, 20 May 2018 – Hawaii update

[photo could not be reproduced as it was a share]

Volcanic activity continues to increase on Hawai'i - with lava fountains, splattering, faster lava flows, at least one of which has now also reached the ocean ... and meanwhile more homes have been destroyed, more people evacuated (some had to be airlifted to safety) and roads are blocked. Some roads have sagged and developed cracks several feet wide. So there's more going on underground too that you can't see directly at the surface.

The Puna district is worst affected directly, but with Volcanoes National Park closed and roads cut off, the impact is widening, also economically.

As feared, the conduit where the lava lake used to be at Kilauea's summit crater has seen some explosions, presumably due to ground water entering, which shot big plumes of ash into the air.

The system is undergoing a "throat clearing", as one scientist put it. As the fissures and lava flows merge in the East Rift Zone, it looks like there's much more to come. There's no sign of the activity abating ...

Some local news reports, photos and video footage here:


Friday 18 May 2018 – Bath School Massacre

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Also on this day, 91 years ago, on 18 May 1927, the little town of Bath, Michigan, USA, made history in the darkest way. In what's become known as the Bath School Massacre, 44 people, amongst them 38 elementary schoolchildren were killed, and a further 58 injured, when the school was blown up! Over months the school board treasurer, Andrew Kehoe, had purchased explosives and secretly planted them under the school.

On the morning of 18 May he first killed his wife, blew up his own farm with incendiary bombs, then the timers of the bombs planted under the school went off, causing the north wing of the school building to collapse. He had also planted yet more explosives under the south wing too, but these failed to detonate – otherwise the entire school would have been destroyed and the death toll would have been ever higher. What's more, he then drove up to the disaster site in his van, which was also stuffed full of explosives, about half an hour after the school bombing. The final van explosion killed Kehoe and another four people present at the school in the rescue efforts.

The Bath School Bombing still stands as the worst school massacre in US history, despite all those school shootings from Columbine to the most recent such events.

Why did Kehoe do it? It may have been partly revenge for public rejection when he lost an election for township clerk. He was also disgruntled about taxes and the school's financial management. But what probably tipped the scales towards massacre and suicide was the fact that his farm was faced with foreclosure. His wife was also chronically ill, which ate into Kehoe's dwindling finances too. Moreover he was reported to have been a very “difficult” character.

The photo (not mine but public domain) shows the school's cupola that used to stand atop the central portal above the entrance. It is now a monument at the site of the former school, the rest of which has been removed and the site is now a memorial park dedicated to the Bath School Disaster.


Friday 18 May 2018 – Mount St Helens

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On this Day, 38 years ago, on 18 May 1980, Mount St Helens in Washington State, USA, exploded. The immediate environs were flattened, the whole topography altered (including, not least, the mountain itself, whose summit ended up 400 metres shorter than it had been previously) … and 57 people were killed. The ash cloud ejected into the atmosphere rose to 25 km high – and subsequent ash fall affected 11 US states.

Today's photo shows not the mountain itself but a hillside opposite it, on the edge of the “blast zone”. You can still see all those dead tree trunks, felled by the explosion and strewn across the slopes like matchsticks – but all neatly aligned in the direction away from the explosion. Just behind the crest of the first hillside you can see tree trunks still standing, as they were thus just out of the way of being hit directly by the force of the blast, but they were still singed by the heat of the explosion and are standing but dead.

Yet you can also see new life here in the form of trees that have grown since the area had been so laid to waste. In fact the speed with which life began to return to the area, which was practically sterilized (and polluted) by the explosion, has surprised scientists.

Currently some fears are being voiced that the ongoing eruptions on Hawai'i (see last Thursday's series of posts) could also trigger explosive events on the American west coast's string of volcanoes, including Mount St Helens. But these fears are most probably unfounded. Those volcanoes are part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, whereas the Hawaiian volcanoes are the result of an isolated “hotspot” in the Earth's crust, so the two systems are not connected.


Thursday 17 May 2018 – DRC

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On this Day, 21 years ago, on 17 May 1997, Laurent Kabila and his forces overthrew dictator Mobutu, who had ruled the country of Zaire with an iron fist for 32 years, and who had personally renamed the country Zaire in 1971. Immediately after Mobutu was toppled, Kabila became president and the country was re-re-named the Democratic Republic of Congo or DRC. (Remember what I said not so long ago, in the context of North Korea, about countries that have the word 'democratic' in their official designation? Like the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which really should be the “Kim-Dynasty-owned playground for general weirdness”).

Kabila did not achieve his predecessor's longevity, though. The time of his rule was horrendous for the Congo, with the Second Congo War devastating the country from 1998 to 2003 (the conflict is sometimes referred to as the “African World War”, since eventually nine African countries were involved in it). Kabila himself didn't live to see the end of the war – he was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards in 2001.

I've never been to the DRC, but I was very close once, namely in Rwanda. Today's photo shows the Rwandan shores of Lake Kivu. The land on the horizon in the background, that's part of the DRC. I was even closer to the DRC on the drive en route to Ruhengeri, which took us past Gisenyi, the border town adjacent to Goma in the DRC, and in the far distance the brooding shape of Mount Nyiragongo was just about visible (but not photographable). That volcano would be my No. 1 reason to ever actually go to the DRC … its crater has the world's largest lava lake (250m across!). I'll post a link in a comment to this post (so do take a look, you won't regret it, on the contrary!)

<comment: here's the link, as promised, a high-quality video clip of an expedition to the crater of Nyiragongo and its lava lake … I find it hard to imagine anything more visually mesmerizing than that lava lake by night …https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ld05Y_OZyOQ>


Wednesday 16 May2018

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Photo of the Day: cemetery emergency exit – in case you're having second thoughts about being dead ...

… we have so much tragedy and seriousness on this page that I thought it's time to feature a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun, even though it's black humour and quite unintentional.

This is a sign I spotted on a door in the wall of the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery) in Vienna. The sign faces the inside of the cemetery.

But of course it's not directed at the permanent residents in the cemetery. I presume it's there so that visitors can get out if they miss the closing time when all the proper entrances get locked for the night. I also like the pleading additional sign “Bitte nicht zusperren” ('please do not lock').

The Central Cemetery here in Vienna does indeed cover such a vast area that I can well imagine that it's quite possible for people to underestimate the distances and time it takes to get to the exit from somewhere in the middle of this megacity of the dead (3 million people have been interred here, making it one of the largest cemeteries by “inhabitants” in the world).


Tuesday 15 May 2018 – broken red star ALZHIR

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Photo of the Day – kind of a follow-up to yesterday's post about the Warsaw Pact. This is a monument in the village of Malinovka, Kazakhstan, featuring a fractured red star.

Malinovka, also known as Akmol, was the site of a special Gulag for the wives (and children) of men who had been arrested as “betrayers of the homeland” during Stalin's worst repressive phases. The camp, known as ALZHIR (pronounced just like the capital of Algeria!), was thus not for those actually convicted of any alleged wrongdoings, but for the totally innocent spouses (and offspring) who were simply deemed just as guilty by association.

In German there is a fitting word for this: “Sippenhaft”, which is hard to translate into English. Literally it would be something like 'clan imprisonment' or rather 'clan liability', with elements of collective punishment' … but it doesn't quit capture it as neatly as the German expression.

There is now also a much larger, modern ALZHIR memorial site in this village located ca. 20 miles outside the Kazakh capital Astana. The associated memorial museum is a decidedly anti-Soviet affair whose historical accuracy often leaves a lot to be desired. But it's visually quite striking too.


Monday 14 May 2018 – Warsaw Pact symbol

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On this Day, 63 years ago, on 14 May 1955, the Warsaw Treaty, better known as the “Warsaw Pact” in the West, was signed by the Soviet Union and 7 of its “satellite states” (Albania, Bulgaria, the ČSSR, the GDR/East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania) in Warsaw, Poland. It had the official name “Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance” and was formed as a reaction to the inclusion of West Germany in NATO.

The Warsaw Pact/Treaty was basically the counterweight to NATO in the Cold-War-era balance of power. Today's photo shows a badge with the Warsaw Treaty logo. The Russian says at the top “Soyuz mira i sotsializma”, which means “Union of Peace and Socialism”, and at the bottom it's simply 'Warsaw Treaty'.

Note the absence of the Albanian flag. This means the badge must be post-1968, which was the year Albania withdrew from the Warsaw Pact in protest against the Pact's intervention in the ČSSR to crush the “Prague Spring” by military force.


Sunday 13 May 2018

Perhaps only borderline dark-tourism-related (and not really urbex either, since the locations are anything but urban), however these are some of the most incredible industrial-dystopian photos I've seen in a long while, so I decided to share the link here anyway. The quality of the English in the accompanying texts is atrocious, but the images … just wow!

I'd so like to see this with my own eyes, but I fear it won't be possible. One of the abandoned mines has already lost its monster machines, going by Google Earth, and I suppose the ones at the other location won't escape being scrapped either for much longer …

The closest to something like this that I ever got was back in 1995 in eastern Germany where a group of us ventured into a vast lignite open-cast mine … one that was still in operation at the time (by now it's all gone and “re-naturalized”). We had just made it to one of the vast machines parked in a non-active section away from the actual mining operations, so we had the thing all to ourselves, when a car with some security staff drove up who told us to get out. So we couldn't even embark on climbing that metal monster. Still, I have vivid memories of that little trespassing adventure and what an impact the visual impression of standing right next to such a giant made on me. It's a shame that none of us had thought to take a camera along (those were the days – now I'd never go to anything like this without at least one camera, more likely two or three).


Sunday 13 May2018

I gave another interview not so long ago and this has meanwhile fed into this article. It includes a few inaccuracies, e.g. the dangerous phase of the Cold War referred to was not in the “late 1980” but the early 80s, during the first Reagan Administration (with Star Wars and the “Empire of Evil” and all that). Some other bits a little out of context, but overall I'm quite happy with this. Much less of that “moral panic” than is usual in media articles about dark tourism. There are also some good comments below the main text (and a couple of atrocious ones too, as usual):

<comment you can also read the full script of the interview on DT's main website, if you're interested in my original, unedited answers to the various questions I was asked.

http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/news/18-main-menus/mainmenussubpages/1240-interview-for-stuff-nz >


Friday 11 May2018

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A sad reason to post something from Bradford, West Yorkshire, England – a place I once used to call home …

On this Day, 35 years ago, on 11 May 1985, the Bradford City stadium fire killed 56 and injured over 250. It was one of the worst disasters at a football stadium in Britain ever. And it had been a disaster waiting to happen. The roof of the main stand was made of wood and was covered in flammable bitumen, there was paper and rubbish under the seats, which made for perfect tinder when a cigarette butt was thrown onto it during a match against Lincoln City. There were no fire extinguishers anywhere (apparently they had been removed for fear of vandalism). Within minutes the whole stand and the roof were in flames. People trying to flee using the emergency exits found most of them locked, but some men managed to break a few doors down. Others fled onto the pitch – fortunately there was no fence stopping them from doing so. Otherwise the death toll could have been much higher.

I obviously do not have a photo of the disaster site itself – and couldn't, because the stadium was demolished and replaced by a totally new (and much safer) one, and I only arrived in the city in 1996 (to take up a job at the university there until 2001).

So instead I give you a photo of another semi-ruin that is right in the city centre of Bradford, the former Odeon cinema (in the background the faux-historic façade of the Alhambra Theatre and on the left Wardley House, home to an old ice rink).

Once one of the largest cinemas in Britain, the Odeon had a chequered history, both as a cinema and also serving as a concert venue, played by e.g. Buddy Holly, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. But eventually it suffered an unstoppable decline. Efforts to use it as a multiplex-type cinema failed, and when I arrived in the city in the 1990s it was merely used as a Bingo hall, but that soon finished as well. Since 2000 the place has been standing abandoned.

This photo was taken on a return visit to see friends and former colleagues in 2008. Note the green vegetation growing at the top!

For years the future of the building has been uncertain, despite several 'save the Odeon' campaigns. At one point it was even threatened with demolition. Now a plan has been drawn up to convert the place back into a concert venue. Raising the necessary funds (an estimated £20m) has been an obstacle, but it is now looking good, and the site is expected to reopen by 2020. So there's a positive note to end this post on which began with so much tragedy …


Thursday 10 May 2018, afternoon – photo and links from the Guardian re. Hawaii

[photo could not be reconstructed as it was a share]

Dramatic events on Hawai'i this week (and last week). This photo, part of a series published in the Guardian (link follows in the next post), shows the new lava flow in the Puna District in the Lower East Rift Zone south of Hilo where a fissure opened following the collapse of the Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater floor on 30 April, after which the lava proceeded through underground lava tubes.

You can see on this image of a part of the Leilani Estates taken from the air one home already being consumed by the lava – and that swimming pool and house in the bottom right corner of the photo also look doomed!

The inhabitants of the area have been evacuated. And the owners of these destroyed homes are now paying the price for having made their homes in such an unstable area. Needless to say, there's no insurance covering the loss of these homes. That's also why real estate has been so affordable in this area. It was a gamble, and the home owners knew that. Still it's tragic. Especially as many won't have the funds to simply relocate elsewhere (the affordability of Puna drew many non-moneyed people in, including many artists, in the first place)

Yet it gives us outside observers some incredible images and video footage (next post) demonstrating the forces of nature in not only dramatic but also breathtakingly aesthetic ways ...


Thursday 10 May 2018, afternoon #2

Here's an article featuring dramatic videos of the recent lava flows on Hawai'i (see previous post). The first is a time-lapse of a car being “eaten” by the lava, the second was taken from a helicopter and the aerial footage shows the fissure spouting lava and the resultant lava flow eating its way through Leilani Estates, including those very homes seen in the photo posted earlier.


Thursday 10 May 2018, afternoon #3 – Hawaii Magazine article with videos

And here are even more dramatic videos of the various hotspots of the current eruptions on Hawai'i, this time from a local source.


Thursday 10 May 2018, afternoon #4 - Hawaii Magazine about the lava lake drop

And another article from that same source (see previous post). This is about the dramatic drop in the lava lake at the Halema'uma'u crater within Volcanoes National Park. This is apparently similar to the drop that preceded the last explosive eruption at this site in 1924. Whether the current drop can also mean a violent eruption could occur is hard to say, but if the drop continues below the groundwater table, this is a serious possibility.

What is definite for now though, is that the ca. 300m drop in the lava level at Halema'uma'u will have significantly diminished that beautiful nightly glow that I enjoyed at the observation point at Jaggar Volcano Observatory back in 2015. Whether that'll come back is unsure. Last time it took 85 years to return. It may also be that it is finished for good and that volcanic activity has moved to the East Rift Valley for the foreseeable future.


Thursday 10 May 2018, afternoon #5

more on the social aspects of the eruptions on Hawai'i and the area they are happening in (see previous series of posts) here:


Thursday 10 May 2018, afternoon #6

and finally, you can keep up to date with the Kilauea eruptions here (also at the HVO, of course):


Thursday 10 May 2018 – Bebelplatz book burning

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On this Day, 85 years ago, in the late evening of 10 May 1933, the Nazis staged a vicious show of ideology when they burned thousands of books authored by Jews, communists, liberals, et al., seized from a university library, under the motto “Wider den undeutschen Geist” ('against the un-German spirit').

There were several book burnings, but the most publicized one such “event” took place on this date on a large open square next to the opera in the centre of the capital Berlin, with Joseph Goebbels (Propaganda Minister) himself as the “master of ceremonies”. The whole thing was filmed to be shown in cinemas nationwide in an orchestrated propaganda campaign. You may have seen snippets of footage of that unsavoury spectacle.

It took place only shortly after the Nazis had come into power earlier that year, and it was a bloodless event, nobody got killed, only books, but it was foreboding – a sign of much, much worse to come.

The historic site is on the square which is now called Bebelplatz – after the socialist August Bebel (the Nazis will hopefully be turning in their graves …). The events of 10 May 1933 are commemorated by the monument seen in today's photo. It's quite unusual – an underground chamber beneath a plate of glass you can step on, with the four walls designed like empty bookcases. It is the work of the Israeli artist Micha Ullman and was unveiled in 1995.

Adjacent to the monument is a bronze plaque set into the pavement that quotes Heinrich Heine's prophetic statement from 1820 “Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen” (roughly 'it's but an overture – where they are burning books they will end up burning people too'). And so it did indeed come, as we all know …


Wednesday 9 May 2018 – lighthouse in Denmark

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Photo of the Day: an ex-lighthouse slowly being engulfed by the shifting sands of a coastal dune in northern Denmark.

The photo is courtesy of my Dad, whose birthday it is today, so this is my little salute to him here! (Not that he'll see it – he's not on Facebook ...)

I searched for the lighthouse online and found that this is Rubjerg Knude lighthouse in the far north of Jutland (mainland Denmark), and also discovered that the impression that it's half “eaten” by the sand is actually an optical illusion – the photo must have been taken from below the crest of a neighbouring dune. The base of the lighthouse is at present still accessible. The former lighthouse keeper's houses, however, were destroyed by the pressure of the sand and have been removed.

The lighthouse itself is also doomed. Not so much by the sand eventually covering it completely, but rather from the erosion of the coast. According to Wikipedia, it is expected that the lighthouse will fall into the sea by 2023. It had been built in 1899 and was first lit in 1900, but ceased operation in 1968. For many years it was still used as a museum and cafe, but this was forced to shut down in 2002 due to the encroaching sand, so the tower has been abandoned ever since.


Tuesday 8 May 2018 – AMARG

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Photo of the Day: very loosely a follow-up to yesterday's post about the NATO bombings of Belgrade ... This is the AMARG “boneyard”, or plane “cemetery”, of the US Air Force in Tucson, Arizona. The acronym stands for Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group.

This is the main site where the American military stores decommissioned aircraft and missiles, and eventually guts and disassembles them. Aircraft from other NATO states are also stored and scrapped here.

It's quite a site to behold: there are hundreds and hundreds of often identical aircraft lined up across a vast area of parched desert. What you see in this photo is only a tiny fraction of the lot. Many aircraft are covered in white plastic foil, at least their co*ckpits and engines, to prevent overheating inside due to the brutal Arizona sun. But in the case of that row of helicopters to the left of this image it looks almost like they are covered in shrouds.

Since this is a military area, unauthorized civilians are obviously not allowed to just wander in and have a look around. (If you tried to do so you'd seriously risk your life – the perimeter is of course secured by armed guards!) However, the nearby Pima Air & Space Museum organizes regular excursions to the AMARG plain of planes by bus, accompanied by former staff of the site. You can't get out of the bus, but you get a pretty good impression. Quite a unique thing to see!


Monday 7 May 2018

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On this Day, 19 years ago, on the night of 7-8 May 1999, NATO bombed several targets in Serbia's capital Belgrade during the Kosovo War. Most targets were government buildings, communications or military installations, but amongst those hit was also the Chinese embassy! Three people were killed and 20 injured. In a statement following the attack the USA said it was an “accidental”, a tragic mistake (due to the targeting data erroneously entered into the GPS-guided weapons). The Chinese, of course were outraged, calling it a “barbarian act”.

Today's photo does not show the ruin of the Chinese embassy but that of another building that was bombed in the attack, located at the bottom of Kneza Milosa street (photographed during my December 2015 visit to Belgrade). The former Chinese Embassy building has meanwhile been demolished and a new edifice at the site is currently under construction.

The Chinese embassy bombing not only strained Sino-American relations, it also sparked conspiracy theories and accusations that the attack had not in fact been accidental but deliberate. The fact that the attack had been carried out by the USA alone (using B-2 bombers that had flown all the way from a USAF base in Missouri, USA), and under the command of the CIA, and not in conjunction with a NATO chain of command, fostered such rumours.

However, a report by the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia), came to the conclusion that it was indeed a failure in target location that was to blame (the building was misidentified as the intended target just a few hundred metres away), the mistake may have been made by an individual in the US intelligence; the pilots and their commanders were not the guilty ones.

Still, others argued that databases of “protected no-strike sites” (also including hospitals, schools, etc.) had the embassy listed at its correct location. So the “error” could have been prevented. The US was also criticized for continuing its bombing campaign, without immediately reviewing its targeting techniques, despite their obvious failure to avoid such “collateral damage” through “accidental” attacks.


Sunday 6 May 2018

I've meanwhile heard that the plan for the restoration of Buzludzha may actually follow this scheme, which has been up as a proposal for some time but only now is attracting recognition. I think this plan would be a fairly good compromise in between full restoration to its former glory and the state it is in now. Maybe the plan involves a little too much commodification, including thematic strands that aren't so closely related to the monument, strictly speaking, but I like the idea of how the mosaics are to be treated and also the proposed installation in the tower behind those red stars. The added commodification may actually be only temporary in any case. We'll see.

What is certain is that the days of sneaking in (trespassing, in effect) and admiring, and photographing, the picturesque dilapidation will most likely be over. But that sort of “urbex” appeal is always just transient anyway. So on balance all this is good news for the monument itself, in that it may now have a future again. But it's not so good news for those who would have liked to see the place in its abandoned form and never made it there. Now it's (probably) too late.

It will also take years for the restoration to be finished, I would reckon, and while it is ongoing it might get ugly, with scaffolding and cranes and such like. But it should be for the better in the long run.


Saturday 5 May 2018 – Buzludzha again!

I don't understand the language spoken in this video myself, but I was told that what is being said is about the possible outlook of saving the monument. It also confirms that there is indeed now a permanent police post guarding Buzludzha round the clock. The latter will mean that exploring the inside is no longer possible (for the time being at least).

There is also some cool historical footage in this video showing what it looked like intact and in use, thus giving a vague impression of the state the place could potentially be restored to. Although a complete restoration (with all the glorification of communism) is highly unlikely, and I'm not sure it would be such a good thing to just copy the original design.

Anyway, the main thing for now is just securing the structure, esp. to stop it being so exposed to the elements, seal the roof, and eventually make it safe for visits again. Removing the worst of the graffiti and repairing some of the damage done to the mosaics would also be good. But a full recreation of the site as it was before it was abandoned would lose most of the unique atmosphere the place had when I visited it a few years ago. And I think some of that should be retained, if at all possible …

<comment: here you can see some photos of the state I found Buzludzha in on my visit back in 2011 (but the text of that chapter will have to be substantially re-written sooner or later):



Friday 4 May 2018 – Tito's death – photo: Tito shrine in Skopje

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On this Day, 38 years ago, on 4 May 1980, Tito died. So I picked a photo from my archives that shows a venerable Tito shrine, spotted in Skopje, the capital of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia …

Tito, real name Josip Broz, had played a crucial role as a communist partisan leader in the fight against fascism in the Balkans, and partly thanks to that he became the leader of the newly formed Yugoslavia after WWII.

Tito is seen by many as a “benevolent dictator” but there were indisputably dark sides to him as well. Especially after he had fallen out with Stalin (both even threatened each other with assassination), he himself adopted Stalinist-like methods of repression of political opponents or people expressing pro-Soviet views. Thousands were sent to political prison camps such as Goli Otok. Many did not survive.

Yet Tito's opposition to the Soviet Union earned him support (and aid) from the West, and subsequently, following Stalin's death, after which a somewhat more relaxed relationship with the USSR could resume, he played his cards cleverly within the East-West divide, retaining his somewhat relaxed version of a communist system at home, but instead of joining the Warsaw Pact, founded the Non-Alignment Movement (together with India's prime minister Nehru and Egypt's president Nasser), thus siding neither with the West nor the East in military terms.

Tito is also often regarded as the “glue” that held the multi-ethnic federation of Yugoslavia together. After his death in 1980, this fragile construct indeed began to show cracks. With the collapse of the communist Eastern Bloc regimes and amidst rising nationalism, tensions between the different ethnic parts of Yugoslavia escalated into the Balkan wars of the 1990s and the break-up of Yugoslavia. Today there are six recognized successor states, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia (FYROM), Montenegro, and Serbia – the latter two were the last to split – plus the contested, not universally recognized Kosovo.

Tensions between different ethnic groups within some of these countries still exist, especially in Bosnia & Herzegovina and in parts of Croatia. Quite a few people are nostalgic for the “good old days” under Tito, while his legacy remains controversial for others. These countries' relationship with the historic heritage of the Tito era is thus “complicated” …


Thursday 3 May2018

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On this Day, 73 years ago, on 3 May 1945, the German ship “Cap Arcona” was sunk by British RAF planes – killing nearly 5000, mainly former concentration camp inmates.

So in a way this is also a follow-up to yesterday's post about the sinking of the General Belgrano during the Falklands War. Not just because it is another sinking of a vessel by the British, but also because – like the Belgrano – it is one of the less glamorous chapters in Britain's military history.

That said, though, the information from the Swedish and Swiss Red Cross that the ship was carrying thousands of inmates from concentration camps (who had recently been “evacuated” by the SS) somehow failed to be passed on to British intelligence. The Allies were instead just fearing that high-ranking SS personnel were about to use a flotilla of ships gathered in the bay of Lübeck in the Baltic Sea to flee to either Norway or neutral countries so as to evade capture by the rapidly advancing British armies in northern Germany.

It also didn't help that the Cap Arcona lacked any Red Cross markings, and the prisoners were all locked up under deck and in the holds, so the British pilots of the attacking planes were unaware of their presence. When the ship sank after the attacks, only some 350 prisoners survived … whereas the SS men (and a few SS women) all managed to jump overboard in their life jackets and were later rescued.

Of course, the great tragedy with regard to the prisoners who drowned with the ship was also that this happened so shortly before the end of the war. Hitler had already committed suicide and the north German command was just about to surrender, followed only a few days later by the unconditional surrender of all of Nazi Germany.

However, it is unclear if the concentration camp inmates would have survived had the attack not happened. It is quite possible that the SS would have murdered them either on arrival (wherever that would have been) or scuttled the ships with them still on board. In the chaos of these last days of the war, there were many uncertainties.

For several weeks after the sinking corpses of the victims of the Cap Arcona would be washed up on the German Baltic coast … even decades later body parts, or bones, would keep washing up occasionally, the last one allegedly as late as in 1971.

An ironic detail in this context is also that the Cap Arcona was used as a film set to stand in as the RMS Titanic in a propaganda film made in Nazi Germany in 1943 about that earlier maritime disaster … although this story was highly fictionalized in the movie.

I don't have an image of the Cap Arcona in my own photo archive, obviously enough, but I can give you this historic photo showing the burning ship before it sank (image taken by the RAF after the attack and now in the public domain).


Wednesday 2 May 2018

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On this Day, 36 years ago, the Argentinian cruiser ARA General Belgrano was sunk by a British submarine, causing the single largest loss of life in the entire Falklands War: well over 300, about a third of the total crew of the cruiser, went down with her.

So this is kind of a follow-up to Monday's post, and a stark contrast to it. While the Black Buck bomber raids were one of the most celebrated achievements of the British military in this conflict (even though what damage they caused was relatively inconsequential, the sinking of the General Belgrano was one of the most controversial and widely condemned operations by the British, and certainly the deadliest.

Today's photo is a re-post from last year, when the post turned out to be not particularly popular (for whatever reason – I found it a bit surprising at the time; let's see how it performs this time around …), so probably not too many followers of this page will remember it.

This piece of equipment is the actual VLF (very low frequency) radio transmitter used by the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to send the authorization for the sinking of the General Belgrano to the submarine HMS Conqueror, which then fired the lethal torpedoes. This VLF transmitter is now on display at the Hack Green nuclear bunker's Cold War exhibition, in Cheshire, northern England.


Tuesday 1 May 2018 – Labour Day

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Today is the 1st of May, Labour Day, or International Workers' Day … a public holiday in the majority of the world's ca. 200 countries and as such one of the few achievements of the socialist movement (who established the date in the later 19 century) that still stands.

All through the communist era of the countries that comprised the former Eastern Bloc, this day was not only a public holiday, it was also the main celebration of the year, with grand parades and lots of flag-waving etc. (not all of it voluntary – but participation in marches on May Day was expected e.g. of members of the communist parties' youth organizations).

This sign is on display at the Life in the GDR Museum in Berlin (about, as you will have guessed, everyday life in East Germany). The text translates roughly as “fighting day for peace, freedom and international law! – 1st of May”. I presume whoever penned this slogan didn't find fault with the slight contradiction between “Kampf” and “Frieden”, nor with addition of “Freiheit”, even though society in the GDR was anything but free.


Monday 30 April2018

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On this Day, 36 years ago, on 30 April 1982, Operation Black Buck began. This was a series of long-range bombing missions by the British RAF in the Falklands War against Argentina, which had invaded this British Overseas Territory a few weeks earlier.

Today's photo shows a section of the bas-relief on the main war memorial in Stanley, the islands' capital. Included is a depiction of a mid-air refuelling operation of a Vulcan bomber by a converted Victor bomber. In order to make the mission possible several such refuellings were required because the Vulcan lacked the range to fly all the distance from the RAF base on Ascension Island near the equator … even some of the tankers had to be refuelled themselves in mid air to be able to get to the scheduled rendezvous positions with the Vulcans.

In the end, the bombing raids caused only minimal damage and what damage they managed to inflict was quickly repaired by the Argentinians. The whole point of the operation was probably more psychological than anything else – a symbol of resolve and a demonstration of capability. Indeed, managing the logistics involved in making these daring operations possible was tall order and having accomplished this is admirable. Even though it had at best only a minor influence on the outcome of the war.

Much greater was that of the sorties of the short-range Harrier fighter planes that operated out of the two Royal Navy aircraft carriers that were the core of the “Task Force” sent all the way from Britain to the South Atlantic.

One of these carriers is also seen on this bas-relief, and the foreground and the scenery below the aircraft are most likely supposed to depict Stanley and the bay it lies on. Of course, this scene would never have been seen in reality. The aircraft carriers would never have been so close to the coast as to be so clearly visible from Stanley, nor would any refuelling operations have taken place directly above it (that would have been totally nonsensical) – so it's all more symbolic rather than realistic.


Friday 27 April 2018 – evacuation of Pripyat

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On this Day, 32 years ago, on 27 April 1986, some 36 hours after the explosion at the Chernobyl NPP (see yesterday's post), the adjacent city of Pripyat was evacuated.

Once set in motion, though, the evacuation was swift and total. The residents were told to pack only essentials for a few days, after which they'd return home, but as we all know they had to leave their homes behind for good.

A few people did return, though, not to Pripyat, but to some of the small villages around it that also ended up in the Exclusion Zone that was declared around the stricken reactor. The “re-settlers” as they became known, in general elderly people, were first there illegally, but have in the meantime become accepted. And now there's even a minimum of medical services supplied to them. But fundamentally they live completely self-sufficient lives. On my latest trip to the Zone we visited a couple of re-settlers to get a glimpse into their lives.

But on my next Chernobyl trip – whenever that may be (but I'm positive there'll be one) – I'd also like to go to Slavutych, the city that was purpose-built just outside the Exclusion Zone to house the NPP's workers and their families who had lost their home town of Pripyat. Even now, as the plant is being decommissioned and decontaminated, the Ukrainian workers still employed there commute to their jobs by train from Slavutych. At least one Chernobyl tour operator offers the option of visiting this city (which pretty much looks like a lived-in Pripyat #2) and riding to the Zone on this train. One day I hope I can go on such a tour …

Today's photo was taken in Pripyat in 2015 … you can just about make out the façade of one of the abandoned residential blocks in the background. Where the radiation warning sign stands there would once have been the pavement. But now it is completely overgrown.


Thursday 26 April 2018

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On this Day, 32 years ago, in the early hours of 26 April 1986, the Chernobyl disaster began, when Block 4 of the Nuclear Power Plant of that name in northern Ukraine, then part of the USSR, exploded, releasing large amounts of radioactivity into the atmosphere.

It was the most serious nuclear disaster in history – at least when the f*ckushima Daiichi nuclear disaster happened in the wake of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. f*ckushima is the only other such disaster sharing the Level 7 classification on the International Nuclear Event Scale (and in the longer run f*ckushima may well turn out even more disastrous than Chernobyl).

Chernobyl was a global shock – but the resultant Exclusion Zone, the old NPP and, in particular, the nearby ghost town of Pripyat, which used to house the NPP's workers and their families, have become one of the prime destinations of dark tourism worldwide. I can't concur more – for me it is the absolute pinnacle of DT, and if you've followed this page for a while you'll have seen plenty of posts from the Zone already – and yet more are sure to come.

For today's post, however, I picked a photo that was not taken in Chernobyl itself, but even in a different country, namely Kazakhstan, more precisely the city of Pavlodar in the north-east of this vast country. This is one of several Chernobyl monuments that were set up all across the former Soviet Union. Others can also be found in Russia, and of course in Ukraine itself.


Wednesday 25 April 2018

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On this Day, it's ANZAC Day, now commemorating all Australians and New Zealanders who fought and died in various wars, but originally the date marked the anniversary of the beginning of the Gallipoli campaign in World War One on 25 April 1915.

On that day, forces from Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand landed on the Gallipoli peninsula on the Dardanelles Strait in what is now western Turkey, then part of the Ottoman Empire, which sided with Germany in the Great War. The strait was of strategic importance because it controlled access to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean (or vice versa, especially from the point of view of the eastern ally of the Entente powers, Russia).

The ensuing battle of Gallipoli turned into one of the first mass slaughters of this bloody war, with enormous losses on all sides, including the Australians and New Zealanders. But even though the Turkish side took the largest numbers of casualties, it was eventually victorious … so in the end it was a disaster for the Allies.

The short form “ANZAC” derives from the designation “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps”. Both countries had joined the British war effort – in some kind of Commonwealth allegiance – even though neither country had any real stakes in that war, but both were still dominions of the British Empire at the time.

Today's photo is re-posted from last year's ANZAC Day and shows the monument at the beachfront where the landings began.


Tuesday 24 April2018

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On this Day, 102 years ago, on 24 April 1916, the Easter Rising began in Dublin, Ireland, when a group of rebels marched into the city and seized various strategic positions, including the post office, which they made their HQ, and proclaimed an Irish Republic.

This was quickly crushed by the English “masters” and colonial rule re-established. The rebel leaders were captured and imprisoned (esp. in the city's infamous Kilmainham Jail – today a memorial site) and 15 of them were executed.

That turned out to have been a bad move in the longer run. The English had thus given the Irish independence movement its martyrs. Shortly after WW1 a War of Independence broke out, leading to the partition of the island, with the North (Ulster) remaining part of the UK, while the larger southern part did indeed become an independent Republic of Ireland. This separation has remained a sore point in Anglo-Irish relations and – alongside religious sectarianism – also led to the “Troubles” … but that's another topic for another time ...

Today's photo shows a curious little trace of the Easter Rising – a bullet hole in the right breast of a woman sculpture that is part of the O'Connell monument in the city centre of Dublin.


Monday 23 April 2018 – Helgoland

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Photo of the Day: a kind of follow-up to yesterday's post about the Channel Islands. This photo was taken on another island with a chequered and interesting history involving Nazis, Britain and WWII.

This is Heligoland ('Helgoland', without the <i>, in German), an island that is basically one large red rock in the North Sea, in the German Bight, some 70 km out to sea from the mouth of the River Elbe.

The island changed hands a few times in its history, once being a Danish possession, then British, then German. Britain initially traded the island for strategic places in Africa (in the so-called Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty – even though it also involved further territorial exchanges in various other parts of Africa).

During WWII the Nazis embarked on a massive fortification programme called “Projekt Hummerschere” ('lobster claw') that was intended to turn Heligoland into a gigantic naval base. Only parts of this were actually finished – and some of this you can see in today's photo … that long concrete pier jutting out into the sea goes back to that time.

After the war, during which Heligoland was subjected to some severe aerial bombing, Britain took over the island again and its native population was forced out. The British then set about razing the island. This included the biggest ever deliberate non-nuclear explosion, using almost 7000 tonnes of TNT – which was aptly code-named “Big Bang”. This massive detonation changed the topography of the island forever. And you can still see the scars of it in the newly created “middle land” between the cliff-tops (“upper land”) and the “lower land” around the harbour. The island was given back to Germany in 1952 and the original population was allowed to return – but all dwellings and other houses had to be rebuilt from scratch.

Still in place, though, were and still are some of the underground bunkers and tunnels that the Nazis constructed during WWII. Parts of these can be visited. I've not yet had the chance to do that, but it will give me a good incentive for a return visit to this fantastic and unique speck of land in the sea. (Most tourists, however, come for the beaches and the duty-free shops the islanders were allowed to keep running even after the creation of the EU, as a concession, given it's a vital part of the local economy).

This photo, however, is old – in fact it's from the pre-digital age, a scan of an analogue print. i.e. it was taken around 20 years ago


Sunday 22 April 2018 – share JC article about Channel Islands

[link could not be reconstructed]

An interesting story related to the Channel Islands – which have a pretty unique and interesting history, esp. regarding WWII when they were the only “part” of Britain that Nazi Germany managed to occupy. I've only ever been there once, and far too briefly, and only to Jersey. But I know there'd be loads to discover in terms of dark tourism there, not just on Jersey (the largest of the islands) but especially on Guernsey and Alderney.

The latter has recently been in the media with regard to the controversy surrounding the commemoration – or lack thereof – of the Lager Sylt, a former Nazi concentration camp for Jewish inmates, of which a few traces, such as the gateposts, still exist. While some campaign for this site to be properly commodified for tourists, others in the local administration and tourism industry are against it and rather follow the “let's not linger on the bad things of the past, let's look to the future” variety of selective historical amnesia.

The Channel Islands were also one of the case studies in the very first academic volume on dark tourism (by Lennon/Foley, simply entitled “Dark Tourism”) and I remember a presentation about the topic given by Dr Gilly Carr (mentioned in the article linked below), who was one of the keynote speakers at the inaugural conference of the Institute for Dark Tourism Research at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston in 2012 that I also attended.

I really have to plan a proper field trip to these islands one day …


Saturday 21 April 2018

… kind of a follow-up to yesterday's post. Another case involving the murder of children ...

Looks like the pioneer in autism research that the form known as Asperger Syndrome is named after, had quite a dark secret … except it wasn't even a secret, really, it just got forgotten and/or ignored after WWII.

But Hans Asperger played a significant role in the Third Reich's medical crimes, including its “euthanasia” programme. Apparently he sent quite a few of his child patients to the Spiegelgrund psychiatric clinic in Vienna … where an estimated total of 800 children were killed.

Spiegelgrund is still a psychiatric clinic, but in one of the old buildings there now houses a memorial exhibition about this dark chapter of the institution's history during the Nazi era. When I visited it a few years back, I don't think I saw the name Asperger mentioned – yet. I wonder if that will now change … I have to go back at some point and check.

Asperger's, by the way, is a mild form of autism that results in certain difficulties in social interaction, but can also show itself in abnormally intense focus on specific activities. One famous sufferer is the musician Gary Numan, who's been quite open about it in recent years, explaining his difficulties in his early career in interview situations and with the media in general (he's adapted significantly in the meantime), but also seeing the positive aspects – e.g. that ability to focus intensely on his work in music production and also the benefit of simply ignoring/forgetting about negative reviews, so he's not bothered by them.


Friday 20 April 2018 – Hitler's birthday / Columbine shooting 1999 / Bullenhuser Damm

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On this Day … I would have had several choices of anniversaries. For one thing I could have stayed in America for yet one more post, as today is the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting of 1999. But I thought we've heard more about shootings and gun laws in America lately than is savoury.

Alternatively I could have picked the fact that today is Adolf Hitler's birthday … but I thought: no, not again

So I bring you a different and most likely far, far less well-known anniversary. That of the child murders at Bullenhuser Damm. In this photo you see the school building on the street of that name in Hamburg, Germany, in whose basem*nt 20 children from the concentration camp of Neuengamme were killed by the Nazis on 20 April 1945.

The ten girls and ten boys had been specially selected by Josef Mengele and sent from Auschwitz to Neuengamme specifically to be subjected to various cruel medical experiments by that camp's doctor Kurt Heißmeyer.

As in the spring of 1945 the war was more and more obviously being lost by the Nazis, it was decided to cover up all evidence of those medical crimes and “dispose of” the poor kids. So they were taken to this school building, which at the time was standing empty and unused after having served as a satellite camp of Neuengamme's (but, like the main camp, had just been “evacuated”, i.e. the inmates were taken to other camps). The kids were given morphine and then were hanged one after the other in the basem*nt's boiler room during the night.

Like so many stories of Nazi crimes this one would also have been more or less forgotten, had it not been for specific journalistic efforts to bring the case to which that began in the 1970s. Today it is actually one of the best documented such cases and new details are still being uncovered.

The new documentation centre in the basem*nt that opened in 2011 is now bilingual and thus also accessible to foreign visitors. It's an incredibly sombre place, but highly recommended should you ever pass through Hamburg on a Sunday (unfortunately the only day of the week when the centre is open).

<comment: read the full (and quite fascinating) story of the case and the memorial here:



Thursday 19 April 2018 – Oklahoma city bombing

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… staying in America … On this Day, 23 years ago, on 19 April 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, a government administration block in Oklahoma City was the target of the worst terrorist incident on the territory of the USA prior to 9/11. A massive bomb made from fertilizer planted inside a rental truck parked outside the building ripped it apart and caused a partial collapse. 168 people died, including 20 children in a day-care centre inside, and hundreds were injured.

Unlike 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing was a “home-grown”, internal terrorist event, perpetrated by a US citizen (who may or may not have acted alone), called Timothy McVeigh, who was a 1991 Gulf War veteran and later alleged member of an underground militia.

His exact motives remained somewhat obscure, though. What may have been involved could have been some sort of retaliation for the government's handling of the siege to the Branch Davidians' sect compound in Waco, Texas, exactly two years earlier, in 1993. Though the full connection was never made properly clear. McVeigh was sentenced to death and executed in 2001.

Today's photo shows the reflecting pool and the main gate-like monument (aptly reflected in the pool). And the cream-coloured building on the right was directly adjacent to the destroyed Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and also suffered some damage. Today it houses the memorial museum associated with the site.


Wednesday 18 April2018

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On this Day, 102 years ago, on 18 April 1906 a massive earthquake (estimated magnitude 7.9) destroyed much of the city of San Francisco, California, USA.

The city is still prone to the threat of more serious earthquakes to come, sitting as it does on the San Andreas Fault Line between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates.

Today's photo shows one of the most iconic post-modern buildings of contemporary San Francisco, the so-called Transamerica Pyramid (named after the company that originally occupied it), whose design was partially informed by techniques to make it earthquake-resistant.

The heritage of the disastrous earthquake is not much commodified for tourists in San Francisco, there are a few photos on display (and for sale) at the very touristy Fisherman's Wharf and you may be able to spot the odd earthquake-related scar on buildings (such as the Fairmont Hotel), but to get more on the topic you'd have to leave the city and head north to the Point Reyes National Seashore, which features an “Earthquake Trail”, or to the US Army Corps of Engineers Museum in Sausalito which also features some content about the earthquake.


Tuesday 17 April 2018

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On this Day, 48 years ago, on 17 April 1970, the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission returned safely to Earth following an aborted Moon-landing mission. Today's photo shows the original spacesuit worn by one of the mission's crew of three astronauts, namely that of Fred Haise, who would have been the Lunar Module pilot. The spacesuit is now on display at the Onizuka Space Centre at Kona airport, Big Island, Hawaii.

Of course the fact that the three astronauts returned to Earth alive was a very positive outcome of the story – yet it could easily have been one of the darkest episodes in the whole history of space exploration.

Two days into the mission there was an explosion which largely incapacitated the Service Module that the crew depended on. The three had to move into the Lunar Module and survive on limited supplies of water and oxygen, enduring bitter cold due to limited heating energy available, to make a return possible. Of course on such a space flight you cannot simply turn around and go home. The flight had to continue all the way to the moon, swing round its far side and then, instead of separating the Lunar Module for landing, simply continued on the flight path back towards Earth. The thus aborted/shortened mission took 6 days.

The story has been dramatized in a 1995 movie starring Tom Hanks which gives a pretty good impression of the anxieties and developments of those days.

The Apollo 13 incident gave the English language the figure of speech “Houston, we have a problem” - even though what the astronaut actually said in the radio exchange with the ground control centre in Houston Texas following the explosion was “we've HAD a problem” (present perfect, not simple present tense), as they were not yet aware that they continued to have a massive, life-threatening problem …

Incidentally, the museum where Haise's spacesuit is on display now is named after another astronaut, Hawaii-born Ellison S. Onizuka, who was less lucky than Haise: Onizuka was one of those who perished in the Challenger disaster of 1986.


Monday 16 April 2018 – Colditz

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On this day, 73 years ago, on 16 April 1945, Colditz Castle was captured by the American 1 US Army!

Now, if you're British, the name Colditz will probably be very familiar and most likely triggers all sorts of associations with films, books, games and other references in popular culture.

For all non-Brits, however, chances are that you've never heard of the place. So here's the story, in brief: during WWII this castle in a small town of the same name, Colditz in Saxony, Germany, was used by the Nazis as a POW prison officially designated Oflag IV-C. “Oflag” was short for “Offizierslager”, i.e. the prison was only for special high-ranking inmates, namely officers of the enemy military captured by the Germans.

The castle received its first prisoners, Polish officers, as early as November 1939. Over the following years it was predominantly British, Dutch and French officers who ended up here, plus some Canadians, Americans and others. Colditz was also the place where so-called “Prominente” were held. Literally the word translates as 'celebrities', but referred more to people in some way related or associated with VIPs such British Royalty or e.g. the nephew of Winston Churchill's wife.

Unlike at the ordinary German POW camps, the inmates at Colditz enjoyed several privileges, not least being treated according to the Geneva Convention (in stark contrast to the inhumanity that was the norm at other camps, especially those for Soviet POWs). There even was a tacit understanding that is was the prisoners' expected role to try to escape and that it was the guards' job to prevent this or at least make it difficult. There was a sort of mutual respect for this set-up, almost a gentlemen's agreement.

And indeed several escape attempts were made, some successful, some not, and some using flamboyant and imaginative tactics. The pinnacle was the construction of a glider plane that was to be launched from the castle tower … yet it never came to that as the prison was liberated before the contraption had a chance to fly (it was later demonstrated by means of replicas, however, that it could indeed have worked).

The stories of the prisoners, and especially the escapes, became highly popular in Britain, mainly thanks to books, in particular by former prisoner Pat Reid, a British Army officer who successfully escaped from Colditz and fled to Switzerland and later wrote up his experiences.

These accounts also formed the basis of a series of more or less fictionalized movies, including “The Colditz Story” (1955) and “Escape of the Birdmen” (1971) – the latter about that glider mentioned above – as well as a 28-episode BBC television drama series that ran from 1972 to 1974. The story was picked up again in the 2000s by yet more books, movies and TV movies and documentaries

Almost all of these were British, and so it came that “Colditz” remains a household name amongst British war history buffs, whereas within Germany – or much of the rest of the world – the name is comparatively obscure. Since Saxony (and with it the town of Colditz) ended up within the Soviet-occupied zone after WWII and hence later the GDR (communist East Germany), the place was pretty much inaccessible to any Westerners anyway. During that time the castle functioned as a hospital.

Only after this finally closed in 1996, the legend of the Oflag IV-C was revived as the castle became accessible to tourists. The main clientele, unsurprisingly, are still British visitors, and hence much of the commodification at the site is actually in English. There are guided tours on offer that focus largely on the various escapes and escape attempts as well as the POW-camp-related, still ongoing archaeology at the site. These tours are in fact only offered in English. That is telling.

Ask any German, at least from places other than Colditz itself, if they know the story of Colditz as a POW facility and you'll most likely draw a blank. I thus found it quite an unusual experience being the only German (other than the guide) in our group when I visited Colditz in September 2012. Other than my (British) wife the rest were a group of middle-aged men who were obviously on a WWII-history-buff jolly around Germany.

During the tour I actually didn't even let on that I was the odd man out (being originally German). Only after the end of the tour did I have a little chat, in German, with the guide, who confirmed the strong British focus in the castle's touristification. However, parts of the castle are also in use as a youth hostel – so you may well encounter groups of boisterous German teenagers contrasting with the WWII history of the place … It really is a very unique place.


Sunday 15 April 2018 – model of the sinking Titanic

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On this Day, 106 years ago, on 15 April 1912, the then largest ship afloat, the transatlantic ocean liner RMS Titanic, sank off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, after a collision with an iceberg shortly before midnight. Over 1500 people perished, only ca. 700 survived.

The story is well enough known … not least thanks to the major movies, especially the 1997 blockbuster by James Cameron. The watertight compartments allegedly making the vessel “unsinkable” failing, too few lifeboats, etc., etc. The disaster caused shock and outrage worldwide.

Today's photo shows a model of the sinking ship, inside a huge bottle – on display next to a White Star Line sign at the shipwreck museum in the north German city of Cuxhaven that I visited last year. It's lovingly made with lots of detail … yet it is but a small oddity compared to the role the legend of the Titanic plays in the city where she had been built: Belfast, Northern Ireland. The “Titanic Belfast” museum & “experience” that opened in 2012 (for the centennial of the sinking) near the shipyards where the vessel had been built has become the top visitor attraction of the city and Northern Ireland as a whole.


Friday 13 April 2018 – Sakurajima venting

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Photo of the Day: again something from far away from Europe, but this time in the other direction, about as far east as I can go: Japan.

This is Sakurajima volcano in Kagoshima Bay on Kyushu in the south of Japan, as it was almost exactly nine years ago in April 2009. It's seen here at sunrise with just a minor amount of volcanic gasses venting from the crater.

Only a few days before, however, there had been an explosive eruption that deposited ashfall all over the city of Kagoshima . The thin layer of grey could still be seen on parked cars, on roofs and trees when I was there.

Sakurajima is one of Japan's most active volcanoes (if not THE most active). It's had explosive eruptions on a regular basis all through the past century, after the most major event occurred in 1914. But it's been especially active over the past few years and it is being monitored very closely, also due to its proximity to a major city (Kagoshima is a regional administrative capital and has about half a million inhabitants).

Actually, the volcano is erupting and venting large plumes of ash right now, going by today's update on volcanodiscovery(dot)com ...


[These are photos I posted from on the road in Croatia - the texts, however, were not saved and hence are lost, but I can still reproduce the images to speak for themselves. And I can also provide links to the relevant articles on here where more explanations can be found ...]

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Mirogoj cemetery, Zagreb

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Petrova Gora

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Petrova Gora

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Petrova Gora

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Petrova Gora

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Petrova Gora

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Petrova Gora

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Zeljava underground airbase

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insideZeljava underground airbase - with my wife walking into my long exposure ...

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Goli Otok

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Tito's car on Brioni

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wrecks near Pula

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Risiera di San Sabba in Trieste, Italy

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Villa Rebar

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Villa Rebar

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Villa Rebar

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Villa Rebar


Monday 2 April 2018 (Easter Monday) – Government House Stanley

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On this Day, 36 years ago, on 2 April 1982, Argentina started its invasion of the Falkland Islands, a small British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic that the Argentinians refer to as the Islas Malvinas and have long claimed should be theirs. In 1982 they tried to take it by force.

Amongst the first targets of the landed troops was Government House in the Islands' capital Stanley, which you see in this photo (I took this in late December 2013). The governor had only a small handful of Royal Marines for the defence of the town at the time, so they were quickly overwhelmed and had to surrender. And so the occupation began.

2 April 1982 was not the end for British rule over the Islands, however. Instead it was the beginning of what would turn into a 74-days-long war, in which, as we all know, it was the British side that after a daring military operation 8000 miles away from the homeland, gained the upper hand in the end and liberated the islanders from the brief Argentine occupation.

When I was in Stanley on New Year's Eve 2013, I was given a tour of some of the battlefields around Stanley where the final decisive battles were fought, and my guide was one of *the* veterans of battlefield tours in the Islands. He had also been an eyewitness of the conflict. In fact he was right in the midst of it in those days in April 1982. He operated the local radio station, and as the invasion was unfolding distributed accounts from callers all around the Islands where the Argentinians showed up. Eventually, of course, they stood at his door with machine guns in hand as well and he had to surrender the radio station. He was given the choice of leaving or staying on and co-operating. He chose the latter, on the basis that it was probably better if the islanders heard the orders issued by the new power in charge at least from a familiar voice (rather than from some heavily Spanish-accented Argentinian voice), in order to keep things relatively calm. He stayed in Stanley with his family during the occupation and continued to work at the radio station. He later also witnessed the Argentine surrender. In the immediate aftermath the war he was involved in the clear-up after the battles and later became a dedicated researcher of the whole Falklands War, but especially the battlefields around Stanley. His were quite some insights. Invaluable.

Not least due to these tours my trip to the Falklands remains one of the most intensely memorable ones I've ever undertaken. It was also one of my most educational trips, prompting me to carry on with much additional post-trip research into the origins of the conflict and the whole status of the Islands, which is often quite ill understood by the general public …

<comment:http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/falkland-islands/15-countries/individual-chapters/882-sovereignty-dispute-over-the-falkland-islands-between-britain-and-argentina >


Wednesday 28 March 2018 – Harrisburg

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On this Day, 39 years ago, on 28 March 1979, the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA, began.

A string of technical failures, wrong decisions taken, and possibly design faults led to a scenario where a core meltdown at the plant's newer block, TMI-2, was impending, but it could just about be averted in the end a few days later. Yet radioactivity was released into the atmosphere in the process, especially when a hydrogen bubble that had accumulated above the reactor was vented. And during the emergency the area was evacuated.

The core of the plant's TMI-2 block remained destroyed beyond repair and so had to be laboriously decontaminated and taken away for disposal over the next few years. The outer containment shell still just stands there next to its equally disused two cooling towers, but the neighbouring block TMI-1 was soon brought back into operation and is still running. The plant, which started in 1974 had its license renewed in 2009, which is now scheduled to expire in 2034, allowing for a total operational history of a whopping 60 years (if all goes well until then).

At the site, there is hardly any commemoration of the tense days in 1979 when fears of a “China Syndrome” were running high (also thanks to the release of the disaster movie of that name just day prior to the real accident). There's just a small historical marker plaque, that's it.

Today's photo shows some real nuclear kitsch, a decorative plate showing the two blocks of TMI in full steam, as it were, dated 1979, so probably made shortly before the accident. It's an exhibit at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


Saturday 24 March 2018

Today I'm setting off on another DT field trip (well, not ONLY dark, but a lot of it will be), namely to Croatia, from Zagreb to Vukovar, on to Jasenovac, Rab, Brioni, etc., etc, taking in lots of sites related either to WWII, Nazis, partisans, Tito's Yugoslavia or the Balkan wars of the 1990s, and I'll be finishing up back in Zagreb.

I have a tightly packed itinerary once again, as usual, and can't foresee how much I will be able to post while I'm away. I'll try my best to send a sign of life every so often, together with some new photos fresh from the oven, as it were (read: unedited out of the camera).

It's an extremely interesting programme, also including some comparatively obscure and not so easy to get to locations. Fingers crossed it will all work out.

And apart from all the DT research I am also looking forward to some good food – as Croatia is renowned for that aspect too – as well as trying some interesting varieties of wine and sampling some of the new craft beer, as that trend is said to have arrived in Croatia too, certainly in Zagreb.


Friday 23 March 2018 – school bus in a prison

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Photo of the Day: again we've been looking east a lot lately, so I though it's time to turn and look west, to America. So, to finish this week I bring you another odd juxtaposition (after that one from Transinstria on Monday): this time it's of a US school bus parked in the yard of a prison.

The prison in question is the former West Virginia Penitentiary, in Moundsville, WV, USA. It was the state's principal high-security prison. It had seen lots of internal violence, riots even, murder, some escapes, executions, and generally cruel and appalling living conditions for the inmates. It was mainly for the latter reason that the penitentiary was finally closed in 1995, after almost 130 years in service.

Today it is a local tourist attraction. You can go on guided tours of the old cell blocks, and, as with the far more famous Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, this is highly rewarding from a photography point of view. My photos of the interior of this prison have featured here before, and yet more are sure to come in the future.

Today's picture was taken from an upper floor through a window and shows a bit of the outside: a backyard of the complex, with a watchtower and searchlights atop the main outer wall. Why this school bus is parked there, though, I have no idea. But it invites all sorts of over-interpretation …


Thursday 22 March2018

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On this Day, 75 years ago, on 22 March 1943, the Nazis burned down the village of Khatyn in Belarus (then part of the USSR), apparently in random retaliation for the killing of a Nazi officer in some fight with partisans somewhere in the surrounding area. All the villagers were rounded up and locked inside a barn that was then set on fire, anybody trying to flee was shot by machine-gun fire. Then they also torched and razed all the village's houses.

The Khatyn massacre was far from an isolated incident, though. Today's memorial site names a total of 619 villages that suffered the same fate in Belarus. 186 of these were never rebuilt but remained erased from the map for good.

Why Khatyn was singled out of the hundreds of similar incidents to be honoured with a massive memorial complex remains a bit of a mystery. It has been speculated that it may have something to do with the similarity of the name to “Katyn” the formerly Polish village (now in western Russia, near Smolensk) where the Soviets murdered most of the Polish military command elite, an atrocity that the Nazis milked for their propaganda when they discovered the site, but which the Soviets always denied ever happened. It was only acknowledged after the collapse of the USSR. Now there's a memorial at Katyn too.

But back to Khatyn. Today's photo shows the sculpture of the sole adult survivor of the massacre, one Joseph Kaminsky, the then 56-year-old blacksmith of the village, carrying his dead son. Kaminsky miraculously survived the atrocity, regained consciousness after the Nazis had left and found his little son, also still breathing, but who soon after died.

The memorial complex also includes lots of other structures, such as mock chimney stacks made of concrete, each one standing for one of the destroyed houses of the village. At the top of each of them a bell rings every 30 seconds – the rate at which Soviet citizens were killed on average during the Great Patriotic War (as the part of WWII involving the USSR is better known as here, i.e. from 1941-1945).


Wednesday 21 March 2018

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Photo of the Day: an old propaganda billboard I saw in central Vietnam (on my Indochina trip in 2008/2009) … It stood next to the Truong Bo De school ruins, which were left in their blackened, hollowed-out state to serve as a war memorial of sorts.

This scene looks like a lot of pointing accusing fingers, but I have no idea as to who's naming and shaming who here and for what reasons. I presume it's a relic of old communist propaganda, maybe condemning certain Western lifestyle elements? The only word I can make out here is “karaoke” (indeed something overly popular in South-East Asia, even in North Korea). But given my complete lack of any knowledge of the Vietnamese language, so far all I can do really is merely speculate.

So if anybody can enlighten me as to the actual meanings of the words here, or give me an interpretation of what the whole scene in this depiction is about, then I'd be very grateful indeed.

[one follower who used to live in Vietnam commented on this and explained some of the inscriptions on this poster; I cannot remember the details, but I think at least one of them had to do with condemning prostitution ...]


Tuesday 20 March 2018

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On this Day, 23 years ago, on 20 March 1995, an obscure doomsday cult conducted a series of co-ordinated attacks on the metro system in Japan's capital city Tokyo, namely by means of the nerve agent 'sarin'. Twelve people died, some 50 others were severely injured, while thousands were temporarily incapacitated. It was the biggest domestic terrorist attack on Japanese soil ever.

'Sarin' is an extremely toxic nerve agent that was developed as a chemical weapon. It was originally developed/discovered in Germany at the infamous IG Farben company (which also supplied the Zyklon B agent to Auschwitz and Majdanek in the Holocaust). While the Nazis did not manage to get the sarin agent weaponized before the end of WWII, it was happily snapped up by the Allies after the war, and both NATO and the USSR began stockpiling sarin for their chemical weapons programmes.

I remember seeing photos in the early 1980s of guards in protective suits (see last Wednesday's post!) at a US sarin storage facility patrolling the shelves with a caged white rabbit … to check for leaks: if the rabbit suddenly snuffed it, there was a leak somewhere, if it lived, the storage facility was still fine. I remember well how this concept of thousands of tonnes of super-toxic material stored in such a way (and checked in such a crude manner) had a profound impact on me in my formative years.

Sarin was eventually banned in the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention which came into effect in 1997, signed by 162 countries (including the US).

Apparently the sarin used in the Tokyo metro attacks had been produced by the cult members themselves. They carried several litres of sarin in liquid form and released it – it is highly volatile, meaning it instantly turns into gas. If even a tiny droplet is inhaled directly it can cause death within minutes. Given this degree of toxicity, it's a wonder that the attack did not end in more casualties, really.

Sarin also reared its ugly head in chemical weapons use in Iraq (1988) and Syria in 2013 and even allegedly as recently as last year.

Today's photo, by the way, was taken in a Tokyo metro station and shows a chart of the system and some ticketing machines – it looks a lot more complicated than it actually is.


Monday 19 March2018

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Photo of the Day: Che & Putin – interesting juxtaposition! Seen in Transnistria in 2008.

The reason why I picked this today is clear enough, the day after Putin secured yet another victory in the Russian presidential elections (to nobody's surprise).

But this picture probably warrants a bit of explaining: the repeated Cyrillic word seen here is “Proriv”, which means 'breakthrough' in Russian and is the name of a youth organization and political party in Transnistria, the breakaway republic that declared its independence in 1990 but is still regarded as part of Moldova by the UN.

The volatile border and “demilitarized zone” between Moldova and Transnistria is guarded by Russian forces. It's one of those “frozen conflict” areas – just like Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, all also “break-away” republics … and incidentally the only “countries” that recognize Transnistria as an independent state (a favour returned by Transnistria).

De factoTransnistria is more or less an independent entity, yet a very strange one … it has been aptly described as a “Soviet open-air museum” and it's indeed one of the most peculiar places I've ever visited, at least in Europe.

Needless to say the “country” depends on Russian support, and “Proriv” could just as well have been called “Pro-Rus”. The organization is critical of the Moldovan government (no surprise there), Ukraine and the OSCE, but very pro-Russian.

Its allegedly “revolutionary” ideological orientation is illustrated by the image of the iconic guerilla fighter Che Guevara in their logo, but their actual practical political allegiance lies clearly more with the man on the right. So I guess they'll be happy with yesterday's result.


Friday 16 March 2018

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Photo of the Day: the trees are always greener on the other side …

… looking through the expanded metal fence (Streckmetallzaun) that was part of the Iron Curtain at Schifflersgrund, Germany.

The Border Museum (Grenzmuseum) at Schifflersgrund is one of the oldest of its kind, having been founded as early as October 1991 (exactly one year after the official reunification of Germany) … there are actually quite a few such museums along the formerly 1400 km long border between West (FRG) and East Germany (GDR).

In addition to a stretch of the original border fence (no wall here – in fact outside Berlin border walls were much more the exception than the rule) and a reconstructed part of the former 'death strip', there's a watchtower, a collection of military vehicles and helicopters as well as indoor exhibition rooms with plenty of historical photos and documents.

There has been some controversy about this museum, though. A redesign was in the pipeline, but disputes between the owners/administration of the museum and a specially commissioned advisory board have resulted in the new design being put on ice. We'll have to see what the future brings …


Thursday 15 March2018 - having fun in North Korea

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Photo of the Day: inspired by the recent surprise announcement that there may be a meeting of Trump with Kim Jong-un in the near future, I dug into my archives for photos I took in 2005 in the wondrous hermit kingdom that is the DPRK (short for 'Democratic People's Republic of Korea' … btw. never trust the democratic values of a country that actually has that word in its official designation, cf. GDR, DRC, also Algeria , Ethiopia, …).

What you see in this photo are NOT mugshots, although you'd be forgiven if you thought so. No, instead it's a set of photos showing highly decorated members of staff at the Grand People's Study House in Pyongyang. Bags of fun it ain't, going by the smile-less expressions on most of these faces.

The Grand People's Study House on Kim-Il-sung Square in the heart of the city is a kind of public library and education centre. Our group of foreign visitors was shown around various parts and the automatized book retrieval system was proudly demonstrated to us. I found it rather ironic that one of the English-language books thus produced had a big stamp inside its sleeve saying it was a donation from the United States, the country that was otherwise usually referred to with epithets such as “Yankee Imperialists” (and sometimes worse).


Wednesday 14 March 2018 – horror line-up

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Photo of the Day: no, this is not the new England football team outfit (jokes like that have been going round social media lately in sarcastic reference to the recent mysterious poisoning of a former Russian spy in Salisbury earlier this month).

This photo was taken at a former nuclear bunker in Prague, Czech Republic, which I visited as part of a “Communism Tour” of the city in October 2013. The bunker has been converted into a) a kind of underground (literally!) bar and party venue, and b) a Cold-War-themed museum.

In addition to various protective suits like these scary looking specimens, the exhibition includes propaganda material from the communist years, all manner of vintage electronic gear, a mock-up of a decontamination zone, and a large collection of gas masks, arranged along a wall that is known to as “Lenin Wall” … which is a reference to the well-known “Lennon Wall”, a wall of graffiti in the city centre of Prague that began in the 1980s with a portrait of John Lennon, the Beatle who had been murdered in 1980 and who had become an icon of pacifism. In the late 1980s when the graffiti wall was used for scribbling down all sorts of grievances people had with the communist regime, the protest movement became known ironically as “Lennonism” (itself an allusion to Marxism/Leninism of course).

One of the nuclear bunker's other bits of humour is exemplified by a big red button accompanied by a sign that says: “Big Red Button – do not press” – obviously in allusion to the concept of pressing a button to start World War Three and nuclear Armageddon that seems to be entrenched in many people's image of what it would take to initiate the end of the world ... even though in reality triggering WWIII would involve many things, but certainly not simply pressing a single button. (... rather the sending, authorizing, and activating of codes, entering yet more codes, and eventually the simultaneous turning of launch keys. But no buttons.)


Tuesday 13 March2018

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On this Day, 75 years ago, on 13 March 1943, the Nazis started “liquidating” the ghetto of Krakow, Poland. The Jewish ghetto had been established over two years earlier by the Nazi German occupiers, in the district of Kazimierz.

The ghetto was completely walled in, isolated from the rest of the world. Living conditions inside the ghetto were unimaginably inhumane, with some 15,000 people crammed into it, five times the number of the residents of the area before the ghetto was set up.

But it turned into utter hell when the Nazis “liquidated” the ghetto – this effectively meant either sending the victims to the death camp of Auschwitz, or (the ones deemed able-bodied enough) to the forced labour camp of Płaszów just outside Krakow, the remainder were killed right in the streets.

Today, not much remains of the ghetto, basically just this stretch of the original ghetto wall in Kazimierz. Photo taken in April 2008.


Monday 12 March 2018 – Bamiyan Buddha model

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On this Day, 17 years ago, on (and around) 12 March 2001, the Taliban blew up the giant standing Buddha statues of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. It was pure iconoclasm based on their version of fundamental Islam proscribing any depictions of humans (or animals, or anything non-abstract for that matter). In the rest of the world it caused an outcry, as these were unique cultural heritage, two big Buddhas, 35 and 53 metres high, respectively, carved out of the rock.

Today's photo was obviously not taken at the actual site, since I've never been to Afghanistan (only flew over it twice – which is amazing!). Instead it shows a model of the Bamiyan site that used to be on display at the former Afghanistan Museum in Hamburg, Germany.

That place was lovely, a totally endearing little private museum run by an expat Afghani merchant in the “Speicherstadt” district of late 19 century brick warehouses (itself a World Heritage Site). The museum basically recreated a little peaceful pocket of Afghanistan as it was before it was plunged into decades of turmoil, war and destruction. On display were also postcards and brochures from the 1960s and 70s that showed a modern, secular and aspiring country with a fledgling tourism industry … but we all know what came next.

Unfortunately, the little museum in Hamburg didn't survive either. When the building it was housed in was slated for complete refurbishment, the tenants had to move out; but the owner of the museum could not afford to relocate and then recreate his little museum. So sadly, it is no more. I found it a great loss when I learned about this.

The real Bamiyan Buddhas are a great loss too, of course – though there is talk of the possibility of one of them being reconstructed. The site could be commodified for dark tourism, with plaques or even a small museum telling the story of the destruction of the statues by the Taliban. For the time being, however, Afghanistan remains pretty much off-limits for tourism in general … though Bamiyan is actually said to be one of the very few regions that is in theory relatively safe. But it's the getting there that would be the problem.


Friday 9 March2018

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Photo of the Day: open-cast copper mines, Atacama desert, Chile.

After this week's previous posts had a bit of a communist slant and an (Eastern) European orientation, here's a maximum contrast, both in that it's at the opposite end of the world location-wise (southern hemisphere, far west), but also thematically. No lofty ideology, but *Capitalism* with a capital C, in its grittiest, real-world form.

Copper mining is one of Chile's main sources of income but it is dirty business. Not only does the ground get blasted open and transformed into giant pits like these (seen from a plane), which is necessary to get access to the copper ore. It also causes lots of toxic pollution, especially from the copper smelters that are often located right by the mines. From the air (or on Google maps) you can sometimes also spot the enormous reservoirs that hold the evil-coloured toxic brew that is the waste by-product of copper-smelting (e.g. here: 24°23'45.6"S 69°08'20.2"W). The smelters themselves are a hellish sight to behold too, going by the documentary footage I've seen.

A few years ago when I was in the Atacama I nearly had a chance to actually see these things up close, namely on a tour of the most infamous such copper mine, at Chuquicamata (the world's largest open-cast mine) near Calama in northern Chile. I had the tour booked but when we turned up, we learned that a staff training day had been scheduled at short notice for that day and that tours were therefore cancelled. The company that runs the mine and the tours (CODELCO) explicitly reserves that right to cancel tours, so there was nothing we could do. We also couldn't come back the next day as by then we were already travelling onwards to San Pedro de Atacama.


Thursday 8 March 2018 – International Women's Day

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On this Day it is International Women's Day, and to celebrate this I give you a picture of the greatest woman on the planet … well at least in sheer physical terms. You may recognize her, also from a post on this page last summer … This is the Rodina Mat statue (aka “The Motherland Calls”) on Mamayev Hill in Volgograd, the former Stalingrad, in southern Russia, commemorating the Great Patriotic War (WWII).

She is massive: 85m (280 feet) tall in total, of which the figure of the woman is 52m alone. And she's a heavyweight too: tipping the scales at a whopping 8000 tonnes.

Yet she's hollow. The inside is a structure of steel beams forming a “skeleton”, only the outer “skin” is made of concrete, about one foot thick (so she's quite a pachyderm, too, then). This concrete skin needs regular maintenance, and if you look closely you can see ropes coming out of her mouth – these were used by workers who carried out such maintenance work up there, as I observed later. Except this picture was taken very early in the morning, before the workers' first shift had started.

That's a tip for photographers, by the way, if you want to catch Rodina Mat with her face illuminated by the sun you have to get there by 8 a.m. at the latest in the summer. Any later than that and hard shadows start obscuring her facial expression.

Anyway, with this image of the world's tallest, heaviest and most determined looking depiction of a woman, I say: Happy International Women's Day!


Wednesday 7 March 2018 – a shrunken Marx

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Photo of the Day: having mentioned the German communist/left parties, including the SED, yesterday, today I give you a follow-up photo that I find quite amusing in its unintended symbolism: a shrunken Karl Marx heading away (in disappointment perhaps?) from the big red banners of the SED.

These letters stand for “Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands”, or 'Socialist Unity Party of Germany', which was the one-party-rule organization of the former GDR ('German Democratic Republic'i.e. communist East Germany).

I composed this picture during my latest visit to the Stasi Museum in Berlin in April 2017. This museum is actually housed in the former HQ complex of the Stasi (short for “Staatssicherheit”, 'state security') at Normannenstraße. The Stasi, as you will probably know, was the regime's infamous secret police. It was in fact the largest such organization ever, relative to the size of the population it spied on, repressed and often enough interrogated and put in prison. Probably not something that Marx would happily have approved of.


Tuesday 6 March 2018 – Italian communists

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Photo of the Day: a follow-up to yesterday's post, which mentioned Italian communists. Here's a photo of an office of the “Partito Comunista Rifondazione” or 'Communist Refoundation Party'. I happened upon this during an evening walk through the Trastevere district in Rome in November 2014. I hadn't expected to encounter the Soviet hammer-and-sickle symbol here! Inside the office were a few men apparently waiting for any walk-in visitors to pop by, but they were not looking very hopeful … and I didn't see anybody actually walking in …

The party in question is, as the name suggests, a relatively newly formed one that split from the former Italian Communist Party when this renamed itself Democratic Party of the Left (, PDS – ironically the same acronym as the Partei Demokratischer Sozialismus in Germany, the party that came out of the SED, the dissolved GDR's former state-ruling party, and later metamorphosed into the current left-wing party in Germany represented in parliament that is simply called “Die Linke” or 'the Left').

The Italian “refounded” communists enjoyed a brief period of relative success in the early to mid 2000s but meanwhile the party has fallen into decline, crisis even, further splitting up into factions and losing key members who defected to other parties or aimed at forming yet new ones. I suppose by Italian standards that is simply “normality” … The country has had 64 changes of government since WWII, and has just held a general election to find its 65 last Sunday.

The election result shows that Italy these days is actually much more under threat from the “other side”, i.e. extreme right-wingers, than from whatever's left of communism in that country. I watched a documentary the other day about young Italians proudly calling themselves fascists again and worshipping Mussolini. It's scary …


Monday 5 March 2018 – Stalin death

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On this Day, 65 years ago, on 5 March 1953, the Soviet Union's leader and “Red Tsar” Josef Stalin died at his dacha from a brain haemorrhage. The circ*mstances of this death, and even more so: the immediate aftermath, were recently the subject of a critically acclaimed satirical movie “The Death of Stalin” (though it wasn't so well received in Russia).

Today's photo also brings some humour to the subject, though quite unintentionally: it shows an exhibit at the Stalin Museum in Gori, Georgia, namely a gift to the Red Tsar from, I presume, Italian communists. The sign proclaims Giuseppe (Italian for 'Josef') Stalin a 'champion of peace'. I would never have thought that association possible. But then again, Italian communists have a tradition of being rather “old school” …

This strange soft toy, presumably supposed to be a white dove of peace (though it looks more like an unhappy chicken from a battery farm), is just one of many bizarre gifts on display at the Stalin Museum. This is located in Stalin's home town where there is also still a Stalin Avenue. Until a few years ago a large Stalin statue stood on the main square (meanwhile moved to a location near the museum), and another marble statue is inside the train station. At the main exhibition in this museum you get the impression that time has stood still since 1953. It's pure cult of personality, all about what a great man Stalin was. No mention of Gulags, purges, and repression.


Friday 2 March 2018

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Photo of the Day: wine head!

At the end of a week full of anniversaries of assassinations, terror attacks and nuclear devastation, I thought I'd rather give you something that's more a weird funny juxtaposition than anything genuinely dark.

This was taken in a little bar at the foot of the hill that Bran Castle sits on, in Transylvania, Romania. Bran Castle is heavily touted as “Dracula's Castle”, even though the Dracula myth is more fictional than real and the historical figure it is often associated with, Vlad Tepes “The Impalor” (the Wallachian prince who, so legend has it, enjoyed having his meals while watching his victims being tortured to death in the most cruel ways, such as, of course, impaling) may have passed through and even stayed at the castle for possibly a few days. But it most certainly wasn't “his” castle.

That thinnest of connections to actual history doesn't keep the local tourism industry from excessively milking the Dracula legend. This is where dark-tourism and Disney-esque mainstream mass tourism meet … and it's an uncomfortable encounter.

After visiting the castle, my wife and I went to this hyper-kitschy bar in the tacky village-cum-souvenir-market at the foot of the hill. The wine was cheap and agreeable enough but the décor was extraordinarily cheesy with “horror-house”-like props such as tables in the shape of coffins. This is one of them, with a headless skeleton painted on it. I couldn't help placing my glass in this position … sorry, but kitsch overload sometimes leads to bizarre counter-reactions in me …


Thursday 1 March2018

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On this Day, 64 years ago, the USA conducted their biggest ever nuclear test, the “Castle Bravo” shot at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands in the Pacific. The yield of the detonated device was a massive 15 megatons (a thousand times more than the Hiroshima bomb had!).

It was the USA's first thermonuclear device utilizing lithium-deuterium fuel. The yield had been predicted to be “only” 6 megatons, so the actual 15 were two-and-a-half times more. It was a huge miscalculation!

And it had consequences. The radioactive fallout from the blast was so much greater that it caught the US military out ill-prepared. The native inhabitants of neighbouring islands who were hit by the fallout were not even evacuated until three days after the test. Moreover, the area in which the fallout came down was so much larger that it went far beyond the declared safety zone – adverse winds exacerbated the situation too. A Japanese fishing trawler got caught in the fallout and was badly contaminated, giving the crew acute radiation syndrome. One of them died of this a few months later. Needless to say, it was a diplomatic disaster for the USA too.

On Bikini, the blast left a crater in the atoll that is almost two kilometres in diameter (1.23 miles) and over 75 metres deep (250 feet). It's the most lasting physical remnant of the event.

But as a dark-tourism destination, Bikini is one of the most difficult to reach – though it is not impossible. Diving trips are sometimes organized. But these mostly concentrate on the submersed ship wrecks left from the Baker test of 1946.

In Tokyo, however, you can easily visit the very fishing trawler that back then got so irradiated. Today it's safe to view, and it has been put in a special building to serve as a museum.

Today's photo is quite obviously not mine but is a public domain image taken from the relevant Wikipedia entry about Castle Bravo.

<comment: here's a video of the test (from different angles) … NOTE: you may want to turn the overly dramatic music off first:


Wednesday 28 February 2018

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On this Day, 32 years ago, on 28 February 1986, the Swedish prime Minister Olof Palme was shot dead in Stockholm as he left the cinema with his wife and was about to walk home … as usual without bodyguards (Palme was a very open, “people-y”, “hands-on” politician).

A suspect was apprehended a few years later and identified as the killer by Palme's widow (who was also shot but only superficially wounded). Yet he was later acquitted. So the case remains unsolved to this day.

Hence it is not surprising that there's a whole host of conspiracy theories about this. These include the alleged involvement of the CIA or the Soviets (the usual suspects), but also more “exotic” claims such as that it was a Yugoslav security service plot, or one orchestrated by Apartheid-era South Africa (Palme had been an outspoken critic of the regime), or a plot by the Kurdish PKK, or the work of a lone fascist, a lone communist, the Freemasons, or even that it was a plot within the Swedish police. It will probably never be known for sure.

There is a plaque set into the pavement at the murder site, but when I was in Sweden many years ago (in 2005) I did not see it … it was before I started DT, otherwise I would have made the pilgrimage. So instead I just post a picture of Stockholm taken from the top of the City Hall clock tower. The star in the centre is one of four that are atop poles that surround the viewing platform of the tower. It makes for an atmospheric – and slightly bizarre – image.


Tuesday 27 February2018

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On this Day, three years ago, on 27 February 2015, the Russian opposition activist Boris Nemtsov was shot dead on a bridge (Bolshoy Moskvoretskiy Bridge) next to the Kremlin in Moscow. Today's photo shows the little makeshift shrine that was set up at the spot where the assassination took place on that bridge. I came across it unexpectedly on my trip to Russia last summer (you may remember the similar photo I posted back then on 16 August). The number on the pavement refers to the days elapsed since the assassination on that day. Today that number will be 1066 (not 1065, because 2016 was a leap year). I found it quite remarkable that this shrine was even there, more so that it was apparently also being updated every single day. Kudos to whoever does that.

The danger with these things is that all too often they get forgotten once they are out of the breaking-news headlines. It may return on the first anniversary, but then it slides into oblivion in public awareness. So it takes efforts such as these to try and at least slow down that development … but it is of course a losing battle, unfortunately. Ask yourself: when – these posts aside – have you last seen anything in the mainstream media about this case?

Oh, and by the way: also on this day, a full 85 years ago, the Reichstag in Berlin was set on fire – which the freshly elected Nazi government then exploited to rush through some tough legislation that served their goals suspiciously well … but that's another topic ..


Monday 26 February 2018

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On this Day, 25 years ago, on 26 February 1993, the World Trade Center in New York City, USA, was the target of a terrorist attack: a massive truck bomb (more than half a ton of explosives) was detonated in the car park below the Twin Towers. Six people were killed (plus one unborn baby) and hundreds more were injured (mostly through smoke inhalation during the subsequent evacuation). Much damage was done to the underground car park; yet the terrorists' plan to make the North Tower topple and fall into the South Tower (thus bringing that down too) failed.

The 1993 attack paled in comparison to what happened a good eight and a half years later on 11 September 2001 (“Nine-Eleven”) when the towers did come down after having been hit by hijacked passenger planes, killing nearly 3000.

It has to be emphasized, though, that the six victims of the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center are not forgotten and are also commemorated at the National 9/11 Memorial that now occupies the site. Their names can be found on the panels that ring the water-filled 'footprints' of the Twin Towers that are the core of the memorials. Their panel is N-73 of the North Pool.

The second photo showing part of that panel is one that I took in July 2015 – while the first photo is not mine but a reproduction of an old image of the intact WTC that is on display inside the 9/11 museum.


Friday 23 February 2018

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Photo of the Day: Blue Moon!

Yes, I can see its colour is actually rather yellow than blue, but it was a 'blue moon' in the technical sense, i.e. the second full moon within a month, in this case on 31 July 2015 (after 2 July had already seen a full moon). The rareness of this happening gave rise to the figure of speech “once in a blue moon”.

And what's this doing on DT? Well for one thing I thought once in a blue moon we can actually leave planet Earth and gaze into space for a bit. More importantly, this picture was taken from near the summit of Mauna Kea, on Big Island, Hawai'i. And that mountain is the largest volcano on Earth.

The drive up in the late afternoon takes you through some fantastically desolate moonscapes too, and at the summit a cluster of futuristic-looking observatories give the place an otherworldly James-Bond-movie aura. Moreover, their presence – and that of tourists climbing to the very summit of Mauna Kea – is controversial amongst the indigenous Polynesian population (since they regard the mountain as “holy”).

So there are some faintly dark aspects involved here. But to be honest, I just like the photo and that's the main reason I wanted to post it here. By the way, photographing the moon in a black night sky (and it was very black – the absence of light pollution atop Mauna Kea is the reason why so many space observatories have been placed here) can be a bit of a challenge. The main thing is to set the camera to spot metering – otherwise you just get a white washed-out disk in the sky. For SLRs you'd also need a very long lens and a tripod. However, this was actually taken hand-held (!!!) with my bridge camera at 48x optical (manual) zoom. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but here you go. It's not my very best moon shot (lacking some detail and definition if you enlarge it), but it has a bit of a story, so that kind of balances it out.

Have a good weekend.


Thursday 22 February2018

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On this Day, 75 years ago, on 22 February 1943, siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl of the White Rose non-violent resistance group were executed in Nazi Germany.

They had distributed thousands of flyers (German: “Flugblätter”) in an effort to raise awareness of the Nazis' crimes against Jews and the civilian population in the war zones in the Soviet Union, of the defeat at Stalingrad and of the grim outlook for Germany if the war and the Nazi regime were not stopped.

Yet instead their brave actions were stopped when they were arrested on 18 February. Quickly tried before the Volksgerichtshof (People's Court) they were sentenced to death just four days later by the infamous judge Roland Freisler and executed by guillotine the same day.

Yet one of their leaflets was smuggled out of the country to Britain, where it was used for propaganda leaflets containing a copy of this White Rose text (which they called “Das Manifest der Münchner Studenten” – 'the Munich University students' manifesto'). Millions of copies of this were dropped from planes all over Germany.

So their work had at least not been in vein.

At Munich University today there is a memorial museum about the White Rose movement, and in between the cobblestones outside the entrance copies of some White Rose leaflets made from brass are set into the pavement. And that's what you see in today's photo.


Wednesday 21 February2018

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On (or around) this Day, 170 years ago, the “Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was first published (initially anonymously) in London in 1848.

It went on to become one of the most influential political pamphlets ever written, later to be underpinned by Marx's main work “Das Kapital” ('Capital').

Whatever you may think of the communist experiment, the historical significance of Karl Marx, especially for 20 century history, cannot be disputed, even though capitalism eventually “won” against communism when the USSR and the socialist governments of its 'brother states' in the Eastern Bloc collapsed in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Yet capitalism hasn't remained unchallenged since. Today's photo is evidence of that. This poster says “criticism of capitalism – the original”, which is of course a reference to Karl Marx and the Communist Manifesto. I spotted this poster in Munich in 2009, i.e. the year after the great financial crisis of 2008, which reignited some fundamental questioning of the capitalist system and gave a small boost to remaining socialist groups … however short-lived and toothless that has turned out to be in the longer run.


Tuesday 20 February 2018

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Photo of the Day: since there is so much Winter Olympics in the media at the moment (before you ask: no, I do not follow that at all … but it's also hard to avoid altogether, short of resorting to a total media blackout), here's one from a previous Winter Olympics: 1984 in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in what was then still Yugoslavia.

This is the abandoned former Olympic bobsleigh track in the hills above Sarajevo – and from these hills the city was fired upon during the Siege of Sarajevo in the Balkans wars of the 1990s … which started less than a decade after the Winter Olympics. Nobody would have predicted the collapse of Yugoslavia back in 1984 or that it would descend into such a nasty and bloody conflict.

This photo was taken in 2009 on my first trip to the region. Back then visiting the damaged and abandoned bobsleigh track was an exotic thing to do and only a few foreign visitors went there (there were also still landmines in the area). This has changed. First it became better known amongst urbex and 'abandoned places' aficionados and more tour operators in Sarajevo included it in their itineraries. It also increasingly attracted graffiti sprayers so that the concrete – still seen bare and “pristine” (in the sense of free from graffiti) in this photo – has become almost completely covered with colour in some stretches.

Now, so I have just learned, the track is undergoing renovation and is scheduled to be made operational again for training and recreation purposes within the next few years.


Monday 19 February 2018

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On this Day, 64 years ago, on 19 February 1954, the USSR leadership decreed the transfer of the Crimean peninsula from the government of the Russian SSR to that of the Ukrainian SSR. Almost exactly 60 years later, Russia took Crimea back, initially by military force, and later by means of a (post factum) referendum conducted in March 2014.

The 1954 move went through practically unopposed, even though some claim it wasn't actually a fully legal act under the constitution of the USSR … but in those days such reservations didn't really count for much.

The 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia, however, caused an international outcry and many world leaders condemned it, especially as it was seen as the first territorial takeover by military force in Europe since WWII. The referendum that was supposed to justify the takeover was later declared invalid by the UN.

Needless to say, though, most Russians see it differently. And the practical facts are in favour of the Russian view.

I've never been to Crimea myself, unfortunately (there are good reasons to go in terms of DT!), but I know someone who's recently been. And from what he reported the fact that Crimea is now Russian is, well just that: a fact. It's a case of 'fait accompli', you might say. Yet online platforms such as TripAdvisor still quoted prices in Ukrainian hryvnia rather than Russian roubles and Ukrainian networks were suggested for mobile phones – even though neither would actually work on the ground in Crimea any more.

Russia is currently building a massive bridge to connect Crimea to the Russian mainland to the east of the peninsula (you can see it on Google Maps!). This will further cement the status quo. I saw the bridge building project heavily advertised on large posters at some Russian airports. So it's anything but a secret.

Today's photos were taken in the Museum of Contemporary History in Moscow (when I was there last summer). The narrative here is very clear – instead of 'annexation' it's called 'reunification'. There you have it. And next to this statement is the display of the referendum ballot sheet – and on this the “correct answer” is, conveniently, already pre-ticked!

<comment: this is the main dark-tourism attraction on the Crimean peninsula: the former Soviet submarine bunkers inside a mountain at Balaklava, south of Sevastopol. It is now a Cold War Museum under Russian jurisdiction. Obviously, having never been there myself, this is not my photo but somebody else's, who, however, requested to remain anonymous. >


Sunday 18 February 2018: re-post the FB see first setting

[screenshot not available any more]

text: another re-post/reminder regarding FB settings. Apologies for the repetition to all those who've already seen this twice and acted accordingly. I do hope that more of the rest will see this finally. It seems necessary. My posts' reach is still down. The engagement rate has also dropped.

Of course I can't say whether that's due to changes or manipulations in FB's algorithms (penalizing me for not paying for “boosted posts” maybe) or whether it's my own fault because my photos and stories just aren't interesting or exciting enough … though I would have thought that this past week's stories of being engulfed by volcanic ash, driving through lahars, etc. should have had their appeal in terms of DT. But maybe I misjudged that.


Friday 16 February 2018 – Ashland, PA

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Photo of the Day: final one in this week's ash-themed series.

This is a place in rural Pennsylvania called Ashland – that's why it fits in here. It seems that somebody took the name of the town a little too literally when setting the first floor of that building in the middle on fire. Or maybe it was just an accident ...

Anyway, these four abandoned and semi-ruined buildings in a row in the main street (!!!) of this small town say a lot about the state of the economy in these parts, often referred to as the “Rust Belt” of America (though in this case “Ash Belt” would be more appropriate).

More precisely: this is coal mining country – and that's an industry that's been in decline for decades and is bound to decline further … from a climate-change perspective hopefully to zero as soon as possible (no matter how much the Big Orangeman may “dig coal”). But of course for the locals it means loss of jobs – and homes. Desperation.

It was even worse for a town that neighbours Ashland: Centralia – a former coal mining settlement that had to be evacuated because underground coal vein fires ignited in the 1960s emitting toxic gasses and making the ground unstable … but that's for another post some other time …

Have a good (and ash-free) weekend!


Thursday 15 February 2018

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Photo of the Day: yet another one in this week's ash theme – and a return to Montserrat in the Caribbean. This is an old warning sign on the edge of the “exclusion zone” set up on the island (this innermost zone around the cone of the volcano and the destroyed former capital Plymouth is out of bounds at all times, but other zones around it are classified variably, depending on the volcano's activity level, i.e. sometimes they are closed, sometimes access is allowed only during daytime, sometimes all restrictions are lifted).

I love this particular image, because the state of the sign itself seems to underscore its message, though it's probably just old and the damage just natural decay.

Yet the thin layer of ash on it is indeed very real and recent – it came from precisely that ash cloud of which I posted a picture on Monday.

You can see the list of specific hazards at the bottom of the sign. Note there's no warning of lava flows. That's because Soufriere Hills is an andesitic stratovolcano and hence much more prone to explosive events creating pyroclastic flows and surges as well as ash plumes, but it hardly ever releases any lava (the odd lava bomb notwithstanding).

Mud flows (lahars) and collapsing buildings (as in the bottom line on this sign) are actually secondary hazards, as it were, not directly attributable to the volcano. Buildings collapse under the enormous weight of volcanic ash (which is basically pulverized rock, so just as heavy as rock, very unlike the lightweight ash from burnt wood, paper or tobacco). And lahars are the result of ash deposits mixed with rainfall water, creating a fast-flowing liquid-concrete-like substance that can bury everything in its path (see yesterday's post from Merapi!). In fact much of the destruction caused in Plymouth, Montserrat's former capital, is from lahars rather than direct volcanic action such as pyroclastic flows.


Wednesday 14 February 2018 – Merapi lahar mining

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Photo of the Day: continuing this week's ash theme, one to show that volcanic ash isn't all bad. In the background is Merapi (Java, Indonesia) one of the world's most dangerous volcanoes. Yet the area is densely populated. Why? Because volcanic ash makes such an excellent fertilizer. But that benfit is offset by the dangers. And indeed, regular eruptions have caused great destruction and cost many a life.

In the foreground you see a jeep in a 'ravine', which is actually a huge lahar – i.e. a mud flow of liquidized volcanic ash that had previously been deposited by pyroclastic flows. The depth of the ravine gives you an indication of how thick this mud layer is. Near this spot is an evacuation bunker in which some locals had to hold out and wait for rescue for weeks after the bunker had been completely buried by the ash.

Yet even this is not all bad but has profitable offshoots. Just a few hundred yards further “downstream” of the old lahar flow, dozens of diggers were busy extracting the volcanic soil – namely to be carted off and used to make high-quality concrete. And given Indonesia's population growth and increasing urbanization, such good building material is in extremely high demand. So there was a kind of gold-rush atmosphere in the ravine. I hadn't expected to see that much activity that when we went on our jeep tour of the slopes of Merapi in the summer of 2014.


Tuesday 13 February 2018 – ash-covered houses near Plymouth

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Photo of the Day: more ash! And a follow-up to yesterday's post. This is also Montserrat, this time seen from a boat heading down the coast to Plymouth, the destroyed former capital of the island. We were not allowed to land there, but it was still an impressive trip, seeing the other-worldly ash-covered town …

En route we passed this part of the island just north of Plymouth, also evacuated and abandoned, and now out of bounds, all covered in grey from recent ash fall. Our skipper Troy told us that one of these houses was the one that Keith Richards stayed in when the Rolling Stones were recording their Steel Wheels album at Air Studios in 1989. (Actually I'm not 100% sure it's in this picture, maybe it was one just outside this frame ...)

I mentioned Sir George Martin's Air Studios on Montserrat already yesterday. It was indeed one of the pre-eminent recording studios of the time, setting a new standard in sound quality. Quite a few top-notch albums were made here by artists such as Dire Straits (the seminal “Brothers in Arms” album!), The Police, Sting (solo), Elton John, Eric Clapton, Black Sabbath, Simply Red, Duran Duran, Ultravox, and many more.


Monday 12 February 2018: ash theme 1 – ash cloud over the volcano

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Photo of the Day: Ash in the Air!

This is Soufriere Hills volcano on Montserrat, West Indies. The pic was taken just before New Year 2010 when the volcano was in a very active phase again (it blew its top in a major eruption just a few weeks later) with a lava dome growing, pyroclastic flows and regular ash venting cycles. Normally the ash is blown over the sea by the trade winds, but at this time the winds were irregular so we suddenly found ourselves at the volcano overlook point with the ash cloud coming straight at us.

As the ash started raining down we quickly got our face masks on and stashed the cameras away safely (I still managed to ruin a brand-new camera through volcanic ash on this trip – it's evil stuff!). Eventually it got so thick you couldn't see a thing and we had to take refuge in the MVO (Montserrat Volcano Observatory) building behind the viewpoint and sit it out. Afterwards we drove back through an eerily monochrome grey, ash-covered world until we got far north enough, outside the ash-fall range, where the green returned.

In the mid 1990s, when Soufriere Hills came back to life for the first time in hundreds of years, its eruptions, pyroclastic flows and lahars destroyed the island's capital Plymouth, forcing a large proportion of the islanders to evacuate and resettle elsewhere (on neighbouring islands, the USA and especially the UK – since Montserrat is a British overseas territory).

Only the northern third of the island remained habitable. It was there that we stayed at the time, namely in a beautiful Caribbean villa overlooking the sea and the island's lush green hills – but also the volcano looming large and ominous in the far distance … and often spouting huge clouds of ash, illuminated red at sunset. Glorious.

“Ash in the Air”, by the way, was a song full of local black humour performed by a local band at the New Year's Eve party we attended at Olveston House (formerly the home of Sir George Martin, famous for having been the Beatles' producer, but who also had a studio on Montserrat where a whole host of rock superstars produced seminal albums … the house is now a restaurant and B&B/hotel and also hosts ex-pat events too).

It was in fact one of the most enjoyable parties we've ever had. In general it has to be said that the people we met on Montserrat were amongst the friendliest and nicest we ever encountered anywhere in the world! Never have dark tourism and relaxed fun combined better.


Friday 9 February 2018

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On this Day, 34 years ago, Yuri Andropov died on 9 February 1984 aged 79. He had served only 15 months as the successor to Leonid Brezhnev as head of the Soviet Union (who died on 10 November 1982 aged 76).

Today's photo shows the plaque for Yuri Andropov on the wall of the Lubyanka building in Moscow, which was the headquarters of the KGB and is still home to the successor organization FSB in Russia.

Andropov had had a long career as the head of the KGB from 1967 to 1982 before rising to the very top. He was in turn succeeded as General Secretary by yet another member of the old guard in the politburo, Konstantin Chernenko, who went on to pop his clogs after an even shorter time in office, just 13 months, in March 1985 aged 73. Only after this quick row of deaths (gives the word 'death row' a whole new meaning!) did the USSR finally select somebody not from the geriatric ranks of the politburo but from the “younger” generation (relatively speaking), namely Mikhail Gorbachev, who was “only” 54 at the time. He would indeed proceed to become a great reformer – but also the last leader of the Soviet Union, which was dissolved in 1992.

But back to the Lubyanka: some of its aura of the past is still tangible, though long gone are the days when it created such fear that people avoided even walking past the building.

There is said to be a KGB museum in the basem*nt of the Lubyanka too, possibly in what used to be the KGB's own prison and interrogation (i.e. also torture) cells. For a while until not too long ago there were guided tours of this museum on offer by a few Moscow operators. But when I asked these about it in preparation for my Russia trip last summer, they all told me that the museum is no longer accessible to the public. Oh well ... you have to wonder why, though …


Thursday 8 February 2018 – US gas chamber

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On this Day, 94 years ago, on 8 February 1924, the first execution by poison gas took place in the state of Nevada.

Today's photo shows a US gas chamber of a later standardized type that is now on display in the Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington D.C.

It seems unbelievable in hindsight, but this method of execution was initially introduced as it was considered less cruel than other methods and because it didn't disfigure the victim. However, several reports by observers of actual executions using this method made it clear that victims frequently suffered visibly and audibly and often for several minutes, or even up to a quarter of an hour.

The use of gas had initially been inspired by the use of various gasses as weapons in World War One – and, so the plaque next to this gas chamber at the museum also claims, because of the “popularity” of gas ovens for suicides in the States. However, after the Nazis' use of gas chambers as a means of mass murder in the Holocaust, the method had become to be seen as deeply amoral.

Yet it was still used in the USA, though only by fewer and fewer states and increasingly rarely. In 1996 a California court ruled that gassing constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” (what took them so long?!?). Today only three US states retain it, if only as a secondary option. As recently as 2015, Oklahoma introduced a new type of gas for its potential executions by gas chamber.

The last actual execution by gas chamber in the US took place in 1999 in Arizona (and to my surprise I learned that it was allegedly the method “elected” by the victim himself …).

Even though the reasons for discontinuing the use of gas chambers in the US are given as humanitarian and moral, one rather more profane reason may be that it is simply too expensive. The ageing existing gas chambers would need a lot of maintenance and refurbishment or even replacement by new ones, which is estimated to cost over $300,000 a piece, according to the Crime and Punishment Museum. Lethal injections are so much more “cost effective” … concerns for morals and humanity actually still take a back seat in these matters, it seems.


Wednesday 7 February 2018

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Photo of the Day: Kim Il Sung having a laugh.

I watched a couple of intriguing new documentaries about contemporary North Korea recently and it brought back memories of my 2005 trip to that enigmatic “hermit kingdom”. Hence today's post.

This picture was taken somewhere in Pyongyang on our group's guided city tour on the second day of the trip. Back then, Kim Il Sung's son Kim Jong Il was still alive and in office as the country's leader, and often there would be dual portraits of both Kims on display (e.g. in the metro), but frequently you'd just see the smiling image of the “Eternal President” and “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung on his own.

His successor ,“Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il also passed away in 2011. But the dynasty continued when his son Kim Jong Un took over the top position in this staunchly Stalinist-like country. Kim No. 3 surprised many an observer with his ruthlessness and clever tactics to establish himself firmly as the undisputed new “Supreme Leader” despite his young age (he's still only in his mid-30s!). And now that he's upping the nuclear propaganda game ever more, he's instilling genuine fear in many of the people of the USA, the DPRK's eternal arch enemy ever since the Korean War back in the 1950s, and also Japan (another arch enemy) and other regional allies.

If there is something like the “Big Politburo in the Sky” from where Kim Il Sung can look down onto Kim #3 and how he's faring, I'm sure he'd be more than pleased with his grandson.


Tuesday 6 February 2018 – detail of Falco's grave, Zentralfriedhof (Out of the Dark)

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On this Day, twenty years ago, on 6 February 1998, Falco, the biggest pop music star ever to come out of Austria, was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic, where he had lived and worked at the time.

This photo shows a detail of his grave at the Central Cemetery, Vienna. The tomb's main element is a rounded glass pane featuring a portrait of Falco and quotes of titles of famous songs of his. This particular title had to be the choice for this page, for obvious enough reasons, even though he's far better known for his 1986 smash hit “Rock Me Amadeus”, a No. 1 in several countries including the USA and the UK – which is pretty much unique for a track by an Austrian pop artist, and a track originally in German (at least in part).

The track “Out of the Dark” was actually released posthumously later in 1998 together with Falco's last album, whose name echoed the song title: “Out of the Dark (into the Light)”. Yet the real Falco (real name Johann Hölzel) remained in the dark and did not come back into the limelight, as he had so desperately hoped. He had never been able to recreate his big success of the 1980s, and had a complicated life tainted by drug abuse. After the fatal crash of his car with a bus it was determined that he had been under the influence of both alcohol and cocaine at the time. He would have turned only 41 two weeks after the crash.

Falco's fame may be more or less a thing of the past internationally, but within Austria (and partly in Germany too), his legacy is undying. Even in 2018 he is being celebrated in the form of a Falco musical, based on his eccentric life and featuring all his hits.


Monday 5 February 2018

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On this Day, 24 years ago, on 5 February 1994, the first of the two so-called Markale massacres occurred in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, when a mortar shell hit a busy market in the Old Town centre, killing 68 and injuring another 144.

During the Bosnian part of the Balkans war of the 1990s, Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, was under siege longer than any other capital city in modern history (1425 days – for comparison: the Siege of Leningrad during WWII lasted less than 900 days). During the siege countless shells were fired on the city, and the road leading out of it to the west became known as “sniper alley”. In short: the civilian population was under constant threat and in total well over 5000 civilians were killed.

Yet the two Markale (= 'market') massacres (the second was in August 1995 and killed 43 and wounded 75) stand out as especially heinous incidents.

After the war many of the scars that the shells left on the pavements were filled with red resin to make them look like permanent flesh wounds and/or splattered blood. They are a unique and distinctive element of the city.

Today's photo shows one of them, not at the market (where there is a memorial plaque commemorating the shelling), but further west along Maršala Tita boulevard.


Friday 2 February 2018 – shadows of the Malvinas

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Photo of the Day: a few weeks ago I posted something from Easter Island and indicated I was planning a summer trip that would include another remote island.

It's not this, though. Today's image shows a depiction of yet another remote archipelago of islands, namely the Falklands Islands, or in this case I should rather say: Islas Malvinas, because this depiction is part of the memorial monument in Buenos Aires that commemorates the 1982 war over those islands, i.e. from Argentina's perspective … but I won't get drawn back into this subject again here.

I can, however, now reveal what that mystery isolated island destination for my trip this summer will be: St Helena, another Atlantic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and even more remote than the Falklands. The nearest land is ca. 1900 km away (to the east, where the border between Angola and Namibia is – eastern Brazil is even further away to the west).

St Helena is also a British overseas territory, but unlike the Falklands, St Helena's British status is not contested by any other country claiming this dot in the ocean. However, a small part of it is these days actually owned by France – because the British left a few locations to be administered by the French, namely those associated with the island's most famous resident ever, although that was an involuntary residence: the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte, who lived out his last days on the island. After his death he was initially also buried here – but his body was later transferred to Paris, where it is to this day in a pompous sarcophagus at the Les Invalides complex that also includes the impressive .

Now that's more than half a dozen dark-tourism sites around the world mentioned in one single post! That's more than enough for this week, I think. More on Monday …

[edited version of first few lines: Photo of the Day: a few weeks ago I posted a pic from Easter Island and indicated I was planning a summer trip to another remote island. Not this, though. Today's image shows another remote archipelago, namely the Falklands, or: Islas Malvinas, as this is part of the monument in Buenos Aires for the 1982 war over those islands, i.e. from Argentina's perspective … But let's not get into all that again here. I can, however, now reveal what my mystery island destination this summer will be ...]


Thursday 1 February 2018

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On this Day, 15 years ago, on 1 February 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere on the return from its mission (STS-107) killing all seven crew members on board. The cause had been damage sustained by a wing of the orbiter during the launch three weeks earlier when a piece of the foam cladding of the external fuel tank broke off and hit the heat shield of the wing.

It was the second major disaster in the Space Shuttle's history (after the explosion of Challenger during launch in 1986) and effectively it spelled the beginning of the end for the whole programme. First it was suspended for two years, resumed, only to be suspended again after another incident with foam pieces separating. And the programme was terminated for good in 2011.

Today's photo does not show Columbia (obviously enough) but the very first of the shuttles, the prototype – affectionately named “Enterprise” (after the fictitious sci-fi space ship of “Star Trek” fame). This shuttle never actually went into space (it was only used for atmospheric test flights and landings) and was later put on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center (a branch of the Smithsonian) at Washington Dulles airport, where today's photo was taken in 2010.


Wednesday 31 January 2018

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On this Day, 75 years ago, on 31 January 1943, the commander of the 6 Army, General Friedrich Paulus surrendered at Stalingrad. Today's photo shows a dummy Paulus at the original room of what was then his HQ in the cellar of the former department store “Univermag”. The whole cellar has been turned into a museum about the battle and the surrender. (I know that this dummy may look a bit cheesy, but overall I found this place actually the better of the two war museums in today's Volgograd when I visited the place last summer.)

Stalingrad was the first major defeat for Nazi Germany and proved to be the turning point of WWII. After Stalingrad, it became increasingly clear that Germany had no chance of winning this war … yet it carried on for over two more years.

In fact it isn't quite clear whether it was indeed Paulus himself who surrendered that day or whether it was pre-empted by his chief of staff, but anyway, both, and the rest of the commanding officers were captured by the Red Army on that day. A pocket of what remained of the 6 Army still held out for a couple more days in the north of the war-torn city before also capitulating. Almost 100,000 Germans were taken prisoner of war, including Paulus.

Only about 6000 returned alive from the Siberian POW camps in 1955. Two years earlier, Paulus was released and allowed to resettle in Dresden, East Germany. While a prisoner in the USSR he had turned against Hitler and worked for the Soviet-sponsored anti-Nazi National Committee for a Free Germany. After the war he became a witness at the Nuremberg Trials and for last few years of his life he worked for the East German Military History Research Institute.


Tuesday 30 January 2018

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On this Day, 70 years ago, on 30 January 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated at this spot in the gardens of Birla House (now called Gandhi Smriti) in New Delhi, where he lived for the final 144 days of his life.

Today's photo shows the exact spot of the assassination, where a small memorial monument has been erected. The great man's final steps have been recreated by those inverse footprints leading to the shrine (so in theory you could literally follow in his footsteps here).

The assassin was a right-wing Hindu who was furious at Gandhi's attempts to appease India's various other religious groups, including, in particular, Muslims, and blamed him for the hardships of India's partition (the splitting of what was to become Pakistan and Bangladesh from India, precisely along those religious fault lines).

Gandhi was just about to hold one of his evening gatherings/sermons when the assassin stepped up and shot him at point-blank range. The gunman and his main collaborator were tried and executed within less than a year.

Today Gandhi Smriti is a much-visited shrine to India's national hero. Apart from this assassination site you can see Gandhi's spartan-looking bedroom and his “office” as well as a semi-open-air exhibition.


Monday 29 January 2018

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Photo of the Day: for those who like the look of some vintage technology, in this case from the 1960/70s.

This was taken at the Marienthal government bunker near Ahrweiler in Germany. It was to be the emergency relocation centre for the West German government in the event of a nuclear attack, i.e. if the Cold War had turned hot.

I've visited several such Cold-War government bunkers and I think the one at Marienthal is actually the most impressive of these relics, even though only part of it has been preserved.

What you see here was the communications and security centre inside the bunker, i.e. the place where all signals and all information exchanges would have come together.

Yet, like so many other such bunkers it would not realistically have been of much use. It went partially operational in 1965 and wasn't completely finished until 1971. By that time, the nuclear threat had firmly been shifted to ICBMs, which could launch an attack or retaliatory strike within 30 minutes. In the case of Germany the forewarning time for missiles coming in from the Soviet Union would have been even shorter. But the capital city and seat of all government institutions of the time, Bonn, was about half an hour's drive away – when road conditions were clear.

And even if the various government representatives could have made it to the bunker in time, what would there have been left to govern after a nuclear Armageddon. It's widely agreed that if the Third World War had indeed broken out, Germany would have been the main “battlefield” - read: would have been completely annihilated.

It's not even clear if the bunker itself, which had been built into old railway tunnels inside a mountain, would have been able to withstand a nuclear blast of the yield that the ICBM warheads of the time commonly had.

It all goes to show the ludicrousness (MAD-ness) of the situation back then. Yet, the bunker provided neatly furnished rooms for the president, the chancellor and ministers, etc., all in that interior design popular in that era (think garish orange and brown plastic tables, chairs and lampshades and such like). None of these people ever even set foot in the bunker – except then Chancellor Erhard in the 1960s who everybody in the bunker hated because he was always running around smoking those stinking fat cigars.

In the 1990s, when the seat of government of reunified Germany was moved to Berlin anyway, the bunker was finally given up. Most of it was gutted (“rückgebaut” - 'reverse constructed' was the term here too – see last Tuesday's post!). Only a small section was preserved decked out with the original furnishings. This opened its doors to the public in 2008. Since then it has been possible to visit the bunker – if only on guided tours.


Sunday 28 January 2018

[see original post below]

I'm allowing myself an exceptional re-post for once (I only very rarely do that, as a matter of principle), namely from a series of photos I posted last Tuesday. The reason is because a) I was astonished how little attention this post got (its reach was one of the lowest in two years) and b) because I love this image so much. Esp. the reflection of that statue that looks like its playing an electric bass guitar ... Check Tuesday's post for the whole background story.


Friday 26 January 2018 – detail of the new deserters memorial in Vienna

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Photo of the Day: detail of one of the newest and most unusual memorial monuments in Vienna, Austria. This is the “Deserteursdenkmal” (deserters' memorial), dedicated to all those soldiers of the Nazi Wehrmacht who during WWII were sentenced to death for either deserting or for “Wehrkraftzersetzung” ('subverting the war effort').

The monument is in the shape of an X on a double pedestal. You have to climb up the pedestal to read the letters engraved on top of the X. It's a so-called 'concrete poem' by the Scottish artist Ian Hamilton from 1964. The word “alone” is in the centre while the word “all” radiates out from the centre on the four arms of the X.

It wasn't until 2009 that these particular victims of the Nazis were recognized and rehabilitated by Austria's National Assembly (Nationalrat) with the votes of the Social Democrats, the conservative People's Party and the Greens, but noticeably not those of the right-wing Freedom Party, the party that has now entered a government coalition …

<comment 1: here's the whole monument seen from the side – you can hardly make out the X shape this way, and to read the text on the top you have to climb the two big steps anyway … so it's a monument that requires active participation in order to be fully appreciated … [photo could not be reconstructed]>

<comment 2: here's the full “all / alone” concrete poem, as quoted on the information plaque that provides some background for the monument next to it. Some stupid jokester scribbled the extra line “Bitte ein Windrad draufbauen” ('please build a wind turbine on top') under the X … does that constitute vandalism? Or just bad taste? [photo could not be reconstructed]>


Thursday 25 January 2018 – detail, Jewish cemetery, Warsaw

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Photo of the Day: having mentioned donations yesterday (namely for the Cambodian Landmine Museum/NGO – do give generously!), I was reminded of this find at a cemetery that is actually depicting the very act of donating.

… or at least that's what I think it is depicting. Maybe there is some hidden deeper/different meaning involved here. (If so, please enlighten me.)

I spotted this on a tombstone on the old Okopowa Street Jewish cemetery (Cmentarz Żydowski) in Warsaw Poland.

And no, by posting this photo from there I do not intend to allude to any inappropriate clichés about Jews and money!

The Okopowa Street cemetery is these days largely overgrown, for obvious enough reasons. What is remarkable is that it is even still there, given the rage with which the Nazis destroyed so many other Jewish cemeteries in Poland. And this is one of the largest in the world, with some 200,000 tombs! A tiny proportion of the cemetery is still in use today by Poland's contemporary (small) Jewish community.


Wednesday 24 January 2018

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Photo of the Day: at the Cambodian Landmine museum, near Siem Reap.

I was talking to friends about this site not long ago and it brought back memories of this unique place from when I visited it back in late December 2008.

This is not just a museum about landmines. It's also an NGO/charity & relief centre that provides shelter and education for at-risk children and landmine victims.

The issue of landmines is still the nastiest and longest-lasting legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime, the war and auto-genocide that has made Cambodia a country with one of the most tragic histories of the 20th century. Millions of landmines are still buried in the ground in Cambodia and even though clearing operations are constantly busy searching for them and removing them safely, this task will take a very long time to complete.

The Landmine Museum and NGO was founded by a former child soldier who himself laid countless landmines for the Khmer Rouge, then defected to the Vietnamese army when they drove the Khmer Rouge out of power and later worked for the UN and trained as a deminer.

The museum is quite near Cambodia's most significant cultural heritage sight, Angkor Wat and the other surrounding temple complexes (like Ta Prohm and Banteay Srey), so combines well with that sort of mainstream tourism. And even though it is such a harsh contrast to all that architectural and archaeological beauty, it's a good thing to pop in here, take in the tragic story of landmines, and, not least of all, leave a donation. They are dependent on donations and you really could do worse than supporting this very worthwhile operation.

This photo shows the pavilion filled with old UXO and landmines at the centre of the museum complex. Arranged around this are the exhibition rooms and a patch of land where you can try your own hands at de-mining (not with real, armed landmines, of course).


Tuesday 23 January 2018

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Photo of the Day: a kind of follow-up to yesterday's post … another ex-site, a 'lost place', and another case of architectural revisionism, this time from Berlin. Today's photo shows the former “Palast der Republik” ('Palace of the Republic') … as it was undergoing demolition in 2008. The first photo shows the shell of the building as seen across the Spree River from the east, the other two show the last remaining window pane of the once characteristic copper-coloured mirror glass façade, with a reflection of a statue on the Cathedral across the street to the north.

The Palace was the former seat of the GDR's parliament and a cultural centre, right in the heart of East Berlin, i.e. one of the key icons of the East German state that had ceased to exist with Germany's reunification in 1990. The official euphemism for the demolition of the building between 2006 and 2008 was “Rückbau” (literally 'reverse construction'). Before the demolition the building had been cleared of tons of asbestos – but the asbestos was still used as an argument justifying the demolition even two years after the asbestos had been removed. Let's face it: it was blatant architectural revisionism. The old symbol of the GDR had to disappear, just like the Berlin Wall had.

Instead, the site is now being built up again with the so-called Humboldt Forum, sporting a fake façade that replicates the former Imperial Berliner Stadtschloss ('city palace'), the war-damaged ruins of which had been blown up by the GDR authorities in 1950 (a measure that, of course, also had an element of architectural revisionism about it, so you could argue the current construction is a case of tit for tat). This faux-historical edifice is scheduled to be completed some time next year.


Monday 22 January 2018 – Sofia, Bulgaria, 1300 years monument

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Photo of the Day: today I give you a photo of a non-site, or rather one that has meanwhile fallen into the category of 'lost places'. It was the “Monument 1300 Years of Bulgaria”, erected during the communist era when Bulgaria was part of the Eastern Bloc. It was supposed to celebrate the founding of the state of Bulgaria 1.3 millennia ago – but of course it was also an expression of the then popular socialist monumental style. It was constructed at great haste and was of such poor quality that soon after it was unveiled it began to crumble. A fence had to be put up around the monument to keep people a safe distance from it as more and more pieces fell off the structure. Additionally scaffolding was erected all around the monument to provide extra support and protection.

This was the sate of the monument when I visited Bulgaria's capital Sofia in 2011. I was immediately smitten with the thing. I decided that it surely must have been the world's shoddiest monument ever, so bad that it was hilarious and just phenomenal. My guide had absolutely no understanding of why I liked this piece of monumental junk so much, but I did.

Sadly, however, it is no more. With no physical TLC (i.e. restoration work), it kept crumbling away and nobody was willing to pay for its survival. So last year it was finally demolished. It's kind of fitting that this came at a time when Bulgaria is on a mission of revisionism, outlawing the display of communist symbols and wishing to eradicate any reminders of its socialist past.

Now a sculpture of a lion stands in the place formerly occupied by the monument – apparently it had been there before, was moved to a museum and has now been brought back ... so it's indeed proper revisionism.


Sunday 21 January2018.

[link could not be recovered]

The title of this article is a question, and I have a very clear answer to it: No! Not every photo from Chernobyl is a lie. Most are not.

True, some of those dolls and gas masks in Pripyat have obviously been deliberately positioned in a way to look especially evocative and hence photogenic. So, yes, you can argue that the authenticity of the place has been tampered with to a degree (just like all the damage and looting and graffiti has done too). But saying it's all unauthentic and even associating it with “Disney-fication” is going too far, in my opinion. After all, at a Disneyland theme park virtually nothing at all has any authenticity (not that I can actually vouch for that from personal experience, because I've never set foot in such a place and hopefully never will; but I hope you see what I mean). In contrast, within most of the Exclusion Zone in Chernobyl, and even in Pripyat, almost everything does still have that place authenticity, including the decay – those minor deliberate alterations with dolls, gas masks and such like notwithstanding. So I think one should keep things in perspective.

What I did found slightly worrying in reading this article is the apparent increased touristification of those simple day tours from Kiev (the ones that bring in the largest numbers of visitors). For instance, that souvenir shop/information centre seen in a picture in this article certainly wasn't there when I last went to Chernobyl (in May 2015), although the guest house I stayed at in the town of Chernobyl itself did have a small corner with souvenirs on display/for sale. But I don't really have too much of an issue with those.

However, the idea of coachloads of tourist taking selfies and hordes generally fooling around in Pripyat does, I have to admit, go against the grain for me. I witnessed just one group of about 30 visitors at the former Cultural Centre of Pripyat last time I was there – and it made me glad that I was there just with my wife and a private guide and that we had booked a two-day tour. Not only could we see a lot more than the standardized circuit the day-trippers get, but we also had the various locations all to ourselves almost all the time (with the only exception being that encounter at the Cultural Centre and at the NPP itself, where we were given a tour).

I think that in order to really feel the true atmosphere of the ghost town of Pripyat, the surrounding ghost villages, or the abandoned parts of the NPP (e.g. the unfinished cooling towers and Block 5/6), one has to experience them in silence and without too many other people. That's why I say paying the significantly higher price for a private or small-group tour, preferably also outside the high season, really is worth it. I don't think I could enjoy the big-party day trips these days.

When I first went to Chernobyl, back in 2006 (even before I started DT), it was actually on a day tour from Kiev, but ours was only a very small group – just six people plus the guide and driver, so it was still pretty intimate. These days you sometimes get several big coaches full of visitors all at once, it seems. This article claims that visitor numbers for 2017 have reached the 50,000 mark. That's an incredible increase compared to previous years.

On the one hand it's good to see that this highlight of dark tourism gets so much recognition now. But on the other hand, too much of this recognition, too many visitors, unfortunately spoils part of the reason why this is such an incredible destination.

So while I contest the author's negativity about the alleged lack of photographic authenticity of Chernobyl in the first part of this article, I'm also not quite so sure about the rather positive final conclusion. I'm just a bit torn on this issue.

Any other views?


Friday 19 January2018

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Photo of the Day: Hotel Elephant in Weimar, Germany. The figure standing on the balcony is a dummy Martin Luther. It was put there last year to mark the “Lutherjahr” ('year of Luther'), when the city of Weimar, as well as other places associated with Luther, celebrated the 500 anniversary of the Reformation that gave the world the Protestant Church.

Ironically, though, the same balcony belongs to the room that Adolf Hitler used to occupy whenever he visited Weimar during the Third Reich, and it would have been from exactly that same spot that the Führer would have presented himself to the cheering crowds below.

Needless to say, that association with Hitler is these days rather played down (though you can go on Third-Reich-themed walking tours in Weimar), while Luther is celebrated all round as a hero.

Well, at least the “Lutherjahr” 2017 is now over. I found the ubiquitous focus on Luther and the Reformation all a bit much when I was briefly in Weimar last year (mainly to revisit the nearby Buchenwald concentration camp memorial with its new, completely reworked main exhibition … but that's for another post some day). Now I wonder whether the dummy Luther on the balcony has meanwhile been removed or if he's still standing there …

[I remember one reader commented that apparently the crowds that gathered outside when Hitler was staying in this hotel would chant "Lieber Führer komm heraus aus dem Elefantenhaus!" (literally 'Dear Leader come out of the elephant house''); I can't vouch for the truth of this, but it wouldn't suprise me. Sounds spooky, in a way, though]


Thursday 18 January 2018

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Photo of the Day: taken just over a year ago, this picture shows the ruins of the former gallows building that was part of the British colonial prison on Viper Island near Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman & Nicobar archipelago in the Indian Ocean.

The British used these remote islands as a convenient place to incarcerate “mutineers” and other resistance fighters against their colonial rule following the Rebellion of 1857 on the Indian mainland. So Andaman became a place of exile primarily for political prisoners.

Viper Island prison, constructed in 1858, was the predecessor of the later (opened in 1906) and much larger Cellular Prison in the heart of Port Blair, which has featured on this page before and is a major tourism attraction of Andaman's main island.

Viper Island, on the other hand, is less commodified for tourism and has to be reached by a boat ride from the harbour. I had this arranged as part of my visit to Andaman towards the end of my grand India trip around Christmas and New Year 2016/17.


Wednesday 17 January 2018

comment on shared article link “Is every photo from Chernobyl a lie?”

"Disney-fied" is perhaps a bit strong. Yes, the gas masks have been deliberately spread and it's obvious that some of the dolls and other objects have also been deliberately positioned so as to make them most "photogenic", but much of the rest is still quite authentic (whereas nothing at all is at Disneyland et al.!). The dramatically increased tourist numbers have clearly brought some commercialization (that souvenir shop wasn't there when I last went, in May 2015), but you can avoid all that. Most importantly, my tip is: don't go on the popular day trips with any of the more sensationalizing operators (they are formulaic, standardized and overcrowded - and just way too short, just a couple of hours actually at the site). Instead consider investing in a longer, private tour, with at least one overnight stay in the Zone, that some of the more reputable outfits offer. That way you get away from the crowds (those coachloads of selfie-taking daytrippers) and get to see totally authentic parts of Pripyat and the other places within the zone. Not only do you get better photo ops, you also get a much more realistic atmosphere of "abandoned place" (even though that was never fully true - there were always many people working in the Zone, and later plenty of re-settlers too). I'd still argue that Chernobyl remains one of the absolute top dark tourism destinations in the world. You just have to do it right. Then it's still like no other place.


Wednesday 17 January 2018

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On this Day, 52 years ago, on 17 January 1966, the “Palomares incident” happened. It was one of the worst “Broken Arrows” events ever (that term is military code for any incident involving the loss, destruction of or serious damage to nuclear weapons). These are the actual bomb casings (... read on)!

The accident unfolded when a B-52 carrying four Mk28 hydrogen bombs broke up during a failed aerial refuelling operation, killing three of the seven-man crew (the tanker exploded, incinerating all four crew members). All four bombs were released during the break-up of the plane. Two of them hit the ground and the conventional high explosives (normally intended to trigger the nuclear blast) went off dispersing radioactive material around a large area near the village of Palomares on the south coast of Andalusia, Spain. Another bomb's descent was apparently slowed down by one of its parachutes that deployed during the fall and it landed more or less intact in a ditch from where it was soon recovered.

The fourth bomb could initially not be accounted for. It was then concluded that it too had been slowed down by its parachutes and that it had been blown over the sea by the wind. It was eventually discovered over two months later by deep-sea submersibles on the seabed at a depth of some 3000 feet (nearly 900m) and laboriously recovered.

The original casings of the two recovered bombs – seen in today's photo – are now on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They are possibly the most spectacular exhibits of the whole museum.

The contaminated land at Palomares where the two other bombs were destroyed had to be cleaned up in a long and costly operation. The layer of soil taken away was sent to the US for storage. However, low levels of radioactivity were still reported in the area even years after the clean-up.

The incident basically showed what a so-called “dirty bomb” explosion could do. It wasn't a nuclear explosion (the fuse had held) but still highly radioactive plutonium was spread over an area of more than a square mile.

The only other American Broken Arrows incident that resulted in such a radiation contamination happened almost exactly two years later at Thule Air base in northern Greenland, again involving a B-52 and Mk28 hydrogen bombs. The clean-up operation there was even more complicated than at Palomares.

The rumour that a whole hydrogen bomb had been lost at Thule, and thus would still be there deep in the Arctic ice, has, however, meanwhile been thoroughly refuted. What remained missing was merely a component of one of the bombs, possibly the uranium spark plug intended for triggering the secondary (the thermonuclear explosion). All other parts were recovered. See Schlosser, Eric, “Command and Control” (2013: 324).


Tuesday 16 January 2018

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Photo of the Day: 5th Fort, Brest, Belarus.

Like the more famous Brest Fortress, the 5thFort just to the south of the city of Brest in Belarus, was built before World War One, at a time when massive bulwarks were still thought to be the best defence against any invading foe (that changed at least at the beginning of WWII).

It was part of a whole ring of additional fortifications (14 in total) intended to provide further protection for the main Fortress.

Yet when Nazi Germany started its invasion of the USSR (Operation Barbarossa) in 1941, one of the first casualties was Brest Fortress – though the defence of the site later entered the canon of Soviet propaganda war hero glorification.

While Brest Fortress was under siege, the 5thFort had simply been overrun – hence it survived the war mostly unscathed. After having lain abandoned and overgrown for decades since the war, it was partly restored in the late 1990s and made accessible to visitors.

Apart from the massive fortifications themselves (bring a torch to explore the dark underground caverns and tunnels!) there isn't that much to see, just a few pieces of artillery and a couple of armoured vehicles (post-WWII models) and a very scant exhibition in the central block. Otherwise it's all eerily empty.


Monday 15 January 2018 – Great Molasses Flood

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On this Day, 99 years ago, on 15 January 1919, the district of North End in the city of Boston, Massachusetts, USA, was devastated by the “Great Molasses Flood” that killed 21 and injured some 150 people.

It must rank as one of the most bizarre disasters in history. At half past noon a 15m high molasses tank of a distillery complex collapsed unleashing a deluge of over 2 million US gallons of sticky molasses, a viscous sugar by-product also known as black treacle. The wave was 8m high at its peak, flattened several buildings, damaged an elevated railway and drowned people, horses and dogs. What a truly horrible and at the same time outlandish way to go!

Of course I don't have a photo of my own of this historic freak incident. Today's (public domain) image was taken from the relevant Wikipedia entry and was first published by the Globe Newspaper and is now in the Boston Public Library. It shows the area of the deluge after the event with the debris of destroyed houses clearly visible. The sickly sweet stench that must have permeated the scene can only be imagined …


Sunday 14 January 2018 – share of Buzludzha mosaic stones offered on ebay

[link could not be reconstructed]

I stumbled upon this yesterday. I can't tell if it's fake or real. But if it is real, then I think this is an absolute disgrace! Do not support such amoral business ideas! It's nonsensical anyway. The mosaic stones only make sense as part of the mosaics they were used in. Removed from their context they're completely meaningless and useless. Moreover, whoever thought up this idea of stealing them in order to sell them is only contributing to the further decline of this magnificent site.

I've seen some dubious souvenirs for sale during my world traveller's career, but this takes some beating. Boycott it and make sure everybody else you know boycotts it too.

In fact, maybe somebody at ebay should look into the legality of this. It's certainly unethical to the max. Does anybody here use ebay? I've never used it myself so I don't know if it's possible to make a complaint. But if it is then I think it would be a very good idea to do so.

All that, I repeat, provided that it is actually a real scheme and not another instalment of fake news. (In this case I'd actually be happier if it did turn out to be fake news!)


Friday 12 January 2018 – scattered Moai and feral horses, Easter Island

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Photo of the Day: Easter Island.

I've just started looking into travel planning for this year, including the possibility of some very remote destination … but I'm not giving anything away yet (as it may yet turn out not to be feasible). Anyway, it inspired me to post a photo from the location that's so far been the most remote place I've ever visited (and is likely to remain at the top of the remoteness league table forever, I guess). And that, obviously, was Easter Island, namely back in 2011, when I spent Christmas on Easter.

The photo shows the inside of the Ranu Raraku volcano and quarry, the place where the island's iconic stone statues, called Moai, were carved from the rock before being transported to the platforms (Ahu) where they were erected. When the Easter Island culture collapsed, many more or less finished Moai were left behind at Ranu Raraku, including those famous ones that half stick out of the ground looking out to sea (whereas the finished and properly erected Moai all faced inland). If you look closely at this image you can see well over a dozen more half-buried Moai on the slopes of the crater here too. And if you look even more closely you can spot a group of people inspecting one of the Moai (in the centre of the image) … as well as (closer to the foreground, both left and right) a few of those feral horses that roam the island these days.

It all brings back treasured island memories …

<comment: I counted 19 moai in this picture – can you spot them all?>


Thursday 11 January 2018

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Photo of the Day: follow-up to yesterday's post. This is another picture taken at St Marx cemetery in Vienna, Austria.

It shows a different dark aspect of that place, one that goes beyond all the sepulchral art and the cemetery's generally atmospheric, overgrown state. This tombstone is riddled with bullet holes that are now a silent but poignant reminder of the battle of Vienna towards the end of WWII when the Soviet Red Army advanced from the east, surrounded the city and eventually captured it in March/April 1945.

Just like Berlin, which fell into Soviet hands just a couple of weeks after Vienna had, the city was subsequently divided up into sectors, one each for the four Allied powers. Also like Berlin, Vienna was surrounded by the Soviet Zone – as Austria as a whole, like Germany, was divided up into zones of occupation. Thus Vienna became an “island” or enclave within the Soviet zone. Unlike in Berlin, though, Vienna's central First District was shared between all four powers, a unique set-up of co-operation in the early years of the Cold War.

The occupation/division lasted for ten years, namely until Austria was released into independent statehood again after the signing of the “Staatsvertrag” of 1955, after which Vienna, now no longer subdivided, became the capital of the “Second Republic” of Austria.

By the way, the district of St Marx, despite what the name might have suggested, was not in the Soviet sector of occupied Vienna, but lay within the British sector.


Wednesday 10 January 2018

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Photo of the Day: I've arrived back in Vienna, so I give you a photo taken here (a few years back), namely at the city's lovely, secluded and partly overgrown St Marx cemetery.

St Marx cemetery is mostly (semi-)famous as the place where Mozart was buried. However, since he was buried in an unmarked mass grave (a practise that was not at all uncommon at the time), the exact location where he found his final resting place is unknown.

Yet a posh memorial to Mozart has been set up at a central location within the cemetery ... and for most of those visting-dead-composers'-graves tourists that's close enough.

For me, however, it's the overgrown parts and the fabulous examples of old sepulchral art that make this place far more interesting than Mozart's fake grave.

This is just one example of the many superbly sculpted stone angels you can find here (at the very far end of the cemetery by the rear perimeter wall). It's well worth a couple of hours' of exploring.


Sunday 7 January 2018

[photo could not be recovered]

Photo of the Day: National Cold War Exhibition at the RAF Museum Cosford, UK.

Sorry for the long period of silence. I've been too distracted by visiting family and friends and also not had good wifi in a long while. But now here's a sign of life. I should be able to post regularly again as of Wednesday.

One dark-tourism activity I managed to slot in before New Year, while I was still in the UK (I'm now in northern Germany), was a visit to this aircraft museum half an hour's drive outside of Birmingham at Cosford in Shropshire.

It mostly features the display of various aircraft and other toys for (big and small) boys, but what brought me there was the Cold War section that I had long wanted to check out. I didn't really learn anything new about the topic, but the narrative presented here was OK, if a little biased and triumphant (referring to the end of the Cold War as the “victory of democracy against communism” … as if it had been as simple as such a black-and-white, good-guys vs. bad-guys thing). The main focus, however, was on the hardware, and especially all the British hardware of that period.

And you can see a few examples of those in today's photo. Dominating this hall is the Vulcan bomber hanging from the ceiling, of which you can see the nose, front landing gear and part of the wing (it's too big to fit into a single frame). The Vulcan, a striking delta-wing design from the 1950s, is still revered as the pride of the RAF to this day, even though as a Cold-War bomber meant to deliver nuclear weapons to the enemy USSR it had never been a particularly suitable plane (too slow, too short in range, too easy a target for anti-aircraft missiles or interceptors), but it had an exceptional short moment of glory in 1982 during the Falklands War, namely in Operation Black Buck (it's been mentioned on this page before so I won't repeat the whole story here). Also hanging from the ceiling, but vertically (!), is a BAC Lightning supersonic interceptor, of which you can only see part of, mainly a wing with the RAF marking on it.

Other items seen in this frame are Cold-War objects that were actually American made but were used by the British too, such as the Thor intermediate range ballistic missile, another poorly conceived weapons system from the 1950s. In this pic it's standing upright behind the Lightning's wing.

The missile you see cut into segments along the wall, however, is one that significantly changed the nature of the MAD strategy (mutually assured destruction): the Polaris SLBM (submarine-launched ballistic missile), a predecessor of the current Trident, which is still the backbone of the British nuclear deterrent (and whose updating/replacement is currently a controversial topic in British politics). The segment standing upright between the missile tip and the second stage is the warhead/re-entry vehicle.

Dotted around it are a number of further missiles, including smaller air-to-surface missiles as well as a larger SAM anti-aircraft weapon.

[Note: here is the full-length chapter for this place thatI wrote later.It comes with a rich photo gallery, which will most likely include a version of the image originally usedfor this day's post.]


Monday 1 January – Happy New Year everybody!

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