Berlin Day Hike: Around Wukensee In The Sun

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Stasi-Führungsbunker in Biesenthal

Approximately 2 km North of Kleiner Wukensee we found an ancient GDR military area with ruined buildings and subterranean bunkers. When we had wifi again, we found out, that the big hill we saw, was the former “Stasi-Führungsbunker” (bunker of the leaders of the ministry of State Security).

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Hobrechtsfelde

On our way home we passed through Hobrechtsfelde and made a stop at the wonderful James Biergarten. Have a perfect vast view into the fields and a craft beer!

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Azores: A Guided Tour Through The Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição in Angra

We met the priest of the church just when we wanted to leave and he offered to explain his church to us. Unfortunately his English wasn’t as advanced as his enthusiasm was (and neither was our Portuguese). But we really enjoyed the tour where he told us about the saints exposed in the church, the Flemish style paintings in the classic Portuguese altar, the baptismal font out of “singing” stone and the 400 year old seats and cabinets of “iron wood” from the Brazilian colonies. He even tried to explain something about the Jews, the Portugueses, the Spanish and the British how they lived together at the time and how it should be possible today, we tried to understand and it appeared to be really interesting, but unfortunately we weren’t able to get it.

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Azores: Impressions Of The Colorful Town Of Angra Do Heroísmo

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The jewish cemetery of Angra

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A chapel with no stairs

(I found the solution on the next house)

 

Angra from above

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In the park of Angra

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Churches

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Our Hotel in the fortress Pousada de São Sebastião

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Angra by night and some restaurant recommendations

  • Cachalote Restaurant: Frank, the owner lives on Terceira since more than 30 years. He came here from Flores and named his Restaurant “Cachalote”, which means “whale” in Portugues, in respect for the beasts which he saw being hunted and slaughtered as a child.
    Best Steak (beef!) I ever had even compared to the 60$-Steak in a fancy restaurant in NY Meatpacking District in 2009. It comes on a very hot lava stone plate and you can cut it and grill the slices on the stone after your wishes. The steak is served with three homemade sauces and french fries.
  • Restaurant Tasca das Tias: Nice interior, somehow busy service, best grilled tuna we had on the Azores
  • Restaurant Verdemaça: Small Restaurant with friendly service and comfy, traditional interior

 

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Ocean, Men, Beast and Blood

Trigger warning: this article may contain disturbing pictures. 

When reading Melville’s Moby Dick or when looking at the faces of the old Azorean whalers you can see those archaic, old stories made from blood and fight. Man against beast – this tales can be told one million times without losing its fascination.

This explains as well the ambivalent relation the Azoreans have with whaling. Like in most western countries whales today are seen as the peaceful giants of the ocean. For most of us a symbol of the fight for nature’s survival in times of man made destruction. But there is this other side, too. The fascination. The roughness of the sea. The fight. This very masculine raison d’être.
I saw the same amount of grief for both sides: for the friendly whales caught and slaughtered and for the loss of a cultural activity deeply rooted in the DNA of the Azoreans.
Maybe it’s comparable with the Spanish Corrida, where the unbelievable atrocity against an innocent animal stands against the loss of identification with elegance and manliness.

Who is still hunting for whales today?

The hunt for whales, was practiced from the early 19th century until 1984 when it was internationally banned. There are two occasions on which it is still allowed: indigenious hunt (subsistence hunting from traditional societies) and scientific hunt (for scientific research).
Today Denmark, Canada, Russia, St. Vincent and the Grenades practice indigenious hunt. Japan, Island and South Korea practice scientific hunt. Japan & Norway have rejected the moratorium and continue hunting. Of course there is a lot of bribery and intrigues going on on this matter. (But Norway? WTF? Those peaceful nature lovers? I guess I have to revise my image of the Norwegians.)

Today more than 2000 whales are killed every year. Around 1000 by Japanese ships for “scientific reasons”, 600 from Norwegian and Icelandic fishers and around 350 from indigenous people in the US and Russia.

Why were whales hunted anyway?

You might think, it was because of the meat, but everyone will tell you, that whale meat tastes quite disgusting, greasy and rancid.
No. Whales have been hunted because of there oils. In the head of a sperm whales you’ll find a liquid called spermaceti* which was used in the cosmetic industry. The massive amount of oil which was extracted from the blubber of the whale was used as oil for lamps. In fact, whales were hunted, slaughtered and “melted” to light up the cities of the 19th and early 20th century. The rest of the “material” was milled to flour and animal food.

*in the first place people thought it is sperm – therfore the name “spermwhale”
*in reality the 1,5 tons of spermaceti in the head of a spermwhale are used as kind of a radar system for the orientation of the whale

And on the Azores?

People on the Azores switched from making a business out of whale hunting with harpoons to whale hunting with cameras (aka “whale watching”) and the latter is much more gentle to the whales than the first. Watching a whale in the wilderness of the sea even makes people more conscient and let them become passionate fighters for the cause of the big mammals. At least my concience has been really triggered (although I have seen only very small whales :-)).

The whaling museums on the islands

There are some occasions on the Islands where it is possible to learn more about the whaling history of the Azores. We have been to three of them.

  • La Fabrica da Baleia (Horta/Faial)
  • Museu dos Baleeiros (Lajes/Pico)
  • Museu da Industria Baleeira (São Roque/Pico)

The most impressing one for me was the museum in Sao Roque. It is more about the processing of the whales and it is placed on the original “crime scene” where you can still see and even smell the atrocity of the handling of the huge whale cadavers. Same in Horta, but much more in its original state in São Roque. Additionally the great architecture of the museum in Lajes should be mentioned.

Impressions from the museums

La Fabrica da Baleia (Horta/Faial)

Museu dos Baleeiros (Lajes/Pico)

Remarkable in those pictures is the ambergris – amber – found in the intestines of sperm whales. There are several theories about the production of it. Sure is, that the hard parts of the whales favorite food (beaks of squids for example) is embedded in it. Some researchers think it is produced because of a metabolic disease, another theory say, that it serves as an antibiotic wound closure for the intestinal wall of the whale.

I always asked myself how the “vigias”, the men who sat in the watchtowers, communicated the position of the whales when having spotted one of them. The map on the picture in the middle shows that they used a system, which divided the area in small squares. I’m still not quite sure, how they used this kind of maps and I would be happy for more details.

Museu da Industria Baleeira (Sao Roque do Pico)

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On this last picture, you can see one of the ramps where the whales have been pulled out of the sea. As I have understood, most of the Azoreans today still have great respect for the bravery of the whalers, but the compassion and fondness towards the animal clearly wins.

 

Azores: Capelinhos – When An Island Grows

Capelinhos on Faial Islands was the latest volcanic eruption of the Azores. It happened in the 1950s over a couple of month. First an undersea volcano erupted and build up a landmass some meters in front of the island. Later, the gap between the new landmass and the island was closed by further eruptions. At the beginning the inhabitants of the island didn’t notice much of it but when the wind turned, and the ashes were spread all over the island, ignoring it wasn’t an option anymore and normal farming wasn’t possible for years.
There is a story about the lighthouse keeper who would have stood in his lighthouse during all the eruptions. He even would have had a long spoon to spoon some Lava out of the stream.

The underground documentation center architecturally is a great building. The museum (8€ pP) itself is ok but not great. The most important part (the eruption) is only documented on one wall, the festivity and marketing of 60 years of eruption is a huge room.

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Bohemia: Hike To A Mystic Valley Mill, A Series Of Bunkers, A Rock Chapel And An Abandoned Cemetery

So much to see and to explore in one hike! We started in beautiful Jetrichovice and were soon completely immersed again in the wonderful Bohemian landscape. And there was not only one interesting site to visit but many on this great, very recommendable trail.

From Jetrichovice

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A chapel inside a rock

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Picturesque housing

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An abandoned German cemetery

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A series of pre-WW2 bunkers and a lot of landscape

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Dolský Mlýn: The ruins of an ancient mill in a picturesque valley

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Back to Jetrichovice along the clearest creek ever

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Jetrichovice again

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Family History And Many Questions

When we planned to visit Bohemia I did only think of the region as a great hiking area. When we have finally been there, I became aware of the regions history and it struck me again like it did some years ago.

I wanted to share the photos and what I wrote down when I went to my fathers birthplace in Moravia, a former German speaking area in todays Czech Republic, North of the Austrian border with Austrian culture, food and accent. It’s a very personal history and I try to put it in a general historic frame. But first my history.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I grew up with some pictures. Some of them were exposed in the living room of my grandparents and countless stories surrounded them. Stories of a house and a farm, a village, animals, teachers, children roaming in the vast forests, in the fields and at the lakes, stories of great celebrations and hard work. Those stories were always accompanied by a nostalgic and distant gaze that appeared quickly but was immediately wiped away.

Also stories of war were told. Of loss and escape. Of hunger and cattle cars overcrowded with humans. And of a homeland that continued in those pictures and stories, but ceased to exist in reality. 

Like many other families, my fathers family had to leave Moravia one month after the end of WW2, the place they called home over countless generations. A group of people came to the village, held a gun to the head of a neighbor and told everyone they had to be ready to leave in two hours. My grandmother, 31 yrs at the time, packed up their lives into the stroller of my dad: photos, documents and my grandpas suit – something decent to wear when he came home from war captivity. Then they left their home – accompanied by threads – forever.

Together with my dad (1), my aunt (4), her mother, her sister and her baby and some other relatives, they headed walking to the Austrian border. Fortunately the border was near and they were spared the destiny of many other people from the region, who suffered thirst, hunger, typhoid fever and death on those strictly supervised death walks.

In Austria they were lucky again. A longtime farm labourer of my grandma had married a deceased farmers wife, and they lived in a tiny room at the farm for several month. Then they were collected again and crammed into a train. No one told them where the train would go to and after it started to head to the East, my Grandma said: They are bringing us to Russia. After a long journey they arrived in Germany, in the region where I was born. Where they lived as strangers for a very long time, maybe forever.

I knew all of that, but I did hardly notice it. Maybe because I grew up with it. Maybe because when I was finally there, day to day life had become normal again – at least externally.

Only this gaze which was wiped away quickly and the short silence which was connected with it, could have told me the whole story.

Now I was there. At the only place of my childhood which I have never seen before. I stood on the beautiful place in the middle of the town, which I knew very well from the stitched painting in the living room of my grandparents. A place brimful of memories. I sat in the kitchen in which my grandma feeded my dad and talked to the very gentle people who live there today and knew nothing of the past of there house and their village. I visited the cemetery and found gravestones with my family name on it.

And in an clouded and moonless night, in this area where the villages don’t carry the names anymore which I knew from my childhood stories, during a drive through the misty Moravian forest full of mushrooms, deer and rabbits, I imagined what would have happened, if global politics wouldn’t have intruded into my family history. But this imagination was far to complicated. 

Zlabings 1920-1945
Slavonice 2014

– – – – – – – – – – – –

Bohemia and Moravia were once part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. After the Empire ceased to exist (after WW1) the german speaking people who lived there since generations where sawn as intruders. Czech speaking mayors where installed in areas with 98% German speaking people, at schools, Czech was introduced as main language. The Sudetenland was “given” to Hitler in 1938 and he installed the so called “Reichsprotektorat Böhmen und Mähren”. Chamberlain and others thought, they would prevent a war with this action. Czechs were now badly treated by the Germans. After war they craved for revenge and their exiled president Edvard Beneš enacted laws especially for the treatment of the German speaking community. “Germans” could be mistreated and killed without fear of consequences and their property could be dispossessed. Until today those laws are effective. The vision was – and not only in this area – to create “pure” nations. An incredible number of European people were relocated by force during and after WW2. For most of them this has been a trauma which is still tangible today.

 

From a historic viewpoint those acts are quite understandable. No one is as guilty for this outcome as Hitler-Germany is. But I still have so many questions. When I was in the villages surrounding Krásná Lípa in Bohemia I saw all those beautiful more than 100 years old houses which were once owned buy other people who were violently expulsed from their homes after WW2. And I asked myself how it is, to live in a house like this, maybe even in the in furniture of those who left. From whom I only know, that they haven’t gone deliberately. Did they receive a visit from the former house owners in the years after WW2? Are they aware of what happened? What is their view on history?
My grandparents lost their home, there childhood places and maybe even part of their identity. As millions of other people did after war. My questions are also about the psychology of the people who were refugees once and today. And the psychology of the following generations. My psychology. Is there still something of this loss left in me?

When I stood in this place in the middle of the town which I only knew from the stories and pictures of my grandparents, I started crying. I felt, that this is my memory, too.

 

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Burg Tollenstein

Bohemia: Hrad Tolštejn – Ruins Of A Castle

(Burg Tollenstein)

Built around the 13th century the ruins of the castle of Tolštejn is today a very famous touristic destination. Go there by car or hike from Jiřetín pod Jedlovou (Sankt Georgental).

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Old picture of the castle (more history and pictures on Naturwunder in German):

 

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