• 001 - the logo.jpg
  • 002 - Hiroshima sunset.jpg
  • 003 - Auschwitz-Birkenau ramp.jpg
  • 004 - Chernobyl contamination.jpg
  • 005 - Darvaza flaming gas crater.jpg
  • 006 - Berlin Wall madness.jpg
  • 007 - Bulgaria - monument at the bottom of Buzludzhy park hill.jpg
  • 008 - Ijen crater.jpg
  • 009 - Aralsk, Kazakhstan.jpg
  • 010 - Paris catacombs.jpg
  • 011 - Krakatoa.jpg
  • 012 - Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, Hanoi.jpg
  • 013 - Uyuni.jpg
  • 014 - DMZ Vietnam.jpg
  • 015 - Colditz Kopie.jpg
  • 016 - Glasgow Necropolis.jpg
  • 017 - Hashima ghost island.jpg
  • 018 - Kazakhstan.jpg
  • 019 - Arlington.jpg
  • 020 - Karosta prison.jpg
  • 021 - Kamikaze.jpg
  • 022 - Chacabuco ghost town.jpg
  • 023 - Eagle's Nest, Obersalzberg, Berchtesgaden.jpg
  • 024 - Kursk.jpg
  • 025 - Bran castle, Carpathia, Romania.jpg
  • 026 - Bestattungsmuseum Wien.jpg
  • 027 - Pripyat near Chernobyl.jpg
  • 028 - Sedlec ossuary, Czech Republic.jpg
  • 029 - Pyramida Lenin.jpg
  • 030 - Falklands.jpg
  • 031 - Majdanek.jpg
  • 032 - Soufriere volcano, Montserrat.jpg
  • 033 - moai on Easter Island.jpg
  • 034 - Sidoarjo.jpg
  • 035 - Hötensleben.jpg
  • 036 - Natzweiler.jpg
  • 037 - Polygon, Semipalatinsk test site, Kazakhstan.jpg
  • 038 - Srebrenica.jpg
  • 039 - Liepaja, Latvia.jpg
  • 040 - Vemork hydroelectric power plant building, Norway.jpg
  • 041 - Enola Gay.jpg
  • 042 - Pentagon 9-11 memorial.jpg
  • 043 - Robben Island prison, South Africa.jpg
  • 044 - Tollund man.jpg
  • 045 - Marienthal tunnel.jpg
  • 046 - Aso, Japan.jpg
  • 047 - Labrador battery Singapore.jpg
  • 048 - Artyom island, Absheron, Azerbaijan.jpg
  • 049 - Treblinka.jpg
  • 050 - Titan II silo.jpg
  • 051 - dosemetering doll, Chernobyl.jpg
  • 052 - Holocaust memorial, Berlin.jpg
  • 053 - Komodo dragon.jpg
  • 054 - cemeterio general, Santiago de Chile.jpg
  • 055 - Tuol Sleng, Phnom Phen, Cambodia.jpg
  • 056 - West Virginia penitentiary.jpg
  • 057 - ovens, Dachau.jpg
  • 058 - Derry, Northern Ireland.jpg
  • 059 - Bulgaria - Buzludzha - workers of all countries unite.jpg
  • 060 - Sachsenhausen.jpg
  • 061 - Tiraspol dom sovietov.jpg
  • 062 - modern-day Pompeii - Plymouth, Montserrat.jpg
  • 063 - Pico de Fogo.jpg
  • 064 - Trinity Day.jpg
  • 065 - Zwentendorf control room.jpg
  • 066 - Wolfschanze.jpg
  • 067 - Hiroshima by night.jpg
  • 068 - mass games, North Korea.jpg
  • 069 - Harrisburg.jpg
  • 070 - Nuremberg.jpg
  • 071 - Mostar.jpg
  • 072 - Tu-22, Riga aviation museum.jpg
  • 073 - Gallipoli, Lone Pine.jpg
  • 074 - Auschwitz-Birkenau - fence.jpg
  • 075 - Darvaza flaming gas crater.jpg
  • 076 - Atatürk Mausoleum, Ankara.jpg
  • 077 - Banda Aceh boats.jpg
  • 078 - AMARG.jpg
  • 079 - Chacabuco ruins.jpg
  • 080 - Bucharest.jpg
  • 081 - Bernauer Straße.jpg
  • 082 - Death Railway, Thailand.jpg
  • 083 - Mandor killing fields.jpg
  • 084 - Kozloduy.jpg
  • 085 - Jerusalem.jpg
  • 086 - Latin Bridge, Sarajevo.jpg
  • 087 - Panmunjom, DMZ, Korea.jpg
  • 088 - Ijen blue flames.jpg
  • 089 - Derry reconsilliation monument.jpg
  • 090 - Ebensee.jpg
  • 091 - Mödlareuth barbed wire.jpg
  • 092 - skull heaps in Sedlec ossuary, Czech Republic.jpg
  • 093 - Nikel.jpg
  • 094 - Fukushima-Daiichi NPP.jpg
  • 095 - Tital launch control centre.jpg
  • 096 - Dallas Dealy Plaza and Sixth Floor Museum.jpg
  • 097 - Auschwitz I.jpg
  • 098 - Stalin and Lenin, Tirana, Albania.jpg
  • 099 - Malta, Fort St Elmo.jpg
  • 100 - Peenemünde.jpg
  • 101 - Tarrafal.jpg
  • 102 - Kilmainham prison, Dublin.jpg
  • 103 - North Korea.jpg
  • 104 - Mittelbau-Dora.jpg
  • 105 - St Helena.jpg
  • 106 - Stutthof, Poland.jpg
  • 107 - Merapi destruction.jpg
  • 108 - Chueung Ek killing fields, Cambodia.jpg
  • 109 - Marienborn former GDR border.jpg
  • 110 - Mig and star, Kazakhstan.jpg
  • 111 - Nagasaki WWII tunnels.jpg
  • 112 - Hellfire Pass, Thailand.jpg
  • 113 - Kiev.jpg
  • 114 - Grutas Park, Lithuania.jpg
  • 115 - Zwentendorf reactor core.jpg
  • 116 - two occupations, Tallinn.jpg
  • 117 - Trunyan burial site.jpg
  • 118 - Ushuaia prison.jpg
  • 119 - Buchenwald.jpg
  • 120 - Marienthal with ghost.jpg
  • 121 - Murmansk harbour - with an aircraft carrier.jpg
  • 122 - Berlin Olympiastadion.JPG
  • 123 - Bastille Day, Paris.jpg
  • 124 - Spassk.jpg
  • 125 - Theresienstadt.jpg
  • 126 - B-52s.jpg
  • 127 - Bledug Kuwu.jpg
  • 128 - Friedhof der Namenlosen, Vienna.jpg
  • 129 - Auschwitz-Birkenau barracks.jpg
  • 130 - mummies, Bolivia.jpg
  • 131 - Barringer meteor crater.jpg
  • 132 - Murambi, Rwanda.jpg
  • 133 - NTS.jpg
  • 134 - Mauthausen Soviet monument.jpg
  • 135 - pullution, Kazakhstan.JPG
  • 136 - palm oil madness.jpg
  • 137 - Berlin socialist realism.jpg
  • 138 - Okawa school building ruin.jpg
  • 139 - Pawiak, Warsaw.jpg
  • 140 - flying death, military museum Dresden.JPG
  • 141 - KGB gear.JPG
  • 142 - KZ jacket.JPG
  • 143 - ex-USSR.JPG
  • 144 - Indonesia fruit bats.JPG
  • 145 - Alcatraz.JPG
  • 146 - Chernobyl Museum, Kiev, Ukraine.JPG
  • 147 - Halemaumau lava lake glow, Hawaii.JPG
  • 148 - Rosinenbomber at Tempelhof, Berlin.jpg
  • 149 - Verdun, France.JPG
  • 150 - hospital, Vukovar, Croatia.JPG
  • 151 - the original tomb of Napoleon, St Helena.JPG
  • 152 - Buchenwald, Germany.JPG
  • 153 - Bhopal.JPG
  • 154 - Groß-Rosen, Poland.jpg
  • 155 - at Monino, Russia.jpg
  • 156 - blinking Komodo.jpg
  • 157 - inside Chernobyl NPP.JPG
  • 158 - Mount St Helens, USA.JPG
  • 159 - Maly Trostenec, Minsk, Belarus.jpg
  • 160 - Vucedol skulls, Croatia.JPG
  • 161 - colourful WW1 shells.JPG
  • 162 - Zeljava airbase in Croatia.JPG
  • 163 - rusting wrecks, Chernobyl.JPG
  • 164 - San Bernadine alle Ossa, Milan, Italy.jpg
  • 165 - USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.JPG
  • 166 - Brest Fortress, Belarus.JPG
  • 167 - thousands of bats, Dom Rep.JPG
  • 168 - Hohenschönhausen, Berlin.JPG
  • 169 - Perm-36 gulag site.JPG
  • 170 - Jasenovac, Croatia.JPG
  • 171 - Beelitz Heilstätten.JPG
  • 172 - Kremlin, Moscow.jpg
  • 173 - old arms factory, Dubnica.JPG
  • 174 - Pervomaisc ICBM base, more  missiles, including an SS-18 Satan.jpg
  • 175 - Cellular Jail, Port Blair.jpg
  • 177 - control room, Chernobyl NPP.JPG
  • 178 - Podgorica, Montenegro, small arms and light weapons sculpture.jpg
  • 179 - Vught.jpg
  • 180 - Japanese cave East Timor.jpg
  • 181 - Ani.jpg
  • 182 - Indonesia wildfire.jpg
  • 183 - Chacabuco big sky.jpg
  • 184 - Bunker Valentin, Germany.JPG
  • 185 - Lest we Forget, Ypres.JPG
  • 186 - the logo again.jpg

Facebook DT page archive: 2020

  
These are the final postings before the page and my personal account were shut down and deleted by Facebook (full story here).
 
The posts are dated and ordered reverse-chonologically, i.e. starting with the latest at the top and the oldest at the bottom. If you wish to go through them proper chronologically, as they were originally posted, then go to the bottom of this page and work your way through them by scrolling up (an option you wouldn't get on Facebook, by the way). A few of the posts lack their photo, because I shared it from outside my page (and it might be copyright restricted or requiring a source link, which in some cases got lost together with the relevant comments). But that's only affecting a small number of posts. Missing are also all readers' comments below the posts, the only exceptions are some comments of my own ones that I retained. But I wouldn't have felt it proper to reproduce other people's words here (and had not collected comments by others anyway).
  
Postings from earlier years are linked here
   
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Tuesday 21 April 2020
  
  21 04 2020   remains of a tea factory at Illuks gardens
  
On this Day, only a year ago, on 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday, six sites in Sri Lanka, three churches and three hotels in the capital Colombo, were targeted in a series of terrorist suicide bomb attacks, committed by a local Islamist militant group. Over 250 people were killed and more than twice that injured. It came only a month after the attacks on Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand (though the alleged link, of the Sri Lankan Easter attacks having been in retaliation for the New Zealand attacks, was never confirmed).
  
The immediate aftermath saw curfews, a shutdown of social media, and the Sri Lankan authorities claimed they prevented further attacks planned by the same Islamist group.
   
Longer-term, the Easter attacks led to almost a collapse of the country’s tourism sector. The company that had organized my trip to Sri Lanka years earlier then sent a call to former clients for support, especially for the many driver-guides who were suddenly without an income. So we too donated to a charity scheme providing financial aid to help them tick over for the duration of the crisis. It worked and slowly but surely the tourism sector, and the driver-guides’ livelihoods, recovered.
  
And then, less than a year later, came the current coronavirus pandemic bringing the entire tourism industry in Sri Lanka to a standstill, as elsewhere. How this second disastrous crisis could be overcome is beyond me … I fear the damage will be substantial and lasting …
   
I obviously have no photos of the 2019 Easter attacks, so I just trawled through my archive and picked a random picture taken on my 2006 Sri Lanka trip that at least vaguely fits into DT. This is the ruin of an abandoned tea factory in Illuks high in the central mountains (the ‘Knuckles Range’ to be precise).
  
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Monday 20 April 2020
  
  20 04 2020   Hitler's birthday and his end
  
A.H. again … on this Day, 131 years ago, on 20 April 1889, a certain Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn in Austria. Fifty-six years later he was in lockdown (!!!) in his shelter, the legendary Führerbunker, in Berlin, as the Soviet Red Army advanced and it had become undeniable that the war was lost and the Third Reich finished (somewhat short of the thousand years it was promised to last). And so, shortly after his final birthday, Hitler committed suicide in the bunker. And just over a week later, Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Allies, thus bringing World War Two to an end in Europe.
   
Hitler’s death also brought down his image as an icon in many places, even quite literally. People vented their anger at Hitler by toppling busts and destroying images of the dictator.
  
A couple of examples of this are on display at the large Mémorial de Caen peace museum in Normandy as seen in today’s photo.
   
The suitcase seen on the left here, which once belonged to Hitler (spot his initials in the centre of the top of the suitcase), was apparently found at the Berghof at Obersalzberg, Hitler’s favourite home away from Berlin during his reign.
  
[NB! This was the photo/post that started the purge of the DT page on Facebook - see here!]
  
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Saturday 18 April 2020
     
Solution to yesterday’s quiz question: this photo was taken (a long time ago, in 2008) inside one of the bunkers of the Wolfschanze near Gierloz in Poland.
   
Wolfschanze (usually translated as ‘wolf’s lair’) was the headquarters of Adolf Hitler and his inner circle during World War Two … until they had to retreat ahead of the rapidly advancing Red Army, after the fortunes in this conflict had firmly turned against the Third Reich.
  
Famously, the Wolfschanze was also the location where Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg had his failed attempt at assassinating Hitler by means of a bomb hidden in a briefcase
  
Before Hitler et al vacated the Wolfschanze, they tried to blow everything up, but the big bunkers were too massive and solid, with some walls up to nine metres thick (!), so they could only partially be destroyed. Some can be accessed (though signs say you shouldn’t), like this one, which I think may have been Göring’s bunker, though I’m not sure.
   
It’s a unique but also strange kind of tourist site these days, attracting not only history buffs and militaria fans but also some dodgy looking bunches of guys … yet I also spotted a rather large group of German Bundeswehr soldiers, in formal uniform, apparently sent there on an educational guided tour. It would have been intriguing to eavesdrop on what narrative they were told, but I didn’t dare trying to barge in (would have been tricky to blend in anyway, not wearing the same sort of uniform) …
  
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Friday 17 April 2020
   
  17 04 2020   inside a Wolfschanze bunker, Poland
  
Friday. Quiz question time. Here we go:
   
Light at the end of the tunnel? Well, this is a bunker anyway. Where? And what’s it called?
   
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Thursday 16 April 2020
  
   16 04 2020   isolation cell on Ile St Joseph
   
Photo of the day: extreme isolation!
   
This is one of the former solitary confinement cells of the “Reclusion” prison on Île St-Joseph that was part of the penal colony on the Îles du Salut (to which the infamous Devil’s Island also belongs) in French Guiana on the north-eastern coast of South America. As punishment for attempted escape or other transgressions, prisoners were routinely put in such small isolation cells in total silence, often for months on end or even more than a year. As an additional punishment they could even be kept in total darkness. All this is well depicted in the famous movie “Papillon”.
   
Going to the Îles du Salut as part of my explorations of the “Three Guyanas” (the other two being Suriname, the former Dutch Guyana, and Guyana itself, formerly a British colony) and especially the wonderfully atmospheric “urbexing” in the jungle of St-Joseph, was a highlight of my travel year in 2019.
   
This year I had several trips planned. Right now I should have been in Taiwan. But all trips up to May have long been cancelled, and the long weekend in Tallinn at the end of May will hardly be possible either. And I am now getting more and more convinced that my fully planned trip to Namibia in August is also very, very unlikely to be possible.
   
There is now increasing talk about no international travel until a working and approved vaccine against this coronavirus has been found, and made available to everybody. That could take over a year to come about. So I’m beginning to think that I can’t even plan a deferred Taiwan trip for 2021 until I’ve been vaccinated. I expect most, if not all, countries will make carrying a coronavirus vaccination certificate mandatory before entry for foreign travellers is allowed. But will the tourism industry have any chance of surviving until then?
   
   
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Wednesday 15 April 2020
   
   15 04 2020   Titanic exhibition at the Cite de la Mer
   
On this Day, 108 years ago, on 15 April 1912, the “Titanic” went under, taking over 1500 people with her. It was one of the first big disasters to trigger a worldwide media frenzy. Later a number of movies, culminating in James Cameron’s 1997 version, simply called “Titanic”, reinforced the tragedy’s legendary status. You can say it’s the “mother of all shipwrecks”!
   
The actual wreck is lying so deep on the ocean floor that it took a long time for it to even be discovered. The images shot on dives have also become the stuff of legends. For a while it was even possible for (very) well-heeled paying tourists to go on dives to the actual wreck (for prices that most of us could not even dream of ever being able to afford). And the various dives to it that salvaged objects from the wreck spawned various exhibitions, both travelling ones and permanent, that display some of these items. There are even two replica “Titanics” serving as museums, both somewhat ironically in landlocked states in the USA (Tennessee and Missouri, respectively).
   
Today’s photo was taken in the “Titanic” section of the Cité de la Mer naval museum complex in Cherbourg, Normandy, France. The reason for it being there is that the ship, after leaving Southampton made a stopover in Cherbourg to take aboard more passengers. The exhibition features a timeline of the tragedy as well as recreations of some of the interiors, including this first-class cabin with an evening dress draped over a bed … The lighting is supposed to emulate the blue ocean into which the ship then disappeared …
   
The association with the current coronavirus crisis is thin, I admit, but there is one: given that cruise ships were also badly affected (some still are!), as such confined environments are almost ideal for a virus to spread, this now calls into question the future of this previously booming sector of the tourism industry as such. In fact much of the tourism industry at large is in danger of going down too …
  
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Tuesday 14 Aprill 2020
  
BEWARE of FAKES!
   
Apparently a manipulated image of Chernobyl wildfire smoke coloured in orange in Photoshop, so that it looks like gigantic flames, has been doing the rounds yesterday, even making it into some news channels.
   
As far as the real situation is concerned, it remains rather unclear: there have been mixed bits of news from the Zone since yesterday … on the one hand dramatic videos were posted of fires at night (always looks more dramatic in the dark), but also news of rain having arrived. That may not have been enough to completely stop the fires, but should have helped a bit at least. But there are parts of the Zone that are still smouldering, it seems. However the latest I heard also said that currently the wind blows away from Pripyat.
   
Also good news (if confirmed) is that at Yanov station the damage is not as bad as initially feared. The train carriages that remained on the tracks are apparently OK, only those off the tracks were affected. I’ve also not heard anything about Pripyat having suffered any damage yet. And that’s a good sign. Hope that stays so.
   
As regards radiation, there’s also a lot of sensationalist exaggerations going round (even in otherwise reputable parts of the media) e.g. about allegedly 18-times elevated levels of radiation or even of a “deadly radioactive cloud”. Calm down folks! Even if there are elevated radiation levels (so far I’ve only seen evidence of roughly doubled readings measured right by the fires – the automatic radiation monitoring stations you can read out online do not show any drastically elevated figures), this does in no way compare to the levels back in 1986 straight after the explosion. This is at best about particles that may include e.g. Caesium 137 (a fission product with a half-life time of ca. 30 years) being blown up from the ground by the smoke and wind. Of course you wouldn’t want to inhale these, but it’s hardly likely to be a catastrophic threat to Kiyv/Kiev or the other lands around the Zone.
   
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Tuesday 14 April 2020
   
   14 04 2020   Sofia steel works ex train station
   
Regular Photo of the Day: abandoned former train station for the huge metallurgy complex outside Sofia, Bulgaria. But this is not due to social distancing, but because the industrial compound it served closed down years before.
   
The closed steelworks as such are unfortunately off limits to normal mortals – and it’s also policed: I saw a watchtower with a guard on alert as we drove past the gigantic rusty complex.
   
But this former station at least could be freely explored when I was there several years ago. I remember that when my Bulgarian guide made our driver stop outside this ruin so that I could go inside it triggered a lot of head-shaking in disbelief from the driver. Well, not everybody appreciates the aesthetics of decay and dereliction …
   
For me it was cool, though, especially the old canteen section. What you see in this pic, however, would have been the main platform part.
   
There’s also a graffiti element in this, yet again. See on the right-hand side where it says “THE WAR IS STILL ON” … don’t ask me which war this is supposed to refer to. I have no idea.
  
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Monday 13 April 202
  
Mixed news from Chernobyl (again!) … apparently the wind’s changed and is now blowing towards Pripyat. Fires have reached the Red Forest and Yanov train station. But according to some posts there may also be rain coming, which should help, and fire fighters are making great efforts to stem the flames too.
  
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Monday 13 April 2020    
  
  13 04 2020   at Beelitz Heilstätten
   
Photo of the Day: DT and graffiti again … this one I found at the Beelitz Heilstätten, the former tuberculosis sanatorium and later Soviet military hospital until the end of the GDR.
  
The place has featured here many times before and probably will again occasionally in the future. Normally, though, it’s the interiors that are the main attraction. Before parts of Beelitz were redeveloped and rededicated (including for medical wards) and some of the ruined parts were properly, and commercially, commodified for tourism, it was for years a Mecca for urban explorers … and here, too, some did leave graffiti.
   
And, again, I’m in two minds about it. On the one hand, that gas-mask portrait looks quite cool, but should it be where it is? Doesn’t it interfere with the atmosphere of this ghost-town like complex too much?
   
By the way, the Cyrillic legend on the brick wall in the background says “entry prohibited” in Russian, probably left there when the military hospital was closed and all personnel was sent back to Russia as part of the Four-Plus-Four Treaty that regulated Germany’s reunification and the demise of the GDR.
   
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Saturday 11 April 2020
   
   10 04 2020   Marienthal Regierungsbunker
   
solution to yesterday’s quiz question – this time it took an hour before a correct answer came in – this is at Marienthal near Ahrweiler in Germany, and shows one of the blast doors of the “Regierungsbunker” (‘government bunker’) that was intended to house the West German government in the event of a nuclear war.
   
However, it’s some 15 miles (25 km) from Bonn, the then capital city and seat of government of the FRG, and whether it would have been possible to move the entire government and other ca. 3000-strong personnel into the bunker in time during an emergency, was rather questionable. By the time the bunker was built, warning times for incoming ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) were less than half an hour!
   
Moreover, the bunker wouldn’t have withstood a direct hit by a thermonuclear warhead of the era, even though these were already well established by the time the construction of the bunker was even begun (in the 1960s).
   
After the end of the Cold War, most of the bunker was decommissioned and largely gutted, except for one stretch that was developed for tourism as a kind of museum. It’s possibly THE most significant Cold-War-era dark sight in Western Germany today (but the Eastern, ex-GDR part has more!)
  
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Friday 10 April 2020
   
  10 04 2020   Kopachi Kindergarten
  
Big forest fires in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone at the moment – also at Duga. The arrays will be safe, being made of steel, but the buildings behind it? Pripyat is safe for now, but who knows, that might change if the wind is wrong and the fire fighters can’t put the fires out in time. By the way: do NOT believe the sensationalism in the international media about radiation being “16 times higher” because of the fires. That’s not the case. I asked my Chernobyl contact and he confirmed this. You can also access official radiation measurement-point readouts in real time online. And these too confirm that atmospheric radiation levels remain within normal range.
   
But of course there is physical damage. Already lost are several village houses … as you can see here. The self-settlers are said to be safe, though. I’ve also heard of evacuations, but I think that was from the western edge of the Zone.
   
It’s also rumoured that the fires were started by some one burning rubbish without thinking, so it’s partly man-made. Now let’s hope they can get this blaze under control before too much is lost. I’ve seen on fire-spread maps that one is getting very close to Kopachi – that would be a most tragic loss …
   
Comment: here’s the link to the online measurement readings – note that they are given in NanoSievert, so in μSv you have to divide the figures by 1000.  http://www.srp.ecocentre.kiev.ua/MEDO-PS/index.php?lang=ENG&online=1
   
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Friday 10 April 2020
   
  10 04 2020   Marienthal Regierungsbunker
  
Friday quiz time … and more on the extreme lock-down theme … But where is this particular heavy steel blast door?
  
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Thursday 9 April 2020 
   
  09 04 2020   Nuremberg fountain art
  
Photo of the Day: when self-isolation and just holing up for weeks on end will make us all lose it finally …
   
Actually this is a monument, or rather a monumental fountain with modern sculptures, that I spotted years ago in the city of Nuremberg, Germany.
   
In more detail: this is part of what’s called “Das Ehekarussell” (literally ‘marriage merry-go-round’), a group of sculptures illustrating, often quite drastically, different stages of a marriage/relationship, from first love to rows and fighting and death. It’s based on a poem by Hans Sachs, which also features in the artwork, and there’s a statue of the author in this ensemble too. The fountain/sculpture was unveiled in 1984 and has been quite controversial from the start, both for having gone way over budget (it was commissioned by the city administration, so it’s the same old story …) as well as for some of its “sensualism” (i.e. erotic figures with bare breasts etc.).
   
It’s not just a piece of art, though. The reason it was commissioned was to hide from view the top of a ventilation shaft for the city’s underground metro, which is in the middle of the circle of sculptures (you can see it on Google Maps – at 49°27'02.1"N 11°04'15.3"E). It’s located at Ludwigsplatz right opposite of the Weißer Turm (‘White Tower’) in the heart of the pedestrianized city centre.
   
While some parts of the sculpture are easy enough to interpret, some others remain rather more obscure – including that giant lizard. I have no idea how that’s supposed to relate to the fountain’s theme …
  
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Wednesday 8 April 2020
 
  08 04 2020   GDR era socialist realist kitsch, Berlin
     
Photo of the Day: oh those communists! No social distancing at all ... and they even still shake hands!!!
  
But seriously, this is a socialist-realist mural found in Berlin Mitte, formerly part of the capital of the GDR, i.e. East Berlin, celebrating the workers-and-peasants’ paradise that this state was supposed to be.
   
You have to wonder, though, how a state like the GDR would have handled a scare like our current corona crisis … probably a bit like the Chinese, I should guess. But a proper contemporary comparison would be with North Korea, except that that country is currently closed off and not much info is getting out. However, there had never been that much internal travel there anyway, so they probably have it a bit easier as far as containing the spread is concerned. But how many ICUs with ventilators do they have?
   
Another North-Korea-like totalitarian state (though not communist, but full-on cult-of-personality autocratic) is Turkmenistan. And I just read that there the media aren’t even allowed to make any references to COVID-19. If that is true, it will be interesting to see how that experiment will pan out …
  
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Tuesday 7 April 2020
  
   07 04 2020   gas mask and gas tight pram
   
Photo of the Day: extreme lock-down.
  
A set of gas masks, a full-body hazmat suit and even a hazmat pram!
  
Seen a few years back in the museum part of Karosta Prison, Liepaja, Latvia.
  
Karosta is better known for the somewhat controversial theatrical “re-enactment” shows they put on for paying customers who then get shouted at, humiliated, and locked up by actors in KGB uniforms trying to recreate the Soviet penal system, as it were. You can even stay overnight in a cell to really feel like a prisoner! To be honest, though, I’ve never been a fan of any such re-enactments and/or theatrical show elements that get tourists involved in the proceedings. So I don’t feel the least bit tempted to ever partake in any of those offered at Karosta Prison.
   
Fortunately, when I visited Karosta, it was off season, but one of the guys working there, who was also from the same family that we rented our self-catering accommodation from, gave us a private tour of the prison and its museum part, all without any of those theatrics. That way it was much more up my street. The prison cells and dark dank corridors are indeed suitably grim, and the collection of Soviet-era memorabilia is interesting too.
   
This tour also took us to the Northern Forts and through parts of the quasi-ghost town that this former Soviet naval base is these days. It’s a cool place, but unfortunately the theatric elements at Karosta Prison are frequently used in negative media articles as an example to discredit dark tourism at large as unethical or morally deviant.
  
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Monday 6 April 2020
  
   06 04 2020   funeral alternatives
   
just a photo today … no story
  
In fact this isn’t even my photo, but again something I found on FB, and I can’t even remember where (I’ve had it in my folder for a while). So I also can’t give a source and copyright reference. If anybody claims it, let me know and I can edit this post accordingly.
  
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Sunday 5 April 2020 #2
  
  05 04 2020   acceptable Chernobyl graffito
  
follow-up to the earlier post today ...
  
… because I thought I should perhaps differentiate more. While that vandalism on the Pripyat sign (if it is real) is inexcusable, not all graffiti in the Zone necessarily are.
   
Here’s a photo of one that in my opinion is at the opposite end of the scale, and one that I actually really quite like. It’s so Banksy-like, cute even, cleverly creative, and, most importantly: it’s one of the apartment buildings, at the lift doors on one of the middle floors, if I remember correctly, so it’s not in the open, and thus not so in your face, but more subtle. That I can live with.
   
This graffito has also been there for many years, since long before the HBO series. Other old ones that I find far more problematic are those letters inside the Azur swimming pool, or the mural-like realistic portrait in the block 5 cooling tower. In other cases I’m in two minds, really – liking the artwork as such, from a purely artistic point of view, but also tending towards rather having a consistent no-meddling-with-anything rule. Not so easy …
  
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Sunday 5 April 2020
  
  05 04 2020   Pripyat vandalism
    
Photo of the Day: more vandalism in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone?
  
This photo was posted on one of the various Chernobyl-related groups here on Facebook the other day. I’m not sure if it’s real or just a Photoshop job. But if it’s real, it’s a shocker.
   
Official tours are all suspended, of course, and borders closed, but apparently local stalkers still get in … and all too often they leave graffiti. This was probably meant as a joke, using the 1970, the year the city of Pripyat was founded, to make a COVID-19 reference. But the Zone has seen too much vandalism in recent times as it is.
   
Unfortunately that seems to be one of effects of the success of the HBO mini series “Chernobyl” … that the Zone now attracts too many people who do not show the required respect for the place and its history.
   
Indeed, it should be treated as a memorial, not a playground. And the urbex ethos rule of “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos” should be strictly adhered to.
  
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Saturday 4 April 2020
     
Yesterday’s quiz was apparently too easy … two correct answers came shortly after posting. In case you haven’t see those: the photo shows the memorial to the victims of the Nazi concentration camp Sachsenhausen outside Berlin. The memorial is part of a whole complex of concentration camp memorial monuments located at the famous Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
   
The photo is an example of a totally wrong overexposure actually yielding a pleasing result. Sometimes errors are good! So unlike the heavily treated mummy photo the day before, this is actually untreated, just as it came out straight off the camera.
   
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Friday 3 April 2020 
   
   03 04 2020   ascension
   
Friday, quiz time in dark times … and another “abnormal” photo.
   
Can you say where this was originally taken – and what it is?
  
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Thursday 2 April 2020
 
  02 04 2020   arty photo treatment of a Bolivian mummy
     
Photo of the Day: no big history today, and no comments on the current crisis. Just an evocative image … a multiple-treated photo, originally taken at a secret mummy site in Bolivia, high in the Andes.
  
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Wednesday 1 April 2020 – empty UN
  
  01 04 2020   empty UN General Assembly
  
Photo of the Day: the empty UN General Assembly hall in New York City, USA
   
I really do not feel like making any April Fool jokes this year. So I’m staying serious.
   
A couple of days ago I read the UN Secretary-General’s appeal to the world for a global ceasefire (see the link in comments), as obviously continued warfare only complicates the global fight against this new coronavirus. If we can’t even stop fighting each other in such an unprecedented global crisis, then maybe Mother Nature has the right to wipe us all out by different means. Sorry, I’m getting cynical again. I shouldn’t. I know. But I find it hard to contain.
   
This photo was taken on a guided tour of the UN headquarters that I went on almost exactly ten years ago. It was my second of in total three visits to New York City, a place I’ve always found especially fascinating. It saddens me having to see this great city suddenly being so hit by the current crisis. I also know a few people living there, and of course I fear for them right now …
  
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Tuesday 31 March 2020
   
   31 03 2020   dark times
   
Photo of the Day: a follow-up to yesterday’s post, as it were, taken in the same place, the IJzer Tower World War One memorial in Diksmuide, Flanders, Belgium. It shows an illustration in some newspaper or maybe a war-related poster, I can’t quite remember the exact context … but I found it fitting anyway.
   
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Monday 30 March 2020 – hail the nurses
   
  30 03 2020   hail the nurses
  
Photo of the Day: a little tribute to nurses in particular, and medical personnel in general.
   
They currently have to bear the brunt of the global crisis we’re in. And while they currently get a virtual universal round of applause, including on this page now, what is really needed is a better appreciation of the profession in practical – especially financial – ways. But that’s politics. And it’s become clear that this hasn’t been good in recent years. The cuts made in the health systems in many parts of Europe, and especially the underpayment of nurses, making the job less attractive, leading to less recruitment than would be needed, now come back to haunt us. That and the lack of stockpiled supplies (masks, protective clothing, ventilators …).
   
And Europe is still in a privileged position! Despite the spiralling tragedy in Italy and now also Spain and elsewhere, it could be far, far worse. And elsewhere it already is, or soon will be. I don’t want to begin to imagine what this virus could still do in poor overpopulated places like Bangladesh or almost anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa. It could get truly apocalyptic there …
   
This photo, by the way, was taken at the IJzer Tower memorial in Diksmuide, Flanders, Belgium. This is a World War One memorial and one section, where this photo was taken, celebrates the role of nurses in that conflict. Hence the rather old-fashioned outfits. But it was the closest I could find in my archives of what I wanted to post today.
   
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Sunday 29 March 2020
   
  29 03 2020   Corona ball
 
A good example of how the brain can get conditioned through frequent exposure to a certain (frightening) image so that it starts seeing it in objects of a similar shape that are, however, in actual fact totally unrelated to it .
  
I’m sure you’re all also seeing the same thing in this now …
  
What this actually is: an orthopaedic foot massage ball. (I was prescribed that once, over a year ago when I had problems with some tendons in my right foot … but it kinda sorted itself and I’ve never used that ball anywhere near as much as I was supposed to …)
    
This is just a little Sunday treat – though I don’t normally post on a Sunday … but then again, these days every day feels a bit like a Sunday; everything’s shut, streets are quiet, you laze about, spend some time on the Internet, do some cleaning, read a book, catch up with emailing, sort out the wardrobe, etc. … I wonder how long it will be until we all will never want to see another Sunday ever again.
  
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Saturday 28 March 2020
    
Solution to yesterday’s quiz.
   
This is a mock-up recreation of the heavy-water plant at Vemork, Norway, now part of the Norwegian Industrial Workers Museum.
  
‘Heavy water’ is a form of water that contains above average/boosted amounts of deuterium, a hydrogen isotope. Its chemical/physical properties made it an asset in the development of the nuclear industry … and potentially nuclear weapons. The plant was built adjacent to the Vemork hydroelectric power station (which was the largest in the world when it first opened in 1911) as the production process required lots of energy. The heavy water plant started operating in 1934 as the world’s first large-scale production facility of its type.
   
When, in 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Norway, they also captured this plant. This in turn gave rise to concerns amongst the Allies that it could give Germany an advantage in the development of an atomic bomb. Hence the plant became the target of legendary sabotage operations, conducted by the British SOE and Norwegian resistance fighters, eventually with success.
   
The heavy water plant continued operation after the war until 1971, when it was closed and later demolished. The adjacent power plant stopped operations in 1988 and was then turned into today’s museum. It is quite a sight, both in terms of historical significance, covered in a very good museum exhibition inside, as well as a star piece of industrial heritage.
   
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Friday, 27 March 2020
   
  27 03 2020   heavy water plant recreation, Vemork Norway
  
Friday. Quiz time – despite the situation. For those few who are still with this page ...
   
For today: what and where is this?
   
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Thursday 26 March 2020
   
On this Day, 45 years ago, on 26 March 1975, the Biological Weapons Convention, which prohibits states from producing or using such weapons, entered into force. This was the first time a whole category of warfare was banned … except it wasn’t quite so simple, hence there’s been a series of review conferences, and not all countries have even signed it. Look at the world map colour-coded as to which states have both signed and ratified the treaty, those which acceded to it as successor states (e.g. the ex-Soviet republics and various former colonies), those which signed but did not ratify it, and those few non-signatory states. Of the latter, however, all but one are in the process of joining the rest of the world on this. The one exception: Israel (barely visible on this map).
   
Of course, all this refers to weaponized biohazards, and the link to the current coronavirus crisis is hence only a loose one. However, there are some wild conspiracy theories out there making bizarre claims that this was the result of secret bioweapons labs either accidentally leaking the new strain or even deliberately, depending on how deep you want to dig in the muck of the world of conspiracy theories.
   
I even found that one of my own posts was misused for this purpose as a share – completely wrenched out of its original context. It was that post from last Tuesday about the Dugway Sheep Incident, in which some VX nerve agent accidentally dropped outside a military proving ground in Utah, USA, in 1968.
   
It’s completely beyond me how this 1960s incident in the USA can be seen as confirming (or even having anything at all to do with) the “suspicion” that the current coronavirus “escaped” a bioweapons lab in Wuhan and that China is “trying to pass it on” to the USA. Apparently, it’s as hard for some to control their imaginations running wild as it is for some to obey the stay-at-home rule.
   
  
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Wednesday 25 March 2020
   
   25 03 2020   Boden   staring down the barrel of a gun
   
Photo of the Day: staring down the barrel of a gun …
   
… in this case one of the artillery gun barrels at Boden Fortress in northern Sweden.
   
I’ll leave it at a shorty today, just let the image speak for itself.
   
The reach of my posts has much diminished anyway, now down to the equivalent of merely one sixth of the number of followers this page nominally has. I presume that is because everybody’s feeds are flooded with Corona-related posts so that mine just slip through. I’ll carry on posting, though, as much for my own sanity through continuity as for those more dedicated followers who I don’t want to miss out.
  
Let’s see where all this heading … I’m finding it increasingly hard to muster any optimism.
   
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Tuesday 24 March 2020
   
  24 03 2020   Beelitz 2
  
On this Day, it’s World Tuberculosis Day. It marks the day when, 138 years ago, on 24 March 1882, Dr Robert Koch of the Berlin Institute of Hygiene announced his discovery of the TB bacillus that caused the disease, which at that time was raging through Europe and America, killing millions, especially amongst the working classes living in, let’s say, less than ideal sanitary conditions. The discovery paved the way not only for diagnosis and treatment, but also for wider-reaching preventative measures. Even so, tuberculosis continues to kill over a million people annually worldwide (mostly in low-income, less developed countries – so it’s largely a mark of ‘health inequality’), so it’s anything but eradicated, yet in the ‘developed world’ it is far from being the “pestilence of the industrial revolution” that it once was …
   
The name of the discoverer of the TB bacillus also features a lot these days at least in Germany, where the “Robert Koch Institute”, the federal government agency responsible for disease control, is currently one of the premier sources of sound information about the coronavirus crisis.
   
Today’s photo was taken at Beelitz Heilstätten, the famous former TB sanatorium outside of Berlin that was taken over by the Soviet military during the Cold War (and was the largest Soviet military hospital outside the USSR) and abandoned after the Soviets left in the wake of German reunification. For many years it was a dream destination for urban explorers; now things are a bit more regulated, following excessive vandalism and even fatalities as a result of accidents. But you can go on guided tours of the impressive ruins … though I very much doubt they're on right now, in fact I’m certain that at the moment no tours will be running.
   
The monstrous machinery in the centre of this photo, by the way, is/was an extractor fan system of the former kitchen of the complex
  
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Monday 23 March 2020
 
   23 03 2020   unmasked, bunker in Prague
     
Photo of the Day: to wear a mask or not to wear a mask, that is the question …
   
Of course, as has been made clear, those simple paper/fabric face masks you have always seen in abundance in Asia, offer very little protection for oneself, however, they could help prevent spreading the virus to others yourself if you’ve contracted it, whether you know it or not, and whether you have symptoms or not. But it’s only an additional measure. Distancing remains the main one.
   
Wearing a full-on military-grade gas mask would probably protect you from any outside hazards, but who’d want to wear such a thing for long? I’ve tried one on on a couple of occasions and can vouch for them being super-uncomfortable. Moreover, you can’t eat or drink with them on. And they stink (of rubber, mostly). No, I’d rather stick to social distancing and washing my hands.
   
This photo was taken, no, not in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, but inside a former nuclear bunker in Prague, Czech Republic which is open to the public as part of a two-hour “communism tour”. Amongst the amassed artefacts inside this bunker is also a whole wall of gas masks (which they call “Lenin Wall”, in allusion to Prague’s “Lennon Wall”, on which countless graffiti honour John Lennon – the dead Beatle, not the dark-tourism author!). The dummy head in front is where the gas mask is usually perched when it’s not being tried on by tour participants …
   
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Sunday 22 March 2020
    
 [link could not be recovered]
  
speaking of history lessons ... this also works projectively, as it were, i.e. looking at what will be history at points in the future, guessing what looking back on now will be like then. This article is the best I've seen so far on precisely this: projection; plus it has a lot of charts and plenty of number crunching, but it's still a rather accessible summary ... a lengthy summary, but still a summary, and well worth reading in full; there are worse things you could do with your extra time gained from social distancing or even enforced lock-down measures. I know this is not a scientific article per se, but pieced together from such proper sources, and with lots of links provided for fact-checking and further reading. The advantage it has over proper academic papers is its accessibility, without (we have to trust) forfeiting facts and rigour. Moreover, it’s not just medical, but also looks at economical impacts (and these are actually not necessarily as depressing as you might expect). Some parts are inescapably speculative, but the overall drift is quite clear.
  
The article has a slight "bias" (not meant in a negative way, more in the sense of focus in its appeal) towards the US, but applies generally, and it comes with links (at the bottom) to translations into a number of languages. I don't normally expressly ask people to share my posts, but in this special case I'll make an exception and hope I’m doing the right thing). Please do share!
   
This is of course also exceptional in that it is not a post that is directly connected to the theme of dark tourism. But indirectly it actually is! If this crisis escalates and does long-term damage to (amongst many other things) the tourism sector, then this also includes dark tourism … So I do admit I have a vested interest here. But I presumably share that interest with most, if not all of you who follow this page. So please condone this “deviation” from our topic. I promise to be back on it with my next posts ...
   
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Saturday 21 March 2020
   
Solution to yesterday’s quiz – though the correct answer was revealed relatively quickly in the comments, not all of you may have seen those.
   
The protective suits and face masks were a bit of a red herring – this has nothing to do with biohazards like the coronavirus. If you look closely you can see that one of the two figures (both dummies, btw.) in this image is wielding a Geiger counter. And indeed this is a nuclear site, a floating one:
   
This photo was taken through a small observation window into the reactor room of the Lenin icebreaker, the world’s first nuclear-powered civilian surface vessel (the very first nuclear powered boat was the USS Nautilus submarine that preceded the Lenin by just a couple of years). The Lenin was put into operation in 1959 and for the next 30 years took part in keeping the shipping routes of the Soviet Arctic passable.
   
The retired veteran vessel is now a museum ship, permanently moored in its home harbour of Murmansk, and visitable by guided tour ... in Russian only, but luckily I had my own interpreter with me – my Russianist wife.
   
We went there as an add-on to our 2012 trip to Norway, as a short overnight excursion from Kirkenes. OK, we had to pay the full fee for Russian visas, but it was worth it.
   
Murmansk – the name alone has such a mystical aura!
  
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Friday 20 March 2020
  
  20 03 2020   reactor of the Lenin icebreaker
   
Friday, quiz time – and I’m keeping it up despite the ongoing Coronavirus crisis, and keeping it topical, as far as possible for a little longer.
   
So, guys in protective suits and face masks surrounded by strange technology … what and where is this?
   
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Thursday 19 March 2020
   
  19 03 2020   empty supermarket in Pripyat
  
Photo of today: empty supermarket, thoroughly picked clean!
   
This is of course the next one in the series of posts that can be linked to the Coronavirus scare.
   
However, this particular supermarket was not raided by hoarders afraid of not being able to get any toilet paper or spaghetti any more tomorrow and hence buying up what they can grab. No, this shop’s actually been in this state for many years.
   
The photo shows one of the larger supermarkets in the ghost town of Pripyat in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. So it’s been silent for almost 34 years and looters will have seen to it being picked clean, if anything was left after the clean-up operations by the ‘liquidators’ after the 1986 disaster, that is. Anyway, now what’s left is just slowly rusting and crumbling away … This is what a dystopian post-civilization world could look like …
   
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Wednesday 18 March 2020
  18 03 2020   isolation cell
     
Photo of the Day: isolation cell!
   
Since the whole world seems to be focused on only one topic at the moment, I felt compelled to follow suit and post something that can somehow be linked to the current Coronavirus crisis.
  
It could be seen as cynical or bad taste or some such thing to post something about isolation, when millions upon millions do have to at least stay home – and those actually infected or suspected of having been exposed to the virus have to go into self-isolation or enforced quarantine.
   
But this is also intended to show that compared to this isolation cell (more like a cage really), merely having to stay home is not so bad, at least.
   
This particularly scary-looking cell is part of Fort Zeelandia in Suriname’s capital Paramaribo. After it had mostly lost its military significance (thanks to a newer fort having been constructed further downriver to protect the estuary of the Suriname River), the fort served mainly as a prison from 1782 up to as late as 1967. Today it’s Suriname’s principal historical museum, covering pre-Columbian indigenous cultures as well as the colonial era, slavery, its abolition, and the road to independence, but for some reason stops short of covering the military dictatorship of the 1980s …
  
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Tuesday 17 March 2020
   
  [photo could not be reproduced]
  
On this Day, 52 years ago, on 17 March 1968 the Dugway Sheep Incident occurred. Around 6000 sheep were found dead in Skull Valley (what an apt name that thus proved to be!), which is near Dugway Proving Ground near Salt Lake City in Utah, USA. The latter was a top-secret site for the US Army’s testing of chemical and biological weapons – in the open air!!! And indeed one test performed there at that time was an aerial spraying by an A-4 Skyhawk ground attack jet plane within the proving ground of the nerve agent VX, but apparently the spray nozzle of one of the dispensers malfunctioned so that it continued dribbling VX after the spraying as the plane gained altitude and flew outside the proving ground.
    
VX is one of the most potent nerve agents ever developed – a mere tenth of a milligram can be lethal, and in a nasty way, as the agent has a neuromuscular blockade effect, i.e. paralysing the muscles, thus leading to asphyxiation.
   
At first the military denied that the cause of death of the sheep could have been their fault, but classified reports released 30 years later confirmed that traces of VX had indeed been found in the sheep. The sheep’s owner and his family, who were further away at the time at their house, also showed symptoms of low-level exposure to VX.
   
So here we are – a mass killing of animals through a proper weapon of mass destruction!
   
The reporting on the incident strengthened the case for those who opposed the development and use of such weapons. The complete ban of VX nerve agent didn’t come until the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), but it already led then president Richard Nixon to at least unilaterally ban the sort of tests conducted at Dugway the year after the incident in 1969.
   
I obviously have no photos of the incident and no non-copyrighted images exist (Wikipedia uses one, though – so if you want to look at some of the dead sheep go to the Dugway sheep incident entry there). So instead I used a Creative Commons image gleaned from Wikimedia – link in the comment section below – that shows Dugway Proving Ground
  
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Monday 16 March 2020
   
  [photo could not be reproduced]
  
On this Day, 42 years ago, on 16 March 1978, the supertanker “Amoco Cadiz” ran aground off the coast of Brittany, France, and broke apart, causing one of the largest oil spills ever (well over 1.5 million barrels worth of crude oil) and the worst environmental catastrophe to hit the French coast.
   
For a while the massive bow of the ship poked out of the water, making for a formidable dark sight to behold. But it’s long gone; helped along by the French Navy that used depth charges to dismantle the wreck so that nothing of it can be seen today above the surface of the sea. However, wreck divers still visit the site, as what is left of the wreck lies in relatively shallow waters, but it’s said to be a bit dicey because of strong Atlantic currents.
   
I can vividly remember seeing gruesome images of doomed oil-soiled seabirds on TV at the time. The clean-up was a massive operation. But today there’s no visible reminder of the disaster – except for the anchor of the “Amoco Cadiz”, which was turned into a monument of sorts at Portsall (more precisely at 48°33'27.4"N 4°42'20.9"W)
   
This dramatic photo of the bow in the distance and with the coast and a house in the foreground is obviously not mine, but something old I found on the Internet. I wasn’t able to unearth any copyright information about it, though, so I can only hope it’s alright to post it here.
   
< comment: in my research for this post I also happened upon an image of the bow as a print on T-shirts that are still commercially available … I’m not sure what to think of that, I’m torn between “that’s a bit inappropriate, isn’t it?” and “cool, I want one”. I don’t want to advertise it publicly, but if you’re interested send a message and I’ll pass on the link >
   
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Sunday 15 March 2020
   
  21 06 2015   hung over angel, St Marx cemetery, Vienna 2
  
Devastated … though it’s not come as a big surprise of course: it’s now become clear that my thoroughly planned-through April trip to Taiwan will not happen. The authorities there have decreed that anybody travelling from the EU (I’m based in Austria) to Taiwan has to go into a mandatory, and enforced, 14-day isolation quarantine. Since the trip was supposed to be only 16 days long (including the two 15-hour overnight long-haul flights in and out) this means there is no point going at all. I can now cancel all accommodation and tour arrangements – and I hope the airline will refund me the not inconsiderable amount of money the ticket cost. I’ll have another attempt in a year’s time then. But it’s a great shame, because it would actually have been a good time to go to Taiwan – with all mainland Chinese banned from entering the country, places like Kinmen, where some 90% of visitors used to come from the mainland, would have been peaceful and uncrowded, and that would have been so good for photography too. But it’s not to be. Don’t get me wrong, I understand and respect Taiwan’s decision, especially given that they had the situation admirably under control with just under 50 cases and that number stable for over a week, and now numbers are starting to rise again because of people coming from Europe. So shutting down that inroad was probably inevitable – now the island (what an advantage!) can carry on with life almost as normal without having to go into total lockdown (as we are approaching here: all schools shut, all concerts, conferences and such events cancelled, and only “essential” shops remaining open, which in Austria curiously includes tobacconists alongside food stores, banks and petrol stations). From the Taiwanese perspective severely restricting arrivals from abroad thus has to be a good thing in general … just not for the foreigner-oriented tourism industry and their clients …
   
Oh, and – almost needless to say – I also axed the short trip to Kosovo next weekend, and the airline has just cancelled the flights anyway.
   
I’m now looking ahead anxiously at my next two short trips lined up for May (Tirana and Tallinn).
   
I’m a little more confident about my summer trip to Namibia (so far only 2 cases – and the very dry climate there is very anti-virus generally) … that is: as long as the airline survives until then …
   
That, the threat to businesses in the tourism/travel industry, is actually worrying me even more that the virus. If even big airlines like BA are on the brink of collapse, what about all those small-scale specialist tour operators that cater for us dark tourists? How long can they keep afloat – with no clients? It’s dark days for real at the moment.
  
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Saturday 14 March 2020
    
Solution to yesterday’s quiz:
   
This is a display at the Haus der Geschichte in Bonn (in English its official title is ‘House of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany’) in the section about the newest parts of its coverage, the “Auslandseinsätze”, ‘foreign engagement’, of the Bundeswehr (the German military) especially in Afghanistan.
   
The door in this picture is from an APC (armoured personnel carrier) that got caught up in an ambush in which some German soldiers were killed, including the one whose helmet and jacket are also seen in this photo.
   
Germany has lost only a few soldiers in service in Afghanistan, but still – the first such casualties of war since WWII, as far as I am aware. And the display represents “bad luck” in the sense of wrong place, wrong time, of course.
  
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Friday 13 March 2020
 
   13 03 2020   door of a German militay armoured personall vehicle that was ambushed in Afghanistan
    
Friday again – and this time a Friday the 13 at that. So we need a photo that would fit the “bad luck” association with such a date.
    
Here we go: what and where’s this, and in what way does it represent bad luck?
  
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Thursday 12 March 2020
   
   12 03 2020   walk in projection
  
Direct follow-up from yesterday’s post … on this Day, also 9 years ago, on 12 March 2011, the damage caused by the tsunami the day before to the Fukushim Daiichi nuclear power plant led to the first of a series of explosions at the plant, in this case at unit 1, whose concrete outer structure was ripped apart and collapsed. There were two more explosions at other units and three of the reactors suffered a meltdown and large amounts of radioactivity were released, so that an evacuation & exclusion zone around the plant had to be imposed.
   
One of the key contributing factors, other than the tsunami itself, which was far more severe than anything anticipated and prepared for (the seawall supposed to protect the plant was overshot by the wall of water by several metres), was the fact that the diesel generators intended for emergency back-up power were located underground and thus got flooded and destroyed in the tsunami. Hence almost the entire cooling system of the reactors failed. Efforts at pumping seawater into the damaged reactors for cooling proved too little to prevent the disaster … although it  could have been much worse still … but I won’t go any further into the technical details of this disaster. You can read those up elsewhere.
   
Today’s photo was also taken on my Japan trip last year. It shows part of the TEPCO information centre in Tomioka. This is inside a walk-in video projection that gave you a mock-3D impression of being right at the plant – while the real thing is seriously off limits to normal tourists (the closest you can get is a viewpoint on a hill south of the plant which was also part of the Fukushima tour that I was on that day).
   
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Wednesday 11 March 2020
   
  11 03 2020   Okawa school
  
On this Day ... it has to be another Japan post, of course … as it was nine years ago, on 11 March 2011, that an undersea earthquake of the massive magnitude of 9.0 off the coast of Tohoku, northern Honshu, triggered a tsunami that washed away entire towns, killing up to 20,000 people, and moreover caused the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi NPP. Hence it’s known as a “triple disaster”.
   
When I went to Japan around Easter time last year, going to the north and visiting not only Fukushima but also various tsunami affected sites on the coast, this was perhaps my DT trip that most closely resembled a pilgrimage. That’s because I had watched the disaster unfold live on my computer at home – and I vividly remember how shaken I was that day (once I had received the first news, I wasn’t able to get much creative writing done for the remainder of that day … I can’t even remember what it was I’d been working on then).
   
Then as I prepared for the 2019 trip I was recommended the book “Ghosts of the Tsunami” by Richard Lloyd Parry which was about a particularly tragic case within this massive disaster, namely the children of Okawa School, most of whom were killed in the tsunami that day – and under dubious circumstances that eventually even led to a court case. When I learned from the book that the ruined school building had been preserved as a memorial (thanks to the campaigning by one of the few surviving pupils), I changed my travel plans in order to go there. Thanks to another recommendation (my eternal gratitude to you Rachelle!) I was able to organize a trip there through the community centre in Ishinomaki, the largest nearest town and itself a major tsunami victim.
   
Today’s photo is one of those I took at Okawa School that day. It brings back memories, I must say …
   
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Tuesday 10 March 2020
   
  10 03 2020   charred door displaed at the Center of the Tokyo Raids
  
On this Day, 75 years ago, in the early hours of 10 March 1945, the worst ever aerial bombing raid in history took place with “Operation Meetinghouse”, when some 300 US Air Force B-29 bombers dropped ca. 1700 tons of incendiary bombs on Japan’s capital city Tokyo, which at the time consisted primarily of houses built from wood and paper – and hence would burn like tinder.
   
The bombers flew at the unusually low altitude of only 2000 feet (ca. 600m), a) because anti-aircraft guns were less effective at that level and b) for precision, as earlier raids had shown that in attacks from high altitudes bombs were frequently blown off target by the wind. On 10 March, the “B-Sans” (as this type of plane had become known in Japanese, meaning literally ‘Mr B’) dropped mostly cluster bombs releasing incendiary bomblets. The initial wave attacked an area of east Tokyo (harbour and working-class districts) in such a way that the fires created formed an X shape, which then served as the target marker for the remaining bombers. The fire-bombing caused a massive conflagration that completely destroyed some 270,000 buildings across over 16 square miles of the city (about a quarter of its total area), causing the death of an estimated 100,000 people and making about a million more homeless, though the latter figure is harder to ascertain. The number of people injured is especially contested, estimates given range from 40,000 to over a million. In addition some 50% of the city’s industry was also destroyed.
    
Today’s photo shows an original door that was partially charred in the raid and was donated to and put on display at the “Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage”, a small private museum in the very district that was worst hit back in 1945.
   
Remarkably, while Hiroshima and Nagasaki have their grand national Peace Memorial Parks and Museums, the even worse Tokyo raid hadn’t been commemorated in any way in Japan until the opening of this modest grass-roots initiative of a museum in 2002.
   
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Monday, 9 March 2020
  
    09 03 2020   Dreyfus house on Devil's Island
  
Photo of the Day: Dreyfus house on Devil’s Island, French Guiana
    
Yesterday I went to the cinema (first time in years I’ve done that) to see the new Polanski movie “J’accuse” (English title “An Officer and a Spy”, German title, the version I saw yesterday, “Intrige”). The film’s topic is the Dreyfus Affair … and depicts the historically real case of a French officer from Alsace wrongly being accused of high treason and sent to the remote penal colony in French Guiana in South America, more specifically to the infamous Devil’s Island, which was set aside for political prisoners.
   
Here Dreyfus was kept in solitary confinement from 1895 to 1899, in total isolation and silence, even the warders who guarded him were not allowed to speak to him. The stone building you see in today’s photo was specifically constructed for him and originally was completely surrounded by a wall, so that Dreyfus could not even see the sea or the neighbouring island, Île Royale, which was the centre of the penal colony of the Îles du Salut.
   
Back in Paris, the case was brought to public attention through an open letter to the president by novelist Emile Zola, entitled, like the film, “J’accuse” … and indeed it raised an accusation, namely that this had been a gross miscarriage of justice and an act of blatant anti-Semitism, and gave a boost to Dreyfus’s claim that he was innocent. While Zola had to go into exile himself after this, the stir it created in France was sufficient for Dreyfus to be returned to France for a retrial. He was initially sentenced again, but – on request – pardoned. In 1906 Dreyfus was fully exonerated, returned to military service and died peacefully at home in 1935.
   
When I went to French Guiana last summer, one of the highlights was my two-day excursion to the Îles du Salut, especially for the fantastic prison ruins on the third of these three islands, Île St-Joseph. But getting close to the infamous Devil’s Island (Île du Diable) was also moving. Landing on Devil’s Island, however, is forbidden – allegedly because of strong currents, but I saw small pleasure boats bobbing calmly within a stone’s throw from the shore, so it didn’t look too dangerous and difficult to me to land there. But as it is illegal, we did not do so.
   
Bizarrely, the Dreyfus house is well maintained and, even though nobody is allowed to go there, gets regularly refurbished by the military, who apparently look after the island (maybe there’s a more military explanation as to why the island is off limits?)
   
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Sunday 8 March 2020
   
I don’t read so much academic writing about dark tourism any more these days (I find it a bit tediously repetitive and/or unnecessarily “over-philosophizing”), but today I found this kind-of thought-provoking article on dark tourism and selfies and read it. Parts of the text are pretty shit, e.g. reiterating that oft-quoted nonsense that dark tourism was driven by voyeurism and “schadenfreude”. (Really? So do all those annually two million visitors to Auschwitz go there because they find the horror of that place “enjoyable” and get a kick of “schadenfreude” out of it?!? That’s so colossally absurd a notion that I refuse to further comment on it). BUT: it does raise a few interesting points about general “cultural shifts” including an observed “empathy decline, together with the growth of digital narcissism”, and that especially in teenagers/millennials. Some of the cases adduced as examples in this article really do make me speechless (e.g. taking a smiley-faced selfie in front of that infamous Auschwitz sign and then posting it with the line “Arbeit macht freiiiiiiiiiii”)
   
... and sometimes selfie-taking itself creates its own tragedies, such as the case of a 15-year-old who wanted to take a selfie holding a gun to his head and then accidentally pulled the trigger instead of pressing the photo button on his smartphone! (Although I do have to wonder how this scenario has been ascertained, presuming that the selfie of the shooting did not come about because of the error, so it must have been a forensic reconstruction of what happened made after the event … or, worse, there were witnesses ...).
    
The article is not just about selfies, though (an area where I feel on pretty safe ground, because – as long-term followers of this page will know – I do not take selfies at DT sites). It also briefly discusses dark or “ghoulish souvenirs”, and it was here that I felt a little pang of guilt, as I have in fact collected a number of dark souvenirs that might be considered “bad taste” or at least borderline, including a rifle bullet casing from the Spanish Civil War found in an old trench in the Ebro battlefield region, a piece of a shot-down Argentine fighter plane I picked up in the Falklands, two propaganda posters bought in North Korea, plus a few items that I purchased specifically because they are so unbelievably kitsch, such as a black candle in the form of a Stalin bust (I can’t even remember where I got that from, I’ve had it for over a decade, but I saw it again for sale in several places in Russia), or a snow globe with the Twin Towers in New York, complete with little fire engines at the bottom (purchased from a “wild” souvenir vendor near Ground Zero in August 2002, i.e. less than a year after 9/11!!), or an Augusto Pinochet “voodoo doll” complete with a set of needles, acquired in a bohemian bar/restaurant in Santiago de Chile (my guide practically urged me to buy one!).
    
Do any of this page’s followers have similar things? And if so, how do you feel about it?
   
   
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Saturday 7 March2020
   
Solution to yesterday’s quiz photo (as was revealed in stages in comments earlier yesterday/today - but you may not all have seen that) – it’s the access tunnel to the observation platform at Berkeley Pit, in Butte, Montana, USA. The other photo posted here shows that big hole as seen from that viewing platform.
   
It’s the result of an open-cast copper mine – copper made Butte rich! – which was closed in 1982. Since then, with the pumps keeping groundwater out turned off, the giant hole in the ground has slowly filled with water. And this water mixed with the mining residue to form a toxic and acidic cocktail with heavy metals and dangerous chemicals in it. As long as it was contained within the pit that wasn’t so bad, but once the water level reached a height where there was a risk that it could overflow into the local aquifers, that meant the threat of a major environmental disaster!
   
The water level is therefore being closely monitored so that such a disaster can be prevented. Fingers crossed!
   
The water at times takes on bizarre colours ranging from a deep red to psychedelic bluish-green. I presume this must be from some extremophile bacteria in the water. When I was there (in August 2015), however, it just looked black.
    
The access tunnel can be used – for a small fee – to reach the observation platform just above the water level within the south-eastern wall of the giant pit. It is quite a sight. There’s also a small museum – and a shop where you can buy chunks of copper as well as various objects and jewellery made of copper. They’re not cheap, though, so I abstained (even though I absolutely love the colour of polished copper!).
   
<comment: at the shop you can apparently also buy fluffy toy dogs! When I was there a family just emerged from the museum and walked back to their car – and the young son was chucking his newly acquired fluffy toy high into the air – catching it on the way down. He did this repeatedly and I managed to get a lucky photo of this. That’s what one of the comments yesterday referred to ;-) The extra photo could also have been a teeny-weeny little hint – as the white statue atop the mountain in the background is also a local sight of Butte. It’s the Our Lady of the Rockies statue, a whopping 90 feet (27 metres) tall depiction of Mother Mary. It actually caused controversy – in that it was said to “impose” one sort of religious belief “on an entire city”. Well, if that is so then that applies at least as much to the giant Jesus statue in Rio de Janeiro or any of those gigantic Buddhas all over China and South-East Asia in general. >
  
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Friday 6 March 2020 
 
 06 03 2020   quiz   tunnel to Berkley Pit viewing platform
     
Time flies, it’s Friday yet again, time for yet another quiz question again.
   
This time I believe I’m making it really hard for you … but I’ve been wrong about such predictions on many occasions, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if someone pops up posting the correct solution within minutes. But we’ll see.
   
So here we go: what and where is this?
   
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Thursday 5 March 2020
   
   05 03 2020   Titan missile in its silo, HDR
   
Photo of the Day: Titan missile silo, Arizona, USA.
   
This has featured here before, so most of you will be familiar with the fact that this was the most powerful ICBM in the American arsenal at the time, with a 9-megaton thermonuclear warhead, the biggest ever deployed by the USA.
   
I chose this to complete the trio of categories of sinister weapons of mass destruction that together make up the designation ABC – atomic, biological, chemical. So we’ve now covered the lot in the course of this week.
   
This particular missile silo is the last Titan silo still in existence and open to the public as a museum. The missile was a training model, so never actually had a live nuclear warhead. Nevertheless a square hole was cut into the tip of the missile, as you can see here. This was apparently a requirement laid down in disarmament agreements between the USA and Russia – this way Russian satellites can verify that this missile is indeed not an operational one.
   
You may have noticed that this photo is a little strange and different from earlier shots of the same missile I posted here before. Indeed it’s the result of one of the very, very few occasions on which I used the so-called HDR function (standing for ‘high dynamic range’) on my DSLR camera. I know there are real fans of HDR photography, but personally I’ve always found the results look a bit too artificial, and I ultimately prefer natural. I don’t mind the occasional digital effect, but I’ve never learned to love HDR. It’s a matter of taste, I guess.
  
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Wednesday 4 March 2020
   
  04 03 2020   old chemical weapons factory in Vanadzor, Armenia
  
Photo of the Day: Vanadzor, Armenia.
   
Over the past few days on this page we’ve had viruses, venomous snakes and bioweapons – but of course humans are also perfectly capable of synthesizing lethal substances all by themselves, leading not only to pollution but even chemical weapons!
   
Today’s photo shows a chemical plant in the northern Armenian industrial town of Vanadzor, formerly known as Kirovakan in Soviet times (after Sergei Kirov, Bolshevik revolutionary and close associate of Stalin).
   
This Soviet-era industrial complex seen here was allegedly involved in the secret production of compounds for use in the USSR’s chemical-weapons programme … or so my guide insisted when I visited the region in 2010. I cannot verify if this claim is true, but it didn’t strike me as too unlikely.
  
Anyway, I’m a sucker for industrial wastelands, and Soviet ones all the more, so I liked the look of this place. It’s a shame that such complexes are always so out of bounds almost everywhere – I’d love to be able to explore an abandoned chemical plant or steelworks or such industrial remnants, but it’s not easy to do (at least not legally), unfortunately ...
   
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Tuesday 3 March 2020
 
 03 03 2020   rattlesnake perched on a cactus, Albuquerque, New Mexico
     
On this Day it’s World Wildlife Day, as declared by the United Nations in 2013. So I bring you something from the rather small area of overlap between dark tourism and wildlife watching. … and no, I won’t go on about hyenas again. There are other species that also have a dark reputation and are generally vilified. Here’s one:
   
A rattlesnake – perched on a cactus, as if to underscore its sinister reputation. Seen not actually in the wild, but at the “American International (sic!) Rattlesnake Museum” in Albuquerque, USA.
   
Of course, rattlesnakes, being venomous, are indeed dangerous, and I wouldn’t have got this close without there having been a glass pane between me and the snake ;-)
   
One of the first things you learn at this rather special museum (or mini zoo, indoors, rather) is that there are many different species of rattlesnakes, about three dozen, with even more subspecies.
   
Several thousand people are bitten by rattlesnakes each year in the USA alone, but very few cases are fatal (less than 0.1%). The crucial thing is getting the antivenom as quickly as possible, which almost guarantees recovery. Still the bite is said to be excruciatingly painful, depending on how much venom the snake actually released through its fangs. So it is best avoided. This should normally be easy, as the snakes avoid humans and bite only when they feel threatened. Apparently over two thirds of victims are drunk males – presumably because they either don’t notice the snake or behave stupidly towards it (resulting in twofold intoxication ...)
  
<comment: followers who’ve been with DT from the earliest days may remember this photo; I used a slightly different version of it once before, almost five years ago ...>
 
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Monday 2 March 2020 – Vozrozhdeniya Island
   
  02 03 2020   Aral Sea
   
Something as a follow-up to yesterday’s post about the current Coronavirus scare. There are much worse scares of a biological kind, and possibly the very worst are: biological weapons! Both superpowers developed such weaponized agents during the Cold War. And in the Soviet Union a top-secret laboratory, production facility and storage compound for bioweapons was set up in 1948 on Vozrozhdeniya Island (ironically this translates as ‘Rebirth Island’) in the Aral Sea. Anthrax, smallpox, plague and other spores and agents were made into weapons at the complex named Kantubek, aka “Aralsk-7”, where some 1500 staff lived and worked.
   
At the time it was an ideal location for such a dangerous and secretive operation: in the middle of on of the largest lakes on Earth, safely surrounded by water, and far from any curious eyes. Except that this water was receding from the 1960s onwards, due to excessive irrigation projects, and we know what happened to the Aral Sea in the end.
   
Anyway, with the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union the facility was closed, but the clean-up operation left a lot to be desired. What’s worse, the desiccation of the Aral Sea, itself a major environmental disaster, turned the former island into a peninsula, thus making it possible for land animals to get there and potentially spread any infectious agents they might become contaminated with at Kantubek.
   
You would think that this super-remote location, in the middle of the new Aralkum desert straddling the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, would be totally out of bounds and impossible to visit – or that nobody in their right mind would ever want to visit this sinister and potentially lethal place. But the dark appeal of this bioweapons-associated ex-Soviet ghost town is of course undeniable. And I’ve seen at least one extreme organized tour advertised a couple of years ago that included the possibility of an excursion to Vozrozhdeniya from Moynaq, Uzbekistan. And of course some intrepid extreme urbexers have made their way there anyway.
   
Would I go there? … I really can’t say. Possibly. But only after doing some serious research into the risks and then taking the necessary precautions … How about you?
   
Today’s photo, by the way, is a duo of NASA satellite images (hence in the public domain, and taken from Wikimedia) showing how the island became a peninsula between the years 2000 and 2001. Meanwhile most of the eastern Aral Sea has completely disappeared and the former island is just a part of the Aralkum desert.
   
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Saturday 29 February 2020 – Nazi carneval
   
Since we have an extra day in February this year, I’ll give you an extra post too.
   
At a carnival procession in Spain one troupe dressed up as Nazis and concentration camp inmates in front of a float featuring crematoria chimneys. A provocation too far?
   
Is it “raising awareness”? Is it commemoration?
  
Or is it instead indeed “trivialization” and “banalization”?
   
Any opinions?
   
<comment: here’s a video of the procession – the report is in French, but the moving images give you a better impression of what this looked like … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALDWzNMMK4A&feature=emb_rel_end >
   
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Saturday 29 February 2020
   
Here’s the answer to yesterday’s quiz question … The basics were already correctly revealed in a comment, but here's the fuller story:
   
This is Ani, the ancient former capital of Armenia, going back ca. 1000 years. It now sits on the Turkish side of the border, following the political shifts of the 20 century (and, yes, that “little issue” of the Armenian genocide, which in Turkey is still vehemently denied by many to this day).
   
Ani was in Western Armenia, which is now Turkey, as is the Armenians’ “holy mountain” Ararat. You can only gaze across the border from Armenia, but the border between these two arch-enemies remains closed.
   
I’ve seen Ani twice. Once properly on my trip to Turkey in 2007, including easternmost Anatolia, parts of which would be seriously out of bounds today. And then I saw it again in the distance from across the border in Armenia on my Caucasus trip in 2010.
   
This photo was obviously taken on the first trip and shows in the foreground the ruin of the Church of the Redeemer, which partially collapsed in an earthquake. Other structures are in better shape, yet others have almost crumbled away. The commodification of the place as an archaeological and tourist site notably fails to properly mention that this is Armenian heritage. But before we blame only the Turks, note that on the Armenian side of the border there is a stone quarry, whose explosions add to the slow decay of the historical site.
   
The border itself is formed by a deep river ravine, and on the crest on the Armenian side you can see watchtowers and border posts that are actually staffed by Russian border security forces, on whom Armenia relies to this day. This used to be, and in a way arguably still is, part of the Iron Curtain formerly between the USSR (which Armenia was part of) and NATO member Turkey.
   
Ani was definitely a highlight of my 2007 trip to these parts – a sprawling ghost town with some fabulous ruins of stunning, typically Armenian architecture – though amongst them is also one of the oldest minarets! The landscape is stunning too. And the remoteness and proximity of such a sensitive border only added to the eerie aura the place oozed.
   
As we were leaving, the whole experience took a turn to the bizarre, as a small tour group from Japan arrived and one woman ran over to us and handed us some origami paper cranes … then it occurred to us that it was August, around the time of the anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and that’s when the Japanese traditionally make these paper cranes as peace symbols. But I would never have expected to encounter this in such an unlikely location ...
  
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Friday 28 February 2020
   
  28 02 2020   Ani, church of the redeemer in the foreground
  
Friday again, quiz time again:
   
Where and what is this – and what’s the story behind these ruins?
  
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Thursday 27 February 2020
   
  27 02 2020   socialist realism in Tirana, Albania
  
Photo of the Day: some socialist-realist bas-relief in Tirana, Albania.
  
All the typical elements are there, a five-pointed star and depictions of partisans/soldiers as well as peasants and workers. I’m particularly fond of the style of the miner in the bottom right corner … such determination! Much in contrast to the male peasant standing to the left of him just smoking his pipe and watching as the female peasants do all the work ;-)
   
I picked this image simply because in addition to my upcoming short trip to Priština, Kosovo, I’ve also got a weekend trip to Tirana booked, for May.
   
I’m looking forward to that trip even more, despite the fact that I’ve visited Tirana before. But that was nine years ago – as part of my round trip of five countries in the Balkans. A lot has changed since then in Tirana. When I was there all that time ago, there was pretty little commodification of the country’s very dark past under their paranoid ultra-Stalinist leader Enver Hoxha, who had ruled this little enigmatic country for a whopping four decades from 1944 to 1985. The National History Museum had nothing about him, his private residence just stood silent and locked in the middle of the Blloku district, once the closed government quarter, now Tirana’s liveliest nightlife area. The National Gallery still had some soc-real paintings, but the pantheon of commie statues had been banished to the back yard.
   
These days there are two sites where Hoxha’s underground bunker complexes have been opened up to the public (going by the label BunkArt 1 & 2). The former HQ of the dreaded secret police “Sigurimi” has been turned into a memorial (known as “House of Leaves”) and there is even talk of opening Hoxha’s Tirana residence to the public. It has apparently been kept just as it was after the dictator had smoked himself to death inside.
   
What is still unclear is the fate of the “Hoxha Pyramid”, a structure co-designed by Hoxha’s architect daughter and intended to be the museum worshipping her big daddy. But only a few years after he’d popped his clogs the Albanians had sufficiently gone off the memory of their former oppressor and the pyramid has mostly just been standing abandoned in the middle if the city. People clamber about on it and at one point there was apparently a disco inside, but these days it’s just an empty shell (although some parts of the interior are possibly used for storage space). There have been various plans as to what to do with this edifice, ranging from simply demolishing it to turning it into an education centre. We’ll see.
   
But at least there are already enough new sites to explore – and the National History Museum now also has sections about the dark parts of the country’s modern history. So I guess it’ll be a VERY busy weekend for me in May …
   
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Wednesday 26 February 2020
   
  26 02 2020   single plant growing in a courtyard at Ravensbrück
  
After a couple of rather long posts, today something short.
   
This photo was taken at the memorial site of the former Nazi concentration camp of Ravensbrück (the camp that was primarily for women).
   
I just like it for the contrast between the grim grey walls with remnants of an electrified fence visible – and the single plant pushing through the grey gravel in the centre.
   
Such signs of indefatigable life at otherwise grim places of death and tragedy such as this are something I always find particularly poignant.
  
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Tuesday 25 February 2020
   
  25 02 2020   1980 revolution monument, Paramaribo
  
  25 02 2020   closer up
  
  25 02 2020   detail, probably Bouterse
  
On this Day, 40 years ago, on 25 February 1980, the so-called “Sergeants’ Coup” began in in the former Dutch colony of Suriname. It was a military coup d’etat under the leadership of Desi Bouterse and signalled the beginning of a long and repressive dictatorship in this little-known South American country that lasted until the 1990s. Political parties were banned, freedom of the press was drastically curtailed, there were curfews and executions. The so-called December Murders of 1982, when 15 journalists, lawyers, union leaders and academics were killed at the old Dutch fort in Suriname’s capital Paramaribo was just the best-known example.
  
And it’s come back to haunt Desi Bouterse. Remarkably, he had managed to get himself democratically elected president in 2010 and again in 2015 (imagine a country like Spain freely re-electing Franco, or Germany Hitler!). During his time in office Bouterse tried to make sure he’d be immune from any legal action at home (although he had long been sentenced in absentia in the Netherlands) by pushing through amnesty legislation. Nevertheless there had been some court proceedings against him since 2007, but he managed to ignore it. But then at the end of last year he was sentenced by a court in Suriname to 20 years’ imprisonment for his role in the December Murders of 1982. He was abroad at the time and I didn’t expect him to even return home. But he did. And last month he appeared in court for the first time, dressed in military uniform and defiantly declaring his appeal against the court ruling. The next hearing will take place at the end of next month. It’ll be interesting to see what the outcome may be in the end …
   
Today’s photos show the “revolution monument” in Paramaribo that was erected in 1981 in celebration of the coup, at the site of a burned down police station. The first photo may look familiar to some followers – indeed I posted it before, shortly after my summer 2019 trip to the Three Guianas, which started and ended in Paramaribo. The second photo is closer up and shows the date. The third photo is closer up still and shows a detail … I presume this is a depiction of Bouterse. Or at least it is very close to what he looked like back then.
<comment: here’s a Dutch media article about the current court hearings; if you don’t know the language feed it through Google translate to get the content: https://nos.nl/artikel/2319710-bouterse-in-militair-uniform-voor-de-rechtbank-zitting-in-maart-verder.html  >
  
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Monday 24 February 2020
   
Today I bring you not a photo, but a story of the day – and a link to an article featuring plenty of highly intriguing photos. That’s because I haven’t been to this particular place myself yet – but hell would I like to go! It’s not easily done, though ...
   
This is Baia dos Tigres, aka Ilha dos Tigres, or ‘Tiger Island’ in the far south of Angola. This ghost island must be one of the most photogenic and enigmatic such places on the planet. It was once connected to the mainland by an isthmus, but that was cut off during a storm in 1962. After that the fishing settlement declined and was eventually given up altogether.
   
The fading architecture is distinctly colonial, of course (especially that large church!) – Angola used to be a Portuguese colony and achieved independence only in 1975 (alongside a whole host of other former Portuguese colonies around the globe, namely after the end of the dictatorship at home in Lisbon) following a long and bloody War of Independence that had been raging since the early 1960s.
   
You may ask yourself, why is the island named after tigers (“A tiger? In Africa?!?” - Monty Python fans will know what I’m alluding to …). Well the simple answer is that the yellow sand dunes with oblong dark patches in them reminded the colonists of the stripes of a tiger.
   
The location of the place is quite extreme – right in the south of the country’s part of the Namib Desert. In fact the border with Namibia is just some 50 km away. And that’s also the reason I stumbled upon it by chance, namely when researching Namibia’s ‘Skeleton Coast’, the northernmost part of that country’s stretch of Namib Desert coastline, and overshot the mark a bit on Google Maps … and suddenly there were all those incredible photos. I was almost about to ask the tour operator I’m using for my summer trip to Namibia if this could be included, but then realized it’s actually in Angola. And it’s impossible to access from Namibia. In fact it is almost impossible to access full stop. Except that these days a few extreme tours within Angola do include it. Angola has become a little more accessible in recent years generally (esp. since visa requirements have been loosened), but Baia dos Tigres remains a tough expedition destination. First you have to drive along the sand coastline in special desert-adapted jeeps and then take a boat across, and camp wild on the island. But I’d be prepared to deal with such demands in order to see this place. Unfortunately, tours there are anything but cheap. Very far from it. So I won’t be able to make this dream destination reality any time soon, I fear.
   
I’ve nevertheless become just a little bit obsessed with Angola – which would offer much more for the dark tourist in addition to this ghost town. E.g. vestiges of the civil war, or monuments and buildings of the socialist regime that followed independence, or a stretch of coast littered with large shipwrecks (some four dozen of them) north of Luanda that easily outshines anything that’s left of shipwrecks in Namibia. The beach is also known as Karl Marx Beach (no, not a glamorized name given it by communists, but simply because one of the larger wrecks, a Luanda-registered freighter, was named after communism’s main philosopher).
  
But so much about a destination that’s so far out of reach for me … at present at least.
  
   
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Sunday 23 February 2020
   
  23 02 2020   Pforzheim, Royal Air Force Bomber Command, 1942 1945 C5083
  
On this Day, 75 years ago, on 23 February 1945, the Royal Air Force bombed the German town of Pforzheim. Compared to the bombings of Dresden, or Cologne and Hamburg before, this raid is far less known generally. But the destruction was significantly more comprehensive than that of Dresden or the other big cities.
   
Pforzheim’s Old Town centre was almost 100% reduced to rubble, the rest of the town had a destruction rate of 80-90%, making it possibly the highest of any bombing campaign. Ca. 17,600 people were killed, about a third of the total population. Over 30,000 survivors were made homeless.
   
Today’s photo was taken by an RAF photographer from one of the bombers during the raid (the image is in the public domain and was taken from Wikimedia). You can barely make out the town in this picture, just the inferno raging on the ground.
   
As so often it was the incendiary bombs causing a firestorm that led to most of the deaths. Even people who jumped into the river to escape the fires were caught up in the flames – that’s because the liquidized burning phosphorus of the incendiary bombs running off streets and buildings could float on the water and carry on burning. The nasty substance is near impossible to put out.
   
Yet the “master bomber” for the RAF raid was awarded a Victoria Cross afterwards (the last one of the war, apparently) … victors’ prerogative, I suppose …
   
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Saturday 22 February 2020
   
Solution to yesterday’s quiz – though some may have seen the correct partial answer in the comments already. Anyway, there’s the full revelation.
   
This photo shows displays in a special exhibition room at the Villa Grimaldi memorial in Santiago de Chile, formerly the main clandestine detention and torture centre in the capital run by the “DINA” secret police of the military dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet, who had seized power in 1973 and instantly set about stamping out any opposition. Some 4500 political prisoners are believed to have passed through Villa Grimaldi, and over 200 of them “were disappeared”, i.e. murdered. A classic method was to sedate and tie up the victims and drop them into the sea – often with an additional weight to drag them under and make sure their corpses would stay out of view and not float back to the surface for a while. For this purpose bits of old iron railway tracks were attached to them before they were dropped from a plane or helicopter. A similar method was later used to even greater excess by the military junta in Argentina in its “Dirty War” from 1976 to 1983.
   
The objects seen in this photo were retrieved from the bottom of the sea at Quintero Bay. Of the victims themselves little was left – but the single button behind the magnifying glass is one piece of evidence of the “disappeared”.
   
Villa Grimaldi is today a Parque por la Paz, or Peace Park, incorporating various monuments, a memorial museum exhibition and study library.
  
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Friday 21 February 2020 
  
  21 02 2020   quiz photo
  
Friday. Quiz time.
  
Where is this and what’s its dark significance?
   
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Thursday 20 February 2020
   
  20 02 2020   Maidan
   
Ukraine again! Also 2014 again!
   
On this Day, only six years ago, during the “Euromaidan” protests in Ukraine’s capital city Kyiv/Kiev, which had been going on for many weeks peacefully but then turned violent, snipers shot at protesters, injuring hundreds and killing at least seventeen on 20 February 2014. It was the bloodiest day of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, which cost well over a hundred lives in total, but which did succeed in the ousting of the then President Viktor Yanukovych.
   
The first anniversary was commemorated as the “Day of the Heavenly Hundred Heroes”, and this has become a tradition ever since on 20 February.
   
The same flowery phrase is also part of a proposed name for a memorial and Maidan Museum that is currently under construction. This is to become part of a complex called, in even more excessive hyperbole, the “National Memorial to the Heavenly Hundred Heroes and Revolution of Dignity Museum”.
   
Today’s photo shows the Maidan square in central Kiyv/Kiev (the first spelling is the preferred Ukrainian transliteration, the latter the more common spelling in the West) as seen last time I was in the city, namely in November 2018 – I took this picture from my hotel room window. Rarely have I had such luck in getting such a superb hotel room view …
  
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Wednesday 19 February 2020
   
  19 02 2020   The transfer of Crimea
  
  19 02 2020   Crimea referendum ballot paper
  
Warning: controversial subject!
   
On this Day, 66 years ago, on 19 February 1954, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR transferred the government of the Crimean peninsula from the Russian SSR to the Ukrainian SSR.
   
Back in the Soviet days this was more or less merely symbolic, as both countries were part of the Soviet Union, and it was essentially just an administrative streamlining move, and perhaps also some kind of symbolic gift to Ukraine, as the then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (who had succeeded Stalin only the previous year) was allegedly quite fond of Ukraine.
   
But of course history moved on, the USSR fell apart in 1991, and as a result Ukraine and Russia became separate independent states. Then in 2014, a full sixty years after the transfer in Soviet times, the Russian Federation seized Crimea, first by military means, but then it had this “approved” through a referendum, in which a vast majority nominally supported Crimea becoming part of Russia again. Nevertheless, in the West this first land seizure by force since WWII was seen as an unlawful annexation, whereas in official Russian lingo (e.g. as seen in the Museum of Contemporary History in Moscow) it is called “the reunion of Crimea with Russia”.
   
The first of today’s photos shows a proclamation of the 1954 transfer of Crimea released on 9 March that year, the second photo shows an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary History in Moscow, namely a ballot paper from the 2014 referendum. Cynics might say “good job the correct answer had already been pre-ticked; that made the vote easy” …
   
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Tuesday 18 February 2020
   
   18 02 2020   Sook Ching memorial in Singapore
   
On this Day, 78 years ago, on 18 February 1942, the Japanese occupiers of Singapore began their “Sook Ching” (meaning literally ‘purge through cleansing’) massacres, the systematic eradication of perceived “hostile elements” amongst the ethnic Chinese population. This came only three days after the Battle of Singapore had ended with the British surrender of the then colony, as Imperial Japan widened its conquest in Asia and the Pacific (Pearl Harbor was attacked on the same day as Japan began its invasion of the Malay Peninsula).
  
How many people fell victim to the mass killings of Chinese in Singapore between 18 February and 4 March 1942 is unclear, estimates vary widely – mostly between 5000 and up to 70,000 (but most likely between 10,000 and 25,000).
  
Today’s photo shows one of the Sook Ching memorials in Singapore, this one is located in the city’s Chinatown on the corner of South Bridge Road and Upper Cross Street. There’s another one I saw at Changi beach, where many of the killings took place.
   
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Monday 17 February 2020
  
On this Day, only 12 years ago, on 17 February 2008 Kosovo declared its independence, thus becoming, or trying to become, Europe’s youngest state … except that only about half of the UN member states recognize it as an independent state, as things stand today. Most notably it is NOT recognized by Serbia, the country it broke away from.
   
In fact Kosovo is still partially divided, most so in the northern town of Mitrovica, where the part south and east of the river is ethnically Kosovo-Albanian while the smaller part north-west of the river is Serbian. Here the conflict remains unresolved to this day.
  
But at least it’s no longer war – as it was in 1998/99, when the conflict over Kosovo even prompted NATO air strikes against Serbia (or Yugoslavia, as it was then nominally still called despite consisting only of Serbia and Montenegro at that point, all other former Yugoslav republics having declared their independence years earlier – which led to the various Balkan wars before the Kosovo conflict).
   
I’ve not yet been to Kosovo – but I have a short weekend trip booked to see the capital Priština next month – and maybe I can even find the time to make a quick excursion to Mitrovica.
   
So instead of a photo of mine (which I don’t yet have) I give you a link to a photo of the largely abandoned Palace of Youth and Sports in Priština, found over on the Monumentalism project page that is a spin-off of Darmon Richter’s “Bohemian Blog” (btw. if you don’t know that one yet, do go and take a look! It’s one of the best websites that I know of and has plenty of overlap with dark tourism too ...)
   
  
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Sunday 16 February 2020
  
A little reminder: if you really want to follow this page, then make sure you change your FB following settings from ‘default’ to ‘see first’ – see screenshot below – if you haven’t yet done so.
   
The reason I’m posting this again is that even though this page nominally has over 3000 followers now, I rarely reach more than about a quarter of those, and over the past two weeks several posts fell below even half that. You could argue that maybe those posts were just not appealing enough – but I’m not talking about a lack of likes or other interactions, it’s about reaching people so they can see the post in the first place and only then even get the option of interacting or not.
   
Has anything changed again in FB’s background setting maybe? Does anybody know?
  
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Saturday 15 February 2020
 
Many of you may have seen the solution to yesterday’s quiz, as the correct answer came in comments very quickly, twice even.
  
But here we go again: this is one of many pieces of sculptural art at Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway.
  
The place, part of Frogner Park, is named after Gustav Vigeland, the artist who created all the sculptures and bas-reliefs in the park between 1924 and 1943.
   
It’s a massive collection, and full of highly intriguing works, of which some are decidedly “dark” in appeal and many others quite, er, “risqué”.
   
Here are a few more examples …
  
  15 02 2020   bodily composition
  
  15 02 2020   in Oslo's Vigeland Park
  
  15 02 2020   definitely sexist
  
  15 02 2020   defence
  
  15 02 2020   good riddance
  
  15 02 2020   the famous bodies column
  
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Friday 14 February 2020
   
  14.02 2020   Valentines Day  the end of love, Vigeland Park, Oslo
  
Friday again, quiz time – plus it is Valentine’s Day. So I tried to find something to put a dark spin on that prescribed ‘romantic’ date and found this in my archive.
   
In allusion to that old Joy Division classic you could call this “Death will tear us apart ...”
   
But where is this piece of dark art to be found?
  
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Thursday 13 February 2020 
     
On this Day, 60 years ago, on 13 February 1960, France conducted its first nuclear test near Reggane (also spelled “Reganne”) in the Sahara Desert in the south-west of Algeria. The test was code-named “Gerboise Bleue” (after a species of desert rodent) and had a yield of 70 kilotons, making it the largest of any of the nuclear nations’ first tests. The spot where the detonation took place is still charred – you can even see this on Google Maps (at 26.311111,-0.056944, co-ordinates: 26°18'40.0"N 0°03'25.0"W).
  
What was additionally controversial, other than it having been a large-scale atmospheric test with the concomitant vast amounts of contamination (and apparently there was no forewarning to the local Tuareg population), was the fact that it took place while the Algerian war was still ongoing. This ended only in 1962, when Algeria was finally released from French colonialism and became independent. But the French still continued nuclear testing in the Algerian desert until 1967, albeit at an underground site in the mountains of In Ekker.
   
The Reggane site is nominally out of bounds but apparently not well secured. I haven’t been to Algeria yet – and getting to the Reggane site would probably be a tall order (or does anybody know of any tour operators that would cover it? Or at least would be prepared to drive you there?). But I found this photo online – apparently of a warning sign near the site (source given in a comment below).
   
The CTBTO website also has a feature on Gerboise Bleue accompanied by a photo of what’s labelled as “Monument to the victims of nuclear testing in Algeria”. But I haven’t been able to establish where this is located. Does anybody know?
   
< comment: here’s the online article that I found and gleaned the photo from (I trimmed and treated it a little): https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/features/2014/12/9/france-faces-up-to-shame-of-algerian-nuclear-tests >
   
< here’s the entry on the CTBTO website with the photo of that elusive monument: https://www.ctbto.org/specials/testing-times/13-february-1960-the-first-french-nuclear-test >
  
< and here’s another article featuring Gerboise Bleue that’s about the general angle of “military colonialism in nuclear test site selection”:
   
< finally, here’s an article (in French, but you can feed it through Google Translate) that features yet more photos, including a particularly intriguing one towards the bottom that shows the scarred surface at ground zero – looking remarkably similar to the original layer of Trinitite that was left at the New Mexico site of the very first nuclear test! So it must be possible for really intrepid travellers to go there after all … http://anthelmelee.com/errance_gerboise.html >
  
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Wednesday 12 February 2020
   
  12 02 2020   vast volcanic wastelands at Aso, Japan
  
Photo of the Day: vast volcanic landscape at Mt Aso, Kumamoto prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.
   
We haven’t had anything from Asia so far this year, that’s why I went through my archives and picked this. Aso is in fact Japan’s largest volcano (and one of the largest in the world), and one of its craters, Nakadake, is still active, and there have indeed been sporadic minor eruptions in 2016 and 2019.
   
Currently the alert level means that the area is closed off for about a kilometre around the crater. This photo was taken in 2009 and shows one of the dormant other craters – spot the group of three hikers on the crater floor, providing a reference point to the huge size of the crater.
  
When I was there, the ropeway to Nakadake was still in operation, but it was closed after the 2016 eruptions. These days, when access is allowed, a shuttle bus takes tourists to near the rim of the Nakadake crater, which normally sports a greenish-blue crater lake of sulphurous steaming water, which accumulates in between eruptions but gets blown out during explosive phases. When the volcano is calm it is actually quite a tourist attraction, popular with hikers, and there is also a volcano museum at the foot of the mountain.
  
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Tuesday 11 February 2020
 
   11 02 20   Nelson Mandela cell on Robben Island
    
On this Day, 30 years ago, on 11 February 1990, South African activist and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison after having served 27 years behind bars.
  
Today’s photo shows Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island, the penal colony outside Cape Town where he had been banished to for 18 years of his total time of imprisonment, from 1964 to 1982. (Long-term followers of this page may recall this photo – I posted it once before, four years ago.)
  
There had long been calls for Mandela’s release on the international stage. But as long as the staunch Apartheid politicians remained in power in South Africa those calls were ignored. This began to change only in the late 1980s when South Africa's diplomatic isolation and internal conflicts reached such a level that a new government under Frederik de Klerk sought a way out of the situation. The difficult path towards the abolishment of Apartheid was begun.
   
Three years later Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and in 1994 Mandela became the first black president of South Africa in its first ever fully democratic elections. Thus one of the longest dark chapters of racist repression finally came to a close … not that everything was easy (far from it, the chaotic and confusing immediate years following the end of Apartheid actually cost more lives than the decades before), but still.
  
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Monday 10 February 2020
  
  10 02 20   Glienicke Bridge
  
On this Day, 58 years ago, on 10 February 1962, this bridge, Glienicker Brücke, between Berlin and Potsdam, was the scene of one of the most remarkable episodes of the Cold War era, one that sounds like it’s jumped right out of a James Bond movie or so. On that day two spies were exchanged between the USSR and the Western Allies:
   
Walking from the former to the latter was US pilot Gary Powers, whose U-2 spy plane had been shot down by an anti-aircraft missile over the Soviet Union in May 1960, and who was captured and put on a show trial. He was released in exchange for Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy who had been uncovered in the West, and who on that day was allowed to walk in the other direction. It was a tense moment, but both sides adhered to their promises of allowing “free passage” to the two men.
   
Btw. I couldn’t say here they walked “from the West to the East” or vice versa, because ironically the bridge, being in the south-western corner of Berlin, was between West Berlin to the east and Potsdam in the GDR to the west, so the political East-West divide was geographically turned on its head at this spot. 
   
After the Fall of the Wall and the end of the Cold War, the bridge was reopened for regular traffic. This photo was taken ten years ago, during the last proper winter, with plenty of snow for a prolonged period of time, that I can remember in Central Europe.
  
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Sunday 9 February 2020
   
The subject of death in dark tourism usually means death of people – but occasionally it can also be about animals. Today I read about this particular case and it is especially heartbreaking for me personally, because these mountain gorillas were of the very same group that I had a very close encounter with just over nine years ago in Rwanda.
   
The Hirwa group on that day were quite co-operative, moving downhill towards us (sparing us more strenuous uphill hiking through the jungle) and settled for a rest in a clearing, allowing superb photography in good light. The silverback was so relaxed, and the youngsters were playing around and eyeing us with curiosity. Such wonderful gentle giants. You could really feel a connection. This was the most intense and personally enriching half hour or so of wildlife watching in my life.
   
Now four of this group, the older ones potentially amongst those we looked in the eye back in December 2010, have been killed ... no not by poachers, as you would normally fear, but by lightning. What a cruel and senseless fate for such endangered animals. My heart bleeds.
   
  
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Sunday 9 February 2020 – for Dark Tourism Photography group:
   
So we were asked to post a photo from our favourite dark-tourism site this weekend … Having been to over 700 such sites, this was a very difficult choice to make. Until recently I wouldn’t have hesitated in saying Chernobyl. But since that place is increasingly suffering from overtourism and restrictive regulations, and also because it would have been just a little too predictable ;-) , I decided instead on the Polygon at the Semipalatinsk Test Site (STS) in Kazakhstan, the place where the USSR conducted most of its nuclear tests during the Cold War.
   
It’s quite difficult to get to and as you can see one has to take precautions against radiation contamination (the atmospheric levels are quite low by now, but you don’t want to ingest or inhale any particles). But it was quite exhilarating to finally get to this remote and forlorn place – possibly one of the most extreme locations I have visited, and that in more than one way. This was back in 2011, by the way.
   
Actually, this is a rare photo of myself, as I normally don’t take selfies. But my guide borrowed my camera and took this photo of me while we were poking about at one of the old measuring towers of the Polygon (these would have housed various cameras and measuring instruments during the tests), so for once I do have photographic documentation that I was indeed there.
  
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Saturday 7 February 2020
  
  07 02 2020   Holocaust monument in Belgrade
  
for those who may not have seen it in the comments to yesterday's quiz question: this is the Holocaust memorial monument in Belgrade, Serbia, located to the north of the centre on the banks of the River Danube.
   
And this time I learned something new through this quiz myself, namely that apparently there is an identical copy of this monument in Thessaloniki, Greece, erected there after the sculptor of the original passed away in 1997.
  
The sculptor's name is Nandor Glid and the monument is entitled "Menorah in Flames" (and the Thessaloniki copy "Menorah in Flames 2").
  
Btw. I have to go to Thessaloniki one day - but I'm holding back until the Holocaust Museum there, which is still in the making, is finished. Thessaloniki was a majority Jewish city before the Nazis came and all but exterminated the Jewish culture - and the Jews themselves - in the Holocaust. So it would only be fitting for a proper museum about that dark chapter of history to be set up there.
   
Btw, #2 - Nandor Glid also made the main monument at the concentration camp memorial of Dachau, Germany, which is about three times the size of the Belgrade one, but again in a very, very similar style ... and perhaps his most famous work.
  
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Thursday 6 February 2020
  
  06 02 2020   Titan I maiden launch
  
Photo of the Day: by complete coincidence another one from the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. This one is to mark the fact that on this day, 61 years ago, on 6 February 1959, the first test launch of a Titan I intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) took place at Launch Complex 15 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
   
The Titan (especially the follow-up model Titan II) was a powerful rocket not only capable of taking a 9-megaton warhead to the other side of the world … i.e. in the Cold War that would have been somewhere in the Soviet Union. Titans were also used in the launches of the Gemini space exploration programme by NASA as well as for launching numerous satellites.
   
In today’s photo you can see a Titan I (or replica thereof) right underneath the © symbol of the watermark, i.e. it’s the missile with the slimmer white top. The other missiles on display include a Titan II, a Thor, a Minuteman and a Peacekeeper MX, the latter formerly the most powerful ICBM the US ever had in its arsenal. Today, only Minuteman-III ICBMs remain on alert in a few hundred silos in the north-west of the USA and these form the land-based part of the nuclear deterrence ‘triad’ (the other two being the nuclear submarines of the Navy and air-dropped nuclear weapons of the USAF).
 
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Wednesday 5 February 2020
  
  05 02 2020   Mark 17 thermonuclear bomb
  
On this Day, 62 years ago, on 5 February 1958, the US Air Force lost a thermonuclear bomb in a mid-air collision of a B-47 bomber and an F-86 fighter jet, near Savannah, Georgia, during which the 3.4 tonne heavy bomb was jettisoned. As it has never been recovered, this remains one of the most remarkable of the so-called “Broken Arrows” cases in the history of nuclear weapons accidents. The bomb is assumed to lie buried in silt in the Wassaw Sound off Tybee Island.
   
It is not entirely clear whether this particular bomb was actually equipped with the plutonium core for the ‘primary’ trigger device (a “regular” fission bomb intended to start the thermonuclear fusion reaction in the ‘secondary’). If it was, then this would have been very close to the USA nuking their own country by accident!
   
Today’s photo shows a replica bomb casing of a very similar type to the lost Savannah bomb, namely a Mark 17 (outwardly hardly distinguishable from the Mark 15, the type lost at Savannah), on display at the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, which I visited almost ten years ago in April 2010
  
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Tuesday 4 February 2020
 
   04 02 2020   monument to early victims of the Derg regime
 
   04 02 2020   aircrash monument in Addis
 
  04 02 2020   tomb of an Ethiopian runner 
  
  04 02 2020   Pankhurst grave
     
Photos of the Day: follow-up to yesterday’s post – more from Trinity Cathedral, Addis Ababa.
   
Outside the church is a cemetery with some prominent figures’ tombs, including that of Meles Zenawi (chairman of the TPLF, who overthrew the Derg, and prime minister until his death in 2012) as well as a few memorial monuments.
  
The first photo is of the memorial monument dedicated to early victims of the Derg – interestingly it is guarded by a soldier, and you can’t get close (I wonder why that is). The second photo is of a monument commemorating the victims of a civilian plane crash a few years ago. The third is the tomb of some prominent Olympic-medal-winning runner.
   
The fourth photo shows the tombstone of Sylvia Pankhurst, one of the pioneering campaigners in the suffragette movement, later an anti-fascist, part-time communist, anti-colonialist and supporter of Haile Selassie in Ethiopia, where she moved in 1956. After she died in 1960 she was given a state funeral and declared an “honorary Ethiopian”. Her son Richard was buried at the same spot in 2017.
  
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Monday 3 February 2020
   
  03 02 2020   Haile Selassie tomb
  
  03 02 2020   hail Haile Selassie
  
Photos of the Day: more from Ethiopia, in this case Trinity Cathedral, Addis Ababa. The first photo shows the sarcophagus of Haile Selassie, the second a mural on the side of the central dome featuring a very regal Selassie raising the Ethiopian flag.
   
Haile Selassie was the last ‘emperor’ of Ethiopia, reigning from 1930 to 1974 with that title of ‘emperor’ and before that from 1916 to 1930 first as Prince Regent and then King Regent – interrupted only by a short period during the Italian occupation from 1936 when Selassie went into exile in England until he was reinstated as emperor (with much help from the British) in Ethiopia in 1941. He was overthrown by the quasi-socialist Derg regime in 1974. In August 1975 he died, officially from post-OP complications, but later it was confirmed that he had in actual fact been assassinated (suffocated/strangled?) by the Derg. His body was unceremoniously buried under a stone slab at his palace, where it was rediscovered in 1992 after the 1991 overthrowing of the Derg. It was transferred to a temporary coffin and then in 2000 Selassie was moved again to this final resting place (presumably) at Trinity Cathedral.
   
Haile Selassie was a controversial figure – the Derg vilified him as an old-school feudalist, even though he had in fact made steps towards modernizing Ethiopia as well. Still today opinions about him are divided. But for the Rastafarians Selassie is not only the ex-emperor but even the returned messiah, “God incarnate”, not only in the Rasta homeland Jamaica, but also elsewhere (I remember spotting a shop in Port Kaituma, Guyana, worshipping Selassie as the “almighty”).  
  
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Saturday 01 February 2020
  
Yesterday’s quiz was a good one! Lot’s of interaction. Some suggestions got pretty close, but not quite there. So here’s the full solution:
   
This is the original equipment from the experimental DMTR reactor at Dounreay (the acronym stands for ‘Dounreay Materials Testing Reactor’) dating back to the 1950s, hence the beautifully “retro tech chic” look.
   
As Dounreay, the large nuclear site on the north coast of Scotland where Britain’s nuclear submarine reactors were developed, amongst other things, is undergoing decommissioning and its former visitor centre closed long ago, this particular piece of heritage was donated to the “Caithness Horizons” museum in the north-western town of Thurso. There it formed the star exhibit … until the museum sadly closed down in February last year, that is.
  
However, there is increasing hope that the museum will reopen later this year. Apparently there’s new funding and currently some vital refurbishment work is being undertaken. The hope is that the museum can reopen its doors for the coming tourist season.
  
Fingers crossed – and I hope that this marvellous set of technology will also remain at the core of the revamped museum. It would be an incredibly sad loss if that was not to be the case.
  
< comment 1: this is the latest news on the site that I’ve been able to unearth, from ) January 2020: https://www.johnogroat-journal.co.uk/news/major-work-carried-out-at-caithness-horizons-ahead-of-tourist-season-189312/ >
   
< comment 2: oh, and as for that bonus question: as two people correctly found out, the manipulation is in the top row of panels, namely in the middle one, the slim one lined by lit-up lights. The panels to the left and right of it saying “control reversal – trip” and “warning guards” somehow suggested a faintly Brexit-related indication to me, and so I changed the letter on the middle panel from the original “EM shutdown” to “EU shutdown” … sorry for the sarcasm. I hope at least readers from Scotland (who overwhelmingly voted ‘remain’) will forgive me for this …
  
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Friday 31 January 2020
 
 31 01 2020   Brexit Day
    
Friday. Quiz question time again.
  
What and where’s this?
  
< comment: bonus question: who can spot the slight manipulation I took the liberty of introducing in this picture (other than the copyright watermark, I mean)? >
  
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Thursday 30 January 2020
   
  30 01 2020   Bundesarchiv Bild 183 H27992, Lazarettschiff Wilhelm Gustloff in Danzig
  
On this Day, 75 years ago, on 30 January 1945, the “Wilhelm Gustloff” sank after being torpedoed by Soviet submarine. It was crowded with civilian refugees fleeing from the advancing Red Army. Originally designed as a cruise ship for less than 1500 passengers, it was carrying over 10,500 people at the time of the sinking, of whom as many as 9500 perished, half of them children, and only about 1,000 could be rescued. In terms of loss of life it was hence the deadliest naval disaster in history. Most succumbed to the bitter cold in the icy Baltic waters – and with air temperatures as low as minus 18 centigrade.
   
The “Gustloff” had been constructed as part of the KdF programme (from “Kraft durch Freude”, or ‘strength through joy’), the Nazi German organization that was set up to provide citizens with holiday infrastructure, not just for their recreation and happiness but deliberately to make them stronger, i.e. better working cogs in the system – and potentially better soldiers in the coming war. The ship was launched in 1937, and soon after WWII had broken out it was requisitioned first as a hospital ship (as seen in today’s photo) and then a floating barracks and finally as a navy transport vessel.
   
The photo was taken from Wikimedia and was provided by the German Federal Archives (Deutsches Bundesarchiv). It was originally taken by Hans Sönnke in 1939 and entitled: Lazarettschiff “Wilhelm Gustloff” in Danzig.
   
  
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Wednesday 29 January 2020
  
  29 01 2020   obtaining drinking water at gunpoint in Ethiopia
  
  29 01 2020   ghost town residential development on the edge of Addis
  
  29 01 2020   camel skull and salt rock
  
  29 01 2020   surprise find in Addis
  
Photos of the Day: yet more dark(ish) bits and bobs from my recent trip to Ethiopia …
   
The first photo shows a guy with a Kalashnikov casually slung over his shoulder at a mineral water stall in Gondar. In fact you see a lot of weapons in Ethiopia. And the “scouts” you are assigned in the National Parks and in the Danakil Depression all carry guns, some even wear proper military fatigues.
   
The second photo shows a huge housing development that didn’t seem to be under active construction, possibly like those newly built ghost towns in China … and quite possibly built by the Chinese too (China is currently investing a lot in Ethiopia and many other African countries … they are practically buying up the continent).
   
The third photo shows a camel skull in the salt mountains near Dallol in the Danakil Depression – I presume it’s from a camel, as that’s the transport animal traditionally used in this infamously hottest area on the Planet and we’d seen several camel carcasses by the track leading into the salt pan south of Dallol. The Danakil Depression is also a wonderfully otherworldly landscape – worth a separate post some other time.
   
The fourth photo shows a surprise find in the capital city, Addis Ababa, near the hotel I stayed in, spotted en route to a local restaurant. The compound was naturally surrounded by a high wall and electric fence and CCTV. But this shabby sign with the slightly out-of-proportion flag and the wrongly tinted colours is quite in keeping with Ethiopian signage in general …
  
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Tuesday 28 January 2020
 
   28 01 2020   fluffy Challenger
     
On this Day, 34 years ago, on 28 January 1986, the NASA Space Shuttle “Challenger” disintegrated after the main fuel tank ruptured and exploded some 73 seconds after lift-off. All seven astronauts on board perished. It is assumed that at least a few of the crew survived the initial break-up of the shuttle but not the impact with the Atlantic Ocean’s surface.
   
Today’s photo shows a fluffy toy version of the “Challenger” which I spotted at the Onizuka Space Center in Kona, Big Island, Hawai’i. Its name derives from Ellison S. Onizuka, a Hawaiian-born astronaut of Japanese descent who was one of the casualties in the “Challenge” disaster.
   
The museum concentrates on Onizuka’s life and contribution to NASA , the “Challenger” disaster and the shuttle programme in particular, but also has other sections on space exploration in general (e.g. they also have one of the space suits from Apollo 13). But of all the exhibits to be seen in this small museum, it was this fluffy “Challenger” that for me stood out the most. I would never have expected anything like this to exist ...
  
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Monday 27 January 2020
 
 27 01 2020   Auschwitz Birkenau
     
Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
   
The date was chosen because it was on this day, 75 years ago, on 27 January 1945, that the Red Army liberated the concentration camp of Auschwitz.
  
This photo I took in 2008 at the end of the railway line inside Auschwitz II Birkenau (you can faintly make out that iconic gatehouse in the background – this also gives you an indication of just how vast this whole site is). This particular spot forms part of the main memorial monument site inside the former camp near where the gas chambers and crematoria used to stand (the SS blew them up before “evacuating” Auschwitz, so there are only some broken ruins left).
  
And some delegation from Israel must have left these wreaths in the colours of Israel’s national flag.
   
I presume no historical background info is required here – everybody knows about Auschwitz, I trust. But actually going to the site is one of the eeriest and most profound things within the world of dark tourism. And as my Polish guide said: “Das muss man gesehen haben!” (‘this is something one has to have seen!’). I had booked a German-speaking guide because none speaking English were available at the time, and in hindsight I am very glad I did, because I’m actually quite fond of German spoken in a heavy Polish accent ... and in a way this also lends a certain additional level of authenticity to the whole experience.
  
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Saturday 25 January 2020
  
Answer to yesterday’s quiz question (one got the exact official name – others got at least close).
   
This a Cold-War-era fallout “bunker” from the 1970s, though it’s actually not really a bunker, only a ‘shelter’, in the second basement level of the indoor car park of a shopping/entertainment centre complex, officially dubbed “Mehrzweckanlage Kudamm Karree” (the first word means as much as ‘multi-purpose site’, “Kudamm” is the informal short form of “Kurfürstendamm”, the name of the street the site is located on, and “Karree” is the former name of the entertainment/shopping complex).
   
The shelter, which has sleeping bunks like you see in this photo for up to 3600 people, could be visited on guided tours from the “Story of Berlin” exhibition also housed in the Karree (it’s of the multimedia-heavy type that calls itself an “experience” … and not to be confused with the “Berlin Story” bunker and exhibition near Anhalter Bahnhof). And apparently the fallout shelter space could also be hired as an “event location”.
   
But I’ve just learned that the old “Story of Berlin” exhibition is currently closed and the complex undergoing substantial refurbishment. A new exhibition is supposed to open later this year and the complex will get the new name “Fürst”. Whether the fallout shelter will remain visitable, is currently not quite clear, but I would presume so.
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Friday 24 January 2020
 
 24 01 2020   bunk beds in a fall out bunker, Berlin
   
And here’s another Friday quiz question: what and where is this?
  
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Thursday 23 January 2020
 
 23 01 2020   deep into the abyss
    
  23 01 2020   James Cameron's deep sea explorer vessel
  
Today I give you something dark in a different, much more literal way, than is normally the case on this page …
   
On this Day, 60 years ago, on 23 January 1960, the bathyscaphe “Trieste” with Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh aboard, reached the deepest depth ever achieved: 10,911 metres (i.e. nearly 11 kilometres !!), in the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific near the Philippines.
   
Needless to say, it’s absolutely pitch-black dark down there. In fact total darkness sets in already at much shallower depths, but this is the most extreme spot on Planet Earth – and less is known about such depths than there is about the dark side of the Moon.
   
The record of the “Trieste” still stands, if only just – in 2012 film director James Cameron (of “Titanic” movie fame) used a custom-built vessel called “Deepsea Challenger” for a solo dive in the Mariana Trench and reached 10,908 metres.
  
Today’s photos were taken at the “Cite de la Mer” museum complex in Cherbourg, France, where one section is devoted to deep-sea exploration. The first photo shows a life-size replica of the “Deepsea Challenger”, the second photo is of a chart that indicates relative depths some sea creatures can reach as well as man-made objects … click on the enlarge icon to see the details – especially the little picture of the Trieste at the bottom.
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Wednesday 22 January 2020
 
 22 01 2020   the elusive Derg monument in Addis
     
Photo of the Day: and another one from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This is the Tiglachen Monument, aka “Derg Monument”. It was erected during the dark days of the brutal Derg regime (see last Wednesday’s post for more general historical context!) under Mengistu Haile Mariam and celebrates the support this quasi-socialist regime enjoyed from Cuba, another socialist “brother state”, of course, namely in the fighting against Somalia in the first half of the 1980s.
   
The group of statues in front of the main needle topped with a red star was contributed by the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang, North Korea, yet another fellow commie association then. In fact, North Korea continued to provide African countries with heroic statuary, even until quite recently (e.g. in Senegal and in Namibia – but that’s for another post).
   
I had read on Wikipedia that the monument would be overgrown and neglected, but when we stopped outside it during my city tour of Addis, a rather bizarre scene unfolded. I took this photo quickly, immediately after getting out of the car – then some commotion ensued. Apparently cameras were not welcome. To get beyond the fence to take a closer look at the artwork I would have had to leave my camera behind. Bizarrely, though, they said smartphone photos were OK. My guide surmised that the point of this protective approach was that they wanted to sell some video or something about the monument. But I declined – I found the whole aggressive atmosphere quite off-putting. My guide tried to argue, but in vain, and then I said, well, if I can’t take proper photos of this place then there’s no point me going in. And with that we left. So at least they lost out on squeezing any money out of me. Well, their loss indeed. Though I do have to admit that I would have quite liked a closer look, but never mind.
   
I just wonder what has brought about this strange restrictive and protectionist approach. I had rather been led to believe that most Ethiopians would rather just forget the Derg years and its relics are not even acknowledged. Well it’s quite different here. Has Cuba still got anything to do with it? I will probably never know – or does anybody on here have any more background information about the politics at this apparently sensitive site?
   
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Tuesday 21 January 2020 – Nevereveragain a la Ethiopia
   
  21 02 2020   Nevereveragain a la Ethiopia
  
Photo of the Day: a follow-up to last Wednesday’s post about the Red Terror Museum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia …
   
When I was there it was a Sunday, the museum exhibition was open, but the small shop was closed. Otherwise what you see in today’s photo would have been available for purchase.
   
The main thing is the museum’s own version of the usual ‘never again’ phrase that’s become so commonly associated with dark museums and their topics. Except that here it is compressed into a single word “nevereveragain!”, which is a bit idiosyncratic. And the letters above are the abbreviation of the museum’s full official name: “Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum”. 180 birr is not a lot of money, just 5 euros or so, so I probably would have bought that item at the top left had the shop been open … never mind, my dark-tourism souvenir collection is fairly substantial without this addition …
  
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Monday 20 January 2020
   
  20 02 2020   House of the Wannsee conference, Berlin
  
On this Day, 78 years ago, on 20 January 1942, the Wannsee Conference took place at this stately villa on the shores of the Wannsee Lake on the south-western edge of Berlin. The event was called for top-level Nazis to discuss how best to implement the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”. It wasn’t decided here, as you can often erroneously read – that decision had already been taken even higher up (Hitler, Himmler, and in this case especially Hermann Göring), at this conference it was more the higher bureaucrats putting the orders from above into reality. And the order hidden behind that cynical euphemism “Final Solution” obviously meant the systematic deportation and industrial mass murder of all European Jews within the Nazi-occupied lands. At the conference it was decided to apply the method already used in the “T4” euthanasia programme and at Chelmno, namely gassing.
   
The conference was chaired by Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Security Head Office of the SS – who less than six months later was assassinated in Operation Anthropoid by Czech resistance fighters. The recording secretary who took the minutes at the Wannsee Conference was Adolf Eichmann, who has hence become the most classic example of what in German is known as a “Schreibtischtäter” (literally ‘desk perpetrator’, meaning somebody who doesn’t get his own hands bloody, but sees to crimes by administrative means).
   
The practical implementation of the “Final Solution” was then code-named “Operation Reinhard”, after Heydrich, and in particular involved the construction of three special death camps, Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka, in whose gas chambers over a third of all Jews murdered in the Holocaust were systematically killed over the course of barely a year. And at Auschwitz the systematic extermination continued until early 1945 …
   
The original building of the Wannsee Conference now houses a memorial exhibition about the events and their context. It’s an unusual dark site, where the pretty setting contrasts harshly, if rather abstractly, with the sinister graveness of its history. A one-of-a-kind must-see dark-tourism site.
   
PS: if you’ve been following this page for a long time you may recognize this photo – it’s a repost from four years ago.
  
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Sunday 19 January 2020
   
  19 02 2020   b&w hyenas 1
  
  19 01 2020   b&w hyenas 2
  
  19 01 2020   b&w hyenas 3
  
Photos of the Day: some more hyenas in Harar, Ethiopia, as kind of a follow-up to the post on 2 January (if you haven’t see this, do scroll down and check it out for context – I won’t repeat it all here).
   
As the hyena feeding takes place after dark and the site is illuminated only by some car headlights, I was forced to photograph with high ISO settings (as I refuse to ruin photos by using flash – my current pro camera doesn’t even have a built-in flash), so the images came out a little grainy and lacking detail. I found that converting them into black and white can occasionally actually enhance the appeal of such photos. Here are a few examples.
   
All of these photos were taken after the main feeding was over and the hyenas were left to socialize and help themselves to a heap of bones dumped by Yusuf at the end of the feeding proper. You can see those bones in the third photo here. Amazingly, hyenas actually do eat bones. Their jaws have the strongest biting force of any mammal (forces of 4500 Newton have been measured, equivalent to over 450 kilogrammes!). And the digestive juices in their stomachs can actually dissolve crushed bone. Hence their poo is often chalky white.
   
< comment: I admit I’ve become a little obsessed with hyenas lately – thanks not only to this magical close encounter with the Sofi clan in Harar a good two weeks ago, but also through reading this book: “Amongst the Bone Eaters – encounters with hyenas in Harar” by Marcus Baynes-Rock (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015). >
  
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Friday 17 January 2020
 17 01 2020   Chisenau commie monument
     
I’m hereby reviving the tradition of having photos with quiz questions on Fridays. So, here we go:
   
This is one of many Lenin monuments that can still be found in the former Eastern Bloc and the ex-USSR – where exactly is this one?
  
Bonus question: you can make out a Marx flanking Lenin on the right, but who’s the guy on the left?
  
[Dimitrov – though I initially thought it was a Frunze]
 
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Thursday 16 January 2020
   
  16 02 2020   Desert Shield painting abord USS Missouri
  
On this Day, 29 years ago, on 17 January 1991, Operation Desert Shield gave way to Operation Desert Storm – the military attacks by a coalition of 35 states under US leadership, under then president George H.W. Bush, to drive out Iraqi invasion forces from Kuwait, which Iraq – under its infamously brutal and paranoid dictator Saddam Hussein – had militarily annexed on 2 August the previous year. This context also made this war far less controversial than the “Second Gulf War” or “Iraq War” initiated by US president George W. Bush junior 12 years later in 2003, for which the reasons given were far more tenuous (the alleged WMD were never found, the link to 9/11 and Al Qaeda was non-existent and the pretext of “bringing democracy” quickly evaporated too), but which, unlike the 1991 war, did end in “regime change” (i.e. the overthrowing of Saddam Hussein).
   
The build-up to the 1991 war against Iraq had been code-named Operation Desert Shield, and this painting I spotted aboard the USS Missouri, the WWII-era battleship on which Japan’s surrender in that war was signed and which now forms part of the memorial complex at Pearl Harbor on Hawaii. In 1991, the modernized vessel was still in service and did indeed take part in the 1991 Gulf War, including the shelling that began in January together with the firing of cruise missiles alongside massive air attacks. I saw this painting on a long private tour of the “innards” of the “Big Mo”, as the battleship is also affectionately known, which took me deep into the engine rooms – and this is where this painting is located.
   
Looking at the painting, though, a few questions arise. The desert, the oil rigs, the palm trees and the camel all make sense, vaguely, but why does the camel have the symbol of the RAF (i.e. the British Royal Air Force – which also partook in the war) on its side? And why is there what looks like a Russian Orthodox church in the background being attacked by lightning?!? Could it be that whoever painted this meant to depict a mosque but got it wrong?
 
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Wednesday 15 January 2020
   
  15 01 2020   Red Terror Museum
  
Photo of the Day: and another one from my recent Ethiopia trip … this deeply grim photo was taken at the “Red Terror Martyrs’ Memorial Museum” in the heart of the capital city Addis Ababa.
  
It shows skulls that were dug up, together with other remains, from a mass grave in which victims of the 16-year brutal Derg regime had been buried. The period is widely referred to now as the “Red Terror” and hence gave the museum its name.
   
The museum’s exhibition is not particularly rich in information – in fact if you don’t know about this dark chapter in Ethiopia’s history you won’t learn much in substance about it here, so you’d better read up on it ahead of visiting – but it certainly is visually very poignant. The heaps of skulls and bones in one dimly-lit side room are the darkest part, but the glass cabinets with blood-stained clothes in another room (which reminded me of the Nyamata genocide memorial in Rwanda!) or the walls with black-and-white mugshots of victims were not far behind.
  
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Tuesday 14 January 2020
   
  14 01 2020   Kereyou Lodge ruin 1
  
  14 01 2020   Kereyou Lodge ruin 2
  
  14 01 2020   Kereyou Lodge ruin 3
  
  14 01 2020   Kereyou Lodge ruin 4
  
  14 01 2020   Kereyou Lodge ruin 5
  
  14 01 2020   Kereyou Lodge ruin 6
  
Photo of the Day: a follow-up to yesterday’s post about Awash and the 1985 railway disaster. I didn’t get to see the site of that, but there was an unexpected bonus on my safari around Awash National Park that involved a bit of ‘urbex’ ...
   
We made a stop at a disused former lodge/rest camp named Kereyou, which the Bradt guidebook for Ethiopia (7 edition, 2017) described as “still shown on most maps of the park, closed for long overdue renovations a couple of years back, and shows no sign of reopening any time soon”. This could now be edited to saying “no chance of reopening”. When we got there we found the whole place trashed, heavily vandalised and derelict beyond any hope of repair.
   
However, this provided a surprising opportunity for some urbex photography, which is something I particularly enjoy, as I believe many of this page’s followers do as well. So here are a few photos from there …
   
(Btw. – the guy in fatigues carrying a semi-automatic gun is not a soldier or member of any rebel militia, but just the scout who we were required to hire for the drive around the National Park.)
 
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13 January 2020
 
   13 01 2020   Awash River Gorge
   
  13 01 2020   old Djibouti railway line
  
On this Day … I have quite a choice of dark anniversaries to pick. It was on this day only eight years ago, on 13 January 2012, that the “Costa Concordia” cruise ship capsized and sank just off the Italian coast – and the wreck soon became a local dark-tourism attraction, which in turn caused much controversy and led to discussions about the ethics of (spontaneous) DT. Another dark anniversary on this day concerns the clashes between Soviet troops and protesters at the TV Tower of Vilnius, Lithuania, 29 years ago, on 13 January 1991, in which 14 civilians were killed – this story already featured on this page (on this day two years ago). Yet another dark event links to the current bushfire crisis in Australia; but it was on 13 January 1939 when the so-called Black Friday bushfires burned nearly 20,000 square kilometres (4.9 million acres) of land, destroyed almost 4000 buildings and killed over 70 people.
   
But in the end I went for photos that link my recent trip to Ethiopia to a particularly awful event, namely the deadliest ever train train disaster in African history: 35 years ago, on 13 January 1985, an express train, which was apparently travelling at excessive speed, derailed on a curve approaching a railway bridge over the gorge of the Awash River sending carriages plunging down off the bridge. Over 400 died and more than 500 were injured. The disaster also disrupted the supply line for goods sent in as famine relief from the port of Djibouti, where this train line to/from Addis Ababa ended. 1985 was of course also the year of that disastrous famine in northern and eastern Ethiopia that gave rise to the Live Aid charity concert event in London in July that same year.
   
On my trip I went to Awash National Park for a couple of days, and the first of today’s photos shows a part of the Awash River gorge as seen from a viewpoint within the Park, namely at the confluence with another, smaller river (whose name I forgot) a few miles upriver from the disaster site. The second photo shows a section of the old railway line, a narrow-gauge track that has long been disused and is now largely derelict, as you can see on this stretch just within the National Park. (The old French-built railway line was opened in 1917 and only a small stretch north-east of Awash around Dire Dawa is still partially in use. But a brand-new, modern, standard gauge, electrified railway line to Djibouti has recently been constructed by the Chinese, which has supplanted the old line and is now used for both freight and passenger trains, so it is again possible to travel between the two countries by rail … but unfortunately I did not have the time for this on my recent trip …)
   
The site of the 1985 rail disaster I presume to be at this location: 9°01'31.7"N 40°11'02.1"E. On Google Maps’ satellite view you can clearly see a railway bridge on the old train line crossing the Awash River gorge at that spot – but I reckon this must be a bridge constructed after the disaster, as a) it is not curved but straight, and b) the tracks are secured by steel girders on both sides, so I doubt a train could have crashed through these … As far as I could determine, the disaster is not commemorated at the site, but unfortunately I was not able to go there to see for myself as the bridge was too far from the lodge I was staying at and communication with the Ethiopian guides and scouts was so patchy that I would probably not have been able to communicate any wishes to go there. Indeed, the language barrier is the single biggest obstacle when travelling in Ethiopia; many people involved in tourism do speak at least some English more or less reasonably well, but their listening-comprehension skills, in my experience, tended to be so deficient that two-way communication was almost impossible on far too many occasions.
 
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Friday 10 January 2020
  
  10 01 2020   Mekele Tigraian Martyrs' Memorial 1
  
  10 01 2020   Mekele Tigraian Martyrs' Memorial 2
  
Photos of the Day: something from my Ethiopia trip that I came back from yesterday – this I spotted at the Tigrai Martyrs’ Monument & Museum in Mekele on 3 January. Read on!
  
A bit of background: Mekele is the capital city of the northern Ethiopian Tigrai region (bordering Eritrea), which during the 16 years of the “Derg” rule from 1975-1991 (Ethiopia’s own version of a USSR and Cuba-backed, quasi-communist, brutal military dictatorship) was the part of the country where the resistance against the regime was the strongest and from where the eventual military victory against the junta was orchestrated. So it’s little wonder that this fact was celebrated by constructing a grandiose monument in Mekele after the old regime was overthrown.
   
The memorial complex also includes a Martyrs’ Museum, where I took these two pictures. The museum’s exhibition mostly consists of old black-and-white photos of Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters in battle, in training, resting, or in some revolutionary meetings (interestingly the whole lingo and narrative is very “socialist” in style too, even though they were fighting a nominally socialist regime – yet by linguistic style alone you couldn’t tell the difference between the two sides!) … as well as a few dusty display cases with artefacts like various guns and field radios and such like. As such I found the museum somewhat endearing and touching but also rather old-school and bland (and seriously lacking in background information).
   
But in one room that was semi-separated off by a curtain I then found a dark surprise: a row of coffins covered with flags bearing the TPLF logo … and on one of them the flag was slightly pulled back, revealing a glass coffin with two (!!) skeletons inside!
   
This find was easily the very darkest element at that place. I wonder whether I was even supposed to see this … or what the inscription on that panel on the easel in front says. Can anybody out there decipher it?
  
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