• 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

Archived DT page from Facebook: 2019

  
Again, these are recreations of most posts I put on my DT page on Facebook that has been purged (see full story here),
and like the 2020 set it's not 100% complete, for the same reasons (so see the explanation there). And again, the order is reverse chronologically, newest at the top, oldest at the bottom, like it would have appeared on a Facebook feed, but of course you can also go through the posts chronologically by starting at the bottom and scrolling up.
  
More years are linked up here.
  
  
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Saturday 21 December 2019
  
Solution to yesterday’s quiz question (one got it right in the end): Easter Island (aka Rapa Nui) – and I was there actually for Xmas (in 2011), hence that tree. So I could say I had “Christmas on Easter”.
  
… I’d also like to take this opportunity to say Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all followers. I’ll go away tomorrow, first visiting family, and then on yet another exotic trip (Ethiopia) straight afterwards until 9 January. During that time I will have little, if any, Internet access, so there will be a hiatus here on DT. Maybe I’ll manage to post something from ‘on the road’ in Ethiopia, but don’t bank on it. Normal service will be resumed when I’m back home from 10 January.
  
< comment: … and if your wondering what’s dark about Easter island look up the expression ‘Easter Island paradigm’ … or read the relevant chapter on DT: http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/easter-island-rapa-nui >
  
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Friday 20 December 2019
   
  20 12 2019   Xmas
  
Friday – last quiz question before Christmas … let’s see if I can find something Christmassy …
  
Here we go: a somewhat shabby Christmas tree standing by the coast. Where is this?
  
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Thursday 19 December 2019
  
  19 12 2019   Breitscheidplatz, Berlin
  
On this Day, only three years ago, on 19 December 2016, a terrorist attack by means of a hijacked truck took place at the Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz in Berlin. The attacker first shot dead the Polish driver of the truck, got behind the wheel himself and then rammed the vehicle into the market. 12 people were killed and 56 wounded.
   
The attacker initially got away but four days later was killed in Italy in a shoot-out with the police. After the event it emerged that the attacker had links to the so-called Islamic State, who may even have directly ordered the atrocity.
  
The Berlin attack was of course not the first of this nature. Hence we are seeing increasing security measures at sites like Christmas markets or pedestrianized shopping streets and so forth. Some are drastic and very visible and others more subtle, but it’s how we kind of adapt to the situation. I remember the last time I visited the Birmingham German Market (a kind of imported and somewhat anglicized Christmas market that combines German classics like glühwein and lebkuchen with British additions – like mulled cider) the big concrete blocks and other security measures on its access points oozing an almost menacing aura – whereas here in Vienna recent improvements of its main shopping street, Mariahilfer Straße, include newly added concrete blocks camouflaged as flower beds ... and most people probably won’t even notice that they also have a defensive function.
   
The site of the Berlin attack already had a dark association, namely through the large WWII ruin that is the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche, seen in today’s photo some ten years earlier. The bluely illuminated modern structures next to the hollow shell of the old church tower are the modern active church, the ‘nave’ to the left, the new tower to the right of the old structure. The Christmas market would have been right at the foot of the towers and on the square around them.
  
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Wednesday 18 December 2019
  
  18 12 2019   Fort Douaumont, Verdun
  
On this Day 103 years ago, on 18 December 1916, the Battle of Verdun ended with the defeat of the German side, who had started the battle on 21 February the same year. This makes it the longest single battle of the First World War, and also one of the most costly, not least for the soldiers involved, at a total of well over 700,000 casualties on both sides, including over 300,000 killed.
  
It was a turning point in the history of warfare – the total industrialization of war, dominated by heavy artillery shelling. The battle took place mostly on and around the hillsides north-east of the actual city of Verdun (which also suffered badly from the shelling), especially around the forts of Douaumont and Vaux. After the Germans had initially managed to take the forts, they were reconquered by the French, so in the end the battle had achieved nothing, just the restoration of the “status quo” as before the battle … but at a terrible cost.
  
Today’s photo shows part of Fort Douaumont, a largely earth-covered bunker system, with some of the steel gun and observation turrets at the top. The whole landscape around the fort, though now mostly overgrown again, still shows plenty of evidence from the near constant shelling in the form of hollows that were bomb craters. At the time of the end of the battle, this would have been a muddy moonscape virtually devoid of any vegetation.
  
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Tuesday 17 December 2019
  
  17 12 2019   burnt bass guitar, near Merapi, Indonesia
  
Photo of the Day: and one more volcanic post (I promise I’ll drop the subject from tomorrow onwards for a while). This is the charred remains of a bass guitar that got caught up in an eruption of Indonesia’s most dangerous volcano, Merapi, another stratovolcano where explosive eruptions and frequent pyroclastic flows threaten the inhabited flanks of the mountain. This object, and the house it was found in, were victims of an eruption that occurred in 2010.
  
Despite the dangers, people are drawn towards the vicinity of volcanoes mainly because volcanic soil is so fertile … so settling near volcanoes is always a delicate balancing of risks and benefits. At Merapi, all the deposited ash also leads to massive lahars (mudflows after rainfall that send the deposited ash further downhill in a kind of liquidized concrete which is just as dangerous as the original pyroclastic flows). Yet these, too, then become an asset. Apparently solidified lahar deposits make excellent building material, so when I was at the foot of Merapi I witnessed a kind of gold-rush atmosphere, where dozens of diggers were mining the lahar deposits and huge trucks carted the stuff away to the cities for the construction of yet more high-rises ...
  
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Monday 16 December 2019
  
  16 12 2019   items melted by the heat of pyroclastic flows, Montserrat
  
Photo of the Day: objects partially melted in pyroclastic flows, Montserrat.
  
The recent disaster at White Island, New Zealand, keeps haunting me, because that could easily have been me amongst the victims. Most bodies have meanwhile been recovered, by the way.
   
The only volcano of a similar type that I visited during an active phase was Soufriere Hills volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, over the New Year’s period 2009/2010. The cone was constantly venting ash and at fairly regular intervals spewed out big plumes that created pyroclastic flows and surges – the only time I ever witnessed such a dramatic spectacle. The nightly red glow of the volcano’s top, and the occasional red boulder tumbling down its flanks, were also very cool to behold – and all that safely from the opposite hillside at the MVO (Montserrat Volcano Observatory).
   
The small exhibition at the MVO, however, and especially exhibits like these, served as a reminder that the safe distance is indeed necessary. If the heat of a pyroclastic flow can melt bottles and electronic equipment like this, then you don’t want to imagine what it could do to human skin …
  
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Friday 13 December 2019
   
  [sorry, can't reproduce the image]
  
Today’s a Friday the 13th again! So let’s find something for the traditional Friday quiz question that involves some bad luck …
   
Here we go: why is this little kid looking so distraught? What bad luck had befallen him? It actually relates to an event that happened on this very Day, 38 years ago, on 13 December 1981 ...
  
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Thursday 12 December 2019
  
  12 12 2019   Secret bunker of Scotland, ROC operations room
  
Photo of the Day: something from Britain – to mark the fact that today is election day in the UK … So I dug up this from the archives (not election-related).
  
… this is the ROC room in “Scotland’s Secret Nuclear Bunker”, a former government relocation facility in case of crisis (or World War Three) not far from St Andrews in Fife. Originally built in 1951 for the RAF as an early warning radar station, it took over its role as part of the Civil Defence Corps in 1968. After the end of the Cold War, the facility was decommissioned in 1993. The site was then sold off into private hands and first opened to the public in 1994.
  
It’s become a veritable visitor attraction and is signposted as “secret bunker”, a contradiction which gives many people seeing the signs the giggles. But it is of course a serious site. This is documented in the exhibition parts inside the bunker today, which also includes a section about the history of protests against nuclear weapons as well as the SCND, the contemporary Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. This highlights a very current issue, namely that Britain’s fleet of of Trident SLBM (submarine-launched ballistic missiles) subs are based in Scotland, even though the majority of Scots are apparently against this.
   
But that’s as far as I’m prepared to tread into areas of current political issues in the UK.
  
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Wednesday 11 December 2019
  
  11 12 2019   El Mozote monument
  
On this Day, 38 years ago, on 11 December 1981, the village of El Mozote was the site of the worst atrocity committed during the Civil War in El Salvador, when the death squads of the right-wing military dictatorship massacred several hundred villagers, the entire population, and burned down all the village’s houses.
  
What’s worse, before murdering the women they raped them, including even girls as young as ten. The death quads had been on a campaign against left-wing insurgents in the area, but the village of El Mozote had been regarded as neutral in the conflict, yet apparently some ‘campesinos’ who may have had associations with left-wing rebels had sought refuge there. This may have been enough to trigger this unimaginable brutality.
  
The El Salvadorian military’s death squads had special training at the infamous ‘School of the Americas’ in Georgia, USA, as well as military advisers in El Salvador, so when the news of the massacre appeared in the media in the USA it caused controversy over the Reagan administration’s involvement in Central America. The El Mozote massacre was denied or at least played down initially by various spokespeople and government-friendly media outlets. But later investigations corroborated the story. The total number of victims, as you would expect, was and still is contested, ranging from between 200 to over 800. In 2011, the government of El Salvador officially released an apology for the atrocity.
  
I’ve not been to El Salvador myself yet, so today’s photo of the memorial at the site is not mine but, again, taken from Wikimedia. It, too, is in the public domain. 
  
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Tuesday 10 December 2019
  
  10 12 2019  Brown Dog statue by Joseph Whitehead, Battersea, London
  
On this Day, 102 years ago, on 10 December 1907 the so-called “Brown Dog Riots” reached their height. This was an affair that today seems bizarrely surreal, but was a real scandal back then which had a lot of media coverage and apparently divided society. It’s quite a story … read on!
  
What was it about: basically a controversy between medical students used to performing vivisections at university and a new movement of anti-vivisectionists. The latter commissioned a bronze statue of a dog that was unveiled in a park in Battersea, London, in 1906. The inscription on the plinth clearly condemned the cruel practice of vivisection – and in turn this attracted the anger of medical students. The statue was the target of vandalism by “anti-doggers” and the monument eventually had to be protected 24/7 by police. There had already been a series of protest marches and on 10 December 1907 this culminated in London with several hundred medical students attempting to topple the Brown Dog statue – they failed because locals protected the statue. But the protesters then congregated at Trafalgar Square where they clashed with police. Allegedly one protester was arrested for “barking like a dog”. The whole affair was also interwoven with conflicts between suffragettes and their opponents, and the story is actually quite complex, even though it may seem rather absurd today. Yet, the practice of vivisection is undeniably a cruel one – so that’s the dark element here, in addition to the street fighting.
  
The dog statue was eventually removed in 1910 – apparently because of the high costs of protecting it, which in turn sparked new demonstrations protesting the removal. 75 years later on 12 December 1985, a new dog statue was unveiled in Battersea Park. This too was removed for a couple of years in the 1990s but reinstated later and is still in existence.
  
Today’s photo of the original Brown Dog monument was taken from Wikimedia and is in the public domain. (I initially mistyped that as “public dogmain” – a Freudian slip?)
  
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Monday 9 December 2019 – afternoon
    
Dramatic events and tragedy in New Zealand today – ironically (given the photo I posted earlier and where that was taken) of a volcanic nature, showing that there is always a risk getting near active volcanoes. In this case the sudden eruption of White Island caught out a number of tourists. Some could be rescued, but five have already been confirmed dead, but more casualties are highly likely as several visitors are still not accounted for and police helicopters flying over the island registered no signs of life. One of the dead is actually a tour guide.
  
It’s far away but still quite shocking … making me think: “that could have been me!”, given that I’ve been near volcanoes several times, and even inside craters like Ijen, and climbed the new cone of Krakatoa (health-and-safety not being particularly prioritized concerns in Indonesia). And had I gone to New Zealand now, then visiting White Island would indeed have been a definite item on my itinerary. Whether it still would be in the future, I cannot currently say …
  
  
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Monday 9 December 2019
  
  09 12 2019   Sally by the Ijen blue flames
  
Photo of the Day: My wife Sally at the blue flames of Ijen volcano, Indonesia – echoing the Friday quiz photo I posted the week before last, and the series of photos I added the following day. I’m positing this follow-up today because it’s her birthday!
  
No long story attached – for more about Ijen and the fabled blue flames see the post of Saturday 30 November
  
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Sunday 8 December 2019
  
Manchester now has a statue of Friedrich Engels – who has strong historical ties to the city, of course, as everybody with at least a basic grounding in the history of communism will be aware of. Now this is honoured by this statue – which was apparently salvaged from Ukraine, where the public display of communist symbols – and such statues – is now even illegal (except inside of museums). At least this one has found a fitting new home …
  
    
< comment reply: I wouldn’t be so sure – characters like these could have taken any other ideology and twisted it for their purposes … (you also see it in how easily some former left-wing RAF terrorists in Germany have more recently switched to the extreme far right; to them extremeness seems to matter more than left or right). Let’s also not forget that Engels was a capitalist but witnessing the plight of the working class and conditions in the city’s factories (hence the term ‘Manchester capitalism’, which is currently seeing a bit of a renaissance) made him think, and the early writings were with good intentions, and with some effect far beyond the beginning of communism. The fact that many (market economy) Western countries have legislation into which are interwoven things like sick pay, regulated working hours, health and safety, rights to from unions, fixed holiday periods, etc., ultimately have roots with Engels and the early workers’ movements; these things were won, not generous gifts by the factory owners. So it’s not quite so black and white. And by the way, there’s nothing about Gulags etc. in the Communist Manifesto, as far as I know … So the line from Engels to Stalin etc. is not quite so straight. In the same way as nationalism doesn’t have a straight line to Hitler and Himmler.
  
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Saturday 7 December 2019
  
As has also become a tradition by now, here’s the Friday quiz question photo again – and the answer. It was actually revealed eventually but not many may have seen the comment.
  
This is indeed Ravensbrück – more precisely it’s in the “Arrestblock”, the prison inside the prison, as it were. Most concentration camps in the Third Reich had such special wards with isolation cells and even harsher treatment than in the camp in general.
  
Ravensbrück was the women’s camp of the whole system (not exclusively, though, roughly a sixth of the inmates were actually men), and some of the women guards have become notoriously infamous, such as Irma Grese, the “beautiful beast”.
  
After WWII it fell into the eastern part of Germany and later the GDR erected a monument here, but the rest of the compound was either used by the military or abandoned. After reunification, more efforts were made for a proper commodification of the site, but it was (and still is) slow going. The main historical exhibition was opened as late as 2013. But the Arrestblock was already refurbished earlier than that. In fact it looks almost too new and clean – as one commentator observed it looks more like an Eastern German prison of the 1970s or 80s.
  
So this was perhaps a difficult one, but as one correct answer proved, not impossible to get.
  
Grim as the history of the place may be, I still like this photo for its aesthetics, the symmetry and clear lines of perspective – not quite perfect, due to that window and ceiling lamp on the right, but still ...
  
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Friday 6 December 2019
  
  06 12 2019   Arrestblock, Ravensbrück
  
Friday again, quiz question time ...
  
This is a photo I’m quite fond of – as a study in symmetry and perspective.
  
But what and where is it?
  
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Thursday 5 December 2019
  
  05 12 2019   TBF (Avengers) flying in formation
  
On this Day, 74 years ago, on 5 December 1945, Flight 19, a group of five US military planes (more precisely: Grumman TBM “Avenger” torpedo bombers, for those aviation fans out there), which had been out on a navigation training mission, were lost over the infamous, legendary, mystical “Bermuda Triangle” … and they were never found. Moreover, in the search operation another plane was lost in the area. Of course, this is prime material for conspiracy theories and wild hypotheses of Aliens, UFOs and what not. It certainly added to the mystique of the words “Bermuda Triangle”, a name that immediately conjures up notions of unexplainable disappearances.
  
The reality of the incident was probably much more mundane. From what little is known it can be concluded that the squadron’s lead pilot got confused by a malfunctioning compass and mistaking islands he saw from the air for different ones and eventually ran out of fuel having headed in the direction of the ocean rather than the Florida mainland, as he had erroneously assumed. Still, the case was classed as “causes unknown” since neither the planes nor the bodies were ever recovered. There were several claims in subsequent years and decades that they had been found. But every time the claims turned out unsubstantiated or the wrecks found were of different planes.
  
The case also featured in popular culture, not least the 1977 movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.
  
Today’s photo was, again, taken from Wikimedia and is in the public domain. It shows not Flight 19, but a similar group of planes of the same type.
  
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Wednesday 4 December 2019
  
  04 12 2019   Checkpoint Charlie
  
Photo of the Day: Checkpoint Charlie in festive season decoration.
  
Now that we’ve inescapably entered the pre-Christmas season (and all the commercialism that comes with it), I dug out this photo from a few years ago when I was in Berlin during a very snowy period in 2010.
  
But there’s another reason why I picked this photo. I’ve recently read that there are now attempts at curbing the overtouristification of this famous spot. Indeed, in addition to the museum (Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie), which is very good, and the open-air panels about the history, there are also countless souvenir shops and stalls selling all manner of junk, and hordes of tourists flock here wielding selfie-sticks and all. The border control hut with the stack of sandbags and Allied flags outside is not authentic, by the way. (The real one is at the Allied Museum in the district of Dahlem).
  
Moreover, until very recently there used to be actors posing in Allied uniforms outside this hut inviting tourist to take photos with them … and then trying to extract some money for it, of course. This practice has now been banned! And apparently there are also plans being drawn up for a more adequate commodification of the area, possibly adding a proper Cold War Museum even. We’ll see. Berlin is always in such flux, you basically have to go there several times a year to keep up with developments …
  
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Tuesday 3 December 2019
  
  03 12 2019   Bhopal, former Union Carbide plant
  
On this Day, 35 years ago, in the early hours of 3 December 1984, the Bhopal disaster began to unfold. Just after midnight a leak and rise in pressure at a tank containing the pesticide MIC (methyl isocyanate) was noticed at the Union Carbide plant in the Indian city of Bhopal. Owing to a combination of inadequate technology, poor maintenance, malfunctions of safety devices and human error, some 40 tons of the poison gas were released over the next two hours and drifted in a low, ground-hugging cloud into the residential districts next to the plant. The effects were unimaginably gruesome. I’ll spare you the medical details. Suffice it to say that between 3,500 and possibly as many as 16,000 died as a consequence of the leak. As usual in such cases, the exact figures are highly controversial. Still, it’s undeniable that the Bhopal disaster was the worst accident in the history of the chemical industry.
  
The aftermath is still nasty. The legal side of it has never been fully settled. There are still campaigns for proper compensation, and the successor company that took over Union Carbide, Dow Chemical, deny any responsibility for the disaster as it happened before their ownership of Union Carbide.
   
The site itself has only half-heartedly been decontaminated. Apparently you can still find containers marked with the poisonous substance sign stacked inside buildings gathering dust while the plant’s structures slowly crumble and rust away. The wall around the plant has many holes and isn’t very high, so locals regularly and casually go in, and even have picnics and play cricket next to the once poison-manufacturing structures.
  
When I was in Bhopal, though, I was not allowed to enter the site, I only got a glimpse from outside the wall, and that’s what you see in today’s photo. A zoomed-in image of the part of the plant where the MIC pesticide used to be made. Even from a distance, it is quite an eerie sight, knowing the history of this place …
  
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Monday 2 December 2019
  
  [can't reproduce image here - it's that famous one of Escobar ; see below]
  
On this Day, 26 years ago, on 2 December 1993, the infamous “drug baron” and leader of the “Medellin Cartel” Pablo Escobar was killed in a shoot-out by a special squad of the Colombian National Police.
  
Escobar had at one point been one of the richest persons on Earth and his legacy is, shall we say, controversial and ambiguous. On the one hand he managed to cultivate a sort of “Robin Hood image” by giving to the poor, but on the other hand he was also responsible for murders and massacres, on top of all the drug dealing.
  
His legacy has also caused controversy in terms of dark tourism. There are Escobar-themed guided tours in Medellin today, some even include meeting the man’s brother and/or one of his hitmen. Some locals are really not happy about this milking of the Escobar legacy, while others still see him as a “saint”.
  
Some of the Escobar commodification also featured in that Netflix series “Dark Tourist” last year, in fact it was even the opener of the whole series. The media of course like the sensationalist, so such controversial stuff is always preferred over the less debatable in media portrayals of dark tourism. Hence I’m very much in two minds about all this Escobar hype. I’ve not been to Colombia yet, but I guess I’d be in a real dilemma over deciding whether to sample any of the Escobar cult or not. Part of me would think I should, in order to assess it for my website, but I wouldn’t be comfortable with it.
  
It even came to haunt me at home here in Vienna, where only a couple of moths ago, a new shisha bar opened that runs on the Escobar hype too, and they push it quite visibly with a kind of open-air photo gallery next to the entrance at street level. And obviously it includes this famous photo – originally a mugshot by the police in 1977 (in the public domain). The grin seems to indicate a kind of confidence in being “untouchable” that is quite in contrast to the situation it must have been taken in. And indeed Escobar, only continued to rise in popularity in the subsequent years, peaking in the late 1980s.
  
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Saturday 30 November 2019
      
I still owe you the solution to yesterday’s quiz post.
  
I kind of imagined that someone could have got it straight away, but as it turned out nobody did, and only few even ventured an attempt at answering. However, one got very close.
   
The gear I’m wearing is indeed because of sulphurous fumes inside a volcanic crater. But which one? Where can you even walk in so deep that you need a nose-and-mouth mask like that? Answer:
  
This is at Ijen volcano in eastern Java, Indonesia. Here, sulphur is even mined by hardened locals (who don’t wear masks like this, just pieces of wet cloth to “protect” themselves) who then carry their heavy loads (often some 90kg) on their shoulders up the steep path to the crater rim and then down to the foot of the mountain.
  
In order to liquidize the sulphur for easier collection, they ignite it and channel it down tubes. The burning sulphur produces flames that are a deep blue. And seeing this at night (you won’t see any blue in daylight) is one of the most magical and at the same time eerie things to behold on this planet.
   
But it is quite an effort. You have to get up at midnight, make your way to the mountain, hike up the slopes and up to the crater rim, and then – past the “no tourists allowed from this point” sign – scramble down the steep “path” inside the crater. It’s treacherous and slippery, so you have to take great care.
  
But when you get to the bottom, the scene is like Dante’s Inferno or walking on some alien planet. The blue flames are a visual wonder of the highest order, but, depending on the wind, the sulphurous fumes that are blown about are acrid and biting. You have to close your eyes when you get engulfed in a plume of smoke (or else you eyes would burn really painfully) and without such a mask breathing would often be difficult or impossible.
   
Of course, you’ll stink of sulphur afterwards, I ditched those gloves and I think I still have that jacket wrapped up in a plastic bag somewhere, and the trousers slowly lost their stink after a dozen washes or so, but the backpack I took my stuff down in was beyond hope and I ditched that too.
  
But it was all worth it – one of the best adventures of my life and visually a highlight of all my travels, for sure. Photographing those blue flames in otherwise total darkness was not easy and the results needed a lot of RAW tweaking afterwards (auto white balance is absolutely hopeless in such conditions). I didn’t bring a tripod, so had to use rocks to rest my camera on for longer exposures, which was a bit of a restriction. What also made it difficult were the other tourists who were about (mainly Dutch and French), as they were using torches, which added to the difficult light. What’s worse, some people even used flash (what were they thinking that could achieve?!? You just drown out the blue and all you see is some grey haze; it’s stupid …). I had several shots ruined because somebody else’s flash interfered. But in the end I got at least a few halfway acceptable shots. (And my trusted, hardy K-50 camera survived it all perfectly.)
  
Afterwards we had to clamber back up, of course, which was actually easier than going down, though. By daybreak we reached the crater rim again and got a view over the entire crater for the first time, with its eerily greenish acidic lake. A couple of years previously, a French tourist died here by falling into that lake, having got too close and slipping on a rock. I don’t want to imagine what an awful death that must be. But when we were there, nothing worse than a few bruises and stinging eyes marred the magic of the experience.
  
As we got ready to descend back down to the foot of the mountain, the first groups of hikers arrived who made it here for daybreak (apparently it is quite a regular walking tour offered here). I’m glad we made the effort of doing the night hike, though; and I couldn’t quite suppress feeling a little sorry for those day hikers as they had no chance of seeing the blue flames. But then again, the sight of the crater is still cool at dawn, and I guess you wouldn’t want too many people making the scramble down at night and causing “overcrowding”, given that I already found there were too many people there …
  
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Friday 29 November 2019
 
  29 11 2019   yours truly at the bottom of Ijen crater, engulfed by sulphurous fumes
    
Friday. Quiz question time. Here we go:
  
I’m not normally one for selfies, as long-term followers may be aware, but here’s an exception, kind of. So this is me, but where? Where am I in this pic? And why am I dressed like that, with gloves and that mask?
   
(Strictly speaking this is not a selfie, of course, mainly because I didn’t take it – my wife did. But in the wider sense of a picture of oneself it kind-of still is a “selfie”, even if it’s not in the narrower modern sense, which these days apparently prescribes pouting or other silly poses and of course the use of one of those annoying selfie-sticks … none of which I am prepared to ever go along with!
  
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Thursday 28 November 2019
  
  28 11 2019   Jumbo
  
Photo of the Day … kind of a follow-up to yesterday’s post: This is what remains of “Jumbo”, a giant steel cylinder 25 feet (7.5m) long and 12 feet (3.5m) in diameter that weighed well over 200 tons. This giant was originally constructed for the first atomic test, at a time when the scientists were not yet fully confident that the implosion-bomb design would work, by which a mantle of conventional high explosives would compress the plutonium core into a critical mass to start the intended chain reaction. If the setting off of the explosives mantle simultaneously, in a millisecond basically, didn’t work then the chain reaction wouldn’t start and all that plutonium would just be scattered all around causing catastrophic contamination. So this steel cylinder was devised to contain the plutonium in such an event. But if the atomic detonation could be initiated then the steel tube would simply be vaporized.
  
In the end, the scientists were confident enough this extra measure was not necessary and successfully detonated Trinity in the open in July 1945. “Jumbo” was placed upright, suspended from a steel lattice tower, about a kilometre from ground zero. The tower was blown apart but “Jumbo” survived intact. A year after that, the steel cylinder was used in a conventional test when eight 500 lbs bombs were detonated inside “Jumbo”, which blew the bottom half and both ends apart, but this section survived, albeit scarred inside, as you can clearly see in today’s photo.
   
In 1979 this unique relic was moved to its present position just outside the fence surrounding ground zero at the Trinity site in New Mexico.
 
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Wednesday 27 November 2019
  
  27 11 2019   Aerial view of the RAF Fauld explosion crater 4 December 1944
  
On this Day, 75 years ago, on 27 November 1944, an underground munitions storage depot at RAF Fauld exploded – the largest explosion on British soil ever, and one of the biggest non-nuclear detonations of all time (ca. two kilotons TNT equivalent).
  
The blast left a massive crater 230m (755 feet) wide and killed almost 80 people (RAF personnel, Italian POWs as well as a some civilians, including workers at a nearby farm … 200 cattle were killed as well).
  
It was one of the largest accidental explosions (although the full details of what caused the disaster have never been established, but it’s assumed that it came about through the use of a metal chisel in the removal of a detonator from a live bomb, so possibly a spark set it off, and in turn the rest of the munitions in the storage facility). But there were larger ones that were deliberate, such as the “Big Bang” explosion the British set off on the island of Heligoland after WWII, and of course all those explosions that were experiments prior to nuclear tests, including the pre-Trinity “calibration test” in which 100 tons of TNT amassed in one giant stack were set off.
Today’s photo is an aerial view of the crater as it was on 4 December 1944, taken from an RAF plane. The image was obtained from Wikimedia and is in the public domain.
  
< comment: the crater is overgrown now, but can still roughly be made out on Google maps:
  
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Tuesday 26 November 2019
  
For once a bit of popular culture here … even in video form ...
  
On this Day, 43 years ago, on 26 November 1976, the single “Anarchy in the UK” by the Sex Pistols was released, which is regarded by many as the beginning of the punk genre (although there are other interpretations and the Ramones preceded the Sex Pistols in America, I know, I know …). At least in Britain it was a cornerstone in the development of a wider subculture called punk, not just the music.
  
So what’s dark about that? Well, punk as such was/is a counterculture that formed in response not only to a music scene in the mid-1970s that was seen as increasingly dull and departing from the raw energy that rock ‘n’ roll was supposed to express, it was also politically a response to economic troubles and a feeling of disenfranchisement. The band’s manager Malcolm McLaren is quoted as having described the song as “a call to arms to the kids who believe that rock and roll was taken away from them. It's a statement of self rule, of ultimate independence.” And some of the lyrics in the song deliberately make use of “inflammatory” and “venomous” expressions like “I am an Anti-Christ” and there are references to the IRA and UDA, the main warring paramilitary organizations in the “Troubles” in the Northern Ireland conflict. So there’s plenty of dark involved.
  
 
  
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Monday 25 November 2019
  
  25 11 2019   Mirabal sisters murder site memorial, Dominican Republic
  
Today is ‘International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women’, and the reason for it being this date is a suitably dark one: it was on this day, 59 years ago, on 25 November 1960, that the Mirabal Sisters were assassinated in the Dominican Republic on orders of the country’s then dictator Rafael Trujillo.
  
Minerva, Patria and Maria Teresa Mirabal had been a thorn in the regime’s side for many years, as they were prominent members of the resistance. Their husbands had been arrested and incarcerated in the Fortaleza San Felipe in Puerto Plata and it was on the journey back from visiting them there that the Mirabals’ car was ambushed, the three women dragged out and bludgeoned to death. After that the car was rolled down the hillside to make it look like an accident. The cover-up didn’t work, nobody believed it and soon whatever support Trujillo still had in the outside world crumbled away. The USA, once a happy supporter of the Trujillo regime (because it was anti-communist), also turned against its former ally and when he was in turn assassinated only six months after the murder of the Mirabal sisters by dissidents outside Santo Domingo it is assumed that the CIA must have had a hand in this.
  
The Mirabal sisters are still legendary heroines much revered in the Dominican Republic, and their former home was turned into a Mirabal museum-cum-shrine and their graves can be found in the garden of the compound. While by far the largest proportion of people who travel to the “DomRep” are beach-holiday tourists who never step outside their all-inclusive resorts and have no clue whatsoever about all this dark history, a few more dedicated travellers can do the Mirabal pilgrimage trail and go to all these places, as well as yet more Trujillo-era-related sites. Tropical hardcore dark tourism.
  
Today’s photo is a re-post from three years ago and shows the monument set up near La Cumbre at the site of the assassination on a remote mountain road.
  
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Saturday 23 November 2019
  
Yesterday’s quiz solution:
  
This is a reconstruction of a stretch of Cold-War-ear Iron Curtain border strip as it would have looked along the borders the USSR had with the West, e.g. northern Norway, Finland and the border between Turkey and the Caucasus (east of Kirkenes you can still find some authentic such stretches). Yet this replica border is not located anywhere near the actual border but far inland in the middle of what today is independent Belarus. It is part of a larger military theme park called “Stalin Line” – which is the informal designation of a stretch of pre-WWII fortifications and bunkers, a bit like a discontinuous Maginot Line, but which never played any significant military role. Around the restored bunkers and replica border fortifications is a kind of military fun fair, with a mock shooting range, a collection of Soviet planes, missiles, tanks etc., lots of “toys for boys (of all ages)” stuff, chances to go on tank rides or short scenic flights in vintage MiL-Mi helicopters, and there’s even a kind of open-air theatre, in which mock “battle” shows are performed. And the place honours its name with a Stalin bust by the entrance that looks brand new – I’m pretty certain it’s not an original from the Stalin era but must have been specially commissioned in more recent years … So, a rather weird kind of place. I loved the MiG planes and missiles, but couldn’t relate to any of the show-y, fun-fair-like aspects … And the Stalin reverence is certainly a bit dodgy …
  
<comment 1: more on the “Stalin Line” here:
  
<comment 2: btw. east of Kirkenes on the north-eastern border of Norway with Russia you can still find some authentic such stretches of fences and and watchtowers
http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/norway/15-countries/individual-chapters/826-kirkenes >
  
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Friday 22 November 2019
  
  22 11 2019   border strip recreation, Stalin Line, Belarus
  
Friday, quiz question time:
  
This is a stretch of the former Iron Curtain, or rather: a recreation thereof – where is it?
  
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Thursday 21 November 2019
  
  21 11 2019   bit shocking to find my name on a soldier's uniform, Dresden military museum
  
Photo of the Day: contemporary German uniform on display at the Museum of Military History, Dresden, Germany
  
Having mentioned Dresden the day before yesterday reminded me again of yet another top reason for visiting this East German city. It may have had some bad press lately (in terms of contemporary politics/sociology), but as a dark-tourism destination it’s still very much worth it for various reasons. One is the aforementioned former Stasi prison. Another is this outstanding military museum, which I would regard as possibly the best in the whole world, mainly because its approach is so different from most other such institutions. While most such museums concentrate on displaying loads of military hardware and are organized more or less chronologically, one half of this museum in Dresden is instead subdivided into thematic sections with “war and X” titles, including unexpected angles such as “war and music”, “war and animals”, “war and play” … and also the more predictable and dark “war and death”. The other half of the museum is more traditional, though, and goes through history chronologically, from before World War One to (almost) the present day.
  
It was in the latter section that I spotted this uniform. It came as a little shock to me to see my first name embroidered on a military uniform (especially given that I’ve never served in the military). Of course it would rather have been a surname (apparently my given name can have that function too), but never mind. It also gave me the opportunity to see my name transliterated in Arabic. I can’t remember for sure, but I assume that this exhibit must have been in the context of Germany’s recent involvement in Afghanistan.
  
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Wednesday 20 November 2019
  
  20 11 2019   Vale de los Caidos
  
On this Day, 44 years ago, on 20 November 1975, Francisco Franco, Spain’s dictator of nearly four decades, died.
  
His body was until *very* recently entombed at this place, the so-called Valle de los Caidos (‘valley of the fallen’), a pompous memorial Franco had built (including by forced labour of political prisoners) outside Madrid after the Spanish Civil War. Inside the mountain, underneath the giant cross (marking his associations with the Catholic Church), is a huge subterranean basilica. And near the altar was Franco’s grave. But on 24 October this year the body was (against the family’s wishes) exhumed and reburied in Madrid – in fulfilment of a promise the then government had made following a motion by the Socialist Workers’ Party. It is one element of the slow dealing with the dark past that Spain has finally begun to undertake, after decades of more or less official “amnesia”.
   
When I visited Valle de los Caidos in 2015, there was a church service about to begin in the basilica, hence I was not allowed to go to the front and see Franco’s grave near the altar. But what I did see was the people attending the service. It was eerie, because we had to assume that many, if not all, of these people would probably have been old Francoists. But even without that element the place has a peculiar, oppressive aura, obviously helped by the deliberate ‘intimidation architecture’ as the technical term goes.
  
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Tuesday 19 November 2019
 
   19 11 2019   Putin's villa in Dresden
    
Photo of the Day: an inconspicuous-looking villa … with history.
  
I actually contemplated using this image for a Friday quiz question (“what’s dark about this harmless-looking villa?”), but I know that some followers of this page have been to this place and would probably have recognized the house rather quickly. So I dropped that idea again and instead decided to make it today’s post.
  
So, those of you who do not recognize this building will still be wondering: what is it that that is dark about this? Well, it has to do with a former occupant of this villa, the function he had at the time, and what’s become of him since.
  
This used to be the residence of one Vladimir Putin at the time when he was head of the KGB in Dresden, in the then GDR (East Germany). The villa is now occupied by an Anthroposophy society. It is located only a stone’s throw from the city’s infamous Stasi prison, and it was that place that was my main reason for visiting this part of Dresden back in 2013.
   
I was reminded of this proximity when I watched a TV programme the other day about “Putin und die Deutschen” (‘Putin and the Germans’), which obviously also covered his time in Dresden. I actually learned a few new things in that programme, in particular that German was apparently his favourite subject at school and the one he was best at, and that he had hence been keen to be posted in Dresden as a young man. When he had become Russia’s president in 2000, one of his early visits in office was to Germany, where he gave a speech in near flawless German at the German Bundestag (its parliament), which obviously impressed the audience very much. The relationship between Russia and Germany, and that between Putin and Angela Merkel, has more recently been less characterized by mutual amiability … It was interesting to see the course of German-Russian relations charted in that programme. At the end one was left wondering what’s to come after Putin (and Merkel) ... very much an open question that.
  
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Monday 18 November 2019
  
  18 11 2019   Jonestown
  
On this Day, 41 years ago, on 18 November 1978, the Jonestown massacre happened.
   
Jonestown was a religious-cum-socialist utopian commune led by cult leader Jim Jones who, after getting into increasing trouble at home in the USA, had relocated with his flock to this remote spot in Guyana, South America. In 1978 US congressman Leo Ryan visited the place at the request of concerned relatives and during his time at Jonestown the situation suddenly escalated, and Ryan and some of his entourage were shot dead. At the settlement Jones then ordered his commune to commit “revolutionary suicide”. This had already been rehearsed, and when it came to the real thing, many did indeed voluntarily take the prepared cyanide-laced concoction based on a powdered soft-drink preparation (not “Kool-Aid”, as popular belief has it, but a similar brand actually called “Flavor-Aid”). However, many others were forcibly injected with the poison, yet others were shot by Jonestown’s armed guards. In the end over 900 were dead, only a handful survived.
   
The site today is totally overgrown and hardly anything original can still be found in the dense jungle. I knew this before I actually went there in the summer as part of my Three-Guyanas trip. I already posted today’s photo while still there, so some of you will recall this image (which shows rusty remains of some truck or other vehicle). It was a tough, expedition-like part of that trip, but the place authenticity to be felt at this remote and eerie site made up for the effort and costs of making it there. This is extreme dark tourism, of course, far from anything resembling ‘leisure’. A proper pilgrimage.
   
Most Guyanese, by the way, resent the fact that their country is mostly (if not even solely) associated with the Jonestown tragedy in the outside world. I’ve actually heard the plea “oh, don’t mention Jonestown” said at the lodge in the Rupununi where I stayed later on that trip. And at the office of the agents who had helped me organize my visit, a guy who lived near Jonestown at the time said quite clearly that he would never go there again. Some Guyanese even regard the place as “haunted”. In reality it’s just a forlorn place, physically almost vanished and forgotten, but the legacy still lingers. It cannot be helped, no matter how much Guyana tries to promote itself in other ways. For many people Jonestown will remain the only thing they know about Guyana (even if they’d struggle to place the country on a map; many even think Guyana is in Africa).
  
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Sunday 17 November 2019 #2
  
For me as a German this notion of “Learning from the Germans” resonates with me, of course, as I am very familiar with Germany’s particular “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” (roughly ‘coming to terms with the past’), from which I’ve also personally benefited greatly.
  
There are interesting angles here and comparisons with other dark chapters in history, and differences in dealing with them. Indeed, recourse to past “greatness” is something you don’t find a lot in Germany (except in extreme right-wing circles, of course), whereas it is pretty mainstream and routine in the UK and the US (and not just in the Trump quarters!). The difference between East and West Germany is also interesting. A small caveat, though: while it may be true that the GDR was faster in dealing with the Nazi past, the monuments and memorials it built were quite biased, though, celebrating the communist struggle against Nazism but neglecting large proportions of other victim groups, not least Jews, but also homosexuals or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Basically the GDR was following the Soviet model of one-sidedness here. True, though, that in the West a proper dealing with the Nazi past only began in the 1960s and only really got going the way it is now much later still. In fact, in my observation it was only after reunification that all those concentration camp memorials and other Nazi-related sites received public funding on a scale that allowed them to be so state of the art today; many were only upgraded in that way in the naughties (Bergen-Belsen, Flossenbürg, etc.) or even more recently (Ravensbrück, say).
  
I can’t say much about America’s dealing with its dark past e.g. with regard to slavery … I still have to travel to the deep south to inspect this angle (I know there are several important places to visit there – not least the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Legacy Museum in Alabama that opened last year); but as for the UK, the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool is a good counterbalance to all that nostalgia for the Empire. At the same time it makes clear that the issue of slavery isn’t all in the past but still relevant (in the form of contemporary human trafficking, for instance).
  
I presume that choosing “Learning from the Germans” as a book title had an element of provocation, aimed at the Anglo-American market where it would raise eyebrows, be received as (initially) shocking even, so an attention-grabbing tactic. But for those familiar with Germany’s “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” it makes perfect sense. Indeed most of the world could learn a lot from Germany in this area.
  
  
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Sunday 17 November 2019
  
For those who may not have seen it in the comments to Friday’s quiz post: the correct answer (four got it right) was: St Petersburg Mosque, Russia. This would indeed not have looked out of place in Iran or any of the Stans, as several comments suggested, and it did come as a little surprise to me too in the summer of 2017 when I walked past this beautiful piece of Islamic architecture on a rainy grey day in Petersburg, after having visited the Museum of Political History next door, en route to the Kirov house museum.
  
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Friday 15 November 2019
  
  15 11 2019   this could be Samarkand
  
Friday quiz question time …
  
Where’s this? (Just a little clue: it is not Samarkand, which may have been most people’s first guess.)
  
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Thursday 14 November 2019
  
  14 11 2019   on the edge of the September 2013 new lava, Krakatoa, Indonesia
  
Photo of the Day: lava flow, Krakatoa, Indonesia
   
This is kind of a follow-up to yesterday’s post, in which Krakatoa was mentioned. This photo was taken the next day, on our boat trip to the volcano.
  
In the foreground is what was then the most recent lava flow from the eruption of September 2013, so less than a year before this photo was taken.
  
The current volcano is called “Anak Krakatau”, meaning literally ‘child of Krakatoa’. It emerged in 1927 from renewed undersea eruptions at the point where the original Krakatoa had been. This predecessor (or you might say “parent of Krakatoa”) was blown apart in the cataclysmic eruption of 1883, probably the most legendary volcanic event of all time and killed in the region of 35,000 people. The neighbouring island you see in the background is actually a remnant of the old volcano’s caldera.
  
Anak Krakatau may not (yet) have grown to the size of its parent volcano, but it’s still a dangerously unruly “child”. This was proved less than eleven months ago, when a partial collapse of its flank (an undersea landslide) caused a tsunami in the Sunda Strait that struck coastal areas of Java and Sumatra causing hundreds of deaths and many thousands of injuries and destroyed over 2,500 houses.
   
Obviously enough Anak Krakatau cannot be visited at all times, often it is too risky to even get near. But at the time of my visit, little Krakatoa was on its relatively best behaviour, emitting nothing worse than some sulphurous gasses from the crater, which is why we couldn’t get quite as far as the very summit. But it was still quite an experience clambering around on one of the world’s most legendary volcanoes …
  
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Wednesday 13 November 2019
  
  13 11 2019   toxic tank, northern Java, Indonesia
  
Photo of the Day: toxic tank, Indonesia
  
We haven’t had anything from the southern hemisphere on this page in quite a long while, so I decided to pick this photo from my Indonesia, East Timor & Singapore trip five years ago.
  
There’s no big dark history story attached to this … more like something from “everyday life” as it were – you could spot something like this in many places in the world. This I saw en route to Krakatoa, from the car, as we were stuck in a traffic jam in north-western Java. It’s part of an industrial plant by the roadside.
  
I can’t say for certain what it is that is produced at this plant, maybe it’s a refinery, as sulphuric acid is a chemical used in oil refining. Anyway, it’s a highly dangerous chemical, as all those warning signs clearly indicate.
  
And I think that can count as dark enough …
  
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Tuesday 12 November 2019
  
  12 11 2019   Andropov plaque on the Lubyanka
  
On this Day, 37 years ago, on 12 November 1982, Yuri Andropov succeeded the late Leonid Brezhnev as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and thus as de facto leader of the USSR. From 1967 to May 1982 he had been the Chairman of the Committee for State Security (aka KGB). In the course of his party career he had been a key figure in the crushing of the Hungarian revolution in 1956, the ending of the Prague Spring in 1968, but also in the USSR’s decisions not to intervene militarily in Poland in 1981.
  
His reign as leader of the Soviet Union was short, though. After only 15 months in office he died of kidney failure in February 1984. He was succeeded by his ageing deputy Konstantin Chernenko, whose reign turned out to be even shorter. He died after being in office for just over one year. His successor was Mikhail Gorbachev, who had been promoted through Andropov’s initiative to recruit a younger generation into the politburo. Gorbachev initiated momentous reforms, but also turned out to be the final leader of the USSR until its dissolution in 1991.
  
So, Andropov’s role in the history of the USSR cannot be overstated, even though he was largely an enigma in the West at the time …
  
Today’s photo shows the Andropov plaque on the wall of the Lubyanka building, the former HQ of the KGB in Moscow (and now home of the Russian successor organization FSB).
  
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Monday 11 November 2019
    
  11 11 2019   WW1 armistice
  
On this Day, 101 years ago, on 11 November 1918, Germany and the Allies signed an armistice that ended hostilities in World War One, marking the defeat of the former and a victory for the latter (the war with Russia had already ended the year before in the wake of the Bolshevik October Revolution). Today’s photo is obviously not my own but was taken by an unknown photographer at the time (and is in the public domain).
  
Even though the armistice ended the fighting, it took more than another year before the peace Treaty of Versailles, signed in June 1919, came into force in January 1920.
  
The penalties, losses of territory and reparations Germany had to bear are often cited as one of the reasons for the rise of Nazism shortly after (which propagated the “Dolchstoßlegende”, ‘stab-in-the-back myth’, by which Germany did not lose the war militarily but was “betrayed” by corrupt “republicans”). This brought Hitler into power only 15 years after the end of WW1 … and we all know where that led.
  
So it is a bit of an ambivalent date. It also is because it’s the official date of the start of the German Carnival season (at 11:11 a.m., to be precise) … which Rhinelanders find wonderful, but northern Germans like myself find near impossible to comprehend and prefer to give it the widest berth possible …
  
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Sunday 10 November 2019
  
And another Berlin-Wall-related post. From today, this new special place related to the Wall will open to the public. So here’s yet another reason for yet another return trip to Berlin at some point! (The city never ceases to become even more like the world’s capital of dark tourism!) Not that I would mind … it’s probably my favourite city in the whole world.
  
  
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later on Saturday:
   
Today is the 30th anniversary of the “Fall of the Berlin Wall” (of course it didn’t really “fall”, it was just that the border was opened; and the wall never “fell” afterwards either, but was dismantled/demolished, well 99.99% of it). To mark this day I give you this article about a few surviving pieces, one of which was “tarnished” by a swastika, which meant it couldn’t be sold:
   
  
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Saturday 9 November 2019
   
Here’s the answer to yesterday’s quiz question. This is a reconstruction of the Tambov “Camp No. 188” outside the Alsace-Moselle Memorial in France. I concede me mentioning writing about Russia was a bit of a red herring. So I owe you an explanation now.
  
The connection with France is this: at the original camp in Tambov, Russia, several thousand so-called “Malgré-nous” POWs were incarcerated after World War Two, some until the mid-1950s.
   
The Malgré-nous were men from the Alsace region, who were forcibly conscripted into the German military (“malgré-nous” means ‘against our will’) and had to fight alongside the Germans. Of course, Alsace had been passing back and forth between France and Germany several times, and some people in the region may have happily identified as Germans, but most of these men did not, so it was an extra tragedy that they were treated like German POWs by the Soviets after the war, rather than as the victims they were. But then again Stalin also did this to lots of his own soldiers who’d had the misfortune of being captured by the Germans in the war, and thus in Stalin’s eyes were practically collaborators (because they had the cheek not to die in battle instead, presumably).
  
This Gulag reconstruction was originally part of a special temporary exhibition at the Alsace-Moselle Memorial (whose permanent indoor exhibition covers the whole dark history of the region’s entanglement in the war) and they decided to keep the elaborate reconstructions of the semi-Earth-buried inmates’ quarters …
  
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Friday 8 November 2019
  
  08 11 2019   Tambov gulag reconstruction ... at the Memorial de L'Alsace Moselle
  
And again it’s Friday, so time for another quiz question post …
  
My book writing (just started on Russia) inspired me to pick this. The photo shows a Gulag reconstruction … but where exactly is it?
   
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Thursday 7 November 2019
  
  07 11 2019   St Petersburg Winter Palace
  
On this Day, 102 years ago, on 7 November 1917, the Russian “October Revolution” began … hang on, why “October Revolution” when it started in November? Answer: while it’s 7 November according to the Gregorian calendar it was 25 October according to the Julian calendar in use by the Russians at the time (and for religious holidays it is still used by the Russian Orthodox Church, hence the dates for Russian Christmas, Easter, etc. are still different from the Western dates).
   
The Bolshevik-led Revolution started in the then Russian capital, called Petrograd at the time, the former St. Petersburg (the name the city readopted at the end of the Soviet era), and soon to be renamed Leningrad (in 1924), in honour of the mastermind of the revolution, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, alias Lenin.
  
Today’s photo shows the Winter Palace, now home to the world-famous Hermitage Museum, but originally the city’s home of the Tsars, and in 1917 seat of the provisional government. The “Storming of the Winter Palace” as the first operation of the revolution had always been depicted in Soviet historiography, propaganda and films, as much more dramatic than it actually was. There wasn’t much of a fight. The revolutionaries basically just walked in through the back door and the government didn’t put up much resistance. Only a few shots were fired and just two people were killed. But of course that was just the beginning. The October Revolution (aka “Red October”) continued and was to have a monumental impact on the subsequent history of the 20th century.
  
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Wednesday 6 November 2019
  
  06 11 2019   Hanford B and C reactor in the wildfire smoke haze
  
  06 11 2019   Hanford historical marker
  
On this Day, 75 years ago, on 6 November 1944, plutonium was first produced at the Hanford Site in Washington State, USA. Subsequently plutonium from Hanford was used first in the Trinity test on 16 July 1945, and then in the Nagasaki bomb “Fat Man” on 9 August (the Hiroshima bomb, “Little Man”, was a uranium bomb).
   
After the war Hanford continued to provide the bulk of all the plutonium for the US nuclear arsenal accumulated in the course of the Cold War. The site closed down after the Cold War and is still undergoing decommissioning. It is the most contaminated place in the United States.
  
The B Reactor, where the first plutonium was produced, has been preserved as a National Historic Landmark. These days you can even go on guided tours to visit B Reactor.
  
Today’s photos were taken in August 2015 from a viewpoint across the Columbia River, from where B and C Reactor could just about be made out. Visibility was very poor at the time due to massive wildfires further north that filled the air with a yellowish haze. I kept the car windows shut while driving through the area, but I had to get out at this spot to try and take some photos, despite the impaired visibility. So I apologize for the hazy image of the reactors, but to compensate I give you a second photo, namely of the historical marker and information panel by the viewpoint, which gives you additional background details.
  
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Tuesday 5 November 2019
  
  05 11 2019   Vatican rail station with shrapnel scars
  
On this Day, 76 years ago, on 5 November 1943, the Vatican, which had declared its neutrality in World War Two, was bombed. There were no casualties, but some structural damage was caused.
  
By whom remains a bit of a mystery. It could have been a Fascist Italian plane that intentionally tried to knock out the Vatican’s radio station (the bombs fell near it), but it could also have been an Allied (RAF or USAF) plane that bombed the Holy See, by accident. At the time Rome was occupied by Nazi Germany and the Allies were flying bombing raids over the city.
  
Today’s photo shows shrapnel scars on a part of the Vatican train station that are said to be from the bombing.
   
The photo is not mine (I didn’t know about this incident when I visited the Vatican five years ago and hence didn’t look for this site), but was taken from Wikimedia. It’s in the public domain.
  
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Monday 4 November 2019
  
   04 11 2019   T 54 at the House of Terror
  
On this Day, 63 years ago, on 4 November 1956, Soviet forces invaded Budapest, the capital of Hungary, as well as other places in the country, in order to crush the uprising, or 1956 Hungarian revolution, that had started on 23 October and threatened Soviet control over this Warsaw Pact country. The revolutionaries even intended to withdraw from the military alliance and (communist God forbid!) reintroduce free elections. The USSR wasn’t having any of that and resorted to violence to end the Uprising, which it did in just six days. Many thousands were wounded and up to 3000 Hungarians killed, but also over 700 Soviet soldiers.
  
By the end of the year a new Soviet-installed government was in place that would no longer disobey Moscow and all opposition was suppressed. It was the second such crushing of uprisings in an Eastern Bloc country, preceded by the uprisings in the GDR in 1953 and followed by the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968.
  
Today’s photo shows a T-54 tank, a type used by the Soviets in the crushing of the uprising, which is a central exhibit in the so-called ‘House of Terror’ museum in Budapest.
  
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Friday, 1 November 2019 – quiz - Romani Nart prison, Bangkok, Thailand
  
  01 11 2019   cells wing, Rommani Nart prison museum
  
Friday, dark quiz time again …
  
Here’s a photo of a prison – where is it and what’s it called?
  
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Thursday, 31 October 2019
  
  31 10 2019   global population
  
Today is Halloween! And also the Day that Brexit was supposed to happen (but isn’t). But instead of dwelling on those obvious dark choices here’s a reminder of something altogether more sinister about today’s date that easily slips under the radar:
  
On this Day, 8 years ago, on 31 October 2011, the Earth’s global population reached 7 billion. The UN even designated it “Day of the Seven Billion”. I remember that time especially vividly, because it meant that the world population had doubled within my own lifetime! And that’s no cause for celebration. The Earth’s population probably went beyond levels that can be regarded as sustainable on this finite planet sometime in the 1970s, according to some climate scientists. Yet we are close to getting to 8 billion within the next few years, and all the time the per capita carbon footprint is going up too. When climate change is talked about it’s usually all about fossil fuels, melting glaciers, methane emissions, carbon capture and all that, but hardly ever is the core root problem that’s behind it all mentioned. It seems to be the ultimate taboo. There are even feature-length films that try to argue that it’s not the size of the world’s population that’s the problem and there is space for everyone (as if that was ever contested) and we only need fairer distribution of food and there’d be no hunger. All of this misses the point completely. We could perhaps feed 8 billion people now in a concerted effort, but not for ever, not in a manner that is physically, agriculturally, environmentally sustainable long-term. There just ARE limits to resources ... including fertilizers by the way (we’ve already reached ‘peak phosphate’, so forget about ‘peak oil’), and no amount of idealistically fair distribution can compensate for that.
  
And it’s not like we are going in that direction anyway – on the contrary, the world is getting more and more unfair. Wealth distribution is at a record level of inequality. Still emissions keep going up, there are more not less SUVs on the roads, cattle farming (the No. 1 contributor to climate change) is rising dramatically (that’s why the Amazon is burning), and all we have that’s positive is a slowly, slowly change of awareness, now largely brought about by rightly angry teenagers while the oldies try to laugh them off the street and just want to return to business as usual, i.e. precisely the business as usual that is causing the whole crisis. At the same time, climate change denial is funded on a massive scale (guess by whom) and finds support at the very top level of politics even … But I’ll leave it at this. It’s getting too political. This page should be about dark tourism. Yet isn’t dark tourism ultimately also a form of escapism? Into the dark, yes, but still?
   
Today’s photo was taken shortly after that Day of the Seven Billion, namely in Vienna’s Karlsplatz metro station, which has an art installation with numbers on display that keep going up – this one is for global population, but there are also ones for spending on arms, number of people suffering hunger, and also nonsense like ‘number of people in love in Vienna’ (how could they measure that?!?), or ‘people who hate their job’ and such like.
  
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Wednesday 30 October 2019
  
  30 10 2019   Dresdner Frauenkirche today
  
  30 10 2019   Dresdner Frauenkirche c 1965   df ps 0000348
  
On this Day, 14 years ago, on 30 October 2005, the rebuilt Frauenkirche (‘Church of Our Lady’) in Dresden was reconsecrated and reopened with a special service. For most it was a joyous celebration. And today the church is one of the top tourist attractions in the city that’s been called the ‘Florence on the Elbe’ (after the river Dresden is on, and in reference to its rich baroque architecture). However, there is something dark about it. Most obviously it’s to do with the fact that the original church was destroyed in the bombing of Dresden by the Allies in February 1945, one of the worst aerial bombing campaigns targeting civilians in history. After the war the ruins, basically just two bits were still standing upright, the rest was a heap of rubble around them. Left in this state, the ruin became a memorial monument of the war. Only after German reunification did suggestions appear to possibly rebuild the church. And this did happen, beginning in 1996. The original stones and the two ruin parts were integrated into the structure, but the rest is all new.
  
And therein also lies the point that’s been criticized about the project. It’s been called ‘historicized’ – as opposed to genuinely historical. To put it more bluntly: it’s fake. And it does indeed feel very fake, in particular inside. The OTT rococo interior feels decidedly ‘Disneyesque’ (“bubblegum colours” is the attribute I used after I’d visited the place).
  
Moreover, as historians have also criticized, through the reconstruction Dresden lost its key memorial to the war and the bombing of February 1945. Indeed, there are hardly any reminders of that tragedy left in contemporary Dresden now (except for a section in the City Museum). So from a dark perspective it’s a massive loss. I’d even go as far as saying it is also a loss aesthetically. Judge for yourself. I give you a photo I took of the new church and a historical one, a ‘before and after’ comparison in reverse, as it were.
  
The historical photo is obviously not my own, but was take by Richard Peter in circa 1965 and is now copyrighted by the Deutsche Fotothek, but licensed under Creative Commons. This is the required attribution:
  
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Tuesday 29 October 2019
  
   29 10 2019   Kaunas massacre monument
  
On this Day, 78 years ago, on 29 October 1941, the SS conducted a mass murder of over 9000 Jews, almost half of them children, at the Ninth Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania. The victims had been selected the day before from the Kaunas ghetto. It was the largest Nazi massacre of Lithuanian Jews, in a single day. In total, up to 50,000 Jews were murdered at the Ninth Fort until 1944 when the Nazis had to retreat as the Soviet Red Army closed in.
  
Today, the fort as such has been turned into a museum and there’s a huge concrete monument from Soviet times towering over the site. It was designed by Lithuanian sculptor A. Ambraziunas and unveiled in 1984.
  
Even though the monument officially commemorates victims of Nazi crimes, I find this gigantic 33m-high (105 feet) concrete “monster” absolutely fantastic in its “explosive” design and soaring size (it does matter!). I’d go as far as saying it’s amongst my top favourite monuments worldwide. Does anybody agree? … or object?
  
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Monday 28 October 2019
  
  28 10 2019   Belzec
  
Photo of the Day: the death camp memorial at Belzec, Poland.
   
At the end of last week I had a particular tough phase in the writing of my book, namely because I had to cover Poland, i.e. including places like Auschwitz. Majdanek, Wolfsschanze, Warsaw … and of course the three ‘Operation Reinhard’ death camps, Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec. It was emotionally the hardest phase. To give you an idea of the kind of subject matter I had to write up (as concisely as possible – not easy given the magnitude), consider this:
   
These former death-camp sites are possibly the very darkest places on Earth. These three purpose-built industrial killing centres were designed to implement the ‘Final Solution’, as discussed at the Wannsee Conference early in 1942. Between March that year and October 1943, about one and a half million Jews (as well as few thousand Roma and Sinti) were gassed at these three camps, a third of them here in Belzec. The camps were relatively small, as there was no need for long rows of barracks for inmates. New arrivals came by cattle train and were “processed” within a few hours. They were forced to undress and, under the pretext of having to take a shower, were herded straight into the gas chambers, which used carbon monoxide from combustion engines as the killing agent. The gassings took a torturous 20–25 minutes for each “batch”. Only a small number of SS staff oversaw all this, assisted by a few hundred “Trawniki” guards (mostly Ukrainians). Sonderkommandos of camp inmates had the gruesome task of emptying and cleaning the gas chambers and burying the corpses. Few survived this hell. At Sobibor and Treblinka there was on two occasions a revolt, in which about a total of 100 managed to escape. At Belzec there were no such incidents and the ‘efficiency’ of the killing factory was almost 100% (there were only two known survivors, that’s 0.0004%!).
   
After the war, the Belzec site was almost forgotten, only when Westerners were able to visit the site after the end of the Cold War were plans for a better commemoration devised (with some US money coming in in support). At Belzec, these efforts have to be regarded as a great success. Not only is there a modern museum covering the site’s history (at Sobibor one is currently under construction, Treblinka remains underdeveloped for now), the design of the site is extremely impressive, and emotionally challenging. The perimeter of the site has the names of all the hundreds of places where the victims had come from set into concrete in metal letters. The area inside is covered with blocks of cinder. Right through the middle of the cinder-covered slope a pathway cuts straight through, so that when you walk it the walls left and right get higher and higher and more oppressive as you move forward. It’s a psychologically clever emulation of the “Schlauch” pathway the victims had to go towards the gas chambers. It’s really quite chilling.
  
I’m glad I’m now past those chapters for my book, though the remainder will also have plenty of dark stuff (I still have the rest of Eastern Europe to do, including Ukraine and Russia), but it won’t be quite on this scale ...
  
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Saturday 26 October 2019
  
  26 10 2019   Austrian Nationalfeiertag 1
  
On this Day it’s “Nationalfeiertag”, or ‘National (Celebration) Day’, here in Austria. The date commemorates the coming into force of the nation’s neutrality in 1955, which was laid down in the “Staatsvertrag” (‘State Treaty’), signed already in May 1955 and in force from July 1955, by means of which the country was released into sovereign independence again after over 10 years of Allied occupation and division into Zones (just like Germany had been from 1945-49 – and in the case of Berlin until 1990). 25 October was the deadline set in the Treaty for all foreign troops to have left the country, hence the 26th was regarded as the “Tag der Freiheit” (‘Freedom Day’). One condition for the end of the occupation was this military neutrality, which is why Austria joined neither NATO nor the Warsaw Pact. Politically and culturally, however, the country aligned more with the West. Hence it had a long stretch of the Iron Curtain running along its borders from north-east to the south-east.
  
Despite all that declared military neutrality, these days the Nationalfeiertag involves the Austrian military holding so-called “Leistungsschauen” (hey, translators amongst my followers: try to translate THAT word into English!!!), i.e. the public display of all manner of military hardware, from helicopters to fighter planes and from tanks to machine guns. It’s basically a big military fun fair for boys of all ages – and especially the young, who even get instruction from soldiers in things like how to hold a machine gun properly, as seen in today’s photo
  
(For privacy/anonymity I pixilated the faces of the people in this shot.)
  
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Friday: quiz answer:
  
Since both cats have been more or less out of the bag already, as it were, here’s the full answer in one block (well, two):
  
The ‘ARBEIT MACHT FREI’ legend in the black-and-white photo is indeed at the Theresienstadt concentration camp memorial site in the Czech Republic, the Czech name is indeed ‘Terezin’. The big exception is indeed to be found at the former Buchenwald concentration camp, where it was instead ‘JEDEM DAS SEINE’ (as seen in the extra photos below), meaning roughly ‘to each his own’, based on the ancient Roman legal phrase in Latin ‘suum cuique’; but in this context it is of course more to imply ‘you deserve your punishment’. Interestingly, too, the slogan is facing inwards, i.e. to be legible from the roll call square by the inmates, but not from the outside, as was the case with the ‘Arbeit macht frei’ signs at other camps. So it’s doubly an exception.
  
  25 10 2019   Buchenwald sign 1
  
  
  25 10 2019   Buchenwald sign 2
  
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Friday 25 October 2019
  
  25 10 2019   infamous slogan, here at Theresienstadt
  
Friday quiz question time again. This time it’s a two-part task:
  
1) the infamously cynical slogan “Arbeit macht frei” (‘work sets you free’) was used by the Nazis not only in Auschwitz (though that’s the best-known case) but at many other concentration camps too. Where is the one seen in today’s photo to be found?
  
Additional questions:
  
2) there’s one notable exception of a camp where a different slogan, no less cynical, was used instead. What does it say? And at which camp was it used?
 
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Thursday 24 October 2019
  
On this Day, 59 years ago, on 24 October 1960, the single deadliest disaster to hit the Soviet Space/missile programme occurred at launch site 41 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome (in what today is Kazakhstan), when an ICBM prototype R-16 rocket exploded. Around 100 people were killed in the inferno, including then commanding officer of the USSR’s Strategic Rocket Forces, Mitrofan Ivanovich Nedelin. That’s why the incident is also often referred to as the Nedelin catastrophe.
  
The accident happened when the engine of the second stage of the missile suddenly ignited causing the bigger first stage underneath it to go up in flames so catastrophically. It was the highest death toll of any such disaster, yet it was long hushed up by the Soviet Union (as they did so often with things that went wrong); it was only officially acknowledged during the Perestroika era at the end of the 1980s.
  
At the site and in Baikonur town a series of memorials commemorate the 1960 disaster, and memorial ceremonies are held on the day of the anniversary …
  
In this video you can see the main explosion from 0:40 and shortly after some of the launch pad staff are captured running from the fires while being on fire themselves. So be forewarned. Graphic footage!
  
  
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Wednesday, 23 October 2019
 
  23 10 2019   Teufelsberg, Berlin
  
Photo of the Day: former Allied ‘Field Station’ atop Teufelsberg in Berlin.
  
I picked this because during my recent research for my book, I found out that tours of the site currently no longer include going to the top of the main tower and into those fabulous radomes … and that’s a real shame because they not only look cool from the inside, the acoustics inside the top one have to be experienced to be believed. I do remember that the staircase up to the top was pitch-black dark and I had to use my camera’s focus assist light to see where I was stepping (I didn’t take a proper torch, which I probably should have done, but forgot).
  
Apparently the guys running the tours of the site were ordered by the authorities to suspend the ascent to the top for health and safety reasons. I presume that installing some lights in the staircase will be one of the requirements before they can reopen it to the public. I hope they will. It really is an incredible site.
  
In case you don’t know: the ‘Field Station’ was basically a listening/spying centre built on top of one of Berlin’s artificial hills made from WWII-bombing rubble. The location was superb for the US and the British to listen into Soviet communications during the Cold War era, since West Berlin, where Teufelsberg is located, was at that time like a Western island within the Eastern Bloc. After the end of the Cold War and Germany’s, and Berlin’s, reunification the site was abandoned. For a while it became a wild destination for urban explorers and people even held rave parties here. In more recent years matters became more regulated, with a fence around the site and fee-paying visitors being led around on guided tours. At the moment, given that these tours do not include the main attraction there is here (those radomes!) it’s questionable whether it’s still worth going, and many recent reviews on TripAdvisor suggest that maybe it isn’t. But as soon as tours resume going up the tower this will again be an absolute must-see in Berlin.
  
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Tuesday 22 October 2019
  
  22 10 2019   WWII air raid shelter, Museum of London Docklands
  
Photo of the Day: a reconstructed WWII-era air-raid shelter, which is part of the Museum of London Docklands.
  
I was mostly offline for the past weekend when I was in the UK for a flying visit – nothing to do with DT this time, so I had to dig into my archives to find something from the UK that I could post here, and I found this one from a visit almost eight years ago in December 2011, when I was in London primarily to see a concert at the O2 Arena, the former ‘Millennium Dome’, but the next day I also found some time to do a bit of exploring, especially finally going to see the Museum of London Docklands. I have a long association with the London Docklands; it was my first destination of what you’d call ‘urban exploration’ these days, as an independent traveller, when I was in my late teens and early 20s (so quite a long time ago). Back then there was still part of the old derelict harbour area there and some of it you could explore. Now it’s basically all gone or ‘redeveloped’. But I had been following the long, slow and at times painful path towards creating this museum about London’s significant industrial heritage as a port city. So finally I got to see the finished product on the Isle of Dogs. The display of this bunker was an added bonus that I hadn’t expected, but it touches on a particular dark aspect of the Docklands, namely that they were the prime target during the ‘Blitz’, the systematic aerial bombing by Nazi Germany during WWII.
  
The gig at the O2 Arena, by the way, was by the Manic Street Preachers for a massive 40-track epic concert, at a time when they announced they’d take a hiatus from performing on stage, possibly never to go touring again … and that’s why we invested the rather serious money for that weekend in London (the concert tickets were the least expensive part). Yet only four months later they were on tour again (maybe they’d licked blood again at that gig in London?) and we were able to see them in a small venue here at home in Vienna. Never mind, we wouldn’t have wanted to have missed that unique set at the O2 …
   
I was in the UK this past weekend also mainly to see a gig, this time namely for my old favourite Gary Numan on his 40th anniversary tour. You wouldn’t believe he’s 61 now, agile and fit as a fiddle, certainly looking younger than large parts of his veteran fans in the audience … The music was also only partly a nostalgic look back . More than half of the set list was filled with newer material of his current, cutting-edge, distinctive heavy ‘industrial’ style. Numan not only visually refuses to age but stays current and relevant in musical terms too ...
  
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Monday 21 October 2019
  
  21 10 2019   Aberfan
  
On this Day, 53 years ago, on 21 October 1966, one of the most tragic accidents in British history happened, when a coal mining spoil heap collapsed after prolonged heavy rain and caused a landslide that engulfed parts of the small Welsh village of Aberfan near Merthyr Tydfil, in particular the local junior school where, at 9:15, classes had just begun. The wall of black sludge buried the building and 109 schoolchildren and five teachers perished in it. 30 more died in surrounding buildings.
  
But it wasn’t just a ‘natural’ disaster, it was essentially man-made, given the spoil heaps were artificial mountains and especially since this one was placed on unsuitable ground and too close to the village. Hence the blame was in the end put squarely on the National Coal Board. Yet nobody was ever prosecuted or fined. There was some ‘compensation’ paid, but the trauma lingers on in the community, it had after all basically lost an entire generation. Nothing can compensate for that.
  
Today there is a memorial garden at the site of the school whose patterns and flower beds follows the ‘footprint’ of the building. And at the local cemetery, a special section contains the graves of the children, all in uniform design, as seen in today’s photo.
  
Note that Aberfan is completely untouristic, there are no tourist facilities, no visitor centre, no accommodation, no souvenir stalls, no guides, no nothing. It is quite clear that Aberfan does not want to be a tourist destination. This makes it difficult from a dark-tourism perspective. Those who do want to make the pilgrimage to the place should therefore be discreet and on their best respectful behaviour. Of course you can argue that if there is a commemorative memorial in the village then that has to be there in order to be seen, as that’s the whole point of a memorial. But then again it could also be argued that the memorial is intended only for the locals. As I said, it’s difficult.
  
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Friday 18 October 2019
  
quiz question revelation:
   
Since the cat was already (mostly) out of the bag, here is the answer to the quiz question earlier. The nature of this gem stone was correctly guessed in a comment but you may not have seen this, so here’s the full revelation, also as to where this was:
  
This shiny stone is a dead body! Yes indeed. Well, part of it, and it’s the result of what’s in German called “Diamantbestattung”, ‘diamond funeral’, by which parts of the ashes of a cremated body, when in the state of amorphous carbon, are compressed under great pressure in a special machine to form an artificial diamond. I found this particular example on display at the old “Bestattungsmuseum”, ‘funeral museum’, here in Vienna, Austria, several years ago.
  
So, would you want to wear such a piece of jewellery?
  
Long-time followers of this page could have had a clue, by the way, because I posted a photo of a different such diamond (on display at the Sepulchral Museum in Kassel, Germany) ca. 16 months ago … (link in a comment below). As that one was white and this one is blue I reckon there must be some option of tweaking the colour … This one looks more like Tanzanite rather than like a pure regular diamond
  
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Friday 18 October 2019
  
   18 10 2019   Diamantbestattung, Bestattungsmuseum Wien
  
Friday quiz question time again!
  
A pretty piece of jewellery … what’s dark about it? And where is it to be seen?
  
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Thursday 17 October 2019
  
  17 10 2019   last preserved remnant of the former prison within the grounds of Neuengamme
  
I could have made this tomorrow’s quiz question, but for most it would have been difficult, except for one follower on here who I’m pretty sure would have immediately identified it … as this is another photo taken at Neuengamme, near Hamburg.
   
That name is mostly associated with the large Nazi concentration camp at this site that operated from 1938 to 1945. But what you see in this photo was not part of the camp. It’s a relic from a modern prison that used to stand on the former concentration camp premises right between its two main parts. At the time this prison was set up the history of the old camp was more or less hushed up, and it took decades of campaigning by survivor organizations before the prison was finally closed and eventually demolished, making possible the comprehensive memorialization found at Neuengamme these days.
  
As a kind of memorial inside the memorial, they left just this one small part of the prison’s wall, topped with barbed wire and one corner watchtower-like post. Along the inside wall a set of panels provides some background about this rather shameful more recent history of the place.
  
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Wednesday 16 October 2019
  
  16 10 2019   the Balibo Five are killed
  
On this Day, 44 years ago, on 16 October 1975, the ‘Balibo Five’ were killed by the Indonesian military during their invasion of East Timor.
  
The ‘Balibo Five’ were a group of journalists working for an Australian network who wanted to cover the military operation. To make sure they’d be safe as journalists as they went about their work, they painted a crude rendition of the Australian flag on to the wall of the house they used as their base in the village of Balibo in the western part of the country, not far from the border with the Indonesian half of the island of Timor.
  
But the Indonesians were having none of it and made sure that no independent coverage of their aggression would reach the outside world, so they massacred the five journalists.
  
Australia shamefully supported Indonesia and participated in the cover-up of the ‘Balibo Five’ incident. That only changed when Australia changed its tune with regard to Indonesia’s occupation and repression of East Timor, and – to its credit – played a major role in the UN efforts to safeguard Timor Leste’s transition to independence.
  
The ‘Balibo Five’ incident was also made into a movie, 2009’s “Balibo” directed by Robert Connolly, based on the book “Cover-up” by journalist Jill Jolliffe.
  
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Tuesday 15 October 2019
  
  15 10 2019   Beelitz 4
  
Photo of the Day: abandoned Beelitz Heilstätten near Berlin.
  
Inspired by the fact that I just finished all the Germany chapters for my book, I picked one of the places covered, and a personal favourite. I like this picture because it contrasts planned design against the haphazard nature of decay. Everything about the building’s design is about symmetry – the two chimneys, the matching windows, the rosettes, the red v. white brick arrangements – all perfect symmetry.
  
But the shattered glass disrupts the symmetry and so do the plants that have begun to grow out of cracks. Give nature another century or two and none of the man-made symmetry will be left … Puts things kind of into perspective.
  
Maybe that’s why I’ve always been drawn towards derelict structures … (but then again, maybe it’s too much philosophizing ...)
  
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Monday 14 October 2019
 
 14 10 2019   Viti explosion crater, Iceland
    
Photo of the Day … having mentioned Viti in Iceland in the previous post, this makes for a fitting follow-up.
  
Viti (Icelandic for ‘hell’, apparently) is an explosion crater deep in the inland highlands of Iceland, within the massive Askja caldera. This volcano last erupted in the early 1960s (you can still see large black lava flows from this even), but the Viti explosion is assumed to have taken place at some point in the late 19th century and was part of a whole series of cataclysmic events that blew out several cubic kilometres of material into atmosphere. There’s a large field of pumice in the area, little pebbles of very light-weight material that looks like a sponge but is solid. It’s so light it can float on water. This pumice is said to be result of the Viti explosion.
  
Viti itself, and the warm crater lake at the bottom, geothermally heated to a pleasant 25–30 degrees Celsius, is a highlight of any tour to Askja. Many people go bathing in the greenish-bluish waters after a rough scramble down the steep crater (when I was there, getting back up was even harder, as it had started to snow while we were down there making the slopes muddy and slippery). The waters are so sulphurous that you are advised to go in naked, as any swimsuit would afterwards stink of rotting eggs for ever (I followed the advice, but I can confirm that the stink really does not wash out: I used some fabric gloves when going down Ijen crater in Indonesia a few years later and I now keep them in a sealed plastic bag as they still smell bad even after five years and three washes). Of course, we also stank of sulphur afterwards – and the towels we used to dry ourselves when we got out of the water did too. But so what – I still regard this as one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever done on my travels.
   
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Saturday 12 October 2019
  
  12 10 2019   granit turned into pumice by underground nuclear test in the Degelen mountains, Semipalatinsk Test Site, on display in Kurchatov
  
Follow-up to yesterday’s quiz question. The correct answer was revealed, but unless you closely followed all the replies to the comments you probably missed it. So here we go: This is an exhibit at the Museum of the Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kurchatov, Kazakhstan.
   
Here’s the uncropped version of the same photo, which shows the text panel with the explanation … albeit in Russian only and hence in Cyrillic script. For those who cannot read this, here’s basically what it says, plus some extra little bits of info:
  
This is a block of pumice that’s the result of an underground nuclear test (actually the USSR’s first such test, code-named RDS 117, aka ‘Joe 100’ in the West) at tunnel shaft 1 in the Degelen Mountains within the STS, aka Polygon, the former main Soviet nuclear test site.
  
Basically it’s formerly solid granite that was vaporized in the explosion’s heat and pressure and then solidified as this porous light-weight pumice-like substance, a sort of material you can also find ejected from volcanoes (e.g. there’s an area in the inland of Iceland that for several square miles is covered by small pebbles of pumice that’s the result of the explosive event that created Viti crater … but that’s another story for another post).
  
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Friday 11 October 2019
  
   11 10 2019   what is this
   
On this Day, 58 years ago, on 11 October 1961 … but hang, on … no ... today’s Friday, so instead of giving it away, I should turn this into a quiz question. So here we go:
  
What is this strange object, which is clearly marked radioactive? And where is it and what’s it got to do with this date?
  
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Thursday 10 October 2019
  
  10 10 2019   the otherworldly cauldron of Aso, Japan
  
Photo of the Day: this time nothing from the GDR or related to communism, revolution or politics of any sort, and from far away, namely Japan.
  
This is the eerie cauldron of the main crater of Aso volcano in the centre of Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost main island. The steaming greenish-bluish lake in this crater is highly acidic and you can see sulphur deposits on the rim and even floating on the water’s surface. The crater lake has repeatedly been blown out by eruptions, but then always re-forms.
   
Aso is actually quite a touristy site, and there are little stalls where they offer blocks of sulphur for sale as souvenirs. Yet when I attempted to purchase one, the stall keeper gesticulated something that I understood to mean flying in a plane, so I guess he tried to indicate that he couldn’t sell me any such sulphur blocks because it would be deemed suspicious by airport security (as sulphur is a common component in explosives, I suppose).
  
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Wednesday 09 October 2019
  
   09 10 2019   CheHigh
  
On this Day, 52 years ago, on 9 October 1967, Ernesto “Che” Guevara was executed in Bolivia a day after he’d been captured.
   
This image is the historic photo (now in the public domain) of Che Guevara that has become one of the most iconic portrait images of all time, a worldwide symbol for counter-culture and resistance, revolution even, wherever on the globe … or sometimes it just appears on T-shirts and such like without any political message, just because it is so iconic (you get that with those Soviet “CCCP” T-shirts as well).
   
Of course, in the real world, Che was mostly associated with the revolution in Cuba, and there he’s still revered as a national hero (even though he was Argentinian by birth), and it’s also in Cuba that Che’s body ended up in a mausoleum – which in turn can count as one of the nation’s top dark-tourism destinations.
  
I haven’t been to Cuba yet, but this would certainly form part of my itinerary if ever I make it there (which I would very much like to). I’ve been to Bolivia, though, albeit only to the central Altiplano region in the high Andes, not to the “Che Trail” further east on the edge of the Andes.
  
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Tuesday 08 October 2019
   
  08 10 2019   cellar cells, Lindenstraße prison Potsdam
  
… and yet another follow-up: this photo shows the basement cells of that Stasi prison at Lindenstraße in Potsdam that was mentioned yesterday. Often enough, interrogation in that room upstairs would have been followed by incarceration down here.
  
… except that these particular cells are actually recreations of what the cells looked like in an earlier incarnation of the prison, namely when it was used by the Soviet NKVD (the predecessor of the KGB), between 1945 and 1952.
  
In fact you find that same succession at a few places in the former GDR, e.g. also at the ex-Stasi prison at Bautzener Straße in Dresden or at the main remand prison of the Stasi at Hohenschönhausen, both of which had previously also been used by the Soviets but were then handed over to the new “brother state’s” fellow secret police ...
  
All of these places are these days well maintained at memorials and are all well worth visiting!
   
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Monday 7 October 2019 
  
  07 10 2019   interrogation room, Stasi prison Lindenstraße, Potsdam
  
Stasi interrogation room ...
  
… so another GDR-related post … Because: on this Day, it used to be “Tag der Republik” (‘republic day’) in the GDR, marking the founding date of the socialist state, 70 years ago, on 7 October 1949. But it just about made it to its 40th anniversary, a month later the Berlin Wall came down (well, not literally yet, but the border crossing points opened), and less than a year after the GDR ceased to exist.
  
I already mentioned the notion of “Ostalgie” (‘nostalgia for the East’) that developed in the wake of the GDR’s demise. To counter it I chose to post a picture of something that won’t be fondly remembered by most, as it was a decidedly dark side of the GDR regime … This is an interrogation room of the Stasi, the “Staatssicherheit”, the GDR’s secret security police system. You certainly wouldn’t have wanted to find yourself sitting on that chair opposite the desk with the tape recorder (for the younger readers: that’s that device on the right, used to make recordings of the interrogation … these were pre-digital days, remember …).
  
This particular interrogation room has been preserved as part of the Lindenstraße Prison memorial site in Potsdam, Brandenburg, just outside Berlin.
   
I re-watched the movie “Das Leben der anderen” (‘The Life of Others’) again yesterday … it brought the whole Stasi topic back to mind. It’s simultaneously repulsive and nonetheless fascinating, how such a comprehensive surveillance system could be kept going so long and so efficiently.
  
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Sunday 06 October 2019
    
Follow-up to the previous post. Here’s a link to an official USAF release about the Minuteman III test:
  
  
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Sunday 06 October 2019
  
Some missile sabre-rattling this past week, first North Korea launches an SLBM (submarine-launched ballistic missile), which could indeed move the goalposts in this rocket stand-off with the US – that’s because it could give the DPRK a ‘second-strike capability’, a crucial element in the rationale of deterrence (aka MAD – for ‘mutually assured destruction’, as the terminology went during the Cold War).
   
And then the USA happened to test-fire a Minuteman III ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) from Vandenberg AFB all the way to Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Apparently this had been planned long ahead and so wasn’t a direct reaction to the North Korean test, but it’s still a striking (excuse the pun!) coincidence.
  
Both missiles were unarmed, but still …
  
Now it’s difficult to say whether that development has made the situation more dangerous or rather the opposite. It’s, well, complicated …
  
  
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Saturday 05 October 2019
  
Apparently there are big plans for one of the Flak Towers in my birth city of Hamburg!
   
I used to live not that far from this tower and I even went inside a few times – namely to use a pro photo film developing service (those were the analogue days!) that rented part of the bunker’s interior (that particular business is probably no longer there, but studios, both photo and music, still use it).
  
The grey hulk of this massive bunker was thus a very familiar sight – now it seems to be set to receive a massive makeover and be turned green, literally. It’ll make the bunker look less dark, but I still find the plans quite interesting.
   
I’d even consider staying in that hotel, if I had a need for a hotel in Hamburg (I still have friends there where I can couch-surf, so wouldn’t need to pay for accommodation).
  
  
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Saturday 05 October 2019
Follow-up to yesterday’s quiz post. As had already been revealed in the comments (but not everybody may have seen that) the correct answer was: “Point Alpha”.
  
Strictly speaking that’s only the name of the spot from where the photo was taken, namely the American position on the western side of the border, in what was known as the “Fulda Gap”, a stretch of the Iron Curtain borderline that bulged deep into eastern territory and was thus assumed to be a likely first target if the Warsaw Pact ever decided to launch a ground attack on the West.
   
At Point Alpha, the US military therefore also had a watchtower – as seen in the second of today’s two photos. On the eastern side, an original GDR border watchtower still stands as does a stretch of the metal mesh fence (“Streckmetallzaun”) and some marker posts (as seen in the first of these two photos). These posts stood on the exact borderline – the fences and other fortifications were always a little deeper into eastern territory. Some other border security installations have been restored.
  
Together they form a remarkable border museum, especially because only here both sides of the border are commemorated in tandem, as it were. A true piece of Cold War legacy!
  
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Friday 4 October 2019
  
  04 10 2019   GDR border watchtower, Point Alpha museum, Germany
  
Friday again, quiz time again ... this time with a certain link to yesterday’s post.
   
This photo shows a view through the Iron Curtain, where some vestiges of it still exist … where exactly is this?
  
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Thursday 3 October 2019
   
  03 10 2019   GDR medals
  
On this Day, 29 years ago, on 3 October 1990, Germany was reunified and the GDR (aka East Germany) ceased to exist. So the medals in today’s photo, bearing the demised socialist state’s symbols, lost their original significance too and have become relics, collectibles only as vestiges from the past.
  
German reunification is of course generally viewed as a cause for celebration, but in the East this is not uniformly seen so positively. Many ex-GDR citizens did not benefit so much from what they saw as essentially a takeover by the West, and even today the east of the country is economically weaker and many feel deprived and patronized, which in turn gives rise to some political chagrin, up to right-wing extremism, while others harbour nostalgic feelings about their former country, which in the process is often remembered a little more fondly than it perhaps deserves – “Ostalgie” is the German term for the latter (a blend of “Ost”, ‘east’, and “Nostalgie”, ‘nostalgia’).
  
The “blühende Landschaften” (‘blossoming landscapes’) that then West Germany’s Chancellor Helmut Kohl promised in the run-up to reunification have certainly not materialized in many parts of the former GDR.
  
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Wednesday 2 October 2019
  
  02 10 2019   Last Post, Menin Gate, Ypres
  
Photo of the Day: Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.
  
The selection of this photo was inspired, again, by my writing of my book, for which I’m currently covering the World War One sites of Ypres and around … and there are many. It’s hard to keep things brief enough, as the page number limitations of the book dictates.
  
Anyway, the Last Post is a bugle call that has become a standard tune associated with honouring the fallen. The ceremony also often includes the laying down of wreaths and poppy-adorned little crosses. The ceremony has been held here every single day (except for a short interruption during WWII) ever since the Menin Gate was unveiled in 1927. As you can see, it’s still well attended. Yet despite the throngs, it’s a very sombre event every time.
  
The Menin Gate itself is a monument dedicated to tens of thousands of mainly British soldiers who were ‘missing’ after the war, i.e. presumed dead, but of whom no trace could still be found in the moonscape that the battlefields were at the end of the war. So they have no graves and are instead collectively remembered here.
  
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Tuesday 1 October 2019
  
  01 10 2019   former Gestapo prison, EL DE Haus, Cologne
  
Having mentioned the Gestapo yesterday, here’s a photo from a real Gestapo site. This is the cellar of the so-called EL DE House in Cologne, Germany. The name derives from the initials of the businessman who initially planned the construction of the building and who later rented it out to the Gestapo, who set up their regional HQ here. In the basement were the cells in which this infamous secret police of the Nazi regime held political prisoners in between interrogation and torture sessions. There were executions here too.
  
Ironically, the building survived the devastating Allied bombing of Cologne in WWII basically unscathed, when all around had been reduced to rubble.
  
After the war it was used for offices of the city administration. Not until the 1980s did calls for some form of memorial get louder.
  
At the end of the decade a proper “NS Dokumentationszentrum der Stadt Köln” (‘National Socialism Documentation Centre of the city of Cologne’) was opened. It has meanwhile expanded and now takes up two floors of the building above the preserved/restored basement.
  
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Monday 30 September 2019
  
  30 09 2019   Pancasila Sakti   drastic overstatement of the alleged communist coup in 1965
  
Today’s date gave the ‘30 September Movement’ its name. This was an organization within the Indonesian military that allegedly undertook an attempted coup d’etat in the early hours of 1 October 1965, kidnapping and assassinating six army generals and trying to take control of the media, etc. … but the rebellion, if it was one, was quickly crushed, and then used as a pretext for the onset of a massive purge of real or alleged ‘communists’, on whom the coup was blamed. It’s all still rather murky, and it’s been speculated repeatedly that the whole coup was staged rather than real, solely to give the emerging dictator Suharto the pretext he wanted to start the mass murder of communists. Between 500,000 and a million people were massacred in the purge. The topic had long been swept under the rug and the killers walked free, even boasting about their deeds, as famously depicted in the rather bizarre 2012 documentary/movie “The Act of Killing”.
  
The official story of the coup is still upheld at the Pancasila Sakti monument and memorial museum in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta. That name is taken from the ‘sacred five principles’ of Suharto’s party/organization (I’ll spare you the weird details). It’s a totally OTT and shamelessly propagandistic site whose narrative couldn’t be more one-sided and simplistic, something like this: “the evil communists viciously killed some of our noble generals in cold blood, the animals, but we prevailed”! Obviously the ‘communists’ are depicted as brutal thugs – as in this life-size recreation in today’s photo.
  
Fun fact on the side: the 30 September Movement, ‘Gerakan September Tiga Puluh’ in Bahasa Indonesia, is sometimes abbreviated to the acronym ‘Gestapu’ … now doesn’t that look suspiciously like ‘Gestapo’?
  
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Saturday 28 September 2019
  
I still owe you the answer to yesterday’s quiz question … since nobody got it and there had been only two attempts. So this was evidently a difficult one. It’s hard to predict what will be found easy and what hard. But anyway, the answer is: Cimiterio Monumentale in Milan, Italy. One of the greatest cemeteries anywhere and the one where I found more sculptures to cheekily re-interpret than anywhere else. Here’s a selection … (with cheeky re-interpretations in the individual photos’ descriptions, so do click through them).
  
  28 09 2019   Monumentale 1   happy heir
  happy heir
  
  
  28 09 2019   Monumentale 2   looking for enlightenment
  looking for enlightenment
  
  
  28 09 2019   Monumentale 3   bored of death 
  bored of death
 
   
  28 09 2019   Monumentale 4   not talking 
  not talking
  
  
  28 09 2019   Monumentale 5   come on granny, shuffle off
   come on granny, shuffle off
  
 
  28 09 2019   Monumentale 6   spanking a lamb
   spanking a lamb 
  
  
  28 09 2019   Monumentale 7   having a fumble
   having a fumble
   
  
   28 09 2019   Monumentale 8   afterlife threesome 
   afterlife threesome
  
  
  28 09 2019   Monumentale 9   what the heck is going on here
  what the heck is going on here?!?
  
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Friday 27 September 2019 
  
  27 09 2019   have your say after death, Monumentale, Milan
  
Friday again, quiz question time.
  
This sculpture is one of the best examples of sepulchral art that I've ever encountered. I like cheekily reinterpreting such works. Here, this figure seems to me to be claiming to have a say after death, like “hey, wait a minute, I didn't actually want to be dead! Get me out of here!”
  
But now the quiz question: where, in exactly which cemetery, can this be found?
  
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Thursday 26 September 2019
  
  26 09 2019   Oktoberfest
  
Oktoberfest time! … as usual already starting in September. But what is this doing here on DT?!? Well, on this day, 39 years ago, on 26 September 1980, this was the site of the Oktoberfest bombing. A terrorist attack in which 13 were killed and over 200 injured, many of them seriously. Today's photo was shot through the monument that had been installed at the bombing site (as late as in 2008) to commemorate the incident.
  
At the time it was the run-up to a general election in West Germany, and the then 'minister president' (head of government) of the state of Bavaria, Franz-Josef Strauß, was running for the office of Federal Chancellor, as the candidate for the conservative CDU/CSU, competing against Helmut Schmidt, of the Social Democrats, who still held the office then. In his campaign, Strauß was quick to put the blame for the Oktoberfest bombing atrocity in his home state's capital on left-wing terrorists (there had indeed been plenty of left-wing terrorism in Germany in the 1970s). When it emerged from the investigations that the perpetrator instead had connections to right-wing extremists, this was a bit of an embarrassment for Strauß. He lost the 1980 election, yet two years later it was Helmut Kohl who kicked Schmidt out of office (in a vote of no confidence in parliament), while Strauß stayed on at the helm in Bavaria until his death in 1988.
  
The Oktoberfest bombing has never fully been explained (for instance it was never properly established if the perpetrator had indeed acted alone or whether there had been accomplices who got off scot-free) and conspiracy theories about it remain in circulation; several requests to reopen the case in court have been rejected.
  
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Wednesday 25 September 2019
  
On this Day, 36 years ago, on 25/26 September 1983, came a moment when the world could have been on the brink of World War Three … I'm making my life easier again by just sharing a post rather than writing one of my own.
  
This post comes with only the basics in its main text, but you can find loads of valuable extra information and details in the comments (amongst the usual “noise” that social media comments typically come with, so you have to filter a bit).
  
  
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Tuesday 24 September 2019
  
  24 09 2019   the abandoned Taj of Bhopal
  
my posts have become too long again recently. I have to try and curb it, in order to concentrate more fully on my book.
  
So here's just an atmospheric photo, without a lengthy text.
  
The abandoned Taj Mahal palace in Bhopal, India.
  
<comment: a bit more info about this place here:
  
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Monday 23 September 2019
  
  23 09 2019   V3 replica, Mimoyecques
  
Photo of the Day: again inspired by what I'm currently writing about for my forthcoming book (which is proceeding fairly well at the moment), I've picked a parallel image/story. And I can be more wordy here than in the short paragraph the book only has for this. So here we go:
  
This is a partial reconstruction of a V-3, inside the underground tunnel system at Mimoyecques in the Pas-de-Calais region in northern France, i.e. not far from the English Channel. And that's no coincidence. The V-3 was a proposed next generation of a “Vergeltungswaffe” ('retaliation weapon') that Nazi Germany developed, and it was intended to surpass the previous V-1 and V2- missiles. Like those, the V-3 would have aimed primarily at London (hence the location), and also like them it would have been a pure terror weapon, indiscriminately targeting the civilian population of Britain's capital city.
  
Quite unlike the V-1 (a precursor of the cruise missile) or the V-2 (the world's first ballistic missile used for bombing cities), the V-3 was to be a “super gun” utilizing a system of multiple charges placed in parallel and at 45 degree angles along an extra long barrel to accelerate a projectile to a muzzle velocity of something like 1500m per second. The V-3 was supposed to be able to fire at a rate of one shot every six seconds. At Mimoyecques multiple such multi-charge super guns were to be installed.
  
However, the technology was complicated and test runs at a site on the island of Wolin (now in Poland) didn't go well, although in July 1944 one round of eight shells, each 1.8m long, was fired and one travelled almost a hundred kilometres. Yet the gun barrel burst during this test, putting an end to the operation.
  
Meanwhile at Mimoyecques, the Allies had already been bombing the site. At roughly the same time as the failed test on Wolin, the RAF attacked the Mimoyecques site with five-ton “Tallboy” deep-penetration bombs. That was the final nail in the site's coffin and it was given up. (And that was good for London … imagine what could have been had it all gone to plan and all the projected 50 (!!) of these super-guns had been installed and fired at six-second intervals each thus showering London with shells!)
  
In early September 1944 the damaged Mimoyecques site was captured by the Allies and further demolished. It was reopened in the late 1960s and the underground tunnels were used as a mushroom farm. Later it was converted into a museum site; in 2010 it came under the same management as the nearby La Coupole, a similarly unfinished V-2 assembly and firing site that was turned into a elaborate museum. At Mimoyecques, things remain much cruder. There are a few information panels inside the tunnels but the feeling is more raw and undeveloped in comparison to its polished sister institution. The damp, cold and only dimly-lit tunnels are positively eerie in general. The V-3 replica at the end may not look so sinister, but if you know what could have been, it's still a very sobering sight to behold ...
[Update May 2020: meanwhile a full new chapter about this site can be found here on DT!]
  
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Saturday 21 September 2019
  
Follow-up to yesterday's quiz question. I knew it would be a trickier one than earlier Friday quizzes, though a couple of suggested answers got fairly close. The correct answer was eventually revealed (utilizing the advantage the 'winner' had of having been there with me when the photo was taken), but not many others may have seen that. So here's a bit more about that place and a few more photos.
  
  21 09 2019   Sisian 1   almost Pripyat like funless funfair  
  Pripyat-like, funless fun fair
 
 
  21 09 2019   Sisian 2   town square
  Sisian town hall and main square
    
This is Sisian in southern Armenia. We chose the place as a stopover coming back from Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh before returning to Yerevan. The town is a good example of a declined rural Armenian town that has seen better days in Soviet times. Since then the economy has shrunk in the more remote parts far from Yerevan, and there is much unemployment and dereliction. That abandoned fun fair was not the only one we'd seen on this trip (which was in 2010). The main square in the town centre was agreeable enough, but on the edges the places was, well, more edgy. Abandoned restaurants, overgrown water-less water features and rows of crumbling Khrushchyovkas (early 1960s prefab apartment blocks).
  
  21 09 2019   Sisian 3   no business in a long while
  no business in a long while
  
  
  21 09 2019   Sisian 4   once a water feature, presumably
  once a water feature
  
  
The only sight of more specific dark-tourism interest was the town's own Karabakh war memorial and cemetery.
  
  
  21 09 2019   Sisian 5   Karabakh war memorial, Sisian 
   Karakakh war memorial and cemetery
  
   
For accommodation we checked into the charming Hotel Dina, which offered very budget-friendly simple rooms, but since the mark-up for a “mini suite” was so minimal we treated ourselves to that.
  
  21 09 2019   Sisian 6   our cheap mini suite at Hotel Dina
   cheap mini-suite at Hotel Dina, Sisian
  
And what a sweet suite it was, totally old Soviet-era Caucasian charm, with rugs not just on the floor but also on the sofa and armchairs and it featured a little balcony overlooking the main street, where in the evening the townsfolk engaged in “gulyating”, that age-old Russian/Eastern custom of going for a collective walk after dark on Sundays.
  
We also used Sisian as a base for exploring some of the region's non-dark marvels (you see I can appreciate things outside the realm of dark tourism too!), such as the standing stones of Zorats Karer (“Armenia's Stonehenge”) and the spectacularly positioned Tatev monastery atop a tall rock within a fabulous mountainscape. It's all still very much off the beaten track and there were no coachloads of tourists, as there are at the more famous Khor Virap or in Echmiadzin. The only other travellers we encountered were a young couple from Poland who hitched a lift with us.
  
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Friday 20 September2019
  
  20 09 2019   Pripyat like, funless Sisian
  
Photo of the Day and Friday Quiz Question: a fun-less funfair, abandoned, overgrown and slowly rusting away … Where is this?
  
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Thursday 19 September 2019
  
  [link and preview unfortunately missing, as it was a Facebook share]
  
I missed it, narrowly, but still here's a significant anniversary:
  
Yesterday, 39 years ago, in the early morning of 18 September 1980, the “Damascus Incident” happened, when a Titan II ICBM exploded inside its silo following a fuel tank leak. Fortunately its 4 megaton nuclear warhead, which landed 100 away in a ditch, did not go off. Still, it was one of the most dramatic incidents involving nuclear weapons during the entire Cold War era.
   
On this occasion I don't actually have to write a lengthy comment of my own. Instead I can rely on this post from the Titan Missile Museum in Arizona (one of my personal favourite DT destinations in the world!), featuring historic photos of the accident site. It also comes with links to further info that you can explore if you want to know the details of the event … (worth it!).
  
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Wednesday 18 September 2019
  
 18 09 2019
    
Photo of the Day: a follow-up to yesterday's post about Gdansk, Poland, and Solidarność.
   
This photo was taken in the spacious atrium of the new Solidarity Centre … it gives you an impression of the enormous size of the building – with trees growing inside! The escalators seen in the centre lead up to the permanent exhibition. This is subdivided into seven broad thematic sections and spread over two storeys coving an area of some 3,000 square metres in total. Nearly 1,800 artefacts are said to be on display, accompanied by countless text-and-photo panels and numerous media stations. If size matters, this is clearly very impressive. The varied nature of the exhibition approach is too, though some sections' lay-out I found a little confusing.
   
Overall it is clear that the achievements of Solidarność are still a source of great pride in Poland, and in particular in Gdansk. Rightly so. To be frank, however, I found the celebratory, even glorifying, tone of the exhibition a little heavy-handed at times. But on balance it is no doubt another great addition to the dark-tourism portfolio of Gdansk (the other being the new WWII Museum, of course).
  
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Tuesday 17 September 2019
  
  17 09 2019   Gdansk shipyards gate
  
On this Day, 39 years ago, on 17 September 1980, the 'Solidarity' movement (Solidarność in Polish) was officially founded in Gdansk, Poland. It was the first workers' union formed in a Warsaw Pact country that was not controlled by the communist governments but was self-organized – and opposed to the government. Within a year the movement had 10 million members. Its campaigns and their success scared the regime into declaring martial law from 1981 to 1983, but despite the heavy-handed repression Solidarność bounced back and eventually forced the government into negotiations ... The famous Round Table Talks led to the first semi-free elections in which one of the movement's leaders won and became prime minister. These developments are usually seen as having laid the groundwork for the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, and eventually the USSR itself, the end of communism and the Cold War era …
  
Six weeks ago I went back to Gdansk for the first time in eleven years to investigate the big changes the city has undergone since my first visit. Back then there was an exhibition called 'Roads to Freedom' in an underground location near the shipyard, but the shipyard itself was still off limits. You could only see the old gate to the complex, adorned with various Solidarność memorabilia and decorations, and the big monument on the square in front. Meanwhile, a huge, flashy, ultra-modern 'Solidarity Centre' has been constructed and an all-new state-of-the-art exhibition inside has taken over from the old (now disappeared) 'Roads to Freedom' predecessor. Moreover, parts of the old shipyards are now open to the public too and have partly been commodified for visitors through a series of information panels.
  
The main shipyard gate, however – as seen in today's photo – remains pretty much unchanged. Quite a historical spot.
  
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Monday 16 September 2019
  
  16 09 2019   Wallstreetbmb
  
On this Day, 99 years ago, on 16 September 1920, the up to then worst terrorist attack in the USA happened: the Wall Street Bombing. At noon a horse-drawn carriage was parked outside the headquarters of the J. P. Morgan Bank. It contained a bomb made from dynamite and iron weights that the explosion sent flying as shrapnel. The blast at two minutes past twelve killed 38 and injured hundreds.
  
Apparently you can still see pockmarks from the explosion on the façade at 23 Wall Street. I've only very recently learned about this dark historical event, so I was still unaware of this when I walked down Wall Street on two occasions in previous years, otherwise I would have been looking out for these historical scars.
  
Who had been behind the attack could never be properly established, but it was alleged that it could have been anarchists with an Italian connection. You have to remember that these were quite different times, characterized by post-war upheavals, social unrest, anti-capitalist movements, unions, labour struggles and so on.
  
Today's photo is, obviously enough, not mine, but a historical one, now in the public domain, that was shot at the scene (by whom is unknown) and was taken from Wikimedia.
  
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Sunday 15 September 2019 #2
  
follow-up to the previous post about Fukushima from earlier today.
  
A perhaps more worrying aspect about the Fukushima exclusion zone is the masses of sacks of topsoil removed from the area in the decontamination efforts.
  
OK, unlike that tritium water such soil won't continue to accumulate indefinitely; once all the contaminated topsoil has been scraped off that'll be it. However, storing all that material just in plastic bags is naturally not a long-term solution. But where to put all that stuff instead, for permanent storage, is still very much an open question. No real solution seems to be on the horizon.
  
The work of removing topsoil and the filling of the storage sites with all those plastic bags, was still very much ongoing when I was there in April. And it was clear that it's a sensitive subject … in most places I was not allowed to photograph the sites where the stacks of black plastic bags are visible – although there was one such storage site where I was allowed, indeed encouraged, to take photos … why in that one location but none of the others remained a bit mysterious.
  
  
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Sunday 15 September 2019
  
This recent article is about an issue that may at first look much more alarming than it ultimately is. When I was in Fukushima in April this year, I was already told about this, including the controversial possibility of releasing (at least some of) the accumulated water from the tanks into the ocean. Of course simply putting “radioactive water” makes it sound scary. But one has to remember that this is only about tritium (hopefully – see below).
  
Amongst the stacks of documents and charts I was given was also one comparing the relative levels of radioactivity for different radionuclides. Tritium was at the very bottom of the table at ca. 1/32 of carbon 14, 1/344 of potassium 40 or 1/1222 of iodine 131. So it's quite low, really. Moreover, tritium-contaminated water is regularly released by reprocessing plants in France and the UK without that causing much of a media stir. But Fukushima (like Chernobyl) is different, of course. Sensationalism lingers at every corner, conspiracy theories are never far away.
  
A much greater element at play here is actually one of plain marketing considerations rather than one of nuclear physics. The locals, in particular those involved in the only recently rebuilt fishing industry of the region, fear that news of a release of Fukushima's tritium water could be a major PR disaster for them. And of course those fears may be well founded.
   
What is, however, much more worrying in this article is the little side remark that alleges that TEPCO may not after all have managed to filter out all the other radionuclides from the water, as was also confidently claimed when I visited. But if that is indeed not the case, I mean if that claim is wrong and they failed to filter everything else out, so that other, more dangerous radionuclides are still in the water, then that would mean that the release of this water could be much more problematic. I wonder if we will ever get to know for sure …
  
  
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Friday 13 September 2019
  
  13 09 2019   Mohrenstraße U Bahn station in Berlin   formerly believed to feature red marble from the Reichskanzlei
  
Hey, it's a Friday the 13th again! Ooooooh, spooky ... OK, let's ignore that and have another quiz question instead, this time something a little more complex:
  
This metro station is commonly associated with a myth that would have made it historically rather significant had it been true, but that has meanwhile been refuted. Where is it? And what's that myth/story?
[Answer came quickly in a comment: the long-held myth is that the red marble was taken by the Soviets from Hitler's Reich Chanclery and reused in the rebuilding of this station; but recent documentation has shown it's from a quarry in Thuringia]
  
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Thursday 12 September 2019
  
  12 09 2019   Pyramiden mining ghost town
  
Photo of the Day: Pyramiden, the ex-Soviet coal-mining ghost town on Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway.
  
I've resumed the writing of my book, for which I have all of Europe left to do, working my way through from the north-west to the south-east and starting with Norway's Arctic outpost of Svalbard, an archipelago about halfway between the Norwegian mainland and the North Pole.
   
In fact, Pyramiden is the northernmost point I've ever been to, at latitude 79º north. I visited the place in the summer of 2012 on a boat tour from the island's capital and only larger permanent settlement Longyearbyen. We had guides/guards armed with heavy-duty rifles – in case some polar bears decided to turn up. On Svalbard you are only allowed out of Longyearbyen if you have such guards or carry your own bear-grade rifle and have proof that you know how to use it. On this occasion there were no bears. On the one hand it would have been cool to spot one of these mighty beasts (the largest terrestrial predators, no less) but on the other their absence meant we were able to explore Pyramiden in full, on foot. And it really is a wonderful time capsule of a very, very Soviet enclave, featuring the northernmost Lenin bust, the northernmost cultural centre (named after Yuri Gagarin!) with the northernmost concert hall with the northernmost grand piano and plenty of Soviet-era relics and propaganda posters all around. I'd go as far as claiming it's one of the most rewarding ghost towns on Earth to visit.
  
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Wednesday 11 September 2019
  
  11 09 2019   at Ground Zero, Manhattan, in August 2002
  
On this Day … need I even mention it? … it's the 18th anniversary of the “9/11” attacks of 2001 that brought down the Twin Towers of the WTC in New York.
  
Today's photo was taken at “Ground Zero” back in August 2002, i.e. less than one year after the event, when the place was still very visibly scarred from the disaster. The former WTC site itself was already a big hole in the ground and a construction site. Some neighbouring buildings, however, were still left in their damaged state, as the ones seen in this picture, whose façades were still covered in tarps and netting. I found the flag waving against this background quite iconic at the time.
  
Today, of course, the damage has either been repaired or the destroyed buildings have been replaced … No damage is visible any more. And at the site of the WTC's footprint is now one of the most-visited memorials in the world, the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum, also the most expensive such complex ever constructed.
  
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Tuesday 10 September 2019
  
  10 09 2019   American coastal gun at Fort Nieuw Amsterdam
  
Photo of the Day: a follow up to yesterday's post about Suriname's bauxite/aluminium exports to the USA during WWII.
  
This is one of the coastal guns the USA installed at Fort Nieuw Amsterdam overlooking the mouth of the Suriname River, the waterway used for shipping all that valuable material out of Suriname, so the Americans reinforced the defences here, to secure those exports.
  
This seemed necessary because Suriname's then colonial power, the Netherlands, had been occupied by Nazi Germany and neighbouring French Guiana decided to side with Vichy France, the puppet regime that collaborated with the Nazis.
  
So the Suriname River and the bauxite reserves seemed a little vulnerable in the event that the Nazis decided to try and get hold of them ...
  
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Monday 9 September 2019
  
  09 09 2019   Paranam aluminium plant, Suriname
  
Photo of the Day: defunct aluminium plant in the interior of Suriname, South America.
  
Not only is this a cool site to behold for anybody who is (like me) into rusty old abandoned industrial complexes, this also has some historical significance much beyond its mere appearance: bauxite, the mineral that aluminium is made out of, has long been a major export resource for Suriname, and this plant was built by the US company Alcoa. During WWII aluminium made from Suriname bauxite accounted for as much as 90% of the aluminium used in the building of US Air Force planes produced in WWII, including all those B-29s that pounded Japanese cities and dropped the two atomic bombs.
  
At the same time, the uranium used for the construction of the first atom bombs was mined in Belgian Congo, Africa. These two Benelux colonial links are not especially well known and rarely acknowledged in full, but without them history could have been very different!
  
The plant at Paranam seen in today's picture is undergoing decommissioning and will be dismantled, but that's likely to take some time, given the size of the compound – this photo shows only a small part of the plant. Shame they couldn't just leave it standing, but I guess the scrap value of all that metal is too tempting …
  
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Friday 6 September 2019
  
  06 09 2019   inside the preserved stretch of tunnel
  
… to revive the tradition that developed before I went away on my August travels, namely of having photos come with a quiz question on Fridays; here's another one:
  
… inside a dark tunnel – where and what is it?
[Answer came quickly in severak comments: it's the "Tunnel of Hope" in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.]
  
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Thursday 5 September 2019
  
  05 09 2019   1980 revolution monument, Paramaribo
  
Photo of the Day: another one from Paramaribo, Suriname. This is the “Revolution Monument” celebrating the military coup of 1980, five years after Suriname was granted independence from the Netherlands.
  
As is often the case, the former colonial power retained close ties with its ex-colony and provided considerable financial support. But in the wake of the military dictatorship's increasing repressions and violence, in particular the so-called Decembermoorden (December murders) of 1982, and the Moiwana Massacre of 1986, the Dutch suspended their aid, and a few years later even tried and sentenced Suriname's military dictator Desi Bouterse in absentia to a long term in prison (but for charges of drug trafficking, not the for the murders). He's never served a single day of that prison term and is still a free man at home, but won't be able to set foot in Europe. Remarkably he managed to get himself democratically re-elected president of Suriname twice, last time in 2015, so still today he occupies the grand presidential palace a bit further up the road from this monument.
  
The monument, created in 1981, incorporates a typical bas-relief showing heroic soldiers and cheering civilians – it wouldn't be out of place in Cuba or somewhere in the former Eastern Bloc – but the thick white stumps of columns along the roadside are authentic relics, namely of the police station that used to stand here and that was burned down during the coup.
  
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Wednesday 4 September 2019
  
  04 09 2019   gold mining in the Guyanese jungle
  
Photo of the Day: flying over the jungle of Guyana in the typical local small 14-seater propeller aircraft you can't help but notice the scars in the otherwise pristine primary rainforest that are the result of mining activities, mostly gold mining, some of it illegal.
  
In any case, it's not just the physical scarring of the green forest, there's also the use of toxic chemicals involved in such small-scale gold mining, in particular mercury (used for separating the gold from other materials and impurities), so you can see countless ponds with poisonous sludge and oddly coloured liquids at these sites.
   
It's a bit of a sombre counterpoint to the wonderful nature that the Guyanas otherwise still contain. All three of them still retain something like 90% original rainforest, and deforestation rates are dramatically lower than in, say, neighbouring Brazil. But even here, it's not all gold that shines, if you may excuse the pun …
  
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Tuesday 3 September 2019
  
  03 09 2019   monument in Palmentuin, Paramaribo
  
Photo of the Day: another one from my recent trip to the 3 Guyanas … this one was taken in the Palmentuin park in Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, the only Dutch-speaking country in South America.
  
This monument was designed and erected by the father of a child who died after being trapped in a refrigerator, and is intended as a warning to other parents against similar acts of carelessness.
  
Sadly, as if to add insult to lethal injury, someone hacked off the boy sculpture's little male member. What a nasty act of vandalism …
  
Apart from a few further monuments, the park contains around 1000 palm trees, as its name suggests, and is a pleasant enough place to stroll, if it weren't for all the rubbish strewn about all over the grounds.
  
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Monday 2 September 2019
  
  02 09 2019   Ho Chi Minh merchandise, Hanoi
  
On this Day, 50 years ago, on 2 September 1969 (North) Vietnam's leader and “father figure” Ho Chi Minh died.
  
He had not only been inspirational to the communist side of Vietnam but also to protest movements worldwide. I was too young to remember it personally, but I do recall later references to student demonstrations in West Germany with crowds chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!” in the wild late 1960s (usually called the “68er”, even though most of the relevant events already took place in 1967).
  
“Uncle Ho”, as he is also affectionately known, thus didn't live to see the victory of his side in the Vietnam War. But he is certainly still much revered in Vietnam today. It's been over ten years since I went to Vietnam, and that's when I took this photo, showing all the Ho Chi Minh merchandise on offer in a souvenir shop near the house he used to live in next to the presidential palace (which he shunned as too pompous and colonial) in Hanoi.
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Sunday 1 September 2019
  
  01 09 2019   Westerplatte
  
On this Day – dare I even mention it … WWII started 80 years ago in Europe, on 1 September 1939, as Nazi Germany fired the first shots at Westerplatte, Gdansk (then called Danzig).
  
Today's photo shows the big monument from socialist times at the site, which I recently revisited in early August, that commemorates the historic events.
  
There are many things in the pipeline at Westerplatte for more commodification of this history. I saw lots of panels describing a proposed new memorialization at the peninsula. It's all quite politically charged, given the current nationalist climate in Poland and beyond. Things have certainly changed compared to ten years ago … I'll put a link to an illuminating article about this in the comments section below.
  
While things are still very much open as to what will/should happen at Westerplatte, the new WWII Museum closer to the city centre has already seen some influence from the nationalistic side, with the former director of the museum fired and some amendments made to the exhibition, especially taking out the thoughtful finale and replacing it with something more “heroic”. Fortunately, the rest of the exhibition is still excellent … But I wouldn't want to be a history museum curator in Poland at the moment …
  
<about the recent/current controversies:
  
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Tuesday 28 August 2019
  
  IMGP9764
  
  IMGP9772
  
  IMGP9769
  
last post from the Guyanas, before I fly home this evening … [or the day after – just had notification from the airline of an 18 hour delay!]
  
I know, it's not proper dark-tourism material, really, but this giant river otter (a juvenile – they grow to twice that size) ferociously devouring a piranha looked brutal enough to qualify here, I thought.
  
They eat the fish from the head down, partly because piranha teeth allegedly have a reflex of still biting even after death Then they basically shred the fish down until swallowing the tail fin … then they go for the next one. These guys are so active and energy-intensive that they need to eat a lot of fish all the time.
  
This particular otter is an orphan that was rescued and is now being pepped up at Karanabu in the Rupununi of southern Guyana, before she can be re-released into the wild.
  
Karanambu was the home of the legendary ate Diane McTurk, the famous “otter woman”, who started the otter sanctuary. She passed away in 2016 aged 86, but the next generation of the McTurk family still manages the estate.
  
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Friday 23 August 2019 - late …
  
  end of dark
  
The exploration of what little there is left of Jonestown yesterday was in fact the final bit of dark tourism on this trip, and in some way its extreme pinnacle too.
  
But for the rest of this trip there will be no more DT (at least nothing intentionally dark, though you never know what you might chance upon ...), instead we're off to the interior, the Rupununi, to be precise, hoping to spot giant anteaters, otters, tapirs, spider monkeys and whatever other wildlife may present itself. It's one of the last virtually untouched primeval jungle parts of Amazonia, so chances for sightings should be good.
  
It is also unlikely that I will have wifi again that would allow uploading photos. So for the next few days I'll take time off from DT. Maybe I'll get a chance to do one more post when I'm briefly back in Paramaribo before my flight home. Otherwise I'll resume posting when I'm back.
   
Today's photo, before I forget, was taken in Port Kaituma, the nearest “town” and trading post to (ex-)Jonestown. There's pretty much nothing else to do there (unless you're a mechanic, shop keeper, miner or prostitute, that is – the only four professions of value in that place), so I used my time to download my photos, prepared these posts, and otherwise just hung around and drank some beer … but left the pumping-bass-beats nightlife of Port Kaituma to the locals, and instead put earplugs in and slept … “After Dark” was one of the night clubs down the road from where I stayed, and it started booming out music actually before dark. But I liked the sign and the name was more than fitting for today's post ;-)
  
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Friday 23 August 2019
  
  [photos with captions below]
  
Photos of the Day: Jonestown!
  
This must have been one of the hardest sites to visit and for the smallest visual return. But what a pilgrimage it's been nonetheless. I was told before that there would be next to nothing left to see at the site, except for a few rusty remains of vehicles and a marker stone put up in recent years by the government. Otherwise the place is totally undeveloped and hardly ever visited, save for the odd journalist and occasional relative of victims who come to pay their respects.
  
In any case you have to have a guide to even find the place, and ideally someone to hack a “path” into the jungle to get there. Even the memorial stone is deep in the jungle, impossible to locate without a local taking you there. Seen in the second image is Mr Kali, an elderly little chap who was the closest neighbour to Jonestown at the time and a frequent visitor and advisor on the construction of the compound. So he still knows his way around the overgrown site. His comments were not easy to follow given his thick Caribbean accent spoken through missing teeth, but it was still something to have met a witness of the times.
   
In Georgetown a few days before we had also met a guy who at the time lived in the area and had met the Peoples Temple flock. He already had bad premonitions about it all not ending well before it then indeed came to its calamitous climax. He also surmised that the story is generally not told correctly, and that most victims had actually been shot dead rather than having died in mass suicide, on the basis that the bodies were so neatly lined up, straight, and not in a posture that would suggest death by cyanide. But then again, they may have been lined up like this during the process … Anyway, the case is still steeped in mystery and will never be fully understood. That only makes yet more spooky.
   
To get to Jonestown one first has to take a tiny plane to Port Kaituma, the main trading post for the north-west region of Guyana (population ca. 30,000, scattered across a large area). The plane lands on the very airstrip where Congressman Ryan was shot alongside some of his entourage and defectors he had taken with him from Jonestown – the incident that then triggered the communal ending of the commune on the orders of their dark Messiah Jim Jones.
   
I was only a young teenager back in 1978 when it happened, but I vividly remember the news about it and the gruesome images. Having actually made it to the site was thus something very special … but dark tourism in its hardest most extreme form, not strictly speaking really tourism at all, more a pilgrimage-expedition. But worth it overall ...
  
  Jonestown 1
  remnants of the gate to the former compound by the road … no other sign of or to it
  
  
  Jonestown 2  
 the jungle has reclaimed it all – you have to machete your way through the undergrowth
  
  
  Jonestown 3
  the only official bit, a simple memorial stone
  
  
  Jonestown 4
 mementos probably left by visiting relatives of some of the victims
  
  
  Jonestown 5
 some rusty machinery remnants
  
  
  Jonestown 7
 tractor seat with a twig growing through it (you wouldn't want top sit down on it now!)
  
  
  Jonestown 6
  barely discernible rusty relics ...
  
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Wednesday 21 August 2019 #2
  
  IMGP8987
  
… and another one from the Salvation Islands in French Guiana, this time from the main island, Ile Royale, where the main prison complex was and all the administrative parts, guards' quarters and officers' mess (the latter now converted into a guest house, called Auberge des Iles, which is where we actually stayed).
  
This photo shows the inside of the more intact one of the two cell block complexes, not as atmospherically Ta-Prohm-like overgrown as the isolation cell blocks on Ile Joseph, but more prison like in appearance.
  
Today I had a tour of Georgetown, the capital of Guyana (the former British Guyana), and that didn't really feature all that much in terms of DT, but gave a good impression just how Caribbean this part of the region is, much more so than Suriname (let alone French Guiana, which is more French than France in many ways).
   
Today I have the rest of the day “off” as it were, i.e. no further exploration plans in the city. So I have time for extra posting and especially for some photo admin and repacking. Tomorrow I'll have another super early start (5:30 a.m.), flying to Port Kaituma in the north-west of Guyana. This will be the roughest and most basic and also most adventurous part of the trip. It's a totally non-touristy place, a bit wild and lawless, dominated by (illegal) gold miners and refugees from Venezuela, so we'll have to keep our wits about us. The point of going there is of course the excursion to whatever may be left of Jonestown. I've been told there won't be much, but let's see. Maybe we can track down some traces of relics from the settlement that haven't yet been totally swallowed up by jungle …
  
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Wednesday 21 August 2019
  
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  Reclusion
  
  
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  overgrown
  
  
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  Ta Prohm like
  
   
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  former isolation cells
  
Photos of the Day: to make up for the last few days of no Internet access, I give you a whole series of images, all taken on the Salvation Islands (Iles du Salut), of which Devil's Island (see previous photo post) is just one … and is inaccessible to visitors. It's basically just famous for the Dreyfus and Papillon connection. The darkest of the three islands, however, is actually St Joseph. It was here that the “incorrectible” convicts were sent to be kept in a gruesome regime of total isolation, in dark, damp solitary confinement cells. They had to be totally silent. The smallest rattle of shackles could result in a punitive extra few months of this harsh treatment. No wonder that many of the inmates simply went mad.
  
The penal colony was only disbanded after WWII, and the last few survivors went home in the 1950s. Since then the complexes have been abandoned. The “Reclusion” part on Isle St Joseph is by now atmospherically overgrown … again often resembling Ta Prohm at Angkor Wat, Cambodia, with those trees growing out of the cells and corridors, often as if slowly plying open these spaces of reclusion and isolation. This was possibly the visually most engaging sight I've seen in the Guyanas.
   
I am now in the former British colony of Guyana, but before posting anything from here I'll try to catch up with photos from the other two (Suriname, French Guiana) … bear with me. I'll probably post more later today, because tomorrow I will definitely not have Internet, as that will be the roughest, most adventurous part of the trip …
  
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Friday 16 August 2019 #2
   
  [photos were not saved, but you can find them in the gallery of the relevant chapter that's meanwhile been upload to DT!]
  
Photos of the Day: WARNING – those with a fear of flying should look away now!
   
This is the crash site of Surname Airways flight 764 from Amsterdam, a DC-8 carrying 187 passengers and 8 crew that on 7 June 1989 on approach to Paramaribo's international airport in bad weather hit a tree top and crashed, killing all but 11 on board (a dog also survived and was subsequently given the name Lucky). Amongst the dead was a charitable football team composed of Surinamese players based in the Netherlands. It was the single largest civilian tragedy in the country's history.
   
At the site stands a rather unassuming and neglected monument (if you don't know what it is, nothing gives away what it commemorates), but what I was not at all prepared for was finding actual pieces of the plane wreck. Normally crash sites are cleared and the wreckage taken into storage, often for forensic investigation. Not here. It would appear that they simply buried the plane wreckage after taking away the bodies. And they didn't bury it very deep – hence you come across bits of fuselage, pieces of a wing, and the tell-tale air intake fan of one of the engines poking out of savannah sand in the undergrowth behind the monument … Stunning, disturbing, poignant.#
  
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Friday 16 August
  
  16 08 2019   rescued sloth
  
Yesterday's good deed was saving this little chap, a three-toed sloth, from almost certain death. As we were driving along one of Suriname's main trunk roads, our driver spotted the sloth on the road, managed to come to a stop right in front of it, got out, picked him up just before he would have got to the lane with oncoming lorry traffic (they would not have stopped!) and carried him back to the side of the road.
   
But then we reasoned that he would probably try to cross the road again, if that side of it was where he wanted to go. Giving the slow crawl on the ground that these arboreal creatures of no hurry can only muster, this would have meant he would have risked his life again. So instead we carried him across the road and watched him (slowly!) disappear into the undergrowth there …
   
We had hoped we'd see sloths in the Guyanas, but we'd never expected getting so close to one, on the ground, and under such circumstances. It was the most moving moment of the day, maybe of the whole trip so far.
  
Today we travel on to French Guiana and are intrigued how different from Suriname it will be ...
  
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Thursday 15 August 2019
  
Photos of the Day: yesterday at the abandoned sugar factory and rum distillery of Marienburg in the Commewijne, Suriname. Something for the 'urbex' fans … in the tropics
  
More photos today, less text ... [NB: photos reconstructed, the lost originals may have been slightly different]
   
  15 08 2019   main factory building
  Main distillery building
  
  
  15 08 2019   inside
  inside the main building
  
  
  15 08 2019   looking up dilapidated stairs
   unsafe stairs up
  
  
  15 08 2019   back yard
  old rusty machinery outside
  
  
  15 08 2019   Ta Prohm style
  a bit of Ta Prohm going on, in an industrial age kind of way
  
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Wednesday 14 August 2019
   
  14 08 2019   Korean War memorial
  
Photo of the Day: an unexpected find in Paramaribo yesterday – a Korean War memorial. Apparently some Surinamese fought in that war at the other end of the world too.
  
The style of the soldier statues at the top very much reminded me of the Korean War memorial in Washington DC, so much so that I wonder whether it's deliberate, possibly even designed by the same artist, or perhaps more a bit of 'plagiarism'?
  
What makes this war memorial different from most others, however, is the fact that the names listed on the side are not those of the fallen, as is usually the case, but of those who returned. So today descendants can visit the memorial and say “see, granddad's name there? He was in the war!”
 
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Tuesday 13 August 2019
  
  13 08 2019   site of the December Murders
  
Photo of the Day: first one from Paramaribo, Suriname – and the first really dark bit so far on this exotic trip to the “Wild Coast” of South America.
   
This is the site of the “December Murders” of 1982, when the then military regime, which had come to power in a coup in 1980, more or less executed over a dozen journalists, lawyers, and other “undesirables” from the opposition and intelligentsia by shooting them dead on this spot at an old fort in the capital. Spot the bullet holes on the left hand side of the bastion wall! The small holes, that is. The bigger holes, so my guide explained, were cut out to retrieve the bullets embedded in the stone for forensic testing.
  
The Netherlands, the former colonial power of what it is now independent Suriname (since 1975) suspended diplomatic relations and foreign aid in the wake of the “Decembermoorden”, and the then dictator (now democratically elected president – imagine that!) was even tried and sentenced in absentia in Holland, albeit on charges of drug trafficking. But nobody has ever been held accountable for these December Murders.
   
At least the site, part of Fort Zeelandia, the oldest colonial structure in Paramaribo, was returned to the public and reinstated as a museum in the 1990s/2000s and a commemorative plaque was installed that states the names of the victims.
  
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Saturday 10 August 2019
  
  09 08 2019   the angel has flown off
  
Photo of the Day: the angel has flown off …
  
Tombstone spotted at Olsany cemetery in Prague, Czech Republic a few years ago.
  
The reason I picked this is that today I'm flying off too, namely to the three small and little known South American countries of Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana. I will try to post the odd photo from 'on the road', but I can imagine that I will only sporadically have working Wifi (if any), so please excuse any periods of silence.
  
I will try to make up for it by posting more once I'm back, but then again I also have a book project to return to, so I'll have to weigh up my priorities …
  
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Friday 9 August 2019
  
  09 08 2019   Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
  
On this Day, 74 years ago, on 9 August 1945 at 11:02 a.m. the second atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, namely on the city of Nagasaki, only three days after the first one had been dropped on Hiroshima.
  
Today's photo shows the entrance to the main exhibition of Nagasaki's Atomic Bomb Museum, involving as its first artefact on display a clock stopped at that fateful moment by the explosion.
   
It's still a widespread belief that it was this second bomb that finally made the Japanese surrender. It's certainly the narrative most Americans like to cling on to, usually with the addition that the bomb thus actually saved lives, as it made a land invasion unnecessary. However, there is now a broad consensus amongst historians internationally, that the real reason Japan surrendered was a completely different one, namely the fact that the USSR had entered the war against Japan and was making quick advances in Japanese-occupied Manchuria at the time. As it suited both sides, the Americans as well as the Japanese, better to refer only to the Atomic bombs, that's what the Tenno did in his famous radio speech to the nation and what subsequently became the mainstream story. It fitted in with the onset of the Cold War best … remember, one reason for dropping the bomb on a real city was also to send a signal to Stalin (even though his spies were already busy gathering the required information for starting the USSR's own nuclear weapons programme). But in hindsight historiography sometimes has to be amended/corrected …
  
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Thursday 8 August 2019
  
This is actually not the joke it may at first appear to be, but a serious experiment and potentially a prospect of some economic revitalisation for the much deprived local communities around (and inside) the Zone.
  
I'm not particularly fond of vodka generally, but I'd still buy a bottle if/when I go back to Chernobyl and it's actually available then (as the article makes clear, it's still a project in the making, so far only one bottle has been produced as a pilot project).
  
Maybe they should also look into making artisan gins and whiskies, but I guess vodka was the more obvious choice in a country like Ukraine ...
  
  
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Wednesday, 7 August 2019
  
  07 08 2019   Smolensk memorial, Warsaw
  
Photo of the Day: monument on Piłsudski Square, Warsaw, taken the day before yesterday.
  
I don't know about you, but I instantly associated the shape of this with those iconic measuring towers at the Polygon (aka Semipalatinsk Test Site) in Kazakhstan – see the photo in comments!
  
However, this has nothing at all to with those. Instead it is a memorial to the victims of the plane crash near Smolensk, Russia, on 10 April 2010, in which all 96 on board were killed. The plane was carrying a delegation due to attend a commemorative event at the Katyn massacre memorial, amongst them then president Lech Kaczyński. Official reports both in Russia as well as in Poland concluded that the cause of the crash was bad weather (fog) combined with human error, especially on the part of the pilots who violated regulations and approached the runway too low, touched treetops and then crashed into the ground.
  
However, it didn't take long for conspiracy theories to emerge that claim the disaster hadn't been an accident but an “assassination” (the accusing finger pointing in the direction of Russia and Vladimir Putin, as you will probably have guessed). This was propagated not least by the killed president's twin brother Jarosław Kaczyński, who's still a leading force in Polish politics, as leader of the currently ruling Law and Justice Party. More recently, the party's toned down its stance, though, in the light of such aggressive theories not winning the party votes in more moderate circles. But the whole topic is still a political minefield, as well as a national trauma …
    
  
< comment: this is one of the measuring towers at the Polygon that the monument reminded me of:
 
  07 08 2019   Polygon measuring tower blackened from nuclear blast 
  
  
< comment: here's an article about the politics associated with the disaster, published around its 9th's anniversary earlier this year: https://www.politico.eu/article/the-air-disaster-that-haunts-polish-politics/ >
  
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Tuesday 6 August 2019
  
  06 08 2019
  
Photo of the Day: Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw.
   
Long scorned by the Poles for being a symbol of Soviet domination (which it was, certainly at the time it was built), this is now somewhat more accepted it seems, even lit up at night by lilac LED lighting.
  
Though I'm not 100% sure about the colour choice for the latter, the building as such is without any doubt my absolute favourite in all of Warsaw. It's a prime example of Stalinist-era “wedding cake” architecture. In fact it is often referred to as “the 8th Sister”, in allusion to the “Seven Sisters” – similar Stalinist skyscrapers dotted around Moscow.
  
Warsaw's been great yet again, but unfortunately I'll now have to leave ... I'm sure it won't have been my last visit here.
  
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Sunday 4 August 2019
   
Finally a post from “on the road” in Poland. So far I'd never found the time. Also access to photos was hampered by the fact that a) I don't use a smartphone for photography (except in emergencies when it's the only option) but – call me old-fashioned – a proper dSLR camera, and b) its full-frame files are so huge that I save them on external storage devices rather than direct on my laptop-tablet combo. But now I've had a four-hour train ride from Gdansk to Warsaw so I was able to do some writing and some photo sorting.
   
So, here's a small selection of photos from Gdansk – described/labelled individually when you click through them, so you know what they show. To make up for my days of silence I give you ten photos and more text than in a long while.
   
It was my first return visit to this city since 2008. And so I was intrigued how much and in what ways it had changed. I knew about the new museums and the redevelopments on Granary Island opposite the Old Town waterfront. And while the former were excellent, the complete change of character by the river was a huge disappointment. Gone are the atmospheric ruins from WWII (except for a few survivors upriver beyond the Old Town), now replaced with pretty faceless modern glass-and-concrete edifices that could be almost anywhere. Of course, I understand that such prime real estate in a booming city was bound to be developed one day, with new shopping centres, hotels, and all that, but from a specific DT perspective the change has to be lamented.
   
In general, I have to admit, Gdansk tried hard on several fronts, and repeatedly, to piss me off big time, but it had at best a 50% success rate overall. It was unfortunate that some special event/festival was on, so the city centre was so packed you could barely move. Half its streets were lined with stalls selling mostly tourist tack – sorry: “arts and crafts” – amongst fast food snacks and all that. It felt like the entire city had been turned into one giant tourist trap. Mostly for domestic tourists, mind you, as I definitely heard more Polish spoken than foreign tongues. The upside of the event was that as part of it two craft beer bars opposite each other joined forces to stage a little beer festival in the street between them. I had a good few samples and it proved that the Polish craft beer scene is still one of the best in the world and going strong!
   
On my first day I had two big failures, though. First I tried to see the new WWII Museum but when I got there, there was a queue of at least 300 people, so I aborted and went for the big new Solidarity Centre instead, only to find similar queues there. Admittedly, it was a drizzly grey day, so prime “museum weather”. So I went back to these museums over the next two days arriving at the entrance and ticket counters before they even opened. Good move, as both also required a lot of time to go through.
   
What was cool on that first grey day was that I discovered that a large part of the former shipyards has been made accessible for the first time, so the industrial archaeologist/urbexer in me was well catered for. It saved that day. And these parts attracted only a tiny smattering of other tourists so my crowd aversion was avoided too.
  
Now I am back in my beloved Warsaw, one of the most underrated capital cities in Europe, and since it's been only three years since I was last here, not so much has changed and I have less “duty” to do (for DT), so I can simply enjoy the city … I'll be back home late on Tuesday and may post some more the next day, before then setting off on the BIG summer trip to much more exotic lands ...
  
  
  01   new WWII Museum
  new WWII Museum in Gdansk
  
The architecture is quite striking, but the exhibition inside (or rather underneath: it's on level -3, 14m underground) is nothing short of world class. My expectations were exceeded massively. I'll post more about it …
  
  
  02   Solidaity Centre and old shipyard gate
  new Solidarity Centre
  
The old Gdansk shipyard gate and the latest incarnation of the museum celebrating the achievements of the Solidarnoszc movement that had paved the way for the end of communism not only in Poland but Europe at large. Now housed in another stunning piece of architecture – this one is clad in rusty steel and is probably supposed to resemble a ship under construction at the shipyards – the exhibition inside is also remarkable.
  
  
  03   model of the Solidarity years
  model of the heady days of Solidarity at the shipyards in the 1980s
  
  
  04   harbour crane
  an old harbour crane
  
  
  05   old forge
  old shipyard forge
  
This old forge of the Imperial shipyard, i.e. dating from the times when Gdansk was German and called Danzig, was especially cool. I'd never stood right next to such a steel monster machine before and found it quite 'uplifting'!
  
  
  06   soot from days gone by
  soot from days long gone by
  
  
  07   rusting
  rusting away
  
  
  08   Westerplatte monument
  main monument at Westerplatte (obviously dating back to the socialist days)
  
  
  09   bunker ruin at Westerplatte
 bunker ruin at Westerplatte
Westerplatte is the name of the peninsula by the sea where the first shots of WWII were fired. At this bunker there are now metal walkways that allow access to the inside!
  
  
  10   new waterfront development opposite the Old Town
  the new waterfront developments
Granary Island, opposite the touristy Old Town has changed dramatically since my first visit in 2008. Gone are the atmospheric WWII ruins, replaced by shiny new atrchitecture full of shops, hotels, bars & restaurants and possibly luxury apartments for the well heeled ... At least they preserved a few old facades, so it's not all contemporary glass-and-concrete structures that could be found almost anywhere. I concede there's a small nod to the classic Hanseatic shape of houses but I find it too little to be convincing.
  
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Tuesday 30 July 2019
  
  30 07 2019   Radegast deportation train, Lodz
  
Photo of the Day: Radegast Station Memorial, Łodz, Poland.
  
I wanted a photo with ideally both a railway and a Poland connection, and this was the only one I could find. Why did I want that? Because tomorrow I'll be getting a train to Gdansk where I'll do some DT fieldwork (and some nice foody things for my birthday too) before coming back via Warsaw, also by train. So I'm not going to Łodz (pronounced “Woodge”, btw.) at all this time, but it was close enough.
   
This train is part of a Holocaust memorial about deportations from the ghetto of Łodz (renamed Litzmannstadt by the Nazis) mostly to the death camp of Chełmno. So quite a dark site.
  
In Gdansk it is mainly the revamped Solidarity Centre and the new WWII Museum that are on my to-do list, but I will also try to go on a return visit to Westerplatte (where the war started), as things have changed there too since my last visit eleven years ago.
  
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Monday 29 July 2019
  
   29 07 2019    ICBM silo humour, South Dakota, USA
  
Photo of the day: for the beginning of the week a bit of black humour, again by some ICBM crew:
  
This is the blast door to the Launch Control Center at the Delta-01 Minuteman site in South Dakota, painted in an allusion to a well-known (in the US at least) pizza delivery company.
  
30 minutes would also have been roughly the time between the launch of a Minuteman missile and its warhead hitting its target at the other end of the world …
  
… and that's where the allusion breaks down: once the missile squadrons had launched their missiles, they wouldn't have had another one to “deliver free” …
  
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Sunday 28 July 2019
  
Again something for those who know German - this is the outcome of that trip to Obersalzberg with the BR (Bayrischer Rundfunk - 'Bavarian broadcasting'). We were filming for almost half a day, all for a mere 4 minutes' feature. Here's the written version on the BR's website. The actual feature is in their 'Mediathek' - I'll post the link to that in a comment below.
  
Für die, die des Deutschen mächtig sind: Hier ist das Ergebnis jenes Ausflugs zum Obersalzberg mit einem vierköpfigen Fernsehteam des Bayrischen Rundfunks. Fast einen halben Tag hat der Dreh insgesamt gedauert, alles für einen gerade mal 4 Minuten langen Beitrag. Dazu gibt es diesen schriftlichen Bericht auf der Website des BR (die Zitate sind nicht alle 100% akkurat, aber OK). Den Link zu dem Beitrag in der BR Mediathek werd ich in einem Kommentar unten posten.
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Friday 26 July 2019
  
  26 07 2019   tank by Haghtanak park, Yerevan
  
It's Friday again, time for another quiz question … You know you're in the former Eastern Bloc when you see an old Soviet T-34 tank on a plinth. There are hundreds if not thousands of them all over the ex-USSR and ex-Warsaw Pact states serving as monuments to the victory in the Great Patriotic War (aka WWII in the rest of the world) . But where exactly is this particular specimen to be found? (nudge-nudge: the wall on the right may be a hint ...)
  
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Thursday 25 July 2019
  
  25 07 2019   relics from German occupation times at the Tirpiz Museum, Tomsö, Norway
 
Photo of the Day: some old Nazi German army fuel drums left behind near a coastal battery and bunker outside Tromsø, northern Norway.
  
I was inspired to pick this in a kind of roundabout way, namely by reading a book by Rammstein keyboard player Flake (“Morgen hat die Welt Geburtstag” - very, very funny if you can read German; knowing Rammstein's background, their back catalogue of songs and who the members are helps a bit to get it all too), and in it it mentions the track “Benzin” ('petrol/gasoline'), i.e. the kind of fuel that these barrels would have held ...
  
... I did say the connection was a bit roundabout ...
  
Oh, it say on these drums: "Fuel 200l (litres) - flammable - Army"
  
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Wednesday 24 July 2019
  
  24 07 2019   Pripyat ferris wheel 
  
Photo of the Day: … while we're at it, here's that famous Pripyat Ferris wheel again. This time nicely framed. This is in fact my favourite photo of this much-photographed object that I have in my archives ...
  
This one was obviously not taken last winter, but in May 2015.
  
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Tuesday 23 July 2019
  
  23 07 2019   Pripyat 1   funfair with ferris wheel
  
Photo of the Day: as a follow-up, another one from Pripyat, Chernobyl – no comment needed here, really, as I'd guess everybody will be familiar with that famous Ferris wheel at the funfair.
  
Photo taken last November in the first snow early in the morning, before any other tour groups got to the Zone (we got in by the 7 o'clock employees' train from Slavutych that morning).
  
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Monday 22 July 2019
  
 22 07 2019   hand X ray, Pripyat hospital  
   
Photo of the Day: Hand X-ray spotted inside a hospital in Pripyat, Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Ukraine.
  
I picked this photo for a reason and it's not a good one. I have to reduce the amount of text I type at my computer. All those years of excessive typing and computer work in general are catching up with me and I've developed RSI syndrome, informally aka 'mouse arm', though in my case it's more my right wrist and finger tendons that are the (painful) problem.
  
In addition to now using an ergonomic replacement for the traditional mouse (namely a RollerMouse) I've been prescribed a set of meds and have to rest my right hand and arm in a “manuloc” (quite a descriptive term!) contraption overnight and ideally whenever I'm not using my right arm (or try to live left-handedly). But most importantly I have to give typing a break to give the hand time to recover. It's a bit of a problem when you have a deadline for the submission of a book, but I'll soon go on my summer travels and will suspend work on the book for that period of time anyway. I just have to make sure I also reduce my Internet use and social media activity to an absolute minimum too. Hopefully all those measures will then allow me to continue normally for the rest of the year from September. Otherwise I'll have to look into using some voice recognition input system (anybody got any experience with those? Any tips?) or possibly even face the prospect of an operation.
  
As one measure with immediate effect I will, after this one, stop typing long posts on this page until at least September. I can still post some photos and links and so, but will abstain from lengthy text comments. I hope you all will understand.
   
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Friday 19 July 2019 
  
  19 07 2019   Nazi intimidation architecture, Congress Hall, Nuremberg
  
It's Friday again – so time to continue this nascent “tradition” of having a quiz question on the last day of the working week. Here we go:
  
As mentioned last week, the Nazis used concentration camp forced labourers in quarries to obtain material for their grand 'intimidation architecture' projects. And here's an example. Can you tell where this is – and what it is that this forms part of.
  
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Thursday 18 July 2019
  
   18 07 2019   watching the pyroclastic show
  
On this Day, 24 years ago, on 18 July 1995, Soufriere Hills volcano on the West Indies island of Montserrat started erupting again after an almost century-long phase of having been dormant. Soon the capital city of the island, Plymouth, had to be evacuated as it became increasingly threatened by pyroclastic flows and lahars. Many inhabitants fled the island altogether, mainly to Britain (Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory). By now Plymouth has almost completely been covered by ash. Only the northern half of the island remains inhabited. The volcanic activity continued in cycles that included more violent explosive eruptions but also phases of less activity. The whole thing is closely monitored by the MVO – Montserrat Volcano Observatory, that is located at a relatively safe distance on a slope opposite the volcano's cone.
  
And this is where today's photo was taken from too, namely in late December 2009, during a particularly active phase of the volcano, as you can see here. It was one of the most dramatic shows of the Earth's power I ever had the privilege to witness. But I missed the really big show just a few weeks later when in February 2010 a lava dome collapse caused the mountain to blow its top yet again in a massive explosion that propelled a huge ash plume high into the sky (miles higher than the one seen here) and pyroclastic flows covered large areas and actually expanded the coastline of the island. Since then, however, it has been comparatively calm, though activity hasn't stalled. The monitoring continues ...
  
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Wednesday 17 July 2019
  
   17 07 2019   precursors of the Buk SAM
  
On this Day, only five years ago on 17 July 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, en route between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur, was shot down over eastern Ukraine; all 283 passengers and 15 crew perished.
  
Given that at the time the war was (and still is) on between Ukrainian government forces and Donbass separatists, and the possibility of some Russian military involvement, it didn't take long for the accusations and conspiracy theories to fly from all sides.
  
A Dutch-led joint investigation team eventually came to the conclusion that the airliner was brought down by a “Buk” SAM (surface-to-air missile), confirming earlier suspicions based on sightings of this weapon system in the area. The Buk is a Russian system, but who fired it and why? Many questions remain, but it was found that the missile fired originated from a anti-aircraft missile brigade of the Russian Federation, moved into the separatist-held region that day and then withdrawn. But why it was fired and by whom exactly cannot be ascertained. It's been surmised that it may have been a terrible error, that the civilian plane (a Boeing 777) may have been mistaken for a military cargo plane. Why the airline didn't take a route avoiding the conflict area is another open question.
  
Anyway, today's photo shows a weapon system similar to the “Buk”, namely a predecessor type. It's on display at the former ICBM base of Pervomaisk in central Ukraine between Kiev and Odessa, which has been turned into a museum. Needless to say which version of the story of the downing of MH17 is told there ...
  
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Tuesday 16 July 2019
  
  16 07 2019   nobody home   in an abandoned socialist apartment block in Sofia, Bulgaria
  
Photo of the Day: nobody home ...
  
… in an abandoned residential high-rise building in Sofia, Bulgaria, one of those typical Soviet-era prefab blocks of flats that have gone out of fashion a bit since then … (though many thousands still exist and are lived in all across the former Soviet sphere of influence). Going there was part of the Communism Tour of Bulgaria I went on a few years ago as part of a longer Eastern Europe / Balkans trip.
  
I was kind of reminded of this image by two failed mail orders that never made it to my door over the past few weeks. One was simply dumped at a collection point – at least nearby, so I could quickly fetch it. The other one, however, went missing entirely. It started with me monitoring the online tracking function and seeing how the parcel was twice driven past my address without anybody ringing the doorbell, and then suddenly I got a notification that the item couldn't be delivered because they found “nobody home”, even though I had been waiting for the delivery all that time. I complained to the shipping company, and was promised next-day delivery three times in a row over the next six days. But nothing ever arrived. After repeated complaints I was then instructed to contact the sender (why?!?), which I did, and they in turn were to investigate with the shipping company. That was two weeks ago. Haven't heard anything since …
  
Of course I can't use my public position here to engage in anti-advertising, so I couldn't tell you that the company is question was DPD …
  
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Monday – 15 July 2019
 
 15 07 2019   Neuengamme
   
Photo of the Day: follow-up to last Friday's quiz post. The answer was Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg, north Germany.
  
Here is another picture taken there and a short note: Neuengamme, though comparatively less well known, was still one of the largest concentration camps within Germany. About 100,000 inmates are estimated to have passed through it. Here the hard labour they were forced to do was not in a quarry, but primarily in a brickworks ('Klinkerwerk' in German). Friday's photo showed the interior of one of the brick production plants on site, now eerily empty and atmospheric when the sunlight breaks through the holes in the roof making patterns on the bare floor.
   
Today's photo shows the exterior of the brickworks at Neuengamme, itself built using the typical north German red bricks such as the ones produced inside. The ramps were for a little tipping rail trolley like those you can see stranded in front of the building.
  
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Sunday 14 July 2019
  
I was alerted to this several times over this past week, so I thought maybe I should put a comment up here for all to see
  
This short BBC bulletin is a bit superficial and may have got a few things wrong (does anybody know the original of what the new Ukrainian president has actually said?) but it does raise a few questions. First of all the title: “to become official tourist attraction”? It already is! And has been for two decades. Visitor numbers are surging. True. But visits have been quite official since at least 1999.
  
Btw. up to now there's been a persistent error making the rounds, namely that allegedly tours were first made legal and official in 2012. Wrong. That year there were some changes and tours were briefly suspended (from what I gathered it was basically a row over who gets how much of the pie), but when they restarted one journalist must have got the wrong end of the stick and then countless others have since copied and re-copied and re-re-copied the error to the point that it almost looked like “common knowledge”. I found it not only in the media but even in otherwise reputable academic writings. But I'm living proof it's still wrong. I went on my first Chernobyl tour back in 2006. And it was quite official then. Same kind of paperwork to get the same kind of official permit. That first tour was a day trip, incidentally, and with a group – but there were just six of us. And we were the only tour (back then only one tour per day was allowed, so I was told). My other, more recent visits were private two-day tours.
   
These days, with multiple coachloads arriving daily in high season, Chernobyl has clearly become a tourist attraction already. Figures I was quoted say that it was over 60,000 last year and it is expected to go up further, perhaps doubling by next year. There are already signs of 'overtourism' (remember that outrage about those Instagrammers?) and I've heard more than once from seasoned Chernobyl fans that the place is being “ruined” by this trend. I'm personally not quite so negative about it. I think as long as you keep away from the selfie-stick wielding hordes of day-trippers and go on a longer private tour (albeit at higher costs, admittedly) it's still a destination second to none!
  
But back to the BBC article. I don't know what it is about “walking trails” but the days of no mobile phone reception have long been over as far as I was told. I wouldn't know personally as I'd never look at my phone when I'm in the Zone – too busy using my eyes to look at the real world and photographing (with a real camera, that is, not a phone). Anyway, what could “green corridors” possibly mean? I have no idea. Passages through the Zone without a need for a permit, a kind of free-for-all? I doubt that could be put into practice. Some restrictions will have to remain, especially at the NPP and the associated sites where actual, serious decommissioning work is still ongoing (and will continue for quite some time to come). And in Pripyat, security is being upped. I've only recently read that the legendary Azure swimming pool building is now off limits and that motion detectors have been installed to police it. So how does that go together. Or would “green corridors” mean two types of visitors? Or two types of Zone, one more “excluding” than the other? But how's that to work in practice? It remains very unclear.
   
The article goes on to say that restrictions on filming would be lifted. What restrictions? The only one I was aware of concerned drones. And I know you can now pay for a special licence to fly a drone (at a price!), so that's a bit of a change. Or maybe they mean professional filming? Even moviemaking? Using Chernobyl as a real set? Maybe. We'll see.
   
And what about corruption? Bribes even? There are fees, of course, and different operators charge somewhat different amounts, that much is certain. But I never had anybody extracting extra bribes. So I'm not sure what this is referring to. Does anybody out there have an idea? Then please comment.
  
So whatever it actually was that Ukraine's new comedian-turned-politician president said about Chernobyl, it remains a bit obscure, going by this article.
  
I actually think it's merely a bit of beating the PR drum. The fact that Chernobyl is attracting tourists in ever larger numbers, meaning ever more money can be made, may have inspired the president to give it a further boost. In what ways exactly …. well, we'll have to wait and see.
  
But that's certainly not the same as “changing” Chernobyl to “become” a tourist attraction.
  
(The article finishes with the usual speculations about the number of casualties attributable to the 1986 disaster, but I won't go into that here ...)
  
  
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Friday 12 July 2019
  
  12 07 2019   inside Klinkerwerk, Neuengamme, Hamburg, Germany
  
It was suggested to me that two Fridays in a row with quiz questions are enough to consider it a “tradition” started … so here we go, here's another one.
   
This is also a follow-up to Monday's post about lesser known concentration camps. So: can you say at which concentration camp memorial site this photo was taken … and where it is? ... and what it is that's seen here?
  
This might be a little trickier ... we'll see ...
  
I'll reveal the correct answer in a follow-up post about this place on Monday.
  
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Thursday 11 July 2019
  
   11 07 2019   wreck of the Lady Elizabeth, Stanley, Falklands
  
Photo of the Day: another shipwreck, as kind of a follow-up to yesterday's post. But this time it's one I've actually seen with my own eyes.
  
This is the rusty wreck of the “Lady Elizabeth” seen from the air flying into Stanley, Falkland Islands. The airstrip at the islands' capital is these days used only by small planes of F.I.G.A.S. (for Falkland Islands Government Air Service), Britten-Norman “Islanders” that provide links between the islands of the archipelago.
  
The “Lady Elizabeth” was a three-mast iron barque that sustained damage by gales off Cape Horn in December 1912 (losing part of its cargo and four sailors) and thus headed for Port Stanley for repairs. En route it also hit a rock cracking a hole into the hull and began to sink. She just about made it into the harbour but was given up as unseaworthy. For a while used as a coal hulk, in 1936 in another storm she broke free from her moorings and drifted on to the sandbank where she still lies today.
  
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Wednesday 10 July 2019
  
  10 07 2019   Rainbow Warrior
  
On this Day, 34 years ago, on 10 July 1985, the Greenpeace ship “Rainbow Warrior” was sunk in the Port of Auckland, New Zealand. The boat had been taking part in protests against French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll that year. Indeed it soon turned out that the two explosive devices that sank the vessel had been planted by the French intelligence service DGSE. Two French agents were tracked down and arrested. The whole thing was a major PR disaster for France and soured relations with New Zealand for years to come.
  
The “Rainbow Warrior” was initially refloated for examination but deemed beyond repair and so in 1987 it was later scuttled in Matauri Bay to become an artificial reef and dive wreck.
  
I am not a diver myself, so this photo is obviously not mine, but I took it from the New Zealand History website (exact source with URL in a comment below).
  
  
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Tuesday 9 July 2019
  
  09 07 2019   Darvaza flaming gas crater by day
  
Photo of the Day: Darvaza flaming gas crater (aka 'Door to Hell') by day.
  
Having recently finished the Central Asia chapters for my book I though of this, as I obviously also had to include this incredible site in Turkmenistan.
  
You normally rather see images of it taken at night, when the glow from the flames is indeed at its most impressive. However, I also found it quite mesmerizing at sunrise. And shortly after the sun was up I climbed a nearby hill to get a bit of a view from a higher vantage point and took this picture. You can make out some of the flames, vaguely, but mainly it gives you an impression of the vast emptiness this gigantic hole in the ground is located in.
  
For those (presumably few) who may not know about Darvaza: it's the result of an accident that happened when in Soviet times (most sources say in the early 1970s) prospectors drilled for natural gas in the middle of the Karakum desert and hit a cavern that then collapsed, taking some of the drilling gear with it (and presumably some of its operators too). The gas seeping from the ground ignited and has just kept burning ever since.
  
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Monday 8 July 2019
  
  08 07 2019   Flossenbürg
  
Photo of the Day: Flossenbürg concentration camp memorial.
  
In the context of filming a feature about dark tourism in Bavaria a couple of weeks ago (remember my post of 21 June?), I was talking about the lesser-known concentration camp memorials in Germany, and indeed most people, including the film crew, know the names of only a select few. Everybody knows the name Dachau, most people will also have heard of Buchenwald, but Flossenbürg? How many of you are familiar with this one?
  
It's in Franconia in the north-east of Bavaria and had a role similar to Natzweiler-Struthof in Alsace (now France) or Groß-Rosen near Breslau in Silesia, now part of Poland (how many are familiar with those too?), namely in that the inmates had to do hard forced labour in a stone quarry. The stones were needed for all those prestige building projects of the Nazis in the style of 'intimidation architecture'. Mauthausen in Austria was another one with that function.
  
I might come back to this topic of not so well known camps later in the week …
  
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Friday 5 July 2019
  
  05 07 2019   Soviet flag still flying proudly atop the Great Patriotic War Museum Minsk
  
Photo of the Day: a Soviet flag still proudly flying …
  
Let's have another Friday quiz question: can you say/guess where this might be?
   
(The photo was taken in the summer of 2016, by the way, not that that's much of a hint in itself … except that it makes it clear that this was taken well after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.)
  
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Thursday 4 July 2019
  
  04 07 2019   Sikorski monument, Gibraltar
  
On this Day, 76 years ago, on 4 July 1943, a B-24 plane started from Gibraltar and crashed almost immediately after take-off into the sea. It was carrying Władysław Sikorski, the then Polish commander-in-chief and Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile and other high-ranking persons, who had fled Poland when the Germans and Soviets started their invasions and found a safe haven in Britain, where they gave all their support to the Allies' war effort. The plane crash that killed Sikorski and everybody else on board, except the pilot, remains the subject of various conspiracy theories. Officially it was declared an accident – but the political situation, at a time when the Polish influence on the Allies' strategies was waning and Allied support for the Polish cause was showing cracks too, made it look suspicious.
  
As it later turned out the British promises for a liberated Poland's territorial integrity were indeed not honoured when the territorial claims by the Soviet Union were allowed to stand after WWII, for which Poland was instead given former German lands in the West, and Poland was left within the Soviet sphere of influence and turned communist – all things that rather embittered many Poles, who felt their contribution to the victory over Nazi Germany had been betrayed. Since these changes in political-strategic direction were in the pipeline at the time in 1943, it's little wonder that the death of Sikorski and his staff looks just a little too “convenient”. So whether the crash was an accident or indeed engineered through sabotage (by British intelligence? by the Soviets?) remains a question that many regard as “open”.
  
Today's photo shows the monument dedicated to Sikorski that is located at Europa Point, Gibraltar's southernmost tip. The propeller that forms part of the monument is apparently an original salvaged from the crashed plane's wreck.
  
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Wednesday 3 July 2019
  
  03 07 2019   fake Tintin cover, Cambodian Landmine Museum
  
Photo of the Day: a fake Tintin comic book cover – on display at the Cambodian Landmine Museum near Siem Reap.
  
No such volume “Tintin au Cambodge” (obviously meaning: 'Tintin in Cambiodia') actually exists, it's fictitious. It's not quite clear where and when this appeared, but you can find some references to this. It may seem cynical, especially the cover illustration of Tintin with that prosthetic leg, but in this context of the Landmine Museum, I think it does carry a justifiable message: don't forget the problem of landmines – in Cambodia in particular but also in general.
  
Again I've taken inspiration for this post by the ongoing work on my book. The Cambodian chapters were the latest I've finished. And it served as a reminder of how endearing and remarkable the Cambodian Landmine Museum is, also given that it is the work of one individual who in a previous life as a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge used to lay landmines himself, then defected to the Vietnamese side and later was engaged in de-mining operations for the UN.
  
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Tuesday 2 July 2019
  
  02 07 2019   guy standing at the top of the Hoxha pyramid, Tirana, Albania
  
Photo of the Day.: the Hoxha pyramid in Tirana, Albania
  
This strange edifice right in the heart of the capital city of this small and enigmatic country was originally intended to house a museum about Albania's dictator Enver Hoxha, who had passed away in 1985. It opened in 1988, but only two years later communism was over in Albania too, and this enormous relic of the Hoxha cult of personality became redundant. It is sometimes referred to as the 'Hoxha mausoleum', though that's at best metaphorically correct as it was apparently never intended to house his body. Allegedly the pyramid was the most expensive structure built in the communist era in Albania. Hoxha's daughter herself was involved in its design.
  
In the post-communist era the building has had several other secondary uses, but at times has just stood there abandoned. That was certainly the case when I was there and took this photo, eight years ago, in 2011.
   
I've just read an interesting article on several Hoxha-related buildings in Tirana about to find new uses, including the pyramid. Even more exciting is the prospect that Hoxha's former private residence in the Blloku (formerly the party elite's quarter, now a hip neighbourhood full of bars and clubs) may also be opened to the public – after having stood, locked and shuttered as a kind of time capsule since 1985. From a DT perspective that would be a cool addition to the other Hoxha-related sites that have opened in and near Tirana since I was there. I will most definitely have to go back there before long ... I had even thought of tagging a short Tirana trip on at the end of my summer travel period this year, but now I think I should rather wait until these developments, especially with regard to Hoxha's villa, have materialized.
  
  
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Monday 1 July 2019
  
  01 07 2019   ice   Perito Moreno glacier
  
Photo of the Day: something from cooler climes …
  
We haven't had anything from the Americas in a while, so here we go: this is Perito Moreno glacier in Patagonia, Argentina. So it's southern hemisphere as well! Where it is currently winter.
   
All very welcome thoughts in today's sweltering heat here where I am (38 degrees Celsius in Vienna today!). When it gets to such heat levels I really do long for the icier parts of this world, be it Svalbard or Patagonia or even further away …
  
As for Perito Moreno in particular, it is unusual in this day and age of worldwide rising temperatures, melting ice caps and receding glaciers globally, in that, contrary to this trend, Perito Moreno is still a growing glacier. Why that is so is not entirely clear. Anyway, in a kind of 'inverse' way it highlights the issue of global warming.
   
In fact images of Perito Moreno 'calving' large blocks of ice in the Lago Argentino at its outer end (where the ice towers a whopping 75 metres above the water) quite often feature online and on the TV when the issue of global warming is discussed, even though this particular glacier is actually one of the least fitting examples. Yet the dramatic nature of the images apparently overrides such considerations …
  
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Sunday 30 June 2019
  
Here's another online article about dark tourism, this time from CNN, that incorporates snippets from a telephone interview with me. Hardly anything of what I had to say in those ten minutes or so found its way into the article, but at least the second quote (towards the bottom) is a fairly good choice. And to be fair, so many other people (three of whom I actually know personally) were interviewed for this as well, that there had to be a bit of a spread. The article starts out a bit sensationalist (those journalists just can't help it, it seems .. .always have to overstate the 'danger' buzz word) but it does find its feet in the end and gives a more balanced overview. All in all one of the better treatments of the topic in the media ...
  
  
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Saturday 29 June 2019
  
  29 06 2019   the spot where Gandhi was assassinated, New Delhi, India
  
Photo of the Day: Gandhi Smriti.
  
As a follow-up to yesterday's post I decided to re-publish this photo originally posted on 30 January last year. That was the 70th anniversary of the day Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated at this spot in the garden of his last residence in New Delhi in 1948. And it is in his former living quarters, now a museum, that those glasses are on display that featured in yesterday's riddle post.
  
So that's solved (for those who didn't follow the comments yesterday, which already contained the solution).
  
Have a nice weekend ... I'm off to the Trop Med Institute to get my immunisations up to date in preparation of my summer trip to Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, which will include some forays into the depths of the jungle too, so it's important.
  
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Friday 28 June 2019
  
  28 06 2019   Gandhi's glasses
  
Photo the Day: mysterious glasses on display. Can you guess who they belonged to?
  
Hint: they're not John Lennon's ...
  
(this choice of photo was also inspired by my current work on my book. So that might be another hint)
  
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Thursday 27 June 2019 – Kolya at the STS
  
  27 07 2019   my fearless driver against a nuclear blast blackened measuring tower, STS, Kazakhstan
  
Photo of the Day: at the Polygon, better known as the Semipalatinsk Test Site (STS)
  
I rarely post photos with people in them, but today I make an exception, also because that person is barely recognizable in this shot. Standing in front of one of the former measuring towers, charred black by the nuclear blasts it was monitoring, is the fearless driver we had on our momentous tour of Kazakhstan a few years ago. While the other three of us were wearing overshoes and protective masks over our mouths and noses, our driver, who initially hadn't even intended to get out of the van, suddenly just stepped out, had a cigarette and proceeded to pose (mainly for our guide – I took this pic over his shoulder) right by this dramatic nuclear relic, the surface of which actually showed that it was partially melted to bubbles by the heat of the atomic tests conducted here.
  
I was reminded of all this while I was writing the Polygon chapter for my book and did some extra background research. It really was an exceptional trip, and the Semey-Chagan-Kurchatov-Polygon leg of it was certainly the most exciting part.
  
For those who don't know: the Polygon/STS was the Soviet Union's principal proving ground for testing nuclear weapons. Over 450 nuclear tests were conducted here between 1949 and 1989, including the very first Soviet A-bomb, RDS-1 (nicknamed “Joe 1” in the West). Well over 100 of these tests were atmospheric tests, i.e. above ground, with full-on mushroom clouds and all that, and quite a few of these bombs were actually dropped by bomber planes. From the 1960s, though, all tests were moved underground, following the Partial Test Ban Treaty. After the collapse of the USSR and Kazakhstan becoming independent, the Polygon was closed – for military nuclear tests that is. Kazakhstan still maintains civilian-use nuclear reactors at the site.
  
Remarkably you can – theoretically – visit the STS. It's more restricted these days (permits required – we just drove in back then) and not always possible, but still. It's worth the effort (and costs) to see this legendary place.
  
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Wednesday 26 June 2019
  
and here is the third part of the Fukushima series of articles ... I can see from my Facebook stats that this seems to be of noticeably less interest in general, but I still thought I should follow this up and post part three. This part includes a consideration of those parts of Okuma where the evacuation order has not yet been lifted and may never be lifted at all. The Japanese have an endearing euphemism for this: "difficult to return to area". 'Impossible' or 'very unlikely ever to be possible' would be more to the point than 'difficult', but never mind. It's probably part of the efforts to keep up some positive thinking. And that's ultimately what these articles are about, and it's an aspect I would like to feature here as well, because it contrasts with what most people assume when they think of Fukushima - namely that it's just a desolate wasteland with empty ghost towns so irradiated that nobody can live there or even visit.
  
In actual fact, decontamination efforts have made remarkable progress, and as these articles show, some parts at least can be inhabited again. True, though, others remain in the exclusion zone.
  
It was quite a privilege to see both sides of Fukushima on the tour I was on in April. The first day concentrated on the exclusion zone and we were even given access to one part of Okuma that is still in the Red Zone. Walking around that ghost town was a sobering experience. The second day concentrated more on the rebuilding efforts, including new schools, new farming co-operatives, the new fishing harbour and such like, so it had a less dark and more positive edge, even though the tour also included parts where the devastation of the 3/11 tsunami was still quite visible.
   
  
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Friday 21 June 2019
  
  21 06 2019   Dachau Kopie
  
Photo of the Day: Dachau.
  
Tomorrow I'll set off at the crack of dawn for a weekend trip to Munich. The reasons for the trip are threefold, partly DT-related and “duty”, partly non-DT-related and just for fun.
  
For one thing I'll be shooting a feature about DT and myself with the BR (Bayrischer Rundfunk, 'Bavarian Broadcasting'). Initially we had planned to go to Dachau just outside Munich itself and film there, but then we were not given a permit for doing so. I wonder if the BR journalists mentioned the “D word” in their application and whether it's this that made the Dachau press department withhold their consent. Anyway, we are now looking for alternative locations, and I suggested a few in and around Munich, but it's not been decided yet. Anyway, since I initially thought it would be Dachau I'll stick to this photo that I took a few years ago at that concentration camp memorial site anyway.
  
The other DT-related reason is that for Sunday I plan to use this opportunity to finally visit the NS-Dokumentationszentrum in Munich (the city was the “capital of the movement” of the Nazis in the 1920s and 30s and is hence especially closely linked with the rise of Hitler). This opened only a few years ago and I haven't yet had a chance to see it.
  
The non-DT-related fun reason is that on Saturday evening one of my favourite bands, Garbage, are playing a gig in Munich! And I've so far never had a chance to see them live either, and hence tried to get tickets as soon as I found out. Got tickets, train connections and hotel are booked too. So it's all fitting together very nicely.
  
I'll come back very (!) late on Sunday, so on Monday I'll either post something later in the day or give it a miss altogether … But I'll definitely be back on here from Tuesday.
  
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Thursday 20 June 2019
  
  20 06 2019   V2, Peenemünde, Germany
  
On this Day, it's a remarkable pair of anniversaries. 75 years ago, on 20 June 1944, a V-2 rocket designed by the research team led by Wernher von Braun was test launched at Peenemünde and reached an altitude of 176 km, making it the first man-made object to reach outer space, technically. The missile, with the number MW18014, didn't reach an orbit, though, and thus came back down to crash on the surface of Earth. But still, it was a remarkable technical achievement.
  
However: it was made in the name of creating a “wonder weapon” for the Nazi regime, one that the propaganda referred to as a “Vergeltungswaffe” ('retribution weapon'), hence the V in the name (before it was given that designation, it had been called simply Aggregat 4 or A4 for short). Once operational, V-2s, mass-produced under appalling conditions in underground production facilities like the concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora (which von Braun was well aware of), were used as a terror weapon. Between September 1944 and the end of WWII some 3000 of them were launched against Britain, Belgium and France.
  
On 20 June 1945, exactly one year after the MW18014 launch, Wernher von Braun and part of his team, who had surrendered to the American military in early May 1945, were officially approved to be transferred to the USA, where they would continue their work designing military missiles, now for the Americans, e.g. developing the first nuclear-warhead missile, the Redstone, for the US arsenal. Later von Braun would become a leading figure in the design of the Saturn rockets and the associated Apollo Moon landing programme. He's thus widely regarded as a hero of the Space Age, all despite his earlier Nazi connections.
  
Today's photo shows a replica V-2 on display at Peenemünde. Parts of the former missile development and testing complex are now a memorial. The ex-power station at the site houses a good museum as well. Absolutely worth the trip for anybody with an interest in this part of history.
  
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Wednesday 19 June 2019
  
  19 06 2019   Karadzic1 resize
  
Photo of the Day: Karadžić mural in Belgrade
  
I was checking on Wikipedia whether today's date had any anniversaries relevant to dark tourism. There are few (e.g. the execution of the Rosenbergs in 1953, the worst terror attack by ETA, etc.), but I couldn't accompany them with any photos from my own archives.
   
But I found two names in the list of birthdays on this date that made me take notice – one is that of Radovan Karadžić, who was born 74 years ago today in 1945. The other is that of Boris Johnson, who was born 55 years ago today in 1964. I won't comment on Johnson and his bid for Tory leadership and PM in the UK (I think going down that route and open up a discussion on him wouldn't be healthy), but it's kind of funny that he shares his birthday with a convicted war criminal (it's just coincidence, I know, but still).
   
The mural depicts Karadžić in the style he adopted when he was practising as a “new age” faith healer under a fake name and with that big grey beard and ponytail masking his face. Apparently he even ran a website and attended esoteric “alternative” medicine conferences. The disguise ultimately wasn't good enough though. He was discovered and arrested in 2008, and in 2016 was convicted in The Hague and sentenced to life imprisonment.
   
Another thing listed in the anniversaries for today on Wikipedia made me baulk. For 1991 it says: “Soviet occupation of Hungary ends” … what?!?!?! OK, the Soviets crushed the 1956 uprising in Hungary (as mentioned in Monday's post) and the country, as member of the Warsaw Pact, was surely under the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union, perhaps to the point of having to answer to Moscow, BUT it was not “occupied” by the Soviet Union. Interestingly, when you follow the link that this erroneous line comes with it takes you to an article entitled not “Soviet Occupation of Hungary” but “Hungary-Soviet relations” and at the bottom of that you learn that 19 June 1991 was the day the last troops stationed in Hungary left. But that's hardly the same as saying it ended an “occupation”.
   
(Btw, the photo is a cropped version of a shot supplied to me by a fellow traveller who requested not to be named – cheers anyway!)
  
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Tuesday 18 June 2019
  
  18 06 2019   badly battered Lenin, Semey
  
Photo of the Day: a badly battered Lenin.
  
Kind of a follow-up to yesterday's post. Not all Soviet symbolism survived so intact as the façade of the ex-USSR, now Russian, embassy in Berlin. In fact much of it was destroyed, and in some countries (such as Bulgaria or Ukraine) the public display of Soviet symbols has even been outlawed (except in museums).
   
This is a case in between. I found this sad Vladimir Ilyich bust in a little backyard park in the city of Semey (the former Semipalatinsk) in what is today independent Kazakhstan (once the second largest constituent SSR of the Soviet Union, after Russia).
   
I don't know what happened to this specimen, but not only is the paint flaking, someone must also have knocked his nose off. He's surrounded by a collection of yet more Soviet-era busts and statues, mostly fellow Lenins, including a 30-foot tall intact one in a flamboyant pose, plus the odd Marx and a few Kirovs – all parked more or less out of public view (unless you know where to look and actively do so), but at least they haven't simply been destroyed altogether.
  
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Monday 17 June 2019
  
  17 06 2019   Soviet relic on the Russian embassy in Berlin
  
On this Day, 66 years ago, on 17 June 1953, an uprising in the GDR (East Germany) was brutally crushed by the Soviet military, who brought out tanks against the striking and protesting masses. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, were killed, thousands injured and even more arrested, many of whom were sentenced to long years of imprisonment. It was the first of a series of heavy-handed suppressions of uprisings by the people in the Eastern Bloc, echoed only three years later in Hungary in 1956 and the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968.
  
In West Germany, 17 June was declared a public holiday, under the epithet “Tag der Deutschen Einheit” ('Day of German Unity'), when in actual fact it marked the opposite, the disunity of Germany and the fact that this was kept that way by the forces of the Cold War era and the military presence of the Soviet Union in the GDR.
  
After Germany did eventually achieve unity in 1990, the old public holiday of 17 June was abolished, and 3 October took over as German Unity Day (that was the day reunification and the dissolution of the GDR officially came about).
   
Today's photo shows a relic of the Soviet presence in the GDR: it's a detail of the Russian, then Soviet, embassy building on the grand boulevard of Unter den Linden in what was East Berlin, a mere stone's throw from the Brandenburg Gate which stands just behind where the Berlin Wall was.
   
The embassy was built in 1950 in the then prevalent Stalinist architectural style. The USSR and the GDR are no more, but the Soviet symbolism remains in place on this grand building.
  
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Sunday 16 June 2019
  
English below …
  
Deutsch:
Ich hatte jüngst eine Anfrage Von einem Journalisten von “Bento”, einem Ableger von SPIEGEL online, der sich an jüngeres Publikum richtet. Die möchten gerne für eine Reportage einen 'dark tourist' auf einer Reise zu einem entsprechenden Ort begleiten. Ich selber komme nicht mehr als “jung” in Frage, die gesuchte Altersgruppe sollte so zwischen 16 und 30 liegen (notfalls auch knapp drüber). Gibt es unter meinen Followern jemanden, der dafür bereit wäre? Wenn ja, bitte Kontakt aufnehmen.
  
English:
I had a request from a journalist working for “bento”, a young portal spin-off of the renowned SPIEGEL in Germany. Ideally they want to accompany a young dark tourist on a trip to such a location for a feature on that portal. Alas, I don't qualify as “young” any more myself. They are looking for somebody aged between 16 and 30 (or maybe slightly over). Is there anybody amongst my followers who'd be interested in such a thing? Ideally they'd want a German speaker, but if they can't find any, they also take a non-German speaker (and presumably just translate). Anybody interested please message me.
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Friday 14 June 2019
  
  14 06 2019   remnants of Argentine position, Falklands
  
On this Day (and the following one), 37 years ago, on 14/15 June 1982, the Falklands War ended. Today's photo shows the remnants of an Argentine position in the battlefields in the islands' barren landscape where the decisive battles were fought that led to the defeat of the Argentinians by the British, ending the ten-week occupation by Argentina, which had begun with the invasion of the Falklands on 2 April.
  
Following fierce battles with heavy Argentine losses in the days before and with British troops advancing on the capital of the islands (Stanley to the British, but temporarily renamed Puerto Argentino by the Argentines), it became clear that further defensive action was pointless. So General Menendez, the commander of the Argentine forces in the Falklands ('Malvinas' to the Argentines), phoned his superior General Galtieri on the mainland and agreed to take responsibility for a surrender. The instrument of surrender was signed in Stanley's Secretariat building by Menendez and his British counterpart Major-General Moore, who had to be specially flown in by helicopter from Fitzroy. Because of the delay of Moore's arrival, due to heavy weather, the exact time of the surrender was put slightly forward to 8:59 p.m. local time – i.e. 23:59h GMT. This was to avoid confusion later over the date of the surrender (as happened with WWII … remember my post of 9 May!). The actual time when the signatures were put on the document (about half an hour later) would have meant that it had already been 15 June back in Britain, so Menendez agreed to put the time slightly forward. The surrender was also not unconditional (this word had actually been in the document draft, by default perhaps, but Moore agreed to have it crossed out). The Argentine soldiers had to give up their weapons, but their officers were allowed to keep their personal weapons and retained command over their units. The Argentinians were then all allowed to return home. During their brief period as POWs they were treated well by the British (some say the conscript soldiers were probably treated better as POWs than they had been by their commanders during the war). Back at home it was a different story; the returnees were shamed. To this day, Argentine veterans keep fighting for recognition. In Britain, on the other hand, the victory sparked joyous patriotic celebrations (and ensured a landslide re-election for Margaret Thatcher). Yet, here too, many of the veterans remained damaged, mostly psychologically, some also physically, and a few of them went on to campaign for a more realistic portrayal of what war is really like, beyond all the glorification of 'valour' and 'bravery'. Things are rarely as simple as black and white, so even this war, victorious for Britain, a “shameful” defeat for Argentina, remains controversial and a complex subject matter. Travelling to the actual locations of this war, and in this context learning so much about it that I hadn't known before, was one of the most outstanding, educational, moving and most memorable highlights of all my dark-tourism explorations. Moreover, we met some wonderfully friendly people amongst the locals (there is something about islanders - they're often so nice). The scenery of the Falklands, despite its barrenness, also made a deep impression on me …
  
[long-time followers may notice that I re-used part of a post from three years ago – I just wanted to make my life a bit easier; and don't think I could have improved this post by re-writing it all from scratch, so why not ...]
  
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Thursday 13 June 2019
  
  13 06 2019   oh, the charm of the 1970s   Marienthal
  
Photo of the Day: the charm of the 1970s … at the former West German (FGR) Government bunker at Marienthal near Bonn, built in the 1960s/70s as a “relocation” bunker inside a mountain to house the German Government and main state institutions (even the Constitutional Court) in case of a nuclear war (i.e. WW3) breaking out.
  
I gave a radio interview yesterday, and since it was for a station based in Bonn (the former capital of the FRG) I was asked what dark-tourism attractions there might be in their area. I mentioned the EL-DE-Haus in Cologne (former Gestapo prison), and the Haus der Geschichte in Bonn itself, but my pick of the lot was the Marienthal bunker, which has been largely gutted after its closure in the early 1990s, but one stretch has been preserved as an impressive memorial.
  
To explain why I find it so important, I said that historically it is probably the most significant relic from the Cold War in the west of Germany, and atmospherically it is just fascinating … walking through those massive blast doors, standing in the communications nerve centre with all its 1970s electronics “retro” glory, or seeing the white-tiled decontamination shower rooms … where anybody coming in from the outside contaminated by radioactive fallout would have had to strip naked and be showered down with cold water while being observed by the shower operator through a little window with windscreen wipers (even members of the government could have gone through that procedure … how I would have envied the person having the job of inflicting this humiliating procedure on them! … I didn't say that in the interview …).
  
And in the “living quarters” of the Federal President stood these items of typical 1970s interior design in the characteristic garish colours of those days. Marvellous!
  
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Wednesday 12 June 2019
  
  12 06 2019   giant spider web
  
Photo of the Day: something for the arachnophobes out there … a giant spider's web!
   
… my recent trip to north Germany was primarily for a family visit, and no dark-tourism elements had been planned. Yet one morning my sister took us to a sculpture park at Kramelheide in the vicinity of the village where they live (deep in deepest rural Lower Saxony). And this is where today's photo was taken.
  
This “spider's web” installation made of rope is complemented by a large spider sculpture made of rusty metal parts, but that's located at near the web but on the side of a nearby building, from where the spider is connected to the Web by a long extra rope.
   
It's not really dark in the usual sense we use it in DT, but I thought it was close enough, at least for those who are afraid of spiders (and that's quite a few people!). And it's current – taken on Monday.
   
Other works within this sculpture park weren't exactly dark either but certainly high on the weird scale (including a 30 foot giant stork hiding in the treetops, a giant fishing rod suspended over a pond, a kayak hanging between two tree trunks, and yet more giant insect sculptures (ants, locusts, etc.) made from metal and stones.
  
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Friday 7 June 2019
  
  07 06 2019   Bradford Undercliffe cemetery
  
Photo of the Day: as is kind of becoming a tradition for Fridays, just a short text post but with an atmospheric picture.
  
This was taken at Undercliffe Cemetery, Bradford, West Yorkshire, England, UK ... some time in the mid-to-late1990s. It's a scan of an analogue print – as it was still pre-digital photography days back then. Hence the low resolution and slight blur. But still. Looks kind of retro (and is).
   
I just thought of this because Bradford and my five years living there were mentioned last week already and I got a little nostalgic ;-)
  
By the way: I will be away (family visit) for the next few days, and presumably be offline during much of that time too, so I won't be able to post anything until Tuesday at the earliest. Apologies for the hiatus; I'll try and make up for it ;-)
  
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Thursday 6 June 2019
   
  06 06 2019   Atlantic Wall bunker
  
On this Day, 75 years ago, on 6 June 1944 it was D-Day … the beginning of the Allied landings in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord. It was the start of the liberation of Nazi-German-occupied France … and eventually that of Germany itself too.
   
It was the largest amphibious landing operation in history. And even though it was costly in terms of casualties, it was in the end one the most decisive successes of the Allies.
   
The Nazis had made great efforts to fortify the entire coastline of the territories held by Germany (the Atlantic Wall, as it's become known as). But the invasion was rather expected to take place at or near Calais, where the English Channel is at its narrowest. And in fact clever moves by the Allied intelligence helped in making the Germans believe this.
  
And so the German forces in Normandy found themselves outnumbered 3 to 1 on the day and were rather swiftly overrun.
   
A few years ago I went on a tour of the Normandy D-Day beaches organized by the Peace Museum in Caen, and on it I saw (amongst plenty of other things) this old bunker that formed part of the Atlantic Wall.
  
  
< comment: Don't look for a proper chapter about the Caen museum or the D-Day sites on DT's main website … to my shame I have to admit that I still haven't got round to writing them up. I somehow got distracted at the time, then it got postponed and postponed and postponed as other, then more urgent things got in the way, and *zooooom*, a few years have passed. And now I have even more urgent other obligations, of course, what with the book writing and all that. So I guess it will be at least another year before I can even contemplate filling those long-standing gaps. But I will eventually do so … promise. >
  
[UPDATE: this has meanwhile changed! Here's the new chapter for the Mémorial de Caen!
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Wednesday 5 June 2019 
  
  05 06 2019   by train through rural North Korea
  
Photo of the Day: kind of a follow-up to yesterday's post. This photo was taken a couple of days before the one of Tiananmen Square, namely from the train from Pyongyang back to Beijing. So what you see here is rural North Korea!
   
The only reason I had gone to Beijing in the first place in 2005 was that this was where the tour I was on started from and ended at. We flew out of Beijing straight into Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, and after a week of intense guided touring we headed back to Beijing by overnight train. And it was from the train that some of the best impressions of the country outside the rosy propaganda picture could be had. Rural life in the DPRK.
  
In a way I found that rather refreshing after all the showing off of oversized monuments, statues, and what not, on the official guided part of the tour – though that was all very interesting and insightful too, don't get me wrong, and the guides were actually very pleasant characters … yet finally being without the constant guidance felt somewhat like a relief at the end nonetheless.
   
Would I go back to North Korea, though? Absolutely. It's just such a crazily unique and different world. And recent changes have made it even more intriguing. Would I go back to China now? Probably not. I wouldn't feel safe, having made critical remarks about the country's politics here and elsewhere. And the level of surveillance in present-day China is such that it makes George Orwell's “1984” look like a libertarian paradise in comparison. It's a shame, though, since there'd be many places I'd like to visit in China, especially in Yunnan, but also the controversial Three Gorges Dam, and of course the No. 1 dark-tourism attraction in the country: the Nanjing Massacre Memorial. Has anybody here been to that?
  
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Tuesday 4 June 2019
  
  04 06 2019   Tiannanamen Square, Beijing, China
  
On this Day, 30 years ago, on 4 June 1989, the Tiananmen Square massacre violently ended the (mostly) student protests calling for more freedom and democracy, when the army was called in with tanks and … well, the rest is history. We don't need to go into the nasty details again. This photo of the square (reused from a couple of years ago) was taken during my only short stay in China, back in 2005. The big building in the centre, by the way, is the Mao mausoleum.
  
The events of June 1989 in Beijing gave the world the expression “Chinese solution” – which was feared when protests also escalated in East Germany. But here the already weakened authorities decided not to resort to the same sort of violent crushing of the protests, no Chinese solution … and shortly afterwards the Berlin Wall came down and the communist state of the GDR was dissolved. I presume back in Beijing the rulers of China must have felt rather vindicated by those events, whereas in Germany the collapse of the GDR was mostly celebrated (not by everybody, of course) and the path to reunification embarked on.
   
In China, the Tiananmen Square tragedy cannot even be properly commemorated. The regime remains strictly undemocratic, only allowing economic prosperity (pushing it even) but no free speech. That state of affairs also gave the world the expression “Chinese democracy” … but enough of that. On this anniversary day let's remember the victims.
  
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Monday 3 June 2019
  
 03 06 2019   Tu 144   1
  
  03 06 2019   Tu 144   2
  
  03 06 2019   Tu 144   3
  
  03 06 2019   Tu 144   4
  
  03 06 2019   Tu 144 and Concorde
  
On this Day, 46 years ago, on 3 June 1973, a Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic passenger jet crashed at the Paris Air Show, killing all on board and another eight on the ground. Moreover it killed the reputation of this Soviet competitor of the British-French equivalent Concorde.
  
Tupolev had won the race to get a prototype of such an ambitious supersonic passenger jet airborne and the Soviets were also ahead of Concorde with putting the Tu-144 into regular scheduled service – nominally at least. In reality the Tu-144 was not up to the job she had been intended for. A kerosene-guzzler of the highest order, this plane would never have been commercially viable, and the only route it was ever in service on was a weekly flight between Moscow and Alma-Ata (today's Almaty, Kazakhstan). That's how “regular” the schedule ever got.
   
Apparently the Soviet authorities had become aware of the risk of further crashes and wanted to minimize it by allowing only few flights and only with a much reduced passenger load far below the intended capacity. In the end, less than 60 scheduled flights were completed before the model was pulled out of service in June 1978 following another crash (of a pre-delivery Tu-144 on a test flight that killed two) the previous month. After that this type of aircraft was only used for research and training purposes until the late 1990s.
   
About half the Tu-144s ever built still exist, and most are museum pieces, just like Concorde. In fact the only place where a Tu-144 is on display outside Russia and next to a Concorde is at the Technik-Museum in Sinsheim in Germany – which is where I took these photos a few years back ...
  
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Sunday 2 June 2019
  
  [can't reproduce the photo, as it was a share]
  
Rarely seen, but apparently not impossible to access … this is the control room of Chernobyl Block 4 … well, what's left of it.
  
(Photos courtesy of Misha Teslenko of ChernobylMe Tours – cheers, mate!)
   
Yes, that's right, this is the control room of that block that blew up in 1986 and caused what still stands as the world's worst nuclear accident ever (having recently been to Fukushima I now know that the disaster at Fukushima-Daiichi NPP has panned out nowhere near as bad).
   
That means: this was also in the very control room in which the fatefully wrong decisions were taken and the wrong controls used that then triggered the disaster. So this is a room where tragic history was made. As such it's clear that you can say it must be the “holy grail” of Chernobyl in terms of DT. But just like the holy grail it's hard to get.
   
But Misha's been in … and I cannot conceal my envy! If ever I get a chance to set foot in this place, I'd love to do so (even though I know that in this place radiation is still such that you have to wear proper protective clothing).
  
Incidentally, most of those controls and other instruments in this room have been removed, as you can clearly see in these pictures. I've been told that that's because those items were used as spare parts in other control rooms. But I can't vouch for the correctness of that claim.
  
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Saturday 1 June 2019 - afternoon
  
What a little monument to what a bit of (black) humour can do even in the most unlikely settings!!! … in this case Minuteman ICBM silos and the underground launch control centres (LCCS), where missilemen work 36-hour alert-duty shifts at a time in a tiny capsule before emerging back on the surface of the Earth. The LCCs are hence referred to as “the hole”, as in this hilarious track.
   
The Groobers were a four-piece band of Minuteman missilemen who served in the mid- 1970s (before women also joined the missile forces) and in their spare time came up with music like this, familiar tunes played in a folksy/county-like style but with all-new tongue-in-cheek (to say the least) lyrics that reflect their life and duty. Their (as far as I know) only album release (in 1975) was called “Missile Duty's Pleasin …?”. You have to know a little about the context, and I guess fellow missileers will get much more out of it than outsiders can, but listen closely and you'll find lots of little jokes you will get, amongst all the more obscure insider references …
   
This little known (well, let's be honest: almost totally unheard of) humorous musical relic can now be found in its entirety on YouTube (with lyrics!!). This is just one of the tracks (sung to the tune of the classic “Home on the Range”), but links to the other tracks appear in the margin on the right below the main video window. Oh, and don't forget to click on expanding the lyrics if you want to read along (it might help here and there).
  
   
<comment: I've just gone through the lot – and now I think this one is my favourite:
  
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Friday 31 May 2019
  
  [photo cannot be reproduced]
  
On this Day, 108 years ago, on 31 May 1911, RMS “Titanic” was launched in Belfast … and we all know what happened to her on her maiden voyage … (Photo taken at the “Titanic Belfast Experience”. It shows a projection of an image of the Titanic just before her launch.)
  
This concludes a whole week of dark anniversaries, with posts on this page that got way too long at times, given my other obligations. So for today I'll leave it at this.
  
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Thursday 30 May 2019
   30 05 2019   the trunk in which Trujillo's dead body was transported away from the assassination scene
  
On this Day, 58 years ago, on 30 May 1961, the long-standing dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, was assassinated. His car, en route from the capital Santo Domingo to his home town of San Cristóbal, was ambushed, a car chase ensued, and eventually the assassins were able to gun the dictator down.
  
Today's photo shows (not Trujillo's, as is sometimes erroneously assumed, but) the car of the assassins, which is/was on display at the history museum (Museo Nacional de Historia y Geografía) in Santo Domingo … except that this museum has been closed for many years, and despite official claims to the contrary shows no sign of being reopened any time soon.
  
When I was in the country I was lucky to have found a very cool guide, who arranged a clandestine visit to this museum … well, just this one exhibit really. But you can also catch a glimpse of it by just peeking through the window next to the entrance. The car is an Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight, and the bullet holes you can spot on the side of the car are from Trujillo shooting back at his assassins (in vain). The trunk of the car was used to carry the dead dictator's body away from the scene.
  
The Trujillo assassination, by the way, may have ended his life but not (yet) the dictatorship. His son, Ramfis Trujillo, was called in to step into his father's shoes, and he promptly launched a manhunt for the assassins. All but one were caught and executed. Yet Ramfis was himself ousted before the year was out and fled to Madrid (together with his dead Daddy's body and a fortune allegedly in the region of 100 million US$), where the Trujillos enjoyed friendly relations with Spain's dictator Franco.
  
Back in the Dominican Republic, meanwhile, former Trujillo protégé Joaquin Balaguer took over and continued quasi-autocratic rule for another couple of decades until 1996.
  
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Wednesday 29 May 2019
  
  29 05 2019   Sardarabad
  
On this Day, 101 years ago, on 29 May 1918, the Battle of Sardarabad (also spelled “Sardarapat”) ended with a victory for the military of Armenia against the Ottoman Turkish army.
  
Today's photo shows the grand monument that was erected at the site – as late as 1965, because until then this Armenian victory wasn't mentioned in Soviet historiography, despite (or perhaps precisely because of) its great significance for Armenian national pride. It was only after Stalin's death that the Soviet authorities allowed Armenia to properly commemorate its role in World War One – including the tragedy that was the Armenian genocide of 1915.
   
In a way, then, this monument at Sardarabad is the celebratory counterpart to the sombre and dark Armenian genocide memorial at Tsitsernakaberd in Yerevan.
   
The shape of the monument could almost be interpreted as “giving the Turks the finger”, as the two countries remain arch-enemies to this day. The border between them has been closed since Armenia's inclusion in the USSR, and in fact was once part of the Iron Curtain (as Turkey was, and still is, a NATO member), and even today it is guarded by Russian border troops, even though Armenia is now an independent state (which remarkably also has for a long time had good relations with Iran and the USA – probably the only state ever to have been on good terms with all three of these).
   
Ironically, the territory on the other, Turkish, side of the border used to be part of Armenia as well, but what was Western Armenia has remained in Turkish hands for centuries. Many of the international Armenian diaspora are/were Western Armenian. This can have linguistic repercussions: I observed a group of high school students from Canada in a hotel bobby in Yerevan who were eager to practise their spoken Armenian they had learned at home. But since the local variant of Armenian and the old Western Armenian they had learned are apparently only in part mutually intelligible, communication with the staff at reception turned out to be frustratingly hit and miss, so some of the students had to resort back to English after all …
  
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Tuesday 28 May 2019
  
  28 05 2019   Atomic Testing Museum
   
On this Day, 21 years ago, on 28 May 1998, Pakistan conducted the “Chagai-I” series of nuclear tests, the simultaneous detonation of five implosion-type atomic bombs at the Ras Koh Hills. The underground tests were in a way a reaction to a nuclear test conducted in India, Pakistan's arch-enemy and neighbour, earlier that same month. Yet even though “Chagai-I” was Pakistan's first nuclear test, it had long been in the making. The nation's nuclear development programme goes back to the 1970s and it may have had nuclear weapons at the ready from as early as the mid-1980s.
  
Yet this first test – and five all at the same time at that – was of course a massive propaganda show. It triggered all sorts of reactions in the world. Condemnation was obviously the most widespread one, not just in India. That's because all nuclear testing should theoretically have ceased when the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) had come into force less than two years earlier (in September 1996) … though neither Pakistan nor India (or North Korea) were/are signatories to the Treaty.
  
Personally I remember 28 May 1998 well – I was living in Bradford, West Yorkshire, at the time, which is the city with the highest proportion of Pakistanis of any British city's population (which also makes it one of the “curry capitals” of the UK, a fact I very much enjoyed while living there!). Some districts are de facto 100% Pakistani. I remember that day because lots of cars were driving around, honking their horns and with people waving the Pakistani national flag in joyful celebration. I was wondering what the cause for this obviously spontaneous jubilation was … it was only later that day when I got home that I found out and was able to put two and two together.
  
I obviously have no photos from “Chagai-I”, so instead I give you a photo I took in the National Atomic Testing Museum in Nevada, USA, to illustrate this post. Thematically it's close enough.
  
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Monday 27 May 2019
  
  27 05 2019   Obama in Hiroshima
    
On this Day, only three years ago, on 27 May 2016, then US President Barack Obama paid a visit to Hiroshima – the first POTUS ever to do that!
   
This photo was taken a few weeks ago when I revisited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, ten years after my first visit. So this exhibit was obviously not yet there then. Now it takes pride of place at the end of the new permanent exhibition.
   
In addition to leaving the message in the visitor book that is on display here, he also personally folded two origami cranes as a peace symbol – as is the tradition in Japan – and placed them on the book.
   
This first visit of a US president to Hiroshima, victim of the first A-bomb dropped by the USA, and his speech promoting the abolition of nuclear weapons, were highly publicized and generally lauded in Japan (and the world)
   
Yet, as a footnote in Howard Sawyer's book “I am the Dark Tourist” (Manchester: Headpress, 2018) points out, Obama may have reduced the US nuclear arsenal by as much a whopping 5% (irony intended!) he also earmarked 20 billion US$ annually to the updating of this arsenal “to maintain the nation's ability to conduct a nuclear war” (p. 179)
  
  
< comment: Since I mentioned Howard Sawyer's book, which I find excellent, here's the link to my in-depth review of it:
  
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Friday 24 May 2019
  24 05 2019   skulls and bones arrangement, Sedlec ossuary, Czech Republic
  
Photo of the Day: for Friday … yet more skulls and bones … this time in the rightly fabled Sedlec ossuary in the Czech Republic … but no story.
   
… However, I quite like the way in which the stucco ceiling makes a shape that resembles the “arches” of a well-known US hamburger restaurant chain and icon of 'cultural imperialism' … as if it's growing from those skulls and bones. I'm over-interpreting, of course, but I like it ;-)
  
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Thursday 23 May 2019
  
  23 05 2019   standing on a baby and on skulls, National Museum, Jakarta
  
Photo of the Day: statue standing on a baby and a ring of skulls …
 
My recent posts have become too wordy again. I need to improve my time management and cut down on the post text length (and thus leave more time for book writing). So no big story today. I wouldn't have one for this anyway. I took this photo inside the National Museum in Jakarta, but have absolutely no idea what this is supposed to signify, neither with regard to the baby nor the skulls. Does anybody else out there know?
  
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Wednesday 22 May 2919
  
  22 05 2019   Hilo tsunami museum
  
On this Day, 59 years ago, on 22 May 1960, the Great Chilean Earthquake occurred, the strongest ever recorded – it's usually placed at ca. 9.4 to 9.6 on the magnitude scale. For comparison: the earthquake that caused the Tohoku tsunami in Japan in 2011 is placed at 9.0 to 9.1.
  
The 1960 earthquake triggered a tsunami that not only caused devastation in Chile itself but travelled across the entire Pacific Ocean and reached as far as China, the Philippines, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
   
On Hawaii, about halfway in between, the tsunami caused a tragedy in Hilo, on Big Island. Due to the distance it travelled the wave arrived there the next day, yet despite a successful pre-warning it still killed 61 people. As a result the formerly populated seafront was turned into a park and housing was largely moved further inland.
  
The Hilo Tsunami Museum, housed in an old bank building on the seafront, documents all this in detail – and one exhibit in it is the wave simulator machine seen in this photo ... where you can create your own little tsunami!
  
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Tuesday 21 May2019
  
  21 05 2019   demon core
  
On this Day, 73 years ago, on 21 May 1946, physicist Louis Slotin received a lethal dose of radiation in an experiment at the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, USA. The accident involved the third plutonium sphere produced by the Manhattan Project, intended for the core of a third A-bombing of Japan in WWII. Since this core couldn't be delivered before the war ended, it was not put in a bomb, but remained at the Lab for experiments. Another lethal accident with this very sphere had already occurred on 21 August 1945. After the second accident it therefore acquired the nickname “the demon core”.
   
I'll spare you the details of the nuclear physics of what happened (although I often find myself drawn into the subject and have just spent way too long reading up on it …). Suffice it to say, that poor Slotin, a Canadian who had been one of the younger physicists in the Manhattan Project and had taken part on the Trinity Test of July 1945, received a massive dose of both neutron and gamma radiation and died of acute radiation sickness nine days later. It must have been a most agonizing slow death.
  
I do of course not have a photo of the “demon core” of my own, so instead I give you a photo of a replica of such a core as part of the “Fat Man” exhibit at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, which I revisited on my recent trip to Japan about a month ago. The plutonium sphere in the centre would be compressed into supercriticality by a mantle of conventional explosives to trigger the fission explosion. Hence the term 'plutonium implosion bomb type'. This was used both at the Trinity Test (the first ever nuclear explosion in history) and in the Nagasaki bomb, “Fat Man” (so called because of its shape), the second ever used in war.
  
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Monday 20 May 2019
   
  20 05 2019   Austrian hang over   at Zentralfriedhof
  
Photo of the Day: Austrian hang-over …
   
After an eventful weekend I wanted to post something from Austria, and ideally also something with a link to the ESC … hmmmm …. quite a tall order, that … and then I remembered this photo, which I took a few years ago at Vienna's Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof). Doesn't the mould on this angel statue's chin and cheeks resemble the kind of beard of Austria's 2014 winner of the ESC, Conchita Wurst? I think that can count as a sufficient connection to the ESC.
   
And that hanging-head posture? Well I guess some within the right-wing side of the political spectrum in Austria will be hanging their heads at the moment, following the scandal around the FPÖ party leader, his resignation and subsequent break-up of the government coalition. And as far as the ESC is concerned, Austria didn't even qualify this year ...
  
Why all these references to the ESC here on DT? Well, just for fun, really, woven into black humour references to politics. I think “Eurovision Song Contest” is quite a misnomer anyway … OK, there is vision, a lot of it, and that seems to be the priority these days, but the “songs”, if you want to call them that, hardly matter any more. I for one can't even listen to all that polished, computer-generated sameness for more than a few seconds at a time ... and what about European? What was Australia doing in the line-up, then? Or Israel, to begin with? Looks like some geography lessons could be a good idea as well …
   
Oh, and if you're asking “why do you even watch it then?”, my answer is: I don't I, not as such, I recorder it and then just fast-forwarded through the recording, pressing play briefly to give each “song” a short moment (more or less regretting it on every occasion) and then went straight to the voting at the end. The politics involved in the votes always amuse me, especially where the small countries' points go (e.g. Malta's or San Marino's), how neighbouring countries vote for or against each other, or where the points for Russia come from … so predictable, but I derive some black humour from that, I have to admit. Musically, I swear, I couldn't care less about the whole event.
  
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Sunday, 19 May 2019
  
  19 05 2019   John Wayne looking distraught and clueless
  
On this Day, 65 years ago, on 19 May 1953, the USA conducted the “Dirty Harry” shot, a nuclear test that was part of Operation Upshot-Knothole, in the Yucca flats area of the Nevada test Site (NTS).
   
Now you may well wonder how this could possibly be linked to this photo – which I took on board the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 2015. Yet there is a link, although it is admittedly a bit of a loose one. Just read on …
   
This particular nuclear test acquired the nickname “Dirty Harry” for good reason – it was one of the worst tests in terms of subsequent fallout, depositing large amounts of radionuclides such as Caesium-137, Strontium-90, Iodine-131, Cobalt-60 and even Uranium-240, the highest amount of radioactive fallout of any test conducted on the territory of the continental US.
   
Worse still, this fallout was not confined to the NTS, but also affected areas beyond, including in the neighbouring state of Utah. Those areas, and the unfortunate people living there, have subsequently become known as “downwinders”.
   
And here's the link to John Wayne: he was filming the Howard Hughes movie “The Conqueror” at a particularly badly affected place in Utah at the time (it was not a Western movie, but about Genghis Khan – and apparently it is ranked as one of the worst movies of all time). Out of the film team's 220 members, more than two thirds later developed cancers and half of those died. Including John Wayne. Although John Wayne's death is more likely to be attributed to his chain-smoking rather than any radioactive fallout. But the myth still lives on (there's even a German book about US nuclear testing and its legacy called “Der verstrahlte Westernheld”, 'the irradiated Western hero', that takes its title from this myth).
   
This photo is obviously neither from a Western movie nor from “The Conqueror”. I cannot be 100% sure but I think it may have been taken from the 1965 film “In Harm's Way”, which starred John Wayne as a US Navy officer in WWII. That would also at least partly explain why it is on display on the USS Missouri. Although why they picked an image in which John Wayne looks like a clueless idiot, I don't know … but it fits in with the fallout story. You could imagine that he's looking towards the mushroom cloud that is about to kill him …
  
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Saturday 18 May 2019
  
Here's a brand new online travel magazine article the first half of which was written by me. It's in German, but even those who cannot read the language so well can get something out of it, in particular through the photos.
  
I was originally asked to contribute a piece about the 10 top dark tourism destinations. They also asked the same of Sebastián Cvs of Between Distances, and so they conflated the two halves to call it “The 20 most impressive dark tourism sites world-wide”. Fair enough. However, they shorted my text somewhat and one thing was dropped altogether was my introductory remark that had made a deliberate decision not to pick the usual suspects that are almost always named first when the topic of dark tourism comes up. So I did not pick Auschwitz, the 9/11-Memorial/Museum, the Cambodian Killing Fields or Hiroshima & Nagasaki purely for that reason, even though I am of course aware that these, together with Chernobyl, constitute what has been dubbed “the Big Five of dark Tourism (e.g. by Howard Sawyer). All these are top notch, but I just wanted to cast the net a bit wider. Shame that this intro wasn't reproduced. But never mind.
   
The rest of my submitted text is intact in full, but what kind-of fell by the wayside is that I had actually ranked my ten examples (in the order in which they appear, although I had submitted them in the opposite order, starting at No. 10 and “working up” to the top position). If you compare this list with those on my website (links in comments) you can see it's a bit different: not only get Auschwitz, Hiroshima et al their appropriate top positions there, you can also see several of the places mentioned here not within the top 10 on the website. That's because for this article I also tried to balance a wide as possible international spread with a slight bias towards a German readership (hence the inclusions of Volgograd and Hohenschönhausen).
   
One more little thing: in the map below the article, the location pin for Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, has somehow slipped into Ukraine instead … oh the geography! ...
  
   
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Friday 17 May 2019 
  
  17 05 2019   Castro, San Francisco
  
On this Day, a mere 29 years ago, on 17 May 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) finally took homosexuality off its list of 'psychiatric diseases'. Less than three decades ago! Hard to believe, isn't it?
   
Anyway, to mark this date I decided to pick a photo that I took in San Francisco's Castro district (when I was there in 2015). This had established itself as the principal gay quarter of the city since the 1960s (and as a gay rights focus point for the whole of the USA) and had been the home of e.g. Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected politician in the US, who was assassinated in 1978. There are two exhibitions about his story and the development of Castro into the colourful and peaceful gay quarter it still is today.
   
This particular colourful mural is not all celebratory, however. If you look closely you can also spot the numbers of AIDS deaths listed for San Francisco as well as worldwide … certainly an issue of much greater magnitude, and more immediacy, for the community than the question of whether or not the WHO held on to any outdated, twisted classifications for too long or not.
  
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Thursday 16 May 2019
  
  16 05 2019   Ushuaia prison   old cell block wing, Patagonia, Argentina
  
Photo of the Day: cell block wing of the old jail in Ushuaia, southern Patagonia, Argentina. Just an atmospheric photo today, no time for attaching a lengthy story … as I am trying to get back into my book-writing routine. It's not going too badly though.
   
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Wednesday 15 May 2019
  
  15 05 2019   Okinawa US base mock up
  
A quick jump back to Japan – or more precisely: to Okinawa. On this day, 47 years ago, on 15 May 1972, the archipelago was officially returned to Japan after it had been occupied and governed by the USA since the end of WWII.
   
That didn't mean the end of the American presence on Okinawa, though. To this day about a quarter of its territory is taken up by US military bases.
   
This American presence on the islands has led to some friction and resentment on the part of many islanders. This is represented in the Okinawa Prefecture Peace Memorial Museum too, where this photo was taken, namely in the form of mock-ups of American institutions on Okinawa and a huge replica wing of a B-52 hanging overhead. You can also spot a photo of an airfield, US shop mock-ups, and at least one iconic American brand label.
   
The B-52s and other military planes stationed on Okinawa played a crucial role in the Vietnam War, including the use of Agent Orange and other chemical warfare substances, whose deployment on Okinawa triggered protests as well. A large part of the US nuclear arsenal also used to be stationed on Okinawa until the 1970s.
   
I didn't go back to Okinawa on my recent Japan trip – as I had exhaustively covered it on my first trip already, so this photo is ten years old. But as far as I am aware, not much has changed on Okinawa in terms of dark tourism. It's a very worthwhile destination, though, yet navigating your way to some of the more obscure sites can be tricky and may require a local guide (I invested in one when I went, and it did pay off big time – a few of the places I visited I would never have found on my own).
  
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Tuesday 14 May 2019
  
  14 05 2019   ghost town in the middle of the Atacama destert
  
Photo of the Day: … another look west – and into the southern hemisphere. This is a ghost town in the middle of the Atacama desert in northern Chile. So it's not a series of war ruins, as you may have thought, but just one of the many deserted former mining settlements in this area …
  
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Monday 13 May 2019
  
  13 05 2019   Alcatraz cells
  
Photo of the Day: … after a period of focus on Japan it is perhaps time to look the other way again, westward … so here's a photo of some reconstructed cells at Alcatraz, San Francisco, USA.
  
Also, as I finally finished the photo processing of all the new material from the recent Japan trip, I now have to get back into writing mode for my book. To facilitate this, I'll cut down on FB posts again for a while … just some atmospheric photos from the archives, but no lengthy stories to go with them. When I'm back into more of a routine; I'll try to up the text level again … bear with me.
  
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Friday 10 May 2019
  
Instead of a photo, a video – not mine, of course, but from an Austrian news programme, but an important clip, a reminder why we have to remember. Watch it to the end, please! (The spoken words are in English, so if you don't want to/cannot rely on the German translation in the subtitles, do turn on the sound!)
  
  
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Thursday 9 May 2019
   
   09 05 2019   Army Clothes Depot building in Hiroshima
  
Photo of the Day: another one from Hiroshima, this one showing a place I hadn't managed to go and see when I was first in Hiroshima in 2009. This time I had the time for the tram ride and long walk.
   
This is one of the buildings of the Army Clothing Depot, a set of sturdy red-brick industrial buildings. They are located more than two and a half kilometres from the hypocentre of the A-bomb of 6 August 1945. The buildings as such were solidly built enough to sustain only limited damage, yet the iron shutters on the windows were still bent in by the enormous force of the blast (as you can clearly see in this photo taken last month) – even at that long a distance from the centre of the explosion.
   
Now imagine what little protection a typical residential building, traditionally built from wood, would have had to offer in this inferno. None. Hence all the photos from post-A-bombed Hiroshima taken later in August or in September 1945 (many by American photographers documenting the “success” of the new type of weapon of mass destruction) show basically a grey, scorched wasteland in which only a few concrete shells of buildings still (partially) stand, including the iconic “A-bomb Dome” as well as a few bank buildings.
  
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Wednesday, 8 May 2019
  
Photos of the Day: a follow-up to yesterday's post, in which I described not only the disappearance of previous diorama displays but also what these have been replaced with in the newly reworked main exhibition in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, namely with these digitalized projections – please refer back to yesterday's post for more text. Today I'll let the images speak for themselves …
  
  07 05 2019   new Hiroshima bombing display 1
  
  07 05 2019   new Hiroshima bombing display 2
  
  07 05 2019   new Hiroshima bombing display 3
  
  07 05 2019   new Hiroshima bombing display 4
  
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Tuesday, 7 May 2019
  
  07 05 2019   Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
  
Photos of the Day: Peace Memorial Park & Museum in Hiroshima, Japan, ten years ago.
   
On my recent return visit to Hiroshima I revisited this museum, as you may recall, on the day it reopened after an extensive makeover … in fact the structural work on the old main museum building was still ongoing (they're making it earthquake-proof), but the new main exhibition had reopened on time. The two interior photos here show elements that have disappeared. It was a pair of dioramas of central Hiroshima a) before the A-bombing and b) after.
  
I found this quite striking, but apparently the curators of the museum must have felt the pressures of modernity and so these lovingly made physical dioramas have been replaced by a digitalized version: a projection onto a white disc of an image of Hiroshima before the bombing, then a sequence of projections on top of this starts, first with a bright flash, then a spreading fireball, then smoke rising, followed by a projection of destroyed Hiroshima with the hypocentre, the location of the present-day museum as well as of the main train station marked. It is also impressive, but I still think the old physical models needn't have been removed.
   
At nearby Honkawa Elementary School Peace Museum, however, there still is the old diorama in place, so it's now even more worth making the slight detour there across the bridge to the other side of the river …
  
  07 05 2019   Hiroshima   before
  
  07 05 2019   Hiroshima   after
  
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Monday 6 May 2019
  
  06 05 2019   piece of the Hindenburg, Smithsonian, DC
  
On this Day, eighty-two years ago, on 6 May 1937, the German airship “Hindenburg” went up in flames in one of the most iconic aviation disasters of all time, when it tried to dock at the mooring mast at Lakehurst Air Naval Station in New Jersey, USA. Thirty-six of the ninety-seven people on board perished. Moreover, the disaster destroyed all confidence in this particular mode of air transport. Thus the disaster abruptly ended the era of the lighter-than-air rigid airships.
   
The first of today's two photos, one that is now in the public domain (and taken from Wikimedia), will be instantly recognizable. It was taken just a short moment after the airship ignited – within seconds the whole outer cladding burnt away and the hydrogen inside created a massive inferno of flames. It's amazing that anybody survived at all.
   
The second photo is one I took myself, namely at the Udvar-Hazy Center, the branch of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum at Washington Dulles International Airport. It shows an original fragment, a scorched piece of girder, from the Hindenburg. The crash site as such is also visitable, but with great restrictions, as it's within a military area. Hence it's near impossible for a non-US citizen to arrange a visit; I didn't even attempt it when I was in the area nine years ago … If any of my followers ever managed to go there, I want to hear all about it!
  
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Tuesday 30 April 2019
  
Photos of the Day: various exotic DT places in and around Tokyo. I spent the past two days as a rather dedicated dark tourist, searching out little-known sites, some far out in the suburbs, so long hours on public transport (sometimes up to nearly two hours … such is the size of this metropolis!) and a few thousand Yen spent on fares and admission fees. Here's a little preview.
  
  [photo not reconstructable - but you'll find it in the photo gallery of this chapter]
  
Yesterday I first made the long journey to the WWII-era tunnels into which aircraft production was to be moved towards the end of the war when Tokyo increasingly became the target for US air raids. The tunnels are located underneath a historic site called “the hundred caves of Yoshimi”. It's actually a rather touristy site for those ancient burial caves, though they are only of marginal interest to the dark tourist. I had read about the WWII tunnels and seen images online, so I was disappointed to find that the tunnels are no longer accessible. Most entrances are blocked, and the one with a barred entrance door was locked. I asked at the ticket counter and they just said “sorry, closed”. Well, at least I was able to take that picture through the bars …
   
 
   [photo not reconstructable - but you'll find it in the photo gallery of this chapter]
 
Next up was what is possibly the only war ruin left standing in all of Tokyo, a former electric substation of the Hitachi aircraft plant in the western suburbs of Tokyo, all pockmarked from when it was strafed by US fighter planes. In this case I knew the inside would not be accessible, as the society that saved the building from demolition only opens it on the first Sunday every month, so I had no chance. Still, it felt more worth it to come out here that it did with those Yoshimi WWII tunnels.
   
  
   [photo not reconstructable - but you'll find it in the photo gallery of this chapter]
   
The final remote stop was at three remaining concrete fighter plane hangars at Chofu airport (now a small regional airstrip for private planes) – again a long journey for not very much to see, but still. Duty done!
   
  
   [photo not reconstructable - but you'll find it in the photo gallery of this chapter]
  
The day before I visited the somewhat better known Daigo Fukuryu Maru – the fishing boat that was irradiated from the fallout of the American Castle Bravo thermonuclear test, the biggest ever undertaken by the US – the yield was far greater than expected, and so fallout reached way beyond the officially declared exclusion zone. One of the fishing crew (ironically its radio operator) died from radiation sickness. The boat was later put in a specially constructed hall as a single-exhibit museum piece. Quite historic!
   
  
   [photo not reconstructable - but you'll find it in the photo gallery of this chapter]
  
Also the day before yesterday, I visited the Centre of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage, a small museum in a quiet residential area east of central Tokyo that is, as the name suggests, about the US aerial bombing campaigns that more or less flattened all of Tokyo. On one particular raid with some 300 B-29 bombers the dead civilians numbered up to 100,000 – more than those killed outright in the A-bombings of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Yet, in contrast to those cities, there is no Peace Park and official museum in Tokyo commemorating the victims of those conventional air strikes, so this centre was privately set up by individuals with no government support. It's hardly ever visited by foreign tourists (and there is very little English commodification, but many exhibits speak for themselves), so the woman at the reception desk thanked us profusely for our effort of having made our way out there.
   
  
   [photo not reconstructable - but you'll find it in the photo gallery of this chapter]
  
Afterwards I revisited the Yushukan war museum at the Yasukuni shrine in central Tokyo – only to find that it hasn't changed one bit, is still totally revisionist and celebratory of Japan's war “heroes” and there still isn't much English labelling. One small change was that now you are allowed to take pictures in the central exhibition hall, where this Kamikaze flying bomb “Okha” ('cherry blossom') is hanging from the ceiling … not that the words “kamikaze” or “suicide” get explicitly mentioned. The place is also still overpriced at a 1000 Yen … but so what, it was my duty to check this rather dubious place out again as part of my Japan DT research.
  
  
   [photo not reconstructable - but you'll find it in the photo gallery of this chapter]
  
Since I knew from the weather forecast that this final day of my Japan trip would be a rainy day, I crammed everything I still had to do for DT into the past few days, so today I basically have a day off … off DT that is, so today we'll do some “normal tourist stuff” like shopping and visiting Tokyo's Sky Tree tower (second tallest structure in the world), though I'm wondering whether the top of the tower will even be visible given the dull weather … we'll see.
   
Anyway, this is the last of my on-the-road posts. Tomorrow I'll be making the long journey home and the day after perhaps too jet-lagged to post anything, but then I'll try to resume posting ... I guess this post is long enough to see you through until then ...
  
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Sunday 28 April 2019
  
  [photos not reconstructable, but you'll find them in the photo gallery of this chapter]
  
What's going on? Cute rabbit pics on DT?!? Where the heck is the connection to anything dark??? Well, read on ...
  
The photos were all taken over the past two days on Okunoshima, aka Rabbit Island. These days that's mainly an attraction for day-trippers (esp. from Hiroshima), though you can also stay on the island (see the white hotel building in the background of the second photo). Obviously the ca. 700 rabbits that roam the island freely are the usual centre of attention.
   
However, the island also has a very dark history, namely: it was the main site of the production of poison gas during Imperial Japan's war effort, from ca. 1929 right up to the end of WWII. A few relics of this are still to be seen on the island, such as ruins of former poison gas storage facilities. The largest structure still there is the empty shell of the former power station for the island – a surprise gem for those into 'urban exploration' (and I'm pretty sure that, technically speaking, I was 'trespassing' when I entered the building: there was a low fence around it and big signs … all in Japanese … probably saying “keep out”, but since I can't read Japanese … ;-)
   
The story of Okunoshima's chemical warfare history is properly commodified at the island's Poison Gas Museum, but inside the exhibition photography was forbidden (this time the signs were in English too, though I did manage to sneak in one or two shots before I spotted them … still, it would feel wrong to reproduce those here).
   
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EARLIER on the Japan trip (dates not given):
  
As had to happen at some point, Internet failed me at the previous accommodation, so I couldn't post anything. I'm making up for it by posting a whole series of photos now. They're all from Okawa school, so it's the promised follow-up from the previous post.
   
Okawa school, for those who don't remember or didn't see the post or read the book, was possibly the most tragic place of the 3/11 tsunami of 2011 in Japan. Of the almost 20,000 people who were killed in the disaster, only 79 were schoolkids who were at school at the time, 74 of those victims were from Okawa school. So it's the big exception. Almost all other schoolkids were saved.
   
That's because schools are usually very safe places to be in Japan – the buildings are often especially earthquake-resistant and there are meticulous health-and-safety regulations and evacuation plans in place. But at Okawa a string of bureaucratic and human errors, the specific topography, and the sheer unexpected force of the tsunami, combined to bring about the fatal tragedy … the teachers waited too long to decide what to do even after the warnings of a super-tsunami had been issued, older men exerted their authority saying the wave wouldn't reach so far up the river, the kids, even those who knew better and said they should run up the hill to reach higher ground, were obedient and stayed or returned, and eventually they “evacuated” into the direction of the tsunami. Only those three or four kids who did not follow survived … The story is a bit more complex than this short summary, but it's more or less the gist.
   
One of the surviving kids later personally campaigned for the ruined school building to be preserved as a memorial and succeeded. When I read that I had to change my plans at a late stage to arrange for a visit on this trip. The entire rest of the village is gone without a trace. The tsunami reached something like 15-20m here. You can get a rough impression of the force of the water by looking at that half-collapsed concrete bridge that used to connect two wings of the school …
  
  Okawa 1
  
  Okawa 2
  
   Okawa 3
  
  Okawa 4
  
  Okawa 5
  
  Okawa 6
  
  Okawa 7
  this would have been the way to safety
  
  pilgrimage accomplished
  pilgrimage accomplished
  
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Photos of the Day: a final tsunami-related post. This is a sign in Ishinomaki, the city worst hit by the 3/11 disaster in Japan. It had the highest death toll, and the largest structural damage. Yet some locals put up this sign in the midst of all the debris and chaos – it says roughly translated “never, ever give up” (so I was told … I don't know Japanese myself).
   
It was a nice bottom-up initiative of immediate memorialization by directly affected locals themselves. And it was quickly accepted by other locals. And so it's been kept and will become part of the official memorial park that is being constructed where the sea-front part of the city used to be (it was entirely washed away by the tsunami).
   
  Ishinomaki 1
   
  Ishinomaki 2
  
The first photo shows what the place looks like now, the second photo I found in one of the temporary documentation centres of Ishinomaki.
   
I've meanwhile travelled on, first to Kyoto for a short stopover, then on to Nagasaki … photo posts from there will follow – and then on to Hiroshima, where I am now.
   
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Photos of the Day: Hashima Island, aka Gunkanjima (Battleship Island, because allegedly the silhouette looks a bit like a battleship's), a small island out in the bay to the south of Nagasaki harbour. It was once the most densely populated place on Earth (ten times more densely populated than Tokyo!), when over 5000 people lived on this tiny island. Why? Because a coal seam was discovered under this little rock in the sea, and so with Japan's rapid industrialization in the second half of the 1900s, several shafts were driven down and under the seabed to extract those fossil fuels and houses were built to accommodate the miners and their families above ground. This included the first multi-storey reinforced concrete apartment buildings in Japan. In addition they had a school, a hospital, sports facilities a cinema, shops, rooftop gardens, and what not. It was a close-knit but affluent little community.
   [photos not reconstructable, but you can find them in the photo gallery of the relvant chapter here.]
   
It all ended in 1974, when the coal mines were given up as Japan moved more towards oil and nuclear power. Since then, the island has been abandoned. In April 2009 (only a couple of weeks after I was last in Japan) the island was first opened to visitors, and in 2015 it was inscribed on the UNESCO list of industrial world heritage sites. With that it became touristified. Now there are at least five tour companies that run boat tours to the island … well, to the three viewpoints that have been prepared for tourists. Unfortunately nobody is allowed to actually go in the old crumbling town and explore the inside of the buildings – unless you have a special permit. I did try to apply for one, but my requests were ignored. Maybe that's because my contact in Nagasaki is associated with the Oka Masaharu Nagasaki Peace Museum which is about the Japanese war crimes of WWII, including the brutal exploitation of Korean POWs for forced labour in the coal mines of Hashima.
   
Unsurprisingly, there was hardly a word about foreign workers on Hashima in the narration of the regular Hashima boat tour that I was on … just a brief mention of some “negativity” about foreign workers, but that they all worked happily together for a common goal. As if. Japan really has a long way to go in coming to terms with the darker chapters in its history that are not about victimhood (like the A-bomb sites) but about guilt.
   
Nevertheless, the boat trip to Hashima was visually very stunning … even though the weather was quite detrimental … as you can see in the photos, it was raining heavily, so if you zoom into these pictures you see grey diagonal lines from the pouring rain. At least they provided good rain capes on the boat so we didn't get too wet (and my camera is weather-proof, so I didn't have to worry about that).
  
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There was also a post about the Fukushima tour I'd been on on my easter 2019 Japan trip; only two photos posted were in my 'on the road FB posts' folder, see below. But you can find the whole set in the photo gallery of the relevant chapter here.
  
  Fukushima Daiichi NPP
  
  abandoned clothes shop in the Red Zone of Fukushima
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Tuesday 16 April 2019
   
  16 04 2019   Notre Dame
  
I just had to slot this in in between packing for my flight later today: Tragedy is mostly about people, but sometimes an inanimate object or structure can be at the centre of tragedy too – such is the case with the burning of Notre Dame in Paris yesterday. Plus, for me this is personal:
   
I first saw Notre Dame when I was seven. I had never seen a mediaeval Gothic cathedral before. It blew me away. Having grown up in northern Germany where (Protestant) churches tend to be comparatively bland red-brick structures with rather austere interiors, I had no idea something as grand as Notre Dame even could exist. It was one of the highlights of this first ever city trip I had been on … my family drove all the way to Paris for a few days to visit an artist friend who was there for a few months on a grant or so. The only other country abroad I had been to by then was cosy little Denmark, and not Copenhagen, but just some rural coastal part where we stayed in a rented little wooden house/hut near a beach. So seeing a city like Paris was deeply impressive … and who knows, maybe some precursor of the travel bug I clearly have now was planted back then to incubate and come to the fore in adulthood.
   
This photo was taken on one of my several return trips to this great city, namely in 2007, showing Notre Dame in its full glory in the 'golden hour' of evening light. Yesterday's live news reporting of the fire actually brought tears to my eyes. It genuinely hurt.
   
But now I have to try and forget about that and get on with my packing for the upcoming Japan trip. That too will have its emotional elements, but of a very different nature …
  
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Monday 15 April 2019
  
Tomorrow I'll be setting off again on what's promising to be a really intense research trip, this time to Japan. During that time I will probably not be able to post as regularly as I normally do, but hopefully I will get the chance to post some brand new photos from on the road, as it were (provided Wi-Fi in hotels and guest houses is up to it).
   
It's been ten years since I was first and last in Japan, and lots has happened since then. Most significantly, of course, the triple disaster of 11 March 2011: the second largest earthquake ever measured, the subsequent devastating tsunami and, partly caused by that tsunami, the multiple reactor meltdown at the Fukushima-Daiichi NPP.
   
I'll go on a tour around Fukushima (the NPP itself is naturally out of bounds) and parts of the tsunami-stricken areas, especially in Ishinomaki north-east of Sendai, and the ex-village of Kamaya where the former school building is all that's left and has become a memorial. This will really be a proper pilgrimage for me, as I had followed the unfolding disaster live on the Internet and TV back then. It won't be easy going there now.
   
Other things on the itinerary are return visits to both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the former, the Peace Memorial Museum will just have opened its new exhibition when I get there, and in Nagasaki I'll go on a boat trip to Hashima Island and will not only return to this city's A-Bomb Museum but will also meet a local at the Oka Masaharu Memorial Peace Museum, which is devoted to the Korean POWs and Japanese war crimes in general, as far as I understand. And that is a very unusual thing within Japan, which normally does not have the kind of coming-to-terms-with-one's-dark-past culture that Germany has ('Vergangenheitsbewältigung'), but is instead often rather revisionist. So I am very intrigued by all this.
   
I'll also spend a few days in Tokyo at the end and will visit several new places I hadn't had a chance to see last time – or didn't even know they existed. Let's see how many of them I'll manage this time around.
   
Finally, in between Hiroshima and Tokyo I'll visit Okunoshima Island, a place featuring a unique “juxtaposition of dark tourism and cute tourism”, as Howard Sawyer pointedly put it in his book 'I am the Dark Tourist' (p. 187). That's because the island used to be Imperial Japan's research lab for the development of chemical weapons in WWII, but is now a holiday destination mostly for the reason that it is home to some 700 rabbits! You can feed the rabbits and apparently they are very tame and actively mob the many day-trippers who come here armed with rabbit food that you can buy at the ferry jetty. I'll actually be staying on the island, so I hope to get some time in the early morning without any throngs of tourists. And of course I'll have to visit the local Poison Gas Museum.
   
Now I hope that this rather long post will compensate for the absence of any new posts for at least the next couple of days. Maybe I can post something from Fukushima when I'm at the guest house in Odaka. We'll see.
  
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Friday 12 April 2019
  
    12 04 2019   Zimbabwean dollar 1   impressive bank note
     
  12 04 2019   Zimbabwean dollar 2   hyperinflated Zimbabwe money
  
  12 04 2019   Zimbabwean hyperinflation logic
  
On this Day, exactly ten years ago, on 12 April 2009, Zimbabwe gave up on its currency the Zimbabwean dollar, after hyperinflation had spiralled out of control.
   
I spotted the banknote in the first photo back in 2010 in a hostel in Istanbul where it was left as a kind of souvenir by the reception. The second photo I took last year when I visited Zimbabwe and saw this as part of an explanation of hyperinflation on display at Victoria Falls Airport.
   
Note that both banknotes are dated 2008 – so the difference, from 20 billion to 10 trillion must have come about within that one year!
  
The third photo shows the whole display board at Victoria Falls Airport. Interesting arithmetic …
  
I thought after yesterday's serious and controversial post, today's should be a lighter one. Although, of course, for Zimbabweans at the time it was no fun. Btw. they now use foreign currencies, such as the US dollar or the South African rand.
   
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Thursday 11 April 2019
  
  11 04 2019   Buchenwald   with crematorium and Effektenkammer
  
On this Day: 74 years ago, on 11 April 1945, the concentration camp of Buchenwald was liberated by soldiers of the Sixth Armored Division of the US Third Army – or at least that is the official date. In fact, the camp had more or less liberated itself just before, when a fairly well-run underground organization of communists amongst the inmates took control of the camp and chased away the SS guards.Even though officially liberated by the Americans, the camp, located near Weimar in Thuringia, ended up in the Soviet occupation sector after WWII, and later the GDR, East Germany.The memorial set up at the former camp was like many others in the GDR: biased towards commemoration of communists, Soviet POWs and resistance fighters against the Nazis, while failing to mention, especially, Jewish victims, or homosexuals or Jehovah's Witnesses.After the fall of communism, this was gradually changed, with a new main exhibition established in one of the remaining buildings (while a separate exhibition about the memorial's role in the GDR was installed near the bell tower of the memorial complex). But it was felt that there were still some shortcomings in the presentation, so the main exhibition recently received a complete makeover yet again. It opened in April 2016.
  
[The text above was adapted from the one posted two years ago – just to make my life a bit easier; and I'm currently VERY pressed for time – but I've used a different photo: it shows the vast expanse of the former camp; the building on the right is the crematorium, and the big one in the background the former “Effektenkammer”, i.e. storage warehouse for everything that was stolen from the inmates. It is now home to the memorial site's main exhibition.]
  
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Wednesday 10 April 2019
  
  10 04 2019   Stormont, seat of the devolved Northern Irish Assembly
  
On this Day, 21 years ago, on 10 April 1998, the so-called Good Friday Agreement (GFA) was signed. It's a multilateral agreement between Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland and political parties of Northern Ireland, and the culmination of the Peace Process that was to end the decades-long era of “The Troubles”.
   
During that grim period the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and other organizations on the Catholic/Republican side, and also groups on the other, Protestant/Unionist side had been engaged in a nasty and bloody sectarian war of terror – and not only in Northern Ireland itself; IRA bombings especially also had targets on the British “mainland”. Finding a way to end all this diplomatically and democratically was a major breakthrough and one of the greatest career successes of then British Prime Minister Tony Blair (whatever failings he may be accused of in other areas, this one was a remarkable achievement).
   
Today's photo shows the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly, created through the Agreement, at Stormont in Belfast.
  
The treaty was not perfect and left a lot of room for interpretations, but it was nevertheless a great step forward.
   
Now, however, it is under threat again – namely due to Brexit, since the necessity of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would actually violate this treaty. That Brexit could lead to the UK breaking international law was something nobody in Britain seems to have thought of in the run-up to the referendum in 2016. Hence the so-called “Backstop” was thought up as a stopgap solution to prevent a hard border and rescue the GFA in the proposed UK-EU deal to regulate the UK's departure from the EU. But in the event neither this nor any other such deal is actually signed and hence a hard no-deal Brexit happens, then the GFA will be damaged, possibly beyond repair. And what that would do to the security situation is a question that's difficult to answer. No wonder the Northern Irish (where a significant majority voted to Remain in the EU) are watching current developments nervously … there's no shortage of doom-and-gloom talk about the Troubles possibly returning ...
  
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Tuesday 9 April 2019
  
  09 04 2019   Villa Grande, Quisling's former residence, Norway
  
On this Day, 79 years ago, on 9 April 1940, Nazi Germany began its invasion of Norway as part of Operation “Weserübung”. At the same time, the Norwegian politician and military officer Vidkun Quisling, who had founded the Norwegian fascist party “Nasjonal Samling”, conducted a coup in Oslo and declared himself head of government.
   
All through the years of the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany until the end of WWII, Quisling continued to be the nominal head of government in Norway, but of course he was a collaborator, not really a leader. Moreover he was also complicit in the Holocaust.
   
So it is an interesting fact that his former mansion in Oslo, Villa Grande, seen in today's photo, has been turned into a Holocaust documentation and education centre.
   
In fact, the name Quisling has become synonymous with the concept of a 'collaborator-traitor'. The expression “a quisling” or “a quisling regime” has been applied to other cases, such as that of the Ustashe in Croatia during WWII (also a puppet regime propped up by the German Nazis), and also after WWII it has been applied to some of the communist regimes within the Eastern Bloc that basically had to answer to Moscow.
   
The 9th of April, by the way, is a significant historic date for many other reasons too, so it wasn't an easy choice which to pick for this post. But there will be more April 9s in the coming years so I can one by one work my way through the list ...
  
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Monday 8 April 2019
  
  08 04 2019   dentist practice in Marienthal bunker
  
Photo of the Day: dentist's practice inside the former Marienthal government relocation bunker near Ahrweiler in West Germany.
   
I picked this image because I have a dentist appointment myself later today, only a minor routine clean-up thing, but I know for many the very thought of going to the dentist's is horrible enough to make such places count as 'dark'. For some reason that I've never been able to work out, such fear is especially widespread amongst Brits.
   
This particular dentist's practice, however, would count as dark anyway, because of its location. The Marienthal bunker was the place where the West German government would have fled to in the event of a nuclear Third World War breaking out … except that by the time the bunker was finished, the era of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles had begun, reducing the forewarning time to only half an hour, hardly enough for moving a few hundred people all the way from the then West German capital and seat of government, Bonn, which even under ideal traffic conditions on today's Autobahn (motorway) is at least half an hour's drive away.
  
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Sunday 7 April 2019
  
Here's another online article that incorporates bits from an interview with me. While those are more or less accurately quoted (though I have no idea where that “even if he doesn't want to go” could have come from), they sit a bit at odds with the rest of the article, which unfortunately falls for the widespread but largely erroneous misconception that dark tourism is the same as danger tourism. There may be a slight overlap in some fringe areas, but the vast majority of what constitutes dark tourism has nothing at all to do with danger tourism. I can only speculate, but I guess the author watched the Netflix series 'Dark Tourist'(the author also visited some of the same places for this article, like that extreme and gruesome crime museum in Littledean that featured excessively in the Netflix series), which also in part peddles the same misconception, and one of the other interviewees, an extreme danger tourist, even featured in that series too. So he may have picked it up from there
   
I don't know why it is that the media are so keen on equating dark tourism with 'danger' (as well as with questionable ethics – that usual 'moral panic'). I've been asked countless times when I was the most afraid or why it is that I “seek” danger, but when I tell them that none of that applies, really, that I never deliberately put my life at risk and have rarely, if ever, feared for my life on my travels, they simply don't want to hear it. The prevailing sensationalist approach is hard to oppose.
   
The title of this article and the subtitle are also annoying if associated with dark tourism. I've argued endlessly that almost all of dark tourism is anything but “unacceptable” or “unwelcome”, nor is much of it really all that “extreme”, it's just different from the usual escapist way of holidaying (beaches, cruises, etc.), and certainly a special interest area, but what should be unacceptable about, say, visiting concentration camp memorial sites – that INVITE visitation, after all. If nobody went there, they'd be failing in their mission as memorials (and we as a society would be failing too!).
  
 
<comment: btw. I don't know if I ever shared the link to my review of that Netflix series 'Dark Tourist' before. Anyway, here it is: http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/otherstuff/18-main-menus/mainmenussubpages/1307-review-dark-tourist-netflix >
  
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Friday 5 April 2019
  
  05 04 2019   named grave
  
Photo of the Day: Friedhof der Namenlosen ('cemetery of the nameless'), as seen yesterday.
   
This was another place we went to for yesterday's filming of a feature/interview with me for the ORF (Austrian broadcasters). It's quite a drive out on the very edges of Vienna's south-east, past industrial estates and harbour areas on the Danube, but worth it for this unique little gem of a place.
   
The cemetery of the nameless was created to give a decent burial to the dead bodies that kept washing up on the banks of the Danube at this spot – due to some quirk in the river's currents here. Since most of the identities of these bodies could not be established they were buried simply as 'nameless'. By 1900, 478 such burials had taken place. Then a new section was opened a bit further inland that soon also slowly filled up. In the late 1930s a new harbour basin was constructed right next door – and this clearly had an effect on the river's currents as from then on no more bodies washed up here. But since 1940 the cemetery has been preserved in the state it was then. Well, the new section, that is. The original section closer to the river has by now vanished, the forest and graves cleared to make way for yet more industrial harbour extensions
   
But the peaceful newer section is still there, a quiet oasis amidst all the noise and bustle of the neighbouring industries and the harbour.
  
Not all the graves are nameless, by the way. Since advances in post-mortem identification had been made, some of the bodies washed up in the later phases before the cemetery's closure could actually be named. This includes one Wilhelm Töhn, who is not only named, but his age is given (11) and the cause of death too: “ertrunken durch fremde Hand”, roughly translated: 'drowned by a stranger's hand', i.e. what this flowery way of expressing it means, bluntly, is: he was murdered.
  
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I also posted some more photos from the Cemetery of the nameless, but can't find any additional text for this in m y archive Yet here are the photos: 
  
  04 05 2019   cemetery of the nameless
  
  04 05 2019   I'm being filmed
  
  04 05 2019   the little voodoo like doll
  
  04 05 2019   the last cross from the old section
  
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Thursday 4 April 2019
  
Heading to this place today … (more details later)
  
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Thursday 4 April 2019 evening – Narrenturm again
  
  04 04 2019   Narrenturm, Vienna
  
Photo of the Day: same one as the previous post, but this time with some explanation.
   
Earlier I met a TV team of the ORF (main Austrian broadcaster) at this place for the filming of a feature/interview with me. We spent some three hours together (not just at this place, we also went elsewhere), but the piece they'll broadcast will only be 5 minutes long. I'm intrigued how they'll cut it, and how they'll embed it. We'll see. If I'm halfway happy with it I'll post the link to the video when it becomes available online.
   
The building you see in this photo, by the way, is the “Narrenturm” (literally 'fools tower') in Vienna, so called because initially it was a lunatic asylum, in operation from 1784 to 1866. Now it is home to Vienna's university's anatomical-pathological departments collection of specimens, 'moulage' models and much more. On the ground floor is the museum part that is regularly accessible to the public, other parts are either completely out of bounds to the public or only accessible on guided tours. There's a strict no-photography rule in place here, so I was a bit surprised that we were permitted to film there (although some exhibits were not allowed to be in the frame).
   
It was kind of ironic that a medical institution was picked as our first location ... given my own ongoing medical problems. But with the right combination of meds I was able to make myself fit for this occasion. Just can't take the same cocktail all the time ...
  
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Wednesday 3 April 2019
  
  03 04 2019   cockpit of the Enola Gay
  
Photo of the Day: the “Enola Gay”.
   
Having mentioned Hiroshima yesterday, I thought I could post a photo of the “perpetrator”, so to speak, i.e. the plane that dropped the A-bomb. It's a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, a type that by 1945 had become the main heavy bomber of the US Air Force.
   
This particular plane was nicknamed by its pilot, Colonel Paul Tibbets, after his mother. It took off from the Pacific island of Tinian. Only three of the crew were informed of the special nature of their mission on 6 August. The rest is, as the phrase goes, history. The Atomic Age had begun.
   
The “Enola Gay” was also involved in the Nagasaki bombing mission three days later, by the way, namely as a weather reconnaissance aircraft at the day's original primary target of Kokura. It was only because of bad visibility that the bomb-carrying plane that day diverted to the secondary target of Nagasaki.
   
The “Enola Gay” plane briefly remained in service after the war, and was even once stationed on Kwajalein Atoll for the Operation Crossroads nuclear tests (which gave the world the most iconic A-bomb detonation footage ever), but was not chosen to drop the bomb there.
   
In 1946 the plane was retired and put in storage to be preserved. It was eventually restored and put on display by the Smithsonian Institute at its branch at Washington's Dulles International Airport.
   
The designation “Superfortress”, by the way, was a continuation of the “Flying Fortress” epithet given to the earlier predecessor B-17 type, and was further continued in the “Stratofortress” nickname for the later B-52
  
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Tuesday 2 April 2019
  
  02 04 2019   traces of black rain, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
  
Photo of the Day: traces of black rain.
  
After two rather black-humoured posts in a row I thought it was time for something truly and seriously dark.
   
This is an exhibit in the Peace Museum in Hiroshima. It's a section of a concrete wall that shows traces of 'black rain'. This was water droplets raining down from the mushroom cloud after the A-bombing of the city. Liquid fallout. And many of those who survived the blast and fires, in their dehydrated desperation drank this black water – thus taking in highly irradiated particles and making it much worse for themselves. It's just one additionally tragic aspect of this enormous Japanese tragedy.
   
I am planning a return visit to the museum on my upcoming Japan trip, as the main museum exhibition will just have reopened when I get to Hiroshima, after a longer period of closure during a complete overhaul and update. I'm intrigued how much will have changed and in what ways. But I trust this particular exhibit will still form part of it.
  
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Monday 1 April 2019 
  
  01 04 2019   great Vulcan
  
On this Day, today, on 1 April 2019, the Ministry of Brexit (aka the MOB) instructed the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) that in the light of the coming exit of the UK from the EU, the MOD too should take back control and make Britain great again in military terms. When was Britain really great in the past? When it had the V-bombers, of course, and the Blue Steel missile, and other nuclear weapons of its own design. So, first of all: those V-bombers will be brought back into service!
   
Those museums where at the moment these great planes, such as that Vulcan seen here in the photos, just idly stand around (e.g. at RAF Cosford and IWM Duxford) will have to give up their exhibits for the greater good of the great Royal Air Force – sorry!
   
  01 04 2019   great Sellafield
  
  01 04 2019   great Blue Steel
  
  01 04 2019   great nuclear bomb
  
Moreover, the current decommissioning of the nuclear plant at Sellafield will be stopped and reversed, so that home-grown plutonium production on British soil can once again resume as well. And with that the great British A-Bomb will come back into service, both in the air-drop form as well as in the good old Blue Steel (should never have been cancelled anyway).
  
  01 04 2019   great Lightning
  
But, as RAF brigadier Colin Cobblewomble confirmed to me over the phone today, the great Re-Britification won't stop at the nuclear arsenal: “Oh no! Interceptors will be needed too” said Cobblewomble, “I mean we can't expect our ex-partners in the EU to just look on as we re-great ourselves ... they might get a bit miffed, envious and, who knows, maybe even aggressive. So we have to be prepared. But what do we currently have for our defence? The Typhoon, aka EURO-fighter!!! That's a collaborative European aircraft design. Well, with that collaboration now over (and let's face it: they'll hardly be happy to supply us with spare parts from now on) and us having to fight against anything “Euro-”, we'll also have to revive the greatest of all British-built interceptors: the beautiful BAC Lightning. And with that back in our great hands we'll be able to lift off like a silver streak into ...” But at this point the phone line broke off. I presume the telecommunications department in the MoD was also busying itself with the necessary cutting off of phone lines reaching into the UK from the European continent.
   
Ah, what a great Day for Britain. The First of April 2019 will be greatly remembered as the Great British Military Independence Day!
  
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Friday 29 March 2019
  
  29 03 2019   English execution, sepulchral museum Kassel
  
Today is 29 March 2019 … that date has for two years loomed large as the date of Brexit, after Article 50 was invoked on 29 March 2017, triggering the UK's departure from the EU, which was supposed to last exactly two years. Yet, the actual Brexit date has now been postponed. But I had this photo lined up for today and decided to use it now anyway, rather than wait ...
  
It's a bit cynical to post this in this context, I know. But in the light of all the chaos and quarrelling of the recent weeks and months, resorting to black humour does indeed feel like a bit of relief
  
But that aside, what you see in today's photo was an exhibit I encountered several years ago (long before any Brexit was even on the horizon) when I visited the unique Sepulchral Museum (Museum für Sepulkralkultur) in Kassel, Germany
  
This particular object is not in the regular permanent exhibition, however. It was part of a special temporary exhibition that was on at the time and revolved around the subject of the death penalty. There were lots of truly grim artefacts and depressing statistics. This coin-operated piece of entertainment equipment was on the lighter side of things, but it's really quite cynical in itself, even without any current-affairs-derived re-interpretations
  
Please no comments with unrestrained political vitriol (as you usually get when the subject of Brexit comes up – but I won't tolerate that here)!
  
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Thursday 28 March 2019
  
   28 03 2019   Three Mile Island plant at Harrisburg
  
On this Day – it's the 40th anniversary of the 'Harrisburg disaster'. Today's photo shows the nuclear power plant as I saw it when I drove past in 2010. One block is still in operation. There's no access for the general public. For the rest of this post I'll fall back on quoting what I'd written about this case before, namely two years ago:
  
On 29 March 1979 the Three Mile Island accident began at the nuclear power station of that name near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was the worst such incident to date in the history of civilian nuclear power generation in the USA, rated 5 on the seven-point International Nuclear Event Scale (the most serious rating, 7, has only been given to Chernobyl and Fukushima).In an unfortunate chain of events one of the plant's two reactors (TMI-2) suffered from loss of coolant, failing auxiliary pumps and ended in a partial reactor core meltdown. Some radioactive gases were released into the environment as well. But at least the worst-case scenario of a melt-through of the core, i.e. a breach of the containment vessel, did not happen.Yet the reactor was ruined beyond any hope of repair necessitating a long-drawn-out, difficult clean-up operation that was only completed in the 1990s. The stricken reactor building still stands, together with its two equally silent cooling towers, right next to its counterpart, TMI-1, which remains in operation to this day (it's currently licensed to operate until 2034).
  
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Wednesday, 27 March 2019
  
  27 03 2019   shot down F 117
  
On this Day, 20 years ago, on 27 March 1999, a US Air Force A-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter jet was shot down by the Yugoslav army during the NATO bombing campaign in the context of the Kosovo War. The pilot managed to eject and was later found in a search-and-rescue operation. But the aircraft's loss was a major propaganda victory for the Yugoslav air defence, which had been taken to be largely defunct and obsolete at the time. Yet the old Soviet-built S-125 Neva/Pechore SAM system did beat the US plane, which at the time was supposed to be “invisible” to enemy radar and other detection systems. It was in fact the only loss in combat of a plane of this type, which I suppose could only make the missile operators even prouder of their achievement.
  
For the remaining Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (at that point just Serbia and Montenegro, all other former Yugoslav republics had already broken away) under then president Slobodan Milošević it was no more than a short-lived intermediate propaganda coup, though, and played no role in the subsequent developments.
  
Yet the case is still proudly presented at the Aviation Museum of Belgrade, where these pieces of wreckage from the shot-down plane are on display.
  
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Tuesday 26 March 2019
  
  26 03 2019   Museum of Death
  
On this Day, 22 years ago, on 26 March 1997, 38 members of the “Heaven's Gate” cult, including cult leader Marshall Applewhite, were found dead – after they had committed mass suicide a few days before. The bizarreness of this religious sect mass suicide is hard to beat. Applewhite, and presumably his followers, believed that the comet Hale-Bopp that at the time was visible from Earth (I remember it well!) was in fact a spaceship – or that it was being trailed by a spaceship, which they – or rather their “souls” – would board after death, or that some UFO would come to collect them ... but only after they'd topped themselves to be ready to be taken to “another dimension” (why any aliens should have any interest in doing such a thing was not satisfactorily explained).
  
In three batches they collectively took some concoction of a chemical or drug mixed with vodka and the next batch of members would additionally ensure death by putting plastic bags over the faces of the doomed, then it was their turn. Only the last two members to have died were found without such bags over their heads.
  
Anyway, whatever the (hardly relevant) exact details of the cult's theorizing, this case took religious “UFOlogy” to altogether wackier and tragic levels than had been imaginable.
  
Today's photo shows the Museum of Death in Los Angeles – the reason being that the Heaven's Gate case plays a prominent role in the museum exhibition's coverage and they even have a few of the beds on which the dead cult members were found on display. … Needless to say, this is quite an extreme museum and has attracted its fair share of controversy.
  
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Monday 25 March 2019
  
  25 03 2019   Beelitz, former dining hall
  
Yesterday, 24 March, was World Tuberculosis Day … so one day belatedly I give you another photo of what's probably the most legendary former tuberculosis sanatorium in the world: Beelitz Heilstätten outside Berlin, Germany. This photo shows what used to be one of the huge dining halls.
  
Just a nice urbex image … since Beelitz has featured on this page a couple of times before, I don't think I have to reproduce the whole background story yet again.
  
It's also the time factor, of course. I am now deep into the drafting of chapters for my book, I completed a whole section with several chapters for different DT sites within one country (I'm being deliberately vague) plus some extra info pages (more vagueness) and illustrations, mostly through photos from my large archives. The overall concept is also nicely coming together (namely … no! Gotta be vague!). So I'm quite optimistic about it. I'm sure at some point I'll be in a position to be less cagey about all this ;-)
  
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Friday 22 March 2019
  
  22 03 2019   Khatyn memorial, Belarus
  
Today is the 76th anniversary of the Khatyn massacre. To mark this day I post another photo taken at the memorial at that site – but to make things easier for me I'll re-use most of the text from last year (slightly adapted):
  
On this Day, 76 years ago, on 22 March 1943, the Nazis burned down the village of Khatyn in Belarus (then part of the USSR), in random retaliation for the killing of a Nazi officer in some fight with partisans in the surrounding area. All the villagers were rounded up and locked inside a barn that was then set on fire, anybody trying to flee was shot by machine-gun fire. Then the Nazis also torched and razed all the village's houses.The Khatyn massacre was far from an isolated incident, though. Today's memorial site names a total of 619 villages that suffered the same fate in Belarus. 186 of these were never rebuilt and remained erased from the map for good.Why Khatyn was singled out of the hundreds of similar incidents to be honoured with a massive memorial complex remains a bit of a mystery. It has been speculated that it may have something to do with the similarity of the name to “Katyn” the formerly Polish village (now in western Russia, near Smolensk) where the Soviets murdered most of the Polish military command elite, an atrocity that the Nazis milked for their propaganda when they discovered the site, but which the Soviets always denied ever happened. It was only acknowledged after the collapse of the USSR. Now there's a memorial at Katyn too.
  
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Thursday 21 March 2019 
  
  21 03 2019   416px Bundesarchiv Bild 146 1976 130 51, Rudolf Christoph v. Gersdorff
  
On this Day, 76 years ago, on 21 March 1943, German Army officer Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff failed to assassinate Adolf Hitler by means of a suicide bomb. It was the second attempt he and his co-plotters made at taking the dictator's life. After the first failure, Gersdorff volunteered as the assassin in the second attempt that would have taken his own life as well. He would meet Hitler for an inspection of captured Soviet weapons where he was supposed to guide the Führer around, and during that tour he was to set off the explosive devices hidden in his coat in a deadly embrace with him. However, Hitler raced through the exhibition and left the building before the timers on the explosives had run their course. Gersdorff at least managed to defuse the bombs undetected and remained unsuspected of the plot.
  
Shortly after the failed assassination attempt he was sent back to his unit on the Eastern Front. Thanks to his co-conspirators not betraying him, even under arrest and possibly torture, he survived to the end of the war and the fall of the Third Reich. Afterwards, as a POW (and later as a proper employee) he worked for the US Army as historical advisor. When he tried to join the refounded German army, the Bundeswehr, in the 1950s he was rejected, allegedly because various other former Wehrmacht officers now in Bundeswehr uniforms didn't want a “traitor” in their midst. So it turned out that the modern Bundeswehr wasn't as “reformed” as it's often made out to be. Still, in 1979, one year before his death, Gersdorff was awarded the “Großes Verdienstkreuz” ('Great Cross of Merit'). Yet I presume that few of you will ever have heard the name of this (almost) unsung hero ever before – or have you? I never had until last weekend, when I stumbled upon this story by chance.
  
Today's photo was taken from Wikimedia again, and is licensed under Creative Commons under the following attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1976-130-51 /Unknown/ CC-BY-SA 3.0
  
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Wednesday 20 March 2019
  
  20 03 2019   Tokyo metro
  
On this Day, 24 years ago, on 20 March 1995, the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo under its leader Shoko Asahara carried out a poison gas attack on the Tokyo metro, using the toxic compound sarin, a synthetic nerve agent originally developed as a chemical weapon of mass destruction (first in Nazi Germany, but later adopted and stockpiled by both the USA and the Soviet Union).
  
It was the deadliest act of (bio)terroism in the history of Japan, though it could have been so much worse. Of the thousands of people affected by the attack only ten died, but hundreds suffered, and still suffer, from injuries and PTSD. The cult leaders were found, arrested, tried and several were sentenced to death (yes, peaceful Japan still has capital punishment!).
  
Today's photo was taken in the Tokyo metro, at a ticket machine with the network plan overhead (it looks more complicated than it is in practice), when I was last in Japan, in 2009. Next month I'm returning for the first time in ten years and am very much looking forward to it. In addition to a few days in Tokyo I will also go on a two-day tour around Fukushima, go back to both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and will also for the first time visit Hashima Island.
  
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Tuesday 19 March 2019
  
  19 03 2019   digging coal   dummy hand in mine, Ashland, PA
  
Photo of the Day: digging coal!
  
Just a bizarre photo again – no big history lesson attached. Unless you want to make the connection with fossil fuels, Donald Trump (who used the line “Trump digs coal” in the election campaign in the old coal-mining areas of the US) and the recent climate change demonstrations demanding an end to fossil fuel burning.
  
This photo was taken in an ex-coal mine in Ashland (what a name!) in Pennsylvania, in the heartland of anthracite coal mining. This mine is now a tourist attraction and you can ride a little train taking you deep into the mountain and then go on a guided tour on foot. It's fun, provided you don't suffer from claustrophobia or a fear of being buried alive … and that thought is indeed hard to avoid at one point, namely standing in front of a stretch of tunnel blocked by rocks and coal debris (and that's where this photo was taken).
  
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Monday 18 March 2019
  
  18 03 2019   playing with perspective, Brest, Belarus
  
Photo of the Day: playing with perspective at Brest, Belarus.
  
The monument in the background here is in actual fact enormous, some 30m high! I just made it appear tiny by placing it in the background with an actually much, much smaller other monument dominating the foreground and thus appearing bigger. I like such photographic trickery ;-)
  
By the way, these monuments are part of a large memorial complex at Brest Fortress, together forming one of the most impressive examples of Soviet-era monumental art of them all.
  
I was reminded of this photo yesterday by another post from another blog (The Bohemian Blog, that was – well worth checking that one out! You wouldn't guess it from the name, but it actually features plenty of dark-tourism-related sites, plus brutalist architecture, Yugoslav spomeniks, etc.).
  
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Friday 15 March 2019
  
  15 03 2019   celebrating
  
Today I have some really BIG NEWS.
   
I've so far kept this rather quiet, but now that I've signed the contract (and just been to the post office to send it back), I can announce the following:
   
I've been commissioned to write a book (on our subject, obviously), and it's an ambitious project. I can't yet let on the title, or general approach, nor the name of the publisher, but I can say this much: it's going to be really comprehensive and with loads of photos (my own) and other illustrations, and quite a large tome too.
   
This means I have to put work for this book at the top of my priority list (100,000 words to write by the end of the year!), and thus may well have to neglect other things, including the posting of long stories here. I'll still try and keep up a steady routine of daily photo posts (weekdays at least) but will, again, have to cut down on the amount of text accompanying the images. I hope you'll all understand.
  
Other than that … in a bit I have to go out again to have yet another CT scan. Oh well, have to keep my radiation exposure up! Having had two CT scans last year already, plus a two-day return trip to Chernobyl, and planning a two-day tour around Fukushima in April, it's probably a good thing that I have NO intention of ever reproducing; goodness knows what the genes would be like that I'd otherwise pass on ;-)
   
(Only joking, of course. I know that even with all that exposure combined it's still nowhere near as much as what, say, a long-haul jet pilot, or somebody working in a nuclear power station or so, has to live with … Not joking about the not reproducing bit, though ...)
  
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Thursday 14 March 2019
  
  14 03 2019   almost completely abandoned building in Radomir near Sofia, Bulgaria
  
Photo of the Day: an almost completely abandoned apartment building on the outskirts of the small industrial town of Radomir, a good 20 miles from Sofia, Bulgaria.
  
Spot the one apartment that still looks lived in!
  
The neighbouring apartment blocks were more mixed, between totally abandoned and still occupied. I was told by my guide (on a “Communism Tour of Bulgaria”) that it was primarily poor Roma families who lived in these semi-ruins.
   
Abandoned buildings are a special kind of attraction to many, though this particular one isn't quite as special as more famous examples such as Buzludzha (also in Bulgaria) or Beelitz Heilstätten outside Berlin, Germany. It's a topic that has gained some popularity in recent years and is often seen in association with dark tourism, as became clear in some conversations I had at the Berlin Travel Festival last weekend. I would argue, though, that not just any abandoned structure qualifies as being a dark-tourism attraction at the same time, not just for the fact that it is abandoned. There has to be an extra 'dark' element on top of that – e.g. in the case of Buzludzha the fact that it was a special convention centre of the communist party and sports fantastic socialist-realist artwork, or in the case of Beelitz e.g. the fact that it was a tuberculosis sanatorium and later a Soviet military hospital.
   
So strictly speaking this shell of an apartment building is arguably not a dark-tourism site, unless you count the associated poverty of, and discrimination against, the Roma minority as the extra dark element …
  
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Wednesday 13 March 2019
  
  13 03 2019   Krakow ghetto wall
  
On this Day, 76 years ago, on 13 March 1943, the Nazis started the final liquidation of the Krakow ghetto. Today's photo (taken in 2008) shows a refurbished segment of the ghetto wall, which had originally been built in 1941. This wall segment is one of the very few traces left of the Jewish ghetto of Krakow.
  
The initial phase of liquidation had already started in 1942 with the beginning of Operation Reinhard – i.e. the so-called “Final Solution” (the systematic, industrial-scale murder of all Jews within the German or German-occupied territories). In separate batches thousands of ghetto inmates were deported to the new, purpose-built death camp of Bełżec, where they were killed in the gas chambers shortly after arrival.
   
The final stage of the liquidation in March 1943 saw the last 10,000 remaining ghetto inhabitants taken away. Some 8000 were sent to the nearby forced-labour camp of Płaszów under the command of Amon Göth (the SS officer portrayed so sinisterly by Ralph Fiennes in the 1993 Spielberg movie “Schindler's List”). The remaining 2000 were not deemed fit for work and thus were either killed right in the ghetto streets or sent to Auschwitz to be gassed there.
  
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Tuesday 12 March 2019
   
sorry for not having posted earlier today ... I got distracted by another minor medical odyssey that ate up much of today ... and I had only prepared ahead until yesterday, hadn't even thought about what photo I could pick. So instead I give you a link to an article which is on a very dark and controversial topic, one that few people are prepared to even think about. Yet it poses some valid questions.
  
Don't just go by the headline, please ... the issues involved are actually much more complex
   
On my train to Berlin last Friday I also watched (on my laptop) "Before the Flood", another climate-change documentary with Leonardo DiCaprio. And this also underscored the dire outlook for the planet. I found it quite well made, though, remarkable in the scope of the subtopics covered, and also for the fact that climate-change-denial campaigning wasn't simply blotted out but addressed head-on in some passages. This included quite vicious personal verbal attacks on DiCaprio himself and on various expert scientists (even including proper death threats in at least one case). You certainly do not come out with much optimism left after sitting through the film ...
  
 
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Monday 11 March 2019
  
On this Day, eight years ago, on 11 March 2011, a magnitude 9+ earthquake off the coast of Japan caused a tsunami that hit the north-eastern coast of the country's main island, Honshu, causing massive destruction and killing nearly 20,000 people. It was the biggest natural disaster in modern Japanese history. The earthquake-induced tsunami also caused the multiple reactor meltdowns at Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power station. All in all, this triple disaster became the most costly ever.
  
I've missed several big moments in recent history, including 9/11 (I had just moved into a new flat and had not yet any media connected), or the Fall of the Berlin Wall (simply had no TV on, and it was pre-Internet), but what the Japanese refer to as 3/11 (following the American 9/11 model) was something I caught live. I had some news channel window open on the computer as I was working on something. Seeing those black waves rolling over the landscape engulfing houses, fields, harbours and also cars as they were trying to drive away … all that was so shocking that I dropped all work and remained glued to the screen in horror and disbelief for the next few hours. It was the first time I saw a catastrophe of this severity unfold in real time. The memory of this has stayed with me ever since, and even now, as I am writing this, I can feel my heartbeat quickening and my eyes watering.
  
In April I will go back to Japan (ten years after my first trip to the country) and as part of my itinerary I've booked a two-day tour in the Fukushima region, which will include tsunami-stricken regions. This will be more than my usual DT research trips. This part of the trip will be more like a genuine pilgrimage. I don't expect it to be easy, emotionally.
   
To prepare myself, I've just finished reading the book “Ghosts of the Tsunami” by Richard Lloyd Parry – and instead of a photo-of-the-day, here's a link to a review of this book. For me it was a very emotional read. I had to put it down several times to take a break and compose myself again before continuing. But eventually I read to the end on the train yesterday from Berlin. Over 200 pages in nine hours or so.
   
  
<comment: and here's a link to a “long read” article by the author of the book “Ghosts of the Tsunami”, which is, despite the category it is published in in The Guardian, a kind of short version of the book. SPOILER ALERT: if you intend to read the book, then don't make the mistake of reading this article first – it gives away a good part of the most important parts of its content. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/24/the-school-beneath-the-wave-the-unimaginable-tragedy-of-japans-tsunami >
   
<comment And here's another review of “Ghosts of the Tsunami”:
  
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Friday 8 March 2019
  
  08 03 2019   International Women's Day   monument in Oslo of big woman, small man
  
On this Day, 8 March, it's International Women's Day. And to mark this I decided to post this find from my archives: Big Woman, small man …
  
It's a monument I spotted in Oslo, Norway. I have no information about the monument, who made it and when or what the actually intended meaning is. I just thought it's fitting for this day.
  
Oh, and a reminder: tomorrow I'll be taking part in a panel discussion about dark tourism at the Berlin Travel Festival, Arena Berlin, on the Travel Stage, at 4 p.m. (the discussion will be in German, though). There'll be an interview with some journalists directly afterwards, but then I'd be free for further discussions (also in English) and/or going for a beer.
  
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Thursday 7 March 2019
  
Those who know me or have studied my website in depth may know that I normally hold very negative views of the cruise ship boom that seems so unstoppable these days and that is doing so much damage – not least to the environment (it's by far the least environmentally friendly mode of transport there is), but also to many of its destinations (cities like Venice and Dubrovnik suffer especially from the tens of thousands of cruise ship visitors that crowd up, and litter, the place but leave next to nothing in terms of tourism revenue for the locals). For those reasons alone I would never set foot on a standard cruise ship – I'd also feel extremely alien in that sort of environment and at best would feel extremely bored very soon, and at worst might get militant (only joking, but I would certainly struggle with keeping my sarcasm at bay).
  
Yet there is one sort of cruise for which I might be prepared to make an exception. And that's the smaller scale cruises to Antarctica and the Sub-Antarctic islands, including, especially South Georgia – simply because there is no other way of getting there (unless you can afford to organize your own expedition with your own boat and crew).
  
South Georgia is one of those far-away dream destinations of mine that I may never get to reach – since those cruises that do go there aren't exactly affordable. So I was especially envious when I read this blog entry and saw the photos – about a tribute hike in the footsteps of the final leg of Ernest Shackleton's epic journey to rescue his crew after his Endurance expedition had failed. In particular I would love to see for myself the old rusting whaling station ghost towns on South Georgia, especially Grytviken, where Shackleton was eventually buried in 1922. A visit to his grave would be one of the most momentous pilgrimages to be had on this planet.
  
The article is in German, and I don't think there's an English version on the website (though it has an 'English' button, however that section doesn't seem to include the blog). But you could use Google Translate – or simply enjoy the cool photos.
  
  
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Wednesday 6 March 2019
  
  06 03 2019   gas chamber peep hole, Mauthausen
  
Photo of the Day: something very grim for today (for no particular reason), but quite an atmospheric picture. This was taken through the peephole in the door to the gas chamber at the former Nazi concentration camp of Mauthausen, Austria. The sign on the wall that's in focus simply says “Gaskammer” – 'gas chamber'.
  
This photo was taken on my first visit to the place many years ago (ten, to be precise); when I went back some five years later, after a new visitor centre had been constructed and the main exhibition had been reworked, I found that this particular view was no longer to be had. When I was first there you could freely open and close the door and step into the old tiled gas chamber. Now it is permanently fixed in a fully open position and entry into the chamber is blocked by a black wooden barrier.
  
I wonder whether that change was made was out of ethical considerations. I remember talking to a woman who worked in the bookshop at the visitor centre, and she told me she was quite fed up with visitors who just briefly popped by, asked where the gas chamber was, took a few snaps of it, and left again (without paying any attention to the other parts of the site or the information provided in the exhibitions). So maybe the change at the gas chamber was deliberate, to make it a less morbid attraction?
  
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Tuesday 5 March 2919
  
  05 03 2019   Katyn Museum
  
On this Day, 79 years ago, on 5 March 1940, the Soviet Politburo, including Josef Stalin, signed the order for the execution of thousands of Polish intelligentsia and the military leadership elite in the parts of Poland occupied by the USSR, following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (aka Hitler-Stalin Pact), by which Germany would invade western Poland while the Soviets would take over the country's eastern territories. The executions would later become known as the Katyn Massacres (after one particular place where these took place).
  
Today's photo was taken inside the Katyn Museum in the Polish capital Warsaw. It shows lots of victims' personal belongings that were dug up at the massacre sites.
   
At Katyn itself, still located in Russia, not far from the city of Smolensk, there is now an official memorial. This would not have been possible in Soviet times, when the USSR officially denied the massacres (or blamed it on the Nazis). That only changed towards the end of the Soviet era when the archives were opened and the original document with the order for the murders was uncovered.
  
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Monday 4 March 2019
  
  04 03 2019   driving through the heart of the Polygon, STS, Kazakhstan
  
Photo of the Day: at the Polygon, in the former Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan, where the Soviet Union used to carry out most of its nuclear tests. What you see in this photo are some of the concrete towers that radiated out from the centre, or ground zero, of the explosions. The towers used to house measuring equipment recording pressure, temperature and what not (including even cameras for filming the events) and now are the most visible silent relics from this top Cold-War-era dark site.
  
You also see a bit of our van in this picture – which was an ex-German military van still bearing its IFOR markings (that was the UN peace mission in Bosnia). It had no air-con, so in the summer heat of the Kazakh steppe it became a rolling sauna, as our driver himself quipped.
   
I watched the “Stans” part of last year's hyped Netflix series “Dark Tourist” the other day, and it brought back great memories of my own trip to this unique place back in 2011. Overall I found this particular episode by far the most interesting of the whole series. The other bits covered in it being Baikonur (the Russian-run space port/rocket launching site, also in Kazakhstan) and Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, both also pretty cool DT destinations.
   
The rest of the series, on the other hand, I found too often concentrating excessively on extreme fringe phenomena, unrepresentative of dark tourism at large, or even being completely off topic. Also a bit annoying are the many small (and not so small) errors and superficialities. Although it cannot be denied that it's entertaining to watch, very well filmed and edited and the presenter certainly comes across as a really nice guy. I've now uploaded my full review of the series – I'll put the link to it in the comment section below.
  
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Sunday 3 March 2019
  
   03 03 2019   Zweigelt DSC 4458
  
Every day is a school day – and I like that (learning new things all the time, I mean). And in Austria this can mean that the country's Nazi past can lurk in the most unexpected places and suddenly gets to you by surprise. Only today did I find out that the most common red wine grape variety in Austria, Zweigelt, was actually named after an old Nazi!
  
Friedrich (Fritz) Zweigelt created the new hybrid variety in the 1920s, but called it “Rotburger”. It wasn't until 1975 that the variety was officially renamed Zweigelt, long after its creator's death, thanks largely to his old buddy Lenz Moser (a big name in the Austrian wine business) campaigning for it. The official reasoning was that the new name was to avoid confusion with the similarly named “Rotberger”, even though that is far less common a grape type. It probably helped that the officials in charge of the relevant administrative body that decreed the name change also had a Nazi past.
   
In Fritz Zweigelt's case it was the fact that he had joined the NSDAP in 1933 and remained an illegal member of the party when this was outlawed in Austria. His party membership stood him in good stead, though, after the Anschluss (the “integration” of Austria into the Third Reich, i.e. when Hitler de facto annexed his old home country). He quickly got a top job as director of the Weinbauschule Klosterneuburg, an important viticultural school and research institution, where he propagated his Nazi ideology and allegedly once denounced a member of the resistance to the Gestapo.
   
After the war, Zweigelt lost his academic job and was even sentenced to half a year in prison on charges of “Volksverhetzung” (another hard to translate German word meaning something like 'demagoguery', or 'hate crime' as we would say these days). That this didn't stop the authorities from renaming Zweigelt's grape hybrid after him as late as in 1975 says a lot about Austria's (not) dealing with its Nazi past. This has begun to change in recent years, though (otherwise I wouldn't have found out about this case). And now there is even a campaign propagating the use the word as a verb: “zweigeln” – to refer to that avoiding of getting to grips with the Nazi past, as in “Kurt Waldheim hat damals viel gezweigelt”. That was the former Secretary-General of the UN and later President of Austria whose Nazi past, which he largely denied, caused significant controversy in the late 1980s, in the “Waldheim Affair”.
  
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Friday 1 March 2019
  
  01 03 2019   Daigo Fukuryū Maru 01
  
On this Day, 65 years ago, on 1 March 1954, the USA detonated Castle Bravo – a nuclear test of a high-yield thermonuclear bomb. And the yield went much beyond what had been planned and expected. Instead of the intended 6 megatons, it ended up 15 MT, two and half times more!
  
The blast – and its fallout – resulted in the largest radioactive contamination of any American nuclear test. This included a Japanese fishing boat, the “Daigo Fukuryū Maru” (aka “Lucky Dragon 5”), the bow of which you see in today's photo.
  
The crew suffered acute radiation syndrome and one of them died from it: Aikichi Kuboyama, ironically the boat's chief radioman.
  
The contamination of a Japanese boat outside the declared exclusion zone for the test was obviously also a major PR disaster for the US, less than nine years after the A-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WWII.
   
The fishing boat later became a one-exhibit museum in 1976, after it was determined safe for display. It is housed in a purpose-built hall in a park in Tokyo.
  
I haven't been there yet – so this photo isn't mine, but, again, a public domain image taken from Wikimedia – but I do plan to visit the site on my upcoming Japan trip in April. The site is currently undergoing refurbishment but due to reopen soon, so it'll all be pretty new when I get there. I'm intrigued about the commodification and whether, or to what degree, it'll still point an accusing finger at the USA.
[UPDATE: you can find the chapter I wrote after my visit to this site here!]
  
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Thursday 28 February 2019
  
  28 02 2019   and the violin played on, The Pit monument, Minsk
  
Photo of the Day: … and the violin played on … Close-up of the sculpture group that is part of the so-called “Pit Monument” in Minsk, Belarus.
  
This moving memorial site commemorates one of the many massacres of Jews at the hands of the Nazis during their brutal invasion of the Soviet Union in WWII. In this case some 5000 Jews from the Minsk ghetto are believed to have been led down into a hollow to be massacred at this very spot on 2 March 1942. In total between 50,000 and 85,000 Jews were murdered in Minsk.
   
The monument (also known as “Yama Memorial”) has several parts, with a simple obelisk and plaque going back as far as 1946, but it's only been in recent years, in the post-Soviet era, that specific Jewish memorials could be added. This particular one, a sculpture depicting 27 victims descending into the pit to be shot (and with one of them playing a violin!) was created in the year 2000 and is the work of the artists Leonid Levin and Else Pollack.
  
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Wednesday 27 February 2019
  
  27 02 2019   former operation theatre, Beelitz
  
Photo of the Day: a former operating theatre at the abandoned Beelitz Heilstätten, an ex tuberculosis sanatorium outside Berlin, eastern Germany, which during the Cold War era became a Soviet military hospital … hence the inscription in Cyrillic, which basically says 'operating theatre No. 4'.
  
I was thinking of posting something medically-related since today I had to go back to my doctor for yet another post-surgery check-up (the op was nearly five weeks ago).
  
Unfortunately it's not looking anywhere near as good as it should by now. The initial period of recovery has reversed and now I'm rather regressing again. I'm almost like back to where I was before the op. That's obviously a great disappointment since I had hoped the surgery would sort me out once and for all – but it is what it is. The doc seemed a bit at the end of his tether, and indicated I may eventually have to have another operation if this can't be solved in any other way … but for now I just have to try and live with this. Oh well …
  
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Tuesday 26 February 2019
  
  26 02 2019   German POW memorial at Jvari Pass by the Georgian Military Highway, Caucasus
  
Photo of the Day: having mentioned the most infamous Georgian of all time (Josef Stalin) yesterday, I'm following that up today by a photo taken in beautiful Georgia.
  
This is a German POW cemetery that I found along the so-called Military Highway, the mountain pass over the high Caucasus that leads into Russia. We were heading for Mt Kazbek, Georgia's third highest peak, located on the border between South Ossetia, Georgia and Russia, and perhaps the most fabled peak of Georgia. I had no idea we'd stumble upon such a sobering site en route.
   
The memorial plaque at the site did not give any information beyond stating there are POWs buried here. But I subsequently found out that the Soviet Union did indeed use German POW for the roadworks here when the old military highway was improved.
   
This find was quite sad, then, especially as it's in the middle of some of the most stunning mountain scenery anywhere in the world. What a stark contrast.
  
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Monday 25 February 2019
  
  25 02 2019   Stalin, Grutas Park, Lithuania Kopie
  
On this Day, 63 years ago, on 25 February 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev delivered a speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in which he launched a severe criticism of his recently deceased and formerly god-like predecessor Josef Stalin, particularly for the cult of personality the Red Tsar had established, but also for the purges especially in the 1930s.
  
That change of tone and sudden end of the previously near universal worship of Stalin, who had died in 1953, came as a shock for many within the USSR. Yet it started the process of de-Stalinization internally, and internationally was a milestone in the “thaw” phase of the Khrushchev era (until that ended in the early 1960s).
  
In the process of de-Stalinization hundreds of Stalin statues all over the Eastern Bloc were toppled and dismantled. Today's photo shows a surviving specimen, salvaged and put on display at the controversial communism-themed Grutas Park in Lithuania, which has also been dubbed “Stalin World” by some (in allusion to Disney World).
  
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Friday, 22 February 2019
  
  22 02 2019   Chernobyl 2   Kopachi
  
Photo of the Day: one for a Friday – just a photo without any big story attached … just an abandoned doll – atmospherically positioned and semi-covered in fresh snow – outside the kindergarten of Kopachi village, Chernobyl Exclusion Zone … taken during my latest return trip to the Zone last November.#
  
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Thursday, 21 February 2019
  
  21 02 2019   Verdun 1
  
  21 02 2019   Verdun 2
  
  21 02 2019   Verdun 3
  
  21 02 2019   Verdun 4
  
On this Day, 103 years ago, on 21 February 1916, the Battle of Verdun began. It was to become the largest, longest and deadliest battle of the First World War on the Western Front fought between French and German forces (a bit like what the Somme was for the British). About three quarters of a million soldiers were killed or wounded over the ten months that the battle lasted (i.e. that's on average ca. 2300 every single day!).
  
As in Ypres, the Somme and elsewhere, the battle totally transformed the landscape. Millions of shells basically ploughed over the entire landscape, which ended up a lifeless, treeless moonscape of mud, blood and shrapnel.
  
Over the century that has passed since then, nature has largely reclaimed the battlefields and surrounding towns and villages have been rebuilt (though not all – a few remain lost). But as you can see in the first of these photos, where there are no trees you can still clearly make out the craters that the shelling created. The second photo shows the ossuary of Douaumont, which holds the skeletal remains of some 130,000 unidentified casualties of the battle (from both sides), a few of which are seen in the third photo. The fourth, finally, shows but a part of the sea of war graves that spreads out in front of the ossuary … it is a tremendously moving site overall (all photos taken in 2016, i.e. during the centenary of the Battle of Verdun).
  
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Wednesday 20 February 2019
  
  20 02 2019   Maidan
  
On this Day, only 5 years ago, there was fierce fighting on the Maidan square and surrounding streets of Ukraine's capital city Kiev (or rather Kyiv, in Ukrainian spelling!) as the then government under President Yanukovych tried to violently crush the protests that had been gathering momentum, and with thousands of demonstrators holding rallies and even camping out on the Maidan.
  
Police and even snipers positioned on rooftops used live ammunition, and several dozens of people lost their lives. 20 February 2014 saw the worst death toll in a day of the whole Maidan Revolution. Yet the protests succeeded in unseating and driving into exile President Yanukovych.
   
When I was last there, in November last year, I had a fantastic view over the Maidan and Kyiv from my room at the Hotel Ukraina and that's when I took this shot one grey morning. Around the column in the centre you can see a set of smaller stelae made of rusty metal. Attached to these are several info panels that recount the events of the Maidan in 2013/14 and lay out a plan for a proper museum about these events and the whole revolution that is apparently in the pipeline.
   
However, the future Maidan Museum, as it is referred to in the short form, is given a much more flowery official name on these panels: “National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred and Revolution of Dignity Museum”. That's really quite heavy-handed on the pathos front – and I doubt such a name will go down well with the more pro-Russian population in the east of Ukraine or in Russia itself.
  
But it will still be an interesting thing to go and see once it has actually materialized. And Kyiv is always worth a visit in any case …
  
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Wednesday 20 February 2019, morning:
  
oh, yesterday's programmes on ARTE (see previous post!) didn't disappoint, on the contrary. Excellent summary of the history of the Korean peninsula right to the present day! Plus: it was followed by another programme about North Korea (link below), that one being about the "Freizeitkultur" ('leisure culture'?) of North Koreans, complete with cringeworthy Karaoke, dancing, beaches and fun-fairs …
   
And it also gave an insight into how much the DPRK has changed visually since I was there all those years ago.
  
Now Pyongyang is covered in garish colours ... no more uniform grey. And some stupendously futuristic new high-rises have sprung up, there are noticeably more cars on the road, lots of wares in privately run shops and: North Koreans too now have mobile phones! (When I was there, our phones were still confiscated at immigration and only returned on leaving the country!)
   
That other programme, called "Have Fun in Pyongyang" (cheap rhyme almost certainly intended) is still available online here ... for those who understand German (though there may well be a French version too ...):
  
  
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Tuesday 19 February 2019
  
  19 02 2019   Iwo Jima flag raising
  
On this Day, 74 years ago, on 19 February 1945, the Battle of Iwo Jima began when thousands and thousands of US troops began their amphibious landing operation on the island that was of strategic importance in the Pacific War against the Japanese.
  
Five days later, the island saw the famous flag raising on Mt Suribachi, which gave the world one of the most iconic war photographs of all time. And that image was also the inspiration for this monument: the Marine Corps Monument in Arlington outside Washington D.C. (this photo was taken by myself in 2010, slightly “subverting” it by taking it from behind rather than showing the better known front view – but even still, the instantly recognizable iconic value of the image is hardly diminished ...).
  
The image has become such a symbol of American bravery and heroism that it's sometimes a bit cringeworthy. Never mind, too, that the dramatic flag-raising scene depicted in the monument and the famous photo was actually the second flag-raising that day, and the team raising it specifically went to the location to produce this shot … hence its full authenticity has occasionally been called into question.
  
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Monday 18 February 2019
  
  [photo cannot be reproduced]
  
On this Day, 76 years ago on 18 February 1943, Joseph Goebbels delivered his“total war” speech at the Sportpalast arena in Berlin. It was one of the most infamous propaganda events in history.
   
The speech with it's explicit question “Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg?” ('do you want total war?') was met with an enthusiastic affirmative (from the select audience of devout Nazi party ranks only).
   
The slogan you see behind the stage in this image, by the way, translates as “total war – shortest war” … well, it was another 27 months, and of course we all know that it did not end with a Nazi victory.
   
Indeed, the signs that that would never come were already clear at the time the speech was delivered – presumably in response to that – as Nazi Germany had just suffered its worst defeat yet in Stalingrad and the campaigns in Northern Africa and elsewhere were also collapsing. But instead of acknowledging this the madness was intensified.
   
The venue of the speech, the Sportpalast, was badly damaged during WWII, but its walls survived and in the 1950s it was equipped with a new roof and used again for sports events and concerts (did the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd, who played here, know of the venue's dark history, one has to wonder). But in 1973 the building was demolished to make space for a housing development. So there's nothing left of it at all, only a metal plaque at the site commemorates its history.
   
The historic photo in today's post was gleaned from Wikimedia; it is classed under Creative Commons, provided the following attribution is given, which I hereby comply with: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J05235 / Schwahn / CC-BY-SA 3.0
[By the way, I can only speculate, as no explanations were ever given, but I can imagine that this post may have been one of those that contributed to my stupid purge from Facebook, because the historic photo featured a couple of swastikas, naturally, but FB's dumb algorithms or overworked, undereducated and underpaid Filipino censors can't differentiate between actual Neo-Nazi propaganda and a sober discussion of history.]
  
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Sunday 17 February 2019
  
A bit of self-advertising: I've been invited as a guest speaker to take part in a discussion panel about dark tourism at the Berlin Travel Festival on 9 March, scheduled for 4 p.m. at the 'Travel Stage' (venue: Arena Berlin, Eichenstr. 4). So if any of this page's followers are attending this event too, that's where you can find me and we can have a chat afterwards ;-)
   
In eigener Sache: Ich bin für den 9. März als Gast-Redner zum Berlin Travel Festival eingeladen, um an einer Diskussionsrunde zum Thema 'dark tourism' teilzunehmen. Diese ist für 16h auf der 'Travel Stage' angesetzt (Veranstaltungsort: Arena Berlin, Eichenstr. 4). Sollte irgendwer meiner Follower ebenfalls bei diesem Festival zugegen sein, dann kann man mich dort antreffen, gerne auch zu einem weiteren Meinungsaustausch im Anschluss an die offizielle Veranstaltung.
  
  
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Saturday 16 February 2019 – morning
  
  [photo cannot be reproduced because it was a share on FB]
  
Simon the fox of Pripyat, Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, posing nicely in front of one of the abandoned apartment blocks in the centre of the ghost town. Marvellous shot (thanks Misha!).
  
However, he looks a bit scrawny, doesn't he? Maybe he has to improve his hunting skills or somebody should feed him to fatten him up a bit ;-)
  
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Saturday 16 February 2019 – midday
  
Another take on Chernobyl, this time from the BBC. There is a corresponding TV programme on this weekend too, called “BBC News Our World: In the Shadow of Chernobyl ”. Going by this article it's bound to be rather good, I reckon
  
  
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Friday, 15 February 2019
  
  15 02 2019   Fort Rinella
  
Photo of the Day: a follow-up to yesterday's post, sort of … read on to see why and in what way.
  
This is the entrance to Fort Rinella on Malta, which I visited early last month. The site is these days run by a non-government heritage foundation called “Wirt Artna”, and some of its members act as guides, like this one “standing guard” by the entrance in a period uniform. At Fort Rinella they dress up in Victorian-era military garb and amongst the various demonstrations and re-enactments one of the guides also gave our group a guided tour of the museum exhibition part of the Fort.
   
And it was in this guide's narrative that the topic of drugs came up. The guide had a good, typically British, self-depreciating sense of humour and it was he who told us about Britain's dealings in opium as part of its colonialization quests in Asia, saying that back then the UK was probably the biggest drug dealer in all of history!
   
Besides being a follow-up to yesterday's post, this is also an alert that by now all the new Malta chapters have been uploaded onto DT's main website. (Direct link in my comment below!)
  
  
<comment: see here for the new Malta chapters:  http://www.dark-tourism.com/index.php/malta
   
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Thursday 14 February 2019
  
  14 02 2019   Bukit Chandu, Singapore
  
On this Day, 77 years ago, on 14 February 1942, the Battle of Bukit Chandu took place in Singapore during the Japanese campaign to seize this British colony – which was successful in the end.
  
At Bukit Chandu a British Malay regiment held out against their assailants, a Japanese elite force, longer than was thought possible, even though they were eventually overpowered by their adversaries. Still, the site is regarded as a poignant shrine to heroism. The memorial & museum at the site, established in 2002, is called “Reflections at Bukit Chandu” and this photo, taken just outside (in 2014), shows a sculpture group of British soldiers.
   
While we are at reflecting: Bukit Chandu, by the way, means “opium hill” – and it was so named after a British opium processing factory at the foot of the hill … I'm not joking! Britain once acted as a major state-organized international drug dealing cartel, quite possibly the largest ever! It was all part of the colonial strategy in East Asia …
  
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Wednesday 13 February 2019
  
  13 02 2019   Dresden
  
On this Day, 74 years ago, on 13 February 1945, the Allied bombing of Dresden began … often regarded as one of the most controversial aerial bombardment operations on a civilian city in war history, sometimes even classed as a war crime. Some 25,000 were killed in the bombing and the fire storms it created, many of them refugees from elsewhere in Germany, especially the east, where the Soviet Red Army was making rapid advances.
  
By death toll, there have been worse bombings of cities in history (Hamburg two years earlier, for instance, or the bombing of Tokyo in March 1945, estimated to have killed 100,000 people), but Dresden still stands out as it was militarily so pointless, and also because in addition to the lives lost, it was a premier cultural capital that was laid to waste (often referred to as the German “Florence on the Elbe”).
  
One of the most iconic buildings destroyed in the bombing was the famous Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady). For almost five decades the ruins of the church had served as a poignant war memorial, including all the way through the years of the GDR. But after German reunification calls for reconstruction came and were heard. So work began in 1994 and the reconstruction was completed in 2004 – an that's what you see in today's photo (taken in 2013).
   
Some of the blackened stones from the original ruin were worked into the reconstruction, but overall the rebuilt church looks more or less like new – and if you ask me, just a little too “artificial”. The interior in its opulent faux baroque style and kitschy candy colours is certainly not to my taste. To be honest, I would have preferred the ruins to have carried on serving as a war memorial instead of this reconstruction. But I am aware that's quite a minority opinion.
  
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Tuesday 12 February 2019
  
  12 02 2019   The Scream stolen
  
On this Day, 25 years ago, on 12 February 1994, one of the most famous paintings by Edvard Munch, commonly known as “The Scream”, was stolen from the National Gallery of Norway in Oslo. To the embarrassment of the museum the lax security situation was even commented on by the thieves' “thank-you” note left at the scene … However, the painting was recovered a few months later and four men were convicted of involvement in the heist in 1996 but later had to be released on a legal technicality.
   
There are in fact several versions of this painting, and another one was stolen ten years later from the Munch Museum, also in Oslo. It certainly seems to be a popular item in the art-stealing scene …
  
This well-known and highly iconic painting, originally created in 1893, does not only have obvious horror associations, it is also believed to have been inspired by extremely red skies during sunset caused by the eruption of Krakatoa ten years earlier, which resulted in global optical effects in the atmosphere in the years that followed. So there may be quite a direct link to dark history as well, on top of the mere symbolic iconicity representing the “modern era's universal anxiety” that many see expressed in this image.
  
The image reproduced here was taken from WikiMedia again, where it is marked as being in the public domain.
  
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Monday 11 February 2019
 
  11 02 2019   Mandela freed
  
On this Day, 29 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.
  
For years there had been calls for his release on the international stage … anybody following this page old enough to remember the charity concerts and the single “Mandela Day” by Simple Minds?
   
But as long as the staunch Apartheid politicians remained in power in South Africa those calls were ignored (incidentally, Mandela's classification as a “terrorist” was also followed in some Western countries, including the USA).
   
This only began to change 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 to 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 colonial history in Africa 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.
   
Today's photo was taken last summer in Johannesburg. It shows just one of the countless images of Mandela that you encounter everywhere these days … yet it was definitely the very largest one I spotted, covering a whole side of a high-rise building!
   
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Sunday 10 February 2019
  
Another one from the strange parallel universe that is the world of arts auctions … and this particular one will be fodder for those who like a bit of controversy too.
  
That this auction is being held in Nuremberg of all places just adds an extra dose of irony. This could only be topped by having it take place at the Zeppelinfeld …
   
Never mind that the artistic quality of these paintings is way too low to be worth the prices they are apparently fetching these days … I definitely wouldn't want anything like that on my walls for that reason alone (even if I was given any of them for free). Let's face it, young Adolf was but “a moderately ambitious amateur”, as the article quotes a Munich art institute statement.
   
But still, it can't be denied that “A.H.” sells, increasingly so (and much more so than at the time when these works were made). Just to whom, you have to wonder, though …
   
Anyway, if it weren't for the signature none of these paintings would be in any way remarkable or controversial … that wicker chair, on the other hand … As the article makes clear, displaying it in public would even be illegal within Germany, so it would have to go behind private doors. Or abroad. I wonder where it will end up. We'll probably never know.
  
  
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Friday 8 February 2019
   
  08 02 2019   Pripyat 2   ferris wheel seen through rust
  
Photo of the Day: another atmospheric picture from my recent return trip to Chernobyl.
  
This was taken through the rusty roof of what was to be the ticket booth of the Pripyat funfair's Ferris wheel – you can make out a bit of that Ferris wheel.
  
It's just one of those thousands of locations in the Zone that invite creative photography …
  
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Thursday 7 February 2019
  
  07 02 2019   Pripyat 3   meds in the hospital
  
Photo of the Day: another hospital image – this one was taken inside an abandoned hospital in Pripyat, Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which I visited on my most recent return trip there in November last year.
  
There are still some meds in that cabinet … but I doubt they'd still be any good today …
  
Anyway, the hospital was definitely one of the highlights of that trip, full of outstanding photo ops and extraordinary urban exploration appeal …
  
The latter was emphasized by the fact that normally, officially, you are not supposed to actually enter any buildings any more these days.
  
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Wednesday 6 February 2019
  
  06 02 2019   DomRep plane crash
  
On this Day, 23 years ago, on 6 February 1996, Birgenair flight 301 crashed into the sea shortly after take-off at Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, killing all 189 people on board. It was the deadliest aviation disaster in the history of the country.
   
The cause of the crash was determined to have been a combination of pilot error and a blocked pitot tube (a device on planes that measures airspeed) … blocked apparently by a wasp nest (prior to the flight the plane had been sitting idle on the airfield with the pitot tubes not covered and they had not been checked before take-off).
   
This photo shows the memorial stone on the shores of Puerto Plata (where I was three years ago and had no idea of this disaster, so it came as a shocking discovery). Since the majority of passengers on this Turkish charter jet were Germans (the plane was en route to Frankfurt), the text on the stone is in Spanish and German. The German inscription says: “On 6 February 1996 a plane on a flight to Germany crashed into the sea outside this coast. There were no survivors of this disaster, and only 68 of the victims could be recovered. For 121 people the sea became their final resting place.”
  
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Tuesday 5 February 2019 
  
  05 02 2019   Beelitz 3
  
Photo of the Day: since I have to go back to hospital for another post-op check-up, I thought I'd post a hospital pic …
  
… this was taken at Beelitz Heilstätten, a former tuberculosis sanatorium outside Berlin, Germany, which later became one of the most celebrated complexes of abandoned buildings (and an urbexer's paradise) in Europe.
   
The hospital I have to go to today looks very different to this, fortunately. No dilapidation, but instead it's rather a squeaky-clean, pretty new ward, all modern hi-tech and with a light and airy atmosphere – a far cry from those old-school oppressive pale green colours on walls and tiles.
  
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Monday 4 February2019
  
  04 02 2019   Yalta Conference
  
On this Day, 74 years ago, on 4 February 1945, the Yalta Conference began, at which the heads of the Allies, Josef Stalin for the USSR, Franklin D. Roosevelt for the USA and Winston Churchill for the UK, discussed the fate of post-war Germany (and Europe).
   
At that point victory was still over a year away, but the Allies were going to be prepared. The division of Germany into occupation zones, for instance, was laid down here. Also the commitment to putting Nazi war criminals on trial (fulfilled at the Nuremberg trials).
   
One problematic aspect more or less decided at this conference as well was the fate of post-war Poland. This was to be moved westwards, basically, with the Soviet Union retaining the territories annexed in 1939 for which Poland was to be compensated by being given new territory that up to then had been German.
   
The photo is obviously not mine but a public domain image – in fact one of the most popular such pics (according to Wikimedia)
  
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Friday, 1 February 2019
  
I suppose much of DT can also be considered “anti-tourism” … and a reaction against 'overtourism' (note there is a short reference to Vienna in this article too).
  
  
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Thursday 31 January 2019 – good night everybody!
  [photo could not be reproduced]
  
… sunset over the SR Mickelsen Safeguard Complex in North Dakota, USA.
  
The site was a radar array and ABM missile launch facility that was only operational for a short while in the mid-1970s and has since been one of the most mysterious and at the same time most iconic relics of the Cold War era!
  
After decades of neglect the site was eventually auctioned off and thus went into the ownership of some obscure religious group. However, they've apparently not done anything with it and offered it for sale again (at six times what they paid – must be a business-savvy sect!). But its future remains uncertain.
  
See also the comments sections below where I'll put a couple of links – some with intriguing photos from the inside of the main pyramid! So do take a look!
  
Comments:
  
  
  
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Thursday 31 January 2019
  
  
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Wednesday, 30 January 2019
  
Since I missed International Holocaust Remembrance Day last Sunday (due to being in hospital – see yesterday's post), I make up for it by sharing a rather worrying article about the growing ignorance with regard to this topic within the UK …
   
  
  
<comment: and here is the original bulletin by the HMDT: https://www.hmd.org.uk/news/we-release-research-to-mark-holocaust-memorial-day-2019/ >
  
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Tuesday, 29 January 2019
  
  29 01 2019   the shadow of death   Zentralfriedhof
  
Photo of the Day: back from the shadow of death!
  
I'm exaggerating, of course. But to explain the silence on this page for the past four days: on Friday I had my surgery, the one I had been waiting for so long and that had already been postponed twice (you may have seen the relevant posts towards the end of last year). This time things happened very quickly and it did go ahead. So fast that I didn't have time to post anything here beforehand.
  
I'll spare you the details (some of them very bloody indeed), but the main thing is: it was successful. I was released from hospital and am now recuperating. Nominally that should take two to four weeks. We'll see.
   
Anyway, I am naturally not my full self at the moment, though it could be worse. At least I can still write. But my productivity may well be a bit impaired while I'm on meds and suffer from sleep deprivation (nights really are the worst). So the coming posts will be irregular and shorter, maybe just shared links or so, or simple atmospheric photos without grand stories attached to them.
  
I also have lots of extra work coming my way, so I can't say when I may be able to resume the old routine of full-length historical posts day in, day out. Please bear with me ...
   
Btw. the photo in this post was taken two years ago at Vienna's Zentralfriedhof ('Central Cemetery') ... I had it lined up for Friday, but then it suddenly felt a little inappropriate to post it just before the op (though I am generally not a particularly superstitious person ...)
   
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Thursday, 24 January 2019
  
  24 01 2019   B 52s, Pima air museum, Tucson, Arizona
  
On this Day, 58 years ago, on 24 January 1961, one of the most alarming “Broken Arrow” incidents happened, when a B-52, carrying two 4-megaton two-stage hydrogen bombs, broke up in mid-air near the town of Goldsboro, North Carolina, USA. The crew was ordered to bail out, but two didn't manage it and another died on landing, the remaining five survived. But what about those bombs? It's almost unbelievable:
  
One of the Mk 39 bombs was found with its parachute deployed and suspended by it from a tree in an upright position. It was largely intact … yet only one of the chain of safety mechanisms prevented it from arming itself and going off, namely the on-board arm/safe switch, which had still been in the 'safe' position. Had it been set to 'ground' or 'air' the bomb that had run the entire sequence to actually firing would have caused a thermonuclear explosion, right on the USA's home territory! I wonder how the US military's PR department would have handled that one ... (yet as it was they got away with the lie that the bombs were unarmed and that there had never been any risk to civilian lives.)
  
And what about the second bomb? Well, its parachute did not deploy and so it plunged to the ground at full speed and disintegrated on impact, but also without exploding. Yet the recovery team that was sent to the site never managed to retrieve the secondary stage of the bomb in the swampy ground (they only removed the dislodged pit of the bomb, so at least it's unarmed). So it's still there somewhere 30-50m underground – with all its uranium and plutonium just left behind. They simply stopped digging, purchased the plot of land and fenced it off. What a solution.
   
I obviously have no photos of those bombs or the plane wreckage, so instead I give you a photo showing a couple of intact B-52s … on display at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. (Long-term followers of this page may notice that it is a version of a larger photo used here before a few years ago ...)
  
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Wednesday 23 January 2019
  
  23 01 2019   Alesund fire memorial
  
On this Day, 115 years ago, on 23 January 1904, a fire destroyed almost the entire town of Ålesund on the west coast of Norway. The houses, like in many places in Scandinavia, were mostly built of wood and hence burnt so well that the town was essentially wiped off the map.
   
Remarkably, however, the population of over 10,000 was successfully evacuated and survived almost in its entirety. Only one fatality is known. But the inhabitants had of course become homeless and had to seek temporary shelter.
  
Yet the subsequent rebuilding of the town is one of the most astonishing resurrection phoenix-from-the-ashes stories ever: Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had visited Ålesund frequently, personally channelled large sums of aid to the stricken place and it was hence quickly rebuilt … in the then en vogue “Jugendstil”, aka 'Art Nouveau', architectural style. It is now regarded as one of the most consistent and most beautiful examples of that style worldwide. In a way, then, the nearly total destruction of the crammed old town could thus be seen as an advantage in the long run, as the new town turned out not only pleasing to the eye, but also much more modern in terms of sanitation and other infrastructure. So the fire was a disaster but one with a happy ending!
  
Today's photo shows a monument, consisting of four stelae with historic photos, that commemorates the fire of 1904. It's located in the northern part of the old harbour of Ålesund, opposite the breakwater.
  
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Tuesday 22 January 2019
  
  22 01 2019   Vietnam Vets memorial, Washington DC
  
Photo of the Day: having mentioned the Vietnam War (aka the “American War” in Vietnam) and the Vietnamese style of commemoration yesterday, here's a fitting follow-up in the form of a famous example of US commemoration of that war … in fact it is arguably one of the world's best-known war memorials of them all (and there are many thousands of them!): the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the Mall in Washington D.C., designed by Maya Lin.
  
It certainly is one of the most visited war memorials in the world, with over 3 million people going there annually.
   
Well, I should say the photo shows only a small part of it … but I find the image quite evocative, especially the reflection of trees on the polished black marble and the little flowers growing out of a crack at the top of the memorial wall of names … signs of life at a site that commemorates death. That sort of juxtaposition is always quite touching I find.
  
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Monday, 21 January 2019
  
  21 01 2019   DMZ   Vietnam
  
On this Day, 51 years ago, on 21 January 1968, the Battle of Khe Sanh began in the Vietnam War (or, in Vietnamese lingo: the “American War”).
  
The battle ended inconclusively … the Americans claim they withdrew from the base and destroyed it themselves to leave nothing behind that would be of use to the North Vietnamese army, the North Vietnamese, on the other hand, claim it had been a victory of theirs.
   
The commodification at the site is hence perhaps a bit skewed, but war memorials in Vietnam are generally a bit on the celebratory side (which I think is also understandable, given that they came out victorious in this war against the USA, which was and still is one the world's superpowers, no less).
   
Today's photo shows one section of the open-air parts of the memorial museum that was constructed at the site of the former US base of Khe Sanh. The chopper in the background – like all other American war relics on display here – was brought in from other parts of the country, because, as mentioned above, the Americans didn't actually leave anything behind. The only authentic parts are remnants of the base's former airfield. But the guide I had when I visited the former DMZ in Vietnam failed to take me to that ex-airfield. Well, I guess it's just one of many things that would justify a re-visit of that country …
  
(By the way., the photo is a re-post from quite some time ago, as observant long-term followers of this page may have noticed, but the associated text post is different and all new.)
  
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Friday 18 January 2019
   
  18 01 2019   Budapest cemetery   dual to dust to dust ..
  
Photo of the Day: one for a Friday (taken at a cemetery in Budapest, Hungary, some years ago). This looks like the line “dust to dust” has been taken a bit too literally …
  
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Thursday 17 January 2019
  
  17 01 2019   Scott's last diary entry
  
Photo of the Day: famous last words …
  
On this Day, 107 years ago, on 17 January 1912, Captain Scott's “Terra Nova” Antarctic expedition party finally reached the South Pole – yet to their dismay they found that their Norwegian competitor Roald Amundsen had already made it there a month earlier, thus taking the prized title of first man at the South Pole instead of Scott.
   
Scott noted in his famous diary on that day: "The Pole. Yes, but under very different circumstances from those expected ... Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority. Well, it is something to have got here".
   
Under the weight of disappointment and increasingly exhausted, the party headed back but, as we all know, failed to make it. Scott and his remaining companions perished on 29 March.
   
Today's photo shows the final entry in Scott's diary. It says: “We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more. R. Scott. Last entry. For God's sake look after our people.”
   
This photo of a facsimile of the diary's last page (and a photo of the memorial cross for Scott's expedition party) was taken inside the Fram Museum in Oslo, Norway. The Fram was Amundsen's ship on his South Pole expedition, so naturally the museum mostly celebrates the Norwegian's achievements in polar explorations. But it also acknowledges the tragic story of Scott and his men.
  
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Wednesday 16 January 2019
  
  16 01 2019   Slavutych 3   by night
  
  16 01 2019Slavutych 2   train station
  
Photo of the Day: having mentioned Slavutych in yesterday's post, here's a couple of photos from there. The first one shows the hip-and-happening (NOT!) town centre by night, the other shows the main building of the train station.
  
Slavutych, as you may recall, is the planned town that, after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, was quickly built 30 miles (50 km) to the east of Chernobyl to replace the evacuated town of Pripyat. Like the latter, Slavutych's purpose in life was to house the workers of the nuclear power plant. Even though the NPP was shut down, decommissioning work is still ongoing, and most of those people still working there do indeed still commute in and out daily from/to Slavutych.
   
It was one of those trains that our small group boarded to get into the Zone on this occasion. The train passes through some territory of Belarus (but since it never stops, no transit visas are required), then enters the Zone and terminates at the Chernobyl NPP's own train station, which is where our guide met us with all the necessary paperwork (fortunately!).
  
That also meant our touring already began early in the morning, which was an advantage in particular because it had started snowing that morning, so when we reached the town centre of Pripyat and the famous fairground with the Ferris wheel, we were the first ones to get there that day – i.e. the first ones to leave footprints in the fresh snow. Magical!
  
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Tuesday 15 January 2019
  
  15 01 2019   Pervomaisk ICBM base   SS 18 Satan
  SS-18 Satan
  
  15 01 2019   Pervomaisk ICBM base 2   launch control centre
  launch control centre
  
  15 01 2019   Pervomaisk ICBM base 3   missile silo, flooded
  missile silo
  
  15 01 2019   Pervomaisk ICBM base 1   model of the launch control centre
  model of the launch control centre underground tube
  
  
Photos of the Day: Pervomaisk Strategic Missile Base, Ukraine.
   
Most of you will recall the photos I posted from my most recent return trip to Chernobyl, via Slavutych this time. What I don't think I'd mentioned before, though, was that the day before I finally made it to another “nuclear tourism” attraction in Ukraine, one that is unrelated to Chernobyl (other than that it forms part of most Chernobyl tour operators' portfolio as well), but instead is a prime Cold-War-era site.
  
This is kind of the Soviet equivalent of the Titan Missile Museum in Arizona, USA (which has featured on this page before, as you may also recall), or the two Minuteman sites in the Dakotas. This former missile base is the only ex-Soviet site of that nature open to the public.
  
Part of it is authentic, including the underground Launch Control Centre, whereas much else has been added and heavily “museum-ized”. There's a proper small indoor museum providing some background, and a large open-air collection of vehicles, tanks and, of course, missiles, including an SS-22 “Satan” multi-warhead ICBM (the USSR's most powerful ever), even though no such missiles were ever stationed here (instead it was SS-24 “Scalpel” ICBMs). In addition you can see the now empty (and partly filled-in) silo of one of the missiles that were controlled from this base.
  
The highlight for most visitors, however, is the trip down to the bottom of the command centre silo where a “simulated launch” will be staged, with lots of flashing lights and sirens and alarms sounding. In fact they have two launch control centres here – one mock-up as part of the above-ground museum (shown here), plus the original one deep underground.
  
By the way, do not get this Pervomaisk in the south of Ukraine (about halfway between Kyiv and Odessa) confused with the one near Luhansk in the war-torn Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.
  
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Monday, 14 January 2019
  
  14 01 2019   Constitution Hill
  
Photo of the Day: we haven't had anything from Africa in a long while. So here we go with something from my couple of days' stopover in Johannesburg, South Africa, last summer (when the main destination was St Helena).
   
This is part of the former Number 4 Jail, a brutal place of incarceration for both “ordinary” criminals and political prisoners. The latter included such illustrious names as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
  
It was never a pleasant place, but its worst notoriety was of course gained during the dark years of Apartheid.
  
Today the prison has been preserved as a memorial site and forms part of the “Human Rights Precinct” in the heart of Jo'burg that also comprises the Old Fort (built by the Boers and also a former prison), the adjacent Women's Jail and the newly built Constitutional Court that gives the whole complex its other name: Constitution Hill. To make space for the new court house the former Awaiting Trial cell block was mostly demolished – only the four staircases have been preserved and integrated into the memorial site.
   
Together with the eminent Apartheid Museum, Constitution Hill is THE prime dark-tourism attraction in Johannesburg. Not to be missed when in the city.
  
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Friday, 11 January 2019
  
  11 01 2019   St Paul's cvatacombs, Malta
  
Photo of the Day: deep inside St Paul's catacombs in Rabat, Malta.
  
There are plenty of such underground warrens of tunnels dug into the soft rock of Malta everywhere on the island, some dating back to prehistoric times, many others are more recent and provided air-raid shelters during WWII. These particular tunnels underneath the old city of Rabat were both: originally a proper underground burial site in use until the arrival of the Arabs, but rediscovered only at the end of the 19th century; then in WWII they were extended to provide shelter for the local populace during the extensive bombing of Malta by Italian and German aircraft (during the Axis powers' unsuccessful attempt to seize the islands from the British – but that's another story for another post).
  
Today the St Paul's catacombs are a curious tourist attraction of sorts. Yet there was only one other visitor down there during the time my wife and I spent in this labyrinthine tunnel complex. Most of the time we had it all to ourselves.
  
… and at one point at the very end of the maze it did prove to be properly labyrinthine: we got lost. After hitting the same dead end three or four times in a row, we were getting a sinking feeling of being trapped and unable to find our way out. We did find it in the end, but it was mildly disconcerting for a moment, not to the point of panicking, but not too far off.
  
Now imagine there weren't all those electric lights and you had to find your way out in pitch-black darkness!!! … (well, I did pack my power torch, so that wouldn't have happened even if the lights had failed, but it's still a worthwhile thought experiment). Trying to feel your way out of this confusing maze would have been a really tall order …
  
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Thursday 10 January 2019
  
  [as this was a share, it cannot be reporoduced here]
  
Here's a short video I was asked to share. It's about the DT attractions of Belfast, Northern Ireland – and that means it's basically all about the two big T's: the Troubles and the Titanic! Enjoy.
  
<comment: Just one small objection: I'm not sure about calling DT "the newest trend in tourism". OK, the term was only coined in the 1990s, but the practice of DT had been around long before it was given that name. Some even argue it might be the oldest form of travel, namely if you take medieval pilgrimages to the burial places of martyrs to constitute a form of DT. Not quite sure about that either, but surely some other forms of tourism must be newer than DT (eco tourism, wellness tourism, some forms of adventure tourism, health tourism,etc.) >
  
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Wednesday, 9 January 2019
  
  09 01 2019   gruesome exhibit in Kabatepe visitor centre, Galipoli
  
On this Day, 103 years ago, on 9 January 1916 the Gallipoli Campaign ended (it had begun in February 1915). It was the first of the real large-scale mass-slaughter battles of World War One. A quarter of a million lives wasted for nothing … from the British/ANZAC perspective, that is – for the Turks it was a victory, of course.
  
Today's photo shows a particularly gruesome exhibit at the Kabatepe visitor centre, which has the main museum exhibition about Gallipoli at the actual site. The photo is pretty self-explanatory. No further comment required (but if you need more background information, you can find it on DT's main website – see the link in the comments section below).
   
There is also a connection between Gallipoli and Malta, my most recent DT destination. Malta, through its historic connection to the Order of St John, already had a tradition of providing hospital treatment, and at the time of the Gallipoli campaign this was reinforced when casualties from the bloody battles were sent to Malta, thus earning the island the nickname “the Nurse of the Mediterranean”.
   
And speaking of hospitals … my own trip to the hospital here in Vienna today was in vain, as I found the relevant out-patient department closed when I got there. Its opening times have been changed (i.e. much shortened) since I was last there, and nobody had bothered to broadcast that change, so I arrived, unaware of it, after closing time (last year I would have been there with over two hours to spare). That means I have to go again tomorrow morning, and hopefully I can then finally get some information about the date of my op. Fingers crossed.
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