• 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: 2016

  
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 previous sets this one for 2016 is not 100% complete, for the same reasons (so see the explanation here), but compared to the other year batches, this is the most complete with regard to text material, because I gleaned all posts directly from the FB site while my page was still visible before it was deleted altogether, thus on-the-road post texts are captured too. However, since I didn't archive all the photos I posted from on the road, only some could be reconstructed or replaced by similar images. 
  
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 31 December 2016
  
  31 12 16   Montserrat, ash venting volcano
  
Photo of the day: it's New Year's Eve!
  
That's when many people around the world celebrate with fireworks.
  
So, I'm bringing you one hell of a natural firecracker: the erupting volcano Soufriere Hills on Montserrat, West Indies, in the Caribbean (photo is a few years old, though ...)
  
Happy New Year everybody!
  
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Friday 30 December 2017
   
  30 12 16   Bhopal monument
  
Photo of the Day: wall mural and monument to the victims of the Bhopal disaster, right opposite the plant on the edge of the residential quarter that was most seriously affected by the toxic chemical cloud.
  
Their ground water is still polluted. They're still waiting for proper compensation. And nobody responsible was ever held to account. The walls around the plant are full of graffiti and slogans demanding justice.
  
The relatively new Remember Bhopal Museum, opened 30 years after the event, has a good account of the disaster itself and the decades of struggles by the victims and various NGOs' work. It's all very poignant and moving.
  
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Wednesday 28 December 2016
  
  28 12 2016   Lemmy
  
On this Day, last year, on 28 December 2015, Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead passed away just a couple of days after his 70th birthday.
  
He's leaving a big Rock 'n Roll shaped hole in the sky. Nobody played and lived rock harder than this legend whilst remaining a total gentlemen at the same time. He'll continue to be sorely missed.
  
Apologies if this is too personal a post for this page, but once in a while I think it should be allowed.
  
After a few days without Internet I'm about to go on an Indian night train north, and don't expect to have Internet again until tomorrow evening. Nor do I expect to get much sleep ... and I'm already sleep-deprived after several very early mornings the past few days. Oh well, I'll put some Lemmy on my mp3 player to help me through 
  
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Monday 26 December 2016
  
  26 12 16   Bhopal
  
Photo of the Day: the abandoned Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, site of the worst chemical industrial disaster in history (2 December 1984).
  
The disaster is in fact still ongoing, as the site has never been cleared up so there's still a lot of contamination ... and nobody's ever been held accountable either.
  
It's quite a disgraceful story of negligence, corruption and contempt for the poor locals who still suffer from the late effects (illnesses, birth defects, etc.)
  
Went to see the plant yesterday, but unfortunately couldn't get in. But the Remember Bhopal museum nearby was very impressive.
  
Now I'm travelling on to a nature reserve for a bit of more uplifting contrasts. I probably won't be able to post anything for the next couple of days ...
  
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Sunday 25 December 2016
  
  25 12 2016   nightly glow of Darvaza flaming gas crater
  
On this day: It's Christmas Day - here's DT's big Xmas light, then ... nightly glow at Darwaza flaming gas crater, Turkmenistan (long exposure photo).
  
It's probably the largest gas light in the world, thanks to another industrial disaster, burning since the 1970s.
  
Tomorrow I'll try to post something from Bhopal (where I am at the moment)
  
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Saturday 24 December 2016
  
  24 12 16   India Pakistan border
  
Second (!!!) photo of the day: … to make up for the recent dearth of posts I give you a double issue.
  
This is the real border, or rather, part of the border fortifications between India and Pakistan, I think ‘second line of defence’ it was – there are several! This is one of the most militarized borders in the world, after all.
  
Btw. The border gates where they have their crazy ceremonies (see previous post) is not the actual working border crossing point any longer, other than for a few private persons crossing on foot (not even sure about that). The real border checkpoint is a short distance away, and it is here that the endless lines of lorries cross which transport all those goods between the two countries.
  
You know, they may be arch-enemies politically speaking, but that does not stop them having a healthy trade relationship.
  
It’s just the Asian way, I guess …
  
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Saturday 24 December 2016
  
  24 12 16   Wagah border closing ceremony
  
Photo of the Day: border closing ceremony at Wagah, the only land border crossing point between arch-enemies India and Pakistan. Taken a few days ago, when I was in Amritsar, Punjab, north-western India.
  
Since 1951 the Indians and Pakistanis have been developing ever more flamboyant ceremonies, trying to outdo each other in OTT displays of patriotism and readiness for, well, defence, I guess. Though it feels much more aggressive than that. But it is of course all just show.
  
Still, every night this draws huge crowds, mostly domestic, but also a few foreign tourists. And it is indeed a spectacle to behold. Obviously there are more tourists on the Indian side (simply because there is more tourism in India than in Pakistan), but the Pakistanis do try to make up for it through loudness. Both sides use “cheerleaders” to get the crowd going. The display of confrontational patriotism borders on the North-Korean-esque at times. At others it’s just posturing peacocks …
  
In any case, this show is absolutely unique and reason enough for a dark tourist to make it to this corner of India (or Pakistan).… I apologize for the lack of posts over the last few days. I would have expected better wifi in India, but it’s also been sheer lack of time. These first 6 days of this India trip have been very fast-paced, with little sleep, and when there was time spare it was literally on the road, in the back of cars, or on rails (train), hence without Internet. I hope to be able to post more over the remainder of the trip.
  
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Sunday 18 December 2016
  
  18 12 16   wobbly looking elephant, Yala
  
On this Day: later this evening I'm heading off to India. So for the next few weeks my posts will probably be less regular, though I hope to be able to post the odd one from "on the road", wherever I may have wifi.
  
It'll be my first time in India, so I don't have any photos from there yet. The closest I ever got was Sri Lanka, and that's where the photo below was taken - almost exactly a decade ago. It's at Yala, on the coast that was battered by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami just two years before then. This wobbly elephant still seems to be a bit shaken by it.
  
This time around I'll also visit some sites on the South Indian east coast that were badly affected by the tsunami too. Otherwise many sites on the itinerary will be related to the British Colonial legacy and the fight for independence, but also to a certain man-made industrial disaster ... oh, and the world's most famous mausoleum is also on the list ...
  
It's not gonna be all dark, though, but a healthy mix. I'm also looking forward to the food (spicy vegetarian!) and some wildlife watching and scenery in a couple of national parks - and the whole cultural experience.
  
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Friday 16 December 2016
  
  16 12 16   dead wood, Spirit Lake, Mt Saint Helens National Monument
  
Photo of the Day: to finish the mini series of deadly lakes - here's another one from Spirit Lake, at Mount St Helens, Washington State, USA. In this photo you can more clearly see the deadwood still floating on the lake's surface: these are trees uprooted and blown away by the enormous lateral blast of the volcano on 18 May 1980.
  
The lake itself was also severely altered by the eruption, both in shape and depth as well as chemically. At first it had been turned into an evil toxic brine due to all those chemicals released by the volcano.
  
But within a remarkably short time, life returned to the lake and the surrounding landscape. It's something like an open-air laboratory in which to study ecological recovery.
  
So for once we can end on a positive note!
  
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Thursday 15 December 2016
  
  15 12 16   Lake Kiwu
  
Photo of the Day: following on from yesterday, speaking of deadly lakes, here's another one, in Africa. This is Lake Kivu, seen from the eastern shore in Rwanda. Across the lake is the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  
Kivu is one of the world's three known “exploding lakes” where so-called 'limnic eruptions' have occurred. That's a rare phenomenon, when methane or carbon dioxide dissolved in the depths of the lake's waters is suddenly released by a lake 'overturn', thus suffocating all human (and animal) life on the shores with deadly gas. And around Lake Kivu there are more than two million inhabitants!
  
Smaller limnic eruptions in recent history happened in Cameroon in the 1980s, killing thousands in their sleep by asphyxiation through carbon dioxide. Geological research around Lake Kivu yielded evidence that it “explodes” in limnic eruptions every few thousand years, causing massive extinction events around its basin. In this case the extra danger is the methane dissolved in it, which is also flammable, so the eruptions could be fiery as well as suffocating.
  
An extra risk at Lake Kivu comes from the proximity of one of the world's most active volcanoes, Mt Nyiragongo, just north of the lake. In 2002, a major eruption of this volcano that drained the lava lake in its crater sent rivers of lava downhill that badly damaged the Congolese town of Goma and nearly reached the lake's shores. It is feared that if a lava flow did reach the lake, this could trigger a catastrophic lake 'overturn'.
  
Now there are efforts being made to siphon off methane from the depths of Lake Kivu (and make good use of it for electric power generation), though some say that this also could be risky, in that this too could trigger an eruption if not done with the utmost care. So fingers crossed ...
  
Of course, the north Kivu region is already an extremely dark place, even without any natural disasters. The last phases of the Rwandan genocide happened here and its aftermath is still very present on the Congolese side of the border, where genocidaires turned rebel warlords control much of the mining operations in the region, namely for minerals that the production of smartphones and tablets depends on. So if you're reading this on such a device, chances are that you may have got Congolese blood in your hands, so to speak … but that's another story for another post ...
  
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Wednesday 14 December 2016
  
  14 12 16   looking down into Kawah Ijen, the world's largest acid lake
  
Photo of the Day: and another one from Ijen, this time showing the whole crater with its greenish lake. This is the largest and most acidic sulphurous acid lake in the world, in fact.
  
And as if all the infernal scenes of the sulphur mine, the toxic fumes and eerie blue flames were not enough to make this a top-notch dark-tourism destination, the acid lake adds an extra dose of darkness. It's genuinely deadly. A few years ago it proved this in a tragic way, namely when a French tourist fell into the lake and died.
  
For obvious enough reasons jumping in after anyone who's fallen into these waters is not an option, so she couldn't be rescued. I don't want to begin imagining how horrific this must have been.
  
My guide told me that this tourist's guide got into serious trouble with the authorities after the incident, even though it was the French tourist's own fault, getting too close to the lake, not taking due care, and ultimately slipping in. I only heard this story after having returned to the crater rim (where this photo was taken from), but while down there in the dark, I instinctively kept my distance from the lake shore, whose presence was somehow ominous enough.
   
As daylight was breaking, you could also see the fumes of the volcano swirling over the lake surface, at times forming crazy patterns as if they had a life of their own. And on the edges of the lake you could see yellow sulphur deposits forming.
  
But after one last look down into the crater it was time to turn around and embark on the long hike back down the slopes of the volcano and to the base station, where we had left our car, and where we could grab some breakfast. Then, having been up since midnight, and being exhausted from the hike and all the clambering about (and fighting those sulphurous fumes) I was ready for a wash and then catching up on some sleep. But it was a definite highlight of all my travels. Truly magical.
  
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Tuesday 13 December 2016
  
  13 12 16   sulphur mining at Ijen at daybreak, Indonesia
  
Photo of the Day: another one from the Ijen volcano crater in Indonesia. This was taken at the crack of dawn, when the blue flames have become invisible. But what you can see more clearly now is those toxic fumes whirling around, making the whole scene look even more infernal.
  
You also see the yellow from the sulphur deposits. The local miners not only harvest those natural deposits, they also melt down sulphur into moulds – see those black pipes they use for channelling the sulphur. And on the far right-hand side of this picture you can see a miner at work with melted sulphur, which is a much darker, deep orange colour compared to the natural light yellow of the sulphur rock deposits.
  
The miners have to carry their loads of sulphur out of the crater and then downhill for a few miles to the collection points at the foot of the volcano (where they get paid). They are typically quite small men – but very strong. They carry up to 90 kg of sulphur in two buckets hanging off a stick which they balance on their muscular shoulders. How they manage to hold their balance on the steep climb out of the crater is quite astounding.
  
This picture was taken on my way clambering back up the inside of the crater wall. Even without heavy loads to carry, it's a bit strenuous and you get quite dirty (and very sulphur-smelly – forget about ever wearing those clothes again ... the smell does not wash out). But it's worth it. It's a totally fascinating place, in so many ways.
  
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Monday 12 December 2016
  
  12 12 16   Ijen blue flames, Indonesia
  
Photo of the Day: follow-up to the previous post – the blue flames of Ijen volcano crater seen from closer up. (August 2014, south Java, Indonesia.)
  
Obviously, since it's in the darkness of the middle of the night, trying to photograph these deep blue flames means you have to use a tripod or other stabilizing implement and set the camera to long exposure times (and/or high sensitivity, but that can make the image too grainy), which in turn makes the flickering flames appear as a soft swoosh. But I find that quite cool as well.
  
Photographing this unique phenomenon is further complicated by others trying to take pictures at the same time, so often focus assist lights and even flash photography get in the way. I avoided the former by focussing manually, and the latter is totally nonsensical anyway, because with flash you won't see the flames in the pics (or at least not looking the way they do in the dark). This is also the reason you have to go at night – once the first light of dawn appears, the flames become invisible.
   
The flames often look like fiery rivers, namely above molten sulphur, and are often partially obscured by the volcanic fumes that whirl around inside the crater. That's also why you have to wear some form of protective mask, as these sulphurous fumes are really biting. I breathed some in at Bromo volcano the day before (when I didn't have a mask) and therefore know how evil these fumes are. They also burn your eyes like hell – but eyes you can at least close until the fumes have blown over, whereas holding your breath is only possible for so long. So I was glad I came to Ijen equipped with a proper mask.
   
The sulphur miners at Ijen only wear flimsy scarves round their heads for primitive protection. And they have to deal with these fumes for hours on end day in day out. Goodness knows how they can stand it. Their life expectancy is predictably rather low, though. They also chain-smoke those tarry 'kretek' clove cigarettes … as if those sulphurous fumes aren't bad enough …
  
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Friday 9 December 2016
  
  09 12 2019   Sally by the Ijen blue flames
  
Photo of the Day: I do not normally post pictures of people, but I'm making an exception today, since it's her birthday - this is my wife Sally, well wrapped up and with protective face mask against the sulphurous fumes, at the bottom of the Ijen volcano crater, south Java, Indonesia (in 2014).
  
You can just about make out the flickering blue flames of the burning sulphur in the background - getting a chance to see that spectacle was the reason we made it there, including a long climb down a steep crater wall in the middle of the night.
  
What an adventure it was!
  
Here's to many more travels and adventures!
  
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Thursday 8 December 2016
  
  08 12 16   USS Arizona memorial seen from USS Missouri
  
On this Day: 75 years ago, on 8 December 1941, the USA declared war on Japan, following the Japanese surprise attack on the US Pacific Fleet's base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, a day president Franklin D. Roosevelt declared “will live in infamy”.
  
This photo shows the white memorial built above the sunken wreck of the USS Arizona, the battleship worst hit in the attack in terms of loss of lives (over a thousand sailors went down with her), seen from the bridge of the USS Missouri.
  
The latter was turned into a museum ship at Pearl Harbor because it was aboard this battleship that Imperial Japan eventually signed its unconditional surrender in September 1945, finally ending WWII. So in this picture we have represented both the beginning and the end of that war (from a US perspective at least).
  
What is perhaps less well known is the fact that the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December was coordinated with simultaneous attacks on Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Hong Kong and the Dutch East Indies (today's Indonesia) on 8 December. ... hang on ... different days but "simultaneous"?!? Indeed! The only reason the date is different is that Hawaii is on the other side of the International Date Line. So the South-East Asian attacks apparently happened a day after Pearl Harbor, when in actual fact it was at the very same time.
  
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Wednesday 7 December 2016
  
  07 12 16   mosque dome displaced by the tsunami, Aceh province, Sumatra, Indonesia
  
Photo of the Day: this morning a 6.5 magnitude earthquake hit Aceh province in northern Sumatra, Indonesia. Dozens were killed and even more seriously injured. The images of collapsed houses instantly brought back memories of my trip to the region in 2014. That was almost ten years after the very worst natural disaster ever, the earthquake and Indian Ocean tsunami of Boxing Day 2004. Banda Aceh and the surrounding area were the worst hit area of them all back then. It's nowhere near as bad this time around, but it's still a chilling reminder.
  
This photo shows a mosque dome that was washed away by the force of the tsunami flood wave and ended up stranded in a field in a western suburb of Banda Aceh, the province's capital city. The dome was left in its odd position to serve as a memorial to the disaster. In this devoutly Muslim part of the world the symbolism involved in anything mosque-related can hardly be overstated. The fact that this dome, even though torn off its mosque, survived in this almost intact shape, will surely attract religious interpretations too.
  
Banda Aceh has meanwhile been (at least physically) rebuilt to remarkable effect – some say better than it had ever been before the disaster of 2004. There are several relics that are memorials to the tsunami and its victims, including stranded boats and ruined buildings in addition so several monuments and there's even a Tsunami Museum. This makes it an exotic but extremely  rewarding dark-tourism destination too.
  
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Tuesday 6 December 2016
  
  06 12 16   Mussolini crypt   the Duce tomb is the centrepiece
  
Photo of the Day: something from Italy.
  
This is the Mussolini crypt, where pride of place obviously goes to Benito “il Duce” Mussolini, Italy's fascist dictator from 1925 to 1943. In the background you can see – next to the glamorizing marble bust – his black shirt and his boots in little glass display cases. This really is a veritable cult-of-personality fascist shrine!
  
It's an odd story how it came to that: After the deposed Mussolini had been executed by partisans on 28 April 1945, and hung upside down on public display in Milan, for the people to physically vent their anger at, his body was initially buried in an unmarked grave.
  
However, within a year some die-hard fascist disciples of his managed to locate the grave, dig up their idol and abduct the corpse. After a long “dead-body hunt” that took several months, the authorities finally recaptured the dead Duce. They then took their turn at hiding the body, apparently in regularly changing places (to avoid it being found out again) for a decade or so. But then they finally agreed to returning the body to Mussolini's widow.
  
So he ended up “back home”, in the little town where he had been born, right in the family crypt. And thus the inevitable could begin – the crypt turned into a right-wing pilgrimage site. This is not only obvious from the artefacts on display, the bust and the national flag draped in front of the sarcophagus. The guest book on top of the flag also speaks volumes about who the typical visitors are. And as you proceed back up the stairs to the exit you pass a wall with devotional plaques, some of which are worryingly recent.
  
Visiting Mussolini's crypt is therefore a “difficult” dark-tourism thing to do. I admit I had very mixed feelings about going, and felt rather uncomfortable actually being there. But this is how I summarized my verdict on DT's main website: “But on the other hand it is still interesting to witness with your own eyes such an exceptional site. And after all, taking an interest in the real world, as it actually is (whether we like it or not), is the main driving force behind most dark tourism. So why not … do go – as long as you keep a healthy distance from all the glamorization of fascism ...”
  
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Monday 5 December 2016
  
  05 12 16   Augarten Leitturm
  
Photo of the Day: I was looking for something from Austria in my stock of photos this morning and I found this pic.
  
It shows the “Leitturm”, literally 'guidance tower', of the pair of Flak (anti-aircraft gun) towers in Augarten park in Austria's capital city Vienna (where I live these days). These concrete monsters are the largest and most visible physical relics of the Third Reich here.
   
A graffiti sprayer recently left the inscription “NEVER AGAIN” in huge yellow letters on the other tower (the “Gefechtsturm”, or 'combat tower'. i.e. the one with the big Flak guns at the top, while the Leitturm had the radar tracking equipment).
  
In a way I found all this quite fitting after yesterday's presidential elections.
  
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Friday 2 December 2016
  
  02 12 16   dystopian mining landscape, Montana
  
Photo of the Day: follow-up to yesterday's post … dystopian mining landscape near Butte, Montana, USA.
  
Not only is the Berkley Pit (featured yesterday) an ongoing environmental disaster and potentially catastrophic time bomb. The place has also had more than its fair share of tragedy in the past.
  
In 1917 the worst ever accident in the USA's history of hard rock mining happened here: the Granite Mountain/Speculator Mine disaster, when a fire that broke out in a shaft deep underground killed 168 miners.
  
Other dark sides of the mining boom-town history of Butte include strikes that led to violent clashes (e.g. the Anaconda Road Massacre, when company guards shot at strikers, killing one). The town was also infamous for its seedy red-light district (it had the longest-running brothel in the USA – closed in 1982 after 92 years in operation).
  
But on the nicer side, today's visitors can stay in the grand mansion of one of richest mining tycoons America has even seen, William Clark, the “Copper King”. The mansion is a B&B today, and for all the lavishness of the palatial interior it's actually quite affordable (thanks to Butte being so off the usual tourist map – in San Francisco or so you'd have to pay a fortune for such luxury).
  
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Thursday 1 December 2016
  
  01 12 16   Berkley Pit, Butte, Montana
  
Photo of the Day: Berkeley Pit, Butte, Montana, USA.
  
Today I give you something off the “typical”, well-known range of dark-tourism sites (after the last few Chernobyl posts proved surprisingly unpopular – maybe that's all too familiar by now?). It's still a pretty dark place, though, in the environmental disasters category of DT sites.
  
Hard rock mining operations in the USA can be quite ruthless in environmental terms (see e.g. Jared Diamond's accounts of this in his book “Collapse”) and the Berkeley Pit is one of the most visible and at the same time most visitable examples of this.
  
This big hole in the ground used to be a copper mine, in fact at its peak it was the largest open-pit copper mine in America (540m deep, and 1.6km in diameter). When it became unprofitable it was closed in 1982 and just given up. With the pumps stopped it soon enough began filling with water.
  
This water, however, isn't just ordinary water. Far from it. Due to the pollution from the mining operations it's a highly acidic and toxic cocktail of heavy metals and all manner of hazardous chemicals. As if to underscore this, the water often appears a deep red hue. Remarkably, despite all this toxicity, there are apparently super-adapted, unique microbes living in there!
  
For humans, on the other hand, this is a deadly threat. If the water levels rise enough (and they have been rising constantly over the past few decades) they could overflow the groundwater level and start contaminating the region's aquifers – which would be a major environmental catastrophe. At the current speed of the water level rising, this could start in 2023.
  
In the light of this prospect, the Berkeley Pit has become a “federal Superfund environmental clean-up site” (of course, the mining companies always manage to wriggle out of taking any responsibility themselves). It remains to be seen if this will be able to prevent the worst.
  
For tourists passing through this part of Montana, the site has become a unique kind of tourist attraction (complete with a souvenir shop where you can buy pieces of and objects made from copper). A tunnel has been drilled through the side of the pit that leads out onto a viewing platform. And that's where this picture was taken from.
  
If you don't know what it is, it doesn't look so threatening, but once you do, this is quite a chilling sight to behold from so close up!
  
Good luck to Butte in dealing with this mess!
  
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Wednesday 30 November 2016
  
  30 11 16   Chernobyl NPP Block 4 in 2006
  
Photo of the Day: another follow-up to yesterday's momentous news and videos.
  
This is the view we've now lost – the one I deemed so iconic for dark tourism that I integrated the image into DT's logo.
  
This photo, incidentally, was taken just over ten years ago during my first visit to Chernobyl in 2006. So it's also a bit of an anniversary for me.
  
Here you still see the original chimney stack – not the smaller one more set back that appeared a few years ago when the old original stack was dismantled. That had already altered the look a bit.
  
But now the entire sarcophagus and the ruined Block 4 beneath it have disappeared under the shiny, silver arch of the New Safe Confinement structure.
  
So it is cause both for a bit of mourning as well as celebration – of the technological achievement and the fact that a proper clean-up can now begin. Ambivalent emotions …
  
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Tuesday 29 November 2016
    
follow-up to the previous post: here's another, even better video (with multiple angles) of the big NSC moving operation:
  
  
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Tuesday 29 November 2016
  
  
Today, instead of the usual Photo of the Day post, I share a recent time-lapse video - of the largest movable building ever actually being "on the move".
  
So here we have it now: the New Safe Confinement (NSC) structure has been put in place over the old sarcophagus of Chernobyl NPP Block 4.
  
One of the absolute top iconic images of DT is no longer visible ...
  
... but of course it was a necessary measure. The old structure had already been crumbling for a long time and was badly in need of a replacement.
  
Now it's in place, it should at least buy time. They reckon the NSC should last a hundred years. So that's the time frame for dismantling the old sarcophagus and getting the radioactive waste out and safely stored for good somewhere else… if that is at all possible … fingers crossed!
  
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Monday 28 November 2016
  
  28 11 16   revolutionary greeting
  
Photo of the Day: no, this is NOT a statue of Fidel Castro. (Does look a bit like him, though, doesn't it?)
  
Instead, this is a national hero of another tropical island nation far away from Cuba, namely East Timor. The man atop the plinth, in prototypical guerrilla-fighter-pose, is Nicolau Lobato, the first prime minister of the country after the East Timorese Revolutionary Front, Fretilin, unilaterally declared the nation's independence, ON THIS DAY, 41 years ago, on 28 November 1975.
   
Until then, East Timor had been a Portuguese colony since the early 16th century, but after the Carnation Revolution in that country in 1974, which ended one of the longest-lasting dictatorships in Europe (the Salazar regime), Portugal more or less abandoned all its former colonies.
  
East Timor's independent “honeymoon”, however, lasted only a few days, namely until 7 December when its big neighbour Indonesia (with US support) invaded and annexed the country. Thus began a brutal repression of the local population in ways that at times were bordering on the genocidal.
  
The tough Timorese revolutionaries did not give up, though. Decades of underground resistance and international campaigning eventually paid off and after a 1999 referendum, amidst violent chaos, independence was finally restored (now with UN support) shortly after the turn of the millennium.
  
Nicolau Lobato, however, did not live to see any of this happen. He was ambushed and killed by Indonesian forces in 1978.
  
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Friday 25 November 2016
  
  25 11 16   Mirabal sisters murder site memorial, Dominican Republic
  
International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
  
On this Day: 56 years ago, on 25 November 1960, the Mirabal sisters were assassinated on the orders of the Dominican Republic's dictator Rafael Trujillo.
  
The three political activist sisters, Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa, had been on their way back home after visiting their imprisoned husbands in Puerto Plata when their car was ambushed on a remote mountain road. The killers dragged them out of the car, butchered them in a nearby sugar cane grove, then put the bodies back in the car and rolled the vehicle over the edge to plunge into a ravine in order to make it look like an accident.
  
But nobody fell for the cover-up. The outrage over the murder of these popular icons of female resistance in this country, ravaged by decades of brutal autocracy, eventually spelled the beginning of the end for Trujillo himself. He lost all support from other American states, including, decisively the USA. (After Trujillo had earlier been propped up by the US for decades. It was Trujillo that F.D. Roosevelt famously referred to when he said “he may be a SOB but at least he is our SOB”.)
  
Only six months after the Mirabal sisters' assassination Trujillo's car, too, was ambushed and he was assassinated by a group of dissidents, who – so rumour has it – had been trained and equipped with weapons by the CIA.
  
In honour of the Mirabal sisters, the UN in 1999 designated 25 November the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
  
The photo shows the monument that was erected by the roadside at the (still very remote) spot where the assassination of the Mirabal sisters took place. It's near the village of La Cumbre in the north of the Dominican Republic.
  
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Thursday 24 November 2016
  
  24 11 16   Choeung Ek Killing Fields, Cambodia
  
Photo of the Day: yesterday the life sentences for two of the key figures behind the Cambodian genocide was upheld in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal Supreme Court Chamber. And this decision is final.
  
To mark the occasion I give you an intimate photo of two of the victims. (It was taken at the Choeung Ek “Killing Fields” outside Phnom Penh – one of the most significant memorials to the genocide and possibly the No.1 dark-tourism spot in the country.)
  
Now they may be just nameless hollow skulls – but once they were two individuals, fellow Cambodians, until they were brutally slaughtered in the mindless mass killings at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.
  
Yesterday's verdict was against former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea ("Brother No. Two", Pol Pot's deputy). How those two genocidal geriatrics (thanks to Simon White for that expression!) could even have appealed against the original verdict is beyond me… but then again, it's a complicated, messed-up affair.
   
At least it seems that the coming to terms with this particular part of history, the auto-genocide in Cambodia in the 1970s, one of the darkest chapters in all humanity's history in fact, is making proper headway.
  
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Wednesday 23 November 2016
  
  23 11 16   eye
  
Photo of the Day: ... got an eye doctor appointment today ...
  
(Photo taken at the medical exhibition at Palazzo Poggi, University of Bologna, Italy)
  
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Tuesday 22 November 2016
  
  22 11 2016   sniper nest window on the sixth floor, Dallas
 
On this Day: 53 years ago, on 22 November 1963, US president John F Kennedy was assassinated – from this very corner window (the square one) on the sixth floor of what was then a School Book Depository at Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas.
  
The gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, a former marine turned Marxist, critic of the US Cuba policies and ex-defector to the USSR, had just returned back to the US with his Russian wife the year before. His job at the School Book Depository offered him the chance to take aim at the president, after it had been announced that JFK's motorcade would take this route leading past Dealey Plaza.
  
Exactly why Oswald did it will never be known for sure – since he himself was shot dead only two days later by nightclub owner Jack Ruby, right at the Dallas police HQ. Oswald had still been denying all charges. Yet circumstantial evidence quickly linked him with the rifle and the sniper's nest found on the sixth floor of the School Book Depository. Nonetheless, the mysteries involved in this case proved a fertile ground for all manner of conspiracy theories. To this day you can see proponents of specific such theories trying to sell their story to visitors at the site.
  
The sniper's nest meanwhile has been reconstructed and now forms the heart of the famous Sixth Floor Museum – at the original location! – which tells the (official version of the) story of the assassination and its aftermath.
  
It's a very good museum in terms of narrative and exhibits, but be warned: take a fleece, and preferably a woolly hat and thick socks too, as it is absolutely freezing in there: as is unfortunately customary in the US, they run the air-con at top capacity so it feels like being in a very large fridge (even in early April when I was there).
  
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Monday 21 November 2016
  
  21 11 16   inside Vinh Moc tunnels, Vietnam
 
Photo of the Day: after last week's overdoses of bright sunlight, let's go into the dark underground again … This picture was taken inside the Vinh Moc tunnels in central Vietnam, just north of the former border between North and South Vietnam.
  
Remember last week's post about the B-52 bombers and their carpet bombing by the US in the Vietnam War? Well, this is the other side of it, as it were. As those carpet bombing campaigns pounded the landscape, living above ground was made pretty much impossible. So the people either fled or, like here at Vinh Moc, dug in.
  
This also means that these tunnels are not like the much more famous Cu Chi tunnels near Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, which were used by the Vietcong for guerilla warfare operations. The Vinh Moc tunnels, in contrast, were mostly for civilians and for actually living in … in rather spartan conditions, as you can probably imagine.
  
But they're still quite a symbol for Vietnamese resilience in that war (known as the “American War” in Vietnam itself, by the way) and hence have been preserved as a memorial and tourist attraction to this day.
  
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Friday 18 November 2016
  
  18 11 16   Titan II, Albuquerque
  
Photo of the Day: follow-up to yesterday's little riddle. Here's the answer: it's a Titan II ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile), once the backbone of the USA's nuclear deterrent in the 1960s and 70s. This specimen baking in the desert sun is now a museum piece on display in the open-air part of the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History near Albuquerque in New Mexico, USA.
  
This missile type also played an important role in NASA's space programmes. Most prominently it launched the Gemini capsules (the predecessors to the Apollo missions).
  
And successor versions of this rocket carried on lifting all manner of unmanned satellites and other payloads into space until just a few years ago.
  
Such is the ambivalence of these machines: on the one hand useful for civilian, scientific space exploration, but on the other hand based on the most lethal type of a weapon of mass destruction ...
  
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Thursday 17 November 2016
  
  17 11 16   Titan rocket engines shadow, National Nuclear Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico
  
Photo of the Day: bright sunlight, hard shadows ...
  
... deadly shadows!
  
Can you guess what it is? (and where?)
  
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Wednesday 16 November 2016
  
  16 11 16   three B 52s, Pima air museum, Tucson, Arizona
  
Photo of the Day: … more sunshine ...
  
These are three B-52s baking in the Arizona desert sun (on open-air display at the Pima Air & Space Museum near Tucson, AZ next to Davis–Monthan Air Force Base).
  
The B-52 formed the backbone of the US Air Force strategic bomber fleet from the 1950s all through the Cold War, and a number of them are still in service and projected to be kept running for yet a couple of decades more. That makes it one of the longest-serving military aircraft ever.
  
Though originally intended primarily as a strategic nuclear bomber, it has only ever dropped conventional bombs and missiles “in anger” (i.e. in an actual war) – but that to devastating effect nonetheless. The B-52 was the main aircraft used in the “carpet-bombing” campaigns in the Vietnam War. B-52s operated in the Gulf Wars and in Afghanistan too.
  
The B-52 also proved its nuclear deterrent role when one was used in the first ever air-dropped thermonuclear weapon test (code-named “Cherokee”) at Bikini Atoll in 1956, followed by dozens more such tests also involving B-52s.
  
All that put together makes the B-52 one of most destructive and deadliest aircraft of all time.
  
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Tuesday 15 November 2016
  
  15 11 16   Chernobyl NPP in the distance with New Safe Containment structure under construction
  
Photo of the Day: sunny Chernobyl!
  
In the distance on the right is the silver arch of the so-called New Safe Confinement (NSC) structure, then still under construction (the photo was taken in May 2015).
  
This is now completed and is slowly being moved over the old sarcophagus (seen in this photo just to the left of the NSC). It's a massive engineering project - the largest moving building ever, weighing 36,000 tonnes.
  
When it is in place, the old sarcophagus will be dismantled and the radioactive waste inside the exploded reactor block 4 will be removed. It's going to take a long time, but things are at least moving now (literally even).
  
While all these efforts are obviously a good thing, from a disaster management point of view, we are unfortunately losing one of the most iconic sights of "disaster tourism" ever.
  
In fact, the old appearance of the sarcophagus had already changed when they dismantled the chimney stack and replaced it with a smaller ventilation stack set further back.
  
The old original chimney stack can still be seen in the DT logo above, on the far left (you can also spot a bit of the old sarcophagus roof structure). So in a way, that part of the DT logo is now history ... but I'll still keep it, just for "old times' sake", as the saying goes ...
  
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Monday 14 November 2016
  
  14 11 16   Moon valley, Atacama desert, Chile
  
Photo of the Day: ... let there be light, then - as promised at the end of last week with its gloomy bunker interior theme.
  
So here's sunlight, and plenty of it, desert sunlight at that, blasting down relentlessly. This is the so-called Moon Valley in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, one of the driest areas on the planet.
  
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Friday 11 November 2016
  
  11 11 16   abyss, Obersalzberg, Germany
  
Photo of the Day: … looking into the abyss.
  
Taken at Obersalzberg, or rather: the bunker structures underneath it. That place, near Berchtesgaden in southern Bavaria, Germany, is where Hitler had is “home base”, and his favourite abode, the Berghof (from where he could catch a glimpse of Salzburg in his native Austria).
  
It formed part of a larger complex, which also included the fabled “Eagle's Nest” (a mountain-top tea house that was a gift to Hitler for his 50th birthday, but which he hardly ever visited). Also part of it was the large Platterhof and the bunkers beneath it. And that is where this picture was taken. The shaft is said to lead down to another, deeper level of tunnels that were intended for access for the SS by vehicles.
  
There is a very good documentation centre at Obersalzberg these days, and this includes a circuit open to the public that leads through parts of the underground tunnels and caverns. And this image is probably the gloomiest view to be had along the way.
  
But this photo concludes this week's dark bunker theme. I promise next week's photos will all be in daylight (even if still thematically dark, of course) ...
  
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Thursday 10 November 2016
  
  10 11 16   Mauerwald bunker   dark hell
  
Photo of the Day: welcome to hell ...
  
... spotted in yet another Nazi bunker, this one being at Mauerwald, Masuria, in what today is north-eastern Poland (and was East Prussia, Germany, back then).
  
It's actually not far from Wolfschanze, Hitler's HQ for most of the war years (until it had to be given up because of the Red Army advancing from the east). But Mauerwald was "only" an Army command HQ.
  
Ironically, in German "hell" is an adjective that is the exact antonym of 'dark' ... (whereas the engl. noun "hell" is 'Hölle" in German) ... but I'm sure this is a graffito applied in modern times, and it is the English meaning that is intended here.
  
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Wednesday 9 November 2016
  
  09 11 16   grim shadows in Mussolini's bunker in Rome
  
Photo of the Day: shadows of fascism (in this case in the refurbished Mussolini bunker at Villa Torlonia in Rome, Italy ... from the 1940s)
  
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Tuesday 8 November 2016
  
  
  
Photo of the Day: in a way a follow-up to yesterday's post – here's another massive relic from another massive Nazi engineering project that was never finished: Lesniewo Sluza in north-eastern Poland (East Prussia).
  
It was to be a lock on the projected Masurian Canal that was supposed to link the Masurian Lakes with the Lava (Lyna) River to provide access to the sea, but the project (originally first proposed before WW1) never got much further than the raw concrete structures of a few of the locks half-built during the Third Reich, now lying abandoned in the woods like some mysterious follies.
  
On the front of this one you can still make out the hollowed-out shape of what was a Reich's Eagle (clutching a swastika in its talons). The actual symbol was removed many years ago, though it did initially survive beyond the end of WWII for quite a long time.
  
The site was eventually taken over by a company offering “adventure sports” on and around this bizarre ruin, including abseiling, as you can see by the people standing at the top preparing for just that. It makes for an odd juxtaposition: A grim Nazi relic, almost still adorned with a symbol of those dark days, now reverberating with the sounds of a young crowd at play, having fun. I'm not quite sure what to make of that … is that a good thing or not?
  
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Monday 7 November 2016
  
  07 11 16   Bunker Valentin, Bremen
  
Photo of the Day: inside Bunker Valentin, north of Bremen, Germany.
  
This was to be a fortified submarine shipyard for the German Navy in WWII, but just weeks before it was finished, Allied bombing raids in March 1945 ended the project. You can see a big hole in the ceiling, torn by a special 10,000kg anti-bunker bomb called “Grand Slam” that penetrated the 4.5m thick reinforced concrete. Two such bombs hit their target while others destroyed the unprotected infrastructure of the construction site, which was then given up. Not a single submarine was thus built here.
  
Yet this unfinished bunker is still the second largest above-ground bunker in Europe (the very largest is another Nazi-built U-boat bunker in Brest, France). It is 420m long and up to nearly 100m wide and over 20m high. This photo shows just about one fifth of the interior halls.
  
It is a dark site not only because of its role in WWII, but much more so because it was built mostly by forced labourers, POWs and concentration camp inmates – as was so often the case with these large-scale engineering projects overseen by the Nazis' “Organisation Todt”. The inhumane working and living conditions claimed between 1500 and 6000 lives.
  
After the war the bunker was used as a storage facility for the West German navy, until it eventually moved out in 2010. The site was then turned into a memorial, which opened about a year ago. In August I finally had a chance to go and see it. And I was very impressed.
  
It is certainly one of the visually most dramatic sites anywhere in Germany. The associated memorial commodification is also very good and highly educational. Definitely worth the detour if ever you travel through northern Germany …
  
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Friday 4 November 2016
  
  04 11 16   Askja, Iceland
  
Photo of the Day: I was reminiscing about Iceland yesterday evening with friends, so today I give you one of the highlights from that dramatic volcanic country.
   
This was taken at the Askja caldera, in the uninhabited inland highlands of Iceland. In the foreground is the 200 feet (60m) deep Viti explosion crater whose shallow sulphurous crater lake at the bottom is geothermally kept at a balmy 25°C year-round so you can go skinny-dipping in it (we did!).
  
In the background is the icy-cold Lake Öskjuvatn, basically the water-filled collapsed older caldera, now at over 700 feet (220m) the deepest lake in Iceland (or second deepest, according to some sources). It has an area of 4.5 square miles (12 km2). Both craters were formed in a massive eruption of the Askja volcano in 1875. To get an idea of scale note the people standing on the crest between the two crater lakes!
  
Öskjuvatn holds a mysterious dark secret too. In 1907 two German researchers went on a boat ride on the lake during their expedition and disappeared. No trace of them was ever found, no bodies, no boat, no nothing. It remains a total mystery to this day. This certainly lends an extra layer to the dark aura of this place.
  
But purely from a point of view of scenery, this barren, volcanic wilderness is just totally magnificent. One of my favourite landscapes on the planet.
  
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Thursday 3 November 2016
  
  03 11 16   the last three seats in Pripyat palace of culture auditorium
  
Photo of the Day: another follow-up on the theme – this is one from the “mother” of all abandoned places, Pripyat, near Chernobyl, Ukraine.
  
This was also taken at a former Soviet cultural centre, right in the town centre of Pripyat, but how much more damaged and dilapidated it is compared to the image from Pyramiden yesterday!!! These are the last three seats of an otherwise flattened and debris-strewn ex-auditorium … and no grand piano is in sight. (In actual fact you *can* find a few pianos in various locations in the Zone, but they are all severely damaged/vandalized).
  
Still, there can be no doubt that exploring this most infamous of all ghost towns on the planet is an exhilarating experience, especially if you're not just on one of those short day return tours from Kiev but stay longer in the Zone (last time I went it was a two-day arrangement, with a night in Chernobyl village). In fact you could spend weeks exploring here, and some people do.
  
I would love to go back again too, and then also visit Slavutych, the town built to replace Pripyat and where most of the workers at the Chernobyl NPP were relocated to and still live.
  
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Wednesday 2 November 2016
  
  02 11 16   the world's northernmost grand piano abandoned in the ghost town of Pyramiden
  
Photo of the Day: follow-up to the last couple of posts – here's one from another 'classic' abandoned place, this time one *not* featured in the Geyrhalter film “Homo Sapiens”, namely from Pyramiden, Svalbard (Norway), taken at the former cultural palace of this ex-Soviet mining ghost town. It shows what must be the northernmost grand piano in the world
  
By now this piano is no longer playable, too deteriorated, at the very least hopelessly out of tune. Yet it looks like it's just waiting for somebody to step onto the empty stage to give a concert and for the seats in the auditorium to fill up.
  
This is an illusion helped by the fact that this photo was taken with extra-long exposure (something like 2 minutes, and obviously on manual focus) to provide a kind of night-vision effect. It actual reality the hall was nearly pitch-black dark and the piano as good as invisible when I was there.
  
It is also one part of the ghost town that looks remarkably intact. The rest of the cultural centre and the other town buildings had a lot more of the typical features of dilapidation. And you can find all manner of Soviet-era relics in the rooms (old magazines, photos, propaganda posters, etc.). It's a magical place to poke about in.
  
But you need either a guide and guard with a bear rifle – or come with your own bear rifle and know how to use it (it's a government requirement for anybody to be let out of Spitsbergen's capital Longyearbyen on their own). Reason: Pyramiden is also an attraction to free-roaming polar bears. And if they see a human just ambling around here, their first thought is: “dinner!”
  
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Tuesday 1 November 2016
  
the Photo of the Day post earlier was indeed inspired by a fantastic documentary film I went to see yesterday at the Viennale film festival. Buzludzha features prominently in it (both in the opening and the finale) - as do a few further famous locations well known in DT and urbex circles (including Hashima island and Fukushima in Japan), while many other locations remain obscure - and undisclosed (in that traditional urbex ethos). In fact several will long since have disappeared, as the film's creator, Nikolaus Geyrhalter, himself explained in the Q&A session after the screening. For all DT fans especially interested in 'lost places' and post-apocalyptic aesthetics this is an absolute must-see film! Here's the original trailor and press release: 
  
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Tuesday 1 November 2016
  
  01 11 16   inside Buzludzha, Bulgaria
  
Photo of the Day: inside the famous Buzludzha.
  
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Monday 31 October 2016
  
  31 10 2016   one for Halloween   Alien in the horror film section of the EMP, Seattle
  
Photo of the Day: for Halloween - what probably has to rank as the scariest extraterrestrial monster in Science-Fiction movie history, designed by the late H R Giger and the star of the film "Alien" (directed by Ridley Scott). Seen here as a caged exhibit at the EMP in Seattle, USA. (But if it were real I don't think that flimsy cage would do anything to keep the alien safely inside ...)
  
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Saturday 30 October 2016
 
 30 10 16   pickled brain, in a North Korean school
    
Photo of the Day: since the previous "Think!" post wasn't all that popular, here comes the maximum contrast: a pickled North Korean brain. Spotted in the biology room of a school in Pyongyang. Food for thought? ;-) 
  
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Friday 28 October 2016
  
  28 10 16   best remedy against hate crimes, Tolerance Center, LA
  
Photo of the Day: best remedy against hate crimes. Think!
  
This photo was taken at the “MOT”, which in this case stands for 'Museum of Tolerance', at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, California, USA.
  
It's an institution with multiple roles, one of which is commemoration of the Holocaust and education about it. Another is the celebration of “Nazi hunter” Simon Wiesenthal (who tracked down Adolf Eichmann, who was then brought to trial in Israel). Genocides other than the Holocaust are also commemorated here (Armenia, Cambodia, Rwanda, ...).
  
And then there's the educational aspects relating to current affairs, including several of the more unsavoury aspects of contemporary US society, especially racism, and the fight against these. The Civil Rights Movement gets a lot of coverage in this part too. And for school groups there are “group games” in which the teenagers can assess their own levels of prejudice and/or tolerance, understanding of human rights, as well as ways of conflict resolution.
  
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Friday 28 October 2016
  
  
for those who can read German ... this is a jaw-dropping account of some unbelievable gaps in knowledge (but it also includes some much more enlightened counterexamples) encountered at one of Berlin's (dark) attractions, the Anhalter Bahnhof bunker, which is now also home to the Berlin Story Museum. 
    
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Thursday 27 October 2016
  
  [photo could not be restored]
  
Photo of the Day: unmasked
  
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Wednesday 26 October 2016
  
  26 10 2016   Nationalfeiertag in Austria
  
On this Day, 26 October, it's "Nationalfeiertag" ('national holiday') in Austria, and a key part of the festivities is that the Austrian military shows off its gear on Heldenplatz (literally 'heroes square') and other locations in Vienna. They call it "Leistungsschau" (literally 'capability show')
  
Now, I have to admit that my knowledge of contemporary Austrian military heroism and/or capability is a little limited, but from a purely historical perspective I've always found it just a tad strange to see tanks, artillery, war planes and helicopters lined up just outside the Hofburg Palace - right underneath that balcony from which in 1938 Hitler proclaimed the Anschluss (i.e. annexation) of his home country Austria to the German Reich to a cheering crowd.
  
Of course, these days the "Nationalfeiertag" is supposed to be celebrating the modern Austrian state's neutrality that was declared 61 years ago on this date (hence Austria has never been a NATO or Warsaw Pact member). But the way in which soldiers enthuse children to hold machine guns and stuff does seem just a bit at odds with that nominal cause for the celebrations. The message seems to be rather: hey, the military is fun and cool! There are also stalls informing the public about Austria's current roles in various peacekeeping missions and such like, but visually it seems to be more a glorification of all things military.
  
This year, by the way, the use of Heldenplatz is restricted due to construction works (because of refurbishment of the parliament building) so the military "Leistungsschau" is spread out over a number of other squares in the city centre as well.
  
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Tuesday 25 October 2016
  
  25 10 16   Lenin statue on top of Turkmen carpet patterns, Ashgabat
  
Photo of the Day: follow-up to yesterday's post. Lenin monument in Ashgabat, the capital city of Turkmenistan. It is very unusual in that the pedestal is designed like classic Turkmen carpets. So it looks a bit like good old Vladimir Ilyich is standing atop a pile of rugs.
  
This was one of the objects that turned out difficult to photograph because of security guards taking issue with that. There were three of us trying to take a pic of this monument. I got away with it (if only at this, not exactly ideal angle, light-wise), but one of the other blokes was ordered to delete his photo … well, only the final one of a whole series taken in continuous shooting mode, so my fellow traveller/photographer didn't really lose much at all. I guess it was more for asserting the guard's authority rather than actually making sure no pictures were taken.
  
Still as we walked away shaking our heads at the absurdity of that scene, one of the security guards followed us (conspicuously 'inconspicuously') for a few hundred yards – until we were a safe distance from Lenin and the nearby government buildings they were actually guarding in the first place.
  
Other places they didn't like being photographed included the local market, any checkpoints by the roads (predictable that one) or government buildings ... except for those palatial ones at which our tour bus made specific photo stops during the 'official' city sightseeing tour.
  
This 'selective' attitude towards photography is one of the aspects that make Turkmenistan somewhat akin to a Central Asian version of North Korea.
  
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Monday 24 October 2016
  
  24 10 16   old Soviet fighter planes at an airbase in the distance, Turkmenistan
  
Photo of the Day: Soviet-era jets (still with the iconic red stars on) parked in rows after rows at an old air-force base in Turkmenistan.
  
Excuse the mediocre image quality of this photo ... but it was taken with a superzoom bridge camera from a moving vehicle and I had to react quickly to get a shot at all.
  
It would probably not have been possible to get a photo of this any other way, given how paranoid they are in that country about tourists taking photographs even at rather more harmless spots. So I guess snapping away at a military installation like this would have been right out. You probably wouldn't be allowed to even walk anywhere near it as a civilian (and as a foreign one at that) ...
  
You do get a lot of totally legit photo ops in Turkmenistan though. It's a crazy but fascinating place, probably the most enigmatic and bizarre of all the former Soviet republics.
  
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Friday 21 October 2016
  
  21 10 16   Aberfan
  
On this Day: it is the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster of 21 October 1966, when a massive landslide, caused by a spoil heap from a nearby coal mine collapsing after heavy rain, engulfed parts of this Welsh village – including, most tragically, the Pantglas junior school. 116 children perished in this disaster. In total the death toll was 144. It was one of the most tragic moments in the 20th century history of Wales and the UK
  
Today there'll be special memorial services, including at the village's cemetery where the white marble graves of the children killed in the accident have become a local landmark (seen in today's photo). Royalty is expected to make an appearance too at the service in this cemetery and at the memorial gardens in the village itself. The garden is located at the exact site of the junior school and its paths and flowerbeds echo the floor plan of the destroyed school.
  
Five decades on, the tragedy is still lingering – as are questions about whose fault it was and what's to be learned from industrial accidents like this ...
  
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Thursday 20 October 2016
  
  20 10 16   decontamination zone, Marienthal Regierungsbunker
  
Photo of the Day: decontamination zone inside the Marienthal government bunker near Ahrweiler, Germany.
  
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Wednesday 19 October 2016
  
  19 10 16   house crushed by lava flow, Heimaey, Iceland
  
Photo of the Day: house crushed by lava flow, Heimaey, Iceland
  
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Tuesday 18 October 2016
  
  
Tricky one ... I can see the issues with the danger of the site becoming a Neo-Nazi shrine, but is demolition the solution? I have my doubts that trying to erase historical connections is better than addressing them, however painful they may be. I also know some people who have a keen interest in Nazi history without in the faintest being Nazis themselves, quite the contrary in fact, but would perhaps have an interest in preserving this historic site somehow. It's not as simple as 'only Neo-Nazis want to visit this' - as I think becomes clear in the embedded video clip here too (clearly the BBC wanted to visit the site - and wouldn't have, had it already been destroyed - and the interviewee also doesn't seem to be so sure and appears to have favoured a careful commodification of the place). Any views anybody? 
  
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Tuesday 18 October 2016
  
  18 10 16   Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia
 
Photo of the Day: inside Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, USA - one of the world's most celebrated former prisons ... indeed so atmospheric!
  
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Monday 17 October 2016
  
  17 10 16   ghosts from the past, vandalized socialist era monument at the abandoned spa of Korytnica, Slovakia
  
Photo of the Day: back on European terra firma. This is a partially vandalized socialist monument in the abandoned spa complex of Korytnica in Slovakia.
  
I have no idea what this monument stands (stood) for or who the people depicted in it are – or why two of them have been scraped off, while the other three were left alone. Can anybody enlighten me as to the original meaning of this monument? Or why the selective vandalism?
  
Interesting to see that there are those three fresh wreaths placed in front of the monument, even right by those scraped-off silhouettes. So somebody must still care about them, whoever they may have been.
  
Korytnica is a wonderful place to poke around in. Several of the abandoned buildings are accessible (you see one in the background in this photo) and various relics from the socialist (CSSR-era) past can be found scattered about. Those who are into the 'beauty of decay' aesthetics can have a field day here.
  
Even though the spa as such has long been given up and is a ghost town now, the mineral water from the spa's spring is still being bottled right next to the old spa in a new, modest-scale bottling plant. So the complex hasn't been 100% abandoned altogether. There's even a small guest house still operating by the car park. But there won't be any health treatments or much evening entertainment to be found at Korytnica these days …
  
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Friday 14 October 2016
  
  14 10 16   Montserrat volcano   Plymouth ghost town
  
Photo of the Day: to finish this week's theme of far-away islands, here's one from my favourite island of them all: Montserrat. This small Caribbean island in the West Indies (a British 'overseas territory') hit the headlines in the mid-1990s when its dormant volcano Soufriere Hills returned to action with a bang – a series of bangs, in fact.
  
The photo shows the island's former capital Plymouth, which had to be abandoned due to heavy ash-fall, pyroclastic flows and lahars. These accumulatively buried the town in layers upon layers of volcanic muck. In this photo, taken in late 2009, you see buildings in the foreground that once were five storeys high, now reduced to half that height poking out of the mud. Meanwhile more layers have been added – the town is slowly disappearing.
  
When I was there, the volcano's activity level was so high that the whole land around Plymouth, in fact the whole southern half of the island, was out of bounds. The only way of getting a good glimpse of Plymouth was by going on a boat tour. And this was about as close as we were allowed to get to it at the time. But my skipper said he'd been to Plymouth on foot – and commented: “it was like walking into a Mad Max film set”. Others have dubbed the place “a modern day Pompeii”. It is certainly a most dramatic sight to behold. I'd like to go back at a time when you are allowed to walk into (what's left of) Plymouth.
  
And why is Montserrat my favourite island? Answer: the people. It's the friendliest place I've ever been to. Note that the island hadn't been completely evacuated. The northern third of it remained inhabitable, in fact hardly affected by the volcano (and still a lush tropical paradise) and so a proportion of the population decided to stay on. And it's an incredibly peaceful community. It's so laid back. Nobody locks their doors, and even cars are just parked with the ignition key left in (These were habits I quickly had to get out of on my return to Europe, of course.) There is a small prison on Montserrat, but at the time I was there it was said to have just three or four inmates, all from other islands (such as neighbouring Antigua).
  
There is a legend that if you drink water from a spring in what's ironically called “Runaway Ghaut” ('ghaut' is the local word for the steep ravines between the island's mountains), you'd be returning to Montserrat again and again. I did have a sip … so I guess I will indeed one day go back. And though I normally don't return to places I've “ticked off” (because so many new destinations are competing), in this case I'd actually be more than happy to make an exception …
  
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Thursday 13 October 2016
  
  13 10 16   Okinawa suicide cliffs
  
Photo of the Day: yet another one from a far-away island, this time in the far east: Okinawa.
  
This too looks unusually idyllic for DT, especially with those flowers in the foreground, but here we have a truly dark context and the flowers are there for a reason other than just to look pretty: these cliffs are mass suicide cliffs.
  
During the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, the bloodiest of the whole war in the Pacific, Japanese civilians, indoctrinated by Imperial Japanese propaganda about the “savage” Americans, were encouraged to commit suicide rather than be captured … and they obliged in their thousands, many by jumping off these cliffs on the south coast of Okinawa Island.
  
In total at least a hundred thousand civilians died in this battle, a third of the civilian population of the archipelago. Add to that about 150,000 military dead and the death toll is about a quarter of a million. Killed in a single battle operation! Carnage.
  
Near these suicide cliffs is now the Cornerstone of Peace Memorial that lists all known names of the dead. It is part of the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park, from where a path leads to the location seen in this photo. At the overlook it is customary to lay down a bunch of flowers (which can be obtained from the little ladies selling them within the park), and I duly did so. It's a very sobering place indeed.
  
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Wednesday 12 October 2016
  
  12 10 16   Waipi'o Valley, Big Island, Hawai'i
  
Photo of the Day: keeping with the island theme, here's another photo from a far-away piece of land amidst a wide ocean, in this case the Pacific. This is Waipi'o Valley on Big Island, Hawai'i.
  
I admit that this particular place isn't especially dark, except perhaps for the black sand of the beach – but it's mainly just superbly scenic. But of course Hawaii does have plenty of sights that are decidedly for the dark tourist as well … the volcanoes, Pearl Harbor, Kalaupapa, Hilo and the Tsunami Museum, etc.
  
In fact, Hawaii is one of the best places in the world for combining the dark with the bright, the historic with the hedonistic, the contemplative with the plain pleasures of scenery, relaxation and culinary delights (in particular poké).
  
I visited three of the Hawaiian islands last year (also O'ahu and Molokai) but I found Big Island the most impressive and enjoyable one by miles. I gave the western side with the beach resorts as wide a berth as I could, but did drive past on a full-day circle drive along the coastal routes as well as the inland mountain pass, Saddle Road. Almost everywhere the scenery is just stunningly beautiful. Waipi'o Valley is just one of the classic highlights. Picture-book awesome.
  
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Tuesday 11 October 2016
  
  11 10 16   exploring the Mt Longdon battlefield, Falklands
  
Photo of the Day: another one from a far-away island, in fact the one second farthest from home I've ever visited (after Easter Island, which featured yesterday), namely the Falklands, in this case East Falkland. They are also the southernmost islands I ever visited (in the subantarctic South Atlantic – only Ushuaia on Tierra del Fuego was slightly further south still).
  
The photo was taken during a battlefield tour on Mt Longdon, which in June 1982 was the site of heavy combat during the final push of the British for the capital, Stanley. Shortly after losing that battle, the Argentine military surrendered, ending the two and a half months occupation of this British overseas territory by Argentina.
  
In this photo you can see one of the memorial crosses for fallen soldiers, just 10 yards or so from the car.
  
The tour I did was with Patrick Watts as my guide, probably the most seasoned expert battlefield guide in the Falklands. He was in Stanley when the war in 1982 began, manning the radio station. He stayed on during the occupation running the radio station under Argentine command, as he reckoned it was better for the Falklanders to hear the occupiers' orders at least from a familiar voice (rather than in heavily accented broken English by some Argentine commander). He was also an eyewitness during the early clean-up operations on the battlefields around Stanley. Over the following years he studied every tiniest detail of those battles and came to know these hills like the back of his hand. Unsurprisingly, then, he had many fascinating stories to relay. It was definitely one of the highlights of that Falkland trip, certainly in terms of information and first-hand insights.
  
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Monday 10 October 2016
  
  10 10 16   Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island
  
Photo of the Day: last time I promised something from outside Europe - and this is as far away as I can offer: Easter Island - in fact the place furthest from home that I have ever been to (nearly 15,000 km - as the crow flies, or rather: as it would fly if it could cover such a distance).
  
This photo shows Ahu Tongariki on the south-eastern coast. It is the largest set of reconstructed moais on the island, and in my view the most stunning of them all.
  
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Friday 7 October 2016
  
  07 10 2016   Tag der Republik
  
On this Day: it's "Tag der Republik" ('Day of the Republic'), more specifically: the 67th anniversary of the founding of the GDR ('German Democratic Republic', aka East Germany) ... or rather: it would have been, if the GDR still existed and hadn't been dissolved just a few days short of its 41st anniversary back in 1990 (see the post from the beginning of this week).
  
This photo shows the former state's official symbol, which also featured in the centre of its national flag. Since it's been confined to history this symbol is, for the most part, only ever seen in historical museums these days. This particular specimen was photographed in the relatively new "Life in the GDR" museum in the Kulturbrauerei, Berlin.
  
But with this I shall conclude this mini-series of GDR-themed posts that developed over the course of this week and promise that the next few will be on different topics and from lands farther away.
  
Have a good weekend everybody!
  
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Thursday 6 October 2016
  
  06 10 16   Grotewohl Express cell, Hohenschönhausen
  
Photo of the Day: following on from yesterday's picture … if you'd seriously got caught up in the fangs of the GDR penal system, especially as a political prisoner, this could well have been your means of transport between prisons.
  
The photo shows a cell in a special train carriage, which amongst inmates had the informal nickname “Grotewohl Express” – after Otto Grotewohl, the first prime minister of the GDR (1949 to 1964). Its official designation was “Gefangenensammeltransportwagen” (what a German word, eh? TEN syllables long!), which means, literally translated, 'prisoners collective transport carriage' (also 10 syllables, btw).
  
Up to five inmates had to share such a tiny cell on journeys that could last hours, during which time they were not allowed to even speak. In total the carriage had 18 such cells. In addition there was also a special isolation cell.
  
The last surviving specimen of such a carriage (and the one seen in this picture) is now on display in the back yard of the former Stasi remand prison at Hohenschönhausen in Berlin, which has been turned into one of the most impressive memorials dealing with this part of the dark history of East Germany.
  
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Wednesday 5 October 2016
  
  05 10 16   Erich & typewriter
  
Photo of the Day: follow-up to yesterday's post. This is the preserved 'interview room' at the former GDR border checkpoint at Marienborn.
  
It oozes that stifling atmosphere I mentioned in the previous post, partly down simply to that late 1970s interior design – that wallpaper in particular! – not just the obligatory portrait of then GDR leader Erich Honecker on the wall opposite (like Big Brother is watching you).
  
Of course, crossing the border would not normally have involved a visit to this room. If you were 'invited' to sit down opposite the man with the typewriter, it meant you were in trouble and in for a proper interrogation by a Stasi officer. Fortunately, I never had that experience, but the general intimidation by the regular border guard checks was uncomfortable enough.
  
Such was the paranoia of the GDR regime about 'people trafficking' (i.e. GDR citizens trying to flee to the West) that apparently they even had a secret giant X-ray machine at Marienborn through which all vehicles passed. That is: people were, without their knowledge, subjected to doses of gamma ray radiation. Spooky, spooky stuff ...
  
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Tuesday 4 October 2016
  
  04 10 2016   Reflections at the inner German border, Marienborn
  
Photo of the Day: one day after German Unity Day here's some post-reunification reflection - at the former GDR border station Marienborn.
  
These days it is partly abandoned and in ruins, partly preserved as a memorial museum of sorts (it's pretty much unique, in fact) where you can get some insights into the OTT border security system of the former GDR (aka 'East Germany').
  
Anybody who ever had to go through the procedures of crossing into the GDR (and this was only to access the transit road to West Berlin) will remember the oppressive, spooky atmosphere at such a place. Even today, in its abandoned state, there is some of that dark atmosphere still lingering ...
  
Note: those of you who have been following this page for a year or longer may find this picture somewhat familiar. Indeed. I posted another version of it last year on the same date. But this version is the original, without any treatments/editing.
  
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Monday 3 October 2016
  
  03 10 16   Berlin Wall section
  
On this day: it's German Unity Day - 26 years since the official reunification of Germany. Yet rifts and differences between east and west still remain ...
  
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Friday 30 September 2016
  
  30 09 16   fantasy coffin from Ghana
  
Photo of the Day: after the last couple of posts that were of a rather grim nature and not very popular, let's finish this week on a lighter (though still dark) note, by looking on the brighter side of death (sounds almost like Monty Python).
  
This is one of the fabled 'fantasy coffins' of Ghana – the Ga people in the south of this West African country have created a tradition of designing coffins in all manner of funny shapes. The designs in one way or another always represent the nature or role in life of the deceased. You get coffins in the shape of fish, mobile phones, cars, guitars and whatnot. They are mostly custom-made one-offs but a few designs have also become recurring themes. This includes the chicken design, as in this picture. It's supposed to represent a loving mother looking out for her children, like a clucking hen does for her chicks.
  
This particular specimen is on display at the Sepulchral Museum in Kassel, Germany (Museum für Sepulkralkultur – from the Latin “sepulcrum” = 'grave'), which is a pretty unique place.
  
It's not just a 'funeral museum' (of which there are a few others in the world, not least the original one here in Vienna), but also covers other aspects of the role of death in society, such as differing rituals in mourning, and even celebrations of the dead, such as the Mexican 'Dia de los Muertos', or black humour involving the topic of death.
  
All this is presented in a professionally curated, state-of-the-art fashion. So there is nothing cheesy or dubious about this museum at all (unlike, say, the Museum of Death in Los Angeles). Nor is it moralizing or inhibiting. Despite its topic it is, in many ways, actually quite “fun” – educating as well as entertaining. Well worth a detour. The exhibition is in German only, but you can download a PDF file in English that explains the various sections of the museum from their website.
 
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Thursday 29 September 2016
  
  29 09 16   double dog
  
Photo of the Day: since I more or less promised it in yesterday's post, here it is: final one from the Riga medical museum – the 'double dog' exhibit!
  
This is the outcome of a real Frankenstein-like “experiment”. They surgically severed the head and front part off one dog, whilst keeping it alive with all manner of apparatus, then transplanted him onto another, bigger dog, connecting the transplanted dog head to the “host” dog's bloodstream and nervous system. It actually “worked” – to a degree … for a short while. They actually managed to keep this double canine Frankenstein creation alive for some time. But then the inevitable rejection reactions naturally put an end to it, i.e. to both dogs' lives. The one-and-a-half dog(s) on display is/are obviously stuffed.
  
This particular experiment was performed in the Soviet Union – but before you say “oh, those immoral commies!”, note that the same type of “experiment” was also undertaken in the USA (both foes in the Cold War did a lot of stuff in parallel!), the only difference being that, as usual, the preferred kind “test animal” for the Americans was monkeys.
  
Next to this display in the Paul Stradins Museum is a retro video screen which plays a loop of an interview with the American doctor who performed the equivalent monkey head transplant experiment – delivered in a calm and science-y manner.
  
From a purely medical science point of view it is indeed quite fascinating that this sort of procedure could actually have been done, but of course for anybody with even the slightest hint of an inclination towards animal rights, this will more likely be seen as the most morally dubious and obnoxious abomination of science. I find myself somewhere in between … fascinated and appalled at the same time.
  
What do you think?
  
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Wednesday 28 September 2016
  
  28 09 16   smoker's lung vs non smoker's lung
  
WARNING to all my followers who smoke: either look away now or brace yourselves for an unwelcome (though not totally unpredictable) shock!
  
Photo of the Day: as a follow-up to the previous post, here's another one from the excellent Paul Stradins Museum of the History of Medicine in Riga, Latvia.
  
These two jars contain pickled lungs – on the right those of a smoker, on the left those of a non-smoker. Say no more, you may want to say. But I will say a little more.
  
It's not only when seeing things like this that I am so glad that I kicked my own smoking addiction over a decade and a half ago. This means that I've been a non-smoker longer than I used to be a smoker (not counting the time before I'd become one), so my lungs should by now have recovered and look more like the ones on the left again (that is: if they were pickled now … but that can wait quite a few years longer still, please).
  
I am extra grateful for this at moments like right now – when I have a cold. I remember how colds were even worse with a smoker's lung and smoker's cough. But the best aspect of them all: no more stinking.
  
I won't ever say, though, that giving up smoking is easy. It's not. I found it took much more willpower than I had anticipated and it also took a lot longer to really get over it for good. When they say, oh, it takes two weeks or so for the body to get over the physical addiction and you will feel so much better and fitter, then that's less than half the story and not totally correct. I did not feel better or fitter just because of that in such a short term. The direct nicotine craving effects may subside in a few weeks (I remember it to have been more like six weeks than two). But the psychological craving, for me at least, didn't stop so soon but instead lasted disproportionately longer (a few years, to be perfectly honest) and only very gradually fading. That's presumably why so many people relapse so easily. But for a long time now I've felt safe from that risk, and I'm glad for it. It was an effort, but worth it.
  
It helped me at the time – when I was still living in Britain – that the anti-smoking campaigns were gathering momentum and rules were being tightened up, such as no more smoking in public buildings (though pubs back then still did have smoking sections). And outdoors, when you huddled in a corner for your clandestine puff, people would tut-tut at you as they walked past and spotted you. And you know what: I'm grateful to them for it! Being increasingly ostracized as a smoker in Britain surely helped me reach that moment of quitting. I got to that point faster and with more determination than I guess it would have been possible had I already lived in Austria, which is only now slowly catching up with most of the rest of Europe in this regard (and much more reluctantly).
  
But back to the initial dark-tourism aspect: the medical museum in Riga is really absolutely worth seeing (even if you may want to skip this smoker's lung exhibit). It has lots that other medical museums in the world do not feature. They even have a section about space medicine (including space monkey suits). But the most freaky part of them all, I found, was that about transplant experiments. I'll see if I can find one or two more pictures to post …
  
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Tuesday 27 September 2016
  
  27 09 16   before the tonsillectomy, medical museum Riga
  
Photo of the Day: this could be called “before the tonsillectomy”. It's an exhibit in the Paul Stradins Museum of the History of Medicine in Riga, Latvia – one of the most fascinating, but at times also freaky and shocking medical museums that I've ever been to.
  
Why the medical post? Well, I've just come back from Britain where I caught a bad cold – it's not tonsillitis, the throat pain and the coughing aren't so bad, but the blocked nose caused major issues for my flights back home yesterday ... and still does so now.
  
I have a problem with my ears when flying anyway, because apparently I have very narrow Eustachian tubes, which severely hampers pressure equalization in the middle ear when flying, but I found that using earplugs during take-off and landing is usually enough for me to get through OK. But with a cold like this, plugs are ineffective. So I was in agony coming back, especially on the approach to Vienna on the final flight (I came via Munich). The pain in my ears was the worst I've had in 15 years or so – I was dripping with sweat and just a quivering mess.
  
At least the pain subsides once back on the ground – but then the longer-lasting after-affect asserts itself: with both ears blocked and my head feeling like it's been filled with concrete, I am 95% deaf. All sounds are totally muffled and I can't understand anything people say unless they speak directly into my ear at close range (which is not really something you can readily ask for in public).
  
Going by past (pre-earplugs-use) experience, this can last for anything between half a day and two weeks. I really hope I can get rid of this by tomorrow, because I have an appointment at my embassy, and not being able to hear properly would be quite embarrassing (but I can't afford to postpone the appointment now). I have medication to help it clear and am drinking green tea by the bucket-load, so I hope I'll have a chance …
  
And Britain? Well, the initial storm over Brexit seems to have calmed down somewhat, the wounds are not so fresh any more, but the topic remains omnipresent. Personally, I tried to avoid the issue in conversation this past weekend, but it frequently rears its head in any case. Also in the media. There's hardly a page in the papers without at least a reference to it. You simply cannot bypass it. The uncertainties lying ahead are troubling many and I'm sure this won't go away for many more years to come. Anyway, it continues to be a fascinating development to observe … But that's as far as I am prepared to go into politics here.
  
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Saturday 24 September 2016
  
  24 09 16   Battle of Britain operations room, Duxford
  
Photo of the Day: going on a long weekend break in the UK again in a bit (mainly for yet another (in-law) family wedding), so here's a very British post ... Battle of Britain war operations room (at IWM Duxford)
  
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Friday 23 September 2016
  
  23 09 16   inside FA   vaulted arches, bw softened
  
On this Day - ten years ago I got ready to get married ... in a fantastic gothic (civil) ceremony!
  
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Thursday 22 September 2016
  
  22 09 16   Kilauea, Hawaii
  
Photo of the Day: continuing the fiery theme ... this is Earth's fire, more precisely: the Halema'uma'u vent of Kilauea volcano, Volcanoes National Park, on Big Island, Hawai'i, USA.
  
What you see here is the nightly glow of the lava lake inside the vent – and its reflection in full glory in the low cloud layer above the crater. The crater vent's own release of (toxic) volcanic fumes merging with the cloud layer almost creates a mushroom-cloud-like effect.
  
Kilauea has been active continuously since 1983, but this new crater and the lava lake inside it only formed in 2008. In April 2015 the lava level rose to the new crater's rim and even spilled over, but by the time this photo was taken, in August 2015, the lava lake level had dropped again so that the lava itself was invisible again … at least from the Volcano Observatory's official viewpoint (and they do not let you get any closer than that - the old viewpoint right on the crater rim, by the way, was destroyed in 2008 in the explosive re-awakening of Halema'uma'u). But under the right weather conditions this kind of dramatic glow more than compensates.
  
Of course, you have to go at night to see this – during daylight hours you only see the column of white fumes above the crater but no glow at all. The best time is very early in the morning, i.e. well before sunrise, and before the crowds re-appear … at times I even had this view all to myself, and thus in silence, which is ideal. All you hear then is the faint hissing of the venting fumes and the occasional rumble, e.g. when a piece of crater wall breaks off and falls into the lava lake. Magical.
  
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Wednesday 21 September 2016
  
  21 09 16   forest fire over Hintok camp
  
Photo of the Day: upping the fire theme further still ... this is a forest fire in the hills above Hintok camp in Thailand, near Hellfire Pass on the Thailand-Burma 'Death Railway'.
  
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Tuesday 20 September 2016
  
  20 09 16   Yanar Dag   fire mountain
  
Photo of the Day: more fire (and no ice references this time). This is Yanar Dag – or 'fire mountain' – north of Azerbaijan's capital city Baku.
  
It's a country rich in oil and natural gas, and sometimes gas seeps to the surface and ignites natural “eternal flames” like this. Well, they're not actually eternal in the literal sense, of course, but periodical – some only last a short while, like a couple of days, others can keep going for decades.
  
No wonder that the territory of what today is Azerbaijan (and northern Iran) is where Zoroastrianism developed (an ancient religion worshipping fire). It is indeed mesmerizing just sitting there watching the flickering flames, even without any additional 'spiritual' ideas attached.
  
Yanar Dag appeared suddenly some time in the 1950s and has been burning ever since. It has become a minor local visitor attraction, where you have to pay a small admission fee and then sit on benches watching the fire and possibly get a cup of tea from a stall nearby.
  
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Monday 19 September 2016
  
  19 09 16   eternal flame over Murmansk harbour
  
Photo of the Day: since last week's ice theme wasn't all that popular, let's start this week with fire and see how that goes.
  
This is the eternal flame in front of the WWII monument in Murmansk, north-western Russia. Murmansk harbour is in the background.
  
It was this harbour, an ice-free strategic point on the Arctic Sea, that gave Murmansk its importance both in WWII and the Cold War (and still today).
  
The German Nazis tried to take the city and its harbour in 1941 coming from the west in nearby occupied Norway, but the Soviets managed to fend them off and hold on to Murmansk. It thus gained the title as one of the so-called 'hero cities' of the Soviet Union.
  
In the Cold War, Murmansk harbour (and the fjord it lies on) became the key base for the USSR's Arctic fleet, and in particular for its nuclear SLBM submarines, as well as a number of nuclear-powered ice-breakers that keep the shipping routres of the Russian Arctic Sea navigable. It still has those roles for the contemporary Russian military and merchant navy.
  
... hmm, somehow the theme of ice has crept back into this post. Tomorrow I'll try to find something more decidedly fiery ...
  
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Friday 16 September 2016
  
  16 09 16   Glienicke Bridge
  
Photo of the Day: third and final one in this little ice-themed series – this time in both the literal and the figurative sense.
  
This is Glienicke Bridge, one of the most iconic symbols of the Cold War, seen here in freezing winter (a few years ago, the last time we had a proper long, cold and snowy winter in Central Europe, in fact ... in January 2010 it was).
  
This bridge is legendary for having been the site where the two superpowers exchanged spies who had been uncovered … or shot down, as in the case of US pilot Gary Powers, whose U-2 spy plane had been brought down by an anti-aircraft missile over the Soviet Union in May 1960. He was captured, put on a show trial and then, in February 1962, was exchanged for Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy who had been uncovered in the West.
  
During the Cold War, this bridge formed part of the Iron Curtain between West Berlin and the GDR and was thus strictly out of bounds to normal mortals. After the fall of the Wall it became a regular road bridge again, linking the south-western district of Berlin Wannsee to neighbouring Potsdam in Brandenburg.
  
The building you can see in the background is Villa Schöningen, which these days is home to an interesting exhibition about the Cold War and the Glienicke Bridge's role in it.
  
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Thursday 15 September 2016
  
  15 09 16   receding 'eternal ice', Pasterze glacier, Austria
  
Photo of the Day: another one on the topic of ice. This is the receding Pasterze glacier near Austria's highest mountain, the Großglockner. Like so many glaciers it's been shrinking for decades. They're amongst the most visible evidence of global warming.
  
The German sign in the foreground points to the path leading down to the ice – and somebody with a dark sense of humour added the inverted commas around the “eternal”/“everlasting”, as it obviously isn't any longer.
  
A century ago the sign would have stood right by the edge of the glacial ice. When this photo was taken the ice level had dropped to about 200m further down … and that was over nine years ago. Now it will have receded even farther.
  
Dark tourism and the grim topic of climate change don't meet very often. This, however, is a prime example. In Switzerland (Grindelwald) you now even get hiking trails along which info panels with QR codes have been placed. You can use your smartphone to view extra information about the various forms of geological changes induced by climate change that can be seen along the way … so it's been 'commodified' for tourism.
  
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Wednesday 14 September 2016
  
  14 09 16   Iceberg hacking, Greenland
  
Photo of the Day: as the heatwave continues (at least here in central Europe), I give you an image to provide some 'cooling':
  
It was taken on a boat in the bay outside Tasiilaq in Eastern Greenland and shows our skipper hacking off a bit from an iceberg for us ... even though this is actually a little irresponsible. Because icebergs can suddenly turn without warning and crush your boat, you are normally not supposed to get this close to any icebergs. But in remote Eastern Greenland such health-and-safety concerns are not strictly enforced (or even observed).
  
A fellow traveller took the hacked-off block of ice back to the place we were staying at and later put pieces of it in his duty-free whisky - and offered me a glass of it too. Being a bit of a whisky connoisseur, I do not normally have ice in whisky (it kills much of the flavour and aroma), but on this occasion I had to accept it. There is indeed something magical about listening to the ice crackling in your dram, knowing that the air pockets released in this crackling are possibly several millennia old ...
  
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Tuesday 12 September 2016
  
  12 09 16   abandoned former cultural centre, Banska Bystrica, Slovakia
  
Photo of the Day: abandoned former cultural centre, Banska Bystrica, Slovakia
  
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Monday 11 September 2016
  
  11 09 2016   footprint of the North Tower of the WTC
  
On this Day: 15 years ago (has it already been that long?!?) this particular date, the 11th of September, or “nine-eleven” in American English, became one of the most momentous dates in modern history, when hijacked planes were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York in the biggest ever terrorist attacks on American soil. Both towers collapsed and nearly 3000 people were killed.
  
This photo shows part of the memorial at the “Ground Zero” site of the former WTC that has been constructed around the “footprints” of the destroyed Twin Towers – this one is that of the North Tower.
  
Today, the adjacent National 9/11 Museum (which is one of the most outstanding memorial museums I've ever seen!) will be closed, while special commemorative events mark this anniversary date at the open-air memorial. First there will be a private ceremony for families of the victims, then from 3 pm the memorial will reopen for the general public to pay their respects. Later in the evening the “Tribute in Light” art installation will once again illuminate the New York sky with two shafts of light representing the lost Twin Towers until midnight. The museum will reopen as normal tomorrow.
  
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Friday 9 September 2016
  
  09 09 2016   Chairman Mao on the gate to the Forbidden City
  
On this Day: 40 years ago, on 9 September 1976, the Great Helmsman of China, Mao Tse-tung (or Zedong - the spelling varies) died ... and with him much of the base of his particular version of communism. As we know all too well, China has since become a ruthlessly capitalist country, in economic terms, while at the same time retaining the equally ruthless repressiveness of an almighty single-party state apparatus.
  
The legacy of Mao is still kept alive to this day, perhaps somewhat surprisingly. You can visit his birth place and various sites associated with the revolution, and portraits of Mao as well as statues of the man can still be seen in various places in the country.
  
This photo features what is probably the most prominent of all Mao images - mounted onto the outer gate of the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing. It looks out over Tiananmen Square - which is rather fitting, as in the centre of the square, right opposite the Forbidden City gate, is the Mao mausoleum, where the embalmed body of the Great Helmsman is on display. So in way he can look himself straight in the eye here ...
  
The Mao mausoleum is the only one of the four great communist leaders' mausoleums that I haven't yet managed to go inside (it was closed at the time I was there). But I've seen the other three: Lenin in Moscow, Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi and the Kim mausoleum in Pyongyang. One day I'll have to go back to Beijing and finish the "Grand Slam" (as one fellow traveller in North Korea put it).
  
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Thursday 8 September 2016
  
  08 09 16   gothic Imperial crypt, Vienna
  
Photo of the Day: I'm back in Vienna - so here's one from this city: another picture taken inside the gothicy-grim Imperial Crypt.
  
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Wednesday 7 September 2016
  
  07 09 2016   La Redoutable bridge
  
Photo of the Day: follow-up to yesterday's post - this was taken inside the Le Redoutable nuclear submarine. It shows the nerve centre of the sub, the "bridge", as it were, in red light, as it would have been on high alert during a Cold-War-era mission ...
  
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Tuesday 6 September 2016
  
  [photo could not be reconstructed - but see the Le Redoutable chapter's gallery!]
  
Photo of the Day: a definite highlight of the whole trip, for me at least ... the Le Redoutable nuclear submarine at the Cite de la Mer in Cherbourg, Normandy, France.
  
This is indeed the only nuclear submarine on public display in the world. It's a veritable monster of the Cold War era (128m long, over 7000 tonnes, ...). Not only was it nuclear-powered (the reactor had been cut out before the vessel went on display), it also carried 16 SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles) with multiple nuclear warheads. It was the first French SLBM sub (built in the late 1960s), and hence a source of great pride for the French Force de frappe - the country's own nuclear deterrant. Today a fleet of successors are in service, while Le Redoutable was decommissioned in 1991.
  
The boat is not only on display in its dry dock to be marvelled at from the outside - you can also visit the inside (albeit sans reactor), including the missile hall and the command centre. Incredible!
  
This was the last stop on this summer's five and a half weeks of DT explorations, and definitely a crowning finale. Today it's back to Paris for a final night's stop-over, then flight home tomorrow ... and then I have some 100GB worth of photo material to sort through ...
  
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Sunday 4 September 2016
  
  [photo could not be reconstructed - but check the D-Day tour chapter's photo gallery!]
  
Photo of the Day: a beach ... er, what?!? A *beach* - on DT?!?! What's that doing here???
  
Fair question indeed, BUT: I haven't lost the plot or gone mad - it does have its place here, as this is not just any old beach, but a special one with a dark history. This is "Omaha Beach", one of the five beaches selected for the Allies' D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944. It was on this beach that the Allied troops (in this case US troops) suffered the highest losses of the day (2500 killed in the first wave).
  
Yet, as we all know, it was ultimately a success and spelled the beginning of the end of WWII. The landings were code-named "Operation Neptune" and formed the initial stage of "Operation Overlord": recapturing/liberating France and pushing into Germany to defeat the Nazis.
  
This picture was taken from the US military cemetery just behind Omaha Beach, one of the largest American war cemeteries on foreign soil (although officially the cemetery's land was permanently given to the USA by France, it is still classed as French territory ... don't ask me about the legal technicalities, I don't understand them either).
  
Today I'll travel on to Cherbourg and towards dark themes beyond World War 1 & 2 ...
  
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Friday 2 September 2016
  
  02 09 2016   Verdun Museum battlefield reconstruction
  
  [I'm not entirely sure its was this photo I had posted but it's quite probable] 
  
Photo of the Day: final one on the WW1 theme. This was taken at the outstanding Memorial Museum of Verdun at Fleury. They've recreated a post-battle battlefield scene underneath some display cabinets. You can easily miss even noticing it, as you have to bend or kneel down in order to see it. But when you do, grim things such as this await. Body parts and skulls complete with steel helmets still on strewn amongst the debris and (plastic) mud ...
  
Of all the WW1 museums I've seen over these past two weeks, this one on Verdun was probably not only the best overall (in terms of breadth of coverage, lay-out, artifacts and general quality of the interpretative texts and installations) it also had some of the most graphically dark elements - though not really in your face, like this one, which you only see if you pay close attention.
  
And it was also the museum that had the least of the old-school glorification of 'valour' and 'bravery' and other such glamourizing concepts of the traditional war history narrative. In short: it's state of the art.
  
But today I'm travelling on to Normandy and the theme will switch to WWII again, especially now to the D-Day invasion of the Allies in 1944.
  
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Thursday 1 September 2016
  
  01 09 2016   Camp Marguerre
  
  [the photo is a reconstruction, I cannot be sure the one posted on Facebook was precisely this, but it will at least be similar]
  
Photo of the Day: slotted one more WW1-related stop-over in yesterday en route to Williers on the Belgian border. This picture was taken at Camp Marguerre, which is where the Germans prepared for the great offensive of Verdun in spring 1916.
  
The place is as hidden in the woods as it was back then. That is: it's always been forested - unlike the former battlefields, where all the trees and plants you see today are all new growth post-WW1. In the battles the ground was so ploughed over by constant artillery shelling, that no trees, no grass, no nothing survived (except for some trench rats ...). It was all just singed tree stumps and mud, mud, mud.
  
Here at Camp Marguerre, it's deceptively serene. The ruins are atmospherically overgrown, but you can still find inscriptions and German cross symbols on some of the walls that hint at their former function.
  
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Wednesday 31 August 2016
  
  21 02 2019   Verdun 3
  
Photo of the Day: a quartet of skulls in the ossuary of Douaumont near Verdun, France. The bones of over a hundred thousand unidentified bodies were collected from the battlefields of the region after the war and laid to rest here. Outside is one of the largest military cemeteries in France. It's a very powerful site.
  
In terms of museums, yesterday's final day of my WW1 explorations had some stark contrasts in store for me. The brand new official Memorial Museum of Verdun turned out to be absolutely top-notch, even better than its Belgian equivalents, in my view. A worthy highlight to finish the day ...
  
... that is: had I not carried on into Verdun itself to visit its Citadelle souterraine. This also played a role in WW1 - but the way they commodified it here is absolutely atrocious. Vistors have to board a little fun-fair-ride-like car that then automatically steers through several tunnels where "audio-visual recreations" of scenes from the war (arguing generals, bakers preparing provisions, more arguing generals, a film of a trench-war re-enactment, etc.) can be viewed as you slowly creep past. The soundtrack in French is deafening and you have to crank up the English translation on headphones to the max to get any of it. It's uncomfortable, cheap and kitschy, and almost 100% devoid of any historical relevance, whatsoever. In the end it's just a superficial celebration of La Grand Nation's victory in the Great War, basically. It was beyond bad. 
  
My fault that I hadn't read up on it properly beforehand on TA etc. ... Because had I known what nature the visit would be of I'd never have embarked on it. But I added this very late to my itinerary without pre-research, so I fell for this tourist trap.
  
Still, the ossuary, the museum, the Forts of Douaumont and Vaux as well as the other relics of the battles of Verdun more than made up for that one bad experience and so overall it was a very successful final WW1-themed day of this trip.
  
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Tuesday 30 August 2016
  
  30 08 2016   sampling poison gas smells
  
Photo of the Day: last one from the excellent Passchendaele WW1 museum.
  
At the station that you see in this picture you can put your nose in the nose-shaped holes and get a whiff of poison gas! Yes indeed. You can sample the aromas of mustard gas (indeed a bit reminiscent of mustard), chlorine (familiar from swimming pools) and other substances that were used as chemical weapons during the Great War.
  
The smells as such aren't so bad or overpowering when presented in this form. But you surely don't want to be engulfed in any of them. I once got an impression of what that must be like - namely at the Bromo volcano crater rim in Indonesia when a cloud of sulphurous gas drifted over me. My eyes and throat burned, I couldn't breathe and was coughing like mad ... and quickly had to descend back to safety.
  
Today is going to be the last day of my extensive WW1 DT explorations. In Verdun. And I have to say that after over a dozen WW1 museums and countless trenches, memorials and military cemeteries I'm beginning to feel a bit oversaturated with all this. I need a break.
  
But then there will also be all the Normandy WWII stuff to do later this week and over the weekend. I'll see what I can post as tasters here ...
  
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Monday 29 August 2016
  
  29 08 2016   colourful shells
  
Photo of the Day: back to the WW1 theme - this is the colourful side of it. Brighly painted shells on display en masse ... you could almost forget what horrors they were supposed to create ...
  
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Sunday 28 August 2016
  
  28 08 2016   La Coupole
  
Photo of the Day: now finally with a wifi connection again. This is La Coupole, a V2 launch base in Pas de Calais, France. The concrete dome is some 80m in diameter and 5.5m thick. The inside now houses one of the most amazing museums I've seen in a while. The breadth of its coverage is stunning. From WW1 and WWII, the Holocaust to the space age and the atomic age. Mindblowing.
  
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Thursday 25 August 2016
  
  25 08 2016   WW1 gas masks
  
Photo of the Day: more WW1 gas masks - these are on display at the Memorial Museum in Passchendaele (also known as Passendale or even "Passiondale" in the English-speaking world), also on the former Western Front in Flanders near Ypres in Belgium.
  
Today, my road trip will take a break from the WW1 theme and move on to WWII, namely in the form of a variety of sites along the so-called Atlantic Wall, including V-bases and bunkers and other relics from the Nazi German occupation time.
  
After that it will return to the WW1 theme in the Somme and also at Verdun. If I can get Internet access I'll keep posting, but for the next couple of days this cannot be guaranteed.
  
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Wednesday 24 August 2016
  
  24 08 2016   grim gas mask display at Ypres
  
Photo of the Day: a grim-looking WW1-era gas mask. This one's on display at the "In Flanders Fields" Museum in Ypres, Belgium, one of the key topical museums in the region, which I visited yesterday.
   
Today's programme of exploration will be devoted to a range of war-related sites in the area around this pretty (rebuilt) town ... They were once landscapes of death but are now overgrown and healed, but still lots of traces of the Great Slaughter that was WW1 can be found.
  
The countless war cemeteries in the region are testiment to that. And in some places big craters blasted out by huge underground mines also remain ... you can even stumble upon century-old UXO. It was only as late as 1997 that a person was killed by such an old shell going off. So care has to be taken ...
  
Mostly, however, I will stick to the officially commodified memorial sites, as well as yet another WW1 museum. I'll see if I can post something from today's yield ...
  
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Tuesday 23 August 2016
  
  23 08 2016   wolves street art display in Berlin
  
  [this is a reconstruction, i.e. I cannot be sure it was exactly this photo that I posted on FB back then, but if not this will at least be similar]
  
Photo of the Day: a week ago in Berlin, at an art installation outside the Hauptbahnhof (central station) intended to warn of rising xenophobia and right-wing extremism. Here, the Nazis are portrayed as wolves ...
  
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Monday 22 August 2016
  
  22 08 2016   Mutterkreuz
  
Photo of the Day: a "Mutterkreuz" - on display at the NS documentation centre in Cologne.
  
The Nazis tried to boost birth rates (after all, they needed plenty of workers and cannon fodder for their war plans) by 'rewarding' women who had given birth to four or more children by awarding them this kind of 'medal' (the female equivalent of the (in)famous Iron Cross for soldiers?).
  
Not every woman accepted it, though. I know of one case personally. My ex's grandmother was offered this cross after her fourth child (of later six) was born. But she just plainly refused, basically saying: "I didn't do it for you, so why should you give me a medal. Keep it. I'm not bothered" (she was of a Social Democrat background, I should add).
  
That kind of statement was probably not without its risks, but she didn't have to face any obvious reprisals or disadvantages because of it. Nor did it have any consequences when she didn't join the crowds giving the Hitler salute whenever Adolf passed through the street she lived on in Berlin (Wilhelmstraße, right in the government district).
  
Just little unsung "semi-heroic" acts of, not resistance, but at least non-conformity ...
  
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Sunday 21 August 2016
  
  [photo could not be reconstructed - but check the Breendonk chapter's gallery!]
  
Photo of the Day: arrived in Belgium yesterday. This photo was taken at Fort Breendonk, a WW1-era fortress that was used as a prison and transit camp by the Nazis during Germany's occupation of Belgium in WWII..
  
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Thursday 18 August 2016
  
  18 08 2016   Brest Fortress main entrance
  
Photo of the Day: another one from Brest, Belarus. This is the great star entrance to the Fortress Brest complex.
  
It's quite cleverly designed. It only appears star-shaped from a distance. Once you get closer than this and as you actually walk through, it's just a seemingly chaotic caleidoscope of concrete shapes at weird angles. Then once you're through and look back from a distance on the other side, it looks like a star again.
  
Underneath the concrete are a few plaques and somber military choir music is piped through hidden loudspeakers - of a musical style similar to the Russian national anthem ... just to get you in the mood, I suppose.
  
... all part and parcel of what has to be the grandest Soviet-era memorial ensemble in Belarus (and beyond - it's probably only the memorial at Marmayev Kurgan in Volgograd that can beat this one for monumentalism).
  
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Wednesday 17 August 2016
  
  17 08 2016   Hamburg
  
Photo of the day: Hamburg - the city where I was born.
  
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Monday 15 August 2016
  
   [photo could not be reconstructed - but check the Hohenschönhausen gallery!]
  
Photo of the Day: last one from Berlin - as I'm travelling on westwards today. This photo was taken at the former Stasi remand prison Hohenschönhausen during my latest revist the day before yesterday. They now have an illuminating museum exhibition too and offer guided tours of the actual prison in English as well (you cannot just go alone). This now has to rank amongst the top DT sites in this fascinating city.
  
As usual I have not managed to get everything done - you never can in Berlin, as the place is just so sprawling and getting from A to B can take so long. But I will no doubt be back before long. There is always so much new stuff. And it's just great to be here.
  
But for now, that's it from here. The next few days will be taken up by visiting friends and family, then I'm off to Bremen and Cologne before starting the grand tour of Belgium and north-eastern France (mostly for World War I & II related things).
  
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Sunday 14 August 2016
  
  14 08 2014   photosnaiper camera at the Spy Museum Berlin
  
Photo of the Day: 'sniper camera' - on display at the Spy Museum in Berlin.
  
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Friday 12 August 2016
  
  
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Thursday 11 August 2016
  
  11 08 2016   close up
  
follow-up to today's earlier photo of the day (because I probably won't have much time for posting much, if anything at all, over the next few days when I'm in Berlin - which is usually full of hectic running around and never having enough time for everything)
    
Here's a close-up of one of the items in the little niches of finds from the Katyn site displayed at the Warsaw Katyn museum ... could it be the photo of a girlfriend or wife, perhaps? That would just add to tragedy of the whole story ...
  
As I said, it's a very touching museum, in its own way - and as long as you know what it's about (and manage to locate it in the first place), as there is very little explanation (and hardly any of it in English).
  
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Thursday 11 August 2016
  
  11 08 2016   Katyn Museum
  
Photo of the Day: yesterday at the Katyn Museum in Warsaw.
  
Cabinets full of archaeological finds dug up in recent years at the original Katyn site (near Smolensk in what is now Russian territory).
  
The Katyn massacres were long one of the blackest spots in Polish-Soviet/Russian relations. When the USSR took over the eastern part of Poland, as agreed in the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (aka Hitler-Stalin Pact), the Soviets killed off the majority of the Polish officer class/military intelligentsia they could get hold of.
  
When the Nazis rolled into the USSR in 1941 they tried to exploit what they found at the Katyn massacre sites for their own propaganda, but after the war the whole case was either swept under the rug or just blamed on the Nazis and not further pursued.
  
It was only in recent years that it was brought out into the open again - including literally: as archaeological explorations were conducted at the site.
  
And then there was extra darkness: when a plane full of officials, including then president of Poland, Lech Kaczyński, and his wife, crashed near Smolensk where the delegates were to attend a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacres in 2010. It seems to be a truly cursed place.
  
Given the significance of Katyn for Poland you'd think the Katyn Museum in Warsaw should be very prominantly sign-posted and visitor-friendly. But in reality it was one of the hardest museums to locate, hidden within a military citadel and not at its official address but a long muddy walk half-way round the other side and past a Polish-only-speaking guard giving directions. I finally got there about an hour after the time I had planned for. But never mind. It may be a rather obscure museum, and with hardly any English labelling/texts, but if you know a bit about its subject matter, it's really quite touching ...
  
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Wednesday 10 August 2016
  
  10 08 2016   big headed main monument at Fortress Brest
  
Photo of the Day: Brest. The most gigantic monument glorifying the defenders of Brest Fortress in WWII ... at the very beginning of Nazi Germany's invasion of the USSR in 1941.
  
The defenders failed, and most of them perished, in fact they never had much of a chance to begin with, trapped in a useless pre-WW1 fortress as they were. And at first, during the war and the remainder of the Stalin era they were not at all considered heroes.
  
But somehow that changed and from the late 1950s onwards their story became one of the grandest almost mythical objects of glorification of the "Great Patriotic War" in Soviet times and still carries on in present-day Belarus.
  
Of course I had seen images of this particular monument, but it's one of those cases where no amount of reading up and seeing photographic representations can really prepare you for the impact that seeing it in the flesh makes (so I guess my photo can't do much better either, but still ...).
  
It is truly stunning. And size does matter here. It is definitely the largest concrete head I've ever seen anywhere in the world. Check that church on the right as a reference point to get an idea of the dimensions. Really wow! Absolutely in the top league of monumental art of the Soviet era.
  
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Tuesday 9 August 2016
  
  09 08 2016   Nagasaki ground zero, Japan
  
On this Day: 71 years ago, the second and (so far) last atomic bomb ever used in war was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki.
  
This photo shows the memorial that marks the approximate 'ground zero' of the (air blast) detonation.
  
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Sunday 7 August 2016
  
  07 08 2016   Soviet Army Glory
  
  [this is a reconstruction and I cannot be 100% sure this was the image I posted on Facebook at the time, but I'm fairly confident it was]
  
follow up to the previous post: ... old Soviet Glory, that is.
  
This is a monument to the Red Army's victory in the 'Great Patriotic War' (aka WWII in the West).
  
Today I'll travel on to Brest (primarily for yet more old Socialist-era military glorification at Brest fortress). I may not have Internet access there, so this will probably be the last post for a few days, until I get to Warsaw ...
  
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Sunday 7 August 2016
  
  07 08 2016   Glory Mound
  
Photo of the Day: Glory Mound outside Minsk, Belarus.
  
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Sunday 6 August 2016
  
  [photo could not be reconstructed - but check out the Maly Trostenets chapter's gallery; the photo in question will be part of it]
  
As promised here's a new photo of today's Belarussian field trip: this photo shows deportation train carriages on display at the brand new memorial site of Maly Trostenets (there are dozens of different spellings btw) - which was actually one of the deadliest extermination camps of WWII, even though it is these days one of the least known ones. it's located just outside Minsk, Belarus. Very sobering place.
  
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Sunday 6 August 2016
  
 06 08 2016   tank on a plinth outside the Central House of Officers in Minsk
    
Photo of the Day: you know you're in the former Eastern Bloc when you see a tank on a plinth like this, in this case in Minsk, Belarus.
  
Today is going to be a big day with lots of DT fieldwork outside of Minsk (e.g. Khatyn, Maly Trostinec, ...) - I'll post some sample photos later ...
  
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Saturday 5 August 2016
  
  05 08 2016   Lenin in Minsk
  
Lenin in Minsk! [I actually saw more than one Lenin in Minsk, so I cannot be absolutely sure it was this photo that I had posted, but it's quite likely]
  
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Saturday 5 August 2016
  
  05 08 2016   grand square in Minsk
  
Palace of the Republic and October Square, Minsk, Belarus, this afternoon. Looks like the Soviet Union is alive and well ... 
[To be honest I'm not at all sure it was this photo that I had posted on Facebook that day, but if not it's a worthy stand-in nonetheless]
  
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Saturday 5 August 2016
  
  05 08 16   Olympics 1936 bell, Berlin  note the ex swastika
  
On this Day: the summer Olympics will begin in Rio, Brazil ... 80 years ago, the 1936 Olympics took place in Berlin, in Nazi Germany (so no samba, but lots of swastikas, raised right arms, and military marches).
  
What you see in this photo is the original Olympic Bell of the 1936 games. It is now on display on the ground in front of the old Olympic Stadium of Berlin.
  
Note the symbol at the bottom, which has been only slightly camouflaged, and the big hole (from an anti-aircraft gun, so from 'friendly fire', apparently).
  
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Friday 4 August 2016
  
arrived in Minsk - and immigration etc. wasn't even that bad. Could probably have got away with more luggage too, but so what. Proper photo post will follow in the morning, promise! For now, things got too late. Will have an early start tomorrow, need my bed now. I'm very intrigued about Belarus, though, I must say. Stand by for updates ...
  
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Friday 4 August 2016
  
off to Minsk, Belarus, today. Hope to be able to post something proper from there this evening ...
  
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Wednesday 2 August 2016
  
  02 08 2016   Groß Rosen gatehouse
  
Photo of the Day: first one from on the road, as it were. This is the gatehouse of the former concentration camp Groß Rosen near Wroclaw (formerly Breslau) in Silesia, Poland.
  
I visited this site yesterday and that visit filled an important gap. It was the last one of all the main Nazi concentration camps I hadn't yet been to. Now I've seen the lot.
  
As a memorial site, Groß Rosen sits somewhere in the middle. Apart from the gatehouse, the former SS canteen, and a few ruins of other camp buildings, there isn't much left of the camp. As usual, the sites of the inmates' barracks are just marked by their footprints/foundations. And the fence around the camp is also still there, largely intact (or reconstructed). In addition, one wooden barrack has been reconstructed, alongside one of the watchtowers (both look brand new). Quite outstanding, however, is the old quarry, where inmates had to perform deadly forced labour. That historical relic is on a par with Mauthausen's. The various exhibitions aren't quite so elaborate as, say, those in Dachau or Neuengamme, but better than e.g. at Stutthof or Natzweiler. Certainly very much worth paying a visit to.
  
Today I'm pushing on to Chelmno - which is also an important gap to close. That's the site of the "prototype" death camp of the Holocaust, where systematic gassing (in mobile gas vans) was first used as an "industrialized" killing method (in this case the victims were mostly Jews from Lodz ghetto). I expect this to be a particularly chilling place. I'll report back in due course.
  
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Friday 29 July 2016
  
  29 07 16   Palac Kultury i Nauki, Warsaw
  
Photo of the Day: The Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw. This giant pile, erected between 1952 and 1955, was Stalin's “gift” to communist Poland, and as such it is quite controversial locally, but I think it's a grand piece of architecture from that era – and soon I'm going to visit it again, this time also from the inside and going right to the top!
  
Tomorrow I'll be heading off on a long summer trip, first to Poland, then Belarus, back to Poland, on to Germany, and then Belgium and northern France. During that time I will not be able to keep the 'Photo of the Day' routine up as normal because I'll be literally on the road (in hire cars – or in trains on rail tracks) much of the time and will only have Internet in hotel rooms on and off. I'll try to post the occasional photo from that trip, but it won't be with the usual regularity. However, it will feature brand new photo material!
  
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Friday 29 July 2016
  
  [photo/link could not be reconstructed, since it was a share]
  
One year ago I was on Big Island, Hawaii, and I wish I could have seen this (it was cool all the same, but this would have been the icing on the cake). Grand show of the Earth's forces ...
  
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Thursday 28 July 2016
  
  28 07 16   propaganda loudspeakers at the former border between North and South Vietnam
  
Photo of the Day: time to look beyond Europe again for a change. This is a relic of the Vietnam War near Hien Luong Bridge on what used to be the border between North and South Vietnam.
  
What you see here is, yes indeed, loudspeakers! They are a relic of the psychological warfare back in the 1960s and 70s. They were basically blaring out their propaganda slogans across the river as loud as possible. So, in a way, what the tabloid papers are in the West these days, such stacks of loudspeakers were back in the days of the Vietnam War.
  
I really do not want to know what these loudspeakers would have sounded like when they were in action. Going by the general Asian predilection for distorted screeching sounds from perforated loudspeakers at full overdrive volume even in peacetime, I should guess it must have sounded pretty awful.
  
Today, however, these stacks of speakers are silent and the former border is pretty quiet too. A new road bridge was built parallel to the old one and there are a couple of monuments and a museum glorifying Ho Chi Minh and the victory of the North Vietnamese. But when we were there we were the only visitors. The focus in life clearly lies elsewhere now in Vietnam.
  
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Wednesday 27 July 2016
  
  27 07 16   Kolovrat, Slovenia, WWI Italian line of defence, steps down into the mountain
  
Photo of the Day: the downward spiral.
  
Follow-up to yesterday's post – this is also at Kolovrat, a mountain ridge right on the Italian-Slovenian border that was heavily fortified during the Isonzo Front battles in World War One.
  
On the one hand, the summit of Kolovrat afforded excellent views down both sides of the border – on a clear day you can see as far as Trieste to the south! – and on the other, the need for fortification meant that the soldiers and their commanders went underground … or rather: under rock, namely into caverns deep inside the mountain where they'd be safe from the enemy's shelling.
  
Today, these caverns are empty and you have to use your imagination to try and picture what a miserable life it must have been being stationed up here, especially in winter, with limited supplies and very poor sanitation.
  
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Tuesday 26 July 2016
  
  26 07 16   World War One trench reconstruction, Slovenia
  
Photo of the Day: since I mentioned World War One yesterday, here's a photo from my recent trip to Slovenia, which included visiting some WW1 relics of the infamous Isonzo Front. This photo shows part of the reconstructed war trenches and fortifications at Kolovrat.
  
Kolovrat formed part of the defence line of the Italian military in this mountain war. In general, so much more is known about the Western Front (in Belgium and France – where I'll go this summer), and I have to confess that I, too, had known next to nothing about the Isonzo Front and the horrors of WW1 in the mountains before I planned my trip here.
  
They are doing a very good job of commemorating this dark chapter in this Slovenian-Italian border region, though. Especially the museum in Kobarid (Slovenia) has to be mentioned here. There's also a so-called Walk of Peace, a commemorative trail that roughly follows the front line from the heights of the Slovenian Alps all the way down to the Adriatic. Some stretches of this combine historical commemoration with serious mountaineering and should not be attempted without the appropriate gear and ideally an experienced guide (the museum can provide these).
  
Kolovrat, on the other hand, is easily reachable by private car and the hikes around this sort-of open-air museum aren't too hard. But you need a good torch/flashlight if you also want to explore the underground caves and tunnels as it is pitch-black dark down there ...
  
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Monday 25 July 2016
  
  25 07 16   Brexit Britain
  
Photo of the Day: just back from Britain (it wasn't all that bad, really – more on this below)
  
Now I have a few more days before this summer's big trip starts, which will be quite focused on European war history and will take me from the former Soviet state of Belarus (the country more ravaged by WWII than any other, so that will be a theme) via Poland, Germany and Belgium all the way to Caen and Cherbourg in France (incl. the D-Day landing beaches). In between a major focus will be on WWI. It's the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme this year, so this is a good time for me to finally go on an extensive field trip of the former Western Front between Flanders and Verdun.
  
But back to Britain, following my first post-Brexit-referendum visit there (see previous post): I found there is indeed some kind of change of atmosphere in the air, not always overt on the surface, but it's there. Personally, it was largely fine for me, I even had some truly inspirational political discussions (which did remain fully calm), but I observed others that did eventually turn into nasty carnage, with tears, swearing, screaming and looks of wild-eyed hatred. The latter I found pretty scary in particular.
  
Most of the time it was OK though, the country seems to be trying to “carry on”. Yet there is so much uncertainty ahead … and if there's one thing I learned from all the twists and turns of the past four or five weeks then it's that you really cannot make any safe predictions. I just keep my fingers crossed that Britain (and Europe!) will somehow come out less damaged than some of these predictions foresee.
  
But now I have to look ahead to the summer trip preparations … and after that the next more far-away and “exotic” destination will be India. I am certainly carrying on with my DT stuff!
  
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Thursday 21 July 2016
  
  21 07 16   Broken Britain
  
Photo of the Day: Broken Britain?
  
Today I'm going back to the UK for a few days (in-law family things – so probably no photo posts here until I'm back), and for the first time ever I'm feeling apprehensive about it.
  
Last time I was in Britain was around Easter time, so before all that Brexit stuff turned really poisonous (up to the point of political murder!). I've always had a special love for Britain practically all my life, ever since I first went there as a teenager. Since then I've been back more times than I could count. I even moved to Britain to live and work there for about seven years. I met my British wife there. And ever since we moved to Austria we've been going back to Britain at least once or twice every year. And I've always enjoyed being there. This time, however, I'm worried and unsure about what to expect.
  
So far I've experienced all the division, hot-headed emotions, hate speech, open disregard for rationality and that whole atmosphere of downright panic only from afar, mainly through the media (including, especially, social media – here on Facebook!), though I've encountered the worries of my ex-pat British friends first-hand as well, of course.
  
Now I wonder what it will be like on the ground in Britain itself. Will Brexit poison family gatherings too? Given that the British are (were?) basically split 50-50 on the issue it seems statistically unavoidable. I don't mind a rational discussion, but I'm not good with handling the kind of vitriol and personal attacks that have so characterized the Brexit 'debate' for the past few weeks and months. I just hope that that sort of nastiness won't erupt at the family level too over the next few days. Fingers crossed.
  
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Wednesday 20 July 2016
  
  20 07 2016   spot where Stauffenberg and co conspirators were summarily executed
  
On this Day: 72 years ago another coup tragically failed. On 20 July 1944 a group of high-ranking officers in the German military attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler in order to end WWII. Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg managed to smuggle a bomb hidden in a briefcase into the briefing room at Hitler's headquarters at Wolfschanze (in what today is northern Poland). He then headed to Berlin as the bomb went off
  
But miraculously Hitler survived the blast almost unscathed – and quickly unleashed a massive witch-hunt in retaliation. Thousands were arrested and tried, death sentences were handed down as a matter of routine. For Germany it meant that WWII would drag on for almost another year, resulting in a higher death toll at home and more large-scale destruction than in the previous war years put together … before Hitler eventually took his own life and shortly after the Third Reich surrendered to the Allies in May 1945.
  
Stauffenberg himself was already summarily executed by firing squad the same night of the failed assassination attempt, namely in the courtyard of the Bendlerblock in Berlin together with a few of his co-plotters. Today's photo shows the memorial plaque at the very spot that you can see today.
  
Inside the Bendlerblock is a museum about the various resistance movements within Germany during the Nazi era. Apart from the relatively well-known Stauffenberg plot there had been others, and visiting this museum can be an eye-opener as to how manifold the resistance movements in the underground actually were during this dark age. But most of these are more or less unknown today, especially outside Germany. Whereas Stauffenberg's story even got picked up by Hollywood in the movie “Valkyrie” starring Tom Cruise (a typically Disneyfied representation full of historical inaccuracies, but never mind …).
  
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Tuesday 19 July 2016
  
  19 07 16   Mt Ararat
  
Photo of the Day: follow-up to yesterday's post – this is the fabled Mt Ararat, seen at dusk from Doğubayazit, eastern Anatolia.
  
Mt Ararat is a dormant volcano and one of the world's most iconic ultra-prominent mountains (meaning it towers high above a much lower land surrounding it), a kind of Asia Minor's Kilimanjaro if you like, complete with a permanent (for now) ice cap at the top. Its summit is at 5137m above sea level, rising over 3600m from the surrounding Anatolian plateau. It really is a giant!
  
It is also the “holy mountain” of Armenia and its principal national symbol – even though Ararat has been on the Turkish side of the border since Western Armenia was finally lost to Turkey following the Treaty of Kars of 1921 (in which the nascent Soviet Union ceded this area to Turkey which previously had been part of the Russian Empire, while shortly afterwards the Caucasus states of Armenia and Georgia were incorporated into the USSR).
  
It is, however, so close to the border, and such a prominent peak, that you can see Mt Ararat even from the Armenian capital Yerevan (clear skies provided). It also arguably looks the most scenic from the east. So the Armenians may no longer territorially “possess” their national mountain, but they still get the best view of it.
  
And then there's the legend of Noah's Ark … but I'm afraid I have to postpone telling that story yet again until some later date. This post's already got long enough.
  
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Monday 18 July 2016
  
  18 07 16   heavily militarized Iran Turkey border
  
Photo of the Day: Turkish military on the border with Iran near Doğubayazit in far-eastern Anatolia.
  
I'm glad I went to that part of the world when I did, nine years ago, when it was still possible without too much hassle and risk. At the moment there'd hardly be a chance. This is Kurdish territory as well as borderland (Armenia isn't far either!).
  
Even back then there were military checkpoints on the roads every 20-30 miles or so, but the young conscripts manning them were generally very friendly – quite a few actually came from Germany, so as soon as they saw my German passport they'd happily switch into German and we'd have a little chat. I even met one guy (not military, though) who lived in a district neighbouring the one I live in in Vienna. Small world.
  
And why was I there in the first place? Well apart from wanting to see the legendary Mt Ararat, there were a couple of smaller sites I was curious about, including an alleged meteor crater just a stone's throw from the Iranian border. To get there we had to drive up to the main border crossing station, passing a long line of lorries waiting to be processed, and then had to drive off the main road on a dirt track running parallel to the border.
  
I had two hitch-hikers in the car – a Turkish couple who I was giving a lift from Kars to Doğubayazit and who were also keen to see the meteor crater. So, luckily, instead of having to rely on my minimal Turkish language skills (I had only been learning it for about three months) I let the guy do the talking at the military checkpoints. He worked for the Turkish TV channel TRT, so he had the right persuasiveness to get us through to this remote spot.
  
So there we were, at a dusty hole in the ground (which, to be honest, didn't look much like a genuine meteor crater, more like a sinkhole, but never mind) within spitting distance of Turkish tanks guarding the border with Iran. It felt very outposty and desolate out there, set in a largely empty volcanic moonscape with Mt Ararat towering majestically over it all.
  
En route back from the border to Doğubayazit we made another little detour to see yet another mysterious sight – the alleged “Noah's Ark” … but that's for another post some other time ...
  
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Saturday 16 July 2016
  
  16 07 2016   Trinity Day   Manhattan Project shoulder badge
  
On this Day: 71 years ago, on 16 July 1945, the Manhattan Project culminated in the world's first ever detonation of an atomic bomb: the “Trinity” test, conducted in the desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico, USA. Only a couple of weeks later, the first (and so far only) two atomic bombs were dropped, namely on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  
This photo shows the shoulder patch that those working on the Manhattan Project were wearing. Replicas of these are also sold as souvenirs in the nuclear-themed museums in New Mexico, the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque as well as the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos (where the HQ of the Manhattan Project was and where today's 'National Laboratory' is still in operation).
   
And before you ask: yes, I also bought one of these. Here's the explanation of the patch's symbolism as it appears on the souvenir's packaging:
  
“The blue background represents the universe. A white cloud and lightning bolt form a question mark, which symbolizes the unknown results and the secrecy surrounding the project. The lightning bolt extends down to split a yellow atom, which represents atomic fission and the expected success of the test. A red and blue star in the center of the question mark is the insignia for the Army Service Forces to which soldiers working on the Manhattan Project were assigned.”
  
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Friday 15 July 2016
  
  14 11 15 & 15 07 16   slightly tilted but not fallen
  
again! (re-post, originally posted on 14 November 2015)
  
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Thursday 14 July 2016
  
  14 07 16   drastic sculpture at Mauthausen memorial, Loibl, Slovenia
  
Photo of the Day: drastic gesture
  
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Wednesday 13 July 2016
  
  13 07 16   Saddam Hussein mural, IWM London
   
Photo of the Day: since there's been a lot of debate again lately about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, here's one, taken in the Imperial War Museum in London, that shows a war trophy taken home by the British from that conflict.
  
This mural/mosaic depicts Iraq's then president Saddam Hussein posing like the ruthless dictator he indeed was … but there's some ambiguity: that western suit and tie (and hat) contrasting with the mosque dome in the bottom foreground. It is probably to be interpreted thus:Muslim on the one hand (if a bit half-heartedly perhaps) but secular and Western-leaning on the other hand. That would actually be quite accurate a characterization.
  
Oh, and he's holding his WMD in his right hand – pointing into the thin air. One could interpret a lot of meaning into that too … but I will leave it at this here ...
  
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Tuesday 12 July 2016
  
  12 07 16   eerie   Tarrafal, Cape Verde
  
Photo of the Day: as a follow-up to yesterday's post here's another one from the former prison/concentration camp at Tarrafal, Santiago, Cape Verde.
  
This is the door to the block of isolation cells, possibly the grimmest part of the whole complex.
  
Now the door is standing open.
  
I love the element of symmetry in this photo, especially that shadow of the door's bars – it's almost as if it's dragging the viewer out into the open.
  
There was plenty of opportunity for interesting photography at this site in general – helped by the fact that Sally and I had the whole place to ourselves almost the whole time we were there, except for when one elderly couple of tourists briefly popped by, rushed through the main buildings and promptly left again, all within 10 minutes. Whereas we must have spent something like two hours there. It's clear that it's not for everyone, then.
  
But for those who do appreciate desolate abandoned sites like this – and with a history like that of this particular place (see yesterday's post) – this is a fantastic and totally engrossing location.
  
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Monday 11 July 2016
  
  11 07 16   Tarrafal, Cape Verde's No 1 dark sight
  
Photo of the Day: this is Tarrafal concentration camp on the island of Santiago, Cape Verde.
  
During the dictatorship of the Salazar regime in Portugal, political prisoners were sent to this remote and desolate prison camp in the then Portuguese colony of Cape Verde, an archipelago in the Atlantic west of Senegal in Africa.
  
Inmates included rebels and underground resistance fighters from Portugal's other African colonies, in particular Angola and Guinea-Bissau. But until the 1950s political opponents, alleged communists and other 'undesirables' from the homeland were also incarcerated here.
  
The camp was also known as “Campo da morte lenta” ('camp of slow death') for the horrific torture methods used here.
  
It wasn't until 1974 that the camp was finally closed, following the Carnation Revolution in Portugal that ended the dictatorship. Soon after this, Portugal also released its colonies into independence, including Cape Verde in 1975. (Whereas in East Timor it was a different story because Indonesia seized the moment and annexed the former Portuguese colony … but that's a separate topic, one that also features here from time to time.)
  
The former Tarrafal prison camp had long been abandoned but over the past few years it has been turned into a memorial site – including a few museum exhibitions, but mostly the camp still feels very desolate and ghost-town-like. Given its grim history and eerie semi-abandoned middle-of-nowhere aura, this site is now the prime reason for any dark tourist to come to this remote location.
  
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Thursday 7 July 2016
  
  07 07 16   Afghanistan, snow edge between the mountains and the arid rural lower lands
  
Photo of the Day: divided land.
  
In December, flying over Afghanistan from north-west to south-east, two monochromes present themselves. First passing over the higher elevations of the more mountainous northern half of the country, everything is white (and the shadows a magical blue in the early morning light!).
  
Then suddenly this dividing line appears as the plane reaches the lower lying parts of the country. And suddenly everything is brown – the land, towns, roads, everything. Barren, parched, and (dare I say?) depressing.
  
Before you ask: no, I did not actually land in Afghanistan (I was en route to Cambodia and it just so happened that the flight path from central Europe took us across this forbidding country), and I don't think I will be going there any time soon either. I feel like I missed the boat on that one by a very wide margin.
  
There used to be an Afghanistan Museum in Hamburg (privately run by an exiled Afghani), which I visited a couple of times (and loved – so sad it had to close!). This museum provided some insight into what could have been, and what to quite a degree already was … before Afghanistan descended into never-ending war and depressing hopelessness.
  
It's hard to imagine it now, but in the 1970s, Afghanistan was an aspiring country on the doorstep to modernity. At the museum they had tourist brochures and postcards from the time showing modernist concrete architecture, swimming pools, people in western dress, with women in mini skirts and (then) fashionable hair-dos (and no veils or burqas anywhere in sight). It seemed to be a bright outlook (but of course appearances may well have been deceptive).
  
Then politics and war got in the way.
  
The Soviets got themselves drawn into their version of a Vietnam-like disastrous military intervention, the other superpower the USA started supporting the fundamentalist religious underground resistance (that would later evolve into the infamous Taliban)… and the rest is, well, deepest, darkest history. And there doesn't really seem an end in sight.
  
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Wednesday 6 July 2016
  
  06 07 16   headless and single handed
  
Photo of the Day: headless and single handed.
  
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Tuesday 5 July 2016
  
  05 07 16   abandoned former Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, Weston, WV
  
Photo of the Day: the abandoned former Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia, USA
  
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Monday 4 July 2016
  
  04 07 2016   Arlington
  
On this Day: it is 4th of July, a date on which to look across the pond to America. This photo shows the USA's National Cemetery at Arlington near Washington D.C. ... The picture was taken six years ago, when there were still regular new arrivals coming from Iraq. Their patches are in the foreground, the individual fresh graves marked by only little temporary signs, but not yet with headstones, and no grass – all against the backdrop of a sea of yet more soldiers' graves stretching out as far as the eye can see. It's a very sobering sight.
  
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Friday 1 July 2016
  
  01 07 16   post apocalyptic reconstruction, IWM
  
Photo of the Day: post-apocalyptic reconstruction (at the Imperial War Museum, London)
  
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Thursday 30 June 2016
  
  30 06 16   Falklands   sign by the roadside   they don't have fast minefields here
  
Photo of the Day: Falkland Islands - they don't have any *fast* minefields there (that's a standard joke the islanders tell you when you pass a sign like this).
  
But seriously: there are indeed still plenty of landmines left from the Falklands War. However, these minefields are all very well charted and clearly marked. So as long as you don't ignore signs like this and waltz right in, the mines do not pose any danger. Nor are they a danger to animals. The free-roaming sheep are too light to set off such landmines, and the only inland wildlife is birds. Where there are sea lion or elephant seal colonies there are no landmines.
  
In theory you could just leave those minefields be, then. Yet the Falklands government is under obligation by international treaties to keep clearing the minefields, bit by bit. They argue that, given they don't actually pose any danger, the money for clearing minefields could be better invested elsewhere. But still ...
  
Anyway, getting rid of all those mines will take many, many years to come. And until then, these warning signs will continue to form part of the unique dark-tourism experience on these remote islands ...
  
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Wednesday 29 June 2016
  
  29 06 16   Vojnar memorial, Czech Republic
  
Photo of the Day: I promised a follow-up to yesterday's post, so here it is:
  
This was also taken at the Vojna Memorial site in the Czech Republic. It's not a former concentration camp (as you may have thought going by the style of the barbed-wire fence and the watchtower) but it was a forced labour camp dating back to the early days of communist rule in the then CSSR (Czechoslovak Socialist Republic). It was set up in 1947 for the internment and “re-education” of (mainly) political prisoners. Double punishment: the prisoners had to work in a nearby uranium mine!
  
The conditions in the Vojna camp were worst during the Stalinist era, but more relaxed towards the late 50s. In 1961 the camp was closed altogether. After that the military took over the premises.
  
It wasn't until the late 1990s that the historical significance of this site was rediscovered – and after the military moved out in 2000, it was declared a heritage site and turned into the memorial it is today. As such it is unique in the country and is a dark-tourism site that deserves to be much more widely known.
  
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Tuesday 28 June 2016
  
  28 06 16   crushed bodies sculpture at Vojnar memorial, Czech Republic
  
Photo of the Day: tumbled down and crushed
  
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Monday 27 June 2016
  
  27 06 16   WW1 big gun
  
Photo of the Day: as a follow-up to the previous post, here's that Big gun from another angle. Now you can see that what you saw at the other end of that big barrel you stared down was in fact that huge projectile. These 18-inch (38 cm) shells weighed 750kg each and the whole gun 80 tonnes. That is Big!
  
The gun is on display in the Military History Museum in Vienna and is a rare relic from the First World War. Only ten were built (namely in Pilzen, by the Skoda works) in total and delivered to the Austro-Hungarian military by 1918.
  
Interestingly, I heard a guide at the museum telling the story that during the Nazi era some military representatives from Germany turned up and asked for the gun so they could put it back in action in WWII. But the plucky museum curators invented a story of some irreparable damage to the barrel that made the gun unusable. That white lie probably saved the gun from being appropriated. So it can still be “admired” today (with awe as much as with horror and revulsion). It is a steel monster, an icon of the industrialization of warfare that WW1 brought …
  
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Friday 24 June 2016
  
  24 06 16   starring down the barrel of a big gun
  
Photo of the Day: staring down the barrel of a Big gun.
  
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Thursday 23 June 2016
  
  23 06 2016   head to head
  
Photo of the Day: head to head ...
  
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Wednesday 22 June 2016
  
  22 06 2016   Todoroki Cave memorial, Okinawa
  
On this Day: 71 years ago, on 22 June 1945, the Battle of Okinawa ended. It was the fiercest, bloodiest and most tragic battles of the Pacific theatre of WWII. Not only did about a quarter of a million people lose their lives. It was also the first time Japanese civilians got caught up in the fighting on a large scale.
  
Worst of all, the Japanese propaganda made their people believe that the Americans were savages who would rape and enslave any captured civilians, so they were actively encouraged to rather commit suicide than be captured. They were even given hand grenades for the purpose by their own military. Most people, however, chose to jump off high cliffs.
  
The Japanese also recruited schoolchildren, e.g. to work in cave hospitals, and thousands of them died there too, or in other caverns they had taken refuge in.
  
Southern Okinawa's ground is like a Swiss cheese, full of holes, caverns and interconnected passageways, even underground rivers. And many of these underground shelters were utilized in the last stand defence of the archipelago against the invading Americans.
  
Today's photo shows one of these caves, Todoroki, where a modest memorial (lit up by my guide's torch light) commemorates the hundreds of civilians who perished here. It is a very remote and very silent and sobering place now.
  
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Tuesday 21 June 2016
  
  21 06 16   icky street food at Phnom Penh Market
  
Photo of the Day: leaving behind the volcano theme of late, here's something completely different ... another one in the (niche) series 'the culinary side of dark tourism'. This is street food in Cambodia. Snake skins on skewers, fried crickets and other insects. Yummy?
  
Actually, eating insects is quite common in South-East Asia, and in many ways it makes a lot of sense, really: rich in protein, available in abundance, cheap ... yet Westerners tend to be instinctively repulsed by even the sight of such 'delicacies'. Cultural differences.
  
And before you ask: no, I did not have any of these myself either. The closest to it I ever came was trying roasted giant ants from Colombia, but I balked at the thought of eating whole deep-fried scorpions, big fat cockroaches or tarantulas ... and the snake skins just looked way too chewy. Is there anybody amongst my followers who's ever tried any of these?
  
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Monday 20 June 2016
  
  20 06 16   Volcanoes NP, Hawaii
  
Photo of the Day: as a kind of follow-up to yesterday, here's another photo of a volcano at dawn. This is Halema'uma'u crater, part of the Kilauea volcano system, on Big Island Hawai'i, just before sunrise, when the glow of the lava lake inside the crater is at its most spectacular.
  
In contrast to Indonesia, where health and safety concerns are more or less unheard of and people can walk right up to the crater rim of an erupting volcano, the Americans imposed a no-go zone around Halema'uma'u after it became active again in 2008 … allegedly just because of the noxious fumes that the crater emits.
  
The access points to the Crater Rim Drive road are blocked, as are the hiking paths inside the Kilauea caldera, and signs tell you that if you trespass any nearer the crater you can be fined thousands of dollars or even be imprisoned. It may look like borderline paranoia, but is probably also due to the American legal system (somebody could stupidly jump into the lava lake and the relatives could then sue the National Park, I guess).
  
Anyway, with a good zoom lens you can still get cool pictures of the glowing crater from the Jaggar Volcano Observatory about a mile from the crater. You have to get up in the middle of the night for this, but that's a small price to pay to see this spectacular show of fiery Mother Earth.
[photo used in a comment to illustrate the difference it makes whether you where there before daybreak or after; this is what the same spot looked like during the day ... no orange glow visible at all: 
  
  20 06 16   comment photo   Halema'uma'u by day
  
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Sunday 19 June 2016
  
  19 06 16   Bromo in first light, Indonesia
  
Photo of the Day: sunrise at Mt Bromo volcano on Java, Indonesia.
  
I've just heard that Bromo is erupting again for the first time in years - right now!
  
Indonesia is so full of the most awesome volcanoes .... Bromo, Ijen, Merapi, Krakatoa, etc.
  
Earth's power on glorious display ...
  
Although in this pic the little bit of smoke is but a small indication of what's slumbering beneath.
  
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Saturday 18 June 2016
  
  18 06 16   Monumentale   don't look now
  
Photo of the Day: risking a peek again ...
  
... this is another photo taken at the fabulous Cimitero Monumentale in Milan, Italy, which in terms of sepulchral art - and hence also from the point of view of photography - has to rank as one of the most spectacular cemeteries in the world.
  
What I like about it in particular is that apart from the rather more traditional grand mausoleums, crosses, elegant angels, Jesuses, and so on, there are so many sculptures that invite the wildest (re-)interpretations ... just like this one.
  
I've already posted quite a few from this location, and I still have some in stock for later. What an outstanding source. If you ever make it to Milan, I urge you to give Cimitero Monumentale a good few hours of exploration.
  
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Friday 17 June 2016
  
  17 06 16   silent today
  
speechless today
  
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Thursday 16 June 2016
  
  16 06 16   skua attack on gentoo rookery, Sea Lion Island, Falklands
  
Photo of the Day: Falkland Islands – aerial attack and ground defence.
  
A follow-up to yesterday's post, but not about war. Instead it's in the category 'dark tourism and wildlife watching', taken at a gentoo penguin rookery on Sea Lion Island (the southern-most of the Falklands).
  
Life in a penguin rookery is anything but cosy. It is extremely stressful. Not only is there a lot of “social tension” amongst their own (and the strains of parenting in such a socially charged set-up are frequently very obvious too). But the penguins are also under almost constant aerial attack from skuas, so the adults have to be alert at all times and defend their chicks against such attacks collectively. (It's obviously the young chicks they are after – the adult penguins are too big for a skua.)
  
And the skuas are quick to seize their chance the minute the penguins let their guard down or a chick strays too far from the colony. Once away from the collective, a lone chick is doomed. A single parent penguin also has practically no chance in fending off skuas, who often work in teams of twos or threes. I witnessed such a scene, and I have to confess that despite the rule that you should not intervene in such a natural setting, I did.
  
When I saw a lone mother and chick just eight yards from the safety of the rookery under coordinated attack by a pair of skuas and one of them already dragged the chick almost up into the air, I instinctively ran up to chase the skua away. With success, if only temporarily. The skua dropped the shell-shocked chick and flew away to a vantage point some ten yards away, where it took up its observation position again. I then waited until the chick was reunited with its mother before moving on.
  
But I guess in the long run the little one was probably doomed anyway. On closer inspection of the pictures I took I later saw that the chick didn't look too fit and healthy, and the mother (or father?) didn't appear too determined to fight for it either. So I guess natural selection just had to take its course. But I just didn't want it to be on my watch! Call me sentimental, but I didn't think, I just acted instinctively.
  
Anyway, it goes to show that dark tourism is not necessarily only about human tragedy, as in war, murder and disasters. Nature itself provides much darkness too.
  
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Wednesday 15 June 2016
  
  15 06 2016   former Argentine position, Falkland Islands
  
On this Day: 34 years ago, on 14/15 June (read on!) in 1982, the Falklands War ended with the surrender of Argentina.
  
Today's photo shows an abandned Argentine position near Wireless Ridge, north-east of Mt Longdon. It is comparatively well preserved (my guide even pulled out some hidden personal items left behind by the soldiers). It still stands as a poignant reminder of the war in the middle of the desolate, windswept, subantarctic terrain of these remote islands.
  
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 … as did the wildlife watching. But that's really another topic …
  
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Tuesday 14 June 2016
  
  
Excellent interview about dark tourism from down under (and the UK)!
  
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Tuesday 14 June 2016
  
  13 06 16   aboard a North Korean Illjushin Il 62
  
Photo of the Day: letting off steam!
  
This photo was taken aboard a Soviet-era Ilyushin Il-62 passenger jet of the North Korean national airline Air Koryo shortly after boarding, getting ready for take-off for its scheduled flight from Beijing to Pyongyang in summer 2005.
   
The steam coming out from the ceiling was a distinctive feature of this exceptional experience and something I hadn't seen anywhere before. I do not know whether it was a regular procedure or maybe some special measure (there was some SARS epidemic or something going on in China at the time – on the way out of North Korea our train was also sprayed with disinfectants shortly before reaching the border).
  
Anyway, getting on this plane was both time-travel (hey, a sleek 1960s-design Soviet aircraft – how cool!) and a culture shock. But the flight was actually very pleasant, with nice service and pretty decent food (better than on many Western airlines I've been on, I must say).
  
The culture shock mainly came in the form of the on-board reading material, including a copy of the Pyongyang Times and a special issue glossy magazine celebrating the 60th anniversary of the country's liberation from Japanese rule in 1945.
  
It was a crash course in the DPRK's very own lingo from the start. To give you an impression, here are the titles of the first three chapters: “1: Peerless Patriot, Nation's Father who Liberated Korea; 2: To Immortalize the Exploits of President Kim Il Sung; 3: For Implementing the Tasks Set Forth on the Joint Slogans.” … wonderfully cryptic, full-on propaganda. I especially liked the reference to the president's “exploits” - by that time he had already been dead for over a decade but they still refused to call him ex-president ... instead they made him “eternal president”. Denying reality DPRK style. Priceless.
  
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Monday 13 June 2016
  
  12 06 16   Easter Island moai with coral eyes
  
Photo of the Day: nice header - right on the line!
  
But that's as far as I will go with alluding to the Euro football ...
  
This is of course one of the moais on Easter Island. It is a reconstruction, obviously (all the original ones were toppled when the old Easter Island civilization collapsed), even the coral eyes have been put back in. It stands near Hanga Roa, the island's only "town" (well, village). The hat- or topknot-like thing balancing on the moai's head is called a pukao.
  
I actually climbed up a hillside a bit inland to get the angle right for aligning the pukao with the ocean's waterline. It's one of my favourite pictures I took on Easter - the most remote inhabited island on the planet, and hence a thrilling place just to be in.
  
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Friday 10 June 2016
  
  10 06 2016   Lidice children's memorial, Czech Republic
  
On this Day: 74 years ago, on 9 and 10 June 1942, the Nazis staged one of their worst public atrocities. In retaliation for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (see the post of 27 May!!), they descended on the little Czech village of Lidice, on the basis of the thinnest suggestion of a vague link one villager may have had to the resistance, and executed all the adult male population, sent the women to Ravensbrück concentration camp, and most of the children to the Chelmno death camp for gassing. Only a few of the very youngest survived and were handed over to SS families for “adoption”, in order to be “Germanized”. The village itself was then razed to the ground, including even its cemetery – the place was literally wiped off the face of the Earth.
  
However, instead of covering up this crime, the Nazis openly and proudly broadcast it, and publicly showed film footage of the razing of Lidice – to serve as a warning and as a propaganda exercise. That way, though, the Lidice atrocity also became publicly known in the rest of the world, where it caused an outcry of shock.
  
After the war, a new village was built next to the site of the old one, and the grounds of the latter were turned into a poignant memorial. Today's photo shows one component of this: the children's memorial. When I first visited Lidice (when this photo was taken) it was during an early spell of wintery weather (in October!) and the snow cover only added to the silent and eerie atmosphere. It was quite a contrast when I went back another time under a blue sky and in bright sunshine. Yet the sad tragedy that hangs over this place was still palpable enough.
  
The most moving thing for me, however, was the part of the museum where interviews were shown with some of those "adopted" children of Lidice who as adults found out about their real origin. Try to imagine what it must feel like to find out that who you thought were your loving and caring parents were in actual fact the murderers of your real parents. Watching these interviews was almost unbearably heartbreaking.
  
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Thursday 9 June 2016
  
  09 06 16   cemetery with a view   East Greenland
  
Photo of the Day: another one in the series 'cemeteries with a view' - this one is in East Greenland.
  
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Wednesday 8 June 2016
  
  08 06 16   bowling pin like parts of semi collapsed staircase, Kurchatov, Kazakhstan
  
Photo of the Day: beautifully semi-collapsed staircase in an abandoned former guest house in Kurchatov, the ex-Soviet "atomic city" on the edge of the Semipalatinsk Test Site (aka Polygon), Kazakhstan.
  
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Tuesday 7 June 2016
  
  07 06 2016   Alan Turing sculpture at Bletchley Park
 
On this Day: 62 years ago, on 7 June 1954, the great pioneering computer scientist and Enigma-code-breaker Alan Turing died from cyanide poisoning. It was presumed to have been suicide (though there are alternative explanations as well, since Turing was working with the substance).
  
Two years before he had been convicted of “gross indecency” – in those days homosexuality was still illegal in Britain – and he had accepted “treatment”, which basically amounted to chemical castration, as an alternative to imprisonment. However, he was stripped of his role in the government cryptographic agency.
  
What makes this case all the more tragic is the fact that Turing had been the key scientist in the breaking of the Enigma code at Bletchley Park, through which the Allies' victory against Nazi Germany was, by common estimate, brought forward by as much as two years.
  
Yet the climate of secrecy in the early Cold War meant that the code-breakers of Bletchley Park remained “unsung heroes” who were not allowed to talk about the nature of their work during the war. So Turing's achievements for the nation counted for nothing in his trial either. It wasn't until the mid-1970s that the secrets of Bletchley Park slowly began to be revealed.
  
Shamefully, however, it took Britain some six decades until Turing was finally rehabilitated. He was given an official “Royal Pardon” in August 2014, after years of campaigning and after then Prime Minister Gordon Brown had first acknowledged the “unfair treatment” of Turing in a statement of apology in 2009.
  
Today's photo shows the life-size sculpture, made entirely from Welsh slate, that depicts Alan Turing with an Enigma machine. It is on display at Bletchley Park, which has finally been turned into a proper memorial park with several museums telling the full extraordinary story of the code-breaking and its historical context.
  
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Monday 6 June 2016
  
  06 06 2016   D Day
  
On this Day: 72 years ago, on 6 June 1944, it was D-Day, the beginning of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Nazi-German occupied France.
  
The official code name for the Normandy battle was Operation Overlord … and the success of this marked another decisive nail in the coffin of the Third Reich, which now found itself with another front in the west while the Soviets were advancing from the east. It made it clearer than ever before that Hitler's war was being lost.
  
In the run-up to D-Day, the Allies had successfully made Hitler and the top command of the German military believe the invasion would take place closer to Calais, and the intelligence gathered at Bletchley Park had sufficiently confirmed that the deception plan had worked. So D-Day could go ahead.
  
It was the most massive amphibious landing operation in history. This was preceded by a similarly large airborne operation during which some 24 000 paratroopers were dropped into enemy territory. At the same time bombing raids were also flown.
  
The fleet of aircraft used in these operations had special markings of black-and-white stripes on the wings and fuselage – and this you can see in today's photo. It shows a D-Day plane that is on display at the new American Air exhibition at IWM Duxford, the largest aviation museum in Britain.
  
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Saturday 4 June 2016
  
  04 06 2016   Tiannanamen Square, Beijing, China
  
On this Day: 27 years ago, massacre on Tiananmen Square.
  
After weeks of gatherings and protests mostly by students on this square in the heart of the Chinese capital Beijing, this glimmer of hope for change was brutally crushed in the early hours of 4 June 1989. The Chinese leadership sent in the military, and the peaceful protests were brought to an end in bloodshed. Tanks rolled through the masses, soldiers used live ammunition to fire on protesters and the entire square was forcefully cleared. It remained out of bounds for weeks after. Subsequently there was a purge of organizers and participants in the protest movement. So the idea of a possible 'Chinese Democracy' was shelved and has since seemed way out of reach.
  
At the same time, mass protest movements also swept through Eastern Europe, and since the events of Tiananamen Square fears were growing that the governments in those countries might also resort to that kind of 'Chinese solution'. In most of these countries, notably East Germany (GDR) and the CSSR, this did not happen, thankfully, although Romania got much closer to a similar situation at the end of that year (tanks in the streets again) … but that's for another post …
   
Today's photo shows Tiananmen Square on an 'ordinary' summer day in 2005, the Mao Mausoleum in the centre. No protests, and only a limited military presence. Yet the dark shadows of history linger, silently and invisibly …
  
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Wednesday 1 June 2016
  
  01 06 16   skulls on shelves   San Bernadino alle Ossa, Milan
  
Photo of the Day: shelved skulls - San Bernadino alle Ossa, Milan, Italy
  
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Tuesday 31 May 2016
  
  31 05 16   Coca Cola at the Polygon
  
Photo of the Day: 'culture clash'
  
This was taken at the former Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan. What's in the foreground doesn't require any explanation, I guess. The structures in the background are measuring towers that once held the equipment for filming the mushroom clouds and measuring the effects of the nuclear tests conducted here in Soviet times.
  
Our driver put his bottle on the ground as we went exploring some of the abandoned bunkers - and I just saw this visual juxtaposition as worth capturing, as something accidentally meaningful. Where once red balls of fire would have risen into the sky, now an iconic brand from the former enemy empire is the only red in this desolate steppe. A little colour extraction was used to enhance the effect ...
  
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Saturday 28 May 2016
  
  28 05 2016   Sidoarjo mud flow, Indonesia
  
On this Day: ten years ago, the infamous Sidoarjo mud flow near Surabaya in Indonesia started – the world's muckiest disaster.
  
It is an ongoing disaster, and it's partly natural, partly man-made – though to what degree it is man-made remains controversial. It all started when on 28 May 2006 the Lapindo Brantas company began drilling for gas but instead triggered the eruption of a huge amount of mud, a mix of water, gas and soil. It might have been linked to an earthquake that had occurred the day before near Yogyakarta – even though that's over 250 km away. Locals still blame the gas company however.
  
In any case, the mud flow proved unstoppable – it just kept spewing; millions and millions of cubic metres of mud gradually swallowed up whole villages and tens of thousands of people were displaced. Attempts to seal up this massive mud volcano failed. Dykes were built to at least contain the flow, but in some cases these broke and caused more damage. Very little compensation has been paid to the poor locals.
  
At least the outpouring has significantly slowed down in recent years and scientists are now more optimistic that it might stop altogether sooner than had originally been feared (when it was expected to continue for at least two more decades).
  
You can actually visit this eerie site. Locals offer motorbike rides (to make at least a little money from the disaster), taking tourists right onto the mudflow to a point as close as it is safe to go to the central mud vent (as seen in today's photo). In some places the ground feels scarily wobbly there. From that viewpoint you might still witness steam eruptions, even though the gushing fountain of mud has more or less stopped now.
  
Around the enormous grey expanse of mud you can also see some abandoned villages, including one ghost village with a large empty mosque and a cemetery that is semi-submerged in gooey grey mud. It's a creepily fascinating and absolutely unique dark travel destination.
  
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Friday 27 May 2016
  
  27 05 16   St Cyril crypt, Prague
  
On this Day: 74 years ago, on 27 May 1942, Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated in Prague, in what today is the Czech Republic.
  
Heydrich was the chief of the Nazis' Reichssicherheitshauptamt ('Reich Main Security Office') and 'Reich's Protector' of occupied Bohemia and Moravia and was also the main architect of the 'final solution' in the Holocaust, the systematic murder of the Jews of Europe (which is hence also known as 'Operation Reinhard').
  
The assassination was planned by the British Special Operations Executive and was carried out by Czech soldiers of the Czech army in exile. It was code-named Operation Anthropoid.
  
Although the assassins failed to kill Heydrich outright when they ambushed his car and threw a grenade at it, he died of his injuries in hospital a couple of days later. It was the only successful assassination of a such a high-ranking member of the Nazi leadership.
  
After the ambush, the assailants were at first able to go underground and hide, but were later betrayed and killed when the Gestapo laid siege to the Church of St Cyril and Methodius in Prague where the assassins were hiding in the crypt.
  
Today's photo shows that very crypt, which has been turned into a national memorial shrine in honour of the Czech assassins of Heydrich.
  
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Thursday 26 May 2016
  
  26 05 16   Kalaupapa   cemetery with a killer view
  
Photo of the Day: a cemetery with a killer view.
  
This is one of the cemeteries of the former leper colony of Kalaupapa on an isolated peninsula on Molokai, Hawaii. Those sea cliffs in the background are the highest in the world. Scenery-wise this is really a wonderful, magical place.
  
Yet it is also a place of great sadness and tragedy. Leprosy, or Hansen's Disease (these days the more 'pc' term), had been much misunderstood for centuries. Especially its contagiousness was hugely overestimated. So when leprosy was spreading on Hawaii in the mid-19th century, this 'leper colony' was set up. Yet it wasn't really a colony at first. The initial shipload of sufferers were simply just dumped there and left to fend for themselves. But as more and more arrived, it did eventually turn into a proper settlement. Its isolation was ensured by the fact that this flat stretch of land was surrounded on the one side by 2000 feet high vertical cliffs and on the other by the rough Pacific Ocean.
  
The isolation policy was officially not lifted until as late as 1969, even though it was in practical terms already redundant since a cure for the disease had been found in 1940 and was first applied in Kalaupapa in 1946. Still today, however, some inhabitants of the 'colony' choose to stay there.
  
The place was made a National Park in 1980. Visitors can get there either by small plane (there is a little airstrip and there are charter services from Honolulu), or by a long mule ride down the zig-zagging tracks down the cliffs, and be given a guided tour in an old school bus. The remoteness, the views, and also the lingering legacy of the place make this a very worthwhile addition to a trip to Hawaii.
  
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Wednesday 25 May 2016
  
  25 05 16   skulls, British Museum London
  
Photo of the Day: reflective skulls (at the British Museum, London).
  
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Tuesday 24 May 2016
  
  24 05 16   relics from a grim past, Narvik, Norway
  
Photo of the Day: slightly tilted symbol of Nazism.
  
The choice of this picture was partly inspired by yesterday's election result, when Austria narrowly escaped voting into office the first far-right-wing president in a European country since the Second World War. It was extremely close (less than 1% difference between the two candidates), and everybody I know here were breathing sighs of relief. But of course the new rise of far-right extremism and the xenophobia it feeds on isn't over. It remains a threat in several European countries …
  
This photo was taken in a WWII-themed museum in Narvik, in Norway, a country that until just a few years ago appeared to be immune to this trend towards right-wing extremism … that is until in 2011 a certain Anders Breivik changed that illusion - literally with a bang (bomb in Oslo) and a subsequent bloodbath at a Labour Party youth camp.
  
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Monday 23 May 2016
  
  23 05 16   film prop replica of the car Bonnie and Clyde were killed in
  
On this Day, 82 years ago, on 23 May 1934, the notorious criminal couple Bonnie & Clyde were ambushed and shot dead by police in Sailes, Louisiana, USA.
  
Their story captured the attention (and imagination) of the public especially in America but ultimately also worldwide. Several films, songs and even musicals have been produced based on this story. And the location of the ambush has become a kind of dark pilgrimage site.
  
This photo shows not the original car Bonnie & Clyde were shot in but – rather fittingly – a film-prop replica used in depicting that scene (namely in the 1967 movie “Bonnie and Clyde” directed by Arthur Penn, and starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in the title roles).
  
The vehicle, riddled with (fake?) bullet holes, is on display in the Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington D.C.
  
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Sunday 22 May 2016
  
  22 05 16   moonscape of inland Iceland
  
Photo of the Day: I was talking with friends about Iceland a lot yesterday - which brought back plenty of memories. So I picked a photo from there for today.
  
This is the moonscape of the uninhabited interior of Iceland. If it wasn't for the blue sky, the snaking rough track in the centre (Kjölur route) and the odd cloud on the horizon, you really could pass this off as the surface of the moon. In fact, NASA did a lot of training exercises for the Apollo missions here for precisely that reason.
  
Does it count as dark tourism? Well, in as much as this is a 'dead' landscape practically devoid of any vegetation or wildlife (the odd misguided seabird notwithstanding), I think it can. There are also some definite dark places in Iceland related to the island's highly active, and at times quite destructive volcanism. ... but that's for another post some other day ...
  
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Friday 20 May 2016
  
  20 05 16   Sedlec ossuary, Kutna Hora, CZ
  
Photo of the Day: a classic - Sedlec ossuary, Kutna Hora, Czech Republic.
  
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Thursday 19 May 2016
  
  19 05 16   Spirit Lake still with endless dead driftwood from the Mt Saint Helens explosion
  
Photo of the Day: follow-up to yesterday's post. This is Spirit Lake seen from the ridge south of Mount St Helens.
  
Floating on the surface of the lake are still thousands of dead tree trunks that were blown down and/or uprooted by the volcano's lateral blast back in 1980. Even 36 years on this provides a very visual impression of the destructive forces that were at play here. At the time this photo was taken, those dead trees formed a solid layer, almost like an ice shelf, covering the entire eastern half of the lake. At other times they float around in different patterns, depending on the wind. And every year there are less trunks as they sink to the bottom and rot away.
  
The lake itself was fundamentally altered too. The deposits from the landslide and pyroclastic flows changed its shape and depth and blocked its drain – and also contaminated the water with all sorts of chemical pollution. Hence it was feared the lake could have been killed off for good. However, even here life has come back at remarkable speed. Thanks to beneficial bacteria and snowmelt, the chemistry of the water went back to almost normal within just a few years and today it once again supports fish, including trout.
  
And in the background you can see how new green has grown in what was the complete 'blowdown zone' of the eruption, where no tree was left standing. You can still see those blown-down tree trunks in many parts of the area but new life has clearly taken over again.
  
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Wednesday 18 May 2016
  
  18 05 2016   memorial to the victims of the Mt Saint Helens disaster
  
On this Day: 36 years ago, on the morning of 18 May 1980, Mount St Helens, south of Seattle in Washington State, exploded.
  
It was the most destructive volcanic event in the history of the USA. It started when a bulge was forming on the northern slope of the mountain, due to pressure from magma pushing up from deep below. At about 8:30 in the morning on 18 May, this bulge suddenly started moving downhill – in the biggest landslide ever recorded.
  
With this “cork” suddenly gone, the pressure inside the volcano was abruptly released and it blew up – in a massive lateral blast. This created huge pyroclastic flows that reached dozens of miles across the surrounding landscape, levelling and scorching everything in their path. In addition, a gigantic ash cloud rose into the sky reaching as high as 15 miles into the atmosphere. Subsequent ash fall affected eleven US states downwind from the volcano. TV footage from the more directly affected areas featured scenes of a truly apocalyptic atmosphere.
  
This photo shows the gaping crater in the stump of the mountain (now 400m shorter than it had been before the eruption) in the background, and in the foreground is a memorial to all those who lost their lives in the eruption (57 in total). It's near Johnston Ridge Observatory north of the mountain.
  
In between is the inner blast zone, where the destruction was 100%. This still is an eerie moonscape, whereas just a little further away life has long since begun to come back – at an astonishing rate in fact. It's amazing to see how nature can recover so determinedly even after such cataclysmic events ...
  
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Tuesday 17 May 2016
  
  17 05 16   war is loud, WWII memorial, Washington DC
  
Photo of the Day: war is loud!
  
And it must have been amongst the loudest in the fierce mountain battles on the Isonzo Front on the Italian-Solvenian border in World War One (Slovenia was then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire).
  
The opposing sides were dug into rocky trenches and had massive gun positions poised against each other. When all this was let loose, including large calibre (42 cm) super-cannons and thousands of mortars, the noise of the shells exploding, reverberating between the mountainsides, must have been deafening.
  
I'm just back from a short field trip to Slovenia, where I explored some of the old battle sites of a hundred years ago. I will report more in due course, but first I have to sort through all my photos.
  
This photo actually shows part of a WWII monument in Washington D.C. and was taken some years ago - but I thought the image was fitting for the theme, so I picked it as a kind of stand-in.
  
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Saturday 14 May 2016
  
  14 05 16   Monumentale   not talking
  
Photo of the Day: not talking. 
  
It's another one from the fantastic Monumentale cemetery in Milan, Italy.
  
I'm going on a short field trip again this long weekend, not quite as far as Italy, but close: to Slovenia (Ljubljana and some WW1 related sites as well as the Loibl tunnel - hopefully the weather won't be quite as bad as some forecasts predict, so that I can take some decent photos in the mountains as well as in the city).
  
During that period I will probably be off-line most of the time (if not all of it), but I will resume posting from Tuesday at the latest.
  
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Friday 13 May 2016
  
  13 05 16   derelict upper foyer level, Tempelhof airport, Berlin
  
Photo of the Day: a follow-up to yesterday's post. This is in a 'hidden' part of the old Tempelhof airport terminal building.
  
This was supposed to be the top part and grand ceiling of the foyer … part of the whole Nazi intimidation-architecture plan (Tempelhof is the only one of their “Germania” scheme that was actually, nearly, finished). But when the Americans took over the terminal after WWII they fitted a lower ceiling above the entrance and left the original one derelict. In fact, they made it more derelict than it was at that point. To finish the main terminal hall (which opened in 1962), they took building materials for this from the foyer walls. Hence those metal bits poking out of the columns. The stone cladding was moved to the columns in the main hall.
  
Tempelhof airport has been closed since 2008. Now you can get to see this and other formerly off-limits parts of Tempelhof on the guided tours they offer inside the ex-terminal. I went on two different tours a couple of weeks ago and they were both excellent.
  
This huge place (one of the largest buildings in the world) just oozes history – Nazi history, WWII history, post-war history, aviation history, esp. the Berlin Airlift (see yesterday's post!), divided Berlin during the Cold War, and German reunification and the “rebirth” of Berlin as Germany's capital.
  
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Thursday 12 May 2016
  
  12 05 2016   end of the Berlin Airlift   candy bomber parked at Tempelhof
  
On this Day: 67 years ago, on 12 May 1949, the Berlin Airlift ended when the Soviet Union called off the Berlin Blockade.
  
Previously they had closed off all land access routes to the Western enclave part of the city, beginning in June 1948. It was one of the first major confrontations between the West and the East in the unfolding Cold War. The Western Allies had to make a decision: leave the West Berliners to their fate (i.e. starvation/let the Soviets have them) or face up to the challenge and help. They chose the latter.
  
For 11 months the Americans and British Allies supplied Berlin by the so-called Berlin Airlift, flying in all supplies with cargo planes through the three air space corridors they had been granted in the Potsdam agreement.
  
It was a logistical triumph and one of the most legendary operations in aviation history.
  
This photo shows one the planes that was used in the Berlin Airlift, now permanently parked at Berlin's Tempelhof airport, where a large proportion of cargo planes had landed during the Airlift. Since the airport was closed for good in 2008, the airfield and runways have been opened to the general public as a park for recreation. So this plane will probably never take off from there ever again.
  
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Wednesday 11 May 2016
  
  
Today, instead of a photo, I'd like to share an article about dark-tourism that, for once, does not totally misrepresent it. It dips a bit into the moral panic trap initially too (that seems to be unavoidable in the media) but pulls it off on a much more balanced level than is typically the case in the press. Good old National Geographic. 
  
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Tuesday 10 May 2016
  
  10 05 16   Juche Tower, Pyongyang
  
Photo of the Day: since North Korea is currently in the international news a lot again, I thought I'd pick a photo from there.
  
This is the Juche Tower in the capital Pyongyang. It was erected in 1982 to celebrate the hermit state's founder Kim Il Sung's 70th birthday. It is said to be the tallest granite tower in the world at 170m (the last 20m are made up by the monumental "torch" that is lit up at night).
  
The name derives from the official state ideology. 'Juche' means something like "self-reliance" ... which is in a way fitting, given how isolated the country is these days, but rather ironic if you remember that North Korea was so dependent on the support of the USSR and China in the Korean War as well as in the subsequent economic recovery (it's hard to believe now, but in the 1960s the North was more advanced than South Korea!).
  
Whatever the heavy ideological symbolism may be, I think it is quite a stunning monument. A lift takes visitors to the top from where you can enjoy great views of the river and the city centre. It's a firm favourite on guided tours of Pyongyang.
  
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Monday 9 May 2016
  
  08 05 2016   where Nazi Germany signed the unconditional surrender at the end of WWII, Berlin Karlshorst
  
On this Day: 71 years ago on 9th May 1945 the papers that officially ended World War Two in Europe were signed in this very room you see in today's photo.
  
'Hang on', many of you will think, 'wasn't that yesterday?' Well, yes and no. The final signatures were put on the documents late in the evening of 8th May, when it was already the 9th of May, Moscow time. That's why in Russia the 9th is still Victory Day. The initial surrender had already been delivered on 7th May, in Reims, France. So it's not quite so clear which is the correct anniversary day.
  
The photo shows the hall in which the signing of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allies took place. It has been preserved in its original state and today forms part of the German-Russian Museum in Berlin, near the former HQ of the Soviet forces in the ex-GDR. It has recently seen an overhaul and some modernization, but this hall still forms the heart of the museum.
  
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Saturday 7 May 2016
  
   07 05 2016   NATO bombed Belgrade government building, Serbia
  
On this Day, 17 years ago, on 7 May 1999, NATO bombed several government buildings in Serbia's capital city Belgrade during the Kosovo War.
  
This photo shows some of the dramatic damage you can still see in Belgrade, in particular on Kneza Milosa street, where this photo was taken. It is really extremely odd, and somewhat unnerving, to see such war ruins right in the heart of an otherwise bustling and thriving metropolis.
  
When I first went to Belgrade, the locals were still quite touchy about the whole subject (and to a degree still are to this day) and the police were not welcoming tourists taking photos of these dramatic ruins. By now, however, they seem to have relaxed a bit, and today these locations are even marked on tourist maps, as I found on my recent return trip in late 2015. So it seems it's now acknowledged that they are indeed a very special "sight" and people want to see this.
  
What will happen to the ruins in the long term, however, remains to be seen. For now this building just stands there abandoned and empty, in plain sight. But at some point they'll probably do something with these prime bits of real estate.
  
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Friday 6 May 2016
  
  06 05 2016   light at the end of the KZ tunnel, Ebensee, Austria
  
On this Day: 71 years ago, light at the end of the KZ tunnel. This is at Ebensee, near Salzburg, Austria. It was one of the worst of the Nazis' concentration camps – yet it isn't widely known. The camp was liberated on 6 May 1945 by American troops. The SS had already left the day before.
  
Similar to Mittelbau-Dora, at Ebensee the prisoners were used for slave labour to dig huge tunnels into the mountain, intended initially for the production of V2 rockets. Production was increasingly going underground from 1943/44 as the Allies stepped up their aerial bombardment of the industrial centres of the Third Reich.
  
The planned underground factory at Ebensee never materialized, but this one large tunnel was nearly finished by May 1945 and today it is the main sight to be seen here. Of the actual camp just outside, nothing remains (the grounds were used for a new housing estate). There are also rough-hewn side tunnels, but this nearly intact one is what makes the site impressive. Worth the detour to go and see this. In the little town of Ebensee there is also a small museum about the camp.
  
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Thursday 5 May 2016
  
  05 05 16   TeufelsbergBerlin
  
Photo of the Day: as promised, something new from my recent Berlin trip. This is the former US Field Station on Teufelsberg ('devil's mountain') in Grunewald.
  
The site was abandoned in the early 1990s after Germany's reunification. At first it became a wild site for urban explorers and rave parties, now it's a listed historical monument and you can legally visit it. I went on a guided 'historical tour', which was quite illuminating. The highlight was climbing all the way to the top of the central tower and into the radomes to experience the incredible acoustics inside.
  
Here the Americans were able to spy on the Eastern Bloc from a more convenient location than anywhere else in the world, given that West Berlin was an 'island', a NATO enclave, right within a Warsaw Pact country (the GDR). Naturally, security was super tight and all operations top secret.
  
We will probably never know what exactly went on here. The Americans took out all equipment and all documents, and only in a few years time will some files be declassified under the Freedom of Information Act, but even then all sensitive passages will probably be blackened.
  
So Teufelsberg remains a mysterious and somewhat eerie relic of the Cold War. But it is also interesting from an artistic point of view. The current leaseholders have turned the site into Europe's largest collection of high-quality graffiti. They invite celebrity sprayers over from all around the world and indeed there are some stunning works to be seen here.
  
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Wednesday 4 May 2016
  
  04 05 2016   HMS Sheffield memorial, Sea Lion Island, Falklands
  
On this Day: 34 years ago, on 4 May 1982, the British destroyer HMS Sheffield was hit by an Argentine Exocet missile during the Falklands War. A fire broke out and eventually the ship was lost. 20 crew members perished.
  
This photo shows the memorial to HMS Sheffield on Sea Lion Island, the southernmost inhabited bit of land of the Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas to the Argentinians and most other Spanish-speaking Latin American countries). The spot was chosen because it was the closest to the location at which the ship was hit.
  
The sinking of the Sheffield was a big blow to the British task force and demonstrated the fleet's vulnerability to modern guided missiles (in this case French-made, as was the plane that fired the missile). But it also highlighted flaws in the ship's design. It remains the Royal Navy's biggest loss in this war.
  
For the Argentinians, on the other hand, it was one of the greatest success stories of this conflict, even though they lost the war in the end. So the story is remembered very differently in the two respective countries ...
  
Today, Sea Lion Island is one of the most popular destinations for visitors to this far-away subantarctic archipelago, not so much for dark tourists, but rather for wildlife enthusiasts, researchers and bird watchers. Four different penguin species have breeding colonies on the island, there are several rare flying bird species too, as well as the largest colony of elephant seals in the Falklands, who, in season, vastly outnumber the sea lions that the island got its name from.
  
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Tuesday 3 May 2016
  
  03 05 16   cracked former measuring tower at the STS
  
Photo of the Day: by request, here's another picture from the Polygon, Semipalatinsk Test Site, Kazakhstan.
  
This is one of the concrete measuring towers, seen from the side. Whole rows of these towers radiate from the ground zero of the Opytnoe Pole nuclear test spot.
  
Not only can you see that the whole tower is cracked. It is also scorched from the intense heat of the nuclear explosion. When you get closer you can see the melted concrete in petrified bubbles on the surface. It's spooky.
  
You obviously do not want to spend too much time near such objects, though ambient radiation (in the air) at most of the STS is not actually so elevated, but there are hotspots (including, obviously, the ground zero itself), so one should have a Geiger counter and maybe wear overshoes and a face mask, to avoid picking up or breathing in any particles. This is pretty extreme dark tourism.
  
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Sunday 1 May 2016
  
  01 05 2016   Marx and Engels in dismay
  
On this Day: it's first of May, that's Labour Day - see Marx and Engels in dismay.
  
Sorry for the feeble rhyming, but it's been a long and hard day in Berlin, and I am knackered.
  
It's actually been the second day of frantic fieldwork in this sprawling city. But I've already seen lots of cool new things ... of which I will soon post more photos. This really is the world capital of dark tourism - and it's constantly changing.
  
For today this is it ... haven't eaten all day. It's time to change that, finally.
  
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Friday 29 April 2016
  
  29 04 2016   Dachau Kopie
  
On this Day: 71 years ago, on 29 April 1945, the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau was liberated by US troops.
  
Dachau was the very first concentration camp, set up within weeks of Hitler coming into power in Germany in 1933. It was mainly a detention camp for political prisoners initially. Later POWs, Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. were also imprisoned here.
  
Some prisoners were subjected to horrific 'medical experiments' such as ice water baths (to 'study' hypothermia) or decompression chambers (to study the effects of high altitude flight). There was forced labour too. But the camp was not an extermination camp like Auschwitz or Majdanek. About four fifths of all prisoners held here survived, in stark contrast to, in particular, Auschwitz.
  
Quite like Auschwitz, however, today the site has become a major tourist attraction. It is also one of the best commodified ones of its type. The on-site museum is absolutely excellent, as are the guided tours (also in English!). The proximity to Munich makes it fairly easily accessible too. So it's one of those places were dark tourism and 'mainstream' tourism meet.
  
The downside is: at times it can get rather crowded. And unfortunately this also brings with it a certain type of visitors who fail to grasp the grave seriousness of such a place and start taking selfies, grinning in front of the crematoria or at the gate with the infamous slogan “Arbeit macht frei”. Please, people, don't! It's disrespectful and despicable.
  
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Thursday 28 April 2016
  
  28 04 16   Hanford Site, B Reactor on the left in wildwire haze
  
Photo of the Day: to stay with the nuclear theme one more time – this is Hanford in the haze.
  
Hanford was one of the formerly secret sites of the Manhattan Project, namely where the world's first large-scale nuclear reactor produced the plutonium required for the Trinity Test, the world's first nuclear explosion. The plutonium of the Nagasaki bomb also came from here.
  
After WWII the site grew into a massive complex with several reactors, which over the years provided most of the plutonium for the gigantic nuclear arsenal of the USA. At the same time it became the most radioactively contaminated place in the western hemisphere (a kind of American counterpart to Mayak in Russia). The location of Hanford is predictably remote, in a lonely spot on the Columbia River in Washington State.
  
In this photo you can just about make out the historic B Reactor – the original one and now the only one that is to be preserved while the rest of the site is undergoing decommissioning and an extensive clean-up programme. The other block vaguely visible on the right is one of the other reactors, which has been “cocooned”.
  
The haze in this image, which makes it an admittedly not very good photo, is due to the smoke from the large forest fires that were raging a hundred miles further north last summer. It made for an eerie atmosphere when I was there – even this far from the actual fires. And it added to the general spooky feel of this lonely but historically so significant spot.
  
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Wednesday 27 April 2016
  
Today, as a follow-up to yesterday's post, but instead of a photo, I thought I'd post something else – a recommendation. Yesterday I watched one of the most captivating documentaries on a nuclear topic I have ever seen. It's mostly about the issue of finding a safe place for long-term storage of high-level radioactive waste. (The programme is in both English and German – see below by clicking 'see more'!)
  
What makes this documentary stand out so much is that while it follows one of the key researchers in the field, a proponent of nuclear energy, around the world in his quest to find such a safe place (in China, Sweden, Germany, the USA, etc.), it also gives a voice to those affected locally (who are typically against having a nuclear dump site underneath their homes), but it does not ram either side's opinions down the viewers' throats. As it progresses you get a feeling of urgency, even desperation, given the growing problem and the fact that no solution has yet been found. But the programme itself makes no value judgements.
  
And the programme finishes without a verdict – instead it really leaves this open, for the viewers to draw their own conclusions … and that is rather rare in such documentaries. In this day and age of omnipresent hate speech and overly emotional modes of “arguing” in general (and especially online), I found this immensely refreshing.
  
The programme is Swiss-made and you have to give them credit for this achievement (Switzerland, by the way, does have its own nuclear waste problem, though not quite on the scale as some other countries). I don't think this documentary could have come out of France or Germany or Austria or Britain. Highly recommended!
  
It features several dark-tourism destinations too, including Hanford, the NTS and Sellafield, hence I can justify posting this here (just in case you wondered).
  
Note that the programme's main language is German (and when Swiss German is spoken it's German with German subtitles!). HOWEVER, most of the key people interviewed in it are ENGLISH speakers, and fortunately the programme makers abstained from dubbing and instead only used subtitles (which you can ignore). So even if you do not know any German you can still get about 75-80% of what is being said, and that should easily be enough for being able to follow it. Do!
  
The programme should be available online for a month (according to the website), and it will also be repeated on TV on Wednesday 11 May at 9 a.m.
  
  [link/programme no longer available]
 
  
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Tuesday 26 April 2016
  
  26 04 2016   Chernobyl NPP   the old chimney stack in 2006
  
On this Day: 30 years ago, on 26 April 1986, the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine started.
  
I know, it's a predictable post - and there will be thousands and thousands of others on this theme today, but I can lend the topic a little extra personal angle.
  
2016 also marks the 10th anniversary of my first trip to Chernobyl. It was only one of those day return trips from Kiev that don't give you more than about four hours within the Exclusion Zone (and some of that time was spent indoors for the intro lecture and the lengthy lunch), but it was still impressive for a first-timer. I was also lucky that back then I was in a very small group of just six participants, and they were all nice people. So it was not what it is often like these days with coach-loads of visitors, selfie-takers and all.
  
And: the Chernobyl trip in 2006 was part of my honeymoon! (So there's another anniversary coming up!)
  
I only learned about the term 'dark tourism' for the first time the year after that trip, namely from an article in The Guardian, but when I did it mentioned Chernobyl and Ground Zero as prototypical examples, I instantly knew: hey, that's what I am, then: a dark tourist. So that Chernobyl trip in 2006 was a key step towards what I do with DT today, a kind of foundation stone for the whole dark-tourism.com website project.
  
  
< Comment: Pretty good video about Chernobyl, the (perceived) risks of going there and why people visit it regardless - those who still think it's totally foolhardy to get anywhere near there, even on just a short organized tour, should watch all the way through to the medical section (when the author undergoes a thorough check-up afterwards). https://news.vice.com/video/holiday-in-chernobyl 
  
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Monday 25 April 2016
  
  25 04 16   Trunyan burial site, Bali, Indonesia
  
Photo of the Day: Trunyan burial site near Lake Batur, Bali, Indonesia.
  
The Trunyan are an old local tribe who neither bury nor cremate their dead. Instead they place the corpses in basket-like structures at special locations where they are basically left to rot in the open. Yet neither do the decomposing bodies smell (as they should) nor do they attract lots of flies and bugs. Local legend attributes this to the site's Menyan Taru – or fragrant tree.
  
Whether it is really that tree that prevents the smell and repels the flies I do not know, but I can vouch for the fact that this is true, whatever the reason/explanation may be.
  
Once the bodies of the deceased have more or less fully decomposed, they scatter the bones in the forest but keep the skulls and place them on a ledge adjacent to the basket burial area - as seen close up in today's photo. So at least some parts of the dead remain at the site as memento mori.
  
This is a unique site to visit (though not for the faint of heart, mind you). You need a boat and guide to get there.
  
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Saturday 23 April 2016
  
  23 04 16   Polygon, STS, Kazakhstan
  
Photo of the Day: measuring bunkers at the Polygon, within the Semipalatinsk Test Site (STS), in the north-eastern steppe of the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, in Central Asia.
    
The STS was the main test site for the Soviet nuclear weapons programme. It was here that their very first A-bomb was detonated, in total the site saw over 450 nuclear explosions. About a quarter of those were atmospheric (i.e. above ground).
  
In today's photo you can see a row of reinforced concrete structures that held measuring equipment used to study the effects of such atmospheric tests. You can see their equipment compartments are set at different angles, probably to compare the effects of the blast hitting full on directly vs. more indirectly at an angle.
  
However, the exact details of what the Soviet nuclear scientists were doing here remain largely mysterious to me. But even so, going to the STS was certainly one of the absolute highlights of all my dark-tourism travels.
  
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Friday 22 April 2016
  
  22 04 2016   Ligatne Lenin Kopie
 
On this Day: 146 years ago, on 22 April 1870, a certain Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov was born, who would become better known to the world under the alias of Lenin. Revolutionary, founder of the Soviet Union, national hero ...
 
The cult of personality that revolved around Lenin in the ex-USSR found its expression in countless statues and busts in public spaces everywhere. Many are still to be found in the former Soviet republics. In some of the more western-oriented ex-Soviet republics, like the Baltic states, it's different, though. Here most of those statues and busts have long gone, destroyed or just dumped somewhere.
  
This golden oldie, on the other hand, is still there - even if it is there more for irony rather than genuine glorification. He's on display at the Ligatne Soviet bunker in Latvia (that's the Latvian SSR's flag on the right, in case you wondered), where they play with Soviet nostalgia and the old KGB aura.
  
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Thursday 21 April 2016
  
  21 04 16   mass dancing on Kim Il Sung Square, Pyongyang 
  
Photo of the Day: after three posts in a row with photos from the US (I only just noticed), it's time for something very different and from the other side of the globe. Let's be extreme and say: North Korea (can't be more extreme).
  
This is a photo I took many years ago, in August 2005, when the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) was celebrating the 60 year anniversary of the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1945. To mark this occasion, lots of official festivities were organized, including this “mass dance” on Kim Il Sung Square in the heart of the capital Pyongyang.
  
At the end of the official performance, our group of tourists (with Koryo Tours – cheers to Simon Cockerell!) was invited to join in! Many of us, especially our women, enthusiastically rushed in to do so. I was initially a bit more reluctant. I found it all very creepy at first, but eventually I gave in, went with the flow (of people) and took part too.
  
Afterwards, elated by the evening's eerily festive atmosphere, the whole surreal character of the evening ended with a group of us, together with our North Korean guide/minder (!), having one or three drinks too many in our hotel bar, hopelessly trying to recreate the moves we had just learned (or tried to learn) on that square. Nevertheless, I recall it all very well and the memory of that day, and of the whole trip, will stay with me for as long as I live.
  
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Wednesday 20 April 2016
  
  20 04 16   wishful thinking
  
On this Day: 17 years ago (is it already?!?), 20 April 1999 was the day of the Columbine school shootings, in which two heavily armed senior students ran amok at their school in Colorado, USA, murdering a dozen pupils and one teacher and injuring many more.
  
The massacre sparked another round of debate about gun control in the USA (and elsewhere) in the way we have, sadly, become so accustomed to, since Columbine proved to be anything but a one-off.
  
The file name of today's photo is actually "wishful thinking". It was chosen to reflect the fact that I have my doubts about the US achieving really tough gun control legislation anytime soon. There's just too much deeply entrenched opposition to the very concept in the States.
  
The connection between Columbine, dark tourism and this photo, I have to admit, is a bit forced, though. A) Columbine is not really a bona-fide dark-tourist destination. And B) the image is actually cropped from a photo I took elsewhere, namely at the Newseum in Washington DC, where it featured in a totally different context (namely that of war journalism).
< commemnt: herte's a photo of the display at the Newseum showing a bit more context:: 
  
  20 04 16   comment photo, Newseum
  
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Tuesday 19 April 2016
  
  19 04 2016   exhibit at the Oklahoma City National Memorial
  
On this Day: 21 years ago, on 19 April 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah building, a government block in Oklahoma City, was destroyed in a terrorist attack. Until 9/11 this was the worst terrorist act ever to hit the USA. The building partially collapsed and 168 people died.
  
This was caused by a massive bomb made from 2 tonnes of fertilizer placed in a rental truck parked outside the building. This photo, ironically, shows a no-parking sign that was badly bent and perforated in the blast and is now an artefact on display in the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum.
  
Arrested, tried and sentenced to death as the sole perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh was executed in 2001, before the full details of the motives for this act had been fully understood.
  
But it was clear that this was domestic terrorism. McVeigh was a Gulf War veteran who is said to have later developed links to underground militias – and the Oklahoma City bombing was apparently intended as retaliation for the government siege of Waco, Texas, two years previously. But the full background will probably never be known.
  
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Monday 18 April 2016
  
  [photo/link could not be reconstructed]
 
On this Day: exactly 110 years ago, on 18 April 1906, the city of San Francisco was hit by an earthquake that killed thousands and destroyed ca. three quarters of its buildings (mostly in the subsequent fires that broke out when gas from ruptured pipes ignited).
  
There isn't anything visually serving as a reminder of that tragedy, so to mark the day I am re-posting this photo of San Francisco's most iconic sight instead (although it was constructed three decades after the earthquake).
  
I found it quite surprising when I was in San Francisco last summer to find that so little is made out of that significant legacy in the city itself. There is neither a dedicated monument nor a physical museum about it or even a section in a general museum (but a virtual one can be found online at sfmuseum.org).
  
The best one can find as a tourist that is related to the 1906 earthquake is prints of historic photos of the event sold in souvenir shops. There are said to be a few minor scars still visible on buildings that sustained damage in the post-earthquake fires but are still standing (such as the Fairmont Hotel), but I didn't see these.
  
The main dark tourist attraction of San Francisco remains Alcatraz - of which I will also post more photos in the not too distant future.
  
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Saturday 16 April 2016
  
  16 04 2016   Titanic
  
On this Day: 104 years ago, it was the day after Titanic had sunk. This photo shows the place were she (and her sister ship, the Olympic) had been built at the Harland & Wolff shipyards in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
  
After nearly a century during which almost everybody in Belfast would rather forget about that legacy, it was finally discovered that it would have great potential for appealing to tourists. Indeed! They were right.
  
The old shipyard was refurbished and developed for this purpose, including the massive new "Titanic Belfast Experience", a sleek, hi-tech museum of sorts that tells the story of the Titanic in fullest detail. This has meanwhile become the No. 1 tourist attraction in the city. It shows that dark tourism and mainstream tourism need not be mutually exclusive.
  
In the photo you see the space just outside the "Titanic Belfast Experience", where blue LED lights mark the shape of the Titanic's "footprint", as it were, excactly where she was laid down in 1909.
  
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Friday 15 April 2016
  
  15 04 16   electric guitar fashioned from a Kalashnikov, UN HQ, NY
  
Photo of the Day: for a change, here's something a little more uplifting – a guitar fashioned out of an AK-57 machine gun, better known as Kalashnikov.
  
It is an exhibit I saw on a guided tour of the United Nations Headquarters building in New York City in 2010.
  
I can't quite remember the full story of this Kalashnikov-turned-guitar other than that it was the work of a Colombian artist and was made as part of a No Violence Campaign.
  
It is uplifting not only through its overt symbolism but also in so far as it can be seen to stand for the struggle to bring the decades-long conflict within Colombia to an end – and that currently seems to be within reach. Peace talks are being held with the rebel army FARC, and that in itself is encouraging. Although it may be too early to be overly optimistic. It could all still fall apart.
  
The symbolism of the piece of art in today's photo is of course this: a deadly weapon becomes a musical instrument and thus a tool of peace … that is, unless your name is Zappa and you play the song “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama”  ;-) … although that is of course merely a metaphor for the rebellious nature of rock 'n roll culture (this Frank Zappa song dates back to 1969, and was recreated as the title track of the debut album by his son Dweezil in 1988).
  
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Thursday 14 April 2016
  
  14 04 2016   Nyamata genocide memorial, Rwanda
  
On this Day: 22 years ago, on 14 April 1994, just one week into the Rwandan genocide, one of its worst massacres began at the church of Nyamata in the Bugesera region south of Kigali. This photo shows the heaps of bloodied clothes that were left strewn all over the church pews to this day to serve as one of the starkest, most heartbreaking memorials in the world.
  
Thousands of Tutsi had sought refuge in the church, which they believed would be the safest place for them to be as the genocide unfolded. But they were wrong. The church became a death trap. The Hutu militias and soldiers besieged the church, used sledgehammers to break through the walls and throw in grenades. Those who survived the blasts were then butchered to death by machetes. Some 10,000 people were killed that way. It took a couple of days.
   
It's impossible to imagine. TEN THOUSAND people crammed into this relatively small church (it was built for 600). That alone is incomprehensible. The horrors of the bloodbath that happened here are even further beyond comprehension.
  
And it became a pattern that would be repeated in many other places: desperate Tutsi refugees would seek shelter in churches, schools, hospitals, often encouraged to do so by the authorities, and then the killers came and slaughtered their “conveniently” assembled victims in the most barbarous manner.
  
The memorial at Nyamata today not only comprises the church itself, with the bloodstained clothes and displays of some weapons and other artefacts, right next to it there are mass graves/catacombs. You can take a few steps down and enter the underground chambers and literally walk amongst the dead, whose skulls and bones are piled neatly on shelves along the walls.
  
Visiting this grim site is amongst the most intense dark experiences to be had anywhere in the world. When I was there I thought it couldn't possibly get any tougher than this … until I visited Murambi, that is. But that's another story ... which I will leave for another day.
  
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Wednesday 13 April 2016
  
  13 04 16   ghost stations memorial, Berlin Nordbahnhof
  
Photo of the Day: I am in the process of planning yet another short return trip to Berlin, Germany's capital city (and the dark-tourism capital of the world!), so I thought I'd post something from Berlin.
  
This photo shows a part of Nordbahnhof station where today there is a small exhibition about the so-called “ghost stations” of the Cold War era. These were disused stations on underground train lines where lines from West Berlin would briefly pass through East Berlin territory (or rather: underneath it).
  
The entrances to these stations were therefore obviously blocked off in East Berlin, and the platforms were only accessible to GDR border security forces. Here they stood watch, often hidden in special observation shelters, inside the only dimly lit stations as the Western trains would slowly pass through, without stopping.
  
It was a totally eerie experience – and it is one of my earliest dark-tourism-related memories, namely from my first trip to Berlin, as a child (I think I was ten), when my mother and I used one of those train lines that passed through several ghost stations, including Potsdamer Platz and Unter den Linden.
  
I can vividly remember how fascinating I found it to see these abandoned stations from the train, in their greenish gloomy light, and sometimes catching a glimpse of the shadowy figure of a GDR border soldier.
  
We then changed trains at Friedrichstraße Station, which was a full-fledged border crossing point at the time. And here you could see armed GDR soldiers quite openly patrolling on overhead walkways in the above-ground part of the station. Again, it was slightly scary, but at the same time I was totally captivated by this unique atmosphere.
  
So there you have it: the roots of my interest in dark tourism go back a long way – and the seeds were (partly) sown in Berlin.
  
Needless to say, I am very much looking forward to going back. There is still so much to see and explore – and so much is changing all the time too. I guess I will probably never be able to fully exhaust everything that this fantastic place has to offer.
  
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Tuesday 12 April 2016
  
  12 04 16   West Virginia Penitentiary cells
  
Photo of the Day: empty cells in the former high-security wing of the abandoned West Virginia Penitentiary, WV, USA. Very eerie place.
  
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Monday 11 April 2016
  
  11 04 2016   V1 parts, Mittelbau Dora
  
On this Day: 71 years ago, on 11 April 1945, US troops liberated the Nazi concentration camp of Mittelbau-Dora, near Nordhausen, Germany.
  
There were only few prisoners left in the camp when the troops arrived (only those too ill and starved to move) as most inmates had been “evacuated” to Bergen-Belsen shortly before. But what they did find lots of was parts of V1 flying bombs and V2 missiles.
  
Mittelbau-Dora was originally a sub-camp of the larger Buchenwald concentration camp, but became a fully-fledged concentration camp in its (administrative) own right when underground production of those so-called “retaliation weapons” (V stands for 'Vergeltungswaffe') was stepped up.
  
These missiles were mostly fired indiscriminately at London and other “targets” in England. It was pure terror bombing. Militarily they made little sense. They were certainly not the “wonder weapons” they were supposed to be and were hardly capable of turning the war around for Hitler (as the propaganda claimed they would).
  
In fact more people died in the production of the missiles at Mittelbau-Dora, as well as at Peenemünde and other locations associated with the V-weapons programme, than people killed in attacks by V1s and V2s in England.
  
Yet, the V2 in particular was cutting edge hi-tech at the time. Captured V2s later formed the nucleus of the US and Soviet missile development programmes – helped along by the same personnel who had developed them for the Nazis in the first place.
  
Wernher von Braun, the head of the missile programme under the Nazis, became the key figure in the USA for both military missile development as well as later the head of the Apollo moon-landing missions. Towards the end of WWII he had fled to Bavaria and had himself (and some comrades) taken prisoner by the Americans, with the intention of offering his good services to them – which they gratefully accepted.
  
But this American hero of the space age had blood on his hands, including that of thousands of forced labourers who were worked to death under the most inhumane conditions at Mittelbau-Dora.
  
The photo shows rusting V1 and V2 parts inside one of the underground tunnels at today's memorial site of Mittelbau-Dora. In fact the short stretch of the original tunnels that have been opened for visitors here is the unique element that makes this site fundamentally different from all other concentration camp memorials.
  
Despite the utter grimness of the history of this place, seeing these tunnels and those rusting parts today is weirdly fascinating. It's definitely one of the most outstanding dark-tourism destinations in the world, and that for several reasons all at once.
  
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Saturday 9 April 2016
  
  09 04 16   Karabakh war tapestry
  
Photo of the Day: tapestry of war, at the Museum of Fallen Soldiers in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh
  
The frozen, yet still simmering, conflict about this “breakaway republic”, which Armenia and Azerbaijan went to full-scale war over in the 1990s until a ceasefire was brokered in 1994, has recently erupted into military fighting yet again.
  
So now is probably not a good time to travel there – which has always been a little dicey anyway, given that Nagorno-Karabakh is unrecognized as a state and thus has no embassies or consulate support for foreign visitors.
  
Even though Nagorno-Karabakh issues its own visas and upholds some degree of “independent statehood” it is de facto part of Armenia and wholly reliant on the Armenians, whose military occupies not only the ethnically Armenian territory of the enclave itself but also a “buffer zone" around it, including the corridor that provides transport access to Armenia as well as Azerbaijani territory to the east. Apparently it was in this buffer zone that the recent fighting broke out. At present a new ceasefire is holding, however fragile that may be.
  
What makes the conflict so worrying at this present time is the wider geopolitical implications surrounding it. Azerbaijan's biggest ally is Turkey, while Armenia enjoys the support of Russia and Iran, and to a degree the USA too. Russia has a large military presence in Armenia. Given the recent developments of relations between Russia and NATO member Turkey over Syria, the potential for a deepening of the conflict and its spread across the Caucasus is frightening.
  
Diplomacy in this bitterly divided region has never been easy. One can only hope that it will nevertheless gain the upper hand rather than letting the conflict descend into another bloody war.
  
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Friday 8 April 2016
  
  08 04 16   ruin in the heart of Dili, East Timor
  
Photo of the Day: ruined building in the heart of Dili, East Timor.
  
Having mentioned Kofi Annan and the UN's failure in Rwanda 1994 (see the previous two posts!), East Timor can stand as an example of a UN success story. In this case, the international community and the UN (with Kofi Annan as SG at the time) did intervene when the country was descending into a whirlwind of violence in 1999.
  
The context of this was a UN-supervised referendum on independence, to end the occupation by Indonesia that had invaded and annexed the former Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1975 and subjected it to a ruthless regime of repression.
  
As it became clear that the vote would be in favour of independence, pro-Indonesian militias (with the support of the Indonesian military) went on a rampage.
  
This time around, however, the UN put a stop to the violence by sending troops. Ironically, it was primarily Australian troops who played the most decisive role in this. It's ironic in so far as in previous decades Australia had been comfortably in bed with the Indonesians over oil-drilling deals in the East Timorese waters, thus de facto accepting Indonesia's annexation of the country. But this changed in 1999 (not that Australia stopped being interested in the oil – but now East Timor is supposed to be in on the deal too).
  
East Timor did officially gain its independence a couple of years later and in September 2002 became the first new member of the United Nations in the new millennium.
  
This photo was taken on my trip to East Timor in 2014. Even a decade and a half after the dark days of 1999, you can still see such scars on the urban landscape of the country's capital.
  
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Thursday 7 April 2016
  
  07 04 2016   Belgian memorial at Kamp Kigali, Rwanda
  
On this Day: 22 years ago, on 7 April 1994, the Rwandan genocide had only just begun (see yesterday's post!), when the Hutu genocidaires killed ten soldiers of the Belgian UN peacekeeping troops at Camp Kigali barracks in the Rwandan capital.
  
It was a deliberate, calculated act intended to provoke a withdrawal of the UN forces. And it worked. Instead of reinforcing their presence and putting a stop to the unfolding atrocities, the UN did indeed back down, flying most of their staff (and most foreign residents) out of the country. Only a small rump force was left behind, too few in numbers and too ill-equipped to be able to do much.
  
As Romeo Dallaire, the commander of the UN mission for Rwanda, said about the murderers of the Belgian soldiers: “they knew us better than we did”. The genocidaires had seen what happened after US soldiers were killed and publicly mutilated in Somalia the year before and thus knew that all they had to do was kill a few Westerners to make the 'international community' run with their tails between their legs.
  
And that's despite the fact that Dallaire had a workable plan of action at the ready that could have prevented the worst of the mass slaughter, if only the UN had given him the means. Instead he was left to oversee the sheer survival of his diminished troops and watch the whirlwind of butchery around him drench the country in blood.
  
It really wasn't the UN's finest hour, or that of the then head of Peacekeeping Operations at the UN, Kofi Annan, who would later (as the UN Secretary-General) play a decisive role in not repeating the mistakes made in Rwanda when the situation escalated in East Timor. At least a lesson was learned.
  
The photo shows the gate of Camp Kigali and the building in which the Belgians held out under siege until they were overpowered by their attackers. You can still see the pockmarks of shells and bullets on the outer wall. The site is now a Belgian memorial – an interesting counterpart of the better known Gisozi Genocide Memorial Centre in the capital (see yesterday's photo).
  
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Wednesday 6 April 2016
  
  06 04 2016   in Gisozi genocide memorial centre, Kigali, Rwanda
  
On this Day: 22 years ago, on 6 April 1994, one of the darkest chapters in world history, the Rwandan genocide, began when the plane of then president Habyarimana was shot down (by whom has never been clarified). This gave the radical Hutus the pretext they wanted to put into action their plan of a systematic slaughter of the Tutsi minority in the country.
  
It was not just the old tribal violence that it was often seen as in the West, but a modern, meticulously orchestrated genocide, driven by hate radio and racist propaganda and was executed with utmost brutality.
  
Lists of names had been prepared and on the evening of 6 April 1994 the Hutu military started going from house to house on their murderous quest, picking out Tutsis (which was helped by the identity cards everybody had to have since Belgian colonial times). Moderate Hutu politicians who opposed the radicals were also targeted.
  
Roadblocks mostly manned by 'Interahamwe' militias high on banana beer stopped all vehicles and Tutsis were slaughtered on the spot with clubs and machetes. Then the slaughter swept all over the country.
  
In just 100 days about 1 million had been butchered. It was one of the worst bloodbaths ever.
  
This photo shows an exhibit at the main genocide memorial in Rwanda's captital city Kigali. There are several other such memorials dotted around the country, with often very graphic displays. Visiting them is the very darkest that dark tourism can ever get. I went over five years ago and it is still haunting me.
  
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Tuesday 5 April 2016
  
  05 04 2016   Colossus
  
Photo of the Day: follow-up to yesterday's post - and here it is: Colossus, the world's first electronic computer, rebuilt to working order and now on display at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, UK.
  
Not only did this machine play an important part in the Allies' war effort and is reputed to have shortened WWII significantly through its code-breaking success (deciphering Nazi German and Imperial Japanese communications).
  
It was also the beginning of the digital age ... and we all know how far that has come. I wouldn't be posting this without it, nor would you be viewing it on your little machines that have infinitely more processing power than this colossal electronic assembly had/has.
  
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Monday 4 April 2016
  
  [photo could not be reconstructed - but see the relevant images in the gallery for the Bletchley Park chapter!] 
  
Photo of the Day: a look inside a 'Bombe' machine reconstruction at Bletchley Park ... taken yesterday afternoon.
  
These contraptions were used to decipher messages sent by Germany during WWII using the infamous Enigma machines.
  
It was here at Bletchley Park that the Enigma code was broken - and then automatically processed on these semi-electronic, semi-mechanical machines.
  
It was also at Bletchley Park that the digital age began, namely when the very first electronic computer was set up to run deciphering of even more complex encryption systems at a fast rate from 1944.
  
This computer was called Colossus - which gives you an idea of its size ...
  
Anyway, today Bletchley Park, once Britain's most secret site, is a vast complex of buildings open to the public and it incorporates several museums/exhibitions. I'm going back today for a second visit. It's just too much to digest in a single day.
  
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Sunday 3 April 2916
  
  03 04 2016   Olympic dining room
  
Photo of the Day: this is the first class dining room of the RMS Olympic, the sister ship of the famous, tragic Titanic.
  
When the Olympic was scrapped in the 1930s, the interior fittings were auctioned off, and the wood-panelled dining room, complete with the marble fireplace, was bought up by an enthusiast in its entirety and re-set up as the Olympic Suite in the White Swan Hotel in Alnwick, Northumberland, where it remains in use to this day.
  
So this is the closest you can get to feeling the grand, and doomed, atmosphere of the legendary Titanic (short of diving down to the actual wreck, that is).
  
I had dinner there a few days ago, and it did indeed feel very special (and the food wasn't bad either).
  
[This photo is a reconstruction; the one that originally accompanied this post will necessarily have been different, as this is a developed RAW file, whereas from on the road I would have posted out-of-the-camera JPGs only] 
  
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Saturday 2 April 2016
  
  02 04 2016   Trinity Day   ignored sign on the fence around ground zero, Trinity site, New Mexico
  
On this Day: it is Trinity Day, i.e. the only day this year when the site of the first ever atomic bomb detonation, the test dubbed Trinity by the Manhattan Project, will be open to the public. Loads of people will flock to this unique place in the middle of the desert of New Mexico.
  
It used to be open on two days each year, but due to cost-cutting measures this was reduced to just once a year: on the first Saturday in April. The site is located within White Sands Missile Range, on military territory, so it is normally not accessible to ordinary mortals. If you happen to be in the area, today is your chance!
  
When I went a few years ago I got there early to avoid the worst of the crowds, but soon enough the place filled up. It was like a nuclear carneval, complete with souvenir vendors and burger and BBQ stalls.
  
The first thing everybody does once inside the fenced area of the Trinity ground zero is to go looking for trinitite on the ground - those bits of green glass-like molten sand created by the intense heat of the blast. You are not allowed to take any with you, as signs on the fence make very clear, but just outside the fence there are stalls that sell the stuff ... in case you want to have some radioactive souvenirs at home.
  
It's a very bizarre atmosphere - and it provides unusual photo ops like this one ... I mean you don't often find flocks of people ambling about behind such warning signs, do you? In reality, though, the ambient radiation at this site is no longer a real threat. Unless you eat pieces of trinitite you are not at risk when visiting this place for a couple of hours.
  
In addition to walking around the Trinity ground zero area you can also take shuttle buses provided by the military that drive you to the small farm house a few miles away where the plutonium core of the bomb was assembled just before the test.
  
At ground zero itself there is a historical marker stone with a plaque ... and next to it you can see metal stumps of the tower that the bomb was hung from. The rest of the tower was vaporized by the blast. Furthermore there is a mock-up of the Fat Man bomb casing (the bomb of the same design as Trinity which was used to obliterate Nagasaki).
  
Otherwise there isn't that much to see - but the sense of grave historical significance is palpable. For the 'nuclear tourist' type of dark tourism, this is one of the world's premier pilgrimage sites. And today's the day to go!
  
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Friday 1 April 2016
  
  01 04 2016   yew tree, Alnwick poison garden
  
Photo of the Day: and now for something *completely* different! We've had the more general dark sites, nuclear sites especially, occasionally wildlife (Komodo dragons, hyenas) or even culinary aspects (Japanese puffer fish), but this is a first: the botany, or horticultural side of dark tourism!
  
This photo was taken yesterday at Alnwick Gardens, more specifically at its 'Poison Garden' and it shows a yew tree, apparently the single most toxic plant native to the British Isles. As the guide explained (you cannot visit this garden independently, for obvious enough reasons), the symptoms are such that you mainly get tired and cold and maybe a little sick at first, but when you do go to sleep you'll never wake up. Sounds like the perfect suicide drug ...
  
I also learned that rhubarb leaves are highly toxic as well. I've never liked rhubarb to begin with; now I have a better reason than ever to keep my distance from the stuff ...
  
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Thursday 31 March 2016
  
  31 03 2016   the original materials reactor control consoles
  
Photo of the Day: another one related to Dounreay.
  
This is the control room of the old materials test reactor, now on display at the Caithness Horizons visitor centre/museum in Thurso.
  
I like the old-fashioned electronic gear, the almost late-Victorian little embellishments and designs on the control console meters and levers. You do not get that sort of thing any more these days.
  
Also spot the mock cup of coffee by the main console's seat. It makes it look really cozy, doesn't it?
  
It was a long journey all the way north to see this (and the real Dounreay site) but absolutely worth it for this alone.
  
I'm now in Northumberland, next stop will be Alnwick. Will try to post more from there ...
  
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Tuesday 29 March 2016
  
  29 03 2016   the Dounreay golf ball reactor buildimng closer up
  
Photo of the Day: as promised, here's one from Dounreay - this is the (in)famous and highly iconic globe housing one of the site's reactors.
  
It was only one of the site's reactors, which included a fast breeder reactor and various test reactors. There was also a plant for the development of reactors for Britain's fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
  
Now the whole site is undergoing a gigantic decommissioning and clean-up operation, which costs billions and billions of pounds and will take decades.
  
(So much for nuclear power being "cheap" - only while the plants are in operatioin it is, but when you take into the equation ALL the costs involved, including clean-up and waste storage, it is immensely expensive).
  
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Saturday 26 March 2016
  
  26 03 2016   Sumatra death railway tracks
  
Photo of the Day: a stretch of tracks from the Sumatra Death Railway, on display at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, England.
  
The Sumatra Death Railway is the lesser known equivalent to the more (in)famous Thailand-Burma Death Railway, also built by the Japanese during WWII by means of British, Australian, Dutch, American, etc. POWs' forced labour.
  
This photo was taken a few days ago while I was still down in the heart of England. Now I am in the far north of Scotland, heading all the way from Thurso down to Aberdeen later today.
  
Photos from yesterday's flying visit to the Dounreay site and the exhibits from the former visitor centre which are now on display in the Caithness Horizons centre in Thurso are to follow - once I've had a chance to sort through my new photos.
  
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Friday 25 March 2016
  
  25 03 2016   RAF radar room
  
Photo of the Day: finally an opportunity to post something again, from on the road, as it were, now in Scotland.
  
This image was taken inside "Scotland's Secret Nuclear Bunker" - not so secret these days anymore, of course, but a fairly established local dark-tourism site near St Andrews, Fife, a bit south of Dundee.
  
Inside is a nice and grim Cold-War-themed mix of museum exhibition and a jumble of authentic relics - like this RAF radar room full of vintage electronic equipment.
  
Today I'm heading further north still, all the way to the Dounreay nuclear plant near Thurso right on the northernmost coast of mainland Britain.
  
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Saturday 19 March 2016
  
  19 03 16   Glasgow Necropolis
  
Photo of the Day: another one from the UK before I head out there later today.
  
During that time away I may not be able to post as regularly as normal, as I have a tight schedule with lots of time on the road and won't be online so much.This image is another old one, taken almost 20 years ago at The Necropolis cemetery, Glasgow, Scotland.
  
Unfortunately I have to give that great city a miss on this trip but I do plan to head up to Scotland on the eastern side this time, including Aberdeen and Dundee.
  
If I get a chance I'll post something from somewhere up there, maybe ...
 
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Friday 18 March 2016
  
  18 03 16   Whitby
  
Photo of the Day: I'm heading out to the UK again tomorrow for a combination of visiting friends & family as well as checking out a few places for DT in the north of the counrty.
  
This is a photo of the ruins of Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire ... I won't actually be heading there this time, but I thought it was a nice and atmospheric and fitting image. Gothic, misty and mysterious.It's actually a very old picture, pre-digital, scanned from a print. So please excuse the graininess and lack of sharpness. But sometimes that too can add to the atmospheric qualities of an image ...
  
I just wanted something non-nuclear and non-US for today, after that series of Minuteman-missile-related posts of late. When in the UK, though, I will check out a couple of nuclear sites, as well as WWII-related things and some very special, even unique places the nature of which I won't give away here yet. Stay tuned.
  
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Thursday 17 March 2016
  
  17 03 16   Minuteman ICBM warhead re entry vehicles, tested and untested, Atomic Museum Albuquerque
  
Photo of the Day: final one for now on the Cold War & missiles theme of the last couple of days here.
  
These are two Minuteman nuclear ICBM "re-entry vehicles", aka nuclear warheads. The one in the back looks as it would have atop its missile, the one in the front is a used test vehicle, i.e. one that was actually fired by a Minuteman missile, but without its thermonuclear payload inside, to see if the heat shield of the warhead works sufficiently when it re-enters the atmosphere from its ballistic trajectory through the stratosphere.I wonder whether that crack near the top means it didn't work properly or whether it sustained that damage when it was recovered from the Pacific Ocean test target area (the latter is more likely, of course).
  
For real, such warheads would have contained a 1.2 megaton hydrogen bomb, enough to completely destroy a medium-sized city. At the peak of the Cold War, the USA had over a thousand of them at the ready.
  
The two re-entry vehicles in this photo are exhibits at the fascinating National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA.
  
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Wednesday 16 March 2016
  
  16 03 16   DIY nuclear safety manual at a Minuteman launch control centre, North Dakota
  
Photo of the Day: staying with the nuclear missile theme of the previous two posts a bit more. This image provides a closer look at the deputy commander's console, at the Minuteman III Missile Launch Control Center Oscar-Zero near Cooperstown in North Dakota.
  
Look closely at that folder lying on the console in between all that vintage technology. Isn't it just a little bit worrying that someone who has got the key to ten nuclear ICBMs is left to learn about nuclear safety through a photo-copied "nuclear safety self-study pamphlet"?
  
Is it just me or wouldn't you too have hoped that the missileers get trained up sufficiently *before* being sent down on duty in an LCC rather than being left with just a poxy manual? (Anybody who's ever depended on a technical manual will know that in an emergency situation you never can find what you're looking for in such manuals).
  
But who knows, maybe it is just some kind of in-joke.
  
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Tuesday 15 March 2016
  
  15 03 16   Minuteman ICBM launch control center
  
Photo of the Day: follow-up to yesterday's post - this is the inside of an ICBM launch control center (LCC), in this case at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota, USA.
  
Here, two missileers would have sat waiting for orders to turn their launch keys ... and thus bring about doomsday, World War Three, total nuclear holocaust. Given that role, it almost looks cosy in there, doesn't it? But mainly it must have been a mind-numbingly boring job.
  
To prevent any missiles being launched by accident or through the individual whim of an out-of-control missileer (imagine that suicidal German Wings pilot with an ICBM launch key), several safeguards were built into the system.
  
To begin with, the commander's and the deputy commander's consoles were 12 feet apart, so no single person could possibly turn both launch keys at the same time (as required by the system).
  
And even if a two-man crew (or -women ... since the 80s there have also been female missileers) agreed on bringing the end of the world about together, they couldn't have done so.
  
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Monday 14 March 2016
  
  14 03 16   ICBM launch control facility in the North Dakota plains
  
Photo of the Day: looks so inconspicuous, doesn't it? Yet what's underneath this harmless-looking "shed" in the plains of North Dakota makes it potentially one of the darkest places in history.
  
It's a former Missile Alert Facility. Beneath it was an underground Launch Control Center (LCC). And inside a crew of two "missileers" could have launched ten Minuteman III nuclear ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) from underground silos spread out over the surrounding plains, had the order ever come, i.e. if the Cold War had turned hot. And that would have meant: all-out nuclear annihilation of the world as we know it.
  
But if you think this is all just in the past, just Cold War history, think again: The USA still has 450 such missiles at the ready today, with 90 missileers sitting underground - as you read this - in their LCCs still ready to turn the launch keys. And the same is the case over in Russia.
  
The rest of the once over 1000 Minuteman silos have been decommissioned under the START agreement signed in 1991 at the end of the Cold War. The missiles were removed and the silos destroyed, alongside their LCCs ... except for one in South Dakota and another one in North Dakota that have been preserved as memorial sites. The topside support facility buildings were often given over to other uses.
  
How deceptive appearances can be ... from a distance these buildings look so harmless, only the high fence (with a sign warning of "deadly force" being authorized to keep away any intruders), the aerials and the flagpole flying the stars and stripes would have given it away that this was no ordinary farm building. When I visited the Minuteman National Historic Site in South Dakota, the guide (and ex-missileer) told our group, jokingly, that the people driving past may have thought "that must be one paranoid patriotic farmer living there". But mostly, the local population were aware that their middle-of-nowhere provincial farmland was actually right on the front line of the Cold War, a prime target for the enemy's missiles.
  
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Saturday 12 March 2016
  
  12 03 2016   Soekarno's last erection, Monas, Jakarta
  
On this Day: 49 years ago, on 12 March 1967, president of Indonesia Sukarno was stripped of his title and put under house arrest by the Suharto regime. He died in 1970.
  
So he never saw the completion of this OTT monument that was started under his rule. It's officially called "Monas", the National Monument. Informally, though, it is also known as "Sukarno's last erection".
  
Underneath the monument is a "National History Museum", which summarizes Indonesia's chequered history in a mind-bogglingly truth-warping fashion, especially when it comes to the really dark chapters such as the annexation of West Papua in the 1960s or that of East Timor in the 1970s. The latter is portrayed as fulfilling the wishes of the East Timorese people so Indonesia was "forced" to oblige. That's a barefaced lie, of course.
  
And Suharto's purges of communists in 1965/66 in which around a million Indonesians (and plenty of Chinese immigrants) were murdered, are not mentioned at all. Instead he's portrayed as the great saviour of the nation. Cynical.
  
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Friday 11 March 2016
  
  11 03 2016   fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Fukushima disaster
 
On this Day: five years ago, on 11 March 2011 Japan saw one of the greatest disasters in history. It was a tripple blow: first one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded, then, caused by the earthquake, a tsunami of devastating proportions, and then, caused by the tsunami, Fukushima.
  
The quadruple reactor disaster of Fukushima is the only nuclear catastrophe ranked on a par with Chernobyl. In some ways, though, it is even worse, as it is still ongoing. The stricken plant is surrounded by a field of storage tanks for irradiated water - and it keeps growing and growing, day by day, with no end in sight.
  
This photo was not taken at Fukushima but at Zwentendorf, Austria, which, quite unlike Fukushima, is the "safest nuclear power plant in the world" ... if only because it was never in use. A referendum stopped the introduction of nuclear power in Austria just before they were ready to insert the fuel rods.
  
Now the redundant plant is used for training teams from other countries (practising accident management procedures). And since the plant is of a very similar design to Fukushima, it has been a very popular destination for journalists and tourists too over the past five years.
  
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Thursday 10 March 2016
  
  10 03 16   medical wax model
  
Photo of the Day: we haven't had anything from the special medical subbranch of dark tourism in a quite a while. So here we go once again.
  
This is one of the fabled anatomical wax models in the Josephinum medical history exhibition in Vienna, Austria.
  
I think this one has a particularly expressive face. You can't be quite sure whether it's supposed to be agony or even enjoyment.
  
You may have guessed it: I chose this image as today's photo because I have a doctor's appointment again myself ... though I very much hope they won't skin me alive (they won't - it's just a check-up).
  
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Wednesday 9 March 2016
  
  09 03 16   atmospheric Alcatraz
  
Photo of the Day: another one from Alcatraz, although the location isn't so important in this case. I find it a very atmospheric image.It was taken in one of the ancillary buildings on the prison island, namely the New Industries Building, where at the time of my visit a temporary exhibition was on about America's aging prison population.
  
Not only does the USA have the highest proportion of their population in prison, in total that number is one quarter of the whole world's prison population.
  
This disproportionate quota came about in parallel with more and more prisons being run as private businesses, for which the State guarantees full capacity (or else would have to pay compensation for empty cells). Could that correlation really be purely coincidental? Me thinks not ...The focus in this exhibition, however, was not so much on politics but on the personal (and often very touching) stories of a couple of dozen aging prisoners who have no prospect of ever seeing the world outside again ... broken lives, whose crimes in many cases did not seem to warrant literal life imprisonment (which in many other countries is only nominal anyway, and usually means something like 15 years - not in the US though ...)
  
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Tuesday 8 March 2016
  
  08 03 16   earlier form of dark tourism
  
Photo of the Day: ... staying in the Bay of San Francisco, California, USA - Alcatraz!
  
Alcatraz is probably the most infamous high-security ex-prison island in the world. And its dark attraction started long before the prison was closed in 1963 and later turned into a museum.
  
The sign in the foreground must be from the 1950s, when "viewing Alcatraz", for a fee, through powerful telescopes set up on the San Francisco waterfront, was an early form of commercialized dark tourism.
  
So it's not all just such a "recent phenomenon" as it is often portrayed as in the media ...
  
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Monday 7 March 2016
  
  07 03 16   Golden Gate Bridge
  
Photo of the Day: for the start of the week something pretty (and yet dark!) - the famous Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco. It's one of the most iconic bridges in the world and one of the key landmarks of America.But it is not only popular with ordinary tourists - it is also a magnet for 'suicide tourists', people who come here specifically to jump off in order to top themselves. In fact, the bridge used to be the world's No. 1 suicide hotspot until recently. Some 1600 people are known to have killed themselves here since the bridge opened in 1937.
  
Now there is a plan to build a 'suicide barrier' of steel netting under the bridge's walkways. Up to now, only hotline telephones on the bridge as well as a team of volunteers personally out to stop potential jumpers have managed to save a good number of suicidals. Whether the new barrier will put an end to the bridge's popularity as a suicide spot altogether remains to be seen.
  
It is undoubtedly a very pretty bridge and hence it is one of the most photographed sights of the USA. What I like about this particular composition is how the shape of the big bridge seems to be 'imitated' by that roadside chain in the foreground!
  
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Saturday 5 March 2016
  
  05 03 2016   Stalin's death mask at the Stalin museum in Gori, Georgia
  
On this Day: 63 years ago, on 5 March 1953, the leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, died, aged 73. It was an end of an era - a brutal era at that.In his 30 years of iron fist rule, the tyrant was responsible for ruthless purges and general repression. How many millions were killed in the process remains a matter of debate, but Stalin is usually ranked on a similar scale as Hitler or Mao in this respect.On the other hand, he was, and still is, revered as the national hero who led his country to the defeat of Hitler's Nazi Germany.
  
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Friday 4 March 2016
  
  04 03 16   Monumentale   probably a happy heir
  
Photo of the Day: another one from Cimitero Monumentale in Milan, Italy, one of the most amazing cemeteries in the world, and also one that has a far higher "entertainment value" than most others. Here's a prime example.
  
This chap looks surprisingly cheerful, doesn't he? I wonder what this is supposed to tell us.
  
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Thursday 3 March 2016
  
  03 03 16   East Berlin workers' paradise
  
Photo of the Day: time for something a little more "uplifting" .. or at least that's what this was supposed to be. It's the famous socialist-realist frieze on the "House of Teachers" in East Berlin near Alexanderplatz. It's one of the most stunning relics of the former GDR and the Eastern Bloc.
  
But beyond the often gigantic dimensions (this is 7m high and over 100m long in total), it is precisely that ludicrous level of pretence that I like about socialist-realist art. You cannot take it seriously for its "message" (I wonder if anybody involved ever has done, including the artists themselves).
  
Once you see beyond these exerted attempts at making socialism appear like the people's paradise on earth, then you can really actually like this sort of art. I do. I find it both historically interesting and often highly amusing at the same time. And this is one glorious example of the style!
  
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Wednesday 2 March 2016
  
  02 03 16   in Seldec ossuary, Kutna Hora, Czech Republic
  
Photo of the Day: another one from Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic - which is just too good not be granted a follow-up here.
  
While yesterday's photo gave more of a general impression of the elaborate ceiling decorations made of bones and skulls, this one shows a specific intricate detail on one of the walls ...
  
In fact I think it's my favourite detail of them all, in any bone chapel worldwide. I find that little bird made of bones simply fabulous.
  
Yes, it is a bit gruesome, but also cute at the same time. And that's no small feat, wouldn't you agree?
  
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Tuesday 1 March 2016
  
  01 03 16   Sedlec ossuary, Czech Republic
  
Photo of the Day: and now for an absolute classic of dark tourism - Sedlec ossuary in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic.
  
Of all these "bone chapels" in the world, the Sedlec ossuary has to be the most artistic and elaborate. Here the bones of some 30,000 to 40,000 dead people (dug up from the adjacent cemetery to make more space for new arrivals) were arranged by a local artist in a plethora of forms, including chandeliers and bird shapes and what not.
  
It is an amazing, magical and rightly famous place.Some say it's too macabre. I don't think so. I don't see anything too disrespectful in incorporating skulls and bones into such an outstanding work of art - on the contrary. I'd be happy with the thought if I knew that my own deceased body's bones would one day be given an artistic afterlife of this magnificent sort.
  
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Monday 29 February 2016
  
  29 02 16   dog gas mask from WW1, Sofia military museum
  
Photo of the Day: dog gas mask from World War One
  
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Saturday 27 February
  
  27 02 16   Boris Nemtsov memorial, Maidan, Kiev
  
On this Day: one year ago, Boris Nemtsov, one of the last prominent figures of the opposition in Russia, was gunned down in the open street in Moscow, just a stone's throw from the Kremlin walls. He died on the spot.
  
The case, which in a way looked like it had somehow jumped out of a bad James-Bond-like thriller movie, made instant headlines worldwide.
  
For the opposition both within Russia and abroad the reality of the assassination of Boris Nemtsov was a tremendous shock and a painful blow.
  
But it was also painful for them to see Putin then making bold promises about fully investigating the crime and bringing the perpetrators to justice. But this has still not really happened. Some suspects were presented, but not convicted. The only one who initially confessed to having been involved, apparently retracted this statemant later. The others denied everything and pleaded innocent.
  
The whole case remains shrouded in mystery. Far-reaching speculations abound, but we will probably never know the full truth for sure.
  
This photo was actually taken not in Moscow but in Kiev, on the Maidan. I happened upon it when I was there in May 2015 as part of my return trip to Chernobyl (see the photo album from that trip here!).
  
Nemtsov was apparently working on some investigative piece which, as he is said to have claimed the day before his assassination, could have exposed how deeply involved Russia actually was in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. This is pretty well known anyway now, but back then it was still a highly charged political bone of contention. Hence the killing of Nemtsov especially resonated with pro-European (can you say "anti-Russian"?) Ukranians, who must have set up this impromtu memorial on the Maidan ... amidst many other memorials recalling the Maidan protests, its victims, and the subsequent war in the east that is still ongoing.
  
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Friday 26 February 2016
  
  26 02 16   cobwebs galore at abandoned Korytnica
  
Photo of the Day: cobwebs galore ...In a double window at the abandoned spa and sanatorium of Korytnica, Slovakia.
  
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Thursday 25 February 2016
  
  25 02 16   earthquake ruined cathedral, Santiago de Chile
  
Photo of the Day: Basilica del Salvador, Santiago de Chile. The church was badly damaged by successive earthquakes (especially in 1985 and 2010) and is now abandoned, propped up by wooden supports to prevent it from collapsing altogether. A sobering sight to behold when wandering the streets of such an earthquake-prone region ...
  
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Wednesday 24 February 2016
  
  24 02 16   Nine eleven memorial museum, New York
  
Photo of the Day: large exhibit in the National 9/11 Museum, New York. The bent steel gives a good impression of the forces involved in the collapse of the WTC Twin Towers. The topic of 9/11 needs no introduction here, but if you haven't yet seen this relatively new museum, do go if you can! It is phenomenally good! Its location is its largest exhibit: the foundations of the WTC. But many of the little artefacts - and the comprehensiveness of the narrative - are just as impressive.
  
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Tuesday 23 February 2016
 
  23 02 16   bullet holes, Kigali, Rwanda
  
Photo of the Day: these are real bullet holes (and shrapnel marks), namely at Camp Kigali barracks, where ten Belgian UN soldiers were killed by Hutu extremists in the early stages of what was to turn into the Rwandan genocide.
  
It was a calculated atrocity intended to scare the UN into withdrawing its forces, rather than reinforcing them. Sadly, and to the UN's and the international community's shame, the calculation worked. With much of the UN military personnel gone, the 'genocidaires' had more or less free rein for the next three months - in what was one of the worst ever periods of systematic genocidal bloodshed in recorded history.
  
The site at the former Camp Kigali in the Rwandan capital is now a memorial - to the ten Belgians killed that day, but also to the whole topic of genocide (not just the one in Rwanda, but a small exhibition also gives a short overview of other cases of genocide and 'ethnic cleansing' e.g. in Bosnia, Armenia, Cambodia, etc.).
  
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Monday 22 February 2016
  
  22 02 16   Gates of Freedom monument to commemorate the Iron Curtain, in Devin near Bratislava, Slovakia
  
Photo of the Day: The "Gates of Freedom" monument that commemorates the Iron Curtain at Devin, near Bratislava, Slovakia.
  
The pock-marks in the concrete are of course not real bullet holes but only an artist's impression. It's to symbolize the fact that the memorial is dedicated to the ca. 400 people who lost their lives trying to flee to the West across the border here.
  
Devin is located right in the furthest corner of the former Eastern Bloc, at the confluence of the Danube and Morava Rivers, just across from Austria, which is clearly visible from Devin Castle and the hills around.
  
Today the old border fortifications and watchtowers are gone, except for a few relics preserved as further memorial monuments to this once defining border of the Cold-War era.
  
Also today there is no longer any need to try to swim across the Morava river to get to the other side. There is even a new pedestrian/cycle path bridge, officially called "Freedom Bridge", in defiance of a poll that had been held to find a popular name for the bridge. But the outcome - a majority voted for "Chuck Norris Bridge" - wasn't to the liking of the authorities. So they just reverted to giving the bridge a name they wanted. Makes the use of the word "freedom" in it rather ironic, though ...
  
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Sunday 21 February 2016
  
  21 02 16   draped in mourning, Cimitero Monumentale, Milan
 
Photo of the Day: draped in mourning, Cimitero Monumentale, Milan, Italy.
  
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Friday 19 February 2016
  
  19 02 16   famine memorial, Dublin   absolutely exceedingly grim
  
Photo of the Day: as the European Union is set to get ever more “tough” on refugees coming via the Balkan route or across the Mediterranean, here's a little reminder that throughout history, migration has always been common and typically driven at least in part by “economic reasons”, often desperate ones that made fleeing the only viable option. Like with these poor folk depicted quite drastically in this group of sculptures in Dublin.
  
They are part of the “Famine Memorial” on the waterfront in the city's harbour. The monument commemorates the poor starving peasants of Ireland who in their desperation set off to seek survival elsewhere, in their case mostly in America. At that time they were still relatively welcome in the USA. Unlike immigrants in the US today. (It has long baffled me how hostile a nation can have become towards immigration, considering that 99% of the present US citizens, i.e. all those who aren't Native Americans, are the direct descendants of migrants themselves, who often arrived just a couple of generations ago.)
  
But back to the Irish famine victims. It wasn't these people's own fault that there was a famine. In fact there was a lot of politics involved (including deliberate non-distribution of available food), so the famine was not simply the result of a potato crop failure.
  
And what should these people have done in that situation? Stay home and quietly starve? That would have suited the landowners just fine – they primarily wanted space freed up for sheep farming. Was it not totally understandable that instead the desperate refugees would at least try to find a better life elsewhere? And that's what they did: “migrate” for (extreme) “economic reasons”, in order to find “a better life” (one that is better in the sense that it isn't death).
  
Also consider all those millions of German civilian refugees who fled from the Soviet Red Army as it was pushing westwards at the end of WWII. What else could they have done? Stay put and continue pointlessly fighting for “their country”, i.e. Nazi Germany, even as it was falling to pieces, only to be raped and killed by the Soviets? Hardly.
  
And today's refugees from Syria? You cannot expect them to simply stay in “their country” when that country has basically disappeared. Would you wait and see if you either get bombed to smithereens by the old guard despot you despise or else be overrun by fundamentalists who want to turn “your country” into something altogether different, while at the same time destroyed infrastructure and severed supplies of food and water make “life” all but impossible anyway? Hardly.
  
Reasons for migration and waves of refugees may be manifold, but they tend to involve utter desperation brought about through no fault of their own on the refugees' part. Nobody does it for fun or just to annoy the people in the countries they may end up in. This should be borne in mind when nationalist propaganda and xenophobic sentiments boil up hot again – as they currently do in so many European countries. Know your history!
  
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Thursday 18 February 2016
  
  18 02 16   once a proud fishing vessel on the Aral Sea, Kazakhstan
  
Photo of the Day: after all the Pacific War related posts and the kamikaze theme over the past few days it's time for something completely different again. This photo shows the rusting wreck of a once proud fishing vessel in what used to be the Aral Sea, on the northern side of the ex-lake in the region of Aralsk, Kazakhstan.
  
The Aral Sea was actually once one of the largest lakes in the world. But it dried out from the 1960s onwards due to excessive irrigation schemes in Soviet times. It's regarded as one of the worst ever man-made environmental disasters. In the process, countless boats got permanently stranded it what had turned into a salty and fertilizer-polluted desert.
  
This particular wreck was the Alexei Leonov, a fairly large trawler that for many years was just left marooned in its parched sandy patch in a place known as Zhalanash.
  
But in recent years scrap metal hunters have turned their attention to all those ship cemeteries in the desert and have begun cutting them up and selling the steel (mostly to China).
  
When I was there a few years ago, my local guide reckoned that it wouldn't take long for all traces of these ships to disappear completely from this site. So you can't be sure if anything of this wreck is still there or not.
  
However, on the southern side of the former Aral Sea, in the even worse affected part over the border in Uzbekistan, yet more of these ship cemeteries are apparently still to be found.
  
The southern and western parts of the ex-Aral Sea are now completely gone, only a smaller part in the north in Kazakhstan has been partly brought back to life thanks to a new dam and water diverted back into the lake. There is now even hope of restarting the fishing industry that had collapsed due to the lake's disappearance. At some point there might even be water returning to the currently dry harbour of Aralsk.
< comment: this is an older photo of the Alexei Leonov when it was still largely intact ... 
  
  18 02 16   photo of the Alexei Leonov when it was still intact
  
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Wednesday 17 February 2016
  
  17 02 16   'Kaiten' kamikaze torpedo cum mini sub
  
Photo of the Day: follow-up to yesterday's post ... there were not only 'kamikaze' planes, the Japanese also built specially designed 'kamikaze' torpedoes, or mini-subs with a warhead, like the one shown in this photo (on display at Pearl Harbor). The Japanese name for these marine kamikaze variant in WWII was 'Kaiten', which translates roughly as 'turn towards heaven' ... say no more.
  
These 'kamikaze' torpedoes, which could be launched from a submerged submarine, were introduced in 1944, that is at a time when the war was basically already lost for Japan. They were never anywhere near as effective as their aircraft equivalents (which, despite the damage they inflicted on US Navy vessels, also failed to turn the war around).
  
Apparently Kaiten managed to sink only a mere two US ships, with a loss of ca. 160 lives. In comparison: a total of 106 Kaiten pilots lost their lives in action, i.e. in their suicide missions, plus 15 in training missions. On top of that, some 600 Japanese submariners died when their Kaiten-carrying subs were sunk.
  
So the failure of the Kaiten programme is obvious even in simple arithmetic terms .. not to even mention the moral aspects. By the way, the Kaiten programme remained top secret throughout the war in Japan, i.e. they didn't even tell their own people about it ... which also says a lot.Yet, never mind the moral dubiousness or their almost complete failure and utter pointlessness, there is even a dedicated 'Kaiten' museum in Japan glamorizing the concept.
  
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Tuesday 16 February 2016
  
  16 02 16   Kamikaze
  
Photo of the Day: after the previous two posts from Pearl Harbor, today we switch over to the other side, as it were, to Japan ... and to something very Japanese indeed: 'kamikaze'.
 
As Japan was beginning to lose the war in the Pacific, the increasing desperation within the Japanese military gave rise to suicide missions. These started with individual pilots simply flying their regular fighter planes into US Navy ships or other targets when they saw no other way in combat. Later in the war, this technique became institutionalized and even dedicated kamikaze squadrons were formed. The pilots allegedly volunteered for these suicide flights.
  
The pinnacle of this cynical cult of sacrifice was the "Ohka" ('cherry blossom') flying bomb depicted in today's photo. This was a kamikaze 'plane', or rather a kamikaze-pilot-guided, rocket-boosted missile, specifically designed for suicide missions only. It was dropped from heavy bombers and didn't even have any kind of landing gear, as it was intended to go down only once, terminally, in a necessarily deadly way.
  
And so the Japanese term 'kamikaze' became known world-wide. But even though they caused disbelief and fear amongst the Americans, the effect that such suicide missions had in battle was overall rather minimal. Just like Hitler's "wonder weapons" V1 and V2, they caused random and mostly pointless destruction, but ultimately they did not change the course of the war, let alone history. They only left a psychological mark, a sinister legacy. In that sense they are amongst the darkest kinds of war machines ever invented.
  
This particular specimen seen in today's photo is on display at the highly controversial Yushukan Museum in Tokyo, where the story of 'kamikaze' is still told in a rather glorifying manner.
  
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Monday 15 February 2016
  
  15 02 16   Pearl Harbor   bullet holes left from the Japanese attack in 1941
  
Photo of the Day: another one from Pearl Harbor (see also the previous post!). In this photo you can see bullet holes left from the Japanese attack of 7 December 1941. They're on Hangar 79 of the old airfield on Ford Island at the heart of the naval base.
  
These original scars were deliberately left in place as a reminder of that "date that will live in infamy" (as Franklin D. Roosevelt famously dubbed it on 8 December 1941, just before the USA declared war on Japan).
  
Today, the hangar forms part of the Pacific Aviation Museum, one of the more recent additions to the complex of historic sites (and dark-tourism attractions) at Pearl Harbor.
  
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Saturday 13 February 2016
  
  13 02 16   periscope view of USS Missouri and the USS Arizona memorial, Pearl Harbor
  
Photo of the Day: something a bit more unusual today, certainly in terms of photography. This is a view of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii - but taken through a submarine's periscope (based on land, though, as you can guess from the angle and from how high above the waterline this vantage point is).
  
A bit to the right is the white USS Arizona Memorial, which hovers above the submerged wreck of that battleship. The Arizona was sunk (together with over a thousand crew who went down with her) in the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, which for the USA marked the beginning of WWII.
  
The red-and-white tower in the background belongs to the historic arifield on Ford Island, now home to the Pacific Aviation Museum.
  
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Friday 12 February 2016
  
  12 02 16   Nelson Mandela cell on Robben Island
  
Photo of the Day: follow-up to yesterday's post - this photo shows what used to be Nelson Mandela's tiny cell at Robben Island Prison, South Africa.
  
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Thursday 11 February 2016
  
  11 02 2016   Robben Island prison complex, South Africa
  
On this Day: 26 years ago, on 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela was finally set free. During South Africa's 'Apartheid' era he had been imprisoned for 18 years (from 1964 to 1982) at Robben Island - one of the world's most notorious prisons, shown in today's photo.
  
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Tuesday 9 February 2016
  
  09 02 16   the beauty of scrap, Chacabuco, Chile
  
Photo of the Day: as a follow-up here's another one from Chacabuco ghost town in Chile (see yesterday's post for information!!) - this time an image taken from on the ground and closer up to some of the decay: the beauty of rusting scrap metal in a desolate desert setting!
  
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Monday 8 February 2016
  
  08 02 16   view over Chacabuco, Chile
  
Photo of the Day: this is Chacabuco, a ghost town in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. It was once one of the 'oficinas', nitrate mining/processing towns, when the mining of nitrate (also known as saltpetre) was a thriving industry. So prized was this natural fertilizer, that Chile, Peru and Bolivia even went to war over it (with Chile emerging as the eventual winner).
  
At its peak, Chacabuco was home to some 5000 people. But with the arrival of synthetically produced nitrate, the decline of the Chilean saltpetre communities set in. Chacabuco was temporarily closed in 1940. In 1945 the closure was made permanent.For the next few decades the place just lay abandoned, parched in the Atacama sun, but remaining relatively intact.In the early years of the Pinochet regime, which came to power in a violent (CIA-aided) military coup in 1973, Chacabuco became a concentration camp for political prisoners, before being abandoned again.
  
After the end of the dictatorship, Chacabuco was taken care of by two ex-inmates, and from 1992 the German Goethe institute got involved to restore the town's grand old theatre. This is now the best-preserved building here (this photo was taken from the roof of the theatre). The rest is just an incredibly atmospheric ghost town and industrial ruin in the middle of nowhere.
  
The isolated location and desert setting under the big Atacama sky make this an incredible site to behold and to explore ...
  
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Saturday 6 February 2016
  
  06 02 16   Senegal African Renaissance monument   fantastically oversized
  
Photo of the Day: this is the highly controversial "African Renaissance" Monument in Dakar, Senegal, the largest statue in Africa, 50m high, standing atop a 100m hill (for scale reference in this photo, note the runner half-way up the stairs!).
  
The three figures are gazing westwards, across the Atlantic (i.e. same as the slave trade route), the small child precariously perched on the man's arm even pointing in an almost socialist-realist, Lenin-like pose.
  
The monstrous bronze sculpture, unveiled in 2010, is controversial not only for its exuberant costs (money well needed elsewhere in Senegal and Africa at large), but also because it was made by the Mansudae Art Studio of North Korea, otherwise (in)famous for all those Kim statues and other giant communist monuments back at home. It was also erected solely by North Korean workers - and that in a region with a 50% unemployment rate. No wonder the locals were not happy with being excluded.
  
Furthermore, the fact that the woman in this group is depicted with a bare breast hanging out gave the local Muslim community much to shout about.
  
Even that aside it is debatable whether this gargantuan work of art has many artistic merits. It's been derided as cartoon-like, un-African, and Stalinist. But it's so huge and generally OTT that it doesn't fail to impress, though not necessarily in a positive way.
  
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Friday 5 February 2016
  
  05 02 16   abandoned former missile hangar on a hill above Bratislava, Slovakia
  
Photo of the Day: inside one of the abandoned hangars of the former missile base at the summit of Devinska Kobyla hill near Bratislava, Slovakia.
  
The SAM (surface-to-air missile) battery was there for the protection of the nearby Slovakian capital (then part of the CSSR) during the Cold War. Being located, as it was, right on the edge of the Eastern Bloc, the city was seen as particularly vulnerable.
  
The Iron Curtain was right at the foot of the hill - you can still find traces of it (and a memorial to those who died trying to flee across that border). From the summit of the hill you could see well into the West.On a clear day you can make out Vienna, Austria, in the distance, which is just 30 miles (50km) or so up the Danube river.
  
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Thursday 4 February 2016
  
  04 02 16   Dachau crematorium
  
Photo of the Day: now for something undoubtedly very dark indeed - crematoria at Dachau ...
  
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Wednsday 3 February 2016
  
  03 02 16   sunrise at Darvaza flaming gas crater, Turkmenistan
  
Photo of the Day: another one from the amazing Darvaza flaming gas crater, aka 'door to hell', in Turkmenistan (see also the night picture posted on 23 December!). This one was taken literally at the moment of sunrise. It's like two competing sorts of fiery light.
  
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Tuesday 2 February 2016
  
  02 02 16   grim gas mask, Chernobyl Museum
  
Photo of the Day: something kind-of grim again, this time a composition taken at the Chernobyl Museum in Kiev, Ukraine, namely by focussing through the eyes of the gas mask in the foreground onto a redly-illuminated display in the background. The effect: a red-eyed ghost of a gas mask. I find it cool.
  
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Monday 1 February 2016
  
  01 02 16   Senegal   Desert de Lompoul
  
Photo of the Day: something easy for a change (by "easy" I mean: not involving complicated politics of depressing degrees of grimness ...) - just an atmospheric image, taken at Desert de Lompoul, Senegal.
  
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Sunday 31 January 2016
  
  31 01 16   murals in the Shankill Road Protestant district, Belfast, Northern Ireland
  
Photo of the Day: another one from Northern Ireland. This is one of the famous political murals in Belfast. This particular one has as its centrepiece a depiction of the H Block of Maze prison (as it was mentioned yesterday), which was the main security prison where the British held (suspected) IRA members and political prisoners ... including Bobby Sands who died there as a result of his hunger strike in 1981. Troubled times they were indeed.
  
Today the Troubles are offically over, but tensions between Republicans/Catholics and Unionists/Protestants do remain - when I was in Belfast there had been violent demonstrations by Unionists in protest against the city council's decision to no longer fly the Union Jack atop the city hall except for certain days. Flags as the bone of contention in politics is never good news ...
  
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Saturday 30 January 2016
  
  30 01 2016   Derry, Northern Ireland   the Bogside seen through the hunger strikers memorial
  
On this Day: 44 years ago, 30 January 1972 became known as "Bloody Sunday". It was the most violent clash between the British army and Catholoc protesters in Northern Ireland during the time of the "troubles". More than a dozen protesters were shot dead by British paratroopers, yet more were wounded, during a protest march (that had been banned by the authorioties) in the city of Derry/Londonderry. The two names also stand for the division in Northern Ireland - Derry is the name preferred by the Republicans, Londonderry is the version favoured by the Unionists.
  
The bloody atrocities took place in an area that had declared itself "Free Derry". The photo here shows the (re-done) mural declaring "You are now entering Free Derry" in the background. The somewhat sinister looking granite bird you see in the foreground is part of a monument to the hunger strikers in the infamous H block of Maze prison near Belfast. (The prostest march on "Bloody Sunday" was mainly meant as a demonstration against the British practice of detention without trial.)
  
I can't help but wonder whether there is any symbolism in the broken fingers of the hand that the bird is sitting on ...
  
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Friday 29 January 2016
  
  29 01 16   steam emerging from the ground, early morning in Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
  
Photo of the Day: after all the grim posts recently, today I give you something that is just very pretty.
  
The photo was taken at ca. 6 a.m. in Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii - and it shows steam venting from cracks on the edge of the main Kilauea crater, nicely illuminated by the first rays of the morning sun.
  
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Thursday 28 January 2016
  
  28 01 16   wall of photos, Auschwitz Birkenau, Poland
  
Photo of the Day: another one from Auschwitz – sorry, but I couldn't let this grim subject go just yet.Today's photo shows a section of the memorial site that I found the most effective and touching – I'll come back to this and will explain why and what it is … please do click on the photo and then “see more” to read the full story !!!
  
The reason I'm posting this is because this same image featured in an impressive programme on the German cultural channel 3Sat that I watched yesterday evening. It was a documentary following three different groups of young people on their visit to the Auschwitz memorial site – a school group, a group of prospective policemen/women (who went there as part of their training) and a group from a home for 'difficult juveniles' (“schwererziehbare Jugendliche”). The programme makers wanted to find out what it does to people when they visit Auschwitz. What they found was incredibly moving and revealing.
  
I found it also proved a number of things that are very important to me as well: a) it is vital that we have this memorial (and others of its type), b) it is evident that it makes a incalculably huge difference whether you just read about such a place or if you actually go to see it with your own eyes … *being* right where it all happened just cannot be substituted by anything else, and c) despite the difficult nature of the memorial – and despite all the criticism it had to endure – the site's management is actually doing a very good job (in commodification, preservation, crowd management and education).
  
I highly recommend to all followers and visitors of this page who can understand German to watch that programme. It's not yet available in the channel's own archive, but I found it today on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uE6cyeualYs … It may not be there for very long, though.
  
Now back to today's photo. This was taken in the Birkenau part of the memorial, more precisely in the part referred to as “Canada”. This was where all the belongings of those killed in the gas chambers were sorted (“Canada” because that country “was seen as a land of plenty”, according to Wikipedia). Amongst those belongings were also plenty of personal photographs. And in the mid-2000s, a new section was opened at Birkenau in one of the “Canada” halls where a selection of these photos was put on display on a wall. Otherwise the room was left empty. As you enter you see what this photo shows. Just the wall of photos, reflected upside down on the shiny polished floor, but you can't yet make out individual photos. This changes as you get closer and you can connect with the individual photos.
  
I found this an enormously effective way of trying to at least symbolically give the victims back some of their individuality that was so brutally taken from them by the Nazis. In fact, I found this part of Auschwitz-Birkenau even more effective and moving than all those heaps of shoes, hair, glasses, etc. on display in the old main museum at Auschwitz I (i.e. in the “Stammlager”).
  
The personal photos on display show weddings, babies, family gatherings and the like – images from happier days. It shows that the victims all had their individual life stories, their own personalities, their own happinesses and tragedies. It thus counters Stalin's infamous line “one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic”. No, if portrayed like this, a million deaths is still a million tragedies, not just the statistic the perpetrators (!) would like it to be. And that is so important to underscore.
  
One particular photo that sticks in my memory more than most is that of a woman, elegantly dressed in fashionable period attire, saying cheers to the camera with a glass of wine and smiling broadly. This same photo also featured in that TV programme yesterday and brought back memories. And I was really shaken by it.
  
A visit to Auschwitz really does change you – and with lasting effect, as I experienced again watching that programme yesterday. As my guide back then emphasized: “Das muss man gesehen haben!” ('you HAVE to have seen this!') … I couldn't agree more.
  
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Wednesday 27 January 2016
  
  27 01 2016   Auschwitz Birkenau, Poland
  
On this Day: it is Auschwitz Day, or International Holocaust Remembrance Day - as 71 years ago, on 27 January 1945, the Soviet Red Army liberated the largest and deadliest of all concentation camps ever, Auschwitz-Birkenau.
  
The photo shows one of the "living quarter" barracks at the Birkenau site. Empty except for the equally empty bunk "beds", but with just a bit of imagination you can picture the full grim horror of the place ... easily one of the darkest sites on Earth, if not THE darkest of them all.
  
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Tuesday 26 January 2016
  
  26 01 16   disabled missiles, National Nuclear Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico
  
Photo of the Day: disabled missiles! Another one of those photos with a chance juxtaposition, this time spotted in the parking lot of the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  
The museum, by the way, is one of the best for all those into nuclear stuff and in particular the Cold War.
  
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Monday 25 January 2016
  
  25 01 2016   obviously a crematorium for kids, Stutthof, Poland
  
On this Day, 71 years ago, on 25 January 1945, the retreating Nazis began the 'evacuation' of their Stutthof concentration camp near what is now Gdansk, Poland. The inmates were forced on death marches, and many thousands did not survive the wintery conditions. The final 'liberation' of the camp by the Soviet Red Army wouldn't come until the very last day of WWII, on 9 May 1945.
  
Today, Stutthof is one of the less well-known concentration camp memorial sites. And my experience there was very different from other such visits to similar sites. Here I found that loads of people from the nearby seaside beaches were using a grey summer day for visiting this site. And it was quite obvious that many had no clear idea what kind of place they were visiting. I had to witness lots of really inappropriate behaviour (like posing, grinning, for selfies in front of the gallows and the gas chamber ... how can people act so thoughtlessly?!?).Moreover, despite the sign at the entrance recommending visits only for people over 14 years old, lots of families took their toddlers along regardless. You have to wonder, how these small children processed the really grim photographs in the exhibition part.
  
On the other hand, it also gave me this chance photo op, which of course has both grim and deeply black-humoured funny aspects. (Like the 'no smoking' sign *inside* the crematorium.) Sometimes resorting to quiet (!) black humour is almost required to counterbalance such experiences ...
  
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Sunday 24 January 2016
  
  24 01 16   where ice and fire literally meet, Iceland
  
Photo of the Day: something from Iceland, the "land where ice and fire meet" (as the classic tourism slogan goes). This photo was taken on a scenic flight by a small aircraft and shows the extremely remote Kverkfjöll area, a volcanic zone with many fumaroles and hot springs, right on the edge of the Vatnajökull glacier (Europe's largest ice cap ... if you count Iceland as Europe, that is). So this is indeed a place where ice and fire meet quite literally. The magma chamber underneath this part of the glacier also creates ice caves (from melting the ice cap from below), and occasionally jökulhlaups, i.e. glacial outburst floods.
  
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Friday 22 January 2016
  
  22 01 16   Mauthausen gate & barbed wire
  
Photo of the Day: more grim aesthetics - this one was composed at Mauthausen (the memorial site of the main Nazi concentration camp on Austrian soil) ... playing with angles and black-and-white. Somehow I find structures like this inviting such compositional creativity - despite (or partly even because of?) the sinister historical context they are situated in.
  
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Thursday 21 January 2016
  
  21 01 16   Majdanek
  
Photo of the Day: it can always be worse than a bit of snow. This is Majdanek, the former Nazi concentration camp/death camp near Lublin, Poland. The photo was actually taken in April, so quite late in the year for so much snow. But the snow provided an additional element of grimness, maybe because it made things appear almost as if in black and white. It also meant that there were hardly any other visitors at this memorial site - and wandering around this huge area having it practically to yourself, was an eerie experience. Silent and sinister.
  
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Wednesday 20 January 2016
  
  20 01 2016   House of the Wannsee conference, Berlin
  
On this Day: 74 years ago, on 20 January 1942, this lovely villa on the shores of the Wannsee lake on the edge of Berlin was the venue of a little conference that went down in history as "The Wannsee conference". It was a group of top Nazi bureaucrats, amongst them Adolf Eichmann and Reinhard Heydrich (who chaired the meeting), convening to discuss the modalities of the "final solution of the Jewish question", i.e. the mass extermination of the European Jews.
  
Shortly after, the outcome of the conference was implemented and so the worst phase of the Holocaust commenced, the so-called "Operation Reinhard" (named after Heydrich) for which three purpose-built death camps were set up in the "General Government", i.e. occupied south-eastern Poland, at Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec, in addition to the already operational camps at Auschwitz, Majdanek, Chelmno, Maly Trostinec ...
  
Given the scale of the crime planned out at the Wannsee Conference, this day has to rank as one of the very darkest in the entire history of humanity.
  
The historic villa is used today as a memorial site and well worth a visit. It's extremely sobering - the contrast between the beautiful interior and the grim subject matter of the memorial is hard to come to grips with. Very educational, very moving and very disturbing ...
  
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Tuesday 19 January 2016
  
  19 01 16   Hollywood Walk of Fame includes a few dark stars too
  
Photo of the Day: the Hollywood Walk of Fame also includes a few 'dark stars', like this icon of classic horror movie fame ...
  
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Monday 18 January 2016
  
  18 01 16   Nikel, Russia
  
Photo of the Day: one of the most polluted places on Earth - Nikel, in north-western Russia, near the border with Norway (this photo was taken from the road to Murmansk). For miles around the smelters of Nikel, the land is brown and lifeless from all the pollution that the plant still keeps belching out. Yet well over ten thousand people live in the apartment blocks directly adjacent to the plant. It must be one of the most depressing places to spend one's life in ...
  
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Saturday 16 January 2016
  
  16 01 16   Greenbrier secret bunker door, West virginia, USA
  
Photo of the Day: door to the formerly secret government nuclear bunker underneath the Greenbrier hotel in West Virginia, USA.
  
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Friday 15 January 2016
  
  15 01 16   Ondrejsky cemetery, Bratislava, Slovakia
  
Photo of the Day: Ondrejsky cemetery, Bratislava, Slovakia.
  
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Thursday 14 January 2016
  
  14 01 16   Batcave, DomRep
  
Photo of the Day: another one from that amazing bat cave. And this is image shows just a small section of it - there were thousands more bats all along the ceiling of this deep cavern.Now back from the former Land of Trujillo, aka the Dominican Republic, I have to go through all my photo matrial and set about writing it all up for the main DT website. But I will most likely post more pictures from this interesting little country on this page as well in due course ...
  
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Saturday 9 January 2016
  
  [photo could not be reconstructed - but see the gallery for the chapter I wrote about this cave after the trip!]
  
Photo of the Day: possibly my only chance to post from here - I'll certainly be out of Internet range for the next two days. Visited a fantastic bat cave yesterday ... thousands and thousands of fluttering bats overhead. Not at all easy to photograph, but I think I got a few halfway decent shots in. This may be one of them (straight off the camera - haven't had a chance yet to view any of them at a proper size).
  
In addition to all the spooky bat-ness overhead, there was lots more dark stuff around - and I don't even mean all those bat droppings ... but think shed snake skins (whose previous owner was not to be seen on this occasion, however), giant spider-like insects adapted to cave life, and a truly creepy(-crawly) cesspool of millions of tiny black maggots (feeding on bat poo, directly underneath one of the colonies).
  
Add to that mysteriously eerie petroglyphs and other ancient doodles and the whole cave atmosphere and it becomes the stuff of veritable nightmare cliches. Loved it!
  
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Sunday 3 January 2016
  
  03 01 16   Montserrat volcano   glowing at night
  
Photo of the Day: the nightly glow of Soufriere Hills volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, shortly before its latest major eruption in February 2010. I picked this image because I will soon be heading to the Caribbean again, though this time to an island without volcanoes (but plenty of dark history - try to guess which one it might be). I might be able to post something from over there but it could also be that it'll have to wait until my return. So if this page remains quiet for a while, please bear with me and check back later.
  
< comment: […] this one has had a) the longest dark history in the Americas and b) one of the longest-lasting, most brutal dictatorships of the 20th century (US-backed for most of the time, until the CIA had the SOB assassinated ... OK, those last two points don't narrow it down so much), and probably 98% of all tourists going there will be totally unaware of all that. That should be plenty of clues
  
< comment: […] First place "discovered" by Columbus, followed soon after by the first genocide of indigenous people in the Americas and from 1930 to 1961 they had Rafael Trujillo, "The Goat", that SOB dictator referred to by Roosevelt when he said "at least he's our SOB" (and indeed without the US invasion in the 1920s when they set up a secret police, with Trujillo at the helm, he would never have risen to power). After the US had fallen out with him and the CIA had him assassinated in 1961, the country briefly tried democracy, which quickly brought the US back for another invasion in 1965 (because, you know, democracy, that's as good as communism!). Apparently they were paranoid about possibly getting another Cuba on their doorstep. Instead they got the next dictator in, Joaquin Balaguer, a former Trujillo protege, who the US were fine with for another long period of autocracy. It was only in 2005 that the DR finally had its first, properly conducted democratic election. And this is just the short version. We'll get to see Trujillo mansions, a museum of the resistance, the sites of imprisonment and murder ... and such like. But also some nice nature and wildlife in between. And hopefully we'll get to try some interesting food as well.
  
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Saturday 2 January 2016
  
  17 07 15   like a mirage in thin air, Uyuni salt flat, Bolivia
  
Photo of the Day: another re-post, but, as promised, this time the most popular picture from last year. It was taken on the mirror-like salt flat/lake of Uyuni, Bolivia, using a super-zoom lens (ca. 30x).
  
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Friday 1 January 2016
  
  25 06 15   artfully shattered glass on Mostar war ruin
  
Happy New Year everybody! For the start of the year, another re-post, this time one that might even be considered symbolic of what many people will have felt like this morning. It was also one of the most overlooked Photos of the Day of last year. But I like it. I see a special kind of aesthetics in the eight-fold, two-tone colour, near symmetry of all that shattered glass (on a war ruin in Mostar). Worthy of a re-post, surely. Tomorrow, I will re-post last year's most popular PhoD, promise!
  
  
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