Hitchhiking, an Odyssey with 50 Hail Marys (part 1 of 3)

Zur deutschen Fassung.

Last weekend, I finally hit the road again: hitchhiking through the Swiss cantons of Zurich, St Gallen and Thurgau, across Lake Constance and through the German states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria. A brisk 500 km is what I had planned.

However, I strayed from the path so often that it turned into a veritable odyssey. Consequently, the account became so long that I turned it into a trilogy, so as not to overburden those of you who get upset about the length of my articles.

So here is the first part:

Switzerland is beautiful. Rolling hills, lush green and some lakes in between. Perfectly marked hiking paths, leading through deep gorges with small creeks. Villages with meticulously kept houses, flowers in the gardens and fluffy clouds above.

Like a postcard.

And perfectly organized. Although the village of Waltenstein (near Winterthur) has barely 15 houses, and that’s already counting the tree-houses for the children, there is a bus every hour. From 5am until 11am! Even on Sundays! I am so fascinated by this, because in Germany I live in a village which has a hundred times more people, but no bus bothers to venture there after 6pm, let alone on the weekend. Well, now we know why Switzerland has such high taxes, but I think it’s worth it.

Problem is, it’s all too picture-postcard perfect.

I really like countries that are more exciting than beautiful, where stuff happens, a little bit of chaos, maybe even a revolution from time to time. Because in my experience, there are more authentic and interesting human interactions in such places than in the ones where everybody has everything they need or can call a number to get it. Too much organization destroys communication between people.

For example, because of the exemplary public transport, I wonder if motorists see any need to stop for hitchhikers at all, knowing that in this mountainous country you can be reliably chauffeured from any point A to any point B by public bus.

So, after finishing a two-week cat-sitting job in Waltenstein, I decide to try it and place myself at the side of the road, as curious as a cat.

Shortly before 8am, I stand at the crossroads in the village. A sunny Saturday morning. I have to go to Ammerthal in Bavaria, so I have about 500 km ahead of me. And 13 hours of daylight. That should be enough.

After 20 minutes, a gentleman who is going to the next village, Elgg, stops.

He is on his way to a job interview as a sales manager for kitchens. After 22 years with the same company, it’s time to try a new employer, he thinks. About time, I think.

“That’s really nice of you to stop for me on such an important day. I would probably be much too nervous and excited,” I express my gratitude.

“Oh, no problem. I still have 12 minutes until the appointment.” Swiss people are very precise and never arrive a minute late, nor a minute early.

It’s market day in Elgg, so people should be flocking from all over to buy agricultural products, and afterwards they can give me a ride on their way home. So I stand just a little bit away from the market place on the road leading north-east.

“Difficult, isn’t it?” asks a passerby with an air of connoisseurship, as if he too is disappointed by a society of people who are shy, even scared of meeting new people.

But soon, a young man stops and introduces himself with a firm handshake: Thomas. He is only going to Aadorf, about two and a half kilometers away, but he sometimes hitchhikes himself and encourages me: “Hitchhiking is not about your thumb, it’s about your head. It’s all a matter of attitude. With the right mindset, you can do it!” His optimism is contagious.

In Aadorf, a young family first drives past me, but then turns around and comes back to pick me up like a dog forgotten at the highway rest station. The landscape gardener, his wife and the baby are going to St Gallen. About 50 km, now things are really picking up.

When I am in the car with couples, I always feel guilty about telling them about my life and my adventures. I am worried that the young man will pack his backpack afterwards, leave his wife and child and go on pilgrimage to Nepal. On the other hand, as a landscape gardener, he has peace and quiet all day anyway.

Completely committed to the idea of spontaneity, I did not pick a good spot in St Gallen beforehand. The two drop me off at a shopping center near the motorway. There, it takes me less than 10 minutes to realize that it’s a hopeless spot. The cars are too fast, there is no place to stop, and without a sign, no one knows where I am going.

Near the motorway entrance, there is a small chapel for lost souls and lost hitchhikers. On the steps of the hitchhiking hermitage, I spread out the map and get an overview of my position and my situation. Both are very bad, not even the mindset helps. When Saint Gall founded the city, he must have taken Los Angeles as his model, as the city is covered with highways going in all directions and crossing and intersecting each other. It’s a mess of urban planning and hitchhiking hell.

An older, very friendly gentleman approaches me and asks if he can help. I explain the situation and the plan.

“Forget about it,” he says crisply, but not without reason, “you’re on the wrong side of the city.” I’m all the way on the westside, he says, and need to get on the eastside, once through the elongated city. “Anyone who gets on the motorway here certainly doesn’t want to go in your direction,” he says.

“Walk 300 meters down the street and take the bus through town for only 2 francs. Or, even better, go straight to Wittenbach, from there the country road goes to Romanshorn.” The latter is the last destination in Switzerland, because from there a ship sails to Germany. From readers’ feedback, I know that you appreciate it when I vary the means of transportation on my journeys.

I am reluctant to travel in any other way than by hitchhiking. But if I walk two hours through the whole city, I will miss the two hours at Lake Constance later. Besides, I am hitchhiking for pleasure, not out of puritanical purism, even though St Gallen is a Reformation city.

And there comes bus no. 4 already. The gentleman explained everything to me so kindly and helpfully, it would be rude not to follow his advice.

“And from Wittenbach, you can take the train to Romanshorn,” he shouts after me, letting his low confidence in my beginner’s hitchhiking skills shine through.

No, I certainly won’t do that. Back on the road, I will trust only my thumb and my smile. And indeed, in Wittenbach, after only a few minutes, a man stops and drives me almost the whole way to the port. He goes to Egnach, already on Lake Constance and only a short walk from Romanshorn.

It is already the second driver today who introduces himself as someone downplaying the corona virus. “Masks don’t help against viruses at all.” “I refuse to follow all this crap.” And best of all, “You shouldn’t believe everything” from people who, after 10 minutes of YouTube University, think they know everything better than the broad consensus of virologists, epidemiologists, immunologists and medical doctors. And these are the people who are voting in referendums on corporate liability in supply chains, unconditional basic income, and the framework agreement with the EU.

There are people trivializing the corona virus everywhere. But in Switzerland, there’s another aspect: the desire to distance themselves from Germany. “Oh, you’re going to Germany? That’s bad, you have absolutely no freedoms there anymore.” I keep hearing that, as if Germany were North Korea, just because gyms and cinemas have been closed. It is always uttered with ostensible pity (“you poor Germans”), doing an inadequate job of concealing the Swiss sense of superiority and condescendence.

But I don’t want to argue with people. First, I’m a guest in their car. Second, it’s useless. Third, I am glad for anyone who is not afraid of infection and therefore willing to give me a ride.

The driver drops me off at the hiking and biking trail along the lake, because I want to walk the last few kilometers. It’s a beautiful day, with views of Lake Constance on one side and the Alps on the other.

On the lakeside footpath, a stressed-looking man with a builder’s uniform and blueprints under his arm approaches me: “Tell me, is it half past eleven already?”

“Yes,” I confirm, “it’s 11:35.”

“I don’t believe it! Where on Earth is he?” the waiting person is furious with the 300-second delay of his colleague, boss or customer. Normally, the Swiss are so punctual; here, even women show up reliably and to the minute for a date.

To continue hitchhiking in Germany, I thought that I will talk to motorists on the ferry to Friedrichshafen to find out if anyone is going to Bavaria.

That’s a great plan, I am thinking to myself.

Unfortunately, the port in Romanshorn and the ferry look as empty as if a naval blockade had been imposed. Hopefully the sea mines have not been laid yet.

Distance-wise, Lake Constance is not the halfway point. I have 70 km behind me and at least 360 km ahead of me. But mentally, the water and the international border, the leisurely cruise and the return to the EU make me think that I am halfway there, so I am relaxing. Relaxing too much, as it will turn out later. But I don’t suspect anything of that yet, while enjoying these views:

Very briskly and very narrowly passing the quay wall, the ferry heads into the harbor of Friedrichshafen. Perfectly parked. A modernist-style building, now the Zeppelin Museum, and a hangar at the harbor reveal what the city was really built for.

For the people of Friedrichshafen, Lake Constance soon became too small, and they wanted not only to reach the other shore, but other continents. So they built airships and flew to New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a ticket for the airship, and we know from the movies how harsh their ticket inspectors are.

Far less harsh are the German police, supposedly controlling the supposedly strict coronavirus protection measures when entering oh-so-strict Germany. An empty police car is guarding the border, the officers are out to lunch.

A good idea! I’ll get myself the first kebab after two weeks of abstinence, because in Switzerland, this staple food costs a whopping 10 euros, for which in Germany you get two kebabs, or even three on student discount.

For the Swiss friends who believe that in Germany everything is frozen in quarantine, here are a few photos of Friedrichshafen:

People are strolling, eating, holding hands, kissing, dancing, singing and jumping here, too. And unlike in Switzerland, you can even lie down on the grass, smoke, barbecue in the park and pee in the bushes. There are no signs prohibiting this and that and telling you where to do what, but finally there is graffiti again, and people don’t put their empty beer bottles in the trash can, but deliberately next to it, so that the bottle collectors can make a living as well. Even the monument to Kaiser Wilhelm II is not taken seriously by anyone.

The Corniche of Friedrichshafen has a flair of cities by the sea, like Nice or Sukhumi. It is so beautiful, also thanks to the Swiss mountain panorama from the other side of the sea, that I would love to stay a few days.

Only with the firm resolution to come back for a trip around Lake Constance, I finally tear myself away. Now, somehow, I have to hitchhike northeast, in the direction of Bavaria. I walk to the beginning of highway B30, which leads to Ravensburg and Ulm – not yet able to imagine what headaches this highway will give me today. It will turn into a veritable way of the cross.

How or if I manage to continue the journey at all will be seen in part 2. There, you will also hear what the 50 Hail Marys are all about.

Practical advice:

  • If you want to move faster, a little planning helps. For example, I could have asked to be dropped off in a better spot in St Gallen. And on the German shore of Lake Constance, I would have been better off hitchhiking to Lindau, where the motorway A96 begins. But more about that in part 2.
  • Friedrichshafen is definitively worth a visit.


Posted in Germany, Photography, Switzerland, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Post-Pandemic Plans

As a friend of alliterations, once the pandemic is over, I will go on pilgrimage to Petra, hitchhike to the Himalayas, walk to Waziristan, go to Giza, travel to Tirana and take the train to Tehran as well as the railroad to Rawalpindi.

After the ship to the Shetlands, the cruise to the Caribbean and the boat to the Baltics, I will run through Russia, but not without a stop in Stalingrad. Then, I will march to Marseilles, backpack to Baku, hurry to Hungary, dawdle to Damascus, journey to Jordan, stroll through Strasbourg and wander to Weimar.

Only swimming to Sweden is a somewhat scary scheme.

I could also bike to Belgium or bicycle to Burma, but that’s bad for the butt.


Posted in Language, Travel | 10 Comments

A Walk around Baza

Zur deutschen Fassung.

Sometimes, I only get to a town because it’s on the way from A to B, but the distance from A to B is too long to travel in one day. Traveling from Málaga to Venta Micena, the town of Baza was such a convenient half-way point, inviting me to spend a day and a night there.

In Málaga, I had met a lady who had worked as a music teacher in Baza. “Solo hay dos estaciones ahí, la del invierno y la del autobus,” she warned me of the winter there with a pun that cannot be translated without losing the joke. It was September and I was not worried, because when Spaniards speak of winter, it means that it briefly dips below 30 degrees Celsius. “No, no, they even have snow in winter,” she substantiated the warning. Well, that’s what winter is for.

Three hours on the highway, in a car with three Spaniards, each of whom speaking faster than the other, that’s a more demanding test than the DELE exam. At the end, I will have a headache. But it’s interesting and fun. Bla Bla Car is a good way to get to know the country and the people.

When I arrive in Baza, my fellow drivers are worried that I would be bored in the small town. They drop me off almost with pity, like someone going to a monastery, and invite me for a Coke before they drive on.

The town really doesn’t see many visitors, it seems. Under the Moors, Baza was an important border town to the Kingdom of Murcia (now a Spanish region and province). But now, the streets and squares are deserted. (This was long before the corona virus, hence my surprise.)

At the hairdresser’s, a sign in the door says: “Won’t open until 5 today.” At the real estate agent’s, prices are marked down, a three-bedroom apartment from € 66,000 to € 50,000, another three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment from € 180,000 to € 135,000. The real estate boom in Spain seems to be over. By the way, the real estate agent has “closed until Wednesday, the 25th”, without specifying the month.

The large church on the town square opens only at 7 pm, followed by mass at 8 pm. I will stop by again in the evening, only for sightseeing. I don’t need any blessings.

Continuing the tour, I come across more churches in the vicinity, for example the Templo de nuestra señora de la Piedad – Patrona de Baza = Iglesia la Merced, where the service is also scheduled at 8 pm. Clearly, you have to decide between these two churches, there is no dual membership permitted.

I drop off my backpack at the Hotel Virgen del Pilar, where I am handed an extra blanket “in case it will be too cold at night.” It has 24 degrees Celsius. Of more practical use is the receptionist’s recommendation of a nearby restaurant. “You can have a cheap lunch there,” she adds, and I wonder how people can tell I’m stingy. Maybe the German passport gave me away. In any case, she doesn’t seem to be expecting any more guests today, because after my arrival, she closes the reception desk and goes to Casa Grande for lunch herself. This is a tavern after my taste. You ask the confidence-inspiringly stout innkeeper what’s on the menu today, and then you say “yes” or “no.” Written menus are impersonal frippery.

Across the road to the hotel, a banner advertises the Spanish distance education university, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, pointing the way to a regional center of UNED. An avid distance student myself, I’m impressed by the widespread network of the Spanish colleagues, all the way down to provincial towns. Baza has about 20,000 residents and is not of any other supra-regional importance, at least as far as I am aware of.

In the past, as I said, that was different. On the highest point of the town, I discover the ruins of the Moorish fortress Alcazaba. Remains of ruins, rather.

The view is all the more spectacular for that, with church spires, mountains and clouds like in a Photoshop. But everything is real. That’s Andalusia.

Baza FB.jpg

“Please forgive us that the site is so run down,” a lady kindly interrupts me while I’m taking a picture. And she is right. There is rubble lying around, and weeds are growing everywhere.

“We already have the plan to improve the square. See that circle on the ground? That’s where we want to put a fountain.” But as is the case with public projects, they take time. Any anyway, the Moors only left in 1489, so there is no rush.

The lady is wearing a colorful dress and a tin tray covered with aluminum foil. “For the kittens,” she explains, “there’s some meat left from lunch.” Judging by the size of the tray, that was no accident.

At the train station, which looks like it’s no longer active, I meet a very old man with two dogs and just as many teeth. The station has been closed for about 20 years, he tells me, and we agree that this is a great pity. He used to take the train to Alicante, to Seville, as far as Barcelona even, and it was a pleasure. Relaxing, comfortable, beautiful and safe, he says. Now, with the buses, traveling is no longer fun, and besides, he just heard it on the radio yesterday, 1,810 people died in road traffic last year.

We both stand in front of the now useless station building and reminisce about the heyday of railroads. As he shakes my hand in farewell, I’m afraid that my bones may break. The man, who must surely be between 70 and 80 years old, still has so much strength in his hands, if the tracks hadn’t been dismantled, he could push the train all the way to Alicante himself.

The beautiful, green and quiet park at Plaza San Jerónimo is the magnet, to which I keep being drawn back to on my walks around town.

Here, I can rest for a few hours and read a book. Because that’s the beauty of such small places: You don’t have to worry about missing too many sights, even if you take longer breaks. Although I shouldn’t make fun of Baza’s size and lack of bustle. Because I suspect that after a month in Venta Micena, I’ll be thirsting for a town like this.

There is something suspiciously intellectual about this small town, by the way. First, they have a branch of the university, then I discover a four-story library open until 9 pm. Well, only until 2 pm on Sundays, but these are opening hours that municipal libraries in similar towns in the rest of the world can only dream of.

A pub is called Rincón del Poeta, Poet’s Corner, and the graffiti on the church is by Pablo Neruda himself.

Opposite the police station in the old town, there is a well-stocked tobacco store. I may have to stop by here again in a few weeks. The police cars are parked next door in front of the “store for exotic birds”. All the cages in the shop window are empty, but according to a handwritten sign, they now sell Siberian huskies instead. People really think it’s freezing here.

“Se alquila por poco dinero” is desperately written on a store in the winding streets of the old town: To rent for little money.

At 6 pm, I am passing by the park again. Now, there is much more going on. The three bocce courts are busy, and the players are discussing each throw with more vigor than could be witnessed in the courthouse around the corner.

The church doesn’t open at 7 pm, after all. Maybe they are on summer holidays, too.

When I return to the hotel in the evening, I see that it is also for sale. I just hope it doesn’t change owners tonight, interrupting my sleep. After making fun all day of the Spaniards who think it’s cold here in September, I have to meekly and ruefully confess that I need long sweatpants and a sweater to fall asleep.

Conclusion: Baza is not Granada or Málaga, obviously. But you shouldn’t drive past it, either. Maybe you can even learn more about Andalusia in such a small town, because you don’t share the attention with other tourists. The apartments are also more affordable, as you have seen.


Posted in Andalusia, Photography, Spain, Travel | Tagged | 4 Comments

One Hundred Years Ago, a Royal Funeral was the Last Gasp of Times Past – April 1921: Augusta Victoria

Zur deutschen Fassung.

When I launched the series “One Hundred Years Ago …”, I had the intention to highlight events from the past that still resonate today. Sometimes this succeeds, sometimes not.

But never has it been so easy to bridge the gap to the hundred-year past as this month. Thank you, Prince Philip!

A week ago, the husband of the Queen, himself almost a hundred years old, passed away, and today, the funeral takes place. An almost perfect reflection of the events from a hundred years ago: On 11 April 1921, Augusta Victoria Friederike Luise Feodora Jenny of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, the wife of Germany’s last emperor, Wilhelm II, died. He was no longer emperor at the time, though, having retired involuntarily and drawn a final line under the long history of German monarchy.

On 19 April 1921, Augusta Victoria was buried in the gardens of Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam.

And this despite the fact that the Kaisers no longer lived in Germany at the time. They had absconded in 1918, slightly disappointed by their German people, who didn’t think the famine was so great after all and because, contrary to expectations, not all of their subjects were looking forward to death in France or Flanders.

The Hohenzollerns, the name of the family that had ruined Germany, gathered all their gold, silver and paintings and went into exile in the Netherlands, where they bought a small house in Doorn. The Netherlands didn’t mind, because they were – and still are – an unconscionable tax haven.

When Kaiser Wilhelm II saw that 59 railroad cars were needed to transport his private booty, he was in tears: “Oh, how many men could have been brought to the front with 59 railroad cars! Four thousand? Five thousand? So much unshed blood, what a shame!” But in the end, the greediness, a trait the Hohenzollerns have retained to this day, won out over the murderous.

Doorn is rather unassuming compared to classic places of exile (Babylon, Constanța, Elba, St. Helena), but that suited Wilhelm II, as did the creative, intellectually demanding hobby he engaged in every day: The last German emperor was immensely pleased when he could saw down a tree in the garden. – Another ex-emperor, Charles of Austria-Hungary, on the other hand, was not at all satisfied with being a pensioner in the garden and tried to putsch his way back into power. But more about that in October 1921.

Everyone knows such people who prefer to make noise with the leaf blower rather than indulge in literature, who prefer to shred shrubs rather than write stories, and who produce gardens without life in a frightening culmination of the ugly. Countries, especially problematic ones like Germany, should not be entrusted to such people.

Also, I don’t know what to make of people who don’t attend their wife’s funeral. Thousands of onlookers, friends of the monarchy, noblemen and stab-in-the-back-mythologists, often all in one, showed up when the coffin with the empress was driven through Potsdam. The emperor, however, apparently had to chop wood and therefore had no time.

Perhaps he was still angry about his dismissal and that Germany had become a democracy. Or he was afraid of having to answer for war crimes at the Leipzig trials (addressed in the last episode). Or he was jealous because his wife was more popular than the emperor himself. Or Wilhelm II was already dating his new girlfriend, Princess Hermine von Schönaich-Carolath, whom he married soon after.

This funeral procession was a sad swan song to a bygone era, of which the attendees did not want to believe that it was indeed gone forever. Wilhelm II was still cutting down trees until 1941, thus establishing the German tradition of “Waldsterben”. Thank you, Kaiser!

The Hohenzollerns didn’t care about the forests, they didn’t care about Germany, they just wanted to be emperors again and live in castles. To that purpose, they even aligned themselves with the Nazis. But that’s another story, for another time. Of frightening topicality, though.


Posted in Germany, History | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

There is always a Fossibility

“Dammit, you will never be useful,” said Dinosaur Mom.

“How would you know?”, thought Dinosaur Son with much derision, leaving the house for one last time, before – a mere 65,510,388 years later – filling up the tank of a stranded emergency ambulance vehicle at a gas station in the desert of Nevada.

Photo by Harrison Haines on Pexels.com


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One Hundred Years Ago, an Armenian Student took the Law into his own Hands – March 1921: Operation Nemesis

Zur deutschen Fassung.

For the series “One Hundred Years Ago …”, I had promised one episode per month. But the last episode about the Russian Civil War and Mongolia met with plenty of positive responses and led to new supporters on Patreon and Steady.

For that, I thank you with this extraordinary, unplanned special supplementary episode for March 1921.

You should thank the supporters of this blog. Or, better yet, become one yourself, so that many more historical curiosities will be brought to light.

Currently, the trial for the so-called Tiergarten murder is being held in Berlin, after Zelimkhan Khangoshvili was shot dead in August 2019 in a Berlin park that deceptively calls itself Tiergarten (German for “zoological garden”), although the park has neither tigers nor elephants. The murder was a real pity, because Mr. Khangoshvili was simultaneously Georgian, Chechen, Kist and Kakheti, and thus more exotic than an elephant tiger. Who is behind the murder is not hard to guess, because there is this one mafia state that shoots, poisons and pushes people from the fourth floor balcony, which is why nobody should be surprised when this blog will come to a sudden eeeeeeeeeend.

In any case, there is a tradition of political assassination in Berlin, with foreign adversaries bringing their fury and firepower to the city. One well-known case occurred on 15 March 1921, exactly one hundred years ago. And, as if made for a historical-legal blog, it led to a well-known trial.

At least well-known in Armenia.

It was there, in the martial military museum in Yerevan, that I first heard about “Operation Nemesis”.

Now I’m afraid I’m going to have to lay some groundwork, and unfortunately it’s going to be gruesome. But I’ll keep it brief. During World War I, the Ottoman Empire disintegrated for good. As is often the case when you lose an empire or a soccer match, you want to take revenge on a minority. In the case of the Ottoman Empire, these were mainly Greeks, Jews and Armenians. The latter were murdered and expelled in a systematic genocide starting in 1915.

I would be curious if you learned about this at school. Because back in the 1990s, I didn’t. Maybe because in Germany, there were more Turkish than Armenian classmates and surviving Turkish parents complain more often to the principal than dead Armenian grandparents. In other countries, the memory of this genocide is much more present.

Or maybe the reason was that Germany had played an inglorious role in the genocide. We are apparently a people with some affinity for mass murder, and with that I will stop counting whom I have already insulted with in this article.

Up to 1.5 million Armenians died, and the survivors fled all over the world. (I’m sure you’ll find some in your local chess club or brandy store.)

In 1919, the first legal surprise happened. The Ottoman Sultan set up a court before which Turkish politicians, officials and officers had to answer for the Armenian genocide. This was 26 years before the Nuremberg Trials.

Unlike the Leipzig Trials beginning in 1921, in which German soldiers were to answer for massacres in Belgium, the Turkish court took the matter quite seriously. At least initially.

The Turkish court handed down 17 death sentences, including against former Interior Minister and Grand Vizier Talât Pasha, former War Minister Enver Pasha and former Navy Minister Cemal Pasha. Whoever believes that international criminal law, i.e. the culpability of individuals for violations of international law, began in Nuremberg, has now learned something and will hopefully one day use this knowledge to win a television quiz.

The Pashas did not want to end up on the gallows, so they fled to their old comrades in arms – to Berlin. Germany was known for cozying up to war criminals and did not extradite the convicted murderers.

The Turks were furious and threatened: “If you don’t hand over Talât Pasha, we won’t support you in the next world war”, which is why World War II ended the way it did.

But the Armenians were even more furious.

The Armenians realized that Germany would do nothing against the murderers relaxing in its capital city. The Armenians realized that Turkey, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union, which, to make matters worse, had annexed the briefly independent rest of Armenia, would not lift a finger. And the Armenians realized that the establishment of the International Criminal Court would be a long time coming.

So they decided to carry out the sentences themselves. Operation Nemesis was born.

Because it was a good excuse to postpone the exams to the next semester, a student volunteered for the execution of the main culprit Talât Pasha: Soghomon Tehlirian. Coincidentally, it allowed him to move to Germany, where he wanted to continue his engineering studies. Germany had a good reputation in engineering at that time. Unjustifiably so, because the airport in Berlin was still not completed. So Tehlirian had to hitchhike.

Hitchhiking was not a problem, because the Spanish flu had just died down after three waves and two years. People were eager for human interaction, and besides, Tehlirian was not one of those stereotypical scruffy students on LSD, but rather preppy and polite.

In Berlin, Tehlirian found out that the former Grand Vizier lived on Hardenberg Street, shadowed him for a few days and, when he was sure that the man was the target and that no passersby were in danger, he shot him in the open street on the morning of 15 March 1921.

Now, this was Berlin, where people are being shot all the time. No one would have cared about another death. The tabloids would have ranted about “gang warfare”, and after a few days the matter would have been forgotten. But Tehlirian remained beside the body, waiting for the police. He explained to the officers that he had carried out the Turkish death sentence and had also avenged the death of his wife and grandparents, and expressed regret at having inconvenienced the German authorities by doing so.

The Armenian student was charged with murder, and the trial before the criminal court in Berlin led to the second legal surprise. A real sensation in fact.

Tehlirian could not and would not deny the crime. So the defense had to rely on justifying and exculpating arguments. It turned the murder trial into a trial about the genocide. Surviving Armenians recounted the horrors. Johannes Lepsius, who had tried like no other to persuade the German public and politicians to protect the Armenians, testified as a witness. Otto Karl Viktor Liman von Sanders, a German general who had commanded the Ottoman army as a field marshal in World War I, was summoned to testify. And Tehlirian told how he had lost 85 family members to the genocide.

Then, on 3 June 1921, the sensation: Acquittal!

The verdict was hotly debated, with the men of Operation Nemesis, who killed other perpetrators of the genocide in subsequent years, receiving understanding for the fact that no court took up their cause: Turkey put the old verdicts on file. Other countries did not extradite. And Armenia, well, it had been absorbed into the Soviet Union, and with it the independent Armenian judiciary.

The lesson learned, as always far too late, was the development of international criminal law: Certain serious crimes can be prosecuted anywhere in the world, regardless of where they were committed. Germany celebrated the centenary of the Tehlirian judgment in 2021 with the conviction of a Syrian intelligence agent for torture in Syrian prisons.

Tehlirian moved restlessly around the world: Cleveland, Marseilles, Belgrade, Casablanca, Paris, San Francisco. He was never to return to Armenia.

By the way, in the military museum in Yerevan there were a few dubious exhibits as well. But that seems to be the case in every household in Armenia, and besides, it’s another story to be told later.

First, I’d like you to venture a guess about the subject for April 1921.


Posted in Armenia, Germany, History, Law | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Quite some Drama

Pro tip: Whenver a woman e-mails on behalf of her boyfriend, most likely unknowingly, and refers to the boyfriend as “fiance”, expect some drama.

And expect only half of the story. At most. Although this half is confusing enough.

Okay let me start from the beginning. My fiance was having sex with his ex German girlfriend but she was also have sex with 6 other men along with him. She told one of the men she doesn’t care how many men she had to have sex with she was just trying to get pregnant again.  So when my fiance found out she was pregnant with the child he already knew that it wasn’t his because she was having sex with 6 other men. Because he would not leave me and our unborn child at the time and move to Germany with her. She decided that she would just leave because my fiance told her that they broke up and that they were never getting back together.  So she left. After the child was born in December 2015 she went after him for child support. He asked her why did she do file child support against him.  At first she lied to him and told him it wasn’t her but the German Government.  He told her he did not believe her. She finally admitted that she filed child support against him because she was mad at him for not leaving me and our child. He tried to keep in contact with the mother for the child’s sake but she wouldn’t let him. So he decided to give up on keeping contact.  There was no point. He still believes in not paying child support for a child he never gets to see or be around. He wants to sign his writes away because he and I both know nothing about the German child.

Honestly, I think my time is better spent writing than trying to untangle this mess. But please have a go at it!


Posted in Family Law, Law | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

A Postcard from Yerevan

Zur deutschen Fassung.

“You are from Germany?” asks Alex, the very friendly owner of the very cozy accommodation in a prefab neighborhood of Yerevan.


“Then I have to show you a steel helmet.”

He gets up, and I follow him into the dining room, where there is not only a swastika-decorated helmet, but also workbooks of the Reich Labor Service, Wehrmacht officer’s whistles, an SS badge and Heinrich Himmler’s glasses, all nicely arranged like in a museum.

I don’t want to start a discussion with my host (especially as I don’t speak any Armenian or Russian), but he can recognize my lack of enthusiasm. Alex quickly proceeds to show me my room, thankfully free of fascist memorabilia, the balcony and the bathroom.


Posted in Armenia, History, Travel, World War II | Tagged , | 15 Comments

Lost in Translation

I am not one to argue that you should only visit countries of which you speak the language. If I was, I wouldn’t have made it to 65 countries or so myself.

But speaking the language does increase the experience.

If I hadn’t known some Spanish, I would have been completely dumbfounded by this English translation at the bus terminal in Baza, Andalusia, for example.

Even the Spanish original has a typo.

Still, it was a lovely old-fashioned bus terminal, where the answer to everything from “Is there a bus to Orce today?”, “Can I buy a ticket here?” to “Is this the right bus to Orce?” is an optimistic, yet non-committal “I think so.”


  • More about Andalusia, all helpfully translated into a language that you understand.
  • More about languages.
  • ALSA actually runs a pretty good bus system in Spain. You may need it, because hitchhiking in Spain is notoriously hard. (Although I am eager to prove that it’s possible.)
Posted in Andalusia, Language, Spain, Travel | Tagged | 4 Comments

Two Bakeries, two Countries, two Cultures

Zur deutschen Fassung.

Today, at the bakery in Germany:

I purchase three pieces of cake. They cost 5 euros and 13 cents.

I have 12 cents in coins, otherwise only bills.

“That’s not enough,” the bakery lady says with mathematical precision, so I have to hand her a 10-euro bill and she has to hand me a bunch of coins.

That’s how it works, perfectly correct.

A few years ago, in Bolivia:

I am walking through the neighborhood in Cochabamba, discover a small bakery, have two pieces of cake wrapped up for take-away, which costs 14 bolivianos (= 1.70 euros).

Unfortunately, I do not have the right change, but only a 50-boliviano bill. That equals only 6 euros, but is enough to embarrass the bakery lady, because she doesn’t have enough change. It’s a family bakery, tucked away in a residential neighborhood, not too busy.

“No problem,” I offer, “I’ll quickly go to the supermarket and buy something to drink, so I can get some change.”

“Do you live around here?” asks the bakery lady, who has seen me for the first time and must have noticed that I am not Bolivian.

“Yes, a few blocks away. Lucas Mendoza Street.”

“Then just pay whenever you come by again. Better enjoy the cake now!”

That’s how it works, perfectly human.


Posted in Bolivia, Economics, Food, Germany | Tagged , , | 8 Comments