Moving to Montenegro

By now, I have really been staying in Ammerthal, the small village in Bavaria where I grew up, longer than I should have. Rent-free living and a cozy room full of books should actually provide agreeable conditions for a student life, but there are almost no social, intellectual and cultural contacts and possibilities. Each time I want to go to the library, the cinema, a café or to the train station, I have to walk through the forest for an hour and a half before I reach the nearest small town.

That was less of a problem in summer, but since November, it has become uncomfortable and depressing. The intellectual wasteland has been joined by the grey drizzly joylessness of provincial Upper Palatinate. The locals try to fight it by putting up the same kitschy twinkling Christmas falderal every year, not achieving more than to signal the endless monotony of their lives, in which they do exactly the same things every year. They could already tell you today what they will cook for Christmas in 2018.

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I need to leave here urgently. Definitely before the yearly festivities of horror at the end of December.

I’ve been missing city life a bit. It doesn’t even need to be a big city. Only a town large enough for me not to run into the same people every day, where people have heated discussions while leaning over newspapers in a café, and where writers read their latest manuscripts to each other in smoke-filled basements.

This only exists in Eastern Europe.

The most exciting region of Eastern Europe – and thus of Europe as a whole – are the Balkans. A plethora of small states, of which hardly any European can name all, many of them so small that you can visit three countries, speak three different languages and visit the most distinct churches and mosques in one day. I love this diversity.

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Each of these countries is interesting and alluring, but on a previous visit, I already decided that Montenegro is the most beautiful country in Europe. The combination of the Adriatic Sea and mountains, of mountain villages and royal castles, everything in a relatively small country, makes it worth visiting.

Montenegro is also one of the youngest countries in Europe. It only became independent in 2006. In Eastern Europe, I often observed with fascination that there is more social and political dynamic in such countries, that people still argue about the path the country should take. (Just recently, Montenegro became our youngest NATO colleague.)

In Kotor, with its inner city that bans cars but is home to thousands of cats, where the sea and the mountains meet, and where there was an exhibition about Jan Karksi when I last visited, I found a cozy apartment. I can stay there for an affordable price until the end of February 2018, because the time is outside the tourist season. I hope this doesn’t mean that it will be as cold as it was in Malta or in Sicily, where I had the same idea in previous winters. (If it does, I might as well spend the next winter in Siberia.)

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In March 2018, I already have to return to Germany for the first exams of my studies in history. And after that – no, let me tell you about that another time.

Talking about history: My grandfather lived in Yugoslavia until November 1948, albeit not quite voluntarily. Maybe I can use this longer stay in ex-Yugoslavia to finally find out where exactly he was imprisoned during and after World War II and to visit the place.

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If anyone can help with that, I would highly appreciate it. I only know that he was working in a salt mine, if that helps to narrow the search.

Oh, and I should clarify that my move to Montenegro has nothing to do with a high-stakes poker tournament at the Casino Royale.

Posted in History, Maps, Montenegro, Travel, World War II | Tagged , , | 54 Comments

Video: Hungry Squirrel

The seeds in the flower pot were intended to help the birds get through the winter, but look who showed up and ate everything:

 

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Posted in Video Blog | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Thoughts of the Day 18

  1. “Time is more valuable than money could ever dream of being.” (Dan Kieran in The Idle Traveller)
  2. Thanks to Thomas Kuban for pointing me to The Ultimate Productivity Blog.
  3. Thanks to Priscila Serrano for the book 60 Degrees North, in which Malachy Tallack travels around the world on that parallel. 51t7vn43izl-_sx331_bo1204203200_
  4. Do you remember when I lived in that cute town in Romania that nobody knew how to spell correctly? Well, my article about this dilemma has now prompted a Romanian journalist to investigate the matter further.
  5. Messages for which I delete and block Facebook friends: Hitler beautiful
  6. I have always been skeptical of those DNA heritage tests where people find out that they are 23% Anglo-Saxon, 5% Sardinian, and so on (maybe because as a lawyer, I determine citizenship legally, not by heritage, identity or other vague concepts). But listening to this show with A.J. Jacobs, author of It’s All Relative, actually made me excited about trying it myself. its-all-relative-9781476734491_hr
  7. I have yet to meet a Brexiteer who understands the difference between the EU, the EEA, Schengen and the Council of Europe.
  8. Thanks to Dieter Schuffenhauer for Without You, There is no Us, an intriguing and excellently written look inside North Korea, and Another Great Day at Sea about life on an aircraft carrier. 51vqx8qisal-_sx329_bo1204203200_
  9. Thanks to Jackie Danson for They thought they were free: The Germans, 1933-45, Milton Mayer’s study of the lives of ordinary Germans under the Nazis. 9780226525839
  10. Thanks to Emmily for Ashenden by William Somerset Maugham, The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson and A Walk in the Woods by Lee Blessing, a very generous reward for a few questions answered in my FAQ on German citizenship41pyh3iynll-_sx321_bo1204203200_1
  11. My positive view of solitude has been backed up by more studies.
  12. This interview with historian Catherine Nixey was most eye-opening about the fundamentalism and brutality of early Christianity. I am looking forward to reading her book.
  13. Because of the internet censorship in Turkmenistan, I thought this would never happen, but finally I had the first recorded visit from the country to my blog. There are still 11 countries missing, though.
  14. Some of the motorcycle chases by Brazilian police are better than the ones in Bullitt or Jason Bourne:

Posted in Books, Brazil, Europe, Germany, North Korea, Religion, Romania, Time, UK | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Stupid Maps (1) Bavarian Independence

On the occasion of the attempts by some people in Catalonia to become independent, The Guardian published this map under the headline Beyond Catalonia: pro-independence movements in Europe.

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This map makes it look as if all of Europe is about to fall apart.

Now, I have been to many of these orange/yellow regions and lived in some of them, and I don’t remember any huge independence movements, but I will leave it to those of you who have lived there for longer to comment on the specific regions.

I will just pick Bavaria as an example because it’s the largest colored region after Scotland, because I have lived there for decades and because I know its political situation quite well: There is no serious independence movement in Bavaria. Putting Bavaria in the same league as Catalonia or Scotland, which had referendums on independence, or South Tyrol or the Basque Country with a history of separatist terrorism is just bullshit, as we would say in Bavaria.

Of course you can always find a few people everywhere who will say, after too many beers, “we want the king back” and dream of independence. But that’s like people dreaming of leaving their spouse and their children to travel around the world. It’s not a “movement”, nor anything serious.

There is actually one political party in Bavaria that wants more autonomy and lists a referendum on independence as a long-term goal: the Bayernpartei. (They do however want a democratically elected president, not a return to the monarchy, setting them at odds with the old drunkards at the Stammtisch.) After the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany, they were actually mildly influential, with 17 members in the first federal parliament (1949-53) and in governing coalitions in the state of Bavaria from 1954-57 and 1962-66.

But since 1966, this party of Bavarian autonomy/separatism/independence has not won any seats for the Bavarian state parliament, let alone the federal parliament, the Bundestag. Their best result since 1966 was actually in the last election in Bavaria in 2013, when the Bayernpartei scored 2.1% of the votes – but no seats – in the state which they want to lead to independence. That’s hardly a significant independence movement. The SNP would laugh about this.

Oddly though, the map leaves out the Donbass region in Ukraine, the Kurdish region in Turkey, TransnistriaAbkhazia and Užupis in Vilnius. Or maybe the Guardian doesn’t consider any of these regions to be part of Europe.

Posted in Elections, Europe, Germany, Maps, Media, Politics | Tagged | 3 Comments

Chocolate makes smart

You always knew it, didn’t you? Now there is a study suggesting a correlation between chocolate consumption and winning Nobel prizes.

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While you are emptying that jar of Nutella, you may however want to consider why this study is bogus:

  • Correlation does not imply causation.
  • The average chocolate consumption in a country does not mean that the respective Nobel laureates personally eat as much or indeed any chocolate. With such a small sample size, the laureates themselves should have been questioned.
  • Nobel prizes are awarded to individuals or organizations, not to countries. How to contribute the many Nobel laureates who were born in one country, studied in another country and then moved to a third country? Surely, they didn’t suddenly become more intelligent by moving from a low-chocolate to a high-chocolate environment.
  • Nobel prizes are such rare and singular events (often awarded decades after the underlying work had been performed) that they are not even a good measure of a population’s intelligence.
  • Higher chocolate consumption per capita could indicate higher economic well-being, which might lead to more people studying and researching under better conditions than in countries that can’t even afford Milka.
  • Chocolate melts in heat. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if people in colder countries eat more of it. But the cold may also prompt people to spend more time at the library than at the beach, thus leading to more and better research in Estonia than in the Dominican Republic.
  • Or maybe those cold countries up north still benefit from not having been colonized in recent history? Or from decades of peace?
  • Or they are not as affected by drought, again leading to better nutrition overall?

So, I am sorry to say, the study doesn’t show anything. But it does serve as an example of how to dissect such findings (and I am sure many more points of criticism could be made). By the way, before you mention it, the same applies to all the studies according to which the consumption of red wine leads to a longer life. Think of all the people you know and who of them drinks red wine regularly. It’s not the worker in the coal mine or the boy living on the rubbish dump, is it? No, it’s the middle-class teacher and his sociologist wife. I’ll bet you a ton of chocolate that even without any sip of wine, they would live longer than manual laborers who get exposed to toxic fumes every day.

(Thanks to fellow chocolate and research fans Romeu and Mafalda for pointing me to this study!)

Posted in Education, Food, Statistics | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

The Island of the General

2e92bfc3ff314105680c892740da9ee0-giuseppe-garibaldi-blouse-stylesIn November 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi could have asked for anything. He had begun a campaign with less than a thousand men, but had marched from victory to victory. He had ignited enthusiasm for an idea that had seemed unrealistic until then: a unified Italy. For that idea, he had been sentenced to death, he had fled, he had spent years in exile, just to return to Italy again and again to fight for the country he wanted to create.

Without Garibaldi, Italy would not exist, and without Garibaldi, Victor Emmanuel II wouldn’t have become king of that country.

So the king asked the general what reward he wanted for his lifelong service. A cabinet post? Rule over one of the provinces? A castle? Nobility?

“Just give me a sack of potatoes, so I can start a farm,” the 53-year old replied, mounted a boat and sailed to Caprera, a small and rather inhospitable island north of Sardinia.

The journey to Caprera offers ample opportunity to become seasick, because first you need to get from Italy to Sardinia, then from Sardinia to La Maddalena and ultimately from La Maddalena to Caprera. As the islands are getting smaller, so are the boats. But to find out why “the only wholly admirable figure in modern history” (according to the historian Alan Taylor) withdrew to an island with a few horses and donkeys, I have to set out on this arduous journey.

Actually, I don’t need a boat for the last part anymore. A 600-meter long road has been built between La Maddalena and Caprera. Small boats can still pass through a bridge. A civilian speedboat is whizzing past the former naval base, while I am whizzing to the island of the national hero by bicycle. As we are going to dive into the history of the 19th century today, I find a vehicle from pre-modernity quite fitting.

Pine trees and a few eucalyptus trees provide some shade. When Garibaldi moved to Caprera, the island was almost completely barren because, like everywhere around the Mediterranean, the Romans had raged and cut down all the trees. (We are lucky that they never discovered the Amazon.) The wind is playing with the branches of the pines. Apart from that, it’s almost silent. Only a few birds are chirping.

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At a picnic area, a bar made of timber bears the name “il barone rosso”. Hopefully, it was not named after the pilot from World War I, who bore the same title. Between the trees, there are a few unoccupied hammocks.

The road bifurcates. The Garibaldi Museum is to the left, the Garibaldi Memorial to the right. I’ll take the right turn for now. The higher I am struggling on the bike, the shorter the regular pine trees become, but the taller the mountain pines grow. At the summit, there is a rifugio for tired hikers with a seemingly endless supply of pine cones lying around, perfect for making a fire and a barbecue. Why is it that the most and the largest pine cones can always be found in places where the danger of forest fire prohibits the idea of lighting a fire?

From the Garibaldi complex, you can look down to the sea which is bluer than the Caribbean. Actually, if you know Sardinia, you don’t need to bother yourself with going to the Caribbean anymore. (And yes, I took it upon me to explore the Caribbean personally before giving this advice.)

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The memorial is an old fort, Forte Arbuticci, which had been in military use until World War II and on top of which a comparatively small museum has been grafted. Small, but nice. The museum is modern, multi-media, informative and interesting. But because most of the information is only in Italian, it’s good that you have dispatched me to translate everything for you.

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Even better that I have come alone. Because in such a museum, I read all the boards, study all the maps and take pages of notes. The other visitors are rushing through the museum, watching a few video clips, going back to their car and speeding on. I can spend hours here. Maybe it helps that I don’t have a car waiting for me, but only a bicycle and the looming midday heat.

I will give you the summary: born in Nice, seafaring, journeys as far as Russia, rebellion in Piedmont, sentenced to death, escaped to South America via Marseilles, revolution in Brazil, fleet commando for Uruguay in the war against Argentina, returned in 1848 for the revolution in Sicily, leading the revolutionary army, flight to Tangier and New York after the revolution failed, journeys to China, Australia, Peru, Chile, shipwrecked, returned to Italy once again, fighting in the Alps, liberation of Sicily, capture of Naples, fight against the Pope, wounded in battle, prison, fighting for France in the 1870/71 war against Prussia.

A life like one of Karl May‘s novels.

Oh, Garibaldi himself also wrote three novels after retiring.

But even more impressive than all the sailing and shooting and slaughtering are Garibaldi’s political ideas. He argued against the death penalty (granted, he had a personal stake in that), for general elections, for female emancipation, for a European federation, for self-determination of the Balkan peoples, for abolishing the papacy.

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During the Civil War in the United States, the Union negotiated with Garibaldi, who was offered a generalship first and then the supreme command over all troops. But Garibaldi’s condition was that the war would be fought with the express goal of abolishing slavery. At the time, President Lincoln wasn’t ready to do that.

Because he fought in Europe and in the Americas, Garibaldi was called “the hero of the two worlds”. If someone had informed him about the situation in Congo or in Kashmir, he probably would have hurried there as well. Even units that had nothing to do with Garibaldi used his name, like the Garibaldi Guard in the US Civil War, the Garibaldi Battalion in the Spanish Civil War, the Communist Garibaldi Brigades in Italy during World War II and the Garibaldi Partisan Division in Yugoslavia.

toscano-garibaldiSo after a few hours, I feel like I know almost every private detail of Garibaldi. Finally, for I have already seen hundreds of statues and memorial plaques of him all over Italy.  Any village has at least a Garibaldi Boulevard and a Garibaldi Park. Though, in my opinion, the best memorial are the Garibaldi cigars, which are luckily also available in almost every village. And they are not even expensive. But I am wandering from the subject again, when the reader would prefer my gaze to wander from the fort across the island.

Caprera is rather paltry. Stony. Windy. The pine trees adorning the island now were only planted by Garibaldi. So he himself didn’t benefit much from them. There is a nice coast for some walks, but to spend all of retirement here? Someone must have been really fed up with humanity.

A lady working a the memorial explains the way back, but I have already discovered a shortcut on the map: a hiking path past a military exclusion zone and a holiday resort. Both of them deserted. The buildings are crumbing, a few plastic chairs are strewn about the resort, as if nobody had been here in months. Very spooky.

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Especially in the south of Italy, I never understood why tourism is limited to two months in summer and it’s completely empty for the rest of the year. It’s May and it’s already warm, even hot, but my Italian friends are shocked: “Nobody is going to Sardinia now! We will all go there in August.” Even families without children, who would be independent of the school holidays, leave exactly on 15 August of each year, preferably going to the same holiday apartment in the same town where they have been staying for decades. The in-laws rent the holiday apartment next door, and they lunch and dine every day with the same people they already know from home. It seemed to me that not much value is placed on individualism in Italy. One reason why it was not quite the right country for me.

But today, I am alone and free like a revolutionary.

Although I feel well-informed already after the visit to the memorial, I continue to cycle to the museum in Garibaldi’s former house. There are a locomotive, a barrel for making wine, agricultural equipment, a mill and sickles. It looks like any museum of local history.

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Inside the house, there are a small piano, a horse buggy, four sabers, five bayonets, paintings, maps, nine muskets. Comfortable and classy, but nothing pompous. The best thing is the view through the tall windows. The rooms are cooled by the wind. The children’s bedroom has the same beds as the one for the parents. Equality!

Two guards are observing me carefully, ready to intervene the second I would dare to take a photo of the inside of the house.

In the room in which Garibaldi died, there is a pair of padded crutches and some medicine next to the bed. From the deathbed, one enjoys a look towards Corsica. The calendar and the clock indicate that it was 2 June 1882 at 6:20 am, when a very full life came to an end.

Not without some logical consistency, the guided tour moves towards the gravestones in the garden, where photography is allowed again. Here too, simplicity and frugality rule. The general didn’t want anything ostentatious. His wife and his children at least got marble with inscriptions, but Garibaldi himself was laid to rest under an unhewn granite rock.

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And that was it. The group almost got chased through the museum. I learned much more at the memorial site, and in a more relaxing atmosphere.

As I couldn’t dwell in Garibaldi’s White House as long as I had wanted to pay my respect to the place, I extend the bicycle trip around the island. Hilly roads and paths lead me to the southern tip of Caprera. Each bay is more beautiful than the last. Some of them with sandy beaches,

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others with rocks,

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and all of them almost completely devoid of humans.

Finally, I find a place in the shade for a picnic, when something nudges me gently from behind: a pig!

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In the spirit of Garibaldi, purportedly an animal lover and vegetarian, I let it live. Also, it is so peaceful and friendly that it perfectly suits the island and the whole day.

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Practical advice:

  • There are no flights or regular ships to Caprera. So you have to take the ferry from Palau in Sardinia to La Maddalena. The ferry goes almost every hour and costs 9 euros for a two-way ticket.
  • You can reach Palau by train from any major city in Sardinia.
  • Outside of the summer season, it’s really easy to find accommodation on La Maddalena.
  • I generally would advise against going to Sardinia in July or August: overcrowded, booked out, too expensive and too hot. I was there in May, and it was perfect.
  • Both islands are wonderful for cycling and hiking. One advantage of going on foot: you can walk closer to the coast.
  • A good bicycle cost 10 euros per day, but I got it for 15 euros for two days. The shop in Via Amendola (as you exit the ferry) also rents out scooters and quads. Phone 0789-737606, e-mail mgmega@tiscali.it. There are a few hills on the island, but nothing that would be insurmountable by bicycle.
  • Allegedly, there is a bus on Maddalena going to Caprera. Because many visitors to La Maddalena drive to Caprera, it also shouldn’t be hard to catch a ride as a hitchhiker.
  • The combined ticket for both museums on Caprera costs 10 euros or 5 euros if you are between 18 and 25 years old. As is often the case in Italy, younger and older (65 years and above) visitors can enter for free.
  • The memorial is only open from Thursday through Sunday and only 0900-1400. Garibaldi’s house is open from Tuesday through Sunday, 0900-2000.
  • Don’t forget sunscreen and a hat! Particularly on La Maddalena, there are hardly any trees and thus no shade.

(Hier gibt es diesen Artikel auf Deutsch.)

Posted in History, Italy, Photography, Sardinia, Travel | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

How about tipping?

Wikipedia has this map of tipping customs in restaurants:

tipping map

This might be useful for those of you who like to do things as they are done customarily.

Me, I am rather skeptical regarding tipping. And it really pisses me off when people expect it or even add it to the bill, like I have experienced it in Chile and the US. If you run a restaurant and you can’t pay your staff a living wage, close the damn restaurant! Or if you know that you need to charge 10% more, amend the menu instead of luring customers with fraudulently low prices.

Also, I don’t quite understand why I, as a poor freelancer earning less than minimal wage should support people with a fun job that even comes with free food. And ain’t nobody never tipping me when I deliver a great translation (which does not come with free food).

No, I reserve tips for cases when I want to. For example when I spend more time than normal at a restaurant, reading a book and smoking a cigar for an hour after I have finished lunch, then I pay extra for the time that I occupied the space. Or when a hairdresser in Brazil or Romania has to communicate with me in a foreign language, then I compensate them for the added stress. Or when a taxi driver helps me carry my bag to the house. Or the guy at the hotel who patiently answers all my questions about where to find this and that.

But if you do run a restaurant or a shop and want tips, I recommend that you put up a jar for all tips for the whole crew. Otherwise, the practice is rather discriminatory, with young people receiving more tips than older people, beautiful people more than less beautiful people and big-breasted women more than their lesser endowed but probably equally hard-working colleagues. (Yes, there is a study on that.)

Posted in Economics, Maps, Statistics, Travel | Tagged , | 7 Comments