Category Archives: sightseeing

5 Observations about Afghanistan

Ok, well, before I bury myself under a huge pile of shit I’m gonna backpedal a little and make my claim not about Afghanistan as a whole, but about my very limited impression of its capital city – Kabul. Now I’ve been here for about four weeks, so it is of course high tide for my oh so valuable evaluation of the situation as a whole (meaning only certain very random aspects of it. of course.).


Dust: Everywhere.
Oh, the hell. Think about all the images of Afghanistan you have seen so far (try to dismiss the ones about war) and tell me what you think of. Forests and green pastures? Rivers and flowers and shit? Yeah, no. Most probably not. Cause land is bleak, y’all. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is very beautiful, but in a very grey and beige sort of way. Kabul looks like it had been a desert in between some rocks and people decided: nice place for a city! So a city is. But it seems like all rocks and stones and earth and stuff want to remind you: we’re still playing desert here. And there is dust EVERY-effin-WHERE. Often it is visible in the air, but you mostly notice because it creeps in everywhere. Literally everywhere. After a few days everything is covered in a thin layer of grey/beige dust. Even inside of a box, cause this dust here knows how to find its way. It’s partly impressive, partly annoying (not to mention you have to wash your hands a gazillion times a day cause every time you touch something you, well, touch dust).

actually my garden

Gardens: Hidden
The color green (color of Islam, y’all) is kinda missing in action here in Kabul. At least that is what it looks like at first glance. Houses, or rather compounds, present themselves as mini-fortresses all walled and fenced in picking up the ever popular color-scheme of grey and beige and brown. Bu-hut! Once you enter a compound usually a pretty surprising oasis awaits you. Our compound hides a beautiful garden in the backyard. Complete with flowers, zucchini, apple trees and a lawn. And it is very common, several houses that I’ve visited so far exhibit the same secret garden within the confines of their compound walls. There is a beautiful restaurant called Le Jardin du Taimani where you have to pass by 5 or 6 walls ‘til you find yourself in a vast and lush garden (and I was told that most restaurants have that, some even more beautiful).


Burqa: Not all women in them
I guess when most people think of Afghanistan, they think of women wearing the burqa. Granted, I see some of them every day, but not wearing a burqa is way more common. Also granted, there is no women not wearing the Hijab, a veil to cover her hair, at least partially. Indoors at the office e.g. you will meet Afghan women without the veil, but not so on the streets. I suspect that once you get into more rural areas the sight of a woman on the street and of a woman on the street not wearing a burqa will be much rarer. But for Kabul, there is little burqa but much suspicion on my part that the image of women in Afghanistan that I constructed in my head – and the ideas that I had been fed with throughout several conversations and trainings – needs a substantial adjustment. I’m very “better don’t start a conversation cause it might be misinterpreted” (really, you have no idea how much every sort of training and book and documentary etc tells you as a western man that you should absolutely not randomly start a conversation with an Afghan muslima) so especially in the office I still have trouble figuring out what is acceptable and what is not. And my impression is: there is a lot more acceptable than I initially though. So they probably all think I’m really weird. And coming here with a head full of feminist ideals it feels really weird to be all cautious and gender-segregating. I’ll monitor the progress of this shit and let you know.


Violence: Lurking (apparently)
Ok, besides dust and burqa the most prominent images of Afghanistan are those of war and Taliban and death. And just a few days ago on Massoud Day (a Mujahedin who advanced to national hero status, read more HERE) a suicide bomber killed five other people while people of Pashtun ethnicity celebrated, went into a quarter where mostly people of Hazara ethnicity live and killed a shopkeeper because they didn’t find it appropriate that he would not close his shop in honor of Massoud. They just gave him a blow on the head with a wooden stick and he was dead and then of course the Hazara went after them and killed a policeman (I think). I heard gunshots, sitting on my terrace, because we were not allowed to go out. That’s called “white city” which pushes all my wrong buttons concerning racism and colonialism, but the hell.
It’s just really crazy to hear that and hear about what happened. Cause let’s face it – these people have witnessed basically nothing but war for the last 30 to 40 years. With three quarters of the population being under 25 that means that all Afghans basically know nothing but war or at least times of violent conflicts. I don’t encounter it personally – except for armed guards at my office and the supermarket I shop in, and the streets I drive through, and the hotel-restaurant I go to… ah well, you get the point – but it is kinda scary to wonder about basically everyone you meet how far they would go if a conflict would occur. One of my first days here I saw a kid of maybe 15 beat another one with a wooden stick. These were obviously two groups of school-kids and stuff like that happens between boys of that age everywhere in the world. But how often does it happen here? I’m afraid that it is very common, and for me coming form basically safe old Germany that is plain crazy.


Excitement: Small things
I’m not allowed to walk in the streets. Not even down the street to buy a Pepsi. I am picked up by a driver in a car no matter where I want to go. Sneaky as I am I kinda bent the rule on this one and had a little walk with Afghan colleagues from a lunch-restaurant to our office. It was basically two minutes walking down the lamest of streets. But lemme tell y’all: I was super excited. Both in a “oh, that’s how that looks and feels” and a “hopefully I don’t get shot” kinda way. Of course I didn’t get shot, because while I think there is a higher tolerance for violence, I think that 95 percent of the population have no interest in seeing me killed whatsoever (and the other 5 percent probably aren’t either). But such a random thing like just walking down a block becomes such a delight all of a sudden – it’s kinda heartwarming. And batshit crazy.

And yep, that’s my sum-up: Heartwarming and batshit crazy. Xept for some stuff, I really kinda like it here.


Top Ten list of places I’d like to be at right now

Granted, I could also just say that this top ten list is made up of top ten travel destinations, which would probably be equally true. However, it is very hot in Southern Germany right now and I have to write applications which is one of those things that sound like little fun and are actually less than you’d have expected. So where would I like to be?


#10 Rome

I’ve never been there, but somehow I think, one should have been, at least as a EU citizen, right? Ok, there is Berlusconi, and ok, it’s probably even hotter over there, but still. Just for some good old sightseeing and pretending to get some educational input while basically really just relaxing.


#9 Portugal

Not unlike Rome, I guess. Never been there, but have wanted to go for a long time now. It’s probably lovely. I imagine beautiful landscapes and quiet country-side scenes, long walks along the shores and laughing with the locals…Well, parts of that at least. I have this “it’s gonna be nice there” image of it and would like to find out if it’s true. But it will also be very hot there.


#8 Paris

Been there, loved it, been there again and was robbed, loved it still, went again and loved it again. So naturally I just really want to go to Paris again, preferably with my sweetheart and do some good old touristy stuff while enjoying the European Metropolis-ness of it all. Without riots, please.


#7 Egypt

Speaking of riots, I assume that Egypt as of now is maybe not the funnest country in the world to be for tourists, but then again it still is Egypt. Never been there, but really want to see pyramids and the nile and alla that, but I am also afraid of being thoroughly disappointed by the “ultimate tourist experience” one is likely to have due to heavy tourist traffic in good old Egypt.


#6 New York

A friend of mine is going in a few days and I could not be more jealous. It’s frickin’ NY and I love love love big cities, so basically NY and me should be a match made in heaven. And there is really no excuse, no political upheavals, no language I couldn’t master, no crazy price-tag to the flight. Still haven’t made it, still want to go.


#5 Kenia

Been there in 2006 and since then the country’s been through a lot. Just recently reconnected with a friend from there (and then) and funnily enough this coming weekend I’ll meet up with two of the women I was there with, one of whom I haven’t seen or spoken to in years (plus: she doesn’t know yet, heehee). I would really love to go there again, revisist places and faces and experience some more of this beautifully awesome country. Though I don’t know if I’d climb Mount Kenya once more…


#4 India

Classical case of Orientalism. I just gotta admit it and get it off my chest. India seems so irresistibly fascinating for the sheer variation in people and lifestyles and I’m always like: no matter what, you can just go there and try to make it. Of course I’d probably wither within a few days, but somehow I feel like I must go there once and try to live it like for real. Whatever that means. Slap me now.


#3 Okinawa (Japan)

I could really just go anywhere in Japan right now (well, except for maybe…), but most of all I’d like to go back to Okinawa and the southern islands and islets again and just enjoy a crazy hot summer with the landscape, fruits and beaches to go with it. Oh and yeah, brush up my terrible Japanese of course. Good student that I am.


#2 Iceland

Also a place that I’ve already visited in the past, and it really was a magical experience. The freedom of camping in terrific nature, surrounded by amazing friends, aww, it was perfect. I really wanna go again, see some more and revisit what I liked best. Also a place I’d like to bring my sweetheart with me, cause he’d really like it too.


#1 Mongolia

How can I have not been to Mongolia? For whatever reason I am totally obsessed with going there. It’d be perfect right now: cool, supposedly stress-free and no computer to remind me of application duties. In my mind it’s basically the most beautiful country on earth, so don’t think I come without expectations, ha. Preferably’d go there by trans-siberian railway, just soak in that wide and empty landscape. Somebody care to give me shitloads of money to buy the damn ticket? kthanx.

So how bout you? Where would you wanna be?

Going to church: Peterskirche am Plöck, Heidelberg

The church we are about to visit today in the fourth installment of this ongoing series is the Peterskirche am Plöck, the oldest church in the city of Heidelberg in southern Germany, that I visited in late October 2010. She served as University Chapel for the Uni of Heidelberg and officially became University Church in 1896.

via, cause I didn't take a full on picture...

The church is mentioned for the first time in 1196, therefore making it older than the city of Heidelberg itself. According to a contract with the University of Heidelberg, the church does not belong to any parish (although in terms of actual possession it is owned by a protestant foundation), but serves as the official University church.

The most striking thing about the Peterskirche for me was the amount of commemorative plaques attached to its outer and inner walls. These are the tombstones reminding visitors of the numerous university professors and nobles that were entombed in the church. They come in a variety of shapes and colors, featuring sphinxes and faded knights, all of them beautiful. Part of the now small ground surrounding the church has been a cemetery in former times, lying outside the city walls actually.

Between 1485 and 1496 the church was remodeled after gothic designs, but that was changed up later on, when towards the end of the 17th century the church (as much of the city) were destroyed and became a ruin. It was re-erected as a baroque church, but then again redesigned around 1870, following neo-gothic designs. Since 2006 some of the windows have been replaced with new ones by glass artist Johannes Schreiter, opting for a more modern, read: abstract, interpretation of classical motifs.

two of the windows designed by Schreiter, via

Going to church: St. Bonifatiuskirche Heidelberg

Yup folks, it is that time again: We go to church. You may just enjoy the view, just be interested in the architectural features or you might wanna sit down and pray, anyhow, you are very welcome. No need to convert though, I am not a Christian, nor am I religious, but I sure like them churches, so let’s take a peek.

For a long time the previously featured Jesuitenkirche (Jesuit Church) had been the only Catholic church in all of Heidelberg. But around the end of the 19th century the western part of the city as we know it today came to be built and from the beginning they had plans to erect both a Catholic and a Protestant church. The St. Bonifatius was thus built from 1899 to 1903 after Ludwig Maier’s plans and is of neo-Romanesque style, signified by the double-towers. The church was renovated in 1976 (interior) and then again from 2005 to 2009 (this time the exterior). You’ll find it in the (quite long, so google the exact position) Kaiserstraße in Heidelberg.

The interior of the church is quite beautiful and very unlike what many of us Germans are used to, due to seeing a lot of Baroque, neo-Baroque or Rococo interiors. There is a large wooden ceiling with paintings on it. Those look pretty medieval to my unqualified eye, so that came as a surprise, especially since the whole interior of the church is somewhat dark and gloomy while it looks so shiny and bright from the outside. That made for a nice contrast in atmosphere.

When I entered the church and took all the photos, there was actually just one other person there. This woman was obviously in prayer, sitting on one of the benches. Do I have to spell it out? I felt like the most offensive intruder ever, coming in all touristy and stuff, taking random pictures while she might be sitting there contemplating life and destiny and all the like. I toyed with the idea of just asking her if it’s ok for me to take pictures while she is there, until I finally came to the conclusion that I was too afraid to ask. However, the two times I passed her, we looked each other in the eye, smiled and nodded a friendly hello. So I totally felt accepted. And actually really happy. That was the nicest smile I had gotten that day, and the intimacy of the whole situation added a lot of emotional weight to it. So, dear woman in the St. Bonifatiuskirche in Heidelberg: thank you, and: you’re awesome!

If you happen to be in Heidelberg, take a walk out to the western part of the city and have a look at the St. Bonifatiuskirche, it is totally worth it!

Going to church: Jesuitenkirche Heidelberg

Since it is Sunday, this is a good time for another “Going to church” blogpost. It’s been a while since the first one (which you can find here), but I’ve seen some nice churches recently, so yay, new material! As per usual, keep in mind: I am not a Christian, nor a religious person, I just happen to enjoy churches a lot, so here we go:

Let us first take a tour around the building. The curious thing about the Jesuitenkirche is, that it is one of the two major churches in Heidelberg in terms of sheer size. Yet, while the other one, the Heiliggeistkirche is easily visible within the historic city, the Jesuitenkirche (Jesuit church) is kinda hidden away and springs up rather surprisingly once you stand in front of it. It’s massive, but all the buildings around are so close that you only really see it from up above or if you stand right in front of it. Since I lack a good camera and there was no way to stand back far enough, there is not picture of the whole church, except for the one at the bottom of this post.

The Jesuitenkirche is at the heart of the Jesuit Quarter in Heidelberg and main church of the Roman-Catholic Heilig-Geist-parish of Heidelberg. It has been built from 1712 to 1759 in the style of the Baroque, but the church tower is a more recent building, having been completed in 1872. Instead of being oriented towards the east, as churches usually are, this one is oriented towards the south, for whatever reason (but makes for a little curiosity, right?). The pieta is by the sculptor Julius Seitz, created in 1905. The organ is the most recent addition, dating back to only 2009, when the old organ was given to a private museum.

The two pictures right above and below depict two sculptures, that are part of a larger exhibition going on primarily in the church-adjacent Museum for sacral art and liturgy (in the church’s crypt apparently) titled “Gott – weiblich” (God – female) tracing back stories and histories of female depictions of God and asking for the female side of the Christian god. As a feminist I was very pleased to see that, escpecially since it is being made visible within the church itself.

Another really interesting project going on within the church itself are these two red towers in the image above. They are made of little clay bricks and serve to remember the dead. People close to one’s heart, who recently passed away, can be immortalized by writing their name in the wet clay, have the bricks be burnt and then added to these towers (representing church towers, if I remember correctly). I thought this was an incredibly awesome idea and love the fact that it is openly featured within the church nave. Cool things happen in churches, who’da thunk it?
And below one last glimpse on the church exterior, from afar, to be more precise: from on top of the hill where the Heidelberg Castle ruins are located. Go have a look, if you’re there!

Random Impressions of Heidelberg

I’ve been on somewhat of a tour-de-Germany this past week. Went from Berlin to Heidelberg to Mainz and then to the tiny villiage I grew up in south of Stuttgart. That explains why I post very irregularly and why my posts are particularly photo-heavy. Like this one. It’s been the third time I visited Heidelberg last week, but the first time that I stayed a little longer than just overnight, so I had the opportunitiy to have a closer look. Thank you Tobi and Sarah for giving me shelter, and for the awesome week I was able to spend there!

The image right above shows you the shop entrance to Käthe Wohlfahrt. There you can buy everything you ever wanted for Christmas (all year long) and more. Nothing is too cheesy, tacky or kitschy to not be featured here. So if you have a serious Christmas addiction, this is your place to be.

Obviously there is no posting about Heidelberg without mentioning the Heidelberg Palace. It towers over the city and is quite beautiful to behold. And lucky me I went up there with Tobi on a wonderful autumn afternoon, enjoying the view on the massive ruins.
The palace was built in the 13th century where previously there had been a smaller type of castle. A string of electors attached new buildings to the original construction and over time the Heidelberg Palace came to be one of the most beautiful Renaissance castles in Germany. It was destroyed during the War of Palatine Succession around 1690 and never really re-built. From the 19th century onwards it then became one of the most famous castle ruins throughout Europe.

For all of those who’ve never been to Heidelberg, I would definitely recommend to go there and have a thorough look around. The architecture alone is totally worth a visit!

The Berlin Wall, or: not quite

Last weekend I graciously made the effort to visit the Naturkundemuseum (Natural History Museum) here in Berlin to get a glimpse on all their pickled animals. Which is what you see in the photo below, and it looks real pretty in real life.


But what I was even more surprised about, was to find myself standing in the Invalidenpark (in between Habersaathstraße, Schwarzer Weg, Invalidenstraße and Scharnhorststraße ) for the first time. I’ve never been aware of its existence nor do I think anybody ever mentioned it to me (except for Jochen, so, thank you Jochen). It’s not exactly super-spectacular or a vast area of thriving wilderness, but in the middle of it you can find the “Sinking Wall” (conceptualized by Christophe Girot) that is to remind visitors of both the church that had been standing here in the past, but also of the Berlin Wall and how it came down. And I must say: it really is a nice monument. Simple symbolism done right, yay!

(you can view larger versions by clicking the images)


I’ll give you two more impressions of this eventful day, namely some sculptural art on the wall of the ministry for technology etc and the statue of liberty in front of the Hauptbahnhof (main station), eating the moon for ice-cream and being all fenced in.


So if you haven’t been to Invalidenpark yet but happen to find yourself in the area, it is definitely worth checking out.

Storm the fortress: Spandau Citadel

I already posted about my visit to Berlin-Spandau, so here is another post for all Berliners and Berlin-visitors out there. Living in the east or in the Kreuzberg/Neukölln area of Berlin usually means that chances are high you never make it far out west. There are nice places though, and Spandau certainly has a rich history to offer. Not to forget Spandau Ballet, who actually don’t have much to do with Spandau anyways, I guess.


The Spandau Citadel is one of these things, being a Renaissance fortress built upon structures that were already erected as early as about 1050. The oldest intact building is the Julius-tower and it’s adjacent Palas (from the 13th century). The whole citadel is built on an island that forms a square, and birds-eye-pictures of it look pretty therefore.


There’s a whole bunch of statues. Most of them knights and rulers and whatnot, but I don’t really care, I’m just very very fond of Albrecht der Bear (Albrecht the bear – who actually was the first Margrave of Brandenburg and was born around 1100) who holds out his cross like there’s no tomorrow, making me feel all guilty and stuff. For like basically nothing.


For a little consistency on this blog I just had to add this picture. So there is fashion and decoration here too, medieval style, or actually more Renaissance style, not that I could really tell. But I love the colors. Plus I love all colored glass, especially if the color happens to be green and I think the necklace-case is pretty awesome.


Yeah and just like that this post is already over. Notice how I played with the colors in the last photo and like the 70s kinda sepia feel of it. And oh, if you happen to live or be in Berlin, drop by. It’s a fun day trip and if the weather is fine you can just have a nice little picnic there. On a Sunday you can also combine it with a flea market visit at the OBI parking lot on Wilhelmstraße near the train station. Have fun!

Going to church: Nikolaikirche Spandau

You would never have guessed, but the initial idea for this blog was to blog about churches.
Now, I’m not a religious person, as in: I don’t go to church for service, nor do I believe in any religion, nor in any god.
But churches can be pretty badass nonetheless. Especially here in Berlin, where there seems to be one on every street corner and where nobody pays attention to just that, it is very interesting to just explore the city by visiting its churches.
While I abandoned the idea of this blog being exclusively about churches, I’d like to blog about them nevertheless, so here I begin:

I’ve been to Spandau out in the west with my flatmates over a week ago to go hunting for awesome things on cheap fleamarkets. Mind you, we were too late for that, but made a fun trip out of it by visiting the old Spandau city center and wandering around the citadel (which I’ll blog about later).

The St. Nikolai-church in Berlin Spandau was mentioned for the first time in 1240, although the construction of the church as we can see it nowadays only really started in the first half of the 14th century.
The tower, which is 77m of height, burnt down two times, once in 1740 and then again in 1944. The whole church has been restored to its old glory as late as 1996. It is a reformed church belonging to the Margraviate of Brandenburg, and the statue above depicts Elector Joachim II, who converted to Protestantism in 1539.

The baptismal font is apparently the oldest work of art in the church, dating back to 1398, which is pretty impressive. The image in the middle depicts the family tomb of the Lynars, who came to Brandenburg in 1578 after having converted to Calvinism and who directed the construction of the Spandau Citadel. The window is part of the small Ribbeck Chapel, beneath whose floor the family tomb of the Ribbecks is located.

After having had a thorough look we moved to the restaurant facing the church called “Satt und Selig” – full and blissful. We recommend the mushrooms filled with spinach and gorgonzola.

Oh, and they exhibit this incredibly hilarious work of art.

And I’ll just leave you with some impressions of far-out Spandau.