Wet grave

Fuldabrücke, Guntershausen, Baunatal

Different stories about bridges could be told at Guntershausen. The village belonging to Baunatal, Germany, is an important railway junction where the tracks from Kassel to Frankfurt (Main-Weser-Bahn) and from Kassel to Bebra (Friedrich-Wilhelms-Nordbahn) meet. Since 1848 a large and beautiful bridge leads over river Fulda, but its centrepiece was destroyed during World War II by the Nazis. It was rebuilt in 1952 in modern style. The most macabre story happened during the construction works of a nearby road bridge. High water stopped the construction works in 1924 right after the piling walls had been placed.

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Söhrebahn

Söhrebahn, Wellerode, Söhrewald

The Söhrebahn was a railway leading from the city quarter Bettenhausen of Kassel, Germany, to the forest behind the village Wellerode (passing Eisenhammer, Lohfelden and Vollmarshausen). It was built in normal width (1435 mm), more than 10 kilometres long and opened in 1912. Within the Söhre brown coal had been found and it was transported from there to Kassel – but also other companies along the track started to use it and connecting tracks where built. The railway track was also used to transport persons and its existence connected the Söhre closely to Kassel. Many villages along the way grew and people used the trains to commute to the city.

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Paris of the Middle East

بيروت, Lebanon

The question most often asked while I was preparing for my visit to Lebanon was: Why? Why should one go to a country that is in Europe mostly connected with war and acts of terror? I had not one clear and good reason for this but a bunch of minor ones: I had travelled throughout Israel and when arriving at the border to Lebanon I was unhappy that there was no chance to pass. I had contact with many different persons in Germany that had fled from Lebanon because of the civil war, I had read so much about the conflicts in this region. I enjoyed Lebanese food at home and wanted some more. And I simply wanted to see how life is like in this region of the world. And then there is Beirut – a city once called the Paris of the Middle East; doesn’t that sound inviting?

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Civil war

Wall of hope, بيروت

Lebanon is a country quite far away in the Middle East and part of the Levante states. But already in my youth, I somehow got in contact with the country and it was all because of the Lebanese civil war which was long-lasting (from 1975 to 1990) but already over by that time. I got in contact with Lebanese people who fled to Europe and started a new life here. With that guy who opened up a fantastic falafel eatery at Göttingen, Germany, or later with the nice Lebanese family that sold delicious food at Hann. Münden, Germany. My image of Beirut was shaped by a rather unexpected medium: computer games.

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Byblos

Harbour, Byblos

The city of جبيل, Lebanon, is one of the oldest, still inhabited cities in the world. It dates back to 5th century BCE and was over many centuries an important harbour for trading with Egypt and Cyprus. While the Egyptians preferred the strong Cedarwood of Lebanon, the Lebanese needed stones that were less weak than the local material. Byblos also became an important hub for trading papyrus. Under the name Gibelet and under Christian reign it became an important harbour for the Christian crusaders travelling to the Holy Land.

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Stay connected

Local SIM card, بيروت

When I went to Lebanon I decided to get a local SIM card for my mobile phone. And that was a very easy decision as my provider Deutsche Telekom places Lebanon into its horrible Ländergruppe 3 (the group of countries with the highest roaming costs) and doesn’t even offer data packages to book. Paying horrible 0.49 Euros every 50 KB (observe the unit, per 50 kilobyte!), making phone calls for 2.99 Euros every minute (or receiving them for 1.79 Euros per minute) and paying 0.49 Euros for every SMS message wasn’t an option. Using just the WiFi in your hotel, in coffee bars and restaurants might be okay. But especially if you want to use Uber to get around or if you travel to rural areas it feels better to have a constant connection.

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Minerals

Museum of minerals (MIM), بيروت

I admit I was wrong. I always believed that a collection of minerals must be absolutely boring. But then I came across the Mineral Museum (MIM) of the Université Saint-Joseph at بيروت, Lebanon. It is a vast collection of minerals from all over the world. As it belongs to a university there are good scientific explanations but the presentation is also very nice. They play a lot with light and stage the beautiful stones the right way.

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Revolution

Barb wire, بيروت

Lebanon currently experiences exceptional circumstances. 30 years after the Lebanese civil war and 15 years after the so-called Cedar revolution and the Lebanon war in 2006 the country now has a governmental crisis. Since October 2019 the people are protesting on a daily basis against corruption, economic turndown, daily electricity outages, the political elite and a system that assigns governmental positions and the number of seats in the parliament by religion. More than ten different religious groups claim their rights and finding consensus must be like a mission impossible.

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Lebanese pound

Lebanese pounds/lira, بيروت

Concerning currencies, a visit to Lebanon is a bit special. The official currency is the Lebanese pound (LBP, currency sign ل.ل.‎) which is sometimes also called Lebanese lira – most probably because of the French and Arabic names: livre libanaise and lira libnaniyya. After the Lebanese civil war and the inflation caused by it, the value has been fixed to the US dollar. One USD is worth 1507.5 LBP. At most places, it is possible to also pay in USD and if you only have Euros left in your pocket: most people will accept EUR banknotes, too. They then tree the EUR equal to USD which isn’t the best deal.

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Երևան

Hrasdan valley, Երևան

Never did I underestimate a country as I did with Armenia. It was the first Christian country and its capital city Երևան was founded 29 years before Rome, Italy. The result of this long and culturally rich past can be seen in numerous museums and temples throughout the country. During Soviet times the Asian face of Երևան was nearly fully destroyed – today the city centre is very modern, financed in relevant parts by money coming from the diaspora (created by the genocide of 1915).

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