“My parents had a Type 500 car, and I remember it was always difficult to breathe in the back,” says Wolfgang Worf, whose family made regular trips from Weimar to East Germany or Liberec in what was then Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s. (Also read: This little India in Malaysia deserves a special mention)
Sometimes they even traveled three times a year. The car was extremely small and had no windows in the back that could be opened. After upgrading to the popular 601 model of the ubiquitous East German Trabant — affectionately known as the Trabbi — the long journeys to the neighboring country have become a little more bearable, he told DW.
Wolfgang Worf’s parents came from the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, today’s Czech Republic. After the Second World War, they were among the approximately three million Germans who were expelled. But they took every opportunity to visit their home region and old school friends.
Worf remembers that GDR citizens were not allowed to exchange many GDR stamps for Czech crowns, which at the time made accommodation with acquaintances and friends absolutely necessary. “In return, we brought them something from East Germany, which was always a nice, friendly gesture.”
The right to vacation was enshrined in the constitution of the communist GDR. In 1961 everyone who was employed was entitled to 12 days’ holiday, with the number of days gradually increasing over the years.
However, East Germans couldn’t just pack up and go wherever they wanted. The goals were limited and the limitations were huge.
For a trip to Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, an exit permit was required along with other documents. People usually traveled to the Soviet Union as part of a tour group, rarely alone.
Exotic destinations like Cuba required the approval of the party secretary, the union official and the employer. Applicants had to be highly respectable GDR citizens, which made such travel virtually impossible for ordinary citizens.
A visit to a country that did not belong to the group of so-called brother countries was out of the question, especially after the construction of the Berlin Wall.
Why some borders were more open than others
In 1972 the Berlin Wall had already stood for 11 years. East Germans, almost universally excluded from the West, had not met their relatives in person for over a decade. Resentment spread, people raised tentative demands for freedom to travel – a topic that would later lead to the end of the GDR state.
The East German leadership sensed people’s displeasure and gave in. At the beginning of 1972, agreements came into force which, on paper at least, eased travel restrictions between the GDR, Poland and Czechoslovakia.
“You were still on the border for a long time, whether before or after 1972. It didn’t really matter,” Worf said.
According to GDR records from 1977, the citizens of the GDR traveled almost 50 million times to the two neighboring countries in the first five years.
Popular destinations in Czechoslovakia were Prague and Karlovy Vary. People wanted to get to know the culture and landscape, but they also met relatives from West Germany there, whom the GDR only allowed its citizens to visit under certain conditions and after a thorough examination. “It was always very nice,” Worf said.
“Boundaries of Friendship”
Poland was popular for weekend breaks as overnight stays were possible without a registration procedure.
Many East Germans enjoyed the more informal atmosphere of a country where they could buy West German publications like the news magazine Der Spiegel and catch the latest Hollywood blockbusters in the cinemas.
Polish citizens did not travel to the GDR so much for vacation or relaxation, but in the hope of finding scarce goods that were not available in their own country or only available at significantly higher prices.
Axel Drieschner, curator of the exhibition “Boundaries of Friendship: Tourism between GDR, CSSR and Poland” in the Museum of Utopia and Everyday Life in Eisenhüttenstadt, told DW a joke about the situation.
“Two dogs meet at the border and one asks: Why are you going to the GDR? The other says to feed me. The first dog asks: Why are you going to Poland? To bark louder?”
In Poland one could express dissatisfaction at that time and speak more openly about certain problems that one did not want to address publicly in the GDR, said Drieschner.
The Utopia and Everyday Museum has a collection of various memorabilia from trips to Poland and Czechoslovakia, several hundred exhibits ranging from postcards and travel catalogs to objects and souvenirs, memories of East Germans vacationing in Poland and Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s.
Most of the exhibits are on loan and end up on the museum’s doorstep after a public call. Many people have responded, Drieschner said, sending emails with anecdotes and stories, as well as souvenirs, some of which are on display.
The East German leadership soon regretted the move
It wasn’t long before the governing SED party regretted the easing of the borders. They hadn’t factored in shopping tourism and the consequences for their own planned economy.
“They had calculated years in advance how much, say, razor blades or pins would be needed in the next few years,” says Drieschner, adding that people from other countries suddenly appeared with very specific needs that had not been taken into account.
Another aspect could also wreak havoc, namely the potential to arouse resentment in the East German population, said Drieschner.
“The leadership didn’t want to stir up unrest in the population, which could easily happen when Polish citizens drove to East German Görlitz and bought more or less off-the-shelf goods in department stores,” he explained. “The larger cities near the border were very badly affected by shopping tourism, and sometimes new resentments arose against the nationalities who might be buying much-needed consumer goods.”
Wolfgang Worf, on the other hand, remembers special goods that he brought back from Czechoslovakia.
“We brought home loads of dumpling flour, which didn’t exist in the GDR back then, and my favorite dish was always roast beef with dumplings. I also liked shopping in the stationery store – the Czechs had certain pens that were rarely found in East Germany.”
Shopping tourism displeased the East German leadership, as did the emergence of the anti-Soviet solidarity movement in the 1980s.
The subsequent imposition of martial law in Poland again led to stricter controls at the borders and travel was made more difficult.
That era is long gone, and today the borders are open in almost all of Europe. The exhibition “Boundaries of Friendship”, which can be seen in the Museum for Utopia and Everyday Life until April 30, 2023, shows visitors what traveling was like for East Germans in the 1970s and 1980s.
This article was originally written in German.
Beyond the hype, a dirty side of Da Lat
Most of this is true, but that’s not the only local reality where things get pretty ugly, too. Unless this reality is recognized and seriously addressed, Da Lat will lose its charm and become a shadow of itself.
Here’s an unflattering picture of the other side.
When walking or running on a sidewalk around Xuan Huong Lake in Da Lat in the early morning, at a certain point you can no longer stay on the sidewalk. One is forced to walk or run into the street as there can be up to ten street kitchens completely blocking sidewalk access. Going out on a street at night can be a bit dangerous as there are quite a number of drunk drivers on the road at night, some driving at speeds well in excess of 120km/h.
These street vendors sell food and drink in plastic bowls and cups. Plastic waste is scattered about a hundred meters in front of and behind their stands. Food and drink thrown away or spilled on sidewalks and streets is a common sight.
Because food safety isn’t monitored regularly, or because people might be very drunk, it’s also not uncommon to see vomit on sidewalks. Open stool and urination is a regular occurrence in the early hours of the morning.
There are many signs along the lake advising that making fires is forbidden, but the street vendors completely ignore them. Many tourists from warmer parts of Vietnam easily come to Da Lat in shorts and T-shirts, despite the colder weather. Street vendors want these visitors to stay warm so they stay longer and buy more food and drink. Sidewalks are often blackened with ash from these staying-warm fires.
When I was photographing these fires, a street vendor threatened to stab me with scissors several times. Some vendors started throwing rocks. A man tried to grab my walking stick and the cell phone I use to take pictures. I reported these incidents to the police but they took no action.
These charcoal fires release many deadly toxins such as PM2.5, carbon monoxide and benzene. When street vendors run out of charcoal, some start burning plastic waste. Burning plastic waste releases dioxins and other highly toxic substances. A piece of dioxin the size of a grain of rice is enough to poison a million people.
To keep their customers happy, some street vendors sell beer and other alcoholic beverages. Some install large speakers so their customers can sing and make lots of noise when they get totally drunk. Not infrequently, the karaoke singing continues until 4 a.m. and can be heard up to two miles away. Although the law prohibits singing karaoke after 10:30 p.m., this law is not enforced around Xuan Huong Lake. Once I heard karaoke singing in three different places around the lake, all blaring at the same time.
Almost everything I have described so far represents laws that are constantly being broken. But why don’t street vendors and their customers obey the law when it’s clearly stated on signs in the area?
The answer is simple.
Laws are not enforced. I have more than 12,000 pictures on my files of breaking the law in this city that gets dirty and ugly quite often, but I didn’t see a fine being issued when I called the police to intervene — not once.
A policeman explained it to me in a somewhat pompous way. If the police consistently enforce laws, it would infuriate many people, and with many angry people out and about, the country’s stability would be undermined and civil unrest could ensue.
The same officer went on to explain that if the police strictly enforce the law, things could get out of hand very quickly. People could become violent, and if the police hit back to defend themselves, controversy would ensue.
With a huge police force and militia, Vietnam has everything it needs to counter the violence and maintain political stability. So what’s the problem?
For many years, the police in Division 8 themselves have blatantly flouted the laws about dumping trash, throwing cigarette butts on the ground, and burning garbage. They even ran a fire pit on police property.
How can the police enforce laws when they themselves break them all the time?
On October 31, I informed a senior police officer in Da Lat that I have over 12,000 pictures of people breaking laws – laws related to setting fires on sidewalks, burning trash, dumping trash, dumping of waste and fishing in the filthy waters of Da Lat Xuan Huong Lake and its stinking lagoons, singing karaoke until 4 a.m., binge drinking, drunk driving, high speed motorcycle racing and so on.
I was surprised when he explained that I should not photograph people breaking the law unless their lawlessness directly impacted my safety and well-being.
Surely it is every citizen’s duty to record violations of the law and report them to law enforcement?
Even when someone threatened me with violence, he advised me not to take photos and to report the person to the police unless I had stab wounds or other injuries.
I was stunned.
I think the government needs to be much more serious about enforcing its most basic safety and environmental laws. If it doesn’t, it won’t be able to tackle far bigger things like the impact of global warming, carbon neutrality and sustainable development.
Photos by Paul A. Olivier of public waste in Da Lat:
*Paul A. Olivier is an American expat living and working in Da Lat.
How two Hyderabadi 3D artists are popularizing city’s flyovers, roads, buildings at global level
Hyderabad: For most of us, photography means clicking photos of a beautiful sunset, landscape or people. But Laxman Pithani and Nikhil Chakravarthy from Hyderabad are crazy about new buildings, roads, highways, flyovers and other infrastructure projects in the city.
“When you’re driving on a newly constructed freeway, with not many vehicles and hardly anyone to stop you or ask you anything, you have a kind of absolute freedom. We both enjoy it,” says Nikhil.
Laxman and Nikhil jointly run a Twitter and YouTube page, Traveling with Laxman, where they post videos and photos of newly constructed or inaugurated flyovers, roads and buildings. They have released drone footage of the Uppal SkyWalk project, the renovated Yadagirigutta Temple, Gandipet Park, the Biodiversity Flyover and more.
Laxman (left) and Nikhil (right) at the recently inaugurated Shilpa layout transition
Her most recent work was the transition of the Shilpa layout. When the city witnessed their first Formula E racing event, they were there to capture the track on which the race took place. On their Twitter Page Travel with Laxman, they have around 2,806 followers and on their youtube Page they have around 57,000 subscribers.
Transition of the Shilpa layout
It’s not about the end product. But Laxman and Nikhil began pursuing infrastructure projects in the city from the start. “If there are upcoming projects, we consult the person concerned and get detailed information about it. We shoot it from start to finish,” says Laxman.
In this way, it helps the audience to keep up to date with the progress of these projects.
When Laxman met Nikhil
Laxman is originally from Hyderabad but Nikhil is from Tenali in Andhra Pradesh. He moved to Hyderabad in 2002. Both met in 2007 in an animation institute `Arena; where they served as 3D training faculty. Here they taught the students how to use animation techniques in films and character forms. They later moved on to teach interior design at the same institute. In 2015 they both joined Custom Furnish, a company specializing in interior design, where they worked as 3D artists. In 2019, Nikhil left and Laxman continued for another year and a half before retiring in 2021.
Durgam Cheruvu Bridge
Ever since they met, they have discovered their shared passion for travel. Your definition of travel sounds very unique and interesting. “We both love to explore unknown roads. I can drive straight for 10 hours without thinking about the destination. We used to always discover new roads, overpasses, buildings, etc. on such trips, which fascinated us a lot. Each specific destination where nobody bothered us gave us a different kind of freedom,” explains Nikhil.
Until December 2021, Laxman and Nikhil were doing this as a part-time job. But in December 2021 both resigned and started doing so full-time.
Her work is now also being recognized by the Telangana government, which is asking for her help in getting photos of some of the infrastructure projects in the city.
Command and Control Center, Banjara Hills
Development in Hyderabad
Both Laxman and Nikhil say the pace of development in Hyderabad has been very fast compared to other cities. “I was born here, so I’m really excited to see the city developing at this pace,” says Laxman. Nikhil adds: “Something happens every week that it just can’t keep up with this speed. For example, the other day when the Shilpa layout flyover was inaugurated, on the same day Skyroot Aerospace’s private rocket was launched from Sriharikota.”
transfer of biodiversity
In addition to updating townspeople on the development, Travel with Laxman now allows many expatriate Hyderabadis to regain their lost connection with the city. “We have people calling from places like the United States and telling us they’re excited about how their city is doing,” says Laxman.
Renovated Yadadrigutta Temple
The duo are happy to be able to fill this gap faced by Hyderabadis living elsewhere.
Wedding of the week: Lovebirds elope on a Balinese beach following three months of top secret planning
Jamie Hart, 36, and Daniel Sutton, 44
Western Australian senior graphic designer Jamie and welder Daniel always knew their wedding should be small and intimate, but they also wanted an element of surprise.
The couple, who met online in March 2021, had planned a trip to Indonesia and made the spur of the moment decision to elope because why not? They were too excited to wait a year to tie the knot, so they turned their engagement party into a secret wedding celebration.
After legally signing the papers at The Old Tower House in Perth a week earlier, Jamie and Daniel said ‘yes, I do’ in Bali, with Daniel honorably taking Jamie’s maiden name, Hart.
When and where
The big day took place on October 22, 2022 on the white sandy beaches of the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel & Spa.
Jamie’s dress of choice, Morilee, was by New York bridal designer Madeline Gardner.
There was no need to travel to their honeymoon destination as the newlyweds were already there! They celebrated in Nusa Dua, Ubud, Seminyak and Canggu.
If you would like to be featured, send your wedding details and high resolution photos to [email protected]
Add details about when, where, dress information, honeymoon and anything that made your big day special!
- Beyond the hype, a dirty side of Da Lat
- How two Hyderabadi 3D artists are popularizing city’s flyovers, roads, buildings at global level
- Wedding of the week: Lovebirds elope on a Balinese beach following three months of top secret planning
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