I find my way to the border crossing constantly feeling lost. No clear signs like I am used to. The existence of the neighbour country Kosovo is ignored.
During the 25 kilometers up the hills through the woods I only meet 3 other cars and I dont ask. Some ruins and left buildings along the way amplify the abnormality. Suddenly the border out of Montenegro appeaers and I cross without a problem. The landscape changes dramatically right after the next bend. Open mountains and fields, cows and horses for another five kilometers. Suddenly the Kosovo border appears. Just me, some buildings, police officers and also two horses walk around. My insurance is not valid in Kosovo, the officer says. I was hoping to get around an extra insurance, but in one of the buildings I can buy one for just 15 euro. The man in the box speaks fluently German to me like many people I will meet in Kosovo. It seems like half of the population was in Germany or has at least relatives there which they visit sometimes.
Returning to my bike I wave the insurance to the relaxed officer while the two horses are interested in my food bag on the bike. Before i can get close to my camera they are shying and disappear.
I am in Kosovo!
The next city Pec is again much bigger as the Croatian map indicates. It is huge and the atmospheres radically different. The movements on the streets and the colours are islamic, if one can say so. Even the cars drive different from one moment to the other. Way too slow for me in the town, but with reason, because pedestrians cross often and small tractors and horse carts are making me the exotic one with my big bike, panniers and luggage, the protective suit with a yellow vest over it. The helmet, which noone else wears on any two-wheeler round up the picture and let me probably appear like an astronaut. But noone takes too much notice of me. And that is even nurishing my sensation to enter another world. For half an hour I ride around looking for the right way and adjust a little bit to the athmosphere.
Again there are no signs in the streets, my instinct almost was guiding me the right way, but I end up in the center of the city in a dead end road where an Italian KAFOR soldier is guarding the place where an official building and a closed tourist information stands. He doesnt know the town I am looking for, and I dont want to bother him too much.
Again something is irritating me. Everywhere in the city are the red flags of Kosovo. Already on the way to the city I noticed the flags, sometimes just waving around, but also on gravestones and memorial places with pictures of dead ones. Is it a national day which needs all the KAFOR soldiers around? Fortunately noone else seems irritated. And when I ask in a gas station my immediate new friend Labi draws a sketch how to get through the city to the right exit of the city. And not only that, he offers me a drink, I choose a Fanta, and I even can smoke my cigarette IN the house of the gas station. Islamic hospitallity! It comes from the heart. We make photos in the place and exchange the addresses after he told me everything about his working situation and the politics in Kosovo he is able to tell in his broken English within ten minutes. "Listen to me" and "Look to me" are his introductions of each new chapter. Most of it I understand and agree. It is about the unbalanced wealth, tolerance and political ignorance.
When receiving or giving something, the heart is touched with one hand. Even when someone lights your cigarette. I got used to it since a long time after I instinctivly did that gesture in Libanon in an unpleasent situation.
... An art festival in collaboration with the local Gioethe Institute invited me with a piece to Beirut. We heard that it would be possible to go into the Hisbollah area of the city. Wondering around through the mostly empty area, which was decorated with the green posters of a free Libanon, not knowing how to behave or what I even wanted there, a photocamera around my neck, I looked through the wide open doors of a house while passing by, where some people seemed to gather. Just walking ten meters further a scream directed to me made me stopping immediately. A sweating strong and big man, full beard, one and a half head taller then me stood in front of me when I turned around, his right hand on the pistol in his open holster. "What do you do here? Did you make photos?!!!" -"Äh ... ." - "Did you make photos?!!!" - "Äh, no." - "What did you do with the camera?!!!" "Äh, nothing. I can give you the film." He still has the hand on the gun, not pulled but he was nervous, sweating and oviously he was not the man to discuss with.
And there it came to me, I only can convince him of my innocence with a big gesture:
My left hand on my chest: "My Brother, with all respect, from the bottom of my heart, I did not take any pictures, I never would lie to you, please forgive me, I dont know about your country much, and I never will walk again through here with an open camera."
I did not only say it, it was true. The glands around my heart must have released so much honest energy that it could have filled a whole temple for a day. Rarely in my live I felt such a strong immediate reaction jumping over from my body to someone else. Immediately he calmed down. Not appologising, but telling me that this is no good place for tourists, I should go into the center of the city, and gave me the order to leave, which I followed right away, confirming my mistake and that he can trust me that I never will cause trouble again.
How naiv I was. But slowly I understood in which stress the people of Libanaon still were at this time, probably they are still today. That man was probably an active member of Hisbollah, fearing a spy who sends an air attack or something else. He probably experienced these things, maybe was in combat during the open war.
Everybody seemed traumatised from the war and most people were scared of a new outbrake, they were scared of the Syrian secret service and the Israely airplanes. Constantly I felt to be observed. While picking up my phone at the airport, where I supidly left it in the airplane atfer landing, during the whole ride there and back with a taxidriver who was specially send for me after three ! days they had to check the phone through, while stopping at the beach and being talked to by some guys which were probably agents, and also to mention my attempt to make a photo from fighter-jet in the sky out of that taxi, when the driver pushed down my camera and told me what I would think I am doing there, coming from the airport where tey checked my phone, above the Israelis in jets.
Even in the first meeting for my show with the producers of the festival, technicians, Goethe Institute representatives and a few people more which I didnt know about, I was told in response to my open questions about the festival, the politics, the audience, that not everybody around the table would be working FOR the festival, and the same people would be the reason, why I dont get answers to certain questions.
But the most engraving episode was the film presentation during the festival.
Everybody was nervously standing on the sqare in front of the cinema and slightly paranoid eyes were trying to spot anything uncommon around before the film started. Finally we are let in and one could smell the sweat of people though it wasnt too hot. I started to sense what was going on. Nevertheless I sit right in the center of the packed cinema, if once I am here, lets fulfill my function one hundred percent.
Light turns off, someone screams from the balcony something I dont understand, but obviously it is some political outcry. The hall applauses. The starting film seems to be a documentation about an old man, that much I can figure out, not much more. Inbetween the film stopps again and some more words are shouted into the dark, again applause from the audience. The film continues and finnally ends, before the light comes up again everybody applauses in the dark with some more shouts and comments. Then the light is on and everybody leaves releaved to the outside. Not comleatly understanding everything, specially not the film, I get informed by my friends who dont forget to watch around while they explain:
The man in the film is a prisoner in Syria, the film is made while he was in between free, he talkes about his survival strategies in prison and his political motivation. And they tell me that everybody was releived after the film, because NOTHING HAPPENED! "Thats why you putted us international artists in the cinema, so that nothing will happen, right?" "Right."
My own show was going very well in the festival. In the discussion afterwards some audience asked me, if I made the piece specially for them, since parts of the themes are about the lost miners which are surviving through the believe in each other. "No, I did it for all people." They suffered so much in the war and afterwards that they can not believe that there are also others who suffer. During the show I saw some people dropping some tears, like it happened in most of the countries in the worls where I shgowed the piece.
After one intensed week in Beirut we leave with the plane to Germany. Sitting far in front of the plane I spotted a man who behaved differently then everybody else. My guess that he is a security person with a gun he seem to understand and smiles at me.
While changing the plane in Vienna we see all the people being fixed to the TV sets. Tired and not giving too much attention we start slowly to understand the images which hypnotised everybody: airplanes crashing in big buildings over and over again. It was the 11.9.2001, and our plane was the last to leave Libanon that day.
My new friend Labi from the gas station in Pec wishes me with that same gesture, hand to the heart, a good travel.
Still I dont have my camera ready when I need to have it, like in these pictoresc cities I cross in Kosovo. Also the landscapes are hard to catch if you want to make some kilometers as well and not stop each time for a shot.
Exhausted from the drinking with the gangsters the night before and having no breakfast I stop in the afternoon at a cafe where two young brothers, Korabi and Alulaj, if I remember right, take care of the customers. I am the only one there and tell my story of the travel to the bright youngsters which speak some english and german. A friend is called to come as well and the little crowd is happy to make lots of photos with me and the bike. New friends. I could stay there for a day or two if I would want to. Also food is offerd. But I am late already and I appologise.
Of cause they dont let me pay for the coffee. I cannot give anything back, except my friendship and the promise to send these pictures, because the next day I have to be in Sofia to work with the next group of people. That date is fixed, in fact my arrival is already delayed for one day. When can I finally stop where I get in touch with people unexpected, where my instinct is guiding me?
I put all the photos here, because it will make my friends very proud to be on this website!
While looking for the right road in in the last city Prizren, a car stopped next to me and in fluend german another friend asked me if he can help. Yes please! He drives in front of me through the vivid center of town and points me to the street I should take. He lives in Gemany and is only here for his summer vaccation. Is he treated with the same friendlyness in Germany?
Now I write these words in a brand new hotel on the road to Sofia, still in Kosovo, and the same procedere is happening. I am the only guest and they do everything to make my stay happening. The bike is save, because day and night someone is out at the gas station next to it, which is also owned by the same family.
To ALL motorcyclists who read this! Take the road from Prizren through the national park and stop a couple of hundred meters east of Recan at the brand new hotel on your right side next to the gas station, way before you get into the serpentines. Look at the back of the building to convince yourself.
Of cause you have to take more care on the roads like in Germany or elsewhere. The driving and the road conditions are rougher here, so is the nature and both is convincing.
This here, it is a real hotel, I will pay my bill. The friendlyness is the same as when being invited and it is honest.
In the very early morning the owner and me have some coffe and the unavoidable cigarettes. He worked in Germany for some years and on my question if he was treated well by the Germans he replies with a yes, but underneeth I sense that it wasnt happening always. He is a baker as well and opened the hotel just the very same week. Thats why they dont have guests jet, I was the sixth. I give him the hint to put up a sign, that bikers are welcome. In my own experience and hearing from others it is always a little issue, if you are welcome and the bike is save over night. Since both is happening in his place he is happy about the hint and assures me that the next time I come, I will see the sign.
"When do you come back here?" is a question I hear often and I never know if I will return at all to all the places and meet my new friends again. The tour should be done twice, just for the reason to tell them about all the other encounters I will have had after circuling around the world. Well - lets see how far I get.
Oh, and by the way: "Falaminderi" is the word to say for "Thank you". You dont need much else.