Archive for the ‘Monument’ Category

Exploring Pripyat on the first day was very exciting, no doubt about it. But it wasn’t until the morning of the second day that I fully comprehended where I was – and that’s why strongly recommend making the sarcophagus the first place to go if you ever have the chance to visit the Zone Of Alienation.
Don’t get me wrong, before I made my way to the Exclusion Zone I prepared myself quite well. I read up on the catastrophe and watched some documentaries. I studied maps and read reports by other people visiting the zone. The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was clearly visible from Pripyat most of the time and the Geiger counter went nuts every now and then. But overall exploring Pripyat felt like exploring any of the 60 locations I visited before – just more spectacular; way more spectacular.
Entering the cooling tower of reactor #5 was awe-inspiring and then finally standing in front of the sarcophagus at reactor #4 was… It changed my perception of the area. Like I said, I was prepared and aware where I was, but finally seeing the place so familiar from TV while the Geiger counter shows that the level of radioactivity was 400 times the normal level even at a distance of 250 meters… All of a sudden everything became real. Way more real than before. Reading and watching TV is definitely no substitution for actually experiencing stuff – which makes it so hard to describe now how I felt standing there. Because the sight actually isn’t that impressive. A small monument in front of a security checkpoint we were not allowed to take photos of, with a greyish building in the background. But it was interesting how it brought back the imagines of the documentaries I’ve seen… and of the TV news I watched in the 80s, almost 25 years ago.
I just wish Novarka wasn’t behind schedule – the consortium won a contract worth 453 million Euro to build a new sarcophagus replacing the old one which looks quite dilapidated, but it is way behind schedule. A French consortium BTW, as Maxim wasn’t tired to point out – our guide was a very lighthearted guy, but there were two things he couldn’t stand. Well, three: militia, Russian vodka and French companies building stuff in the Zone Of Alienation.
(If you would like to know more about my trip to the Zone Of Alienation please *click here* to get to the “Chernobyl & Pripyat” special. For a map of the area please *click here*.)

Read Full Post »

Growing up in Germany education about history is almost omnipresent, both in school and on TV. Most people know about the proud events and people of the past – Arminius defeating the Romans, Charlemagne unifying Europe, Ludwig van Beethoven becoming one of the greatest composers of all time, the German Revolution of 1848, … there are too many to name. But people also learn about the darkest time of German history – the years 1933 to 1945; those 12 and a half years out of thousands of years of German history actually make up for about a third of the school’s history classes, most of the rest being used to educate students to be good democrats: the ancient Greeks, the Age of Enlightenment, the French Revolution and similar events are all taught with a purpose.
After studying Japanese history and living in Japan for a couple of years it strikes me that Japanese schools handle history a bit differently. It’s all about the proud samurai past, World War II takes up only a couple of pages in history school books, downplaying events like those in Nanking 1937 by calling them incidents – while the rest of the world uses terms like “massacre” or “rape”. Popular places to remember World War II in Japan nowadays are Hiroshima and the Yasukuni Shrine… remembering losses Japan had to suffer, not so much remembering the misery Japan spread all over Asia from 1931 to 1945.
Until a couple of years ago there was another rather huge memorial accessible to the public: The Young People’s Plaza (若人の広場), dedicated to the young people who lost their lives in World War II. Designed by the famous architect Kenzo Tange in 1966 and opened in 1967 this impressive monument with an appendant museum is towering 25 meters high over the once so strategically important straight between Shikoku and Awaji Island. In 1995 the Young People’s Plaza was closed down due to dwindling visitor numbers and irreparable damage caused by the Great Hanshin Earthquake earlier that year. An important part of the centerpiece, an eternal flame placed right at the concrete sculpture once protecting it, was removed since then.
The museum, beautifully embedded into the breathtaking landscape and located on the way to the monument, was once filled with items left behind by the students who went to war, countless pictures and information boards telling their stories. It seems like the museum was boarded up in 1995, but as with all locations like that you will always have people trying to make their way in. Worried about the exhibits all 2000 items of historical value were donated to the Kyoto Museum for World Peace, which is part of the Ritsumeikan University, in 2004. Nowadays the museum is almost completely empty and a rather spooky place…

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts