The signs of the crises were also in Athens less obvious than expected. When we finally arrived there, we found an ordinary mediterranean european city. It happened to be another nice early spring evening and the streets as well as the cafes and restaurants were crowded. With some other tourists and greek people we climbed up the Acropolis and enjoyed the view over the city. Then we walked through the narrow bazar streets where we passed an uncountable amount of tourist shops, other small businesses and young foreign looking men who sold little silly toys and gadgets.
The next day we visited Exarchia, the district from where most of the manifestations and riots started for the last forty years. It is where the alternative scene is settled and most of the students, intellectuals and artists live but not only, also refugees find shelter and support at the districts social and cultural facilities. You meet a broad mixture of people of different age and nationality in the streets. There are plenty of cafes, little restaurants, music- and bookshops and copy shops. We also found two stores for urban gardening, which was not a big surprise. All over the district the balconies, boarders and little front gardens are opulently overgrown with plants and flowers. Besides that you barley find a naked facade anymore. Almost every house wall is painted, either with detailed and careful large scale paintings or covered with tags and graffiti.
The districts center is a large square surrounded by cafes, trees and banners with large black and red texts. The atmosphere was welcoming, peaceful and lively but we also felt and saw that this is not always like that. Right at that corner we saw a burnt down bar and we also passed the place where the 15 year old student Alexandros Grigoropoulos was killed by the police in 2008.
More than once we observed people sitting in a cafe and studied the flat rental announcements in the newspapers. We also saw plenty of these yellow advertisement bills for flat rental in the streets and house entrances.
Except in the main tourist areas, we often came across people who collected recyclable wastes on shopping trolleys or other self built vehicles. Also in the balkan countries we saw many people doing this. There, mainly kids and teenage boys from Roma families pushed the barrows filled with metal pieces around. In Athens mostly immigrants from Africa, Pakistan or India are forced to follow this business. The immigrants in Athens suffer a lot from the financial crises and also from the current rising of the right political party. Das Magazin, a swiss journal recently published an article by Sacha Batthyany about this issue. Another article about the district Exarchia was published in the TAZ.
One of the first things we noticed when we crossed the border to Greece was, that the goods almost cost the same as in Switzerland, at least more than in Germany and a lot more than in the Balkan countries.
Strolling around Meteora we run into four other young travelers and among them was a young Greek named Alexis. When we explained the reason of our journey and that the Project was about the financial crisis, Alexis turned out to be a good person to speak to. He liked to tell us about his own background and also his opinions and thoughts regarding politics, economics and society.
Later Alexis invited us to come to his village and have a look around and speak to other people too. The next day the three french travelers went further on, even though there was heavy rain. We mounted Alexis bike on the RV and drove under his guidance to his village near mount Pelion.
About six years ago Alexis quitted his studies and day jobs in Athens and moved away from the city to mount Pelion. Now he lives in a small village called Gatzea and recently opened his own bike shop Montis Ordo there. He tries to establish alternative tourism structures in the region, because he thinks tourism is one of the few options to escape the spiral of the current economic situation. Greece already has a long tradition in this business, but most of the establishments and places didn’t react to the changes during the last ten years. In his opinion tourism became more individual nowadays and people are more interested in exploring and moving than just lying at the beach and joining the entertaining program of the all inclusive hotels.
Montis Ordo is the first shop in the region who offers bike tours and rental, a common thing for many other touristic areas but still rare in Greece. In addition to that he restores the old farmer trails for mountain biking. The area is almost entirely covered with olive trees, but in general the owners have no problem with people using the paths that lead trough their properties. Until the tourists come in summer, Alexis guides local people through the trails, thats how he builds up a local community to share his ideas and visions.
Not just once he mentioned that he enjoys to live in Pelion and prefers the community of the little village and the nature around instead of living in Athens.
Later on Alex introduced us to his friend and flatmate David, who is originally from England and came to Greece thirty years ago. He works for a company that plans and builds TV Stations. He told us that after 1989 many private TV stations popped up all over Greece, the rich ship owners and other big companies but also cities and even villages started to broadcast their own programs. For twenty years the company earned good money by doing that, but the current crisis hit it badly and besides that the TV business also has to face the fact that sooner or later, it will be replaced by the digital media.
David told us, that in 2009, his own and also many another salaries, were first lowered twenty percent and later on the hours were cut off half and it went on and on like that. Such things were made possible by the government which cutted the rights of the employees to help the companies to survive. Right now he works only two days per week for the company and like almost everyone else in the country he earns only around the half of the salary he earned before 2009. At the same time all the prices raised and they’re now twice as high as they were before. People told us, that it is said that fifty percent of the people under twenty-five are unemployed and the average salary is about 500 euros. In addition to that the government invents a lot of new taxes to reduce greeces debt, this rises the prices again and again.
The bartering we did with Christos Triantafylloy, also a friend of Alex, who often visits him at the bike shop and joins him for walks and bike rides. Christos studied Industrial Design but he had never really the chance to work as it, as it would be almost impossible to find a job as a Designer in Pelion and Greece since there are no companies that need his profession. He decided rather to live in the area, than working as a Designer and now he’s earning his money by doing several jobs. He cuts wood, works as a bus driver or helps at his friends cafe.
We visited Christos at sayed cafe, Salto a brand new place his friend recently opened and were he helps out either behind the counter or as DJ. We were interested in bartering with him because he told us that he does wooden artworks. Since he missed the creative part in his education as Designer, he started learning how to do wood carving. Right now he is learning it at a workshop in Volos which belongs to an old craftsman, who is already retired and now teaches this traditional crafts to younger people. Christos gave us a handcrafted wooden relief of a sailing boat.
Our next station was Sarandë. The last bigger albanian city before the greek border, a conglomerate of high modern buildings, approximately half of them are completed. But the city had a very nice and mediterranean atmosphere. Many people walked up and down the promenade enjoying the sun and also the bars and restaurants were well occupied. Only at night the city looked surprisingly dark because there were so few lights in the windows. We wondered how the city looks and lives during the summer time. The next day we spoke to a Taxi driver who learned foreign languages from books while he waits for clients, he seemed to enjoy chatting in german with us. He told us that there would be many tourists in summer, lot of germans, swiss, austrians, japanese and people from Great Britain.
We took the road further on to Albania which went around the Ochrid Lake. The weather was in this mood where there wasn’t a border between heaven and the surface of the water. And so was ours. The first town we entered was soaked in brown color, but when we looked at the first photographs we made, we recognized how colorful everything was, from the lettering on the showcases to the fruit stands in front of the shops, to the hills of meat on the desk of the butchers.
For us it was like meeting a new state of society. When we entered the bypass of the city we found ourselves on a road, both of us had only expected in a third world country— as Nadine had to drive slalom around holes as deep they could have seriously damaged to our van.
When you don’t expect roads like this, you neither expect countries like Albania… Like real swiss we looked at all these things who’d not be possible in our own country—like these black holes in the streets or the garbage filled river we drove along for at least an hour—which lead to another “why is that” conversation while driving along.
In the late afternoon we arrived in Dhërmi, a village which must have been paradise on earth some time ago. Nowadays it is a little touristic beach between two hills in the very south of Albania. Arriving at the stony beach we encountered the ruin of a former beach bar in the shape of a ship standing on a wave breaker. It made the wintery location even more dystopian than it already was. Still, or just because of this atmosphere, we enjoyed the evening at the beach on that mentioned bar with olives, cheese and wine.
Later, when the wine was out, it was time to take a look around the hilly village. It was completely dark on the street since a street lighting was lacking in the whole area. At the very top of the steep road, and around a dangerous curve I found the store of Steven. I didn’t ask him what his name was in Albanian when he introduced himself, and I liked to call him Steven, because it seemed as he liked it too.
I wanted to buy cigarettes and a beer. During the deal I was a little irritated since he told me several times how much everything would cost by »the old money« and how much in »new money«. When I asked him, he explained that Albania is currently correcting his currency and a thousand LEK of old money is now a hundred LEK in the new money. When he told me that he needs to charge for the bottle if I’d like to take it away, I decided to stay at his shop an drink it there.
I sat myself outside in his patio, where his wive was already seated, and expected her to speak english as well as her husband. But when I started talking to her she stood up to call him while entering the house. She seemed worried by my presence, but maybe she was just shy. Seconds later Steven—who, I forgot to mention, was about my age, came outside.
He asked me where I come from and where I plan to sleep that night. I told him that we are driving to Greece in a van, as always I felt a little ashamed to tell him that I’m from Switzerland, I still didn’t find out where that shame comes from. Maybe it’s because almost every conversation we had on so far ended up in comparing the poorness of the current country to the richness of Switzerland. And when I entered that store in a rawly finished house with a very reduced selection of goods, I already expected it to be the same this time.
We had the usual speech about what costs how much in your country, to evaluate what we’re talking about, when Steven explained me he earned at most ten euros a day with his shop, and that it would be much less if he’d be employed at someone else’s business in the village.
Steven told me, he lived in Dhërmi until his eighth year, later he went with his parents to Athens, where he lived the last twenty-two years. He came back now because of the crisis, which hit greece seriously. Many people lost their jobs and foreign people living there are now forced to return to their home countries. Shure, Steven says Albania isn’t a lot better than Greece, but it’s the country he comes from, thats why he feels safer here. He thinks that only rich people can ignore their roots, but people like him need to count on their family and friends.
In summer he makes a good business with the tourists in the village but now, in winter, all the touristic attractions are closed, only the villageans remain to guard them or to do small works like cleaning and little restorations in the hotels.
It’s been a year and a half when he and his wive decided to come back and open a shop in the house he buyed and built during the times when he had the job in greece. Like many others, the job afar made him able to invest in Dhërmi. But there is still a need for development, and according to Steven it might need another twenty years until Albania actually works as a country. All these holes in the streets are redundant, when you see what still needs to be done.
It’s not just the roads which are bad, it’s also electricity, which sometimes runs out for hours. And it’s the society it self that in his mind had turned bad since communism ended in Yugoslavia. Similar to Kosova also Albania is a newly built country and still learning to deal with democracy. He asked me if there are as many crimes in Germany or Switzerland as there are here. In his eyes poorness turnes people into criminals, and although he was a child in the eighties and does not really remember these times, he thinks that there was less poverty back then.
»In the morning you will be able to see the island, Korfu. That’s already Greece!« Steven said when I was explaining him where our car was parked. »It’s unbelievable how near two countries can be, by still being not able to touch each other.«
In the afternoon we visited an orthodox church, trying so find somebody who would tell us more about the orthodox faith and maybe also about the position of the religion in the everyday life of Macedonia. Unfortunatley the only person we found was a portener who could not speak a foreign language and there was no one in sight we could ask to translate. Anyway we were overwhelmed by the beautiful opulent interior of the small church which seemed to be grown over a very long time. The walls were full of colourous paintings which tended to appear blue, carved wood furniture, icons and flowers, a mass of impressions we had never expected from outside the building.
After this experience, even more willing to learn more, we walked up and down the city to find a person to speak to but all the other churches were closed as well as the museum of icons.
We decided to go to the big square close to the shore, where we have seen a little open booth, sort of a chapel, in the afternoon. Sitting in a cafe with the booth in sight, we observed, that many people made three times the cross sign when they passed that little altar stand and quite a number even approached to light these thin long honey wax candles. But mostly surprised we were about the amount of very young people practising these religious habits. Several groups of teenagers who seemed to return from school and spent their free time together until dinner. Some of them had their meeting point at one corner of that square. When they passed by or arrived, each of them lead his attention and concentration for a little moment towards the icons and crossed himself three times, then immediately joined the relaxed and casual encounter again.
The next day we had to try again. We went back to the one church close to the old city gate, the church of the Holy Mother of God Perivleptos, which looked very special and was wrapped in an wooden construction. Our faces turned into smiles when we saw that the door was finally open.
Jana Popovska, sitting in a box out of glass, sold us two tickets and for any reason she offered us a free tour if we liked. She mentioned, that she wrote her PhD about this church, then stepped out of the box and started to speak. She explained that the church was build in the 13est century. In the 17est the church got another layer, like a second skin. In the 20est century still an other layer was added, but this time a bigger one, like a cheese bell was built over the entire building to protect its paintings on the exeterior walls.
The next thing Jana told us was, that there are strict rules how to build and paint an orthodox church. Which stories are painted on the walls depend on the size of the church. If there is only one level to paint, the life of Maria, mother of Jesus has to be told. This is the most important story for the orthodox. If there is more space, stories of the life of Jesus Christi can be added. One must read the churches always from the right wall to the left to the back to the front, like a cross. The church we were looking at was a big one, with several rooms and levels and therefor many paintings and stories.
We entered the atrium. In that part the old testament was told. Jana pointed to a dark almost black spot at the wall. It showed the former state of the paintings. The church has been cleaned not so long ago, unfortunately not the most careful way, but the paintings who appeared, she said, were unique in the world.
In the first room one can see the burning bush with the holy trinity sitting in it and dictating moses the ten commandments, next to it a ladder where some people go up and some come down and aside a picture of Jacob, “gods favorite”, in a fight with an angel. In the end the angel breaks Jacobs leg, because also the good people do sins and god has to punish them for this, Jana explained. The painting of a few little men sitting on gods hand, while he lifts them up to heaven sais that only very few reach the paradise. Jana pointed on two keys, hanging from a chain around the belly of a Bishop or Priest besides the entrance to the main room, a long and big one for hell and a small one for heaven.
Something we’ve never seen before and Jana mentioned is special in the orthodox religion, was Jesus pictured with wings like an angel. She explained us that in the orthodox way to read the bible Jesus is already present in the old testament as part of the holy trinity, but not in a human shape but in an angels. She explained us that Jesus decided to build himself a temple to come down on earth and fulfill his vision bringing the people on earth love and faith and teach them the will of his father god. This is the reason why Maria is such an important character, she symbolizes the temple through which Jesus came on earth and like that, she is the connection between heaven which means Jesus and god and the earth and its creatures.
The main room of the church was mainly dedicated to the story of Maria and her story is told with all it’s details. In the orthodox faith, Maria was a princess, born to a royal couple who was already in it’s 80 but up to that point childless. Her birth was a miracle and she was a saint from her birth on. She got the very best education was nursed by angels.
When she had explained us also the other levels and when we left the church we came to the outside paintings. On the right side is a picture of heaven, (God is always on the right side) and on the left side there is one of the hell. On the hell painting, it was interesting to see, that people have scratched off the picture of satan and the animal he is riding on.
This is a pity Jana said, now we never know how Satan looked like in the imagination of the artists who did the paintings.
The first thing we had to do when we wanted to cross the boarder of Kosovo was buying an additional insurance for our car because the current contract did not include this country, which exists only since 2008.
It was saturday noon when we entered Pejë, the first larger city after the border and it took us two more days to get used to the chaotic overwhelming impressions of that place to start thinking for a bartering opportunity.
The war in Kosovo is the latest and hopefully last one of the long series of struggles concerning the redefinition of territorial rights and boarders after the fall of the former yugoslavian union. Kosovo is still under construction. Now and then a KFOR car passes or we spot a guy in a greenish military uniform having coffee and cigarettes, reading the papers in a bar, just like many others.
Later we learned, that the KFOR right now is only for protecting the borders or emergencies in the country and its former tasks like police or fire brigade services are now done by the countries own forces.
It was nice early spring weather and it was a pleasure to see so many people on the street, sitting in front of the cafes and bars, walking in groups, chatting and enjoying the sun.
By strolling through those exotic city structures, we lost ourselves sometimes on a dead end street with little houses out of clay bricks, brown like the ground with chicken picking in the grass and horse driven cars in the front yard. Now and then we encountered a self built vehicle, like a car with an inbuilt circular saw. We were overwhelmed by the contrasts, as the difference between the hip and shiny shops and hotels in the main street to the little backstreets where we found ourselves in a long gone time.
On one of these walks we found a house, which at first sight looked like a usual family home, but the blue flag waving from the top balcony marked it to be the regions UNHCR headquarter. At the entrance of this house a sign said »No loaded weapons after this point. You are obligated to unload your weapon here« in white letters on a blue ground.
We decided to knock at the door.
The guards in front of the building were surprised about our demand to talk to somebody at the office and one of them told us that they usually deal with serious cases like refugees, violence and crime rather than chatting with artists. While we waited and another guard tried to find a person in charge of our inquiry, he also mentioned, that there were problems for the last 12 years but now it’d be calm, like everywhere else, like in a regular european country. He gave us the advice to visit a nice valley close to Pejë and to enjoy our stay and our life. At last we got an appointment in the afternoon.
When we came back at four o’clock in the afternoon, after we had left our passports at the guards booth, we were guided to a conference room in the building. Some minutes later Besim Alaj a very charismatic and friendly man entered the room and welcomed us warmly. He told us that he’d like to spend some more time with us than just a few minutes. When we told him shortly about our project and ourselves, he came up with the question in which part of Lucerne we’re living. Irritated about that, we tried to explain, until we realized, that he actually knows Lucerne very well!
Besim used to live in the exact same part of Lucerne where Mathis grew up and Nadine lived for almost eight years. Around the year 1994 he worked four years for a Lucerne based company. Although he was traveling a lot for his work he had his own apartment in Lucerne.
He asked us what we wanted to drink, and we decided to change the place and hang out in at the restaurant next door.
When the war in Kosovo broke out, Besim was there for his holidays and he didn’t had enough time to wait for the required documents for his wife and their kids to take them to Switzerland. He was forced to stay and face what awaited the land and the people. He said, one could feel the war approaching like a storm. And when it came to it, he had to flee with his family. Besim has three kids in our age.
At the time they lived near the Albanian border. He explained us that many of the weapons were smuggled through this region and the serbian army was interested in clearing the land strip of civilians to have a better control over it. When the refugees passed the border to the Albanian side, they were picked up by UNHCR trucks to bring them away. Besim and his relatives were some of the last that day, who were picked up. Suddenly one of the UN guys came up to him, gave him his card and told him to bring his family in safety and that he awaited him 8am the next day at the headquarter.
In the morning Besim had to find out where that »headquarter« was and expected it to be at the only hotel in the region. Expecting nothing he knocked at the door, the guy who opened the door welcomed him and minutes later they sat in one of those trucks and drove to the border, thats how he started working for the UN and still does until now.
Our conversation always switched between memories and stories about Lucerne to questions and explanations of the war and its consequences for his personal and the countries history.
Answering our question about the progress in Kosovo since the war he said, that every new country has to face some difficulties and it needs time to establish. But he also came up with a little story from this very afternoon. For a meeting he had to drive to a small town between Pejë and Prishtina and arriving there he was unable to find a parking space because all the space was blocked by construction sites and recently built houses. Although he visited this town now and then the last years he was surprised over all these new buildings, and said he had no idea where the money for these projects comes from.
All over those countries we travelled, we saw an unusual number of newly built houses, or unfinished structures with unplastered walls, and we asked Besim if it was also for him surprising to see all this building activities. He added that when there is a recently built house with all jalousies closed, it would be most certain a property of people who went as refugees to western europe. It’s common to build a house as a holiday residency. But lots of these people do not plan to return definitely.
We told him, that we’ve met several people in town who spoke german and told us they’ve spend some years in Switzerland or Germany. Some added they hope the Kosovo will establish in a similar way.
To make this dream possible the most important thing would be a stable justice and law situation Besim answered. For us as Swiss citizens, this is such a normal thing we never ever question, but Besim who knows both countries and specially the struggles and problems of the former Yugoslavia with it’s religious, ethnical, ideological and political conflicts, reminded us that this is a very important and not such an given fact as it is for us. If for instance the law is not strong enough to protect foreign investors, the Kosovo will not get economic progress. Right now investors have to deal with complicated contracts and corrupcy. The law is not really respected by all citizens. To illustrate that, he pointed at the Non Smoking sign which is displayed in most restaurants and bars and we laughed since everyone in the restaurant was smoking. Although the topics we spoke about were heavy we laughed a lot.
It was such a great coincidence to meet Besim in Kosovo, for both sides. We could ask him all the questions which we collected in our minds for some time and in return we refreshed his memories from before the war, when he lived and worked in Switzerland.
When we said that he could come back to Lucerne and he would find it absolutely like it was when he left, as there are almost no changes going on, he strongly denied. He sayed that he, when he visited Switzerland in 2006, was totally surprised about the changes and progress during his absence. It was the first time he was confronted with the electronic touch screen ticket automates at the railway station or the digital phone books in public cells.
We’re looking forward to invite Besim for a drink when he will come to Lucerne again.
With almost holiday-like feelings because of the beauty of the landscape and our first sight of the sea, we entered the city of Kotor in the early afternoon of a very sunny day. Kotor is an old venetian harbor city and it once was an important trading place.
In the steep hills behind the old city of Kotor, which is already encircled by a massive city wall, there is a huge ancient fortress or castle. Even from down where we stood it looked impressive and we decided to have a look at it by walking up the hill. The higher we got, the bigger the castle appeared. With it’s complex structure and multiple parts and buildings, it seemed almost like a second but abandoned city on the hill.
We had to do another barter business in Kotor, since the project seemed to be a little stuck lately and we felt disappointed about the last conversations we had. They were too short and unsatisfying, because they didn’t answer all of our questions.
In the evening, on the way back to our van, a man with a huge beard sitting on a blue chair on a small concrete podest at a crossing near the city walls catched our attention. He seemed to have a reason sitting there, maybe a business going on and we decided to hook up with him and convince him for doing the barter with us.
To our surprise Dragan Matanović told us that his business is changing currencies there at that corner for the last twenty years. He started to do this after the war when the countries economy suffered from an inflation. Since a lot of people living in the city are working in different other countries or as sailors, they are good customers of Dragan. But also the numerous tourists during the summer months are guided towards him, as everybody in town knows him.
He has no office or shelter, if it rains he goes to the fast food booth. To our question if he’s not afraid to be robbed, he answered that he isn’t at all. Everybody knows each other in this small city, it is a safe place and there is a lot of police around. Hidden police he mentioned, because the tourists get scared by to many policemen in uniform. As Dragan told there is a need for a strong police in the country since Montenegro is a transit country for drug traffic and in the same sentence he asked us if there are a lot people using drugs in western Europe as in Montenegro there aren’t a lot.
When we asked him about Montenegro and how it changed since the downfall of Yugoslavia he stated that nothing had changed and still the same people are in charge of governing the country, that it’s still five percent owning all and ninety percent suffering from poorness. He added that the former communist party only changed the name to “social democratic”, but besides that it stayed the same.
During the conversation Dragan mentioned, that he has fifty swiss francs in coins, which he couldn’t bring back to the bank. When we accepted to buy the coins, he went over to his apartment to get the money he had stored for about two years waiting for some swiss people passing by.
In the end this was a successful business day for him and also for us.
In Ljubliana at the +MUSM we saw the documentation of a project who acclaims the bad financial and political estate in terms of public cultural institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. When we drove around in Sarajevo to find a parking space, which is big enough for our car, (now and then one of the most challenging tasks of our trip, at least for Nadine who drives) we passed a huge transparent hung up at the building of the national museum. It said: The Museum is Closed. We decided to find out more about this issue and to get in touch with ARS AEVI a museum in progress which was established during the bosnian war “as a resistance of culture”. But also there we ended up in front of closed doors.
We called the number we found on a flyer and got an appointment with Amila Ramović, the executive director of ARS AEVI, in the afternoon. She and her colleague Almir Abaz opened the depot just for the two of us.
In 1992 a group of people around Enver Hadžiomerspahic, started to work on the ARS AEVI project. ARS AEVI is building up a contemporary art collection in collaboration with other international Art Institutions. Right now, they are waiting to get their own museum which is planned to be built by the architect Renzo Piano. But since the museum is in a delay because there is a lack of money, and as well political barriers, the collection is currently stored and showed in a improvised temporary space– the depot. In a reconstructed building which was originally constructed for the olympic wintergames which took place in Sarajevo back in1984.
In Šabac we bartered with the cities theater Šabaćko Pozorište. We stepped inside the hall in the afternoon to explain our project, the director immediately invited us to see the play at 8 pm. He gave us two tickets for Young Stalin and mentioned that afterwards we could talk to everyone we wanted.
It became the first theater experience for both of us, where we didn’t understand a single word. We enjoyed the play very much, by watching the characters gestures and intonation, but were not really sure if we captured all the essential hints of the story.
After the play at the theaters cafe, the director, introduced us to the actress Aneta Tomašević. He proudly mentioned, she is one of the best serbian actresses. Aneta then explained us some more about the play. It was written and first staged in London, in 2012, where it was played as a comedy. In Šabac they play it as a tragedy– because of the countries own communist past. She also told us about the work at the theater and her own professional background. Later her husband Ivan, who earlier played the role of Stalin joined us. Unfortunately he didn’t speak very much english but Aneta translated some of what we spoke to him. The two of them have besides their engagements at Šabaćko Pozorište, their own independent company called Scena Maska, where they bring their own ideas on stage. We also learned a little bit about the life of their daughter who studies costume design in Belgrade and sometimes does the costumes for her proud parents.
Aneta gave us for the two items we got in Obrenovac a little drum key chain, she lately received from a colleague as a present for the premiere of the play Drums In The Night by Brecht, and in addition to that a book of some short pieces they company of Šabac is currently working on.
In this city we wanted to trade with a school. First we tried it in a primary school but because of a flue break everybody was in a hurry to get the school back on track. The english teacher we were talking to refused in a charming way to participate in our project. So we decided to try it at the technical high school across the street. When we entered the school we were sent straight to Rajka Babić, biology teacher and the principals deputy. Also this school had a flue break the last two days, and also here everybody was busy to restore the daily routine. During our stay people constantly entered and left Rajkas little office. But she is a multitasking talent who does hardly loose the overview. She cared about everybody who came to her with a question or a task and at the same time she was totally present to answered our questions. The school has about 950 students and offers classes in mechanics, electrician engineering and economics. After three or four years of education the students leave either for further studies at the university or try to find a job. Since we saw several swastika and other graffiti with similar meaning around town, we were interested if the school had problems with extremist students. Rajka mentioned, that it is forbidden for teachers as well as for students, to bring political propaganda to the school. In her opinion it is important to show her students that there are many different ways people look, believe or behave. We asked her if she or the school as an institution are affected by results of the financial crisis, alike Croatian and Italian people told us that their struggles became obviously worse the last two years. After a short time of reflection she answered, that besides three or four years of hope maybe f ive years ago, Serbia is in constant troubles for the last twenty years and within this period the current financial crisis is not a very obvious change of the countries and peoples state. Of course there is also a problem with the financial support for the school. When she later guided us trough the building we saw that there are holes in the floors and the class rooms were very rudimentary furnished. But the she and her colleagues do the best not to let this affect their aim to give the students a good education.
Walking around Slavoski Brod we decided to ask a person on the street for the bartering. We had a lot of questions and wanted to talk to a private person who has a personal relation to the place and it’s history.
The first person we stopped was Attila Karlo Flamm. He was a little short taken by our sudden appearance and our long and complicated explanation. But to our surprise he answered us in perfect german and suggested us to meet again the other day and have coffee and conversation at a nicer place than on the pavement.
Attila lived in Slavonski Brod for more than thirty years and used to work as a dentist, at first he was employed at the local hospital and later had his own practice. As a dentist is an important person in a city Attila claimed that he knows about 60 percent of the citizens. The need of his and his wives profession, she is a dentist too, forced them to stay in Slovanski Brod also during the hard times.
He mentioned that one important advantage of his profession was that he never had to take side for one political side what made him able to stay unpolitical. Also today he told us he is still not interested in political questions, since too much bad events happened out of these often ideologic baised discussions.
Attila rather told us stories of his eventful life. He mentioned his stays in the swiss alps when he was a child, or the history of his family with hungarian and german roots. He also told us about the struggles of his daughter, who lives in Zagreb and suffers under the effects of the current financial crisis.
Obviously he had a lot to tell, and also when we walked out of the cafe after our conversation he mentioned this and that about things we saw by crossing the main square down to the river. For example there was a knot of people standing in front of the cities cashpoint, where one can pay the bills for electricity, gas and water without an additional fee. That is an new thing Attila said.
After he took us on a short car ride through the town and the little village where he has his weekend house and where his son lives with his family, he stopped at a little bakery to buy bread for himself and another one for us.
The next day we continued our way on the state street towards Slavonki Brod the last town before the Bosnian and Hercegovinan border. When we passed the villages along our way, it seemed like one never-ending row of houses on each side of the street because there was almost no gap between the different places. Another noticeable thing was that every second building was unplastered. It may have been also the rainy weather which had an effect on our observations. But the visible brickstones made the builldings look naked and vulnerable. And then, in the middle of these houses, sometimes a colorful shiny facade showed up. We saw a lot more of these lately finished yellow, green or pink painted villas with nicely prepared front gardens on our way through Croatia and Serbia. These few painted houses made an impression of beeing even more abandoned than the unfinished ones.
By entering Slovanski Brod the weather again might have played a role on our first impressions. We had the notion of a sad and empty city. That view changed during our stay when we saw the people of Brod meeting on the main square an in the cafes. But in the first moment we might have been surprised with the sings of the war such as provisorily plastered holes in the wall or the abandoned and unrenovated hotel at the main square.
Later we left Slavonski Brod by passing the Bridge over the Sava which divides Slovanski Brod from Bosanski Brod in Bosnia and Hercegovina. During the war and specially in 1992 these areas were testify of very heavy conflicts. When we passed the road on this side of the border where the landscape was affected by Moorlands with high rising Willow bushes we saw even more reminiscences of the war.
Hidden in these trees a lot of abandoned ruins of the old city and the surrounding villages showed up, and still witnessed the conflict that happened almost twenty years ago.
We decided to have an other look at this small town and when we walked again trough Kutina we saw this guy standing on the main square screaming into a megaphone. Dalibor explained us that he is collecting signatures for a political referendum against Croatia entering the EU, against GMO food and against the sell out of the countries resources. The name of the referendum was translated on the internet as Referendum Rebellion, it is a citizen movement and it is not supported by any national media or political party. The whole conversation about the pedition is taking place on the street and social media.
He invited us to meet again later and to sleep at his house. So we spent the evening with him and his girlfriend Natali and learned a lot about the current state of the countries politics, economy and the struggles with it. It was a broad conversation about the countries history, the war, corrupted politicians, but also about the future and possible solutions like resource based economy.
From Zagreb wedrove in the direction to Belgrade. After one or two hours we left the highway and arrived in Kutina. A small kroatian Town near the border to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Very unexpected, we found a small textile manufacture, which produces simple underwear, shirts and pyjamas. The lady sitting at the sewing machine couldn’t understand us even we tried very hard with hands and the help of a little dictionary. We realized that our project is quite hard to understand when we can’t describe our idea properly. The woman sent us to the next house because there would be someone at the tattoo shop who would be able to translate in english. Unfortunately only his parents who life in the same house, were there. But they knew a little italian so we had a funny conversation in very few italian words. We tried to convince the woman to come with us to translate but she felt a little uncomfortable about that. When she saw her neighbor Zoran Podvanavac in front of his house she asked him if he could help us and he could! He knew perfect english and did a great job to help us dealing with Vedran Ostosić.
We learned that the factory produces these handmade textiles out of croatian cotton only for the croatian market. We were surprised; business like Una Tektil d.o.o. are long gone in Switzerland and if not, they produce luxury products for very whealthy clients. But Vidan mentioned, that also in Croatia it is not sure how long they can survive.
For the first time we made an appointment for the bartering. When we run into Borut Korošec in front of his atelier in Metelkova, he had no time but asked us to come back the other day. Like that Borut got one night to think about the object he wanted to trade with us. We were exited about that.
He offered us a sculpture of a snowman out of burnt clay he did that winter. His wife, who just returned from a conference in Zurich some days ago, had told him about the “Sechseleuten” an old tradition at the end of winter, where people burn a huge snowman.
The snowman Borut made is also burnt but not to vanish but to last. The sculpture at the same time is a an archaic symbol for the body and also for temporary presence and fragility for him.
We had a long and intense conversation in his studio, surrounded by his work, where we exchanged our experiences as artists, talked about the situation in Slovenia and politics in general.
We visited the +MSUM and were delighted by the political approach of the institution. By this occasion we also became the proud new owners of two original art works by the artist Cesare Pietouisti. The pieces #7028 & #9079 of his work untitled (transient possession) 2008, series of 10000 unique artwork distributed for free and subject to limited ownership belong to us as long as nobody reclaims them…
The bartering in Trieste became an unexpected pleasure. After a unlucky try at the Savoia Exclesior Palace where the ladies at the front desk explained us in perfect german that the person in charge of our request is placed at the company headquarter in Firenze, and because of that couldn’t do anything for us, we decided to try our luck at the oldest hotel in town—the Grand Hotel Duchi D’Aosta.
A lovely Lady welcomed us at the reception and immediately showed interest for our project. In the first moment she as well had to explain that she’s not the right person we’re talking to, but after a little tickling, she organized a meeting with Hedy Benventi, the lovely manager of the hotel.
Miss Benventi asked us about our travel and our intensions and aims for our art project. With some little stories about Trieste and the Hotel, she described us her relation to our project and at the same time she introduced us to the cosmos of her business.
In this moment we didn’t expect a treatment like this and were enchanted to meet her and her receptionist. The experience gave us new hope in our endeavor.
We didn’t manage to chase all of them with our cameras. There were hundreds!
For the italian elections on 24 and 25 february, every party seems to get the same rights for publicity. During our journey through the italian cities we came across many of these temporary poster frames.
When we entered Rovato near Brescia, we expected the bartering to be as easy as at the earlier places. But we’ve been teached otherwise. The value of our object was not as obvious to the Rovato People than it was for us. In addition to that, the struggling with language barriers lead to the inability to convince the Rovatoans to a barter. We decided to move further on to Brescia. It would be easier to deal with the italians by some prepared charming sentences, we planned to write down with the help from a urban free wifi.
Walking around in the pittoresque town, we found the “Liceo Artistico Statale”. We hoped these artsy people would recognize the spirit of these wax-pencils!
And they did! Tiziano Carron the door man of the school and the first person we addressed to in Brescia, was immediately interested to deal with us. He gave us an italian copy of the book Siddharta by Hermann Hesse. Unfortunately we missed to ask more about the object and his personal relation to it. One thing we should keep in mind for further encounters. The book looks like it has a long meaningful story.
The second day of our journey we arrived at Domat Ems where we wanted to make another barter, we weren’t in the routine yet and still nervous asking random people on the streets. Walking around we run into Giuanna Cathomen, who was carring her laundry back to her house. She was very friendly and invited us to step inside and let us explain our project, even though she was cooking lunch for her family. Giuanna was willing to participate in our project but she didn’t have an object in mind to trade with us immediately. But after we talked for a while and explained more about our aims and interests, she came up with a beautiful item.
She told us, that this day, the 5th of february is “Agatha day” a christian holiday where people bring fresh bread to the church and let the priest bless it. She cut the bread—she let bless at the church that morning for her and her family—in two halves and offered each of us an other slice to eat.
The blessing of the bread is a very old tradition which is told to prevent diseases like fever and sicknesses of the breast and homesickness. People also used to depose pieces of the blessed agatha bread in their barns to prevent fire and sickness from their homes and animals. In addition to that Saint Agatha is the patron saint of the fire brigade.
The start of our road-trip couldn’t have been better, although it rained all day and we got stuck in a major traffic jam, we can call it a success. The first trade we had with a very charming person at the information desk at the Bundeshaus in Berne. Here’s a little abstract of our first bartering experience:
We traded our first object, with Eliane Crevoisier, at the information desk inside the Bundeshaus in Berne. She offered us three different options which were: First a guide about the art and architecture around the Bundeshaus [trade value: 12 CHF]. Second offer was the comic book “Rätsel in Weiss” which is a crime thriller that plays in the Bundeshaus [trade value: 5 CHF, which is actually unbelievably cheap!]. And the last item she offered was a postcard showing a photograph of the ‘justice’ painted by Antonio Barzaghi-Cattaneo, a ceiling painting inside the parliament [trade value: 0,5 CHF]. In the end we chose the postcard because of the symbolic content corresponding to our project.
it’s not about clear what would be the item we start with. Currently we’re waiting for an answer of our dear minister of finance mrs. Evelyne Widmer-Schlumpf she’s about to decide what could be the fundament on which we’ll build up our research.
We currently are in the last phase of preparation. Soon we will be on tour from central switzerland to greece. On this timeline you will find a chronological documentation of our bartering and the people we’ll meet.