A walk through Albania's capital

Tirana - past that does not pass

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Tirana: How do I encounter the city, whose stones are inscribed 46 years of socialist history, the capital of a country that has been almost half a century separated from the world? Gray concrete buildings, wide streets, laid out for flag-waving infantry, plus some grim monuments, such as the picture that formed in my mind's eye at the word "Tirana".

But the city receives me kindly on this summer morning: In the airport bus on the way to the center, an Albanian on leave home equipped me with the basic vocabulary - good morning, good evening, please, thank you. After all, faleminderit - Thanks, I have been able to remember this >

The road to the property is along a main thoroughfare lined with retail, small restaurants and a strikingly large number of ice cream parlors that have artistically draped their offer à la italiana with fruits, nuts and colorful sprinkles. Right across from the "German supermarket" I turn off to my hostel and find myself back in the bordering ignoring world of globalized travel. In addition to the popular cheap dorm beds, single and double rooms are also available to suit travelers of all ages and incomes. Mixing up in the plant-overgrown courtyard, which is equipped with shelves full of left-behind travel selections, a bar, seating and lounging options, but above all with enough sockets for the digital traveler who sprinkled reggae music flight tickets book, holiday photos and the connection to the home as well as to the travel acquaintances maintain.

But not only here, globalization has arrived - just as open and colorful is the whole city. In 2000, Edi Rama elected an artist as mayor, who seems to have quickly declared the entire city to be a studio: the gray, faceless walls of the house received brightly colored paintings, and if they have faded over time, the multicolored facades dominate but the face of the city.

The buildings from the Italian colonial era right in the center have been extensively restored and look like a city in the city, and somehow like its own, somewhat surreal artwork. Anyone who walks through the streets with their eyes open will discover small artistic interventions with practical benefits everywhere: on a bridge, toadstools will turn out to be seating. a pedestrian zone is bounded by five white stripes, which I identify on closer inspection as staves, as tables used stumps represent the notes. Above a narrow lane hangs the sky full of colorful umbrellas.

But the biggest redesign has probably been the completely redesigned Skanderbeg Square, which is bounded on one side by the socialist facade of the huge opera house and on the other by the equally acclaimed architecture of the Historical Museum. The formerly busy square is today completely traffic-calmed and reflects in its design the spirit of the city as well as the role of Tirana as the capital for all inhabitants of Albania: The material for the paving originates, as well as the plants in the surrounding gardens all regions of the country. In the amorphous shapes of the bright green seating, tourists and locals zigzag, and the gullies on the floor bring on this hot September day no cooling, but look good.

"In midsummer, I've already seen one or the other melt away," says Ed, who I meet in the evening on the steps in front of the opera. As critical as the historian, who was born in Tirana, is also confronted with political and social developments, his heart and soul have fallen victim to his country and hometown. He conveys this fascination with regular city tours, which meanwhile have cult status and during the main season attract up to thirty interested people from all over the world twice a day. This internationality is the other reason for him to volunteer his enthusiastic city walks: "An international visa is difficult for Albanians to get, and I have not enough money for long trips anyway. So if I do not come out into the world myself, then I'll just bring the world to me. "

Today I enjoy an exclusive tour, and after a few steps we stop at one of the city's most important sights. Unfortunately, the Et'hem Bey Mosque with its unique paintings is just completely scaffolded. The funds for the renovation come from Turkey , and the interest on the Turkish side should be less of an art historical. This has probably recognized the Albanian state, which did not want to turn down the money, but at least negotiated a compromise solution. Next door is an Islam museum, for which a common concept has been agreed, in order not to prepare a too ideological representation of the field.

I ask about the place of religion in Albania . Ed smirks, "If you ask people, a large majority profess Islam. If you ask which of them has never visited a mosque, the same majority will come forward. Unlike you in Europe, Islam is not an issue here, and religion generally does not matter much. "And then adds," Not yet. "

A completely different tourist highlight is just behind the mosque. Bunk'Art 2 stands on a sign over a concrete rounding in the ground, which protrudes like a half, somewhat too round egg out of the pavement. For me it is the first sight of one of the famous minibunkers from the legacy of Enver Hoxha, which later on I meet in the countryside everywhere. Hoxha had broken with all socialist states, the neighboring countries were just as enemies as the vicious West. 22,000 mini-bunkers scattered around the country are the visible expression of Hoxha's paranoia, which should protect the Albanians in the event of an invasion.

But this is not an original, Ed informs me, but a replica of it, which serves as an introduction to the museum below, in which the work of the omnipresent intelligence agencies is meticulously documented in a labyrinth of tunnels. It is understandable that the population protested vehemently against the use of taxpayers' money for a copy of the bunker, which was considered superfluous anyway. When I ask what happens to the ever-present mini-bunkers in the future, Ed shrugs: "Disposing 22,000 concrete bunkers costs a penny of money. However, they are unique testimonies of the whole absurd apparatus - and last but not least they are, macabre enough, tourist magnets. As long as you do not agree on the handling of these legacies, they stay first. "

The central museum housed in the former torture cellars has an even more impressive branch with the Bunk'Art1. This huge, off-town original bunker with a tunnel system deep into the earth served Hoxha and his closest followers as a hiding place. Today it is extensively informed about the horrors of the socialist era; To visit are also the living quarters of the dictator. Some artistic interventions do not take the place of the oppressive, musty, threatening mood.

"Come, I'll show you something!" Ed makes his way towards the National Museum, but his goal is not the exhibition of large-scale paintings with brave workers, happy school children at the flag appeal and satisfied families from the socialist era, but the back of the museum, where there is a surreal picture in a backyard: Marx, Stalin, Lenin, and other serious men stare at me as big as a giant of survival, but despite their monumentality, the statues look rather pitiful in this unrepresentative environment. "What are they doing here?", It slips out to me. "Planning the next world revolution likely," grins Ed. "After the revolution, the city was freed from the traffic jams that were everywhere, but no one really knew what to do with it and they parked it here first. As long as one has not agreed what happens to them, they stay here ".

This sentence, which accompanies our tour mantramäßig says a lot about the split mood in society. Some want to preserve and exhibit the relics of the past, the others are for tabula rasa and a total reboot. And then there is the faction of those who would most like to have the statues back in the old place and in the past. "My grandpa, for example," Ed had told me. "He curses capitalism, corruption, unemployment, disorientation - and seems to have ousted very much very well."

I do not have to ask what Ed means and think of everything I've read about Albania's recent past: spying, torture, disregard for all human rights, foreclosure, hunger - a southern North Korea.

But paradise has not broken out yet, and especially those who used to have good jobs and older people who feel disconnected from their rapid development prefer to remember lost privileges rather than the dark side.

Even the young generation does not have it easy. Albania's unemployment rate is high and good jobs require good relationships or a lot of kickbacks. The same applies to good medical treatment, training opportunities and everything that makes up everyday life. In the café, while eating, when shopping - I am approached again and again, the conversation comes immediately to the hopeless situation, and again and again I am asked to Germany - and always there is the question of a possibility in the end, in the promised land work or study.

"I still have a few absurdities," Ed promises, and we continue our way along a wide street that leads to the former government district north of downtown. Formerly the scene of military parades and the battlefield of the revolutionaries, hectic traffic now prevails - even a novelty. "The number of traffic fatalities soon hits that of the victims of socialist arbitrariness," says Ed, grinning. "Of course everyone wanted to have a car immediately and my grandfather sat behind the wheel with almost 90 years and half blind. It took him a year to realize that he needed a driver's license. "

The promised absurdity emerges on the left in the form of a huge concrete pyramid: "Voilà: Pharaoh Hoxha's personal monument - designed by his daughter and built in his honor as a museum." With a mixture of fascination and disgust, I look at the rundown, graffiti-smeared construction, whose entrance is rather provisionally boarded up.

"After all, the obscure construction provides an opportunity for the dictator to climb onto the roof later," Ed says contentedly considering the many people on the smooth and steep surface more or less successfully trying to reach the top. This forbidden form of leisure activities should not only be legitimized, but also facilitated by handholds to avoid subsequent fatalities in the Hoxha era, Ed. "And what else?" I ask. "What happens to the thing?" "It was already used as a temporary exhibition hall, as a kind of socio-cultural center and as a disco, but that does not work - bad karma. Now they are discussing other plans - the documentary center is currently being discussed. But as long as there is still a fight over dealing with all these legacies, the thing will probably continue to rot away. "

The area behind the pyramid clearly differs from the city center: Right and left of the broad street are wide, representative buildings. "You have to imagine, this whole district was a world of its own. Access to the common people is strictly prohibited. A small town in the city with houses for the big shots, government buildings, parks, restaurants - there are always a few peers among the same. "If history strikes back somewhere, then here: In the Blloku district, the former hub of socialist terror reigns now unbridled capitalism. Nowhere else in the city is the density of expensive cafes, stylish bars and restaurants with an international menu so high, everywhere galleries have settled with modern art, in between brand shops, as they are also in London, Paris or Rome. And no matter how much you complain in Albania about the lame economy and the high unemployment rate - here runs the Lek, and the area has remained a ghetto of the privileged, with a different sign.

"I still have one," promises Ed, and a few blocks away, we stop in front of a fenced plot. Behind a high gate is a long-drawn bungalow, which looks a bit old-fashioned, but in earlier years certainly as luxurious gone through. The surrounding garden is well-kept, but lifelessly sterile, the windows are dark and the entire property looks as if it would wait for the return of its residents. "And here," Ed announces with solemn timbre in his voice, "we are now at Hoxha's home sweet home, think of a bunch of guards around." I'm looking for a sign on the fence, one with entrance fees and opening hours of "Enver Hoxha Museum Tirana "or at least on a note with reference to the former occupant of the house - but nothing. "What happens to the house?" I ask. "Is it still used today?" Ed shrugs. "At the moment it is empty - and ..." "... as long as one does not agree on the handling of the legacies, it will remain that way", I finish the sentence that has already been heard so often. "You said it. But at least I'd like to introduce you to Enva's new neighbor. "

Ed turns me around and points to the house opposite, where a fast food restaurant has settled. From the glowing sign on the facade of the Kentucky Fried Chicken Man grins with his big cylinder over as if to signal: Mission completed - friendly acquisition succeeded!

Tirana free walking tour
daily 10.00 / 18.00 clock
Meeting point: Skanderbegplatz, in front of the opera
without registration, free of charge (voluntary donation)

Et`hem Bey Mosque
Sheshi Skenderbej

BunkArt 1
Rruga Fadil Deliu

Muzeu Historie Kombetar
Skenderbeg Square, Boulevard Zogu I

National Gallery of Art
Bulevardi Deshmoret e Kombit

BunkArt 2
Rruga Abdi Toptani

accommodation
Tirana Backpacker Hostel
Rruga Bogdaneve No.3, Tirana, Albania

  1. Katrin Jungclaus

    Dear Maren,
    a wonderful mood, in which one gets the desire to leave immediately!
    Many greetings,
    Katrin

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