Architecture and Urbanism Article

Sustainable Architecture

What is sustainability? There are so many definitions of it. Among others, in terms of architecture, it is an ability to face the challenges of the future, such as a rapidly growing population, globalization and digitalization, food and resources scarcity followed by poverty and refugee waves. Moreover, according to scientists, climate change will inevitably lead to more and more unpredictable nature catastrophes. We as planners should take it into account, always keeping in mind that neither of the three factors of sustainability (ecological, economic and social) can be neglected.

The architecture of tomorrow must offer or, if possible, even be the solution to some of the pressing problems. It should provide necessities, give possibilities, unite communities and, most important, – be able to change. After all, change is the only constant in our turbulent and insecure world.

Therefore, sustainable architecture is all about flexibility, modularity, inclusion and eco-friendliness, while sustainable urbanism means short distances, decentralization, safety, diversity and self-sufficiency. Only when we learn to be thoughtful about our planet and its finite resources, we can achieve a sustainable way of living. For example, before spreading further and further into the wild, destroying the natural habitat of animal species, we should focus on the renovation of the existing neighbourhoods and redevelopment of fallow and abandoned territories. Secondly, following the rules of the circular economy instead of perpetuating the wheel of consumerism and waste is crucial. Organic, recycled and recyclable, deconstructible and reusable building materials are the future. I am sure, someday, we will have to build our houses from waste we created over the centuries. In addition, every good urbanist has to make sure that natural cycles (such as the water cycle, sand cycle etc.) are not being seriously interrupted.

All in all, technological innovations in recent years have been very promising. Equipment for CO2-free energy generation, automated household utilities, modular vertical gardens, permeable paving stones, and even structures made out of fungus which can partially be a replacement for concrete already exist. Furthermore, architects would be happy to start testing and implementing such innovations en masse as soon as possible.
So why is the shift towards sustainability so slow?

This is a complex question with no simple answer. The disadvantage of innovations is that brand-new technologies have high investment costs. It means, they will become profitable, but only after many years of exploitation. This way it is rarely possible to make a lot of money very fast, it’s rather a long-term investment. At the same time, capitalistic system has treated nature as if its resources were infinite. It made it easy for companies to destroy habitats in the name of growth. The cheapest option is most often an unsustainable one, be it an energy source, a mode of transport or a building material. That’s why sometimes we, as consumers or experts, don’t have the power to choose the most sustainable option. In our world, who has money – has the power.

As you see, it does not only take urbanists to make a diverse society work in a way that is the least harmful to the environment and to future generations. It requires societal change, although political willingness is not there. It is important, that the decisions at every level of governance are made collectively and not only by those, who put profit higher than the common well-being. Subsequently, it is important to normalize the processes of participation and let the local community decide the fate of their neighborhoods themselves. Let people be the co-designers of neighbourhoods, which they know from the inside.

Needless to say, such a shift requires radical changes in a whole social system, beginning with politics and ending with our own perception. But who said it would be easy? The realities we are facing today are harsh and we can only go through them together, while leaving the stiffness of our own minds behind, opening up to new possibilities and forms of living, embracing change and caring for each other as well as for our planet.


Engineers Without Borders in Haiti

Around four years ago, I joined the university group “Engineers Without Borders – Karlsruhe Institute of Technology e.V.“. It is a non-profit organisation that carries out development cooperation in a wide range of areas worldwide. I became interested in the Beaumont – Haiti project because I wanted to help people suffering from natural disasters and political instability in one of the poorest countries in the world. We are relocating a school and an orphanage in a small mountain village called Beaumont. Due to the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew and at the same time the construction of a new national road, directly in front of the old site, a new home for the pupils and orphans had to be built. With this decision, our Haitian-German partner organisation Pwojè Men Kontre turned to us about seven years ago. And so one thing led to another.

We create the basis for the reliable operation of the orphanage and the school by constructing safe buildings. We design, plan and realise the entire new site, using the skills we have acquired in our studies in a practical and sustainable way. With the resulting earthquake- and storm-proof buildings as well as the planned infrastructure, we are creating a home for orphans and a place for school children to learn.

We want to give children in Haiti perspectives that we all take for granted. But in Haiti, this does not only mean providing access to sufficient drinking water, the light at night and education as a foundation. Above all, it also means designing every building to be earthquake and hurricane-resistant. A principle for us to make sustainability possible in this country in the first place. This gives the next generation chances to receive a proper education. In the end, they will not only shape their own future but will also be able to actively develop the entire country.

From Germany, we plan, calculate and discuss multiple possibilities for designing buildings that are later realised by us in cooperation with the Haitians on site. Since the project came into being in 2014, a lot has been achieved – several classrooms, an orphanage, a canteen, a multifunctional assembly hall with a solar system, as well as a self-sufficient sewage system have been built.

I joined Engineers Without Borders in 2017 and have since designed buildings, water and sewage systems and drawn them in CAD while other association members have implemented them in Haiti. Recently, I also had the opportunity to participate in Construction Phase 9 and finally go to Haiti myself for six weeks. Our team, together with the Haitian workers, built a new classroom and started another one. I would like to share this progress with all of you because it means a lot to me!

Construction phase 9 was the first construction phase since 2019. At first, due to Covid-19, all travel plans worldwide were cancelled and we had to stop construction on site. But other political accidents and a 7.3 magnitude earthquake also shook Haiti recently, which kept delaying the ninth construction phase. Neither the team nor the board of the association could know for sure when and if it could take place at all. But all the circumstances were taken note of and the team studied the situation in the country in detail. Appropriate additional security measures were taken and finally, the travel team could set off!

Photo: EWB, David Clement

After our arrival, it was with a heavy heart that we noticed the traces of the earthquake that had hit the country in August: many houses are badly damaged or completely destroyed, broken infrastructure, such as buried roads, complicate land routes, building materials are missing or difficult to supply. Fortunately, all buildings constructed by EWB have remained intact except for minimal, statically irrelevant damage. The site visit of the orphanage and the school gave us goosebumps, as we realised more than before that our work to construct high-quality earthquake-resistant buildings is not in vain.

In the 9th construction phase, we set out to build two more classrooms. This was an ambitious goal, especially considering that most of us had never been to Haiti before and had hardly any construction site experience. But we were confident, motivated and excited to finally continue this important work.

In the first two weeks, we quickly learned how to use a wide variety of tools properly: Saws, drills, demolition hammers and vibratory plates were used daily on the construction site. We learned and mastered important techniques of timber construction. In the same way, our processes, such as the tying of the reinforcement cages, became faster and more precise. But as on any construction site, we were constantly confronted with challenges. Due to the lack of fuel, our first concreting session was briefly on the brink of failure – without fuel for the vibratory plate and concrete mixer, the trenches for the foundation could neither be levelled nor the foundation concreted. But help came just in time from Hugo, our partner and building material supplier, who got us 3 gallons of petrol.

Left: Vibratory plate in action
Right: Reinforcement cages are ready

We started the first big concreting session with a lot of joy and of course a healthy portion of excitement before the exhausting day. In the blazing sun, we first started with three concrete mixers at the same time: 4 buckets of gravel, 2 buckets of sand, 1 bag of cement, water in – concrete out, continuously without interruption. But as it had to happen, not everything went according to plan: one hour after the start of the concreting, the first concrete mixer stops working due to a broken joint. Half an hour later, the V-belt of the second concrete mixer breaks and at about the same time the workers start to strike. But after negotiations with the workers and a few phone calls to get a V-belt at short notice, the concreting could still be completed well thanks to combined efforts.

The further concreting of the plinth, the floor slab and the second foundation went smoothly with our practised team and good preparation.

Photo: EWB, David Clement

On our days off, we enjoyed the beautiful landscape and the warm hospitality of the Haitians and were able to recover from the strenuous work. Of course, the programme also included visiting the destinations of the surrounding area: be it the dark caves in the valley or the mountains to enjoy the breathtaking views. With luck and good weather, you can even see the Caribbean Sea in the distance from there. Haiti’s nature is extraordinary and fascinating to the European eye. Palm trees and lianas, flowers of different sizes and shapes, as well as large colourful butterflies, giant spiders, tropical frogs, snakes, hummingbirds and multi-coloured lizards will remain in our memories for a long time.

Photo: EWB, David Clement
Photo: EWB, Tanja Zuppé

Over time, the language barrier and different cultural backgrounds were no longer an obstacle to having a beer with Valleur (director of the orphanage) in the evening or playing board games and learning new dance moves with the girls at Nan Ginen orphanage. We also built a good relationship with the workers who accompanied us on our trips. From time to time they brought us boxes, full of passion fruit, guavas, coconuts and oranges, which was just what we needed after the exhausting days on the construction site.

The last week on the construction site was very productive, but not easy. Unlike previous construction phases, some of which were months long and involved several teams taking turns and continuing each other’s work, this construction phase consisted of only one team that had to build the classroom from start to finish. We were aware that there is still a lot to do to finish the building before we had to leave. The classrooms are very much needed here right now. The number of pupils is increasing, so at the moment classes are even being held in the dining area of the canteen. Also, two classes are always studying in the auditorium at the same time, which is not an optimal solution because of the noise pendulum. That’s why we started the final week full of energy.

After the classroom walls were braced together, they had to be covered with wooden slats. From the outside, the load-bearing components are not visible, but from the inside, the truss is open and will soon be used as shelves by the teachers and schoolchildren. The roof trusses were almost entirely completed by our Haitian helpers Stanley and Jean Vanex and erected on the roof. These had to be braced, which is essential for the load-bearing capacity of the roof truss. Meanwhile, Stanley and Vanex are good at working with wood, which is rare for Haitian workers. We have done some training with them on how to use different saws and other tools used in woodworking and have gone through all the roof truss plans together in detail. Our Haitian friends did the new tasks with a lot of interest and motivation – slowly and unsteadily at first, but with time more and more quickly and accurately until all the roof trusses were in place and fastened.

Here in sunny Haiti, German traditions have not been forgotten either: after the completion of the wooden construction, we celebrated a small topping-out ceremony with some good Haitian rum. It was breathtaking to watch the first sunset from the freshly built roof because the view from up there is just insane!

Now the battens and the sheet metal had to be attached to the roof. But again, things did not go according to plan: there were heavy thunderstorms and showers for two days.

Working on the slippery sheet metal in this weather was dangerous. Longingly, the team waited for the sun – and then it came. Again, there were days of nailing and screwing on the construction site, the house took its final shape. After the shutters and the door are mounted and the screed is poured, the building can be used.

Even during the rain, we had no time to be lazy. Some repairs in the showers of the girls’ dormitory were done, the tool container was tidied up and the available material for the next teams was carefully counted. Additional training on the maintenance of the PAUL water filter, as well as on the maintenance of the batteries of the photovoltaic system were conducted with the caretakers of the school to ensure the longevity of the electricity and freshwater supply.

The bricks for the second classroom were prepared. The construction management of the building of this classroom will be taken over by our local friends, Stanley and Jean Vanex, after our departure.

Shortly before our departure, we were invited by Valleur to church and then to dinner, where we could experience Haitian Catholic traditions. While in Europe during Catholic masses it is being melancholically preached about our sins, here the atmosphere is much more cheerful, with singing that can easily be mistaken for relaxing beach music if you don’t understand the lyrics. After mass, we had the opportunity to meet Bishop Joseph Gontran Decoste. He told us a lot about his trips to Germany, about how the beauty of the Cologne Cathedral impressed him and about the cooperation with German Catholic associations that have been supporting Haiti for 60 years. He was very interested in our work and even invited us to visit Les Cayes. The exchange with this nice and grounded man was very interesting and inspiring – we are envious of the next travel teams that will be able to take up his offer.

It was with heavy hearts and not without tears that we said goodbye to the orphans. During the time we lived in the Nan Ginen orphanage, we got very used to them. Even though we could only communicate with gestures, it was so much fun to play and dance together in the evenings, to listen to them sing. Dancing and smiling are international languages, yet we regretted several times that we didn’t learn Creole better before the trip so that we could have deeper conversations.

Suddenly the day of departure arrived – six weeks have flown by. Our suitcases are full of Bernardette’s (our cook) homemade jam and our hearts are filled with pride for what we have achieved and with the most beautiful sunny memories that will warm us all winter in cold rainy Germany.



Stop Nord Stream 2!

The Nord Stream, also known as the Baltic Sea Pipeline, is a system of underwater gas pipelines that run from Russia to Germany. The first two strands of the pipeline (Nord Stream 1) were built in November 2011 and run from Vyborg to Lubmin near Greifswald.

The subsequent, similar Nord Stream 2 project also consists of two tubes and runs roughly parallel in terms of geography. The laying work on the first strand was completed on June 4, 2021. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is to transport 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year from Russia to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania through the Baltic Sea.

Nord Stream 1 is owned and operated by Nord Stream AG, whose shares are owned by Gazprom (51%), E.ON (now Uniper), Wintershall (both Germany), Gasunie, OMV (Austria) and Engie (France; previously GDF SUEZ SA). Nord Stream 2 is owned by Nord Stream 2 AG, which is wholly owned by the Russian Gazprom group.

If the entire life cycle emissions are taken into account, the carbon footprint at high leakage rates during extraction or transport is roughly the same as that of coal.

Inefficient and unecological

However, according to the German Institute for Economic Research, an additional line to secure the natural gas supply in Germany and Europe is unnecessary and economically unprofitable. There is no short-term or long-term coverage gap for gas. The existing gas infrastructure covers current and future needs.

Rather, Nord Stream 2 threatens to start dangerous lock-in effects that will delay the expansion of renewable energies. Gas as a climate-friendly bridging technology is a myth. The opposite is the case. Due to the methane emissions during extraction, transport and use, natural gas is a climate killer, just like coal. Natural gas consists of almost 100% methane (CH4), which is a potent and aggressive greenhouse gas with a global warming potential that is more than 100 times stronger than that of CO2. If the entire life cycle emissions are taken into account, the carbon footprint at high leakage rates during extraction or transport is roughly the same as that of coal. Considering the already advanced accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the expansion of new gas infrastructure can, in the worst case, accelerate the reaching of tipping points in the climate system, which clearly contradicts the EU’s climate targets. The obligations from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement clearly mean that no fossil fuel infrastructure – and therefore no natural gas infrastructure either – may be built. We have to get out of fossil fuels by 2050 at the latest, but the new gas terminal will not be ready until 2025 at the earliest. That will never pay for itself. Instead of investing billions of euros into backwards-looking technology, Germany should finance sustainable and environmentally friendly projects.

Great damage to marine ecosystems

Nature conservation organizations in Europe are concerned – if the project is implemented, Germany will no longer be able to achieve the goals set in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Germany’s broken commitments will have disastrous consequences for the environment and the first signs of it are already being felt.

The problem of contamination by leakage was already known from the first Nord Stream project. Even then, the fire brigade had to clean beaches from black poisonous grease. At the moment, Nord Stream 2 appears to have hoped to cover up similar incidents. According to the state environment ministry, the pipeline builder had found irregularities in a dredger that could lead to grease contamination. This was not reported to the responsible authorities but concealed. In addition, highly toxic chemicals are being used in the construction of the pipeline, which are harmful to human and marine animal health.

Since 2018, when the project started, the German Nature Conservation Association has been evaluating it critically. The route through five marine natural reserves leads to irreparable damage to the sensitive marine environment of the Baltic Sea. Typical habitats are endangered or have already completely disappeared – and without a real need, because in Germany there is no short- or long-term coverage gap for gas.

The battle with coal is not over yet – but we are already facing the next climate killer. Governments need to understand – we need action, not words. We demand Germany’s immediate withdrawal from the Nord Stream 2 project and instead more investment in sustainable projects.Stream 2 und stattdessen mehr Investition in die zukunftsfähigen Projekte.

Lobbying powers

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is not only an extremely polluting project, it is also an example of the close relationship between the federal government and lobbyists in the natural gas industry.

A study by LobbyControl and Corporate Europe Observatory shows how the federal government regularly asserts the interests of corporations. For example, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has negotiated behind closed doors with the gas industry that natural gas should play an important role as a transition technology to renewable energy sources. When calculating the gas demand, the overestimated figures from Nord Stream 2 were used instead of the research commissioned by the federal government.

Germany supports Nord Stream 2 because Gazprom has excellent connections with the highest political circles. One of the prominent examples is former Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who is both chairman of the shareholders’ committee of Nord Stream AG and chairman of the supervisory board of the Russian oil company Rosneft. Another case is Marion Scheller. The former head of the energy policy division at BMWi became the chief lobbyist at Nord Stream in September 2016.

So-called “dialogue process” Gas 2030, which was organized by the German Energy Agency Dena, took place completely behind closed doors in the first few months away. The meetings of corporate lobbyists and officials took place; not even the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety was invited. The independent study carried out on behalf of the Federal Environment Agency was not included in the dialogue process because it came to the conclusion that if the climate targets are met, gas demand will decrease. In addition, the “blue hydrogen” produced from fossil natural gas is described in the report of the dialogue process as CO2-neutral and recommended for use, including the risky CO2 capture and storage.

In my opinion, in the time of the climate crisis, we have an obligation to deal with such issues. The choices we make today will directly affect the future of our children. It is our responsibility to demand from politicians that such nature-destroying projects stop immediately! More decision-making power for scientists and people, less for lobbyists!


Cover: Ulrich Baumgarten, Getty Images


The Khmer Heritage

Night. Heat. Overwhelmed with pleasant excitement, I pull my suitcase through the crowded streets of Bangkok towards the bus agency, because I know – the next dawn I will meet in a new for me, interesting and mysterious Cambodia. While I’m waiting for the bus, I notice a group of young people who seem to have just finished school. From their accents it was clear that they came here from around the world. It didn’t take much effort for me to approach them and get acquainted – traveling alone, you involuntarily start to sail along incredible currents, meeting interesting and so different people on the way. We talked for a long time and played various games until our bus arrived. And how cool it was! The seats are wide, comfortable, with folding backs, where you could sleep – such transport is very common in Asia. A few hours passed unnoticed, it began to dawn, and here we are on the border of two countries. We were taken off the bus because we had to cross the border on foot. After a series of different procedures and paperwork, I finally set foot on Cambodian soil.

What I saw surprised me a lot. The border area itself was like a crowded bazaar – traders shouted prices from behind the counters under the buildings of hotels and casinos, while travelers were trying to find their vehicles. Poverty, hunger and hopelessness immediately caught my eye. Homeless people sat on the roadsides, begging for alms, and exhausted, dirty women with babies in their arms wandered among the crowd. And there were so many of them that I felt helpless and insignificant, because even after feeding one poor man, I realized that I could not help hundreds of others.

When I found my bus and perched comfortably again, I just thought about how lucky I was to be born in a prosperous country, to have a roof over my head, food every day, not to mention hygiene products.

We moved on and soon arrived in Siam Reap, where I spent three busy days. The reason for this trip was my dream to see Angkor – the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire, the ruins of which are located near this city. But I will tell you about it later.

So, saying goodbye to my new acquaintances, I went to meet my host, whom I found on the Couchsurfing site. I arrived at my destination – a primary school, located quite far from the city center. No tourists could be seen here, so I, a blonde with a European appearance and a blue suitcase, was very different from the locals. I waited for my host for more than an hour, so I had time to watch people, and I noticed one very strange thing: all the women who saw me were happy and smiling, the children waved merrily at me, while the men frowned, looking furiously. I still do not understand what caused such a reaction. (If anyone has any guesses or explanations – please share them in the comments!)

At the school behind me, a bell rang announcing the end of lessons, and a noisy crowd of children, about 8-10 years old, poured into the yard. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but most of them got on their scooters and drove home confidently. I was shocked! Little kids. On scooters.

After two hours, I got tired of waiting for a host who didn’t even respond to my messages, so I quickly found a hostel on the Internet in the heart of the city with a pool and round-the-clock parties for only $3 a night. But, what a pity! I was so far from the center, and public transport was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately, I came across a tuk-tuk on the way, so I didn’t have to walk three kilometers on the hot asphalt under the tropical sun. The driver drove me to the doorstep of the hostel, where I heard loud music and laughter. Fortunately, there was a free bed for me in a room with 19 people. After a grueling road, I just dreamed of a pool! So before going to the city, I had a good rest, swam, getting acquainted with many cheerful young people from all over the world, who also stayed here. As you can see, traveling alone does not mean being lonely.

I was anxious to see the city, so without delay, I went for a walk. Despite the fact that Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, it was a great pleasure to walk its streets. Yes, the roads and sidewalks were bumpy, the houses were not in the best condition, the knots of power lines on the many poles looked unsightly, but there was so much different greenery that it gave the city a special charm. I have never seen such colorful flowers of different shapes and sizes, so I felt like in a paradise garden. Additionally, Buddhist and Hindu temples with their golden domes and ornaments only intensified this feeling. Even now, as I write this article, I am overwhelmed with emotions that I unfortunately cannot describe. I remember the monks in their orange robes resting in the courtyard of the temple in the shade of flowering trees. Stray dogs and cats perched peacefully beside them, and kittens jumped on the trees. It was very touching – the doors of the temple are open to all living creatures. Personally, I brought from there as much peace of mind and tranquility as even the sea has never given me. By the way, how many kittens can you see in this photo?

In the evening, the streets of Siam come to life. Bars and cafes are filled with people – locals and tourists. If you come to this city and want to have fun – I advise you to visit the famous Pub Street. Don’t be surprised if taxi drivers offer you to buy drugs from them – they try to make money on tourists in various ways, but keep in mind – Cambodian laws strictly prohibit the sale and use of drugs.

Having walked a lot, I returned to the hostel. After a little chat and a swim in the pool, I went to bed early, because the next day I had a long and busy program. Although I really enjoyed living in a hostel with young people and non-stop parties, staying up until the morning was not my priority, because I came to see the cultural heritage.

Dear readers, if there are girls among you who also love or intend to travel alone, then I want to warn you to be careful. There will always be many men in a hostel, cafe or at the party who will try to get you drunk and ready for sex, maybe even offer you to marry them. Never forget that you, your physical and mental health, your desires or unwillingness are the highest priority. Do not succumb to such provocations just because “they want something, and you are uncomfortable to refuse.” Be able to say no, walk away from the unwanted companion and stand up for yourself.

So, finally the morning came. The long-awaited trip. It was three o’clock in the morning, but thousands of tourists had already gathered under the walls of Angkor. I was not surprised, after all this is the former capital of the Khmer Empire, the largest city of its time. Two thousand years ago, these areas were already densely populated and technically developed. The whole complex covers an area of ​​about 200 km2 and is marked by the geometric structure of the plan and the harmony of the composition. In total, there are about 100 multi-storey palaces and temples, built without cement or other binding materials. The stone blocks are connected by the principle of a lock. Numerous towers, decorated with inscriptions and masterful carvings will not leave visitors, accustomed to European architecture and art, indifferent.

This is not the end of my acquaintance with the culture of Cambodia. Following my tradition, I found a theater here, which was a grand performance about the history of this region. The variety of colorful costumes, masks and decorations, as well as the number and skill of the actors were breathtaking. But the events they brought to life on stage were sad. Many upheavals, wars and crises were experienced by the Cambodian people: the strong and unique Khmer kingdom became a vassal of the Siamese Empire due to endless class strife and invasion. This was followed by French colonization, Khmer Rouge terror, genocide, armed conflict, poverty, and devastation. The consequences of these events still continue to negatively affect the country’s economy and social order.

And again, I realized that we actually have so much and don’t appreciate it. We quarrel, trying to find flaws in everything. But in fact, daily food and the availability of an apartment, clean tap water, the opportunity to study – these are the reasons for the great joy. I know this is hard to believe, but without exaggeration, billions of people in our world do not have such privileges. And those who even have a peaceful sky over their heads and a stable situation in the country – won the jackpot in the lottery called life.


Bangkok, Thailand

What type of travel is right for you? Are you one of those people who like to bask on the beach or one of those who wander the crowded streets all day with a camera in hand? Do you catch your breath from the architectural heritage, or rather from the thickness of the wild jungle, where almost no human has set foot? Are you interested in a family vacation, or are you looking for thrills behind the doors of strip bars and massage parlors? In fact, it doesn’t matter what category you belong to. Because here everyone will find something for themselves and, believe me, you will return home full of unforgettable impressions!
I started this rather spontaneous journey from the city of millions – Bangkok. I know most tourists prefer sunny Patagonia or the islands in the south, but if you have already travelled so far, do not neglect the opportunity to visit the capital.

Shortly before my arrival, I found accommodation on Couchsurfing (This website will allow you to meet the locals and have a great time together). So, somehow with adventures I got to the metro station, where I was to be met by my host. It turned out to be a smiling friendly young man Tan, who put me on his motorcycle (with a suitcase on my lap!) and drove me home. To say that new impressions began to overwhelm me from the first minute in Bangkok is to say nothing. Let’s at least take the fact that I rode a motorcycle for the first time (although, actually, the second time, because the first time it was a “motorcycle-taxi driver”? who drove me from the bus stop to the subway station). At first, I was afraid to get on a motorcycle, after all I’ve never did this before! Then people started laughing at me, because a motorcycle in Thailand is like a bicycle in the Netherlands: without it – no way. So I kinda gave in and let them put me on the vehicle.

Here we are – Tan’s home. There lived a wonderful family who, despite the language barrier, were very friendly to me. In his spare time, Tan showed me the city, celebrated Christmas with me, and helped in this unfamiliar country. We talked a lot and learned about each other’s cultures. And I realized how cool it is to know languages ​​and to be able to communicate with people from another part of the globe. Eventually, I stopped being afraid of the motorcycle and started to enjoy it, while Tan picked up speed on the track among the skyscrapers, jumping between cars from lane to lane.
My first day in Bangkok. I do not cease to be surprised. You will no longer find such architectural structures as here in any city. My undisputed favorites were the temple complexes of Wat Po and Wat Arun, as well as the Grand Palace. Walking around the city, you will find many other buildings that impress with their wealth, giant golden Buddhas, mosaics of colored mirrors, ornate dragons, giants and other mythical creatures. My advice to you: when going to Thailand, bring light clothes that cover the shoulders and knees. Only then will you be able to visit temples.

Religion and spirituality occupy an important place in the life of Thai citizens. In contrast to European countries, where more and more young people are turning to atheism, here religion is thriving and keeping up with the times. There are many monks on the streets, who are easily recognizable by their orange robes. And it’s not just elderly men, which surprised me a lot and, I must admit, made me happy. Among the monks are many children, adolescents and young men. Every Thai must be trained not only in the army, but also to complete training in the temple. People say that only such a person can become a real man. People who dedicate their lives to God have many advantages and benefits: they do not pay for transportation, receive food for free, and most importantly – they are highly respected and valued.
In addition to Buddhists, there are many Christians in Thailand, including the family that sheltered me, so, keeping the traditions, I spent Christmas Eve at church, and again, a pleasant surprise awaited me. Spending winter evenings in shorts and T-shirts just itself is an unusual phenomenon, but what I saw in the churchyard struck me! Near the church, which stands on the bank of the river, there was a huge Christmas tree, and hundreds of people danced energetic swing around it! Well, Tan and I were no exception! Loud music was played, street food was sold outside the church, competitions were held in tents, and children tried to win prizes. That’s how, coming to church, you can accidentally come across the biggest open-air party in the style of the forties.

The food is dominated by sweet and spicy flavors. Coconut milk and lemongrass are indispensable ingredients in many national dishes. And the variety of fruits just drives you crazy! Fruits of various shapes, colors and sizes stunned tourists with attractive prices. But do not rush to buy, because first you have to bargain well – you benefit, and sellers don’t lose their skills 😊 During the first days I spent in Bangkok, I managed to try coconut soup with mushrooms, rice with banana, baked in a leaf, jelly of grass in milk, chrysanthemum juice and many other strange things, the names of which I have never heard and probably will not remember. The only things I didn’t taste were scorpions, caterpillars and other insects. When the sun sets and street fairs with food and souvenirs begin to come to life, some traders (especially in tourist places) begin to flaunt their “delicacies”. I’ve even seen a crocodile on a spit a few times, and it’s a sad sight. As my new local acquaintance explained to me, Thais don’t really eat scorpions or crocodiles. This is all done for tourists. That’s where various stereotypes about Asian “eating everything that lives” come from. But, as it turns out, this isn’t always true.
If you have the opportunity, go to the theater. When I’m in another country, I always try to visit an opera or a play, because it can tell us a lot about the spirit of the people. And in Thailand, this tradition of mine did not disappoint me. I went to a play about events from Thai legends. A monkey helped God build a bridge across a river by outwitting a mermaid. I have never seen such a variety of colored and ornate masks in my life. And the melodies of the songs pleased the ear with unusual motives.
After spending a few days here, I decided to move on to Cambodia, where my adventures continued. But about this, as well as about other cities in Thailand, you can read in the new posts.


Healthy nationalism vs bullying

What Germans can learn from Ukrainians

I’ll start with a short description of myself. I’m Iryna from Lviv, Ukraine. In this city I was born and brought up, but for my studies I moved to Karlsruhe, Germany. I always loved my Motherland and her benevolent folk, our rich culture and euphonious language. I am happy to be born free here and to have a chance to get acquainted to Ukraine’s art as well as unbreakable spirit throughout history and our desire for freedom. My soul is hurting since six years ago with Russian occupation of some of our territories peaceful life has come to an end. My heart is bleeding when I read history textbooks. Maybe that’s why I, like many Ukrainian people, understand, that preservation of culture and national dignity is a key to achieving freedom and true independence.

Germans don’t talk about it

So, when I moved to Germany, something surprised me. People are afraid to talk about patriotism. It’s not a secret, what disgusting and tragic role Nazi-Germany played in the last century. That’s why the word “nationalism” evokes unpleasant memories among elderly people, and the youth feels unbearable shame for how their country is remembered in history. Only a small percentage of citizens calls themselves patriots here, and those are the people who rather don’t oppose Hitler’s politics. Maybe you’ve heard about a political party AfD with their right-winged views? Its representatives do everything to “save” Germany from foreigners, denying them essential rights, and not to let refugees into Europe, who, risking their lives in the Mediterranean Sea, are fleeing from countries which are suffering from wars, hunger and tyranny.

Unimaginable hypocrisy is pouring through their mouths whereas Germany, like almost all European countries rely on immigrants, who mostly works in the agriculture sector. Spreading of Coronavirus made it recently clear, how important these people are in maintaining the functioning of the state and for supplying what is essential for our living. Nevertheless, they’ve never heard a word of thanks from this party. Their followers are known as neo-nazis, who attack foreigners from time to time, who provoke disagreements and chaos in the society.

This is the picture Germans see in their mind when they imagine nationalism. AfD and their followers shamelessly call themselves true patriots, defaming the image of Motherland and turning it into brutal assaults. No educated person who has at least a little bit of good sense would call him/herself a patriot. The love to their own country is somehow feared and not talked about. Germans prefer the word “internationalist”.

It is so wrong and ugly, that something as beautiful, natural and valuable as love for motherland evokes shame.

True patriotism is love, not bullying

In my opinion, it’s time for these neo-nazis to open their eyes and face the truth: they are not patriots, just scum and misfits. Thankfully, they are too small and powerless to actually make some changes for the worse and nobody really wants to cooperate with them. Finally, hiding behind deceptive slogans is over! I want Germans to see what I see. If I were German, I would be proud of this country. I am already proud after having lived here for five years. I love Germany, because there is a lot to love it for. No, not for that bunch of wailing bastards, who will soon loose all credit and respect. But for just laws, for clean streets and preserved nature. For democracy, flourishing science and tolerance. For modern society, which stands guard over justice and humanity, acknowledging the mistakes of the past. So, Germans should hold their head high, not whine! Same as Ukrainians, they have impressive cultural heritage. Moreover, the industries blossom, they are not just struggling to survive. Big number of immigrants is an evidence for this. How many people were able to find shelter here! How many accents can you hear in the modern German language, how many representatives of different nationalities you see outside! Isn’t it wonderful? There is one thing that unites all of them – gratitude to Germany for a chance to start a new life and intensions to make this country even more successful.

So, you see, true patriotism unites us. We should not oppose immigration, but rather show the world that our home is a hospitable one, that we always have something to offer to anyone who is interested. The fact that a lot of people learned German and are working for the wellbeing of this country means that it is flourishing and modern. Germany is one of the most progressive countries in the world and shows a good example on which political reforms to carry out in order to become a democratic European state. Tell me, isn’t it a reason to be proud?

German patriots, I appeal to you! If your heart is also aching because of the troubles in your home country, don’t think that AFD is a party which could defend your interests. Don’t allow these bandits to blemish the image of a nationalist. Stand up and talk freely about the love to your Motherland! No, not that Germany who followed Hitler (all in all, you’re not to blame for the mistakes your ancestor made), but this tolerant and such a diverse Germany, which we have today. No race, no nationality, no sexual orientation, gender or religion should be disrespected.

Revolution of Dignity

Let’s return to Ukraine. I’m from the western part, where people are known for their patriotism. Citizens of Lviv and many other neighbouring cities sharply opposed pro-Russian policy of Yanukovych even before the Revolution of Dignity. But on that day, when this former president refused to sign the association treaty with the European Union, we demonstrated on Maidan together – West and East, North and South. Our patriotic spirit once again raised people to fight dictatorship. We wanted democracy, European reforms, because in spite of weakness and corruption of our former authorities, we as Ukrainians always carry democratic values in our hearts.

Photography: Iryna Yaminska

After a brutal massacre of peaceful protesters, Yanukovych faced even more resistance and fled from the country. Using the moment, Russian media were trying to spread some fake-news in the world, ostensibly the Nazis want to grab the power in Ukraine. They compared and still compare Maidan protesters with bandits. Why? Because we wanted freedom and democracy? Because our intentions did not match their invasive policies? Russia’s authorities turn their citizens to zombies in front of the television screens, still feeling nostalgic for the success in WWII. Who goes against their will – is a Nazi, such is the rhetoric of Russia. (How ironic, considering that Russian policies are very popular among the AfD representatives)

Finally, the lies about “Kyivan Nazis”, “banderivtsi” and “cannibals who eat Russian babies” on Russian and pro-Russian channels managed to convince a bunch of the Eastern Ukraine residents that the life would be better under the rule of Kremlin. By annexing Crimea and invading in Ukraine’s Eastern territories, Putin started a pointless war, in which fourteen thousand Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have died since 2014.

Speculating with the term of “Ukrainian nationalist”, Russian media tries to turn European society against us. But you know, let me tell you about our nationalism, me, a person who was born in the very heart of patriotic capital of Ukraine, grew up there and absorbed this mentality. If not for patriots, the Revolution of Dignity wouldn’t have happened. Ukraine would long have become a Russian colony and the way to the European Union would be closed forever. Russian propaganda, even the most influential one, can’t make you forgive the fact, that those people, who went out to Maidan, these nationalists stood for democratic values. They just wanted the life like in Germany. These “banderivtsi” died from the sniper’s bullets only for wanting to be in the EU. The elderly and the youth, people of different national minorities united not in order to push someone to the top of the power, but for justice to reign in our country. We did this because we love Ukraine and want to see her free from aggressor’s influence.

We love our Motherland for the same reason we love our parents. Although, a lot of my German friends told me: “We must love the whole world, not concentrate only on our own country”. Yes, I agree with this. But haven’t we learned to love our own mother before we started loving the others? In the same way, you can’t love the world without loving the part of it, where you grew up. This love is the only and the true sign of healthy nationalism. Everything else is just bullying.

Finally, if you’ve read it till here, I hope I could dispel lies of Russian propaganda about us, Ukrainian patriots. Europeans don’t have any reason to be afraid of us. After all, we dream about European Union more than anyone! Yes, that’s in Lviv where with Ukrainian flag there is always another one – blue with a circle of stars. Many people hang it out on their balconies, one day hoping to become the part of the society where human rights is the highest value.

I will always proudly carry my flag. And I will do it not against someone, but hand in hand with the other such unique and different countries. I believe that together we can build a brighter future, where there is no place for repression, dictatorship, pointless wars and battles for power, where instead of it reigns love and brotherhood.