Saturday, October 11, 2014


Allow me to stop at a typical German peculiarity concerning Turkmenistan. In English it's Turkmenistan and Turkey, in German it's Turkmenistan and Türkei. The country itself writes Türkmenistan, so where's the umlaut in German? Maybe that's as bizarre as the country is.

Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, is a city of representational buildings, some of which you aren't allowed to photograph. And all buildings, I mean ALL buildings, are covered with white marble as the president likes it this way. He likes his city broad and full of parks and avenues. But ... the streets and parks are empty just like in Pyongyang and North Korea.

At nights there is a difference to Pyongyang, however. Pyongyang at night is nearly black, dark, and sombre. Ashgabat is bright and full of changing colours, which you can already see from the plane, provided you reach Ashgabat after nightfall.

Dictatorial regimes crave being recognized by the world. Some try to excel in sports, some try to appear in the Guinness book of records. Ashgabat had the highest flagpole until the dictator eh president in Baku erected a higher one. But you can enjoy the world's largest indoor Ferris wheel. It is opened only on Saturdays and Sundays - so we were lucky to go there on a Sunday. The price for a ride is a trifle and therefore I had been expecting throngs at the ticket booth, but hardly anyone was waiting. As it is indoors, you can try to peek through the windows. Oh, don't forget not to photograph to the left side as there are restricted buildings!

The first president Turkmenbashi loved being presented in golden statues, some of which are still to be seen. I hope the late president doesn't mind the turtle dove shitting on his head.

At the end of our sojourn in Turkmenistan we planned to visit Konye Urgench far in the North. We got up in the middle of the night, took a flight to Dazavauz, and ... there we were: "Houston, we have a problem." The president was in town or expected in town. The only road to Konye Urgench goes right through the middle of the small town and all roads were blocked for traffic. We were happy to have a bus; a South Korean group didn't even have their bus. The roads were cleared of every vehicle, even the connecting roads were free of people and cars. Save for a policeman at every crossing and the four gentlemen dressed in black staring into a canal as if they expected a frogman surfacing any moment. And I shouldn't forget to tell you that the cell phone net in the North had been shut down, too.

So we went to the border to leave the country. Leaving the country! We didn't know if the border wasn't closed, too. It was, but it opened an hour later.
Crossing the border I had to show my passport quite often:
01. Guard in front of the border
02. 2nd guard in front of the border
03. Baggage and passport (customs), including X ray
04. Passport to get the exit stamp
05. Guard in front of barbed wire and the barrier
06. After a taxi ride through no-man's-land (we were lucky, otherwise we had to carry the baggage for about 1.5 km) control by a guard
07. Medical control
08. Passport and custom's declaration
09. Passport and entry stamp
10. Guard in front of Uzbekistan
OK, some controls where on the Uzbekistan side of this overland border.

But all in all, the impression of Turkmenistan as a bizarre country remains.

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