Category: Soviet Union

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Islands of Dark Tourism

In this post I want to take you off the beaten track and to some less well explored, more exotic, remote locations. The eight selected places have only one thing in common: they are all islands. Other than that they are very different from each other and represent a range of distinct categories of dark tourism that dark globe trotters visit for very different reasons.

Of course there are well-known dark islands, too, such as Alcatraz or Robben Island, both former prison islands turned memorials, which today attract large numbers of visitors and hence overlap with mainstream tourism; but here we are going to get further away from that.

Budapest in 2022

This past Whitsun weekend I was in Budapest. Even though it’s just a 2 ½ hour train ride from Vienna (where I live) I hadn’t been to this fabulous capital city of Hungary since October 2008, so a re-visit was overdue. I had only a bit over 48 hours there but used the time well. Here’s a short report with some selected photos:

In terms of dark tourism my first priority was a sight that I learned about only after my previous visit to Budapest. That’s the Hospital in the Rock and

Russian Reflections

This photo was taken in St Petersburg and shows a reflection of one of the most iconic sights in this city, namely the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood … what a name in the current circumstances! (But its name is actually a reference to the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881.)

Secondly, I know in the West all eyes are currently on Ukraine and especially the Ukrainians, who are suffering the most in this ongoing war, and I naturally feel for them too. But my heart also bleeds for Russia – for various reasons I will

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is one of the most significant international remembrance days, on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on this day in 1945. It’s impossible to cover every Holocaust-related dark-tourism site in a single post. But what I can do is give one photo each from all the main concentration camps and death camps, i.e. the main places where the Holocaust played out (in addition to

Trouble in the Stans

“The Stans” is shorthand for the five former Soviet republics in Central Asia whose names all end in -stan, that is: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan (but not Pakistan and Afghanistan!).

All of these have been in the media for more or less unsavoury reasons over the past few decades, but Kazakhstan seemed to be the calmest and least

Dark Tourism & Nuclear Power Plants

And here comes the fourth and final theme from our most recent poll. In my archives I don’t actually have photos of that many nuclear power plants (NPPs), but included are some of the historically most significant ones – and the darkest! Because of the security issues revolving around the nuclear industry, often photos are only possible from a distance, more or less zoomed in, but I also have some closer up and even a couple of interior

Riga & Tallinn

Last Wednesday I came back from a nine-day return trip to the Baltics, well, just to two of the capital cities, Riga in Latvia and Tallinn in Estonia. My first trip to the region had been in 2014, and I knew that in these cities a few new sites of relevance to dark tourism had newly opened in the meantime or had changed significantly, thus warranting a re-visit.

In Riga, the

4th of July

This is a date mostly associated with Independence Day in the USA. So I decided to dip into my archive and put a cluster of 4 July posts together here, plus some extras. Note, though, that US Independence is not the only historical event marked on this date – there are also other, and darker, incidents that fell on it, such as the one

Dark Tourism & Pianos

As promised in the previous theme post, I now bring you the other one of the joint winners of our latest theme poll.

So in what ways can pianos be associated with dark tourism? A pretty unique example is this, a piano-shaped tombstone:

The Thornton grave used to have an open lid on the stone piano too, but that got destroyed by vandals. Maybe it’s

35 Years since Chernobyl

On this day, 35 years ago, in the early hours of 26 April 1986, the Chernobyl disaster began. The story of that disaster, the technical details and the people involved, all that has been recounted numerous times in various places, including on my website (see Chernobyl, and ChNPP), and more recently this book (my review). For this post I decided to instead give you a photo essay and tell my personal story in relation to Chernobyl, gathered over the three tours to the Zone that

Dark Tourism & Toys

As decided in our most recent theme poll, I now bring you the winner, DT & toys. It was probably the oddest of the choices, the biggest juxtaposition, and hence the most intriguing. In any case it was a very clear win far ahead of all the other choices.

So what kind of dark do we get with toys. Well, for starters there are war toys, like model planes, tanks, toy guns and whatnot. In fact, one of the

Beelitz & a new poll

Today is World Tuberculosis Day. The date was chosen because it was on this day in 1882, 139 years ago today, that Dr. Robert Koch of the Berlin Institute of Hygiene announced his discovery of the Tuberculosis (TB) bacillus that causes the disease. At that time TB was raging through Europe and America, killing millions, especially amongst the working classes living in

Dark Tourism & Corona

About a year ago we went into the first lockdown here in Austria. Corona was still very new, and back then we had no way of knowing that it would continue to have such a grip on the whole world for so long.
Anyway, I thought this was a good point to look back and go on a little time-travel excursion here. So I’ve lifted the series of Corona-related posts I had on my DT page on FB at the time of the first lockdown from the Facebook-posts archive that I

Auschwitz Liberation Day

On this Day it’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date was chosen because it was on this Day 76 years ago that Auschwitz was liberated. The above photo shows what is perhaps the most iconic item of the whole memorial site today, the sign “Arbeit macht frei” above the main gate to the “Stammlager”, Auschwitz I. The photo was taken in 2008, so it was still the original. In 2009 it was stolen (see below), but recovered. But after

Dark Tourism & Spheres

As announced in the latest newsletter, our recent themed-post poll ended in a draw, so I decided to feature both winners, one after the other, starting with spheres today, to be followed by DT & lakes next week.

This structure, a steel globe containing the experimental Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR), is also sometimes referred to as “the sphere”, or alternately “the golf ball”. The reactor inside was one of the first to supply power to the British National Grid but was taken offline in 1977 and is currently undergoing decommissioning (while

Stalin

On this Day: on 18 December 1878 a certain Iosep Besarionis dze Dzhugashvili was born in the Caucasus town of Gori in Georgia. This man is of course better known to the world under his self-adopted name: Stalin (meaning Man of Steel).
On my travels in the East, I’ve come across Stalin in images and statuary in various places, and so I can give you a little Stalin-themed photo essay here.

Let’s begin at the beginning, as it were, in

Dark Tourism and Bars

The topic of this blog post was decided by the most recent theme poll, where it sailed to a clear victory over all the other options by a huge margin (as reported in last Sunday’s newsletter). So here we go.

As a couple of commentators noted, the word ‘bars’ is of course lexically ambiguous, and exploiting that double meaning had been my intention all along. So let’s begin with the darker side of bars – those you sit behind in prisons and similar institutions.

The first

Dark Tourism & Stars and Stripes

This theme was not decided on by a poll, but just by myself, and the link to today’s significant date should be obvious.

But let’s start at the beginning. So, what kind of stars feature in dark tourism? For one thing there’s the old communist or Soviet five-pointed red star, like these:

Halloween

Today it’s the 31st of October – Halloween! But of course in the currently escalating pandemic crisis, there cannot be a proper Halloween party. And it’s even a Saturday, so it would have been ideal for partying. Such a shame …

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not missing all the commercialization of Halloween. In fact it was that very over-commercialization that had put me off Halloween for most of my life. It wasn’t until 2014 that

Dark Tourism & Clothing

As decided in the most recent poll, and announced on Monday, today we come to the theme “dark tourism and clothing”:

You could be forgiven if you think this is a really exotic theme within the wider subject of dark tourism. But items of clothing do actually come up quite often. And the ones featured below are only a selection.

Perhaps the most predictable case of clothes with a dark association is those iconic and infamous striped

Sisian – and a new poll

After the previous, rather text-heavy post, this time I picked something more visual, and while the previous post was newly-created original material, this time it is again something from the archives. Just over a year ago I posted a series of photos on my now purged Facebook page that were taken in the little town of Sisian in south-eastern Armenia. This followed one of the quiz questions I used to put up there regularly on Fridays. The photo above came with the question “a fun-less funfair, abandoned, overgrown and slowly rusting away … Where is this?”. I had half expected that

Escape from Sobibor

On this day, 77 years ago, on 14 October 1943, a revolt at the death camp of Sobibor led to the escape of hundreds of Jewish prisoners from this infamous and sinister place, of whom 50 to 60 individuals managed to survive and tell the story of this camp after WWII, especially Thomas Blatt (see also LAMOTH) and Alexander ‘Sasha’ Pechersky, the Soviet Red Army POW who led the revolt/escape.

The story is on record in various places where more of the details can be found. Here only the briefest of summaries has to suffice.

Of crucial importance is to note first of all the significant difference between a concentration camp and the three dedicated death camps that were purpose-built for the so-called ‘Operation Reinhard’. That was the

Dark Tourism & Cars

As decided in the latest poll, the theme of this post is ‘dark tourism and cars’. It won by two votes ahead of ‘dark tourism and clothes’, so that will be entered again in the next poll. And since several people said that their second choice (and close contender) was ‘dark tourism and spheres’ I’ll give that another chance next time too. NPPs will have to wait a little longer, but as that is one of my personal favourites it is bound to pop up at some point as well (whether in another poll or independently I can’t say yet).

But now to cars. Searching through my archives I found

Dark Tourism and Bridges

This beautiful and highly iconic structure is of course the fabled Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, USA. And what’s its dark secret? This very deadly one: it’s one of the world’s top suicide hotspots. Thousands have jumped off this bridge to end their lives, how many exactly is impossible to tell, but some 1600 bodies were recovered. Yet many others will have drifted out into the Pacific with the tide never to be found.

As a place to top oneself and simply vanish, this was an almost ideal spot. The height of the bridge, 70m above the waterline, more or less guarantees death on impact through

A Virtual Escape into the High Arctic

In the northern hemisphere we’re at the height of the summer right now, and many of us have to deal with hot temperatures and sometimes humid conditions. So I decided to provide some respite by directing today’s “virtual travel” exercise, which I think these blog posts can be seen as, far north, beyond the Arctic Circle: to Svalbard. So you can cool off a bit, in travel dreams …

I’ve only ever been north of the Arctic Circle once, namely on my summer 2012 trip to Norway, including a few days on Spitsbergen, and Murmansk in the northwesternmost part of Russia.

The Svalbard archipelago, with the main island Spitsbergen, is

The Nuclear Landscapes of the Polygon, Kazakhstan

A few years ago I had an extended exchange with a guy in Canada who did an intriguing project about the Polygon/Semipalatinsk Test Site (STS) in Kazakhstan, the place where the Soviet Union carried out the majority of its nuclear tests. The project was part of a master’s thesis in Landscape Architecture, at the University of Toronto, and proposed a number of structural “interventions” at the site, so a kind of commodification for visitors. It was envisioned that