The original on the website Die Welt
No lighters, no guide books, no Bibles. The gentleman in uniform with a big red cap on his head with a practiced gesture searched my suitcase at the airport in Pyongyang. Apparently, he was satisfied. Electric toothbrush got permission to enter after a brief inspection, my iPhone, by contrast, did not cause any attention. It surprised me, and immediately it happened to the lines of Goethe: “I am not surprised that you so vividly remember these things, because you’re very interested in this,” wrote the poet in the “Years of teaching Wilhelm Meister”. To be interested and to wonder — was like old Goethe wrote this for my current trip.
I Packed their belongings, gave the guard a friendly smile and was able to begin my journey in the state, which called itself the people’s democratic Republic of Korea and to this day is one of the most mysterious countries in the world.
“Tell me, for God’s sake, what are you doing in North Korea?” — anxiously asked me before the trip, friends, my children and my wife. In the end, this country regularly appears in the headlines of international publications, most recently — due to its missile tests and military threats against South Korea.
I had two reasons to visit North Korea. First, I wanted to make his own impression on life in this closed country. The second reason was the specific point of the program of the trip: skiing in the ski resort of masik-Ryong. Until today I had not even thought about the fact that in North Korea it is possible to ski. As a native Austrian and avid skier, I wanted not to miss this opportunity.
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The capital city of Pyongyang friendly, took our tour group. Outside it was February, the country celebrated the birthday of Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011 of his father, Kim Jong-UN. On the river Taedong in honor of the deceased “dear leader” was constructed a giant firecracker. Thousands of people filled the beach, admiring the spectacle. Most was shot on a mobile phone rocket fireworks, krasivejshih sky bright red. Following my great surprise, this time without Goethe, was: mobile phones in North Korea? Yes, they’re really there, but they have no access to the Internet.
What do we know about this country whose area is equal to half the area of great Britain? Little. Our vision filled with scary pictures. But a lot of it is fictional nonsense, for example that people on the orders of Kim Jong-UN eat rats and dogs, because the country a great famine. But in Pyongyang I saw only the obviously well-fed and neatly dressed people. Of course, life in this country is not so luxurious, but not noticeable to anyone here really suffered from hunger, at least, tourists don’t see hungry people.
Another example of absurd creation myths: the ones who are caught during illegal photographing or use of the camera are punished. Reality: we could basically take a camera and a camera all with the exception of soldiers and army strongholds. But this cannot be done in the United States. In some situations, and in certain places our guides, however, asked to surrender our mobile phones.
You can, therefore, be surprised that North Korea allowed much more than anticipated. And surprisingly, Pyongyang has a population of nearly 2.5 million people sparkly clean. In the morning people go to work, riding buses and trams. And there are surprisingly a lot of cars. I’ve seen Mercedes, BMW, Audi, many Chinese brands, and even cars made in North Korea. Since 2002, South of the capital there is a plant for the production of vehicles.
In Pyongyang we go to the Wiener Kaffeehaus coffee shop, drink a cappuccino and Viennese coffee with milk. In the fridge is beer Lander Bräu. In the evening we visited beer bars and a bowling alley. There are restaurants, huge water Park, amusement parks and the zoo. In the various supermarkets we could buy chocolate Edeka, pickles and Coca-Cola.
Naturally, every day of the week of the trip was carefully planned. Individual tours no, it must be ordered in advance, during a collective trip you are escorted by trained guides. Our daily routine was as follows: precisely at eight o’clock Korean time Breakfast, an hour for departure on the bus. The main event of the second day — laying of wreaths at the big monument on the hill Mansudae in the center of Pyongyang. It is a place with twenty-meter-high bronze statues of Kim Il sung (the founder of this state, who died in 1994) and his son Kim Jong-Il is the personification of the worship leaders and the cult of personality.
We should quietly and reverently approach to both Majesties. “Now, bow down” — whispers one of our guides. A good tone during this ceremony is considered to be in the bow to pull the hands on the hips, not to laugh, not to come, if possible, in jeans. Criticism of the cult leader in North Korea is a crime against the people. This can take grotesque forms. For example, you cannot bend North Korean newspaper, the main page which every day decorate, at least one of the KIMS, not to mention the fact that they crumple and throw it in the wastebasket. It is also considered an attack on the state.
Kim Il sung is in North Korea godlike status since how he in 1945, expelled from the country the hated Japanese colonialists. The objects which he touched, forever decorated with red signs. After the partition of Korea by the victorious powers in the Second world war the South was occupied by US troops, the North came under the control of the red Army. Arbitrary partition of the country in both Koreas is considered a national tragedy.
The Soviet Union had intended to make North Korea a state of workers and peasants in accordance with Marxist-Leninist views. Kim Il sung spent all this work, and this state remained after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Rüdiger Frank, an expert on East Asia, writes in his book “North Korea an insider’s view of the state total”: “System like the GDR, stubbornly refused to cooperate or, at least, to follow the example of China and Vietnam and reform. North Korea is a country which, in fact, should not be”.
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Another example of honoring great for us was Kumsusan, the Palace of the sun. There are embalmed corpses of Kim Il sung and Kim Jong Il. For North Koreans it is a Holy place, this place of pilgrimage you should visit at least once in life. For tourists there is a strict dress code: jacket, pants, tie. Before us in an infinitely long escalator was taken inside the Palace, we had to leave in the closet of mobile phones and cameras. Inside the Palace is strictly forbidden to photograph. Before entering the so-called Room of tears of our shoes were cleaned with a brush, and clothing with a blower. The Minister made us go through the corridors with rows of four until we found ourselves at the foot of the crystal sarcophagus of Kim Il sung. Followed, of course, the obligatory bow with the arms at the seams. After two more bows quick passage to the next room, where visitors are waiting for Kim Jong Il. Pale, like a figure in Madame Tussaud’s. Again three prostrations. Everything was on the line.
With their warlike monuments, monumental buildings, modern high-rise buildings, University, Children’s Academy, the Palace-like and newly constructed Scientific center of Pyongyang appears before the tourists a modern city. However, I sometimes had the feeling that I am on a huge light-flooded stage, where individual episodes were made specifically for us.
For example, at the Children’s Academy. There are girls and boys of preschool age sitting in front of computers and watched movies-comic books. I came up with the idea that once we leave this room, the light will be off, the actors will take off the makeup and go home. People wormed their way through the scenery as the extras and we spontaneously played a major role. Kind of “the Truman Show” in North Korea. People are surprised and still can not, as a tourist, to comprehend the truth.
Life in the village look different in comparison with the capital. This was evident during a trip to the ski resort masik-Ryong 180 kilometers West of Pyongyang near the port city of Wonsan. We passed a small village with poor houses, people were not costumes, and rough clothing. Burnt by the sun face — a sign of heavy physical labor. North Koreans work six days a week. Three Sundays in a month the workers of enterprises are political studies. Women and men should memorize the speech of the leader of the country and then to answer questions from his boss. The company also distributes the results of food rations. Every 30 families under one national Commissioner. Two weeks in the month they must appear before him and show their allegiance to the leader of the country.
The road going through the country, called highway. In fact this is the only and bumpy road. Our bus is very good shake. Moreover, significant sections of the road were completely covered with ice. Only by the skills of our driver we were able to get live until the purpose of our adventure, although hundreds of workers along the road, trying to do their winter work duty, using modest means. From time to time they sprinkled shiny roadway brown land, in some areas they cut the ice with primitive tools. Instead of the luxurious cars at the edge of the road stood a cart pulled by donkeys.
In the summer, fields are treated with the help of cows. The one who grew up in the country, there. Peasants forbidden to come to Pyongyang. Only children who stand out among the rest thanks to the good marks at school or sporting achievements, have the opportunity for further growth and life in the city.
After five hours drive we reached the ski resort which Kim Jong-UN ordered to build by 2012 in the mountains, thousands of soldiers, which opened in late 2013 and early 2014. The dictator called the ski center with its nine tracks and one luxurious hotel “gigantic Patriotic work.” Skiers ascend the summit of the mountain Taehwa to a height of 1360 meters, first by cable car, then two-seated lift and finally on the ski lifts. From the top I could see the sea and the city of Wonsan.
On me, the skier, the ski resort made quite an impression. It was built in accordance with international standards and recommendations of the International ski Association FIS. I could hardly expect to be able to ride on three black slopes. In the basement of a first class hotel by the swimming pool you can rent skis, boots, poles, helmets and ski suit. I was surprised by the shelves filled with all ski brands: Atomic, Fischer, Head, Rossignol, Blizzard. Not the latest models, but skis that can be rented in the Alps.
The next morning we were on the slope first. I must admit, it was a great pleasure. Few people, wide well prepared slopes, steep, long and demanding route. The lifts were old models of the Austrian company Doppelmayr. Many years they have carried out their service in Ischgl. Clearly a used item, like a subway train in Pyongyang, their place of origin — Berlin. Scooters, snowmobiles and snow cannons, too, were the old models. Due to tough international trade sanctions they had to go through a long, roundabout path that, in the end, to find himself in North Korea.
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The government in Pyongyang has great hopes in the ski centre, so want winter to bring the day up to 5 thousand foreign guests. First and foremost, Chinese and Japanese. I saw almost no other foreign tourists, with the exception of one couple from Mexico. There are many North Koreans who are passionate about skiing. The ski pass for one day for a tourist is $ 40, ski equipment another $ 20. For residents of countries other prices.
The ski center belongs to the great conquests of North Korea. The guides call it in one breath together with monumental structures, monuments, and nuclear missiles. This little closed North Korea wants to show the world that we are able to do much.
However unpleasant that the rockets ski center, for example, favorite flowers, Kim Jong-UN have the same propaganda value as a deadly nuclear weapon system is presented as a symbol of technological progress. Particularly annoyed me scenes in one children’s theatre. Many children aged from seven to 12 years danced and sang joyfully, while in the background on a giant canvas was played the rockets.
After returning friends asked me how to behave with North Korea. I believe that we should be attentive to this country. I have no sympathy for this regime and Kim Jong Ynu, however, I, based on my own personal experiences there, I see him as a quiet reformer of his country. Yes, he is a dictator and, Yes, human rights are violated on a large scale. But the same thing happens, for example, in Saudi Arabia, and people die of hunger, primarily in Africa.
Without continuous demonization of the regime by the West and conspicuous US military presence in South Korea, there would be possible to slowly introduce a market economy and gradually, following the example of China — human rights. In my estimation, North Korea is not a threat to anyone but myself.
Is it worth it to spend vacation in North Korea? Yes, please, Kim Jong Ynu, and its friendly people and wonder, right on Goethe.
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