What do Albanians think of North Korea

Albania - journey through a country ravaged by dictatorship

For a long time, the small country of Albania in Europe, North Korea, was hermetically sealed off. The end of the regime came gradually after the death of the dictator Enver Hoxha. That was almost 30 years ago. And yet the wounds of the past can still be felt. Not in Tirana, the busy capital, with its hip restaurants and expensive cars. But in conversation with the people - and in the country.

The road is narrow, winding, and the bus bumps over potholes. The green-blue Vjosa, one of the last untamed rivers in Europe, flows below us. On the other side, green, furry mountains are stacked - a primeval landscape. A farmer leads his cow by a rope like in one of Grimm's fairy tales, goats graze on the roadside, and in between bunkers peek out from between blades of grass like huge mushrooms. Hoxha, Albania's dictator, covered the whole country with such bunkers.

"The party wants to create people without heads"

Artur Karami - dark eyes, thick black fur - did his master's degree in German in Düsseldorf and teaches nurses in the German language in Tirana. He was twelve when the regime fell and he remembers with pride that the uprising began in his city. He had felt the power of the regime in his own family. When his uncle fled across the border to Greece after completing his military service, his grandmother was pressured by the secret police into betraying his son.

"The party wanted to create people without heads," says Artur bitterly, "people who don't think". And in his opinion they still exist in Albania - or already again. Because recently, the 41-year-old has been observing men more and more who hold up posters with Hoxha photos. "That would not have happened a few years ago," he says annoyed.

Dictator Hoxha - still present everywhere

And we are amazed to see that the dictator's books are for sale everywhere, in the bookstore at the opera, at the book stand on the canal, on the market in Kruje. After a walk through the bunker, which has been converted into a museum as BunkArt and in which the atrocities of the regime are listed with almost accounting accuracy, this serenity in dealing with Hoxha's ideas is even more incomprehensible to us.

A country places its hope in Europe

The change is part of the program. Albania applied for EU membership as early as 2009, it has been a candidate country since 2014, and the EU is also supporting the reform process financially with a total of 650 million. However, she still sees a need for action with regard to the rule of law, protection of fundamental rights and the environment. The still rampant corruption is an obstacle to early accession.

You can feel the poverty in the country

The prices in the country are low by our standards, but the majority of Albanians earn little either. On average just 300 euros. One wonders where the money for the big cars comes from, with mostly young men with cool sunglasses at the wheel. In the country, cars are becoming more modest. Vendors on the roadside offer grilled corn or freshly harvested fruit.

In some fields we see farmers who still work their fields with ancient tools and carry bundles of straw home on their backs. And horse-drawn carts even get lost on the autobahn. Many fields are fallow, most farmers do not own any land, they only have usage rights on often very small parcels. In the villages, the beautiful old stone houses are falling into disrepair, the young people are moving away - to Tirana or abroad.

Tourists as a new hope

That's what the tourists come for. For example, according to Berat. The city of 1000 windows is a popular destination, and the fortress with the beautiful Trinity Church and Onufri Museum is not to be missed. The richly colored works of the famous icon painter could tell many stories from ancient times. All around sales stands with homemade, crocheted and knitted items. Tourists who like to buy and are interested in the country's culture help people today to somehow make ends meet.

The history of Albania goes back a long way

The Greeks were in Albania, the Illyrians and of course the Romans. Apollonia, now a ruined city, was founded in 588 BC. Founded in BC and until 500 AD it was an important Illyrian port city and one of the starting points of the Via Egnatia. It was probably an earthquake that ended the history of the city. Today Apollonia is an archaeological park, and some of the most important finds can be seen in the museum. The monastery church was built from the stones of the large theater in the 14th century. We are lucky and catch a window of time between two groups of visitors. Inside, flickering candles, meditative silence, a moment to pause.

Albania as the first atheist state

Under Enver Hoxha, who proclaimed Albania the first atheist state in the world, churches and mosques were destroyed or at least misused. Some places have not recovered from the deforestation to this day. Not so Korce, where the magnificent Resurrection Cathedral has been rising since 1995, built with financial help from Greece. And the largest mosque in the Balkans is currently being built in Tirana and will one day offer space for 4,500 worshipers. Financial support for the giant building with four minarets also comes from Erdogan's Turkey. There is still no religious extremism in Albania, religious tolerance is part of everyday life, and we hardly ever see headscarves.

Explore the magnificent city of Butrint

Butrint takes us back to a time when there were festivals and baths, a boulevard and villas. The ruined city is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Christians have also left traces that are worth seeing. Everything can be hiked on shady paths, and despite the many tourists, we sometimes have the feeling of being alone with history. Only the famous Lion Gate, through which everyone who wants to climb to the highest point has to go, is the eye of a needle.

It is not a lion with horns that can be seen here, but rather the attack of a lion on a bull. And a bull is also part of Butrint's founding myth. Accordingly, Helenos, a son of Priam, wanted to sacrifice a bull in the bay in front of today's Butrint after the happy escape from Troy. The animal escaped but collapsed dead on the bank. This is how Butrint got the name, which means wounded bull. The Albanian flag proudly flies in front of the fortress.

Gjirokaster - Unesco World Heritage Site and the birthplace of Hoxha

Like Butrint, Gjirokaster, the city with the slate-gray roofs, is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Enver Hoxha was born here, the house where he was born is now a local museum. The furnishings are from the 1950s, photos show the young Hoxha and the old dictator. Not only does he come from Gjirokaster, the Nobel Prize for Literature Prize laureate Ismail Kadare also comes from the small town which is towered over by a gigantic fortress.

Today cannons and other weapons are on display in the corridors. The corridors are confusing, the view from the festival area is fascinating. You can see far across the country and into the mountains. In Gjirokaster, too, there is new paving and a lot of painting. The town makes itself pretty for the many tourists who rummage in the souvenir shops or relax in the small restaurants. You are welcome in Albania.

On the trail of the freedom hero Skanderbeg

Our last visit is to the man Enver Hoxha was so fond of referring to, Albania's freedom hero Skanderbeg. You can meet him not only in Tirana, where he watches over the square of the same name from the base, but above all in Kruje, where Hoxha's daughter has installed the Skanderbeg Museum, which opened in 1982, in the old fortress.

The hero's deeds are celebrated on monumental paintings - Pranvera Hoxha immortalized herself as wife on one of them. Her father presented himself as the direct successor of the freedom hero who helped liberate Albania from the Ottomans. As we look at the monumental paintings, an earthquake shakes the museum. It acts like a symbol.

additional Information
Getting there: Mother Teresa Airport in Tirana is served by various German airports and airlines.
Organizer: Albania is becoming increasingly popular as a travel destination. Many tour operators such as Studiosus or Dertour offer tours across the country. Ten days in Albania and North Macedonia, for example, cost at Studiosus with flight, transfer and half board from 1664 euros. A large selection of Albanian hotels can be found at tour operators such as TUI and FTI.

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  • Subjects:
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  • Europe,
  • Tourism,
  • Museum,
  • History,
  • Mountain,
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site,
  • Environment,
  • Poverty,
  • World,
  • Albania,
  • North Macedonia,
  • Tirana,
  • Capital,
  • Churches