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Week 3 – Part 2/4


Day 17, 6.2, Friday

Mostly, we relaxed of the hiking and I spent much time updating my blog. In the afternoon, I had an appointment with Zari and Saba in Café of ASP building. Roman had an appointment there as well, so we both went together. But due to the heavy traffic, I arrived one hour late.
On the way home I talked on the phone with Karlsruhe, so though the late hour I didn’t take the bus to the connecting station. When I arrived there at 22.30, the last bus to Velenjak was already gone. I didn’t want to take a taxi so I went by foot. In total I took me two hours to get home. And I still had to do homework so at 1am I finally went to bed.

Day 18, 7.2, Saturday

I still feel the hiking. Roman and I went shopping on our way home and I finally managed to begin to digitse part of the Farsi vocab. In addition I finished work for Karlsruhe so I was up till 1am again.

Day 19, 8.2, Sunday

School, bazaar, homework, at 1am to bed

Day 20, 9.2, Monday

I didn’t do my reading homework, because digitising was more important to me. So at class I stammered like hell and had to repeat the homework.
Due to having changed money, I got a million Rial note.
After class I went to the American embassy again. I was 50 minutes early with some others so we went for a sandwich (I took falafel with cheese for 1,30€).
At the embassy we got a guide and a kind Danish with Iranian roots translated. The ground floor was used for and by normal embassy stuff and staff, but the first floor was the heart of espionage of the CIA. Pictures of people, that were meant to be killed by the US and its allys during the Iraq-Iran war asking for truth, were hanging in the corridor.
During the introduction the guide mentioned that the movie “Argo” would be nonsense approved by the Canadian ambassador and his wife. The truth is, the Canadian ambassador only criticized the downplaying of his effort, not the content itself. Although the success would have been 90% Canada’s labour and only 10% of the CIA, the movie would show the opposite. Only the wife of the ambassador mentioned it would have been better to declare the movie being based on a true case than declaring it completely true.
We were shown the rooms: soundproof meeting rooms, rooms with reinforced doors to communicate with the headquarters and receive orders, rooms to fake passports and other documents.

The time of the shah was over in February 1979. The Iranians didn’t want to be oppressed by a leader that would follow imperialists and especially in the end beat down the opposition (clerics) brutally. They didn’t want to live in a dictatorship. That the Islamic Repbulic with its Supreme Leader (currently Ayatollah Khamenei) can be considered a dictatorship as well, is not mentioned. The members of the parliament and the president himself can be voted by the Iranian people of a list that has been approved by the Guardian Council. The members of this council are appointed by the already selected members of the parliament and the Supreme Leader. He is appointed by the Assembly of Experts, that consists of mullahs, who are vetted by the Guardian Council and who are then “elected” by the people. To make a long story short: The Supreme Leader, his leadership circle and vassals can appoint what the parliament and the president do. They survey themselves, command the army, the constitutional court and in addition have a second army of followers that secures their power. In public, their decisions are rarely discussed.

In November 1979 the US embassy was bursted by Khomeini friendly students and hostages were held for 444 days. Coloured people and women were released soon, but high-ranked employees and CIA members were still captured. Though they would have been treated very well with e.g. high quality food from other embassies whereas the students only ate normal food. Even a Christmas celebration was held.
Of course we were told about the Iraq-Iran war ind the early 80s. The Iraqis under US implemented leadership of Saddam Hussein wanted to use the seeming weakness of the Islamic revolution to occupy oil-rich territory and coast. But thanks to Khomeini’s leadership and Allah, who for sure fought for the Iraqis as well…, the Iranians didn’t loose territory but strengthened mentally, but with many casualties, having made head against Iraq and western supporters. Apparently chemicals weapons came from Germany, mines from Belgium, jets from France and underground hangars were built by Italians. Nobody seemed to be on Iran’s side. But revange for crimes against Iranian civilians was forbidden by merciful Khomeini. Instead it is said he let children and teenagers clean mine field on foot and told them they’ll die as martyrs (these victims may be shown on the pictures in the corridor as well).
After all the hostilities and sanctions, now-a-days due to peaceful use of nuclear energy, although many countries including North Korea and Pakistan even have nuclear weapons, the shouting “Down/Death with/to America/Israel” is not against the people but an exaggerated desire for new politics and governments. The greetings at Iranian New Year of President Obama in 2014 (and surely in 2015 again) are worth nothing, considering the hardened sanctions and military threats.

Day 21, 10.2, Tuesday

Since on Wednesday the Islamic Revolution is celebrated it is the last day of the school for this week. I didn’t do anything.
In the evening I could get a preview of the things that may happen tomorrow: At 9pm Iranian students for their dorms just opposite were shouting in a chorus: “Allah u akbar”, “Marg bar amerika” and “Marg bar Israel”. (It’s often translated as “Down with USA/Israel” but “marg” means literally “death”) In the background fireworks were lighten the sky of Tehran. It has been quite an absurd picture, but didn’t lower my excitement for the next day’s parade. Although last year three students were captured by police.

#By the way: The normal public buses are separated. One part is for men only, the other for women only. In smaller buses, like the ones I go to school with, which are like the big Mercedes vans this separation doesn’t exist. In the metro there are two parts for women only: at the front and at the end. They can enter everywhere else though. This is an advantage for them in my opinion. During rush our, the mixed parts are always completely full. In the ones of the women there is always enough space.
Let’s stay at the metro. The stairs, as I already wrote, are hardly used and people look weirdly if you do so. Sometimes there are even queues in front of the escalators. Fun starts, when the escalators start working. The people seem to be in such bad physical shape, that even a difference of 5 metres height causes them to gasp heavily.
I learned my first swearword: “an”. It means shit and is also an abbreviation of AhmadiNejad.

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Week 3 – Tochal – Part 1/4


Day 16, 5.2, Thursday

Roman and I got up at five in the morning to go hiking again. This time we decided to do a “real” tour. We were about to conquer Tochal (3962m/13000 ft). Of course we could have used the cabin to the top – or close to the top, but where would have been the challenge and fun then?
At six we started from the dorm in Velenjak (~1700m/5555ft) and began the actual tour from the first cabin station (1904m/6250ft) at 6.30. That’s why we could witness the sunset over Tehran. Fortunately a strong wind was blowing over the town, so we had a clear view for the first time since our arrival in Tehran.
Even at that early hour surprisingly many people were around. They were mostly over 40 years old and some even came back from their tour.
Three hours later we arrived at the third cabin station, which seems to be the destination of most hikers. It lays at2500m (8200ft) altitude and was used by us to take a breakfast break.
The hiking community in Iran is sworn in, so we were greeted friendly and offered tea, scrambled eggs and soup. As they heard our food consists of water, bread, apples and bananas their looks showed disbelief and pityness.
When I gave our two friendly meal donators some Haribo saying it’s pork-free, they smiled mischievous telling me they are of course not moslems!
Before we rushed to the summit, we put on an additional layer of clothes. Soon I wore three trousers, one T-shirt, a long-sleeve shirt, a fleece jacket, a windproof jacket with hat and gumshield plus a scarf and two pairs of gloves. So we were ready. At the summit it was -13°C (8°F) and at the 3rd station already -4°C (25°F).
We assaulted upward, overtaking everyone, defying snow drifts and strong winds. Sometimes we had to open the jackets and put off the gloves since the sun and our motion.
It was only up, up and up. Always up along steep slopes and on narrowest ridges – ok maybe not that dangerous, but it wasn’t easy either.
Fortunately the thin air didn’t affect me much and after 6.5h we reached the last station of the cabin (3700m/12140ft) at 12.30. There is also the Tochal ski resort, but the slopes aren’t very steep.
The last part (1.7km) to the summit was the last challenge. Who would have thought so, it went up again and I started to feel the altitude. It was exhausting and I only did small steps and Roman had some problems as well.
But then we did it! After seven hours we were at 13000ft (nearly 4000m). It was unbelievably great. And the view was so clear. We could see Damavand (5604m/18385ft), the highest mountain in the whole Middle East. It will be climbed as well. After some pictures we went into a small metal igloo to limber up and eat. All the other people with their clothes let us look like bloody amateurs, but as everyone know Austrians and Germans are tough guys.
However we were invited for tea again and many photos were taken. After we changed our socks for dry ones, we started descending. Due to the snow and mud created by the sun it wasn’t easier as the ascent. We weren’t faster and didn’t make any break. For the last part Roman took the cabin, but I just couldn’t. I had to finish it the old-fashioned way. After 13 hours, approx. 32km walking distance and at least 5200m (17000ft) of difference of altitude I arrived at 7pm at the dorm.
It has been the longest hiking tour, I have ever made in one day. It was great but we were unfortunate that we couldn’t celebrate with a cold beer. Though our lungs were able to be cleaned after two weeks breathing polluted air and the silence was very nice as well. Of course I got a sunburn.
Before going totally exhausted to bed, we watched Tatort.

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Week 2 – Part 2/2


Day 13, 2.2, Monday

Together with Anahit, Zhihui and two other Russians (Zhenya and Alexander) I went to the former American embassy by metro to take some photos and visit the museum. It is open only one time a year: During a ten day period before revolution day (11th February). We were able to take photos, but the entrance fee of 7USD or 1 mio Rial (which is apparently 29USD) couldn’t be paid, since we didn’t have any dollars with us.
So we went eating and strolled around. First to a Zoroastrian temple, which was closed and then to an Armenian church. It was also closed due to renovation. So we continued, passed the Russian embassy which can be found on a gigantic park area.
Then we went to the Armenian Club, where alcohol can be consumed. Passing an art gallery, where a famous actress was present, too, we went to a shop where Zhihui bought a traditional Baluch (Baluchistan is the border region between Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, so a very safe area).

Day 14, 3.2, Tuesday

Tuesday was a boring day. I don’t know any more what I did. Everyday life stuff, I guess. Roman and I tried a new route to the dorm which led through a long park.

Day 15, 4.2, Wednesday

In the morning the smog dome that covers Tehran nearly daily was clearly visible.
After class I took the metro to the south east to an airport which I thought was unused. But I had to notice that on the contrary it is the base of the Iranian Airforce, so strolling around was not really possible.
In the evening I accepted being interviewed. I hadn’t had any information about it; it was supposed to be a project of Iranian students. The first question about us were masquerade and the main topic was Islam and violence. One of the questions was how our view of Islam changed, now being in Iran and how it has been beforehand. Me and a German female student were the only ones who participated.
In the end we should read A Letter 4 U of the religious Leader of the Islamic Republic Iran . I’m sure the film is used as propaganda material, but I cannot deny that I don’t totally disagree with the complete letter.
In addition we got a rose as thank you which is such a nice gift I would have said every propaganda sentence for. I’m really curious about the final documentary. Depending on the result, I’ll upload it.

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Week 2 – Part 1/2


Day 9, 29.1, Thursday

It was the first weekend during the official classes. Roman, Nilufar and me went to Darakeh by bus and taxi. The quarter is barely 1km as the crow flies (what a great expression by the way), but separated by a valley and private properties.
We went along a simple hiking trail, which was lined with shops. I didn’t like that fact at all. Hiking in my opinion is walking through rough, wild nature. I could stand a paved trail, but the line of shops went on for kilometres, though of course there were not all one after another.
Anyway in the beginning was a man with an instrument being a mixture of a guitar and a violin playing. He had a little speaker and his position was wisely chosen since the surrounding mountains created a full sound supported by echo. Since Germany has a very good reputation he was effusively happy that a German listened to his music and naturally wanted a photo.
After three hours the shops almost vanished and we went into a tea house and then returned. In total we were hiking for six hours and came home in time before it began raining cats and dogs.

Day 10, 30.1, Friday

At four in the morning a heavy thunderstorm passed over Tehran.
Initially I wanted to improve my vocabulary but in the end I mostly ended watching movies and doing homework.

Day 11, 31.1, Saturday

Since my visa is only valid for 30 days, the language course is 42 days and I’m going to stay for about 50 days in Iran, my visa had to be extended.
I had to hand in my passport in the dormitory. Although it was already in their possession I was asked a couple of times to hand it in since I arrived. It mostly ended in a discussion after which they checked the safe and had to admit that I didn’t steal it in the meantime…It was strange.
When I wanted to get it for the visa extension they refused to give it back: It should be copied – again. I don’t know how many copies they already had, but apparently they were not enough.
I also used to new week to charge my mobile data plan, because the 1.5GB were finished quite fast. It costed 5 Euro.
After having done homework in the evening I ran my traditional running lap to Tochal cabin station.

Day 12, 1.2, Sunday

I could finally apply for my visa extension. It will take about three weeks. Apart from cooking, nothing else happened.

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Week One – Part 2/2


Day 5, 25.1

Together with Anahit and Roman, I went to the bazaar at Tajrish square to buy vegetables and other food for cooking. On the way we passed a shop selling the delicious Iranian sweets though, where we stopped and filled two boxes with different kinds of them. Afterwards Anahit and I visited two bookshops, having many old books and certainly some valuable among them, and drove back to the dorm by a shared taxi.
Initially I planned to build a snow (wo)man with hijab, but unfortunately this idea wasn’t covered by enough snow. Instead Roman and I invited Anahit over, taking a break from learning to drink some tea and eat the sweets. Since they make full quickly we postponed the cooking to next day.

Day 6, 26.1

This day was like the ones before: Classes, bazaar, but this time Roman and I took the bus back to the dorm. However this took nearly the same amount of time as walking back – around one hour. The time seems to run really fast here in general. Going from A to B takes so long due to the chaotic traffic. Apart from it everything else takes more time. In exchange offices but as well as in other shops always multiple people seem to work very slowly although it seems only a few customers come visiting every day.
Anyway at 5pm we arrived at the dorm, what has one big advantage: I could surf the internet with high-speed (5 MB/s). That’s why I could download the most popular German TV show (Tatort – crime scene) very fast.
After the mandatory postprocessing of the class we cooked the pasta, which we bought the day before, with many herbs that are really cheap in Iran.
Then Tatort was watched by Roman and me and for 90 minutes I forgot being 4000km away in a completely culture area. But we called it a day at 2am because we after having watched, we continued learning.

Day 7, 27.1

Finally a normal day.
After school I wanted to go home quickly. While Roman was meeting with a friend and Anahit went with another Russian to a Zoroastrian Temple, I was accompanied by Nilufar, an Afghan girl living in Dubai on the Palm and whose father is an Afghan politician. At one round-about we passed a cool bus that I had seen some days before on the way to school and I had to take pictures. The driver especially washed his face.
Before going up to my room I stopped by at the bakery and had to discover that I had been given a bread of which the baker took a piece that he was eating when I entered…Anyway the prices change a lot. The price range is from 5000 Rials to 10 000 Rials (13 Cents to 25 Cents).
In the evening at 10pm, after homework, I went running to Tochal station. There were still many people around, mostly couples and smaller groups. But I didn’t cope with the altitude yet. At least the air in this area isn’t really polluted so I’ll certainly go there more often.

Day 8, 28.1

Today was by far the worst day of school. I had the feeling that I had missed one week of classes. I couldn’t follow and fortunately Roman either. Anyway now it’s week-end so I hope I can catch up again. While some people are going to Esfahan, I’ll go hiking with Roman and Nilufar. I mean, the mountains literally start in front of the dormitory’s door. Journeys to Esfahan and Caspian Sea will be made the following week-ends. But today I’ll relax.

Background picture: Cool bus, 2015 all rights reserved

#By the way: I’m not really restricted in any kind. I mean I’m not somewhere in a village of a – well- third world country. The tap water has some chlorine in it and I guess many people would suggest not to drink it, but I’ve been fine. My monthly data plan of the dorm is finished due to Tatort, so now I can only use mobile internet of Rightel (3G). With the help of a VPN communication with the outside world is only restricted by my own lazyness. But apart from that Youtube, Facebook, in general all blocked websites, can be accessed. I think I’m being ripped off many times. On Wednesday I paid for 8 apples, 4 bananas, 2 kiwis, one orange and one avocado nearly 8 EUR. Next time I will give them all back with a grin. The dormitory is mixed, but not the rooms, which is still fair enough. Of course many things are different but became pretty fast normal, since I’m not on holidays. Though I’ll try to mention them as good as possible. E.g. I often feel like being a zoo’s animal. What reason could that probably have?#

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Week One – Part 1/2


Day 0-1, 20.1.-21.1.2015, Berlin-Kyiv-Tehran

At 14.50 I flew with an Embraer 190 from Berlin-Tegel to Kyiv. There I had a stop-over of two hours, until I continued with the exact same air plane as before to Tehran. I have never experienced such an empty plane: Not even 2/5 of the seats were reserved and I was the only one from “the West”. Apart from three Ukrainians all other passengers were Iranian.
Having arrived in Tehran at Imam Khomeini Airport (IKA) at 1.30am, I had no problems with the entry at all. Then I sat down reading for three hours until Anahit, with whom I was appointed, arrived from Moscow respectively Istanbul. We chatted till 6.30 and then took a taxi into town (650 000 Rial – 13€). The view was amazing, since the sun just rose and let the snowy mountains shimmer in a soft pink.
After having finished the bureaucracy, we exchanged money. The course was 1€:40 000IRR, I exchanged 450€, so for a short time I became a multi millionaire. Then we drove to the dormitory, brought our luggage on the rooms and took a nap for two hours. Still tired we walked to Tajrish to buy SIM cards and food on the basar. Before going exhausted to bed, we drank a tea opposite the dorm where one of three young girls surprisingly didn’t give anything on the hijab obligation.

Day 2, 22.1, Tehran

After a long sleep until 11 am (7.30 UTC), I met one of my two room-mates Roman. He’s a 42-yo Austrian and doesn’t know any Farsi. This fact was going to qualify him to be in the same class as I would be in. He’s a super cool guy.
We went to the bakery which is fortunately just across the street and offers fresh bread any time of the day. After breakfast we met with Zari, whom I met for the first time four years ago. We walked all the way – it was a long walk and made a detour via our language school. At Zari’s we ate dinner and chatted. After having walked back to the dorm again we went to bed quite exhausted.

Day 3, 23.1

At noon Arne arrived, who is the last room-mate. I didn’t do much. I walked to Tovchal (or Tochal) cabin station with Roman. It is the starting point for skiers and snowboarders who can go up to 4000m. In the evening two friends of Arne, Maren and Renate, came over and prepared a simple German potato salad.

Day 4, 24.1

It was the first day of school. We had to be there at 8 o’clock. On the bus we took, Kazim talked to me. It appeared he had worked in the Iranian Consulate in Frankfurt 50 years ago. He could still speak very good German and insulted the “dirty mullahs”, what fortunately was understood by nobody else.
During the class it snowed non-stop. The classes are Saturday to Wednesday from 9 till 12; with a break from 10.15 to 10.45. At first the teacher taught us a part of the Persian Alphabet and made Roman going crazy because of her beauty. I got to know a funny Chinese girl, Zhihui, who’s always in a good mood, laughs a lot and likes Indian and Pakistani guys very much.
After class I met with Zari again. When I returned to the dorm, I made my homework: One line for each new learned word (there were 30) to practice writing. Although I could still write the letters quite well, it took a long time.
Though in the end I still went running. Since Velenjak – the quarter where the dorm is located – is at 1200m height, I was exhausted faster than usual and of course I ran a great detour. In addition even in the evening the air is still polluted, so running outside is rather bad for one’s health in Tehran. Unfortunately the pavements are in a bad shape from time to time as well, being interrupted by constructions. That’s why I usually ran on the street since there were not that many cars at 11pm. Still I was horned at a couple of times. But I don’t care: Only because of some little obstacles I won’t let a part of my free western lifestyle be taken away from me.

Background picture: Tehran at night, view from the dormitory in Velenjak, 2015 all rights reserved

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The Beginning

The last year (2014) has been quite remarkable and maybe the best ever since. Let’s say it was due to I was able to concentrate the time I was occupied and hence could generate lots of free-time. Journeys to to Russia’s new region Crimea, a 700km bicycle tour through Germany, hitch-hiking in south-west Europe and spontaneous trips to Sweden and the USA have been the result.

But it couldn’t continue like that. Therefore at the end of October I applied for the first of six Persian/Farsi language course in Tehran (Iran) at Dehkhoda Lexicon Institute.

I didn’t receive an answer until the day I was hitch-hiking home for Christmas (22nd December). So one day before New Years Eve I gave them my passport. On Thursday 7th January my dad picked the passport up – it contained this visa. Immediately I booked the flight to Tehran via Kiev, with Ukraine International Airlines for the 20th, arriving in Tehran IKA January 21st at 1.30am.

On the other hand I had to organize getting my stuff out of the room I was renting. Fortunately I only had a bed, a desk, a small table and some sort of shelf. I sold the bed and arrange the rest to be thrown away.

On January 14th I left Karlsruhe for Berlin by train with heavy luggage, leaving two wonderful years with new friends and great memories behind.

Finally, it’s not considered to be a just-for-fun trip because I don’t have nothing else to do – at least not completely.

Feel free to comment, subscribe or ask questions about details or what-so-ever (blog@johannes-nickel.de).

Background picture: American Indian fountain with beer crate, Werderplatz, Südstadt, Karlsruhe – 2015, all rights reserved