June 1973 – On the Way to the Kingdom For about six weeks we are on the road now with our old blue VW minibus. Berlin, Linz, Klagenfurt, through the hellish Loibl tunnel to Ljubljana, built by concentration camp prisoners and other forced labourers. Continuing via Zagreb, Belgrade, Niş and Sofia to Istanbul. Break. Long
June 1973 – On the Way to the Kingdom
For about six weeks we are on the road now with our old blue VW minibus. Berlin, Linz, Klagenfurt, through the hellish Loibl tunnel to Ljubljana, built by concentration camp prisoners and other forced labourers. Continuing via Zagreb, Belgrade, Niş and Sofia to Istanbul. Break. Long break. After a good week from the Bosporus to Eastern Turkey, by rail ferry across Van-Gölü (Lake Van) and finally into Iran, dominated by the Shah and his clique.
The minibus is now five years old. With a big Berlin department store it served as a passenger transporter. We got it cheap. Somewhat rebuilt he has now seats for five people and behind it a lying surface, a kind of bed of approximately 200 x 160 cm. There is plenty of storage space underneath the chipboard. For the two front seats we have installed safety belts.
There are two of us. My friend Monika and myself. Our destination is Afghanistan or Nepal or perhaps also Bangladesh, which has just become independent after bloody fights. Yes, and then suddenly we are three. Michelle is with us now. She comes from the north of London and is our age. And she looks great!
Like many young travellers we live in the Hotel Amir Kabir, in the middle of Tehran. For one or two years the house is one of the most important stop-overs on the “Hippie Trail” between Central Europe and the longing destinations in Afghanistan and around India. Depending on the room, the overnight stay costs between two and four dollars and the food is great! So atypical for Persia…
The journey from Berlin and back should take about six months. We finance the whole project in three ways – whereby we think that the total costs should not be more than five- digit. About 10,000 Marks, that’s all it’s going to be. We have saved most of the money and worked extra shifts. We sent letters to important industrial companies in Berlin asking them to support us with their products. Well, why should we buy something we can get for free? So we have heaps of pudding powder, dry food, noodles and chocolate bars in the trunk. In addition almost 40 kilograms of butter cookies and high-quality engine oil for the entire journey.
The third source of money is a small Berlin regional newspaper, the “Spandauer Volksblatt”. Hagmut Brockmann, head of the cultural section in the editorial office, was so impressed by our project that he promised to reserve a whole page for us in every Sunday edition. Brockmann’s only condition: ‘How you get text and photos into the editorial office is your problem’. Payments were made regularly to my account in Germany. And we’ve also got an old portable typewriter in the trunk. Sending the texts by letter, telex or telephone dictation has worked well so far. We mail our films to Berlin by post or air freight, undeveloped.
Michelle we met in the hotel “Amir Kabir” is already here for a few days and wants to go on to Kabul. Maybe further on. The three of us get along well right away. Nobody of us is in a hurry and a day trip to the Caspian Sea with wonderful warm bathing water and the deserted beach ends with a heavy smooching in the sun warm sand. It is hot and humid and wild. It feels wonderful to feel sweat on your skin – until the stones come, suddenly thrown at us from the dunes. All that remains is the hectic escape and the painful reminder that, despite all the Shah’s secular and Western confessions, we here are in a strictly Islamic country. How stupid am I then?Three days to Mashhad, another day to the Afghan border. Michelle wants to drive, but admits that so far she has only driven on the left side of the road. It’s going quite well. There is hardly any traffic between Mashhad and the border and she keeps to the right. Actually, I’m always nervous when I’m sitting in a car that I don’t drive myself. Not right now. Is this because of her eyes? Oh man, my heart goes boom. What a woman! In every respect.
Late afternoon at the border station Islam Qala. Exit passport control by the Iranians, a few hundred meters to the Afghan border station. From here it is only 100 kilometres to the city of Herat, a hotel room with shower and an ice-cold drink. But all doors at the border are locked, no one in uniform around. No Afghan passport and customs control. One hour time difference between Iran and Afghanistan and the country in front of us is locked up. Dozens, perhaps more than 100 vehicles are waiting to cross the border. For me a good opportunity to unpack the typewriter and write another report for the newspaper in Berlin.
The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 25 September 2018. It will be titled “February 2001 – Our Visas: finally we get them”.
New chapters will follow fortnightly – more than 60 will be published in total.
Dieter Herrmann, the author of this Afghanistan diary, lives in Australia, reports from there for German television stations and is editor-in-chief of the only German-language newspaper in Australia.
He is known as a media trainer for radio and television stations all over the world as well as media trainer for senior managers, officers and pilots.
To get in touch with the author and for further information on media training by Dieter and his crew please use the “contact”-button or send an email to dieter(at)australia-news.de (please replace the (at) with the @-sign!)
My diary begins in February 2001, almost exactly seven months before the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and other institutions in the USA. After a long wait, my cameraman and I manage to get a visa for the country ruled by the Taliban. We get it from at the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad/Pakistan.
In about 60 chapters I describe my experiences in the country at the Hindu Kush from 1973 and the fall of the king, throughout the time under the Taliban regime to the time of Western military operations and attempted democratisation.
Among many other experiences, I was arrested and imprisoned twice during this time, had to live temporarily in the bunker of the Turkish embassy and had an amazing interview with Mullah Muttawakil, the personal spokesman for Taliban leader Mullah Omar and later Taliban Foreign Minister.
I describe my personal feelings and doubts as well as political and human events, movements in the population and developments in the country.
Nothing about this manuscript has been invented or added – however, to avoid endangering anyone, I left out some of my experiences. I changed some names to protect friends and informants.
Whether the last chapter will ever be finished is questionable. I was supposed to be back in Kabul in 2018, but the security situation is so bad that my clients are unlikely to get me into the country. “German media trainer murdered by Taliban” would be a catastrophic headline for everyone involved.
Translation from German to English with the help of www.deepl.com