Episode 1 - Berlin - Istanbul - Tehran (Sept 09 - Sept 24,12)
Impressions and adventures of the farEAST filmteam on the way from Berlin to Tehran. Stations, encounters, adventures – be part of it right here:
Whether it’s Budapest, Belgrad or Plovdiv in Bulgaria; Our mascot, the Sandmännchen from rbb, is always with us. In Prague, he immediately became friends with Hurvinek from the famous Czech puppet-duo Spejbl and Hurvinek from the puppeteer Josef Skupa.
What an ordeal reaching Plovdiv, we had to wait forever at the Bulgarian border. At 10.28 p.m. local time we finally reached our destination dead-tired. After having had small problems in communicating and spending 2,5 hours at the Bulgarian-Turkish border on Wednesday, we could finally say: Istanbul, we are on our way!
We finally arrived in Istanbul on Wednesday shortly before Midnight. The clutch of the bus was almost burning while parking backwards. But no matter, we finally made it!
Thursday, September 6, 2012 - We can supposedly get our visas today to enter Iran. For that, we are to be at the Iranian consulate before 12 o’clock noon. No problem, says Coskun, our Turkish producer, at 11 a.m. The consulate is not far away, he assures us, just down the Galata, over the bridge and into Sultanahmet. At 11.40 a.m. we haven’t even crossed the bridge yet. I am getting nervous. Not helpful in Istanbul. What you need here most of all is the ability to keep calm.
We make it to the consulate shortly before 12. But, as expected, we can’t get our visas. They tell us that we have to deposit 600 Euros at a nearby bank and fill out new application forms.
We have an appointment at 6 p.m. with Imam Mustafa Önder and his wife Sati. They are very hospitable – we have borek and tea. Then a very nice moment in the evening: The crew and I meet on the roof terrace of the Manzara House directly next to the Galata Tower.
Sunday, September 9 – Departure at noon and a very special moment: In the flow of steady traffic, without any traffic jams, we cross the Bosphorus Bridge. Welcome to Asia! We have accomplished the first stage of our long journey.
In the Asian part of Istanbul we have a date with Esmeray in a café at the harbour. She was born in a male body, but realized while growing up that she is actually a woman. Kurdish, politically on the left and transsexual – that is being multi-handicapped in Turkey. Many times already has Esmeray enraged the authorities for her courageous statements and articles.
But this meeting is not about politics. Esmeray will foretell us our future using coffee grounds.
She foresees danger; financial problems and trouble – uniformed people could play a major role. In the coffee grounds she sees a bat, a snake and a frog. All no good signs at all. One of us would fall in love during the journey and the whole crew would be affected by that. We had not expected her prophecy to be so gloomy. But in the end we would reach our goal. The saucer is free from coffee grounds, which means that we would return more wisely from our journey. After that shooting we are all feeling a bit queasy.
Sunday, September 16 – Turkey. Thanks to connections from Germany we are invited to a village north of Erzincan and are getting lessons in Turkish politics and religion there.
There are two things special about this location: First of all, only people of the Alevi belief live here; and secondly, most of the inhabitants live here only during the summer. Most of them are working in Istanbul or Germany - mainly Berlin - for the rest of the year.
Akdag lies in a high plain that is crossed by a small river. As we arrive we immediately notice that the village is in a very good shape, new roofs everywhere and friendly colours. And the people we see are all old. The young ones are only here for summer holidays.
The Muhtar (village leader) greets us anxiously. He wants this to be a successful day both for us and for the village. He even invited the opposition member of parliament.
In the afternoon we are allowed to enter a Cem-House, the Alevi house of worship, and film the Cem-Festival there. The whole village, as well as a music and dance group from Erzincan are present for the service. It turns out to be a deeply impressive ceremony, having something very meditative about it.
The opposition member of parliament, himself being Alevi, tells us that the tension between the Sunni and the Alevi in Turkey will increase due to the civil war in Syria. And Mahmud, the old preacher and village elder (“Dede”) shakes his head worriedly. Things will change, but not for the better. It is a warm and sincere farewell.
Then the news in the evening: A commando of the PKK bombed an army bus in the region south of Erzincan, killing seven Turkish soldiers.
The mountain can already be seen from afar, snow-covered, the peak hidden in the clouds – the sacred mountain Ararat. Hardly any other mountain has so many myths and legends surrounding it.
A lot of hustle and bustle in the border-city of Dogubeyazit. We are the main attraction with our cameras. This city is a stronghold for smugglers. Over the mountains between Turkey, Iran and Iraq, pretty much everything imaginable is being smuggled, most of all booze and cigarettes. The “small border trade” is controlled by Kurdish clans. Throughout the entire year caravans with horses and mules cross the mountains. A pack of cigarettes costs one Turkish Lira, that’s 50 Euro Cents.
In the afternoon we are filming at the famous Ishak Pasha palace, Anatolia’s “Cinderella Castle”. Our guides are two carpet traders who have lived in Germany for a long time. Waiting at the entrance of the palace, they now lure tourists into their shops with tea.
In the early evening then the most beautiful scene; we are filming the majestic Ararat in the midst of the last remaining daylight.
The overnight stay at the hotel bearing the same name is not worth mentioning, however.
The formalities on the Turkish side take forever. The customs officials are totally stressed out with our case. Finally, after having waited for hours, we are allowed to leave.
In front of us, on the building just across the Iranian border, is a huge picture of Ayatollah Khomeini and his successor, and on the mountain a giant Iranian flag.
We are the first Western television team in years to have permission to film in Iran. It took Natalie months of hard work to achieve that. She herself has worked for the ARD for a long time, reporting from Iran. Most Western media had to leave the country following the protests and disturbances of the last presidential election in 2009.
Accompanying Natalie is an official of the Ministry of Religious Affairs who is also responsible for “looking after” foreign journalists, as well as his driver. From now on, we are travelling in a convoy and will constantly be “helpfully accompanied” in this for us so foreign country.
Natalie, our Iranian producer, explains to me on the phone that there is a training area for the troops nearby. Obviously, the Revolutionary Guards are practicing in case of emergency.
In the morning, through dense traffic, we drive to the bazaar of Tabriz, one of the biggest and most beautiful in the world. Here is the economical centre of the Northwest of Iran. Trading has been going on for centuries here, regardless of who rules the country. The bazaar consists of a countless number of small alleys, roofed shops, vaulted courts, halls and many old caravanserais. Tabriz was an important station along the legendary Silk Road.
We film the colourful hustle and bustle within the labyrinth consisting of alleys and junctions, especially at the famous carpet bazaar. This is the land of merchants, dyers, washers, weavers, fringe makers and exporters.
We get the nicest shots following a tea courier trough the alleys delivering Chai to his befriended merchants.
No effects of the embargo or of the financial crisis are to be seen here. On the contrary: The city of Tabriz seems to be rather wealthy and well kept. But we hear from various people, especially while the camera is not running that the economical situation in Iran has gotten very bad due to the sanctions of Western countries. Especially the price for food is rising drastically.
Halfway to our destination we pass the village of Soltanieh. Already from afar we can see the luminous blue dome, the worldwide biggest of its kind.
For many years now the impressive edifice is being restored. The leading restorer, Parwaneh Askari, works in vertiginous heights on the scaffolding. Proudly she tells us about the wonders of Islamic architecture. The Soltanieh Dome has withstood almost 700 years of wars and earthquakes.
I automatically offer my hand wanting to thank Parwaneh Askari. The restorer is startled and looks down on the floor.
Our escort from the Ministry of Islamic Education tells me that in public, no woman is allowed to shake hands with an unknown man. So we leave it at nodding our heads politely. It is already dark as we reach the outskirts of Tehran.