“KINGDOM of KIM“

red star PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

Film City – "rea"l street cleaners

The film sites have a 1930’s Chinese street, a Japanese street, a US corner, a South Korean quarter and a bizarre selection of European architecture. They have three focuses: against the American Aggressor, the anti-Japanese struggle and the fight against the occupied capitalist and decadent South Korea. Watch out for signs of Massage Parlors that illustrate their South Korean compatriots’ decadence.

KIM IL SUNG visited Cinema City about 20 times in his lifetime to give on-the-spot advice to North Korean filmmakers. KIM JONG IL has a passion for cinema, thanks to his lifelong interest, the film industry is well financed. He dropped in over 600 times to give direction to the film studios.

Film City – American street corner, against the US-aggressor

But the North Korean filmmakers could not satisfy his vision. When their performance did not improve, KIM JONG IL didn’t hesitate to take other steps, orchestrated by himself.

Film City – Lactogen – Prepared in Austr...

Massage Parlors that illustrate their South Korean compatriots' decadence

Choe Eun-hui, a South Korean movie actress, was the first being kidnapped in HongKong by KIM JONG IL’S secret agents in 1978. Her husband, the South Korean film director Shin Sang-kowho flew immediately from Seoul to Hongkong to look for his wife, was soon after kidnapped and brought to Pyongyang too. The fanatic movie buff KIM JONG IL, who likes Rambo and James Bond movies, wanted the South Korean film director to make “good“ movies for North Korea. After almost five years in the Gulag for trying to escape twice, Shin Sang-ko made several movies. One of them is probably the most famous North Korean film called “Pulgasari“, a socialist version of “Godzilla“, though the North Koreans deny that he was involved.

In 1986, the couple were given the permission to travel for the first time abroad. They went to a film festival in Vienna and though they were followed by North Korean secret agents they managed to enter the US embassy and asked for asylum eight years after having been abducted.

Film City – Bizarre selection of European architecture

“over the rainbow“ – International Friendship Exhibition Shrine of KIM IL SUNG in the hills of Mt Myohyang

waxwork-PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

KIM IL SUNG'S spectacular warehouse of gifts of fellow communist dictators

The International Friendship Exhibition Shrine IFE of The Eternal President KIM IL SUNG is a vast traditional building without windows, containing 120 rooms with over 100’000 gifts presented to him by fraternal foreign leaders from many parts of the world.

The hills of Mt Myohyang are quite beautiful

The pompous building is located in a idyllic landscape in the hills of Mt Myohyang. Before we enter the vast shrine we have to put on plastic shoe covers and are asked to show reverential attitude. We have to pass a metal detector inside and to hand over all photo and video cameras.  Taking pictures is strictly forbidden. My iPhone was already sealed.

Ursula was “honored“ to open the huge doors that led us inside the temple like monument after she put on ceremonial gloves to protect the golden shine of the door knob. Beside our “permanent” guide we were joined by a local guide who took us – thankfully – only through some dozen of the 120 enormous gift rooms. KIM IL SUNG’s gifts are like Tales from a Crypt, especially the steel armoured train carrier by his mentor and protector Mao Zedong and the three limousine cars by his close friend Joseph Stalin are noteworthy (sorry no photo).

The presentation of the local guide is almost religious, the atmosphere in the windowless temple-like monument is sombre as we walk the over-polished corridors, our shoes in plastic covers. Suddenly, the tone of our local guide gets very serious and emotional. She opens the door to the most surreal of all rooms, to the final room of the exhibit. The over-life-sized waxwork of  “The Eternal President“ KIM IL SUNG – a gift from the Chinese leadership – is standing in a bucolic 3D landscape with birdsong and shopping center music. We are asked to bow our heads respectfully before leaving the room. Our local guide is moved to tears. Steps to make “The Eternal President“ KIM IL SUNG into a divine figure were highly obvious analogous to the Egyptian Pharao.

At the end of the tour through the windowless temple-like Palace, up on the terrace, we have a fabulous view of the surrounding hills of Mt Myohyang.

Below shot of the warehouse roof

Up on the terrace...

We are asked to talk about our experience with “The Eternal President“ and write down our feelings which Ursula dutifully did.

Our “permanent“ guide translates Ursula's feelings into Korean to be published in the eternal guestbook

Our “permanent“ guide translated Ursula’s handwriting for the “eternal“ guestbook of KIM IL SUNG’S International Friendship Exhibition Shrine.

On the other side of KIM IL SUNG’S “warehouse of gifts“ is a similarly pompous warehouse where KIM YONG IL’S gifts are stored.

We chose to have lunch

Lunch at Myohyangsan

We choose to have lunch at the government restaurant close by instead of visiting KIM YONG IL’S shrine of gifts. Sitting all alone in a huge building without electricity in a cold eating hall, being served by two waitresses and surrounded by a grand idyllic wall painting, I regret not having visited the second warehouse-temple-like building of KIM IL SUNG’S son KIM YONG IL.

They say that parts of the exhibit show row after row of wide-screen televisions and stereo equipment donated to “My Dear Leader“ by industrialists of foreign countries. Like KIM IL SUNG’S warehouse-temple , KIM YONG IL’S ends with his statue (which I also missed unfortunately).

Grand idyllic wall paintings are in many public buildings

The taste of the past was remarkably odd.

a Step FORWARD – this time it might be different

key-PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

Coming by train from Beijing on April 10, having experienced the enormous building boom, industrial development, highway building and the extension of the superspeed train right up to the DPRK border town, my guess was that “Big Brother“ would tell the last Stalinist dictatorship of “My Dear Leader” KIM YONG IL, that time had come. When I sat foot in the DPRK, I was under the impression that only China had the key to the future of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. And so it was a reinforcement of my thinking how things would develop when Lukas, my son in law, sent me from Shanghai CHINA DAILY’s article on

Foreign and Military Affairs

China, DPRK to develop two economic zones

The SNAKE in the GRASS

tricky PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

KIM IL SUNG at the Grand People's Study House

It’s NOT a lie! No, I don’t say they lie at me. It is a different frame of mind, sometimes it is an anxious state of mind that dictates them and their actions, other times it looks like utter confusion or just paranoia in hiding.

It is the dictum of “The Eternal President“ KIM IL SUNG – the only statesman on earth who remains President even  after his death in 1994 that is of utmost importance.

KIM IL SUNG at the Grand People's Study House

KIM IL SUNG – The Eternal President

He and his son KIM JONG IL, called “My Dear Leader“, are telling Right from Wrong, Good from Bad. They decide what is real and what has to be banned, who is sent to the university or to the work camp, to the labor camp or to the gulag. KIM IL SUNG and KIM JONG IL have a six-decade grip on power.

KIM IL SUNG with local guide in the entrance of the Grand People's Study House

All in the Family - KIM IL SUNG “The Eternal President" and his son KIM YONG IL, called “My Dear Leader"

Our two “permanent“ guides work under the spell of this government-mind-set, they tell me that the local shops are closed when they are open, that people don’t like to make contact with a foreigner when in fact they wish just that. They change our itinerary every day but if we want to make an additional stop, it’s impossible.

This gentle local guide liked my questions, Agricultural University, Wonsan area

They make me feel like a disobedient child who doesn’t quite get it when I keep asking questions or like a snake in the grass when I make photos of simple life events.

Fear is guiding the system. The world of DPRK is under a delusion.

The hinge joint is the personality cult.

My guess is that “Big Brother“ will tell them. China holds the key to the future of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

BREAKFAST at a SOVIET SANATORIUM

Our local guide and receptionist at a formerly Soviet spa

FANGO-PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

At lovely lake Si Jung, the sanatorium is tucked away...

We are located in a old Soviet-type sanatorium at lake Si Jung outside Wonsan which was built  in the early 1960s, when North Korea grew rapidly. During that time a chain of resorts were built all over the Soviet Empire for the Communist Partys’ leading members to visit and consult each other, relax and go hunting.

Built on an artificial lake, the sanatorium is tucked away behind the road but close enough to the sea with a view to the mountains we had just passed. It offered privacy to the communist party members of the Soviet Empire from Georgia to Kazakhstan, from Moscow to Kyrgyzstan. Tourists nowadays pay for their upkeep (since almost no communist party boss is left over “from the good old times“ and those from China and North Korea most likely prefer more comfort.).

From "Russia" to "Kyrgyzstan."

From the "Georgia" to "KAZAKHSTAN"

We stay at this famous spa with electricity for 3 hours in the evening, almost no running water and a special fango-pack  treatment that was cold because of a power cut.

We are the only guests and retire early to do some talking and writing. Unexpectedly at 10pm, the light goes off and we sit in the dark not quite remembering where the toilet was… .

From nowhere we jump awake at 5am next morning realising that we forgot to switch off the light… . Suddenly the electricity was back on… .

Waitress at the bar

Breakfast is at 8am. We are very well received by our waitress behind the bar which serves us a full meal under a big painting of a mountain scene close to the Chinese-North Korean border.

Oh! KIM IL SUNG!!... Oh! KIM JONG IL!!... Oh! Communist Party!

When TOILETS are SOLEMN PLACES…

SOUR PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

FAR MORE I resented the political system of the KIMS for having effectively established a paranoid, all encompassing power structure with the purpose  to dehumanise contact and treat emotional exchange and empathy as forbidden acts. This state of mind obliged our guides to twist contact making and enforce restrictions on us.

Toilets were solemn places...

Whenever this got to me and threatened my well-being and my mood turned dark, I asked for the toilet.

Toilet at Mount Kuhol...space to myself...

Not so much because I wanted to vomit but for the sake of  having space to myself. Though the stench often was unbearable  the reality of the system was far worse.

...the reality outside was far worse...

Under circumstances like  these toilets were solemn places and offered a rest for my agitated and angry mind in turmoil.

DEAD POOR SHE WAS but CLOSE to the PULSE OF LIFE

RICH PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.-21. April 2011

At the ascent to Mount Kuwol...

AT THE ASCENT to Mount Kuwol we had to stop at a cordon of police

...cordon of police...

and our male guide

Our male guide shows his papers

had to show his travel permit from the central tourist office in Pyongyang to the woman police officer in charge. On the way up to the pass I managed briefly to sit beside the driver – there were no cars nor humans far and wide.

On our way to Kaeseong City...

Down the steep slopes on our way to Kaeseong City we entered a very beautiful garden like area that looked like the bottom of an ancient crater.

...we enter a garden like area.

Two Girls from a nearby cooperative carried buckets of water from a nearby draw well. An old woman, bowed down by age, was working bent forward in the field. Ursula made the driver stop and, for a moment unattended, we got out of the car to the dismay of our two guides.

I hasten to the field not knowing that my guide is hard on my heels

I hastened to the field to watch the woman. She was hacking and collecting some roots. I managed to take a shot or two but Yong Hui was already beside me.

My guide was exasperated: "You are not allowed to take photos of her.“

As I took a Schwenk she got between my Sony-video and the old farmworker lady and shouted: “You are not allowed to take fotos of her.“

In the meantime, Ursula had joined us. The old lady was laughing and talking to her, enjoying herself like a teenager though she was most likely in her early eighties. The old farmworker lady seemed perfectly happy with our company. She did not give the impression to be disturbed or feel dishonored by me.

"Look what I have in my bag!" - Her grace inspired me with awe

She radiated kindness and sympathy, strong life-impulses. Dead poor she was but close to the pulse of life. Her background and lifestyle were ages apart from that of our guides, she was collecting roots in the field to have something for supper.

She specially took her hat of: "Look how beautiful I am!"

While I had an argument with my guide the old woman offered Ursula  her bag, proudly showing her what she had collected. It inspired me with awe how this gentle woman could strike up a friendship with Ursula in a second talking to her like to an old friend. This made Yong Hui even more furious. She called for help from our second guide. As I tried to side step her, she was shifting desperately from one foot to the other to block me from taking a foto of the old lady.

I felt sorry for Yong Hui, she was a city girl and didn’t want to make her shoes dirty. She probably dreaded the countryside.

MY MOTHER KNOWS BEST

harsh PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.-21. April 2011

I ask our guide as often as possible about personal issues: When do you marry? We get married between 25 and 28 years. So you are 24? You will marry soon? Yes. Who will choose your husband, you or your parents? My mother knows best she will recommend the right partner to me.

You live with your parents? Yes, my mom is cooking for me. Will you move out when you get married? Maybe not, certainly not in the beginning. Is it difficult to find an apartment? No, not so difficult. I write to the district officer and he will allocate one to me. How much does it cost? Nothing. I repeat: “NOTHING“? Why do you ask? Apartments are free. So you cannot buy an apartment? Why should I buy one? This is not necessary! I only pay for electricity, water and heating. How much is that per month? In Euro it is 20 cents. Did I hear right?

My Dear Leader KIM JONG IL

Everything belongs to the government, we don’t have to worry. And what about healthcare? It is free. Sometimes the hospitals have too many patients and we have to wait to get treatment some weeks. So you have to pay the doctor extra money to get good treatment? She doesn’t understand. Extra money? No! We wait till it’s our turn.

I hear from another source that people in Pyongyang have to pay around 3 Euro/month for an apartment. My guide told me that he paid 7 Euro for his suit made by a tailor. He said it was expensive. As I calculate the numbers I collect, I figure out that monthly income in the capital Pyongyang is probably between 20-50 Euro. High earners make 200 to 300 Euro. In the countryside it’s ten times less if they get money at all, most likely they get food, a place to sleep and clothing.

It’s difficult to get real numbers and impossible to verify them. Job, income, living conditions – it all depends on communist party connections and on people with a link to the inner power circle of “My Dear Leader“ Kim Jong Il.



KIMILSUNGIA – CURIOSITY NEVER DIES

BLOSSOM-PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11. – 21. April 2011

WHEREVER we move, the system tries to infect relations with the virus of distrust. Our two guides, who have the job to separate us from any spontaneous contact with people, are especially under pressure in the capital Pyongyang where the state travel agency is located and they feel under observation.

DPRK army soldiers pose with Ursula for a fellow army soldier

But people are not molecules. Whenever I manage to have more than 15 to 20 meters between me and our two guides I manage to establish spoken contact. Three girls on a park bench giggle when I pass by. “How do you do?“ they ask me and we exchange a few words till the guide is back on my side. I make this experience many times, a laugh, an eye contact…curiosity never dies.

Three children want a photo with Ursula

Two female soldiers take Ursula in their midst

KIMILSUNGIA – Flower of Reverence. In 1965, President Sukarno of Indonesia offered this Orchid to President Kim Il Sung as a present and proposed the name "KIMILSUNGIA".

At the National Flower Exhibition for the 99th birthday of KIM IL SUNG, The Eternal President, emotional contacts are flooding us. Control and separation tactics don’t work any more and we mix freely with children, couples, military personnel. We make photos and they ask us to make photos with them: soldiers, children, couples.

Ursula with Chinese student studying North Korean for 9 months in the capital Pyongyang

“Our North Korean teachers are very strict with us“

They look like from a different star...

We also meet a group of Chinese students, they study Korean at the local university for 9 months. They look like a bunch of extraterrestrials from a different star: well dressed, laughing and joking, talking to us as if we were sisters and brothers, taking us into their midst. My questions: “And how is life in Pyongyang?“ they answer with: “Living conditions are very poor.“ I follow up with: „How are your teachers?“ Their mood darkens: “They are very hard on us, the professors are very strict.“ (Imagine what it takes till a Chinese student complains about “discipline“ after all the exams she or he had to pass in his hometown to get selected by the Chinese government for studying abroad).

The Chinese student said: "Living conditions at the University in Pyongyang are very poor"

TOUCH of HEART

RICH PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.-21. April 2011

WE VISIT the PALACE of the CHILDREN called MANGYONGDAE. Everywhere we go, a local guide is waiting for us. This time it is a 13 year old schoolgirl who is leading us through the Palace of the Children, stretching over 300’000 square meters of marble on six floors.

We start with the:I want to stay longer and enjoy the “Lightness of Being Young“ so beautifully performed with the greatest ease.  But we move to:

The piano practice studio is next with 10 pianos being played by girls and boys at the same time with works from different composers – it sounds like cat-cries in the dead of night – but if you listen and watch carefully each child is playing exactly his own piece, the discipline is amazing:

Then we enter the DRAWING ROOM and I experience a flash: 52! years back I was sitting on my desk in the drawing room at the “Humanistische Gymnasium” nervously chewing on my pencil because the perspective of my flower-still-life was false… .In a cloud of dust old memories appear… The drawing experience at the “Children’s Palace“ in Pyongyang, North Korea, is truly refreshing.

Back in 1953, my desk neighbour in primary school was a big accordion talent. I tried it too, took two classes but had no talent. Though it was half a century later, visiting an accordion class in North Korea at the other end of the Eurasian continent feels like back home in the Palace of my Childhood.

The DRAMA VOICES give me an uneasy chill-down-the-spine feeling like high winds blowing over mountain ranges make me feel to be in haunted places. This traditional female voice training contains an eerie mastery of timeless female suffering passion.

The CONCERT ZITHER, a plucked musical instrument of folk music origin is next. As I work my camera into what begins to look like an orchestra of spyderwebs, I get fascinated by the fingers dance and how the are stringing beads of sound.

The GIRL’S CHOIR is practising a full anthem with reference to the Eternal President Kim Il Sung.

TRADITIONAL DANCE is the last class we visit at the Children’s Palace in Pyongyang.

Amazing flute player

Then we listened to the amazing wooden flute player accompanied by 12 mandolines. Leaving the practise area, we were led to the orchestra hall for a performance of all studios: a  seven year old boy played the drums like a whirling dervish…

At the end of the show in the orchestra hall the girl who was guiding us is waiting at the aisle. She takes Ursula’s arm into hers and walks with her to the exit. She doesn’t let go even as her teacher, waiting outside, is giving her clear signs she should return. The girl says “no“ she wants to bring Ursula to the car. There she hugs her several times and shakes hands with us. As we are driving away, she stays glued to the ground waiving, she stays put, waves with both hands, she doesn’t move. Tears don’t come easily to me, but here in Pyongyang, the Capital of North Korea,  under circumstances hard to describe, I’m deeply moved.