world map

Belarus

The “last dictatorship in Europe” at the third attempt

date of entry 26/09/2014
mileage 895,250

capital Minsk

area 207.595 km²

population 9.457.000

GDP 55,483 Bill. US-Dollar

official language Belarusian/Russian

Gunther Holtorf had never imagined that Belarus would be the last new country on Otto’s long journey. In the autumn of 2014, he travelled with mixed feelings to the border of one of the world’s last dictatorships. He had already failed to enter the country twice, despite having a visa. But this time everything was different.
  • Belarus and its friendly citizens made an unexpectedly positive impression on Gunther Holtorf. A pleasant end to the journey to 215 countries and territories. Otto then had to make his final return to Germany.
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  • Unusually, the visit to Belarus began in Berlin. It took the embassy around 28 hours to issue a tourist visa. Gunther and Otto parked outside the Russian monument in Treptower park, which is directly opposite the embassy of the country often described as the last dictatorship in Europe.
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  • The monument honours the 7000 Russian soldiers who died during the conquest of Berlin towards the end of the Second World War. The monumental architecture put Gunther in the right mood for the journey and distracted him from the length of the wait.
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  • After two days driving through Poland and Lithuania, the border was finally in sight. Despite having a valid visa, it took Gunther almost four hours to get through the border post into Belarus, a country which is cut off from the outside world.
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  • Finally there: at the third attempt, Otto arrived in Belarus, as the country calls itself, the 215th and final country on his journey.
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  • In the other lane, trucks queued for miles to leave the country.
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  • Gunther and Otto spent the first night in a truck stop outside Minsk. The temperature was only four degrees.
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  • The morning shower from the water sack that hangs outside the car was correspondingly chilly.
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  • Gunther warmed up, as he does every morning, with dumbbell exercises.
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  • Then he travelled into the city of Minsk. The socialist precast concrete apartment blocks in the suburbs are not appealing…
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  • …but there are some attractive areas in the inner city. Gunther finds that Belarus is the country of waste bins. It is very clean and tidy without a trace of graffiti.
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  • Alongside the militaristic monuments outside old party buildings…
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  • …there are also typical Soviet cultural features, such as the dome of the state circus…
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  • …or the cultural centre of the trade union organisation.
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  • With its brightly coloured lights, this building looks much better at night.
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  • The same goes for the monument to the people who died in the Second World War, which has a guard of honour during the daytime…
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  • …and the neo-classical building on the central avenue, the city’s main road.
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  • However, Gunther and Otto spent most of their time outside the cities, where the roads were often just sand tracks, but the towns were properly signposted.
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  • The majority of people live in traditional wooden houses, like those found everywhere in Russia.
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  • Many of the houses are painted in bright colours and have pretty gardens. The well in the foreground is not a decorative feature, but the source of the owner’s everyday water supply.
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  • When Otto arrived in a village, people emerged from their houses very quickly. Viktor was the first person to meet Gunther. They communicated in sign language.
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  • Vlada proudly showed him her flower garden and came out with a few words of English from school.
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  • Many of the little stores in the villages, known as magazines, had been closed, which made it difficult to get supplies.
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  • The road network is good even in the countryside, but Otto seldom came across other cars.
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  • Generally he travelled alone through mixed forests of pine trees and birches.
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  • Horses and carts are still widely used for transport in Belarus.
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  • The agriculture industry consists of collectives which are run by the state. Here a large herd of cows is grazing by a typical bus stop of the kind found along many of the larger roads.
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  • Cultural treasures are scattered all over the landscape.
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  • This wooden church in an almost deserted village looks too big for its surroundings.
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  • The magazines are only open in the larger towns.
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  • The aristocratic Radziwill family has been living in Nesvizh, south of Minsk, since the 16th century. They created lakes and constructed the town with the help of an Italian architect.
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  • The castle where the family lived for 400 years is impressive. Today it is a popular destination for tourists.
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  • In the inner courtyard, you can still see the work of the Italian architect.
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  • Around 30 kilometres west of here is Mir castle which also belonged to the family. It dates back to the early years of the 16th century. Since 2000, it has been a UNESCO world cultural heritage site.
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  • Here, Gunther Holtorf had the opportunity to indulge his weakness for photographing wedding couples. They were using the castle as the background for their pictures.
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  • All around the castle are beautiful flowerbeds…
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  • …but on closer examination the flowers turn out to be ornamental cabbages.
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  • Video: Belarus: The last destination on a 26 year long journey

Otto was here before ...

Poland

date of entry 03 October 2014
mileage 897,290