world map

North Korea

Travelling through the last hereditary dictatorship on earth

date of entry 24/06/2011
mileage 768,949

capital Pjöngjang

area 120.538 km²

population 24.052.231

GDP 26,7 Mrd. US-Dollar

The only hereditary dictatorship in the world is one of the most difficult countries to gain access to. Never before has anyone travelled there as a tourist in a foreign car. Gunther Holtorf and his son Martin managed it in the summer of 2011 and covered 2000 kilometres accompanied by minders. They were also able to take pictures of a kind that rarely reach the outside world from this isolated country. "I haven’t seen poverty like this anywhere else in the world," said Gunther. The dictator Kim Jong Il, the father of the current ruler Kim Jong Un, authorised the journey.
  • Soldiers from both sides face one another in Panmunjeom. The border runs through the middle of the blue huts. Negotiations between the two Koreas take place here. The central hut is open to visitors.
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  • A bridge leading nowhere: Chinese women posing in Dandong by the Yalu, the river that forms the border with North Korea. The bridge in the front of the picture ends in the middle of the river. It was bombed by the Americans during the Korean war. Immediately behind it is the new bridge of friendship leading to the North Korean town of Sinuiju.
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  • But Otto was not allowed to cross over it. He was shipped by container to Nampo and this is where the journey made by Gunther Holtorf and his son Martin in 2011 in the country of the Kims began.
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  • In the centre of Pyongyang, a view of socialist precast concrete buildings. Misery everywhere. The blue roofs are meant to represent the sky and symbolise dignity. North Koreans cannot choose where they live or move house without permission. The capital is only accessible to selected people.
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  • The underground station at Pyongyang central station. The name Yonggwang means "magnificence". The trains come from Berlin. They were bought second-hand at the end of the 1990s and decorated with portraits of the smiling Kims.
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  • Puhung station is at a depth of 100 metres. In the background is a picture of "The Great Leader Kim Il Sung with workers". The underground system in this city of 3.2 million people has two lines covering a distance of 24 kilometres.
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  • Above ground, the traffic is not heavy. But Otto is not the only Mercedes in North Korea.
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  • The visitors were not allowed to move freely through the country. Their routes and hotels were organised in advance.
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  • There were few cars, but plenty of huge monuments and massive statues. The triumphal arch was built in honour of the 70th birthday of Kim Il Sung in 1982. The years symbolise the 20-year-long revolutionary struggle of the "Great Leader".
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  • The "Dear Leader", Kim Jong Il, also constructed a monument for his 70th birthday. On the banks of the Taedong river, the Chuch’e tower reaches high into the sky. It is built from 25,500 concrete blocks: one for each day of his life up to his 70th birthday.
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  • The red mosaic torch is illuminated from inside and gives the impression of a flickering flame.
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  • Chuch’e means something like "independence". The interests of the nation come before everything else. The state must guarantee political, military and economic independence and individuals must subordinate themselves unconditionally to the mass of the people.
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  • Kim Il Sung, the "Great Leader", remains head of state even after his death. He is always portrayed wearing a suit. His son, the "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il, always wears a blouson. According to official statements, a star and a double rainbow appeared over the holy mountain Paekdu at the time of his birth. Both men lie in state in the largest mausoleum in the world, the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.
    12  of  24
  • This monument, erected to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the workers’ party, is intended to symbolise the communist community of workers, farmers and intellectuals.
    13  of  24
  • This mosaic is called "The Rejoicing of the Entire Nation". North Korea classes its citizens and their families as friendly, neutral or hostile. Hundreds of thousands of people are interned in prison camps, where torture and executions are daily occurrences.
    14  of  24
  • A fast road without cars but with Korean unity. The women are holding a panel showing the outline of North and South Korea.
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  • This propaganda poster reminds citizens about the division of Korea.
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  • Fields belonging to agricultural cooperatives are the exception in Korea. Only a small part of the country is suitable for agriculture.
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  • The reality is more like this. People trying to cultivate crops using primitive methods. Agriculture is actually a matter for the state. A quarter of children are malnourished, but arms and heavy industry are more important to the country’s rulers.
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  • North Koreans are required to help with the harvest and are transported out to the fields on foul-smelling trucks. Pictures like this are now banned, because they could be interpreted as showing forced labour.
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  • The regime also does not want this sort of picture to be taken: an old woman collecting grass, probably to eat it.
    20  of  24
  • The people are strictly forbidden from making contact with tourists. They scurry past you and look away. The only ones who are relatively relaxed are the children.
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  • But they will soon be integrated into the uniform system.
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  • Otto travels everywhere on roads with no traffic: here en route to the border with South Korea.
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  • Video 1: The visa
  • Video 2: The regulations
  • Video 3: Poverty
  • Video 4: Controls

Otto was here before ...


date of entry 13 July 2011
mileage 770,931