Palermo’s Addiopizzo! Good-bye racketeer! 

Palermo’s Addiopizzo! Good-bye racketeer! 

Last week I have been in Palermo, the capital of Sicily.

You might have heard that in Palermo there is mafia and that mafia asks all owners of commercial activities or restaurants to pay a fee, called „pizzo“ (= „Protection fee“). Otherwise they will put fire on your shop or even kill you, as they did 1982 with merchant Pietro Grassi who wrote an open letter to his racketeers refusing to pay. („Lettera al mio caro estorsore“).

Good news is: this practice is no longer that widespread! In 2004, a group of recently graduated students wanted to open their own bar, but while they were writing their business plan they had to take into account also the expenses to pay the „pizzo“ to the local mafia. Higher costs meant to rise prices, making their customers pay indirectly to mafia as well. Frustrated by this mere idea they printed thousands of stickers saying „an entire nation that pays the pizzo is a nation without dignity“. Being called to be a person „without dignity“ in the dialect of Palermo is a huge offense. In a warm summer night, at the end of June 2004, the team and their friends attached those stickers all over Palermo. Literally everywhere. The next morning the local (and later the day also the national) news were reporting on this brave and courageous act. „Addiopizzo“ was born, a movement joined today by more than 1000 entrepreneurs and restaurant owners that refuse to pay to Mafia joined by normal citizens supporting the fight against mafia.

Surprisingly, until today, none of them ever got trouble with mafia!

Addiopizzo was very smart in achieving their goals. Instead of trying to start with recruiting merchants, they decided to start first with collecting the signature of 3.500 citizens that committed to buy from mafia-free Shops or eat in mafia-free restaurants. Only with this list, the potential customers, they started to contact the owners of bars, restaurants and shops and ask them if they wanted to join the movement. At that point, their major fear, to be alone and avoided by customers, was gone.

All applicants are thoroughly examined and once official members, they received a sticker to put at the windows of their shops or bars or restaurants saying that they won’t pay to mafia. This sticker today is a deterrent to mafia asking for money.

But Addiopizzo did more than that: They published the list, they continually widen the number of participants and continued to support all those owners against mafia: once a year Addiopizzo organizes a fairy where they bring together pizzo-free merchants and potential customers, means, all those Palermitans that are well aware that buying goods or eating pizza in other places means that part of the money they spend goes directly to the Mafia and supports their bloody and dirty affairs.

If you ever have the change to go to Palermo, please check out the list and buy and eat there to support those who stand agains mafia. There is also a very nice app for your smartphone, called NOMA, which contains the updated list, as well as other information about mafia.

If you are generally interested in the anti-mafia movement I strongly recommend to take the tour „PalermoNoMafia“ in English or Italian, a 3 hours tour at the very heart of Palermo by AddiopizzoTravel. The money you pay helps to support the movement. The tour guides are very professional, dismantling the folkloristic view about mafia deriving from movies like „The Godfather“, explaining you instead the much more complex reality as well as the history of the movement against mafia that became a mass-movement after the killing of the two judges Falcone and Borsellino in 1992.

You can book this basic tour via TripAdvisor / Viator here. Depending on the level of your interest, there are even more tours about Mafia and Anti-Mafia by Addiopizzotravel, you can find them here.

The German broadcast ZDF talks about Addiopizzo and the tour we took here with Chiara at Minute 7’30” for seven minutes. 

Raped Cambodia

Raped Cambodia

Nearly 30 years have passed since the shadow of genocide enveloped Cambodia. Under the reign of Khmer Rouge, Cambodians endured immense physical and psychological pain: the pain triggered by mass murder, torture, cruelty and inhumane acts; the pain of starvation; the pain of hard work, more than an average human being could bear; the pain of being separated and losing parents, children, spouses, relatives and friends. The memory of the traumatic period of the Khmer Rouge tyranny between April 17, 1975 and January 6th, 1979, persists. It brings Cambodians a social pain and it continues to tear them apart. Today Cambodia is a country composed of victims, perpetrators and their children. Victims and perpetrators live with each other in the same communities under a „culture of impunity“, in spite of the „Khmer Rouge Tribunal“, effective since 2007, which has tried so far only 3 out of the many responsible for atrocious crimes.

Because of this, many Khmer Rouge victims still suffer depression and other psychological symptoms. Cambodia has a significantly higher rate of sexual violence compared to other Asian countries. People continue to mistrust each other. You can perceive this. They don’t talk to each other. Former Khmer Rouge perpetrators have been included in the government at all levels, as have former opposition parties, which guaranteed for twenty years a stable majority of the government with more than 90% of the voters support.

This changed recently. In the last parliamentary elections in 2014, two opposition parties reached together a two-digits success. After this election they decided to unite their forces and during the Local elections June 4th, 2017, where I was an official election observer, they reached almost 40% at national level. This meant a huge and threatening loss to the government party. National and international observers now fear a rising repression against opposition as well as local and international NGOs being accused of supporting the opposition. Many fear the rise of violence. One could see an increase of violent rhetoric already in pre-election campaign this year.

Again violence. Violence was used by French Colonialists, there was violence during guerrilla fights to free Cambodia, death and pain was caused by illegal US bombings in 1970. You knew that? Kissinger and Nixon didn’t even ask their parliament for permission to bomb another country. They declared this a s part of the Vietnam bombing. The number of bombardings was 5 times higher than US dropped during world war II! You can imagine the destruction of the country! The US supported Lon Not, who reigned from 1970-1975 This government was fought buy guerrilla and that was the time when Khmer Rouge became support from the population that wanted their beloved prince Sihanouk back. Again violence. Then Khmer Rouge won the fight. No one was safe anymore, everyone could be seen as a betrayer or simply disturbing the “new communist society” they wanted to create in a few years. Millions died. No one knows the exact figure, because many died also from US bombings. Officially the Pol Pot regime lasted  3 years, 9 months and a few days. But one often forgets that they continued fighting for another 10 years the new Cambodian Republic, freed by a Vietnamese invasion in 1979. Again violence.

Today, Cambodia is #1 in the rank of Sex Tourism Countries. Poverty – the same poverty that already reigned 100 years ago during French occupation – drives parents mainly from the countryside to sell their children to brothels near the Thai Border.  Men from Germany, US, Canada, UK, Italy and other rich countries, but also rich men from Asia abuse young girls, boys and even small children.

The Cambodian documentary “Sold Out” shows 5 year old children in a brothel with their “customers”. I wish I would not have seen those pictures I can’t eliminate any more. Every time I met a white male tourist in Phnom Penh traveling alone I felt sick.


Traveling to Addis Abeba in Ethiopia and to Phnom Penh in Cambodia


From May 5th until June 11th, I was travelling with two different politicians to Ethiopia and Cambodia, taking part in their meetings and taking pictures inside and outside the meeting rooms. The trip to Cambodia was almost entirely financed by my pictures.

Both trips deeply impressed me. Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, struggling to win the race for food against population growth. The influence and presence of China is gigantic. While rich families invite 1700 guests to their wedding at the Hilton Hotel, others in the western part of the country are starving due to a three years lasting drought. Their women are beautiful and so is the Ethio-Jazz Fusion. Cambodia is a raped and violated country. It was abused during the French occupation of Indochina, violated by US Bombing in the seventies, lacerated by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime and today their children are raped by Western Sex Tourists. All those wounds are still visible. You can see them in their faces, in the way they (don’t) talk to you and to each other. I am still puzzled about these learnings. I am still hurt about the injustice I saw and it is taking time until I can put what I saw in words.

Detailed reports in German language can be found here
I will add bits and pieces step by step. Less detailed summaries in English language will be posted in this blog over the next weeks.

Preparing for Africa and Asia

Preparing for Africa and Asia

In the next months I will escort two politicians on their trips to Africa and Asia – that is fantastic! My role will be the one of a photographer. Currently I am preparing all necessary: Visa, flights, booking hotels, vaccination, reading books and the news on the current political affairs and last but not least reviewing my wardrobe. This is all very exciting especially because it is more than 15 years ago that I will travel to exotic destinations without my husband and this makes me feel a bit insecure (although I would of course never ever admit that. :-))

I will publish detailed reporting from my trips to Africa and Asia in my mother tongue German here.

Catholic Community in Austria

Catholic Community in Austria

Having left Sardinia for Austria we went to see an ancient ritual in Austria: The consecration of ham, eggs and bread. Saturday before Eastern we walked through a beautiful landscape and were told that near a small Hotel, that would open only in summer, at half past three there will be a rally of people waiting for the local priest to consecrate their food. And in fact, at three fifteen there was still no one but us, but at three thirty there have been around 70 people with approximately 20 baskets.

It is an old tradition to prepare the “eastern ham” at home and to put it together with eggs, bred and salt into a basket, cover it with a nicely embroidered napkin and get the priests’ blessing before eating it the same or next day. We had the impression that this yearly ritual was also a nice occasion to meet neighbors that you might not have seen for a while, doing something exciting for the children and feeling to be part of a local and yet broader community.

The priest’s headdress and outfit seemed to be very traditional. In contrast was the priest’s equipment: he came in a rented car with Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and other celebrities printed on both sides and brought a microphone and loudspeaker which were quickly set up. The few words he spent where first traditional, praying, blessing the food and thanking the women for having cooked it and embroidered the napkins but then linked to daily politics in Austria and the discussion about crosses in public places. He called on his community to engage for the cross, the symbol that since 1800 years unifies and gives identification to Austria and his inhabitants, he said. The entire ceremony was not taking more than 15 minutes, then he rushed away to repeat it in the next small village.

We instead were invited to taste the consecrated ham and eggs and bred afterwards and it was delicious!

“I felt ashamed”

“I felt ashamed”

Women have always been powerful in Sardinia compared to other regions in Southern Italy. Sardinia is said to be the only Italian region with ancient matriarchy. The most famous women in Sardinia is  Eleonora d’Arborea, who in the 14th century defeated Spanish invaders and composed the Carta de Logu, a body of laws which came into force in April 1395. They were considered to be far in advance of the laws of other countries, the penalty for most crimes being a fine, and the property rights of women being preserved. Another famous women is Nobel Price Winner Grazia Deledda, born in the late 19th century. Her most famous novel is “Canne al Vento”, about a young women and rebel to her father’s strict rules.

But why have women in Sardinian been traditionally more powerful ? The most reasonable explanation is that during winter all male members of the family left their houses for months to walk with their herds of sheep to warmer regions. (“Trasumanza”). This seasonal movement made it necessary for women to run the daily business alone, taking important decisions for the family and the income, producing and selling  products from sheep like cheese or traditionally hand made carpets.

Nevertheless traditional society protected young women from being “dishonored” by strangers. So men were afraid to infringe unwritten laws. This is why the man in the picture above experienced difficulties when working for the first time with female colleagues in a Hotel in the early 70ties. “I tried to pass them without getting noticed”, he said. “I was afraid and also felt ashamed, the situation for me was uncomfortable. Until one day one of my female colleagues said to me: ‘Ziu Boicu, you can’t go on like this. Or you stop being afraid or you have to quit this job’. Then I made up my mind and the next season I came over it”.

How tourism changed their world

How tourism changed their world

Since 1972 we come as tourists to this small village in Sardinia. Every year, sometimes twices. I even worked here for two seasons. In 1989 at the bar of one of the restaurants. This is where I learned Italian and made friendships for life. One year later I had the best job ever – I was renting bicycles to tourists, sitting virtually the whole day in the sun, reading newspapers or books and waiting for tourists to sign a small contract, joking with them in different languages. Good times!

In those two long summers I got to know the people and the culture here quite well and I saw the growth since then. But also my father observed how things changed. Until the 60ties main income was based on mixed farming. Then tourists from “the continent” (how the islanders call their fellow citizens from Italy) as well as from Germany, Switzerland, France and other countries arrived and changed the live of the around 3000 inhabitants. The entire village was catapulted from a simple and archaic culture with ancient traditions into a modern, globalized and complicated world – in only four decades. High speed. What did this do with the people here? How did they manage to stay humble and build a sustainable tourism without committing the mistakes so many other touristic places and coasts in Europe did? Big questions I try to find answers to by interviewing people, taking pictures and also collecting pictures from the last four decades. The one you see above is said to be from the 1950ies.

Based on this material I want to write a book and dedicate it to the wonderful people of this small paradise on earth. Now in my sabbatical I finally have time for this project. By the way, I am not the first German writing a book about the village: the other one is much more famous in Germany, Ernst Jünger. He wrote “Am Sarazenenturm”, (in Italian: “Terra Sarda”) in 1954. The book was published one year later, the year electricity arrived in all households. Jünger was forecasting that progress and modernity would destroy this idyllic life and I want to find out if he was right with his premonition…

(c) The holder of the copyright of the picture above from the 1950s is unknown.