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BOOK REVIEW: Travel for the intrepid: "Atlas of Undiscovered Lands"

BOOK REVIEW: Travel for the intrepid: "Atlas of Undiscovered Lands"

There are travel destinations that we don't even dare to dream of, they seem so absurd. For example Karakalpakstan, the «land of black hats». To be discovered in the “Atlas of Undiscovered Countries”.

Karakalpakstan sounds like invented. But Karakalpakstan, optionally also Karakalpakien, exists. The republic, which even shines with its own flag, lies, or better still, was on the Aral Sea. Because in contrast to Karakalpakstan, the lake no longer exists today, it has dried up. Karakalpakstan, on the other hand, is very much alive. In any case, the travel reporter Dennis Gastmann, a specialist in bizarre destinations, was there.

In his new book “Atlas of the Undiscovered Lands” he dedicated one of his most beautiful chapters to the “Land of Black Hats”. Other out-of-the-way travel destinations included the renegade republic of Transnistria, the unknown desert sheikdom of Ra's al-Khaimah and the South Sea island of Pitcairn, a refuge for the "Bounty" mutineers.

Enjoyment of art in the pampas

It is quite a challenge to get to Karakalpakstan at all, because first you have to go to the embassy of Uzbekistan, to which Karakalpakstan officially belongs. During the interrogation there, the person wishing to travel is given precise rules of conduct: “First, do not write anything negative. Second: only write positive things. Third: Never, really never offend the great Uzbek folk hero Timur. "

After a flight of several hours and an endless train journey, journalists can expect a godforsaken place, whipped by the desert wind and - surprise - one of the largest art collections in the world with a lot of Russian avant-garde, of all places here in nowhere!

Drinking in the pseudo-state

Many people will be surprised that Transnistria is in Europe. The existence of the republic on the eastern edge of Moldova is completely unknown to most. The pseudo-state was proclaimed in 1990, but has not yet been officially recognized by any country in the world.

A trip there is an exciting experience for the simple reason that it is like a nostalgic tour of the former Soviet Union. Whether larger-than-life Lenin statues, gray residential silos or shabby amusement parks: "Everything was reminiscent of bad old times." The highlight of the rather dubious «pleasure trip»: a visit to the most important «spirits collection of our time» in a 28 meter high schnapps bottle with an alcoholic travel guide!

The brood of pirates

At first glance, the South Sea island of Pitcairn seems more promising. But Dennis Gastmann quickly teaches us better. Somewhere in the middle of the Pacific between New Zealand and South America, the island not only has a notorious past, the present isn't all that sparkling either. It is inhabited by descendants of the famous mutineers of the "Bounty" who landed here after abandoning their sadistic captain.

But these images of men were not noble, for the most part they were drunkards and brat brothers. They founded the local colony with some Tahitian beauties. Because of the island's extreme isolation, there was always a lot of inbreeding. Even today life there is very monotonous. Even the internet doesn't seem to work. The island can only be recommended to die-hard nature freaks and die-hard bounty fans.

No need to travel, just read

Gastmann is a wonderful travel writer with a flair for bizarre situations and a talent for dazzling portraits of people. A real treat is the competition between two crazy world travelers. While the lawyer Zoran also takes the most tasteless snapshots of public executions in Jeddah, for example, the fast food tourist Lak travel quickies is enough just to collect as many countries as possible.

After reading the book, very few will feel the desire to visit Gastmann's undiscovered exotic countries. Reading about it is fun enough.

Dennis Gastmann: "Atlas of the undiscovered countries", Rowohlt Verlag, Berlin 2016, 268 pages, Fr. 28.90 (RRP)

Sibylle Peine, dpa