500 new fairytales discovered in Germany

From Guardian:

A whole new world of magic animals, brave young princes and evil witches has come to light with the discovery of 500 new fairytales, which were locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years. The tales are part of a collection of myths, legends and fairytales, gathered by the local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810–1886) in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz at about the same time as the Grimm brothers were collecting the fairytales that have since charmed adults and children around the world.

Last year, the Oberpfalz cultural curator Erika Eichenseer published a selection of fairytales from Von Schönwerth’s collection, calling the book Prinz Roßzwifl. This is local dialect for “scarab beetle”. The scarab, also known as the “dung beetle”, buries its most valuable possession, its eggs, in dung, which it then rolls into a ball using its back legs. Eichenseer sees this as symbolic for fairytales, which she says hold the most valuable treasure known to man: ancient knowledge and wisdom to do with human development, testing our limits and salvation.

Von Schönwerth spent decades asking country folk, labourers and servants about local habits, traditions, customs and history, and putting down on paper what had only been passed on by word of mouth. In 1885, Jacob Grimm said this about him: “Nowhere in the whole of Germany is anyone collecting [folklore] so accurately, thoroughly and with such a sensitive ear.” Grimm went so far as to tell King Maximilian II of Bavaria that the only person who could replace him in his and his brother’s work was Von Schönwerth.

Von Schönwerth compiled his research into a book called Aus der Oberpfalz – Sitten und Sagen, which came out in three volumes in 1857, 1858 and 1859. The book never gained prominence and faded into obscurity.

While sifting through Von Schönwerth’s work, Eichenseer found 500 fairytales, many of which do not appear in other European fairytale collections. For example, there is the tale of a maiden who escapes a witch by transforming herself into a pond. The witch then lies on her stomach and drinks all the water, swallowing the young girl, who uses a knife to cut her way out of the witch. However, the collection also includes local versions of the tales children all over the world have grown up with including Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin, and which appear in many different versions across Europe.

Von Schönwerth was a historian and recorded what he heard faithfully, making no attempt to put a literary gloss on it, which is where he differs from the Grimm brothers. However, says Eichenseer, this factual recording adds to the charm and authenticity of the material. What delights her most about the tales is that they are unpolished. “There is no romanticising or attempt by Schönwerth to interpret or develop his own style,” she says.

Eichenseer says the fairytales are not for children alone. “Their main purpose was to help young adults on their path to adulthood, showing them that dangers and challenges can be overcome through virtue, prudence and courage.”

In 2008, Eichenseer helped to found the Franz Xaver von Schönwerth Society, an interdisciplinary committee devoted to analysing his work and publicising it. She is keen to see the tales available in English, and a Munich-based English translator, Dan Szabo, has already begun work on stories ranging from a miserly farmer and a money-mill to a turnip princess.

“Schönwerth’s legacy counts as the most significant collection in the German-speaking world in the 19th century,” says Daniel Drascek, a member of the society and a professor in the faculty of language, literature and cultural sciences at the University of Regensburg.


25 new properties inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List

From WHC:

The World Heritage Committee has inscribed a total of 25 sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, including three natural properties, 21 cultural and one mixed site. Two properties were added to the World Heritage List in Danger and one was removed from that list. The World Heritage List now numbers 936 properties: 183 natural sites; 725 cultural; and 28 mixed.

Natural properties:

  • Ningaloo Coast (Australia)
  • Ogasawara Islands (Japan)
  • Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley (Kenya)

Mixed natural and cultural properties:

  • Wadi Rum Protected Area (Jordan)

Cultural Properties:

  • Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison (Barbados)
  • West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou (China)
  • Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia (Colombia)
  • The Persian Garden (Iran)
  • Konso Cultural Landscape (Ethiopia)
  • The Causses and the Cévennes, Mediterranean Agro-pastoral Cultural Landscape (France)
  • Fagus Factory in Alfeld (Germany)
  • Longobards in Italy. Places of the power (568-774 A.D.) (Italy)
  • Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing
  • The Buddhist Pure Land (Japan)
  • Fort Jesus, Mombasa (Kenya)
  • Petroglyphs Complexes of the Mongolian Altai (Mongolia)
  • León Cathedral (Nicaragua)
  • Saloum Delta (Senegal)
  • Cultural Landscape of the Serra de Tramuntana (Spain)
  • Archaeological Sites of the Island of Meroe (Sudan)
  • Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps (Switzerland, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia)
  • Ancient Villages of Northern Syria (Syrian Arab Republic)
  • Selimiye Mosque Complex at Edirne (Turkey)
  • Cultural Sites of Al Ain (Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oases Areas) (United Arab Emirates)
  • The Residence of Bukovinian and Dalmatian Metropolitans (Ukraine)
  • Citadel of the Ho Dynasty (Viet Nam)


  • Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany (Slovakia, Ukraine, Germany)

Additions to the World Heritage List in Danger:

  • Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve (Honduras)
  • Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (Indonesia)

Removed from World Heritage List in Danger:

  • Manas Wildlife Sanctuary (India)

Short description of each property can be viewed here.

42 new sites considered for inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage List

From WHC:

Six of these countries stand to have properties inscribed on the World Heritage List for the first time during the forthcoming session: Barbados, Jamaica, Micronesia, Palau, Congo, and the United Arab Emirates.

Natural properties scheduled for consideration at the time of publication are: Ningaloo Coast (Australia); Pendjari National Park (Benin, an extension of W National Park of Niger); Wudalianchi National Park (China); Ancient Beech Forests of Germany (Germany, an extension of the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians, Slovakia and Ukraine); Western Ghats (India); Harra Protected Area (Iran); Ogasawara Islands (Japan); Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley; (Kenya); Trinational Sangha (Congo, Cameroon, Central African Republic) and the nomination under new criteria of the World Heritage property of Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park (Viet Nam).

Three properties are proposed for both natural and cultural criteria as “mixed natural and cultural” sites. They are: Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park (Jamaica); Wadi Rum (Jordan); and Saloum Delta (Senegal).

The following cultural properties will be considered for inscription: Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy (Bahrain); Bridgetown and its Garrison (Barbados); West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou (China); Coffee Cultural Landscape (Colombia); Konso Cultural Landscape (Ethiopia); The Causses and the Cévennes (France); The architectural work of Le Corbusier, an outstanding contribution to the Modern Movement (France, Argentina, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Switzerland); Fagus Factory in Alfeld (Germany); The Persian Garden (Iran); The Land of Caves and Hiding (Israel); The Triple-arch Gate at Dan (Israel); The Longobards in Italy, Places of Power, 568 – 774 A.D., (Italy); Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land (Japan); Fort Jesus, Mombasa (Kenya); Fundidora Monterre (Mexico); Transboundary Nomination for Yapese Stone Money Sites in Palau and Yap (Micronesia / Palau); Petroglyphic Complexes of the Mongolian Altai (Mongolia); León Cathedral (Nicaragua); Oke-Idanre Cultural Landscape (Nigeria); Historical City of Jeddah (Saudi Arabia); Cultural Landscape of the Serra de Tramuntana (Spain); Archaeological Sites of the Island of Meroe (Sudan); Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps (Switzerland, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia); Ancient villages of Northern Syria (Syrian Arab Republic); Old City and Ramparts of Alanya with Seljuk Shipyard (Turkey); Selimiye Mosque and its social Complex (Turkey); Residence of Bukovinian and Dalmatia Metropolitans (Ukraine); Cultural Sites of Al Ain: Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oases Areas (United Arab Emirates); Citadel of the Ho Dynasty (Viet Nam).

During the session, World Heritage Committee members will examine the state of conservation of 169 properties including the 34 sites inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of serious threats to their outstanding universal value.

The World Heritage Committee, responsible for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention, comprises representatives of 21 countries, elected by the States Parties of the World Heritage Convention for four years. Each year, the Committee adds new sites to the List.

New sites are proposed by States Parties. Applications are reviewed by two advisory bodies: cultural sites by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), and natural sites by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The advisory bodies inform the Committee of their recommendations.

To date, the World Heritage List numbers 911 properties of “outstanding universal value,” including 704 cultural, 180 natural and 27 mixed properties in 151 States Parties. The World Heritage Convention has been ratified by 187 States Parties to date.

Dr.Hawass is back!

On Wednesday, March 30th, Dr. Zahi Hawass was called from the Prime Minister Essam Sharaf in his office to be appointed Minister of Antiquities. In this video Zahi Hawass is addressing a message to all friends of Egypt.

Here is his official video statement:

Death of Venice

From Spiegel:

The city of Venice absorbs 20 million tourists each year. In addition, rising water levels have meant an increasing number of floods each year. A new barrier aims to keep Mother Nature at bay, but Venice faces an equally big problem: Its population is shrinking dramatically as Venetians flee the city.

They cast off near the old fish market, relaxing in gondolas, sitting on velvety black benches, dressed in Mickey Mouse, mermaid and pirate costumes. A rock band is playing music while a porn star exposes her fake breasts in the middle of the Grand Canal. The Venetian Carnival is just around the corner. This isn’t some merry parade, however, but a bitterly angry demonstration against the impending demise of a grand old city.

It’s not Japanese tour groups or enchanted Germans taking snapshots of gondoliers singing “O sole mio” who are sitting in the gondolas. Instead, they are young Italians who were born in Venice and grew up in a city that now feels like Disneyland to them.

An official with the city’s cultural agency is dressed as a rat. “The flood is driving the rats onto land,” he says. He isn’t just referring to Venice’s winter floods, which have been transforming St. Mark’s Square into a big puddle more and more frequently. He also means the rising human flood of 20 million tourists that inundate the city every year. The city accepts them because they are the type of flood that brings in revenue.

“Venice is drowning,” says the rat, “and we are becoming extinct.”

The protest fleet docks at Piazzale Roma. The square is the gateway to Venice. Those who arrive there are likely to search in vain for the places depicted in the glossy photos of tourist brochures, the sites where Thomas Mann or Donna Leon wrote eulogies. The bridge to the mainland begins at the square, the terminal station discharges armies pulling their trolley cases and buses from the mainland spit out commuters by the minute at the ferry dock. The new high-tech “People Mover” elevated train picks up day trippers from the parking garages. The Benetton Group has bought the old railroad building and is converting it into a shopping center.

A Fairground with Old Walls

Anyone seeking Venice’s morbid charm should avoid this square. If he doesn’t, he’ll hate the city from the start.

This is the Venice of Chinese markets, gambling dens and fast food stands. Ship terminals are being excavated, and there are plans to build a metro to the new city airport and an offshore port. Everything is in fast motion, and everything is geared toward mass processing and profit. At its gateway, the city seems artificial, a fairground with old walls. Entry is still free.

“Welcome to Veniceland!” a clown shouts. People dressed in rat suits unfold Disney-esque city maps and tout the attractions. “Here you can surf the wakes of the cruise ships in the ‘Tsunami Channel’ and race up to the bell tower on a roller coaster at the ‘St. Marks Fun Camp.’ Shop to your heart’s content at ‘Little Shanghai,’ the former Murano glassblowers’ island. Be there live when police officers beat up handbag sellers from Africa. A show starts every hour. And visit the last real Venetians — on the San Michele cemetery island.”

Venice is sinking and Venice is dying. These dire predictions have become as regular as the tides. The city is accustomed to them and yet it has no solutions. It is true that the historic old city is losing its residents, as they move to the mainland to find work and an ordinary life. A few months ago, the city’s population dropped below 60,000. There are now two foreigners for every Venetian. Many believe that Venetians will be gone altogether by 2030.

The city, a magnet for tourists on the order of Mecca and Las Vegas, has already been cloned in Macau and elsewhere. But can the original, mobbed by millions, photographed again and again and loved to death, even be called a city anymore? What does Venice really need — residents or museum guards? Venice is a laboratory where one can observe what happens when global currents of people collide in a very small space.

Anyone Who Hopes to Save Venice Has to the Think Big

At the Arsenale, the abandoned shipyard at the other end of the city, a helicopter is lifting off on this afternoon. Giovanni Cecconi, 52, an engineer in metal-rimmed glasses and a blue parka, looks down at the sea. From the air, Venice looks like a fish, with a head, tail and fins, with the Grand Canal, which winds through the old city like an artery, feeding a web of hundreds of canals.

The historic central district looks tiny from above, surrounded by Venice’s future as a postmodern city. Evidence of the future can be found in the waters off the Lido beach island, where there is nothing in sight but the horizon and the sea. This is where the fish will be dried out, Cecconi explains. The lagoon surrounding Venice, as large as Lake Constance, but not as deep, will be protected at its three access points to the sea, so that it doesn’t overflow when the real floods arrive.

The helicopter lands on an artificial island made of landfill. Cecconi jumps out and rushes around as if he were on the set of a futuristic movie. “Think big,” he says frequently. Indeed, anyone who hopes to save Venice has to think big. Cecconi works for the Consorzio Nuova Venezia, the most powerful company in the city. He shows us excavations the size of bomb craters illuminated by glaring floodlights. The air is filled with the sound of jackhammers, but there isn’t much to see. The rescue of Venice is taking place underwater.

Venice’s savior is called MOSE, or Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, a play on the Italian name for Moses, the prophet who parted the Red Sea to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt. It is a project of truly biblical proportions. Conceived after the great flood of 1966 and under construction for the past seven years, MOSE is a dike system the likes of which the world has never seen before — and comes at a price tag of €4.5 billion ($6.17 billion). Day and night, 3,600 workers are hard at work on 78 steel tanks that are being lowered into the water around the Lido barrier island and farther south.

When the sea is calm, the tanks, measuring 20 by 30 meters (66 by 98 feet) each and filled with water, remained anchored on the sea floor. If there is a threat of flooding and if water levels in the city rise above 1.1 meters, compressed air pushes the water out of the tanks and allows them to rise to the surface, creating a steel wall around Venice.

Can MOSE Part the Mediterranean Sea?

Engineer Cecconi believes in MOSE. He has been defending the project against leftists and environmentalists for more than 20 years. Until a few years ago, MOSE was the Venetian version of Stuttgart 21, the southern German city’s highly controversial urban redevelopment project. The various interest groups argued, issued warnings, searched for alternatives and found none. Now MOSE is two-thirds finished and is expected to go into operation in 2014.

MOSE is being paid for with Italian government funds, and bidding for the construction contracts was closed to non-Italian companies. The consortium delegates everything and no one pays attention to where the billions are going and whether the final financing is secure. “Typically Italian,” writes the newsmagazine L’Espresso. “We don’t know what it will do and whether it will work, but we just forge ahead anyway.”

Whether MOSE is truly benefiting only those who are building it isn’t clear. It is obvious, however, that the protective wall cannot save the city in the long term. In the last 100 years, Venice has sunk by 23 centimeters (nine inches), and if what United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) scientists are predicting today is true, namely that the water level in the Adriatic lagoon could rise by 50 centimeters by the year 2100, the city could very well be underwater for 250 days a year. If that happened, Venice would be the most famous casualty of climate change, and MOSE would be an ineffective weapon.

“MOSE will last 100 years,” says engineer Cecconi, “and then we’ll see what’s next.” Cecconi’s detractors say Venice needs more radical solutions, like a ring of tall buildings around the old city, the restoration of rotting foundations and a center for futurology staffed with international experts. There are plenty of ideas, but no one is taking the initiative. “MOSE is just the beginning,” says Cecconi. “Now we have to figure out how to handle the floods of people.”

Standing on his artificial island, he smiles and says he likes the idea of managing Venice like a national park in the United States, complete with rangers to protect its monuments as if they were wild bears, and with the power to turn away visitors when the park is full.

There are Italians who despise him for saying such things. Matteo Secchi is one of them. He says: “I would rather wear rubber boots than live in a city without a soul.” He thinks MOSE is a non-starter, and he fears that the external steel wall will lead to a total operation on the inside. Venice, he says, has much bigger problems than water. To save the city, it has to be revived first, says Secchi.

The Disneylandification of Venice

Secchi is the founder of a citizens’ initiative and the inventor of Veniceland, the protest campaign in the gondolas. He is fighting against his city being turned into something that isn’t real. While his campaigns are much applauded abroad, he is considered a troublemaker in Venice. Secchi is standing on the Rialto Bridge, a 40-year-old biker type in leather pants, surrounded by hordes of people equipped with digital cameras and pigeon feed accompanied by the clicking sound of trolley cases. He has set up a memorial of sorts in the window of a pharmacy, a digital counter that illustrates how Venice is wasting away. The current population of the old city appears in red neon numbers. It is now 59,520, and the number keeps getting smaller.

Secchi had also moved away from Venice. He was living in Mestre on the mainland, where he owned a car, never got his shoes wet and lived comfortably. Three years ago he returned to his old neighborhood, Cannaregio, where he now runs a 12-room, three-star hotel. The city is his livelihood, and he is now part of the powerful lobby of businesspeople who earn up to €1.5 billion a year from tourism in Venice. He says that his guilty conscience keeps him going, as does the future of his two-year-old daughter.

The tourists and their treatment of Venice as an object of desire are not to blame for the city’s demise, says Secchi. The real culprits, he insists, are incapable city planners who “want to hand over a broom-cleaned Venice to investors.” Secchi complains about the sale of old buildings, the horrendous rents, and the so-called bed-and-breakfast law, which offers tax incentives to homeowners who rent out rooms to tourists. Secchi is demanding more of a say for citizens, tax benefits and inexpensive housing for students and families. He also wants to see restrictions imposed on the number of cruise ships camped around the city like strange animals. More than 500 cruise ships dock there every year. “So much for a car-free city,” says Secchi, pointing out that a single ship emits as much exhaust gas as 15,000 cars.

Secchi senses that he can’t compete against the power and influence of the merchants and the tourism industry. The vegetable stall where he used to shop is now a mask store. “What do tourists need eggplants for? They want something for eternity.” They want to get married in the city of lovers, which offers a marriage ceremony for €4,200, complete with a live broadcast on the Internet. “And they’re closing our children’s hospital because there aren’t enough people left who are having children.”

The future Secchi fears is already unfolding in front of his hotel, on the Murano glassblowers’ island, a popular destination for Asian tour groups arriving by ferry. Barkers with homemade tour guide cards drag them into cold convention buildings and give them group discounts on Salvador Dali kitsch and vases designed to look like Ferraris. Only a fraction of the glassware is still made on Murano. In fact, most of it is “made in China” instead. The Asians photograph the canals and the last few local bars, where unemployed fishermen and glassblowers go to drink and complain.

Murano is already lost, says Secchi, but they are still fighting for Venice. He will dress up as an Indian, as the last native on the reservation, for Carnival in late February. “The world watches,” he says, “and I want it to understand.”

A City that Has Lost its Contours

Anyone who wants to find out what Venice really was should pay a visit to the house of Alvio and Gabriella Gavagnin. They are the keepers of a treasure in black-and-white and packed away in crates. They are Venetians, 66 and 64, and they captured the face of the city on photographic paper before it lost its contours.

As a child Alvio wanted to become a navy sailor. Instead, he became a ticket seller on the Vaporetti, Venice’s public waterbus service. He traveled up and down the Grand Canal on Line 1 for 15 years. He often saw Peggy Guggenheim, the wealthy New York collector of modern art, on the terrace of her palazzo, sunbathing while wearing diamond-studded sunglasses, playing with her Tibetan dogs and patting her equestrian statue by the sculptor Marino Marini, the figure of a man sitting on a horse with an erect penis.

That was in the 1970s. Alvio thought she was a little ordinary, even stingy. He used to have to lend her 50 lira for a ticket to the other side of the canal, but he says he did it gladly, because he liked the quirky foreigner.

Eventually more and more Russians, Japanese and Eastern Europeans started coming, and soon he became annoyed by the questions the foreigners were asking, the ones who wanted to know when Venice closed at night and which ferry would take them to the Coliseum. Eventually Alvio noticed that his city was changing. He had a local journalist teach him how to take pictures and, together with Gabriella, documented the city’s neighborhoods. They took 5,000 photos in two decades and had only completed two of the city’s districts. Suddenly, they woke up one day and realized they had grown old.

Today the tears well up in Alvio’s eyes as he looks through the photos, while his wife sheepishly wipes the table. They no longer know their neighbors. Eight out of 10 are foreigners and rarely spend time in the city. Via Garibaldi is now a touristy shopping street with Vietnamese junk shops and karaoke bars. Their sons live on the mainland and don’t want to return.

Perhaps this is inevitable, as the residents move on, leaving the stones of the city behind. It isn’t just happening in Venice, but also, though not as quickly, in Florence and Rome, in Prague and in the historic cities on the resort islands of Mallorca and Ibiza.

The Most Dynamic City on the Old Continent?

Perhaps death is merely part of the legend of Venice. The British art historian John Ruskin gave the Doge’s Palace five years. That was in 1852. Cameras are constantly flashing in front of the palace today, and sometimes the building is half underwater, but it’s still standing. Perhaps Venice has simply had to reinvent itself more often than any another city in the world. And it would be pure fantasy to think that, just because it appears that time has stood still here, one could escape the evils of modernity by fleeing to Venice.

That’s the way Wolfgang Scheppe sees it, at any rate. A 55-year-old German professor, Scheppe believes that Venice is the most dynamic city on the old continent, a city willing to take risks and to exploit itself to the hilt, a laboratory that offers the chance to study what could eventually happen in other cities.

Scheppe is standing on the Bridge of Sighs, the place where, 300 years ago, convicted criminals saw daylight for the last time before being taken into the dungeons. Today the bridge is surrounded by enormous ads for Bulgari jewelry, insurance companies and Guess jeans. Tourists pose for snapshots in front of the billboards to prove that they were there, before walking into souvenir shops with signs on the door that read: “Enter only to buy.” For Scheppe, this sentence sums up the entire truth about Venice.

Scheppe heads the “Migropolis” research project. For three years, his students searched for the flipside of Venice’s romantic postcard charm. Two nightmarish volumes of images are the result of their efforts. Venetians do not appear in the books, because they are no longer relevant. Scheppe says: “Venice is Europe’s most global city. The currents of worldwide migration come together here, including millions of tourists and tens of thousands of immigrants. Venice shows us the conditions under which we will live in 20 years.”

A tour of the city with Scheppe as the guide offers a taste of what he describes. Russians in street cafés praise the “real Italian pasta” prepared in the kitchen by underpaid Bangladeshis. Vendors at souvenir stands quickly tear off the “Made in China” labels from their wares before luring in Chinese tour groups.

Scheppe tells a tale of flows of commodities, parallel economies, exploitation and isolation, a tale of a city that was created to protect itself against invaders like the Huns and the Lombards, eventually turned itself into a global trading center and is now barricading itself against intruders again.

‘Trying to Save Venice Is Sentimental Nonsense’

Trade shapes this city. This was always the case, and today Venice abides by the laws of globalization. “Trying to save Venice is sentimental nonsense. It’s like trying to stop the course of history,” says Scheppe. “Venice can’t be saved, not with MOSE and not by citizens protesting. The future has already arrived.” That future, for Scheppe, has turned Venice into a shopping paradise. “Shopping against a romantic backdrop refines the act of purchasing,” says Scheppe, “even if the goods are fake.”

The vendors who make up the city’s shadow economy include people like Momo, a tall, thin 28-year-old from Dakar, Senegal, one of the new sons of the city. Momo’s eyes dart back and forth and he is constantly turning his head from side to side. He works in front of one of the most expensive hotels in Venice, the Danieli on the promenade. Suddenly a group of Carabinieri appears and Momo quickly gathers together the fake Gucci, Prada, Fendi and Chanel items he has spread out on a white sheet, throws the bundle over his shoulder and runs.

Momo, a handbag vendor, is one of thousands of illegal aliens classified as “non in regola,” or not in the system, indispensible for Venice’s tourists but hunted down by law enforcement.

Anyone who runs through Venice with him, maneuvering through tiny alleys and stopping to catch one’s breath in dim doorways, learns about X-ray scanners in the port that the military uses to detect illegal immigrants in trucks and container ships, about tightened immigration laws under the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and about raids and racism. The battle between the First and the Third World, between the winners and losers of globalization, is being fought in Venice, now a city on the front lines of Fortress Europe.

Momo’s older brother arrived by sea, just like the tourists. The boat he was traveling on was full of dead bodies when military patrols pulled it on land. The brother sent money home, and Momo arrived by air, with a forged visa from the German embassy stamped into his passport.

Venice is famous in Senegal as the city of the rich white man. Momo is constantly asking himself what he is doing here. He speaks five languages and has a university degree, and he says that his country is losing its brightest minds. He became furious when his youngest brother asked him when it would finally be his turn to come to Europe.

Momo’s territory is the tiny tourist triangle demarcated by the Rialto, St. Mark’s Square and the Bridge of Sighs, but his real life takes place among the endless rows of apartment buildings around Mestre, where he shares a tiny apartment with his brother. He communicates every day with his family via Skype, using a laptop placed on an African drum, and he buys his merchandise from a Chinese dealer on the fourth floor, where he is required to use the rear entrance. The handbags arrive from the port of Naples and are trucked from there to a drop-off point outside Venice. The Chinese distributors pay taxes and are tolerated, and the real producers are never prosecuted.

Momo was arrested and ordered to leave Italy within five days, but then he went into hiding. He wants to return to Senegal, he says, “but not with empty pockets.” He sends up to €2,000 a month via Western Union to Dakar, where he supports nine people.

Momo has been standing on the promenade for nine hours, during which he has had to run from the police eight times. Two white South African women are now looking at his merchandise. It’s a joyless encounter in a foreign place, an unfair deal at the intersection of currents of people. “Where are you from?” Momo asks. “Africa,” they reply. “Me too,” he says. They buy a Fendi trolley case, their trophy from Old Europe, and then they’re off to the cruise ship terminal. The booming ship horns can be heard all the way to this spot.

Momo shoulders the sheet filled with his wares. It’s getting dark. The ship that will take the two African women home steams past the promenade. They had told him they would wave. Momo tilts his head back as the ship, 300 meters long and as tall as an apartment building, glides by. Bits of music and loudspeaker announcements drift eerily down from the nine decks as the passengers stand at the railing, twinkling down at the city.

As Momo waves and thinks of Africa, the windows shake in the Gavagnin’s house nearby. The ship’s engines interfere with broadcast frequencies, temporarily disrupting the picture on their television set. At the other end of the city, hotel owner Secchi is calling the registry office to get the latest population figure. Tomorrow he will update the counter at the pharmacy to 59,514, six fewer Venetians than the week before. He pulls his Indian costume out of a box and waits for Carnival.

From Spiegel.

Contemporary Art Museum of Casoria requests asylum in Germany

From Spiegel:

After years of mafia threats and what he sees as official indifference, the director of a contemporary art museum near Naples has had enough. In a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he has requested asylum for his museum — and says his entire staff is prepared to move to Berlin if she agrees.

Like many in and near Naples, Antonio Manfredi, the director of the Contemporary Art Museum of Casoria (CAM), lives in fear. Threatening phone calls, vandals and not-so-subtle warnings — the local mafia organization, the Camorra, has left little doubt that he is on their radar. What truly frightens him, though, is just how horribly Italy treats its artistic and cultural treasures.

And now, he has decided to call wider attention to his plight. At the beginning of this month, he mailed an official letter to Angela Merkel’s Chancellery in Berlin requesting asylum for his entire museum. The letter was sent in both Italian and German, and copies were forwarded to the German Embassy in Rome, as well.

“If the Italian government isn’t capable of taking care of its cultural treasures, then let another country do it,” Manfredi told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “This is a warning scream from Italian art to the world.”

The stunt seems to have had an effect. Since the letter went out on Feb. 1, a number of Italian newspapers have published stories about his letter and foreign news media have likewise begun to take an interest. Locals, Manfredi says, have been stopping by the museum to express solidarity.

‘Very, Very Mad’

Ominously, however, Manfredi has yet to hear anything from local politicians. “The mayor,” he says, “is very, very mad at me.”

That, though, was perhaps to be expected. Manfredi, now 50, founded his museum in 2005 with much of its funding coming from the municipality. Within three months, however, public backing dried up and those officials who approved the grant had been replaced.

Having grown up in Casoria himself, Manfredi immediately suspected that the mafia was behind the funding cut. Indeed, in October of that same year, the Casoria city council was dissolved for the second time in six years on suspicion that it had been infiltrated by the Camorra.

Manfredi, however, resolved to go on. “I wanted to continue,” he said. “But I realized that no town, no region and no state would help me.”

Since then, with the help of local donors and volunteers, the museum has collected roughly 1,000 pieces of contemporary art from around the world, including photographs, sculptures, video installations and paintings. It is also used as a space for performance pieces. “People usually tell me that the space seems very Berlin,” he says.

There is, however, a decisive difference. The exhibitions at the museum deal with all manner of relevant cultural issues — from paedophilia to urban decay. In addition, though, the presence of the mafia in daily life is far from taboo. After six immigrants from West Africa were shot down in Naples — allegedly by the Camorra — in September 2008, for example, the museum hosted “AfriCAM,” an exhibition on immigration. There has also been “CAMorra,” a 2008 show on the local mafia.

A Black Doll

Shortly afterwards, the vandalism and telephone threats started. Gates and doors at the museum showed signs of break-in attempts and security cameras were stolen. And then there was the black doll someone laid outside the museum’s front gate following the AfriCAM exhibit.

“The mafia doesn’t need to say outright ‘We are going to kill you!'” Manfredi explains. “They are very subtle. You might receive a message saying you should give some thought to hiring a private security company. If you live here, you know that’s a strong threat.”

Manfredi turned immediately to the police when the threats started, but he says they did nothing. And the warnings haven’t stopped.

In his letter to Merkel, Manfredi wrote: “I am sending you a request that I know probably sounds absurd, but that just goes to show the immense difficulties one faces in trying to make culture in my country.” Manfredi explains his museum’s situation and asks Merkel to adopt the collection. “In the name of culture and art, I hereby ask you to grant our request. I am prepared to move the entire collection to a space in Germany and to run (the museum) there together with my staff.”

Manfredi said he chose Germany as the recipient of his cry for help since it has avoided the drastic cuts in cultural funding seen recently in several other countries around Europe.

Still, his request is not likely to be granted. On Monday, a Chancellery spokeswoman told SPIEGEL ONLINE that they would not be commenting on Manfredi’s letter as they viewed it more as a public protest than as a genuine asylum request meriting further consideration.

‘The Whole Point Is to Not Be Afraid’

Manfredi himself allows that the move was in part meant for a domestic audience. And he is no stranger to high-profile appeals. After the collapse of a house in the ancient city of Pompeii late last year — which he blames on official corruption and indifference — he sent a letter to several government officials and authorities asking for more support for Italy’s cultural sites.

He got a response from Italian President Giorgio Napolitano who told him “to have courage.” That, though, says Manfredi, is not enough.

“Another purpose of my letter (to Merkel) is to open the eyes of Italians,” he says, “to ask them how they can let Italy — home to 70-80 percent of the world’s cultural sites — allow its art to be destroyed.”

Whatever the outcome of his appeal to Berlin might be, Manfredi vows to continue offering his museum as a showroom for the works of young, local artists whose works deal with their mafia-saturated world.

“Not all of them are afraid,” Manfredi says in praise of those artists who continue their work in the face of the threats. “The whole point is to not be afraid. Otherwise you should just go and shut yourself into your house for the rest of your life. The majority of people here want change — and these artists are their voice.”

From Spiegel.