Music against missiles

For those who wear a short skirt, the journey is over before it even starts. The same for wearing shorts, sleeveless T-shirts, jeans with holes or flip-flops. The list of regulations is long, for visitors to the so-called demilitarised zone (DMZ). Thus, the 248 km long and two kilometres north and south of the ceasefire line is called at the 38th parallel, which separates the Democratic People's Republic of Korea from South Korea. Whether the bus driver would leave an inappropriately dressed tourist at the travel agency in Seoul is unclear. Nobody dared the test. All in the coach booked to the last seat wear long trousers - despite the hot weather. Gina Lee tries an explanation. "The North Koreans should not think that we in the South have no money to dress us well," roars the micro-amplified voice of the tour guide to the last row of seats. Nothing should give the enemy in the North reason for anti-Western propaganda. While North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-Un and US President Donald Trump have been outdoing each other for months in tactical threats of tactics, the world's most dangerous frontier is emphasising its outward appearance. "Are you ready, Guys?", Gina Lee calls in an exaggerated good mood on the bus and claps her hands before the bus driver heads north on the freeway. The journey takes only an hour. Long before the first control station on the banks of the Imjin River, there are watchtowers on the left side and fences reinforced with multi-wound barbed wire along the highway. Behind it extends, hermetically sealed off, the last Stalinist dictatorship.

Imjingak is the last village before DMZ. / © Paulus Ponizak

However, only wooded hills can be seen. A bright band meanders through the greenery, the track for the border fence. Rare species of birds are said to exist in no man's land, allegedly even specimens of the otherwise extinct Amur leopard on the Korean peninsula. No one knows exactly. Entering the zone is prohibited on both sides. Only a handful of licensed travel companies are allowed to push their buses all the way to the border, only on defined routes and under the strict control of the military. The business is booming, even though it has become less this year, as Gina Lee relates. Every year, up to half a million people book the tour to the last remnant of the Iron Curtain. Especially Americans and Europeans are among the guests. Gina Lee asks for a woman who introduces her as Seo Yong. It's not the right name for the slim, maybe forty-year-old Korean woman. She is a defector, a refugee, from the hermetically sealed north. Only about 25,000 people have managed to escape since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Her two sisters still lived in the north, and she did not want to endanger them, Gina Lee translates the words of the woman, hence the wrong name. Patiently, Seo Yong answers questions. No, since 2002 no longer starved in the north, there are even free markets. No, she sees no cultural differences between the two Koreas. No, she had not changed since her escape. "We are all Koreans, and we are a people." Only the language in the South, which has taken so many words from English, is different. The answers are almost mechanical, and her face shows no emotion. Yellow, black barks on the road force the bus to slow slalom ride. In front of the river crossing called the "Union Bridge", a South Korean soldier climbs onto the bus and checks the passports. It is the first of several controls. Taking pictures is forbidden once. Slowly we continue on narrow roads lined with lush green meadows. Another checkpoint. Then the bus stops at Camp Bonifas.

19-year-old corporal, "Goetsch" infront of the UN barracks at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). / © Paulus Ponizak

A US soldier climbs in, and his eyes hidden behind a pair of very dark sunglasses. "Goetsch" can be read on the uniform jacket. The 19-year-old corporal, who was transferred to Korea just two months ago, takes the lead. The young man is one of about 700 soldiers of the UN Ceasefire Commission, which guard the "Joint Security Area" in Panmunjeom, the common security zone of the two Koreas, the next goal of the tour. It lies in the middle of the military exclusion zone and directly on the demarcation line. Above all, he sends visitors groups through the military area, four to five a day. Everyone has to get off except for Seo Yong. She stays in the blouse. For the North Korean, the journey is over, and she must not enter no-man's-land. The other visitors have to put on yellow plastic cards that they identify as UN guests and sign a paper saying, "Visiting the security zone will allow you to enter enemy territory, injury or death as a result of hostile action. "A military vehicle then takes visitors the remaining four kilometres to the security zone, past red warning signs marked" mines "in otherwise untouched nature. With just 800 meters in diameter, the safety zone is manageable. The visitors have to line up in two rows. "Do not wave, do not point north, do not shout," Corporal Goetsch orders the visitors. Photography is allowed, but only in the direction of North Korea. There, two hundred yards away, a North Korean guard stands motionless and gazes in the course of the stupid, undisciplined and anarchically colourful tourist force in this military backdrop. In this place, the permanent state of war in which the two brother states are located since the end of the Korean War in 1953, unpleasantly noticeable. Three barracks painted in bright UN blue form the heart of the security zone. On Goetsch's command, the visitors set off and enter the middle of the three buildings, which, like the others, are half built on South and North Korean soil. No wall, no sharp wire points to the border, only a foot wide in the sand embedded concrete band. It is the only place on the Korean peninsula where the border can be crossed. If ever representatives of the two states want to talk to each other again, they will be at the dark, glossy conference table in the temporary building. Currently, there is radio silence. Two South Korean soldiers wake up here, should anyone get the idea to take the back exit to the north. Nobody has tried yet. Conversely, however, there were always attempts by military forces to penetrate from the north to the south. Four tunnels have been discovered in South Korea over the past 60 years. Who knows how many there may still be, but they remained undiscovered? The exit of the 3rd tunnel was discovered in 1978 only 52 kilometres away from Seoul.

Dora Observatory, tourists watching with binoculars to North Korean village. / © Paulus Ponizak

With a small train, the visitors are driven into the damp cold of the rock tube, which reaches up to seventy meters below the ground. Allegedly, North Korea could have brought 30,000 troops per hour south through the narrow passage. Hard to imagine where even the children have to bend over among the visitors so that the yellow construction worker helmets on their heads do not hit against the granite ceiling. After four hundred laborious meters, the passage ends in front of a steel door. A red string of lights is wound around the barbed wire marking the border to the enemy soil. From the viewpoint called "Dora Observatory", the next stop on the way along the border, a look far beyond the border is possible. With the binoculars placed there, you could even see people in the streets of Kijong-dong, the flagship village on the border. But nobody is to be seen. A ghost town is that, says tour guide Gina Lee on demand. A backdrop for unique views from the south. The village is dominated by a 160-meter-high flagpole, on which the red-blue flag of the People's Republic hangs wearily in the hot wind. It is the fourth highest in the world and a sign of self-perceived greatness that wants to send the regime from Pyongyang south. South Korea chooses other means. Korean hits sound from an oversized loudspeaker system towards Grenzdorf. With music banned in the north, the border guards are bombarded. An almost romantic idea. Against the background of recent provocations of Pyongyang rocket tests and US Army fighter-bomber flights, this is just another sign of complete helplessness on all sides as this last Cold War conflict can be brought to a peaceful conclusion after nearly seventy years.


Categories: essay

Tags: korea

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