Wednesday 2 October 2019

Ghost City

Former cathedral on former Kneiphof island in former Königsberg 

Everywhere you go in Central Europe, you’re travelling to a place that no longer exists. And no place more so than Königsberg.

The centre of the city, now Kaliningrad in the Russian exclave wedged between Lithuania and Poland, simply isn’t there. Where once were bustling streets and shops and trams and carts and markets... it’s now a tree-lined park, flanked by a couple of highways. The old city is gone.

Many European city centres were devastated by massive Allied bombing and fierce ground combat in WW2, but unlike almost everywhere else, in Königsberg, no one rebuilt what people remembered – mostly because the people who might have remembered were deported en masse after the war: men, women and children. Centuries of the old city’s Prussian history came to an end. There was no one left who could have any sense of nostalgia for what was lost, and so no one was yearning to recreate what once was.

Friday 15 March 2019

Beyond Samarkand

I wrote this piece with Steve Swerdlow for Los Angeles Review of Books.


Yesterday, it rained forever; today, the mud is deep and treacherous. We’re in Uzbekistan, two years after the death of the dictator.

It took us about a half hour to drive to this small village from Qarshi, a district capital in the south of Uzbekistan, a small city with a big reputation as a military and security services stronghold. That’s after a three-hour drive from Samarkand and two-hour train journey from Tashkent. This place is not exactly the end of the world, but it is pretty remote – the next-to-last exit on the road to Afghanistan.

We’re getting a bit lost in the warren of sloppy dirt roads in the village, our phones have no signal, and in the low mist and gloom of a freezing November morning, it’s impossible not to think back to where we were just 36 hours before.