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On a trip to Iran – with mixed feelings

Merchant Gives Fruits, Pharmacist Medicine: Bastian Sünkel touches sacrificial hospitality in restrictive mode.

Mohammad controls his own car relaxed through the streets of the holy city. Mashad is a place where millions of Muslims visit every year to pray at the shrine of Imam Reza. Mohammad shows a window at the corner of the street. I should look into this. Cops, everywhere. They rebuilt the streets, curbed protests. People died on both sides. The government is talking about an international conspiracy. Mohammad believes in this as little as his friends. When the government decided to raise gasoline prices by up to 200 percent on the night of November 15, the ire of many Iranians on city streets quenched. A quiet witness on his last day in the yard Iran is my mobile phone that can only be accessed by select Iranian websites despite the usual SIM card. WhatsApp. Instagram, foreign site, my VPN client – government blocked.

Mohammad shows me videos on his mobile. Slogans sing protesters. Igniting banners on the pedestrian bridge. After a while he looked up. That's the bridge from the video. The banner was quickly exchanged – in a mobile company advertising message. It shows the cheering of women at a football stadium in front of a wall of green-white-red flags.

The spiral memory rotates back. I crossed the border to Armenia from Armenia more than two months ago. I discover a country that surprises me everyday but leaves me speechless. Why do people turn on the street and invite you to dinner? Why is a fruit dealer giving me fruits, a pharmacist? How does the sacrificial hospitality of Iranians fit into a restrictive state regime? I am confused and mistaken the first day on the streets of Tabriz asking for a SIM card and answers.


But he is repairing sewing machines in Tabriz

Traveling to Iran takes away many of your freedoms at a glance. Free speech. Alcohol. Dogs. Music in public. Everything is forbidden or too dangerous. The worst affected women are: scarves. Bicycle ban. Lecture as a housewife and educator. There is no free love life. Before the court, the woman's statement counts only half as much as the man's. Iran is a thoroughly repressive country that is only losing sight of solitude.

But it is repairing sewing machines on an estimated 12-square-foot area in downtown Tabriz. She speaks several bits of English that blend together together. If the words do not match, a small man with a schnauzer in an always smiling face will help friends from the neighborhood.

One of the tallest mosques in Iran: view from Damavand to the valley.

Image: Sünkel

When Ali sees the passengers through the open door of the store, he goes outside, runs up a few stairs to the main street, and asks them if they want to have tea with him, among the sewing machines considered antique in Europe. His name and his shop draw circles in the passenger scene. More than 8,000 teeschlürfende guests have immortalized his books. I ask Ali if he can repair the sewing machines at all. He says he would rather give up his job than his guests. Recently, a woman walked into the store, Ali says, and became upset that the machine had already dropped – twelve years after its repair. But he moans and serves tea.

Two days after the first encounter with Ali, the country celebrates the outbreak of the first Gulf War with a war exhibition, a military parade and the resumption of a successful maneuver. I know that no other country in the world celebrates the outbreak of war.

When the bombs hit the airport

But he remembers working as a driver 39 years ago and his bus at the airport Tehran parked. After Saddam Hussein fired a cannon as a symbolic inauguration of a bloodbath in Baghdad in Iran's direction, the Iraqi president urged the reporter to be able to interview him soon in Tehran. The first bombs hit the airport not far from Ali's bus. He escapes unharmed and a great history of "holy defense" begins, ending with Saddam Hussein never occupying Tehran next weekend or months later. A sight the traveler must get used to: From north to south, dead people look at passers-by at street intersections and walls of houses. Martyrs of the war still playing an important role in Iran today: the myth of the first heroes after the establishment of the Islamic Republic.

Bastian Sünkel on his way to Iran.

Image: Sünkel

When I see a poster in Mashhad with cheering women in the stadium, I think back to Tehran. Sahar Khodayari, known as "Bluegirl", smuggled his Esteghal team match to Tehran Azadi Stadium. police Bluegirl was arrested after a match when dressed as a man dressed in blue from a stadium posted a photo of himself in the colors of his club. When she was threatened with a lawsuit and jail, she poured herself gasoline and set it on fire. She died. In Iran, the pain was great for another human life, which fell victim to the state's restrictive laws. FIFA got involved. Just while I was in Tehran, the government was fencing blocks and unlocking women for an international match at Azadi Stadium.

Field opponent: Cambodia. The real enemy: the government. The women's blocks sold out in minutes. Only 4,000 seats in the stadium, which holds 78,000 people. The government, meanwhile, has taken unusual measures. Instead of women putting up and risking the Asian Cup exemption, ticket sellers left fewer men in the stadium. Aside from the celebratory women’s block, the stadium in all other corners was almost a ghost game.

I also tried to buy a ticket: The network ticket provider server failed first. At that time, my passport number was not accepted by the system. When a friend from Tehran wanted to help me, he also failed at the barriers to the ticket system. Still, I went to the stadium and met some young men who wanted to get me tickets. But the black market was gone, the police closed.

There are tears of joy in the women's block after the football game

The match ended for Iran from 14 to 0. There were tears of joy in the women's block, Mahnaz tells me. She was given a ticket and told how emotional the moment was when she walked the corridors of the (translated) Freedom Stadium for the first time in her life and saw the green of the football field at the end of the tunnel. When I meet Mahnaz the day after the match, her nails are still painted green-white-red.

Headscarf is not just about models.

Image: Sünkel

What is Iran? After the first few weeks I can't find the answer. The pharmacist who gives me the medicine says that I should please tell my family and friends that Iranians are not terrorists, as he considers the mediation of the Western world media. Mahmud, who takes me to Lalehzar Street in Tehran and shows me the burnt-out and barricaded cinemas of the former Shah-era cultural hotspot, tells me that I must learn one thing: “You live two lives in Iran. One inside, one outside. "Instead of cafes, bookstores and cinemas, Lhalehzar, the first electrified street in Tehran – the Champs Elysees served as lanterns for kayar chess. I have a feeling that people in Iran are waiting for the day when the lights go out.

* All names – except Ali – are changed by the author.

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