First Round Trip: Route to the South

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We followed the E67 from Tallinn to Riga, bypassed Riga on E77 and E272 to Vilnius. Then we followed the E85 all the way down to Veliko Tarvono, which we considered to be one of the main Pan-European North South corridors.

After Veliko Tarnovo we made a mistake. Instead of the E85 we accidentally took the smaller but more direct route 55 to Svilengrad. We therefore missed Zara Zagora and Dimitrovgrad. From Svilengrad we conciously took the old 8 to the Turkish border. The surprising experience was that we had been more or less alone on almost the whole route from North to South expect when we passed by or through rather large cities. One reason might be found in the poor quality of the streets (especially in Ukraine), another in the many border stops between EU-Non and Non-EU-nations, and visa requirements for Belarus (especially for trucks), that cost a lot of time and money. We suppose it is less time consuming driving down the much longer route via Warsaw and Bratislava…

O.k., the Baltic States and Bulgaria do not have many inhabitants. And obviously the infrastructure funds of European Union are invested merely in East West corridors (even in Ukraine and Belarus these East West corridors had been very well developed). But besides of that we learned that trucks are not allowed to drive from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. when temperature raises over 28 degrees – not for protecting the neighborhoods population from traffic noise – but for protecting the badly made roads from being destroyed.

Therefore today there is an urgent need for highway stops for truck drivers – especially in summer time. And of course there are many, obviously different types addressing drivers from different background: European-Bulgarian and Turkish (Drivers had argued that there a legal protected TIR parking and black parking with prostitution, the legal ones preferred European drivers, the latter used by Turkish – but that might be a myth).

 

Attractions for our research issue

Border Stations

But most of the Schengen border stations all brand new or still under construction. Border stations within the EU have lost their function, we thought. The build infrastructure is still there. But they show a quite different character: Last time we had been in Ruse at a weekend in March there had been almost no activity at all. This time we arrived during the week and in the late evening at 10 p.m. It surprisingly was incredibly busy. During our the first visit the specific situation on both sides of the bridge and the toll you have to pay for passing had appeared as a vacant ruin left over from better times. But during the recent visit it had been one of the most chaotic and busy places, with a lot of side business along the waiting lines of trucks – in contrast all the other border stations we had passed before.

Again, obviously there are different rhythms of flow, de-activating and re-activation these places and the encounter of people who pass or work there (Weekend-Weekday, Winter-Summer, Limited permissions at hot days. Every truck driver urgently wanted to move on when driving was allowed again in the late evening). Of course the Bulgarian-Turkish and the Serbian-Hungarian borders (both Schengen borders) were different, very new, chic, and with exhausting waiting times. At the Bulgarian-Turkish border (still under construction) quite recently a big shopping mall was placed directly into the duty free zone, which of course had an effect on all the more informal traders alongside the old road to the terminal – therefore most of the kiosks and stalls are now vacant ruins.

We missed to investigate the border control devices and border economy at both sides around the Turkish border more closely, because we had to wait for a long time and finally were not allowed to enter (Because of some non-specified problems with our truck, they Turkish said)…

 

TIR parking and Truck stops

Instead we had visited 3 former SOMAT stations, one in Ruse, another very close to the Turkish border, and the last one at the margins of Pazardzhik. Willi Betz who took over Somat does not use these station himself. In Ruse 1/3 of the main part is used for logistics and customs business by other companies, 1/3 is a Mercedes Benz Truck Dealer and Workhops, and the last one we visited is a typical low level, TIR truck stop with parking, garages, and a restaurant, pub, with toilets and showers for truck drivers. The Somat Hotel and Sevice at Svilengrad is vacant and waiting for a new investor. Pazardzhik is used by several different other transport companies. In the last both cases there had been guards guiding us around the site. Emi now got a lot of interesting information. And we found many nice artefacts to be exhibited in a future museum of Bulgarian Truck Drivers.

We had visited many Stops and gas Stations of course, smaller and larger, and we also stayed overnight at some of them. But no one could compete with „Port Radomsko“ in Poland, an incredible enormous parking designed to host 400 trucks, located at the E75, right in the middle between the two major east-west corridors E30 and E40: http://hieslmair.mur.at/2014/07/26/parade/ The most luxurious stop is to be found on the territory of former Yugoslavia, north of Nis. Here you find a huge late modern hotel/motel with camping site, and even with heated indoor and outdoor pools, that was used both by tourists, business men, and most recently by (Turkish) truck drivers. Sadly it is now vacant.

The Yugoslav “autoput” (once named the Highway of Brotherhood and Unity) originally had been only a large road and not a real highway. After modern the highway wars finished many of the old stops were replaced by gas stations with attached shops and restaurants. Interestingly the stops by the Austrian company OMV are extremely successful here, as well as in Bulgaria! These are the places where you find the most people, tanking their cars and/or having a snack or a drink – even in urban agglomerations.

For all the others stops we visited please visit the blog!

 

Great contacts in Ruse

We met the director of the Museum of history in Ruse, who did an exhibition himself about the impact of transnational mobility on the culture of Ruse, which exclusively meant the culture of the upper class. But he seems to be open for new ideas. Although it was not our main research goal, a future museum of Bulgarian Truck Drivers could be hosted there… Because of the very good traffic location – and enough parking lot for our big car – Emi had booked our rooms in a hotel close to the highway in Ruse. It turned out to be owned and run by an ex-SOMAT truck driver, who in 1990 opened “BRANI 90 – The First Private Autoline”, a small truck company with gas station and parking lot. But in the meantime he started several other businesses  – to find new niches of business to stay independent from the local mafia, he said.

 

Markets

Dimitrovgrad

The main market close to the railway station was indeed impressively large for the small size of the planned modernist city. But the market had been ‘normalized’ in the meantime, which seems a logical development like everywhere else as well. Only at the margins it remains a bit more informal. Please see a more detailed report on the market: revues.mshparisnord.org

On the other hand, a second-hand car-market (or better: car parts market) plus flea market, located in the park around the old sports stadium, was really impressive (for our Western European romantic gaze). Interestingly they used the infrastructure originally made for the big old stadium for the masses visiting the market: the large parking lots, the many toilets, and the grill huts in the park around (of course it is not the only and by far not the most famous market in and around an abandoned stadium – see Warsaw before the European Football Championship).

The attractive feature of this market is its rhythm!!!  It opens only at Sundays, early in the morning and closes on again already at 12 a.m. – at noon. Vendors show up in the night before to reserve their place, and masses of people enjoy the few hours all the goods are on display and available. Therefore in many cases the vans, cars and vehicles serve as vessels and showcases to display goods for sale, and many of the cars are for sale themselves. For sure during the week some of the professional vendors at the better places close to the entrance might be driving to other markets throughout the country or have their own permanent shop elsewhere…

The second-hand car-market in Marijampole, famously described by Karl Schlögel, where cars imported from Western Europe where sold, originally started with a similar rhythm, only once a month, and attracted local vendors, re-sellers, and clients form the whole Baltic realm, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. This market was much larger than Dimitrovgrad, but it got established, normalized, and most importantly, the open lot, where once cars where sold directly from the trailer, is now zoned into different fields for the permanent exhibition of cars on sale.

Women Market

The hot discussions seem to be over, the market is partly gentrified, and the upgrade even looks quite good – but of course it will not solve any social problems. We had even seen the mayor of Sofia introducing the innovations to the media. After we had returned to Vienna we thought Ilyantsi might be much more attractive for our goal.

Ilyantsi Market

Of course visiting it on a Monday at noon was not the best idea. But there had been many more rooms, stalls, garages, or even big halls to be opened and activated in case of need. Besides the market has a very interesting history as far as we know, and although it had changed radically over the years, it still has an impact on both the neighborhood and on other markets. This market is relevant for different types of users – both as a wholesale for other vendors and as supplier for consumers. Serbs told us later that the market was set up exclusively for them because of the international embargo during the war times. Even if that is only partly true that is a great link to larger political changes blocking off old routes and therefore establishing or reinforcing others. It would be great to make a mapping of routes of vendors, consumer and goods related to these markets – beginning with the fall of the iron curtain, the embargo, and the years of normalization (linking Ilyantsi with Women Market and Dimitrovgrad market, and maybe a market in Serbia and Turkey, and the sea-harbour where the goods come in from China). The process of normalization including the implementation of the Carefour market seems typical for many post-socialist markets in CEE, which are not located in the centre of cities (most famously the Arizona Market in Bosnia).

Train and Bus stations

The urban design deficit around the main train station in Sofia and the enormous variety of bus companies starting from here is radically different from all Western European cities I know so far. Like in Tallinn the role of the regional and transnational bus-system is much more important than e.g. in Vienna, where the tram and train is the favorite device of public transport, and the areas around train stations are valuable sites for consumption and real estate investment. While the many wild bus company stalls are now reordered and redesigned, and a new terminal building added, we found the train station and trains in a shamefully bad condition (in Tallinn they had at least renovated the train tracks and purchased new local trains), the square in front of the station is planning catastrophe – literally a void –, and the link to the cities’ public transport system as bad as ever.

 

Nodes for affluent people

We did not yet have the time to see Business Parks, diplomatic enclaves, or International expats meeting spots. We hope to know more about it… … but we will soon start to contact some of the players – although at Plovdiv Trade Fair in September/ October 2014.