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Apr 16, 2013
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KZ: Two letters, literally hell

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Weimar, Germany

By Lisi Niesner

U.S. troops arrived at German KZ (concentration camp) Buchenwald, near Weimar on April 11, 1945. The hands of the tower clock on top of the entrance gate are exactly set to a quarter past three: the time of liberation.

Walking through a memorial side of a former concentration camp feels indescribably oppressive. Between July 1937 and April 1945 a quarter of a million people were imprisoned in KZ Buchenwald with a death toll of around 56,000. This is a place as inhuman as it may be possible, full of sorrow, torture and death.

Feb 13, 2013
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Germany’s one man bank

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Gammesfeld, Germany

By Lisi Niesner, editing by Victoria Bryan

Peter Breiter, 41, is not your typical bank manager. He wears jeans and a jumper to work, he writes everything out by hand, and he’s also not afraid to use a mop to clean the floor. But neither is this a standard bank, staffed by a row of anonymous employees behind glass screens. The Raiffeisen Gammesfeld eG cooperative bank in southern Germany is one of the smallest in Germany and a visit here is like stepping back in time.

From the waiting area with ladies sharing local gossip to the office, where Breiter still uses a typewriter and an adding machine, the surface enamel worn away by years of use, things do not seem to have changed much since the bank was founded in 1890. Even the price list is shown in deutschmarks, with the euro equivalent hand written on.

Jan 28, 2013
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Among wolves

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Merzig, Germany

By Lisi Niesner

“You can join me and pick up the deer carcass”, German wolf researcher Werner Freund invited me as he climbed into his lorry. I quickly jumped in. A rotten smell of meat hit me. I thought I wouldn’t smell it after a while but this proved to be a very false assumption. We chatted while driving and he told me about his education as a gardener and his first botanical job at the Stuttgart zoo. Soon, his job turned into a predator zookeeper after the initial bear keeper was injured. “I have cataracts, but have heard it can be treated very well today”, he suddenly added. I started monitoring his driving suspiciously until we reached a house, not far from the French border. There it lay in the snow, directly on the driveway. He asked me to give him a hand, and in view of the fact that Werner Freund is almost 80 years old, it was just polite to help him load the animal’s cadaver. On the way back I told him I had never loaded or even touched a dead deer, which seemed to amuse him.

GALLERY: LIVING WITH WOLVES

Back at his home he changed clothes to confront the Mongolian wolves pack with a familiar odor. I was curious. Werner opened the door of the fence and entered the enclosure. First the alpha male wolf Heiko, came towards him and licked his mouth which is a sign of acknowledgment and a sign of membership of the pack. After this ritual Werner got the deer cadaver, put it on the snowy ground, lay down and held it in a manner as if it were his prey. As a child I was told, like most other children, the tale of little red riding hood making me wary of the big bad wolf with bared teeth on display. Unexpectedly the pack was shy and approached carefully. Werner took over his role and bit into the leg of the deer but spat out the raw meat. I was too busy trying to shoot pictures through the wire-netting fence, to wonder what was going on in front of me. None of the wolves competed with him for the food.

Jul 25, 2012
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Buzzing with bees

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By Lisi Niesner

An unsettling night followed this story. It felt as if something was scuttling on my skin. It was a tickling feeling which made me scratch and I saw bugs bustling around in my mind’s eye. In the morning I could not remember exactly what I had dreamed, but the one thing I knew, all night long I had heard the buzz in my head.

I got plenty of mosquito bites, a bee sting, and on top of that several times I encountered stinging nettles and thistles while shooting Vienna’s city beekeepers. The Austrian organization Stadtimker, retains wild bees and honey bees in the city area of Vienna. Everybody who has a little garden or a roof-top can join and make room available for one or more bee hives. The beekeepers build up the hives and fully care for them generally once a week.

Jun 13, 2012
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A heavenly mission

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By Lisi Niesner

The wooden gate was half open. I knocked on the door and entered. The room was sparsely lit. Everything in the unexpectedly small workshop was black or grey and the few things that had been colorful in past days were now soot-black. The smell of iron was dominant.

Blacksmith brothers Johann and Georg Schmidberger stood at their workplaces. They did not look up. Smith’s dirty hands rhythmically led down the hammer to a strike. The beats were powerful but with a gentle accuracy. This was a seriously cool scene.

May 31, 2012
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Almost knightly

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By Lisi Niesner

This is not a story of knights; no knight’s armor, no knight’s castles – not even swords. It does consist of plenty of honor, pride, old-fashioned traditions and to top it off a codex. Now when I imagine the Middle Ages, I believe some farmers must have been quite close to chivalry.

SLIDESHOW: AUSTRIAN VILLAGE CELEBRATIONS

In times past, Austrian residents of Gailtal valley, mainly Noriker horse breeders, took advantage of their surefooted draught horses and operated a trade of wine and salt across the Alps. During these journeys they likely imitated or adapted what they discovered into a custom which lasted centuries and continued to the present day. The first written records of Kufenstechen did not appear before 1630, but we know that the rite is far older and likely related to knight festivals.

Apr 26, 2012
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The majestic Lipizzaner

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By Lisi Niesner

Born as bay, chestnut or black foals, the vast majority of Lipizzaner horses are grey. A gene mutation is responsible for the loss of color pigments in their coats and causes what we see as white coloring in their growing age. The progressive silvering process starts the first year before the horses often completely turn white between six and eight, comparable with the aging of human hair, but with the process incredibly sped up. The color of their coat is based on the Mendelian inheritance and as grey is the dominant gene, in rare cases a small number of Lipizzaner horses stay dark into their adulthood.

Homozygous Lipizzaner are a brighter white, known as milk-white. As white is often a symbol of elegance and dignity, no wonder Archduke Charles II of Inner Austria chose these horses for his court stud founded in 1580. Their famous reputation owes not only to their brilliant white coat but also their mental and physical power. The Lipizzaner are graceful, agile and strong as well as being frugal, sociable and have an exceedingly good memory which makes them particularly suitable for the art of classical horsemanship and dressage riding.

Apr 3, 2012
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An egg by any other name

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By Lisi Niesner

Egg. Or as it’s known in other languages:
Ei, яйцо, jajiko, muna, uovo, ägg, yumurta, oeuf, αβγό, tojás, vajce, بيضة, aeg, jaje, ovo, yai, 雞蛋, telur, huevo

It’s the hard-shelled reproductive body produced by a bird and especially by the common domestic chicken, which is the definition that first comes to our sense. Obviously an egg is much more than the daily of decision how we like to have our breakfast: scrambled, fried or poached. Tea enthusiasts use a tea egg and we call someone naughty a bad egg. We walk on egg shells when we act cautiously as well as using eggs for certain sayings: no two eggs are exactly alike, for example.

Jan 26, 2012
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Daredevils on Hahnenkamm mountain

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By Leonhard Foeger and Lisi Niesner

Imagine a snow-covered mountain, imagine an 85 degree grade at the steepest point, imagine wearing a race suit, goggles and nothing else but a helmet and a back protector for safety. Now clip on your skis and speed straight down at a top speed of 90 miles per hour. Crazy, don’t you think?

We are talking specifically about the 3,312-meter-long “Streif” downhill course on Hahnenkamm mountain in the Austrian ski resort of Kitzbuehel. It is regarded as the most difficult track for racers and the most challenging assignment for photographers on the Alpine Ski World Cup calendar. Several racers have crashed in years past and some were seriously injured, but the winners gained immortality.

Aug 16, 2011
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Walking the glacier

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By Lisi Niesner

Usually I am absolutely not a fan of places where a mass of tourists assemble. I hate standing in line, dislike crowded sights, do not endure guides, prefer to eat meals characteristic of the country I’m visiting and I particularly cannot stand how functional tourists dress in their newly bought outdoor clothing – even if it is not necessary at all. That wind and water repellent jacket, those pants with a cooling fiber effect and, of course, the super soft sneaker shoes replacing the aerated sandals.

However, it has become a routine of mine to visit my relatives who live in the Zillertal valley but I had never visited the tourist attractions in the area. The Zillertal valley, located in the western Alps in the Austrian province of Tyrol, is well known for their “hardcore” tourism that has been operating for years.