Actually, this is not even a country. And even if the locals don’t like to hear this stereotype: even to me visiting Transnistria seemed like a trip to the Soviet Union. And it got even stranger when I discovered a tea with my own last name there.
I’m a little nervous as I leave Chisinau, the dusty capital of Moldova. The Marshrutka, as the minibuses in Eastern Europe are called, has a regular destination for locals. And yet I hear horror stories about the city of Tiraspol and the region of Transnistria to which I am travelling.
It’s a hot summer day and the road dust streams through the wide-open window of the minibus. Around me a few young and many older people people are sitting. Ladies in brown or gray skirts have large shopping bags with them. Some passengers talk to each other in Romanian, most in Russian. It is just before noon when we reach the border which is actually none. On one side a Moldovan policemen sits on stones and smokes a cigarette. On the other hand there is what Germans and Russians both call a Schlagbaum, a barrier, a customs station and a few not really overly enthusiastic customs officials. The top of the small outpost bears a red coat of arms with a rising sun, hammer and sickle, a bunch of Cyrillic letters and all sorts of fruits that grow in around the area.
Meanwhile, I look hastily around me, still the horror stories in mind, as a young man approaches me from behind. “Peter?“, he asks . I reply “Vova”. My quick border crossing is safe! I had contacted Vova previously on Couchsurfing . He took the time and came with a Marshrutka to the border to pick me up. He speaks a few Russian phrases with the custums dudes. After a minute, I can easily slip through. „Registracija“, one official shouts after Vova. I have arrived in Transnistria – one of the few non- recognized states of Europe and even the world. I didn’t have to pay any bribes, although many people had told me I had to. I am in Transnistria and no one cares .
The Marshrutka spits us out after a quarter hour on a street in the center of Tiraspol. The city looks like any average town in the Eastern Bloc. There are gray prefabricated buildings, the edges of the sidewalks have split off in part and in the courtyards between the blocks children playground from the Khrushchev era made of iron squeak when the wind moves them. Only one thing is missing : I do not see any stray dogs, as in Ukraine or Russia usual. In general, it looks pretty neat and clean.
Looking for a hotel room , we rattle off the few hotels in the city. One is fully booked. Others are so expensive that I simply can’t afford it. For a moment I wonder where I am . After a long unsuccessful search Vova offers to get ask a friend for help. He calls Yaroslav who offers help right away. By now I am in urgent need as at that time there is no hostel in Tiraspol. Together with the two I take a walk through the city. On the way we do what we have to: the „Registracija“ as the customs officer had reminded us. Yaroslav leaves his address. I am only staying a day. The women at the counter looks diligently through the documents and handing it to us in Soviet speed again . In front of the hotel I find a public phone. It looks like the Russian textbooks my sister from GDR times .
Vova and Yaroslav show me the capital of the small non-Republic. As we come along a tank they tell me. „This is a memorial to the victims of war.” Almost 1,000 people died when in 1992 Moldovan troops marched into Transnistria. The Transnistrians didn’t want to belong to Romania, as the Moldovans claimed. Transnistria remained de facto independent. De jure, it still belongs to Moldova.
We walk on down the street, and take a seat near the river banks of the Dniestr and watcj children play. On the 25th of October avenue, I take pictures of a café with Che Guevara on its side . Above Che Guevara there is a sign saying “Eilenburg”. I only find out later that Tiraspol is a actually a twin sister city with the town of Eilenburg in Germany’s Saxony. The café was named in honor of the sister city. The partnership itself is currently on hold though.
In the later afternoon we sit down again in a cafe. As I read through the menu I stumble over some Cyrillic letters. And although I can read them well usually, I have to read again and again. “Чай Альтхаус“ . „Tschaj Altchaus“. It seems like there is a tea which happens to bear my last name – Althaus. And actually , I order and get a premium tea from Bremen – here in the middle of Transnistria. And so I drink a cup of „Althaus“.
Later on we go back to Yaroslaws place. His mom serves us a huge dinner right away. I’m overwhelmed by the hospitality of Eastern European moms everytime. They just know what to do with hungry young men. I even eat egg. Although I hardly ever eat egg. Later we meet Vova and Evgenia , another couchsurfer to go to a 11- storey block near Yaroslav’s home. From there we have a fantastic view – even if below there is just a garage complex. The sunset is really beautiful and I talk with the three of them about my travels. They also want to enjoy traveling, they say. And in fact – in the years ahead I see pictures from them all around Europe and even the world being posted on their Couchsurfing profiles.
Flight: You can not fly directly to Transnistria. There are flights to Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova and to the Ukrainian port city of Odessa. When coming from Odessa however, you can get problems if you continue to Moldova, as you haven’t legally entered Moldova. But as far as I know you can still register in Chisinau. I came from Odessa too, but there were buses that went to Chisinau without passing Transnistria.
Also by train there are connections from both cities to Transnistria.
From Chisinau there are minibuses running at least every hour. From Odessa , there is usually a larger bus a few times a day. The cost of train and bus are both very low.
Security: The German foreign ministry points out that in Transnistria technically there is no consular assistance. Same should apply for all English speaking nations. So stay clean and behave yourself respectfully!
Money: There is the local currency, the Transnistrian ruble. But you can also pay with Dollars and Euros even. The local banks give out Dollars and Russian rubles to foreigners only. You can switch to the local rubles in banks.
Accommodation: The hotel costs are comparatively high. Back when I was visiting, I couldn’t find a hostel unfortunately. Meantime it seems like there is one now – the Tiraspol Hostel.