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Rocket War from a German View

Greece is crazy. In Greece everything is possible. Greece is open and friendly, Greece is one whole adventure. Greece is an easy way of life, Greece is burning - full of energy. Somehow all the things come out in one event that is - for sure - unique in the whole world.

"Something like this is only possible in Greece", a local of 63 years, who emigrated to England, tells me. I met him in the yard of a house close to the Panaghia Erithiani that belongs to his relatives. They have built 250 ramps to fire 3000 rockets that night on Aghios Markos.

And it is true, at least for my home country. We have fireworks for New Year’s Eve and for celebrations of cities and towns, we have the "Rhine in Flames" in Cologne or the "Oktoberfest" in Munich, where the people launch a lot of rockets. But they all go straight to the sky - everything else would be too dangerous.

Here the people launch rockets aiming on two churches, almost horizontally instead of vertically. They shoot on two beautiful churches, white from the outside with wonderful yards. And on top of this: Religious people in suit and skirt are having an Easter mass celebration going on in the same time. How can they go to church and pray with this noise and the obvious danger? I ask a photographer, that I met on the roof of a house. He comes from Chios town and works for an agency in Athens and takes pictures with his Canon for next year’s magazines and newspapers. "They don’t care about the rockets", he explains and pushes the button of his camera that is set to longtime exposure - 30 seconds. "It is the holiest day of the year, the most important for them. They would never miss a celebration, whatever would happen to their churches."

25 minutes before midnight I see people coming out of Aghios Markos. They carry candles, move in lines and are praying to God and the resurrected Jesus Christ. In the same time the rockets are flying to the fences and webs that are there only for their safety. They don’t stop, they keep on praying. A blasphemic event, religious people in my home country would tell that. Where is the respect for the Holy Father? But it is different. I can only understand because I saw it. I was part of it.
A young man from Athens, here for a visit of his relatives for Easter, tells me something about the origin. Nobody would be sure about that, he says, but people say that the rocket war had a tradition of roundabout 150 years. Less professional they would have been in former times, without Chinese technology in the self-made rockets. But they would have had fireworks and had started because of the Turkish occupation of the island. "The orthodox were not allowed to have their Easter celebrations", he explains. But in order to go to the church anyway they just set it on fire. The Muslims stayed away, the Chians could pray.

Markos belongs to the team of Erithiani. He has a small gas burner in his hand. A blue flame comes out. He ducks down, lights 300 wicks and the rockets are flying. Not vertically, but all the way above the small forest to the bell tower of Aghios Markos. He is a part of the Rocket War 2005. He is a Greek, a local. And he is somehow a little bit crazy.

Tobias Weckenbrock