North Korea is a perplexing, and often intimidating, place at the best of times. Ruled since its establishment in 1948 with an iron fist by the Kim family, the only family dynasty to have emerged out of the communist world, the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea has beguiled and appalled generations of post war observers.
Guided by the Juche ideology, a set of ideas conceived by the country's first leader and founding father Kim Il-sung which loosely translates as 'spirit of self-reliance', North Korean life has recently been plagued by shortages, famines and a general economic collapse. Deprived of traditional trade outlets and export markets and unable to purchase cheap goods from neighbouring communist countries following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Kim family's ruling style has become increasingly paranoid and aggressive.
Attempting to apply juche to its military capabilities, the country embarked on a nuclear weapons programme during the 1960s which culminated in 2009 with the successful testing of a nuclear weapon, thus unceremoniously admitting the country into the tiny club of nuclear armed states.
With the death in December 2011 of King Jong-il, the country's second supreme leader who liked to be referred to as the 'Dear Leader' to differentiate himself from his father, the 'Great Leader', the country has entered a new and as yet uncertain future. The 28 or 29 year old King Jong-un (his real date of birth is a matter of speculation), the late Kim's third and youngest son, is the world's youngest head of state. Korea watchers are so far unsure to what extent he is in charge in policy-making terms.
The hugely elaborate celebrations of the Kim Il-sung's 100th birthday in April 2012 and the failed launch of a rocket in the same month that was supposed to put a satellite into orbit are seen by many as a show of strength from the new leader. Despite the failure of the rocket launch, two huge statues of Kim Jong-un's father and grandfather were unveiled in Pyongyang, the capital, witnessed by tens of thousands of assembled citizens.
Eric Rechsteiner attended some of the carefully choreographed celebrations but was also able to snatch some images of daily life both inside and outside the capital beneath the watchful eyes of his minders.