… have made me think again about Europe, the world and finally about our way in general. One could call it irony, since in many respects the United States embody exactly the opposite of what, until recently at least, the majority of EU Member States or their inhabitants seemed to stand for. Or just call it a very logical and comprehensible consequence of an almost four-week stay in (a small part of) this large country. The quintessence of these considerations could be summarized on the basis of two incidents that took place within little more than 14 hours – but on two different continents. Both stories are quickly told and each have to do with a bus driver. The first of the stories took place in Seattle, from where we flew back to Germany. The rental car station there is located outside the terminals and consequently all people have to be driven there by shuttle buses. This is usually a bit annoying, but this time the short trip became more kind of a small but still memorable …
126 days, 16 countries (passed or stayed in), around 17.000 kilometres of travel, more than 1000 kilometres on foot, 31 accommodations, 18 trains, ten coaches, seven cars, four planes, four boats, three ferries, three taxis, two bicycles, one motorbike, countless metros, trams and city busses, one pair of shoes, many hundreds of coffees, too many chocolates, no single cigarette and one – fortunately relatively minor – motorbike accident later I am at home. Finally.
As you know, this remark is already associated to another city and another historic incident, but we are in the year 2017, this issue is way more current and this saying simply matches perfectly to it.
Last week I have posted an article about some of my dreams for a future Europe. One of my first dreams started with the hope for more human dignity… Why on earth should we talk about dignity? Especially, when in fact we all know that Europe is the place where dignity is fundamental and part of our basic values, isn’t it? Uhm, yes… it is – mostly.
Day 80 of my journey started quite a bit grey – regarding to both the weather and my mood. Because even some sports on the mat did not help, I decided to continue the day with a for me unusual deluxe breakfast and to turn it into somewhat productive – in keeping with the motto “if the day is not sunny, then at least it should be useful”.
It was a Friday on July 1st when I recognised that it was exactly half time of my journey. Nine of eighteen weeks of traveling through Europe were over and I have spent most of the time on the Balkans so far – of course in many different countries though.
To be honest, apart from the direct neighbourhood in our housing estate I mostly remember from my living environment as a child that what you can see in the title’s picture foreground: green fields as we had on the other side of the road next to our home. A child’s eye simply is much closer to the ground than to the heaven… 🙂
I have been on the road now for almost eight weeks and have traveled approximately something about 7000 kilometers by train, boat, bus, car, plane, motorbike, bike and on foot through Europe.
Travelling from Belgrade to Bar in Montenegro by train was supposed to be a breathtaking experience. It literally was – but not as I thought it would be.
The day before yesterday I made a trip with the motorbike to Sigri, a small village located in the very west of Lesbos. It’s quite a nice route even if – at least felt – much further away from Mithimna than the indicated just 57 kilometres make you believe.
For sure Lesbos, one could think… after all this island became one of the alleged symbols for a possible failure or for a successful cooperation and solidarity in Europe, at least in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
Coffee junkies like myself probably know that situation very well. If there is no decent independent café around we sometimes enter clandestinely one of those temples of modern so-called coffee culture.
The so-called refugee crisis in Europe seems to disappear step by step from the news. On the one hand that’s good as I can’t hear this expression any more – it’s not an European refugee crisis, it’s a humanitarian catastrophe many refugees are experiencing.
What have the two and a half days of traveling by train and ferry through Europe taught me? At first the very obvious: It is quite a bit more exhausting – especially with a lot of luggage – and of course it is much slower.
Too much! No, just kidding 😉
A lot has happened since I decided to postpone my project. Personally, I have been tight up to get a grip on my health problems and I still am today. The European Union did not overcome its crisis as we all have seen with Britains vote to exit the EU as an inglorious peak so far. Overall, there is much to suggest that the world has not become less complicated or a saver place in general. Despite that fact – or perhaps precisely because of it – there has never been a more important time to take actions.
Congratulation to 60 years and one day!
“Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.” I think there is probably no better way to express what life is like. Last year the bear ate me. Due to some severe health problems I had to fight a lot – also with myself. In addition, I was forced to postpone my long planned photographic project, which was niggling me even more.
Inshallah – إن شاء الله – God willing. No, this post is neither on the islamophobic reactions which too many Europeans are living out nowadays nor it is on a personal religious awakening overnight. It’s much easier than that and far more personal. This morning at 10:45 a.m. Eurowings flight number 4U0396 with destination Dublin took off at Cologne Bonn Airport. Unfortunately, although I had a ticket I was not on board the aircraft. And no, I did not stuck in a traffic jam and therefore missed my flight. The reason I’m still sitting here at my desk, writing these lines and not enjoying a coffee in a nice café in Dublin is more complicated and serious.
Shocked. Speechless. Sad. But tomorrow is another day… and the sun will rise anyway!
A tongue-in-cheek approach to a serious issue. Mostly. I admit I did have troubles finding a title for this post preferably avoiding all forms of puns around the omnipresent word ‘Brexit’. While reflecting this, suddenly a more than fifty-year old film scene occurred to me. In that scene in the movie ‘Murder Ahoy!’ the wonderful Margret Rutherford alias Miss Marple almost bellows out the sometimes as unofficial British national anthem considered patriotic song ‘Rule, Britannia!‘, both in her own inimitable manner and with such a level of enthusiasm that even as a child I understood the importance of national pride for the British.
The German journalist Evelyn Roll recently published a polemic pamphlet with the title ‘Wir sind Europa‘ (We are Europe; unfortunately only available in German, but you can find the international version of an essay this book is based on here). On the one hand Mrs Roll gives us here a brief description on the emergence of populism and nationalism we are currently observing in many countries of the EU. On the other hand – much more interesting by the way – she critically picks at European wounds as well as our own without spreading the usual portion of pessimism. Instead, the most important and optimistic message contained in her words is: the future of the EU is in our own hands!
I openly admit that I was doubting. Or to put it another way: I am still doubting. Doubting about my project, doubting about Europe and the European Integration and sometimes doubting about the existence of intelligent life in general down here on Earth. Who should be surprised to hear that considering the daily news which are raining down on us?
As we all know, 42 is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Unfortunately, Douglas Adams has published his famous novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy back in 1979 and therefore – although undoubtedly being an exceptional visionary head – he could not anticipate the insufficient performance of future supercomputers. If he had been capable to do so, for sure he would have recognized that a simple and short question would be able to pulverize this computer-generated wisdom. This simple question is: and then?
During the Great Depression of the 1930s the world famous photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson is said to have made the following statement: ‘The world is going to pieces and people like Adams and Weston are photographing rocks!’ I’ve always liked this sentence despite the fact that it’s quite a bit snooty and disrespectful against the work of others. However, since I also have little use for landscape photography, I’m claiming to see and understand his position. For me, photography is so much more than the simple ability of recording memories or beautiful sceneries into pictures. Rather, it’s part of my confrontation with social and societal issues as well as an attempt and a language to express my own view and perspective on things; a confrontation I wanted to face within my project.
The last of the three countries of my upcoming journey will be Greece. For sure Greece, one could say. Wherever else should one go in the search for the European identity than to Greece? It’s one of the cradles of European civilization and Europa, the Phoenician princess and consort of Zeus in the Greek mythology, gave the continent its name. It’s the country of philosophers like Plato or Aristotle. It’s the place where the idea of democracy supposedly was thought for the first time – an outstanding achievement that for sure changed the world. These all… are definitely not the reasons why I want to visit Greece for my project.
In the evening of November 10th, 1989 six friends decided spontaneously to skip school next day and to leave for Berlin where history was written in those days. They packed a few things and the next morning they took off with their so-called cars – more scrap than anything – for the 550 km distance from the very western part of Germany to Berlin. More than 40 hours without sleeping and hundreds of kilometers of traffic jam lay ahead of them – as well as some of the most emotional impressions of their lives until that point. They literally intimately experienced the opening of one part of the German Wall at Potsdamer Platz on November 12th with all its stories behind. One of these young guys was me and I’m still very thankful for the privilege of being witness of this moment. The only tangible memory I still have from that day is the photo I’ve taken there which you can see above.
For all those who are confused about the title: I was born in Poland and lived there for the first seven years of my life. Some weeks ago I expressed my anticipation about visiting Ireland for the first time and explained some reasons for this choice – most of them justified by its geographical location and history. In the case of Poland the situation is quite a bit different and much more personal for me. If Ireland might be the country that I’m curious about the most, Poland will be the most emotional part of my journey. I will come back to my country of birth for the first time almost 40 years after leaving it as a child – apart from one visit to Masuria for holidays in 1995. But that’s another story…
Probably you all know this feeling. Almost everything you’ve been thinking about yesterday already sounds outdated today and will become obsolete tomorrow. The world appears to stay in the fast lane, news is overwhelming you through different media all day and neither politics nor society seems to be able to respond to the urgent questions and challenges of our time. What ist right, what wrong? Which information can I trust and whose statistics can I believe? If those who are in power obviously don’t know the answers, how could we know them? We start to feel helpless and powerless to say the least. Some become scared, some angry, others aggressive. The rest of the story is known and can be quickly told.
La liberté et la lumière sont plus fortes que la haine et l’obscurité.
This is what I currently know about Ireland: … Not too much, right? OK, of course it’s just half the truth, but it’s true enough to have at least 1000 reasons to fill this obvious gap. I’ve never been to Ireland in my life and I haven’t read a lot about it, either. Hence, without too much exaggeration, one can say that my knowledge of Ireland definitely has room for improvement. Besides the well-known clichés of all Irish being redheaded, loving Guinness, Whiskey and Gaelic Football and baring their soul in Irish Folk – irrespective of these stereotype’s doubtful truthfulness – I know little about this country.
Today I had a short chat about this and that with a German of Turkish origin. During the conversation I was joking about choosing Turkey as another country if it were a member state of the EU and Erdoğan would not act that strange politically. ‘I’m not interested in Europe at all’, she commented dryly and added immediately: ‘The world consists of so much more than Europe’. Ups. There it was again. A feeling of unanswered questions and doubts about what I am trying to do. Is the European integration really that important or do we Europeans take ourselves too seriously?
A couple of days ago my girlfriend and I passed the border between France and Spain near the French village of Cerbère. How did we know that? And which ‘border’ if any? Instantly I was thrown back to my childhood in a metaphorical sense. There was nothing else to see than the word ‘STOP’ painted in large white letters on the road as well as a few almost ruinous buildings covered with graffiti. Nothing more. But it was enough for my déjà vu and my memories of a time in Europe with passport controls and traffic jams at real borders while travelling from one European country to another. Not to mention the incessantly changing of money into other currencies. That was the Europe of my childhood.
In 2010 German chancellor Merkel named the Euro as without any alternative. ‘If the Euro falls, Europe falls’ she pointed out in addition. Is that right? I don’t know and apart from this I’m not really interested in that question here. Since I have started reflecting the world and have become interested in politics and social issues, I have been enthusiastic about the idea of the European integration. I don’t feel particularly and primarily as a German and never did. OK, leave soccer aside 🙂 . I was born in Poland and grew up in Germany. I feel as a European – and maybe for many years now as a Rhinelander, too. I call Europe my homeland and I am highly interested in all the different facets of this continent – from the geographical, social and cultural point of view.