Part of the enthusiasm behind the recent trip has been to "reconnect with one's roots." This phrase, as related to a tree, is somewhat misleading. We have been (and will be) walking around in the same places that were once “home” to our ancestors. It is an interesting feeling to visit such places. Really, traveling back to one's roots is not possible, at least beyond a generation or so. What we have really been doing is migrating from one equally-high branch to another, and in the process, gotten an additional perspective of the trunk from which we all have sprung. Let me elaborate…
As we depart the first leg of our time in Germany, we think back about the relatives who came from this nation: for Jake and Jeannette the Kleins, Reavys, and the Fundels among others; for Rich the Dusts. All of these people migrated to the United States during the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Since that time, the world has witnessed two great wars and the dawn of technologies including electricity, commercial flight, and the internet to name just a few. These developments among many others have fundamentally changed the ways we do business, the ways we communicate with one another, and the ways in which we view the world. For us to travel back in time in our own communities to the mid-to-late nineteenth centuries would be a completely foreign experience, let alone to cross the Atlantic Ocean and do the same thing. Both we on our side of the Atlantic, and those in our families who stayed on theirs, have had generations evolve and grow and experience and react to the world in different ways. If Anthony Rübe were to visit 2009 Germany, he would find a completely different place from the Germany he left.
Today was an interesting day in Munich as it was not just an ordinarily busy Saturday, but also coincided with the Munich version of Gay Pride. I joked that Hitler's bones were shuddering in their grave (if such a grave exists) and that Ludwig II's were dancing to “YMCA.” This is but one more example of how things change, and in the grand scheme of things, in a relatively short period of time.
Perhaps the reason we have most enjoyed getting out into the country is because here time seems to move a bit more slowly. Mount Zugspitze has probably looked much the same for thousands of years, and the constantly regenerating forests of Bavaria probably do not look much differently to us than they did to our ancestors. Despite the dawn of electricity and other technologies, rural areas seem much more timeless. I imagine the smells are pretty much the same as well.
European Sense of Time
I haven't really experienced anything new here, but it is again worthy of mention. With only a few exceptions (railroad time being the most notable), generally people here are not much in a hurry about anything. When it gets done, it gets done. This could range from arranging a travel reservation, to getting a room ready, to waiting on a table, to bringing the bill, to cashing out a table. There rarely seems a sense of urgency about much of anything. (Again, railroad time is an exception to this rule. Perhaps Mussolini left a legacy that impacted the rest of Europe on this issue.)
In contrast, in the United States, we constantly (at least in the North) seem to be time-conscious. When we want something, we want it now. I wonder how much money and energy are wasted on making sure that every whim is able to be instantly gratified. What if we relied more on rail and less on freight trucks to deliver materials across the country? It would certainly free up the highways, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and increase shipping efficiency. The downside? Well, aside from losses in the trucking industry, we (consumers) would probably have to wait an extra 12-24 hours to get what we want.
Perhaps because we are such a young country, we don't have an appreciation for the length of the story of which we are a part. After all, it was not the “traditionalists” out there who made the landmark decision to gamble on crossing the big pond in the first place. Hector St. John-de Crévecoeur wrote in “Letters from an American Farmer” that in the new land he saw people of multiple ethnicities living and working in harmony in ways that would have been unimaginable in the Old World. “What then is this American, this new breed of man?” he asked, and then proceeded to argue that the “American identity” existed in random pockets of the world long before the country did. In other words, when given the choice of settling for the status quo or making a change, often involving great risk (“our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor” – Mayflower Compact), our countrymen have usually opted to take the risk.
So, to the rest of the world, we are probably sometimes viewed like the typical rebellious teenager. “Give me what I want, right now, and I deserve it.” Let me suggest that this might not be an entirely bad thing. Perhaps our relative youthfulness has allowed us to “dream bigger.” Think of the technologies mentioned previously… the electric light, the airplane, the internet, as well as other advances such as vaccines, organ transplants, and putting man on the moon. These and other technologies have been exported wholesale to the rest of the world. On the other hand, traveling throughout Europe, I see a place that has much more reverence for the planet. Efficient heating systems, automobiles, and wind-energy are far more common here than at home. In Germany, for example, most toilets offer two flush options. Push 1 for #1 and push 2 for #2. Why waste the same amount of water when each flush doesn't require it? I remember in elementary school seeing a graph of energy usage per capita and noticing that the amount of fossil fuel used by Americans as compared to people throughout the rest of the world is disproportionately high. What might be surprising to many is that we could drastically reduce the energy we consume without making a drastic sacrifice in quality of life. Getting back to the point that started this ramble… it all boils down to a little bit of patience. This can be a tough lesson for most teenagers, but I think it is one worth learning.
The rest of the world seems to have a love-hate relationship with America. As critical of America as others seem to be, there remains a kind of adoration toward many things American. We walked by a storefront in Munich with a big sign: “American Apparel.” In the window were a series of mannequins dressed up like Punky Brewster. Perhaps off by a couple decades, but the fascination is still there. During our breakfasts, the DJs always speak in German, but we have listened to music ranging from Pink to Blondie, from MGMT to Kings of Leon, from ABBA to U2. Heck, our hotel was named “Hotel Atlanta” for crying out loud. So, our ideas may not have been embraced in the rest of the world, but our “stuff” and our contributions to entertainment most certainly are.