springtime wanderings

Sometimes I feel like I am living someone else’s life. The experiences I’m having don’t seem like they can be real. How can I casually say, “Last night I got back from five days in Greece”? And the week before that, Prague? Yet it’s true. This wandering life is a strange one. The places I’ve dreamed of seeing for myself are glorious, yes, as I imagined they would be – but they all have harsh, real undersides. This trip to Greece especially brought that to my attention. The islands, the Mediterranean, the mountains, and the ancient sites are idyllic; full of beauty. But the city is dirty, the government unstable, and many people live in poverty. When we were there, overflowing dumpsters lined the streets because of a recent strike. Whenever we asked about a bus departure time or when stores would be open, we got a tentative answer followed by, “but this is Greece.” The implication was that in Greece, one never knows what to expect.

It’s a stark contrast: the filth of the city and the beauty of nature. Now that I am back in Germany, I find myself contemplating the city and the people more than the gorgeous scenery. It’s a lot different here. Germany seems sterile by comparison. It presents a near-perfect image to the world: spotless sidewalks, storybook houses, excellent train and bus systems. It makes me wonder how it’s possible. I know Germany has poverty, too, but here I am not confronted daily with it in the form of cracking sidewalks, homeless people begging for a Euro or a bite to eat, and buildings on the verge of crumbling. It’s easy to forget about the poor when you live in a clean, pristine world. And in many ways, Germany is even cleaner and more pristine than the States.

Prague had visible poverty, too, and another element – it was a under a communist regime from the end of World War II until the “Velvet Revolution” in 1989. My family and I went to the Museum of Communism, which is located in the same building as a casino (irony? I don’t know, but I thought it was funny). It was a well done explanation of life under communism. The aspect that surprised me most (though I suppose it shouldn’t have) was the exhibit of cartoons and other propaganda about the United States and western Europe. They demonized capitalism just as much (or more) than America demonized communism in the ’50s and ’60s. Some of the accusations were so outlandish that they were funny – like a report blaming America for a potato famine. It claimed that U.S. planes dropped something on Czech crops that caused their potato plants to die that year. Apparently most people believed this, which is incredible, but then, under communism they had only one source of “news,” so it must have been difficult to tell truth from untruth.

I hope to post pictures later today, so stay tuned.

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