Waiting Around and Discovering the 80s

I have come to understand that waiting around for buses, trains, ride shares, planes, boats, carriages, etc. are an essential part of backpacking, or traveling in general. While these experiences usually range from slightly to extremely boring, on rare occasions it can also be widely entertaining – provided there is a TV playing VH1’s “Classic Hits”. By “classic” VH1 seems to mean the 80s and “hits” include apparently the most random songs of that decade. However, I am infinitely grateful to this program, as it turns waiting around into great fun. I had completely forgotten HOW funny the 80s were, or to be more precise, music videos from the 80s: Guys with long hair dues and tons of make-up, girls with absurd interesting short hair cuts (check out the bangs!), extreme shoulder pads and my favorite: jeans jackets that they seem to have borrowed from their boyfriends. Seriously, if you feel bored at work have some spare time, and want to laugh for a couple of minutes straight, watch some music videos from the 80s! To get you into the groove, check out one of my new faves: 

 

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Belgrade

I must have been 11 or 12 when I hear about Belgrade for the first time. I was watching the news with my parents. I remember seeing images of jets flying over some city and the word “war”. It didn’t make much sense to me at the time, but I mostly remember being very scared of a war so close to us. Each time we crossed the border from Hungary to Romania to visit my family and we saw the sign for “Serbia”, my mom would get all nervous and tell my dad to make sure he wouldn’t get on the wrong road. Since then, Serbia and Belgrade have always been synonyms for war and destruction to me.

Now, 20 years after the war, I am walking through the streets of Belgrade for the first time. I see fast food restaurants, cafes, stores. The pedestrian zone is packed with people sightseeing, shopping, meeting up with friends or playing music. Meet the new, vibrant, hip and peaceful Belgrade. It is very much a city that is “now”, but it is also a city where you can still discover the many layers of its past.

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But even if the war injuries are healing, you can still see the scars. One of the most fascinating ones I find inside Belgrade’s fortress.

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Here, inside these massive walls the different layers of Belgrade’s violent history become most apparent. The walls of the fortress are thick, strong, its interior spacious. it was clearly built to defend the city and protect its citizens. It is ironic how many times it failed to do that. The fortress couldn’t protect Belgrade against the Ottomans, nor against the Austrian-Hungarian empire, nor against WWI, nor against the invasion of German troops in WWII, followed by more destruction by the allied forces, nor against a communist dictator, nor against the Balkan war I remember from my childhood. How many times did these people have to rebuild their city? How many times did they have to try to pick up their lives again after massive destruction? How many times has the hope for peace been destroyed?

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Exposition: The Bombings of Belgrade

Sure, all of Europe has been a battleground for hundreds of years. But maybe other countries have had more time to heal than Belgrade. It is the little things that make you wonder: As somebody sets off fireworks after sunset, I can see some older people being startled. Maybe they were just surprised, but I cannot help but think that maybe it reminds them of the sound of bombs and destruction. A destruction that is well documented by various exhibitions inside the fortress, as a way to not forget the past and to hopefully never repeat it again.

I can only hope that this city, strong and beautiful as its fortress will never go through past horrors again. And I can only admire the optimism and life-embracing attitude of the people of Belgrade. As I see children in the fortress climbing on top of the displayed war tanks as if they were toys on a playground, I think that maybe there really is some hope for a peaceful future.

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War & Peace

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The Girl Who Wanted to Save the World

Her name was Lisa, she was from Berlin, and she wanted to save the world. She insisted that swimming naked in the sea was a basic human right, and she believed that the best strategy for playing chess was to have no strategy at all. “Everything is about energy and intuition,” she said while looking at me with her always serious face. She had long braids, gray cat eyes and freckles, but despite all that she never seemed playful. Life was nothing she took lightly. How can you, if you are carrying the burden of having to save the world? Even in the middle of a jungle beach paradise in Colombia where any other 23 year old would have snorkeled with the fish or danced in the moonlight, Lisa gave lectures on CO2 emissions instead. “Do you know your carbon footprint?” she asked me. “Most people don’t have the slightest idea how much damage they cause by taking airplanes,” she continued before I could even answer. She had this friend who flew from Munich to Berlin once a week, just because it was faster than driving. Her cat eyes full of with disdain for such an irrational choice, her braids whipping back and forth in disbelief. Anybody who put their personal needs before the great cause of saving the world from the devastating, all-destroying environmental disaster that was inevitably awaiting us, was irrational for Lisa. She had once been careless, too. That was before she went to Africa and learned how we were destroying our planet by flying around in planes. Africa changed her. Now she had become a world saver. “Do you know that for taking one air plane, you could take 30 buses instead and still do less harm to the environment?” She believed that if she could convince only one single person per day to change their lifestyle, sooner or later the whole world would stop using planes and become a better place. Thomas didn’t believe her. He was from Hamburg and he also wanted to save the world. He never used plastic bags and ate no meat or fish. He told anybody who wanted to listen that eating a hamburger is even worse for the climate than flying around in a private jet. But unlike firm Lisa, he had one big weakness. Thomas had fallen in love. “It makes you weak and irrational,” said Lisa. Every part of her body, even her freckles, demonstrated how little she thought of this feeling. “Now, instead of watching your carbon footprint, you are just going to get on a plane to Brazil. That’s insane!” Thomas smiled. He looked as if he had just gotten a huge compliment. Lisa was steaming now. Her freckles were glowing: “There is absolutely no reason for people to take a plane to travel to places where they can’t get by land. It’s alright if you HAVE to take one plane and there is nothing you can do about it, but just flying on vacation to Jamaica to see the country? I would never do that!” “You never want to see Jamaica?”, I asked. “No! It would completely mess up my carbon footprint, it would be an environmental sin. There is really no reason for me to go to Jamaica.” Thomas’ smile grew bigger: “And what happens if you meet a Jamaican in Berlin and fall in love with him?” Lisa rolled her eyes. That would a) never happen or if it did, she would b) end the relationship.

I can’t help but imagine how maybe 15 years from now, freckled Lisa will be watching the sunset on a beach in Jamaica, the orange sun reflected in her cat eyes, her face covered in a soft smile.

 

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