T for Tom

These People Are Not Relics

Posted in Europe by johnsontoms on November 17, 2011

These people are not relics.  They can be touched, they talk and walk down streets just like you and I.  Their language is different, and their streets may be cobblestoned – not bricks, not concrete, but real stones that are fat, jutty, and incongruous, the kinds that give fits to women in heels whose cigarettes fall evenly in the spaces between the rock, but I’ll be damned if they don’t keep walking in heels and they never stop smoking – but they are humans, flesh and mouths that work like ours but with thousand years more practice.  They are good at what they do and they are better at picking out the Americans.  These streets, these damn hard-to-walk streets have enough color and life to write pages about the feet that have crossed their lines, and they’re filled with houses and buildings that look nothing like ours.  Age is the easiest character to recognize, walls that are wooden and without symmetry, towering high at a minimum of four stories, packed next to each other like bundled sticks, smoke pouring out the fireplaces that see much use, doors that push in and coat racks in every room, where space is at a premium because the price of comfort is not worth the expense but yes, absolutely, we will spend €2 on a bier.  And when walking down these streets next to these buildings the Americans are the loudest, the ones taking photos and gawking at the artifacts, each and every piece of a country that despite its duration is funny or obscene because it doesn’t use English on its signs or standard measurements on its coke bottles.  The pictures are the same, but the language is different.  That I assure you is the only difference.

These people pay taxes, too.  Many more taxes than we do.  These people use cellphones just like us, and enjoy a good ringtone all the same.  They gather at coffee shops and talk about getting some, just like us.  They go to the movies occasionally, drive BMWs, and they even like McDonald’s just like us, even if it’s not good for anyone.  Even though it’s in a different language.  There are dogs that bark, stores that sell winter clothes, churches with bell towers, street lights that turn from green to red, trees that drop their leaves before the first snowfall, convenient stores with the newest Playboy, trains that run east to west, plugs in the wall, cash machines on each corner, and refrigerators in every apartment just like ours.  There are the same human people just like us, but with a different language.  After a few thousand years of doing it one way they’ve just learned to do it a different way, but in the same towns and with the same buildings and the same bars.  Don’t come over here and ask them how it feels to be a German because it is the same as it feels to be an American – a consequence of where we were born and no way reflective of who we are.

Two residents of Nurnberg (Nuremberg) were kind enough to house me for a few days this past week.  Oddly enough they were Portuguese, but very capable of conversing in English and even more capable of enjoying their time in Bavaria.  Both are electrical engineers working in Germany for a company that deals largely with Japanese business, and have been in country for 10 months and some days.  They own their same Portuguese flair but eat the Schäuferle and drink the Kellerbier, and were more than happy to take us to the Zindorf brauerei to try each in the very town that they are made and sold from.  We met Antonio first at a café just outside the castle and immediately he began to speak of the dirty taxes and politicians behind them, complaining that the Euro makes less sense than the people implementing it.  I expressed to him my shame using the English language, but he assured me that no one cared, it was the common ground for many people.  Even the Russians that were hosted along with us.  Or when their Lebanese neighbor joined us.  In Germany.  I think the only thing missing was a German.  But as I am learning, they may not be the most outgoing.

There is a history in Germany that many don’t want to remember, but most can’t forget.  It is the reason I wanted to see Nurnberg, “the city of the Nazis.” There in Nurnberg were the very steps that Adolf Hitler stood on to proclaim the glory of the National Socialist Party, saluting over his troops in the Zeppelin Field in front the pillar libraries with the swastika over head on the roof of the building.  And though the swastika was famously blown off the roof following victory over Germany, the Germans themselves were responsible for tearing down much of the rest.  The arena, once lined with stands and bleachers for 200,000 people, are now rotted and overrun by bushes and grasses and only a section remains where a soccer field has been installed, used by the Nurnberg American High School that was run by the American Department of Defense.  A street runs through the middle of the field now and is lined with tractor trailers, where truck drivers everyday park their loads and get out to walk in front of the very place where World War II started and think nothing about it – it was, but it is no more.  It is almost forgotten, and would probably be gone if that didn’t cost money.  Instead, it is for nature to ruin, slowly.  The same is true for the Congress Halls, a giant horseshoe complex reminiscent of the Roman Coliseum, and the Luitpoldarena, where once was a square-kilometer of marching grounds and crested eagles but not rests an open recreational-park, with literally no remains of the concrete façade to be found, only the Frisbees that have been forgotten by the owners of the dogs that now run its greens.  Dogs that were taken by their owners on a weekend, just like us.

And maybe that’s one of the few things they’ve gotten right, and better than us.  Sundays no stores are open, but yet the people still take to the streets and patronize the bakeries and bars.  They walk, they talk, and spend their Sunday simple talking about the night before and never think about staying inside.  Why would you, on a day where there is nothing to do, do anything less than enjoy yourself outside?  It’s too easy to conjure, and where we are failing they got it right.  It helps also to walk off the hangover.  Here, the weekend is a day.  Friday is spent resting because on Saturday, well, it might be Monday until the party is over.  Drinks until 7am, food at all hours, girls smoking outside the doors underneath the signs and streetlamps, giggling with fever because maybe there is a man inside that will give them something, anything.  It could be a karaoke bar, blues bar, club, café, dance floor, sports bar, or patio and the scene is the same.  People drinking and talking.  Funny how humans tend to enjoy the same thing, everywhere and all over the world.

This is why there no dissimilarities.  When I hop on the train to come back, there is a girl wearing a wool head-cover and white headphones connected to an iPod, square-rimmed glasses that catch her straightened brown hair, and pursed lips as she curiously leads her caramel eyes up and down my outfit, trying to figure out what these strange cowboy boots are doing on my feet.  But her intent is the same as mine: go home, and live our life for another day.

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