It’s funny. Just the other day I was reading a travel book that discussed various cities throughout Central Europe. Among these destinations were the headquarters of the German government — Berlin. The information bragged of Berlin’s history, its paradox of historical magic paired with human innovation that is symbolic of the future.
I learned one or two things from the somewhat well written snippet about the city I will visit in several days. But I silently scoffed at the article’s main premise. Visit this city to see history and the future combined.
I don’t doubt the accuracy of the article, nor its intent. Maybe I read too much into it. However, I found it interesting that I’ve experienced this phenomenon for my entire journey throughout Europe thus far.
In Belgium I saw foxholes and uniforms worn by allied soldiers fighting Hitler’s vicious Nazis. I visualized my grandfather, deep in his self constructed and earthen fortification battle not only Nazi Germans, but the bitter elements of the Ardennes Forest. I felt a connection to his sacrifice, though I don’t pretend to know what he experienced. And when I stood atop a memorial for all those wounded, missing, or killed at the Battle of the Bulge — a memorial that left me in tears - I was reminded of all the questions I wish I could have asked my grandpa.
Here, I felt a haunting - a feeling that left me to consider the could be grandpas who didn’t make it home to start a family and life after the war. But even so, I felt that my questions were answered by my grandpa to the extent that he could answer them.
From Belgium and into Bacharach, Germany, I tried to picture my maternal grandmother’s ancestors along the Rhine. Whether in the festive German nightlife I observed in this quaint, yet elegant, town, or in gazing at the countless vineyards along the peaks of the surrounding hills, my heart felt at home. Here I felt the spirit of family in a merry beverage and in the company of many who felt like they too could be Geigers.
In Switzerland I saw history and beauty. The enchanting nature of the landscape left me in awe of my surroundings and my Creator, but in this environment I also felt a sense of wrath, a wrath felt by many who’ve desired to journey north and have been met with hardship not unfamiliar to Hannibal in his quest to conquer Rome.
I too underestimated the intensity of the Swiss topography when journeying on two short hikes. One included the next town over and the other included a pilgrimage to a lake fed by waterfalls, a frigid pool of water that I somehow convinced myself to plunge into in the afternoon sun. But when my eyes gazed at the towering rocks, the snow filled peaks, and the sheer beauty of this place, I left feeling that magic of history and future, accompanied by a sharp pain in both of my calves.
And in Salzburg — the city of Mozart and salt- an ancient Roman town that offers an Austrian twist on Bavarian scenery. I gazed at the greatest composer’s home. I saw the same hills he saw, the same church he sat in, and likely drank the same brew he consumed. I saw history mostly among the future when I found myself at a festival dorned with traditional food and spirits to entertain the masses. Here I heard an orchestra perform Mozart while I sipped and ate some of the best food and drink I’ve ever smelled or consumed. Here I met Austrians clod in traditional festival regalia. I loved it. Here, as I posed for a picture with my Austrian “friends,” I experienced many years of history while also feeling that the future might not change as much as we think.
At Hitler’s Eagle Nest I felt the majesty of the Alps, but also pondered the horror of the decisions made from the very structure I stood in during my time in the Bavarian Alps. Several days later while touring Dachau Concentration Camp I caught a small glimpse of what these horrific decisions actually wrought on innocent men and women.
At the top of Hitler’s mountain retreat I saw a cross with edelweiss on its intersecting point. A symbol of freedom and peace, this symbol reminded me that despite horrendous acts and atrocious mindsets, there is still some good in this world. And when I scoffed at the sign while entering the concentration camp that translates to “work sets you free” I was reminded of that cross, a cross that took great sacrifice to hoist on that mountain, but hoisted it eventually was. In both places I felt a sense of sorrow, but I was also reminded that hopefully history will inform our future so that “never again” will mean never again.
I’m not ridiculing the information I gleaned from the book on Berlin, nor am I denying its validity. With the Berlin Wall, a structure that kept millions in bondage for 28 years and symbolized an ideological, economical, political, and emotional divide, I am sure that the star city of Germany will offer great sights to see. But, what the author should recognize is that history and the future are combined in all places, no matter their location. You just have to look for it.