This blog is being sent from Aachen, Germany, an historic city on the western side of Germany just a few miles from the borders with Holland and Belgium.
Let’s review the difference between the awareness of history in the US as opposed to Europe. Aside from a few historic buildings in Boston, New York, Washington, and Philadelphia, there are almost no buildings at all in the US over one hundred years old. In the major cities of Europe, there are many buildings over five hundred years old, and some over a thousand years old, which are still functional. In the US, any buildings over fifty years old are considered subject to replacement. Perhaps one could say that Americans look more to the future than Europeans who are constantly reminded of their past. However, in light of recent political moves in the US, there are efforts made by politicians to suppress and forget the negative aspects of American history.
European history is notable for its many wars between nations and religions. Many cathedrals, castles, fortresses, and ancient walls have survived those wars. The US has no buildings comparable in age or grandeur to match Europe’s memorable cathedrals, fortresses, and palaces. Historic buildings are now sources of civic pride and are popular tourist attractions. Thus tourism thrives. European residents of major cities witness reminders of their history every day.
We are visiting Aachen because it is home to my friend Rob, whom I first met in San Francisco almost a half century ago! Rob has previously visited us in Reno. He is married to a German woman and has lived in Aachen for over two decades. Following a career in the high-tech audio-visual industry, Rob is mostly retired except for teaching English parttime. Rob plays the guitar with a local big band. His wife happens to own an excellent alto saxophone. I had the pleasure playing her sax in the weekly rehearsal of the big band that Rob plays with.
I was never previously aware of Aachen’s history. It was the home of the famous emperor Charlemagne. It has an impressive cathedral, completed in 798. The cathedral (“Dom”) holds the crypt of Charlemagne and was the site of the coronation of thirty German kings. Luckily, it was relatively unscathed during World War II, unlike the rest of Aachen. The city hall (“Rathaus”) that dates from 1330 and is still in use by the local government today.
Aachen in late May is not as crowded as it will be during the summer high season. We still met many American tourists as well as visitors from other countries. There are many immigrants living in Aachen who are refugees from the wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Sweden has accepted the highest number of refugees per capita of any country, but Germany has accepted the largest overall number of refugees. One of our local taxi drivers was a Kurd. The sundry store below our hotel is run by an Afghan. I assume that Ukrainians will be the newest refugee population to seek asylum in Germany.
Susan and I are staying in a hotel in the middle of Aachen a short walk from the Rathaus and the Dom. Aachen shares one very attractive feature with many other European cities. Autos are banned from the middle of the city. It is a relief to be able to walk through the pedestrian streets without worrying about the disruption of auto traffic. My photos can tell the story of our visit probably better than I could possibly express through words. But what is difficult to capture in photos is the diversity of nationalities on the streets. There are also many very interesting small specialty shops and restaurants that scarcely exist in US cities (with the possible exception of New York City). One example of a unique shop is the Rubber Duck Store, located in Maastricht, Holland, whose photos are featured below.
Besides visiting Rob, we the pleasure of visiting a Dutch CARE Channel artist with whom I had been in email contact for several years. Erika, who markets her music under the stage name Kerani, has a beautiful music production studio with her husband Arno, located in the small Dutch village Stein, only a half hour drive from Aachen. Erika was born in Hungary, grew up in Belgium, lived for several years in Italy, and now lives in Holland. She speaks six languages, which is unheard-of in the US, but is not so exceptional in Europe. We spent the day with Erika and Arno, who took us on a tour of the nearby historic Dutch city of Maastricht. I had no prior knowledge of Maastricht except for having seen a video of a concert that took place in the Maastricht town plaza by Maastricht’s most famous musician, orchestra leader and violinist Andre Rieu.
The fact that Aachen is located close to the borders of Germany with Holland and Belgium means that many local residents are tri-lingual (German, Dutch, & French). Additional languages spoken in nearby Belgium include Flemish, closely related to Dutch but with French influences, as well as local German and Dutch dialects. Of course, most young people speak English.
Over fifty years ago, I lived for a year in Kiel, Germany, experiencing the so-called “junior year abroad.” I’ve been using my German extensively during this trip. Because my German year abroad occurred in 1969 during the height of the Vietnam War, I ended up staying out of the US for over three years to avoid the Vietnam military draft. I’m am thankful that I avoided being sent to Vietnam. I feel sympathy for those guys my age who were drafted into the army and sent to fight and possibly die the Vietnam war. Many of these Vietnam veterans have suffered from their traumatic experiences for the rest of their lives. Thus, we observe in horror the Russian attack on Ukraine, the most destructive war action since World War II.