It’s the perfect place to bear the founding father’s name.
A place where people come together to be themselves without a drop of shame.
With the old man’s snare drums in motion,
And children mesmerized by the fountain as if it were an ocean.
It’s a little oasis,
For all of us who stroll these streets on a daily basis.
Beneath Broadway’s light,
Lady Liberty searches for her knight.
Perpetually watching over her people with all her might.
Because the way this place goes none of us know if tonight’s gona be our night.
But at least we’ve got this square,
A sanctuary for all of us to share.
A relic of our past and an ode to a future where we all show her we still care.
Cause she’ll never stop preaching, “Together is the best way to prevent wear and tear.”
We all have a home, here in Washington’s Square.
In today’s day and age, we are constantly connected. We now have the ability to communicate, connect and collaboration with nearly everyone and anyone whether we have crossed paths with them in our lifetimes or not. This is a gift that in the past would have been viewed as an almost supernatural power, but now we can command it from a small device that rests in our pocket.
This has led to a massive increase in access to knowledge, creation of information, a better understanding of the world and a dramatic increase in selfies per capita (SPC for short). Most of these are fantastic, but like Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Our hyper-connectivity has led each of us to learn so much more about others while consequently learning significantly less about ourselves.
I had this realization after a chat with one of my favorite people in the world in a club blaring techno music in the heart of Zurich’s red light district at around 5:30 in the morning. She shared a concept that I had never paid much attention to – that being alone is not just enlightening but beautiful. This idea camped out in the fields of my mind for the next few days.
Fate would have it that my next stop would be in the Austrian town of Innsbruck which gently rests in the valley of the alps. I traveled here alone, and for the first time in a very long time I was the only person I knew in a place I knew nothing about.
I rode the cable car up to a midway point on the mountain where it lets you off, then you make your own way to the top. You can hike, climb or simply sit. I made my way to the top where I found myself completely captivated and awe struck. I sat on a rock and simply was. There was an array of birds chirping in harmony as if they were in a choir. Other than that, just silence. The silence was the perfect pairing for the sight that laid before me. Monstrous mountains topped with intermittent snow caps at each peak that were caressed by the clouds.
At that moment the words of my friend which had been marinating in my mind made total sense to me in my own way. In that moment it was just me, the scenery and the occasional passerby. I felt really alive and was overcome with a sense serenity that I am not sure if I’d felt before. Right there on that rock I think I found beauty in being alone. Alone, lonely or isolation are all terms that I believe get a bad rap. For when you really ponder it being alone is essential to finding out who you really are. With no outside distractions you can be at peace with your thoughts and look deeper into who, why and where you are in life.
I hope you can find the right moment to disconnect; be alone somewhere to see if it allows you to figure out who you are too.
Ever since I first stepped foot in the Paris it stole my heart. I have always loved and admired the way this city and its people place such an emphasis on fine tuning the ascetics of life. I know what you are thinking “but isn’t that all the French care about?” And you know what I really don’t think so but even so does it really matter? Because when you eat here it is not just a meal it’s an edible artistic experience. When you walk the streets here you are in awe of the city’s immaculate presentation and the inspiration around every corner. When you shop here you find things you have never seen or maybe only dreamed of. The magic of the city is undeniable. In fact, the list of master creators that have been inspired by life in Paris reads like a best of all-time list – the same people every high schooler learns about in Humanities class.
On this visit the streets were covered with a stifling amount of people who congregated around the French capital for very different reasons. First, you had the chic members of the high fashion world clad in all black and rarely seen with a smile. Second, you had soccer fans bursting with pride and gripping onto the hope of a Euro Cup 2016 victory. As fascinating as the stark contrast between these two groups was, the limelight was stolen by a third group – the military.
The military presence itself felt stifling. They traveled in packs of three or more and with their finger never too far away from their loaded automatic weapons. They were on street corners, every large public gathering and even on trains in the metro. Seeing the city of love living in fear and ripe for aggressive military actions was a hard pill to swallow. That said, the recent threats and the magnitude of the events being hosted by the city at this time seemed to justify the military presence.
Since I had visited several cities that have been recently been affected by acts of terror, I had a very tangible view of how terrorism is shaping the current political and cultural landscape in Europe. It’s sad that in a time when we need to work together many people’s reaction is to shun others that don’t believe, look or act like them.
French poet Victor Hugo once said “toleration is the best religion”. Now, more than ever we need to keep that at the forefront of daily lives. If we let fear control us, then the battle is already lost.
Our first stop in Germany was Hamburg. Since its inception it has been a vital seaport, and to this day still beats with the heart of a sailor. You can feel the toughness and grit of the place the moment you step out in the streets. There is nothing fancy about it. Hamburg is a “what you see is what you get” kind of place. The people of Hamburg are rough, hardworking and not necessarily the kind that take too well to joking around. Even though the Library of Congress disputes this fact, White Castle restaurants says it traces the hamburger’s origin back to this old shipping town. So, naturally we had to look for one as soon as we had locked away our things at the local backpackers’ hostel. We came across a place called Saints & Sinners and we each had three different variations of an exquisite burger. True or not, believing that the iconic sandwich was conceived here made it taste that much better. At the end of this meal we came to the shocking conclusion that many businesses in Germany do not except credit cards, and that cash is not only king, but in most cases your only option. Luckily my all-knowing mother had prepared me with ample Euros before I left. This was the first realization of the many stark cultural differences we would soon discover here.
The only knowledge I had of Hamburg before arriving there was of the many shows the Beatles played there before the British Invasion. On Reeperbahn street, which is what seemed to be a Germanic version of Bourbon Street, are sleek hollowed out (silhouettes) of the Fab Four paying homage to the times they graced the town before they became bigger then Jesus in Germany.
Hamburg, and what I would soon find out, Germany as a whole was the first place on my journey where I didn’t feel welcomed. This was a city build on blue collar work that takes great pride in their beloved nation’s past, present and future.
That pride is more visible here than anywhere else I had visited in Europe. This was the first country that hung their flags out their windows. They even had German flags them waving off their cars just like we do back in the states to cheer on our local football team. Smiling locals were pretty hard to come by… until they started drinking. Once they were sauced up the people seemed to be jolly, loud and remove their hard outer shell. Yes, we all get similar effects after we have a few, but here it was much more visible that the weight of their world was lifted off of their shoulders the deeper they dove into their night.
From Hamburg we traveled to Berlin a place which is a place I had read a lot about before but soon realized I knew very little about. If you flip through the pages of a world history book you will notice a disproportionate amount of the chaos over the last century stems from a single location – Berlin. This city has found and lost itself many times in many different ways since its inspection and has treasures, triumph and scars unlike any other modern city. Berlin is now the thriving centerpiece to a country that is the economic overlord of Europe. Even with that the effects of its past transgressions are visible throughout the cityscape. When you are attentive to it you see how it shapes the lives of those who dwell there today. It’s a city where the people seem to have done their very best to forget about the horrors their nation once fueled and focus on the potential of Germany’s future.
It is a city that for decades was separated by a wall that represented much more than just a border between nations, but a stark line drawn between two polarized views on life. Talking to some locals I learned that the ideological divide that the wall created is in some cases still seen today between those who are from the West and East making Berlin a city with a shared heart but split personalities. I figured there was no way better to truly experience this Germanic pride then fully amercing myself in what is a national celebration. So, I watched the German nation soccer team’s opening match of EuroCup 2016 on a massive screen lit up behind the Brandenburg Gate with over 10,000 of their most invigorated supporter.
The emotions of the entire nation weighed on each roll of the ball. This national pride was something I have never really experienced so closely before. It felt much more like they were cheering for their country to prove its dominance as a whole rather than just on the soccer pitch. I’ve been lucky enough to have a been a several high stakes sport events, but never have I seen or felt the kind of intensity that was buzzing here. They roared when Germany scored, and collectively gasped when Ukraine had the faintest chance of scoring a goal. The man behind us grabbed us and yelled “If you’re not here to watch futbol, then you leave!” as my friend and I casually turned to each other to comment on a play. The intensity was embodied in the multitude of “Deutschland chants” throughout the match as Germans from all over the country ravenously participated in this nearly religious event.
Germany stands out as a beacon of hope that shines through the uncertinty and turmoil which are indicative of modern life. They are a nation that is dedicated to not letting their past define them and one that is taking the lead in securing a stable and peaceful future for not just themselves but for the world.