I went to a conference in Brussels organized by my friend Justus Wesseler. He wanted to introduce me to his roots in Germany, so we traveled to his mother’s house near Munster, which is 300Km from Brussels. It may take 2.5 hours as there is no speed limit on the German Autobahn and some drive 130mph. Justus drives slowly, only 80 MPH, and indeed the road to Munster took only about 3 hours. The way back took twice as long as – traffic jams.
I was surprised that many of the vehicles were small French and Italian cars. Justus explained that parking in the city is tougher for larger cars. They also require higher taxes and fuel costs, so the Germans joke that Mercedes are produced by Germans for the U.S. and China.
Munster and the cities around it are beautiful. Munster was ranked recently as the most livable city in the world. People ride bicycles all over, and there are many parks and memorials. It became famous for the Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the 30 Years’ War (a conflict between Catholics and Protestants from 1618 to 1648). I visited the beautiful room in which this peace treaty was signed. (photo of the building and the room are below). The treaty recognized the principle of separation church from state and established co-existence between Catholics and Protestants. Before the war the fundamental Protestants behaved much like ISIS and established a reign of terror (beheadings, etc) but then were defeated and hanged. Nothing new under the sun.
Today the city and the area around it are magnets to the old (supposedly to the young too – but I did not see them). I reduced the average age by a lot. We visited Justus’ mom, Elfride, who lives in exquisitely neat and clean converted farm house, with a piano and beautifully arranged arts, flowers and furniture. Only a few of the people in the village are full time farmers. The others started middle size firms or are professionals and their old barns and animal sheds have been transformed to charming residence.
Elfride is a young 78 who is still running after deer who eat her vegetables (and curses them- her late husband hunted them as you can see below). She reminded me of Hana, my late mother in law. She is a Duracell lady, who blamed me for electing Trump and cursed him, and baked a wonderful strawberry cake. She spends half her time in her perfect garden making sure that falling leaves are instantly removed. According to Justus the she also sends letters to politicians – demanding cleaner safer and more humane municipality.
I stayed in a Hotel Dreyer Garni, in a nearby resort town, Bad Rothenfelde. The city has unique mineral water that are pumped and released down a long ( 350 meters) and tall (15 meters) wall. On the way down they are slowed by plants and release oxygen and other gases that improve breathing (see the wall below). I went around the wall, and met there many other seniors ( some were pumping weights or exercising) and the fresh air kept me awake. I also enjoyed the flowers and monuments in the area. I saw at least three memorials to the soldiers who fell in the first world war- but not to those who died in the second one. I spoke with several Germans and they have a sense of shame and guilt about the war- and for democratically choosing Adolph ( actually someone said to me- “democratic rule does not assures good choices”). People also spoke with me about Israel, and showed admiration to Israel’s success ( Justus showed me an article in the local paper “what Germany can learn from Israel”, relating to water conservation). Yet speaking with younger Germans I found that supporting Israel is becoming more clouded in light of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Despite the Hitler stain, Germans are quite proud of their heritage- and the great scientists, musician and scholars they produced. They believe that Göttingen university, is at least as great as Oxford, Cambridge or Padua (where Galileo’s s taught and Copernicus studied) and new comers like Harvard and Berkeley. Indeed their mathematics team with Gauss, Riemann and Hibert and von neumann is tops, they have Heine, the Brothers Grimm and Schopenhauer in the humanities. Two of the greatest physicists of the University of California, Oppenheimer and Teller also studies there.
Unlike my last visit to Italy where wearing a Warriors T-shirt led to many high fives (especially after winning a title), here almost no one was aware or seemed to care about the NBA (some heard about Nowitzki). But unlike Italy, soccer is the only game in town. In Germany, people may play basketball and other sports but their regional pride and identity is expressed by their soccer team. But sport is not everything. The Germans I met are part of team Europe and want the EU to succeed. They see it as the best way to express their unique capability, protect them from their worst tendencies, and form a power to counter the giants (Russia, China, and now perhaps the US). While the Chinese and Russians were always suspect, the Germans and other Europeans viewed the US as a naïve (maybe idealistic) and friendly giant – but now with Trump, the naivete stays but the friendliness is gone.
I am on my way from Washington now. I enjoy these trips – need to take them more – but I also miss home. I’ll be on the road quite a bit this summer for several conferences and consulting assignments, with most of July dedicated to the Beahrs’ Environmental Leadership Program.