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Wednesday, 05 September 2012 08:02

Bosnian summer – A European travel journal Pt. 1

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"Travelling Europe" is what many students name as their favourite summer activity. But where is Europe? Geographically a broad approach still seems possible; politically and as a question of identity, borders are reached far quicker. This summer I tried to find Europe outside the EU setting. I travelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country that has always been a passage for European nations, that has seen some of the most brutal crimes of the 20th century only twenty years ago and that is still struggling to reconnect the former warring parties. I wanted to see the process of reconciliation and the rapprochement towards the rest of "Europe" as it is carried out by our generation. Here is my quest for a European identity in a country that hardly knows its own:

Part 1: Beautiful and Damned – Mostar and the Herzegovina

The very first thing I notice about Bosnia and Herzegovina is that it is strikingly beautiful. Crossing the south western border from Croatia by bus, I am half expecting to see the same grey and slightly shabby buildings you still find in some Ex-Soviet countries. But the houses here are newly built, and with the rocky, richly green mountains behind them, you could picture being somewhere in Austria or Slovenia. Between the cliffs runs the bluish-dark green Neretva river; here rather shallow with sandbanks of white gravel. Behind the houses, vineyards climb up the hillsides. Open market stands offer fresh fruit at the sides of the streets.

But the image changes dramatically when the bus reaches the first town, Čapljina. The old multiple dwellings still show holes from shell fire. Colours are completely missing, the houses scream for renovation. Later I find out that the concentration camp Dretelj was in this area. The war has left its scars.

WAR TOURISM

From here on, the war won't let go of me anymore. I made a resolution not to write about it and only investigate the future of this region. But I have to give it up before even unpacking my suitcase. Reaching Mostar, my landlady picks me up at the station and immediately starts talking about the fighting in the area, pointing out ruins and front lines on our way to the hostel. A war tour with her son is scheduled for the next morning. War tourism is what everybody expects me to do.

Bosnia and Herzegovina's economy never actually recovered from the war: today the unemployment rate is higher than 40 percent and the economy suffers from a lack of investment and too much bureaucracy and corruption. I try to order Mostarsko beer from a restaurant's menu - the waiter shakes his head with a sad smile because the brewery went bankrupt a few months ago.

"Mostar had five factories before the war, now there are none left," tells me Nino, our tour guide, who was six when the war started. Everybody here is an expert on the war, everybody has a personal story to tell and thus, with more and more tourists coming, they live off the war. But when I ask Nino why the war happened in the first place he shrugs and says with his slight stutter: "I don't know. Before the war we had everything: jobs, health care, free education. I guess the Serbs attacked."

Thursday, 12 April 2012 06:00

Learn to speak European!

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Is there such a thing as "speaking European"? How does our identity as Europeans affect our everyday lives? And is there actually a difference between German Frikadellen and Turkish Köfte?

These are some of the questions we asked ourselves at our workshop in December - and now, we're launching a special section of the website to present you with our ideas. Among other things, you'll find a European cookbook, a comic strip about transnational love, and a guide to Berlin. Plus you'll discover how our participants see their personal futures in Europe - from Laura, who comes from Romania and is studying in the UK to become a journalist, to Sezin from Turkey, who says she knows the recipe for happiness... And if you're really serious about speaking European, you can get stuck into our European Dictionary or listen to our multilingual poem.

A very special part of the project is our film, What do you believe in?, a mini-documentary in which the participants tell us whether they believe in God, love, stories or laughter - and why.

So: happy reading! Does this understanding of Europe match your own experiences? Tell us with a comment and we can add it to our collection of speaking Europeans! 

And look out for news of our next event in the not too distant future!

“Do you speak European?” At times one may think that there is an easy answer to this question: no, I speak German. But there are also times when one may wonder if this easy answer is right or even good: the “Do you speak European” workshop is one of these times. When different people come together from different places to experience being together with all senses – they act together, sing together, dance and cook together – there is certainly something, be it a common language or a just a common state of mind.

Tina (Germany - leader of the workshop)

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Photo: Tina Gotthardt

Did this workshop fulfil your expectations?

I would say that it even exceeded my expectations. I was afraid that people might not be eager to work or to cooperate in multinational groups. But there were no objections. Everyone was really excited by the opportunity of working together in mixed groups. The only problem we had was punctuality, because some of the people got used to coming late. But in fact everyone was working very independently. And what makes me most satisfied is that everyone was enjoying their work.

What was the funniest moment of the workshop?

For me it was when people were presenting their ideas for a European Snack and the marketing strategy for it. They were doing it with real passion. And when it came to defending it in front of our judges it made me laugh so much that I couldn’t even take photos.

Thursday, 22 December 2011 08:46

Life on a piece of paper

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Today was the fourth day of the “Do you speak European?” workshop and it was one of our favourites so far: Today, we talked about life and love. What does life mean to young Europeans? How do you see it? How would you draw your future life on piece of paper? These were some of the questions we tried to answer today, and the result was a really funny and multicultural exhibition of visions about life. Let us introduce you to four different drawings we thought were particularly fascinating.

When you looked over the works exhibited on the walls, a very colourful one would draw your attention: Kristi’s perception of her future life. “I chose a rainbow, because everybody has a rainbow in their life. Every single colour represents something important for my life.”

If Kristi’s drawing caught your eye with colours that hide a deeper meaning, you could find a different approach to life from Cristina. “I drew a boat as a metaphor of life and I’m the captain of my own life. I choose when to start a trip, I choose my destination and the people I let into my life."

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