< SWITCH ME >
"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.
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."
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)
|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.
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."
What do you believe in? That was the question posed to us today early in the morning. In principle this question can draw our thoughts to the idea of religion (if we have one); however, as was explained with Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa quotes, it was more than that. At the beginning I thought, "oops, this is going to take me time to figure out." Luckily it wasn't too bad! Surprisingly, in just a manner of seconds I knew exactly what I wanted to write: "I believe in love and trust, because I think they are the key to happiness." The reasons why this came to my mind would take me another article. I just have to say that my beliefs come from my life experiences, that is what life has taught me.
"I believe in love and trust, because I think they are the key to happiness."
"Are you hungry? – Are you European?" The inventors of EuropeAndMeal presented their idea of a multinational sandwich. They had entered the competition to find "The future European snack", the next big thing in Europe's food industry. And, somehow they managed to convince a very harsh jury of well-known cooks, food critiques and experts for European identity from the University of Leiden.
Today, the "Do you Speak European?" workshop was all about food and traditions in Europe. When it comes to birthdays though, we should almost hope that not all national practices will make their way into a common European culture - they can be quite disturbing! In Poland you get hit with a belt on your 18th birthday, in Germany you get publicly humiliated if you are not married at 30 and in Spain people might pull you by the ears. Marriages can be challenging as well: In some regions of Romania people dance with chickens on their heads and in Slovenia men debate about the price they would pay for the bride… if you are really unlucky, it is just around 400 Euros.
We're debating efficient ways of changing the future of young people across Europe today with half of us sitting on tables, attentively following the course of the discussion. Well, most of us that is. The white cable thrown across the floor of the conference room leads to a girl with curly hair who is sitting underneath a table. She grabs the cable and connects it to her computer, takes a breath of relief, and gazes at the screen.
Kristi, a 19 year old Slovenian, studies graphic design at the Slovenian Academy of Arts in Ljubljana. I suppose you are wondering what she's doing under the table? Well, she's cutting and pasting footage for a video presentation. During the afternoon, some of us have heatedly debated the pros and cons of occupying public squares, philosophised about contemporary European literature and even written a pan-european poem.
In the couple of hours we had, we also explored songs from different European countries and created a unique music video of our own. The group members taught each other to sing in a different European language: be it Romanian for a Pole or Turkish for a Slovenian. Matt, Editor of Sixth Sense, apparently speaks Romanian with a Moldavian accent! After a few tongue-twisting hours, everything was taped and it then was up to Kristi to make the final edit. (The result will be published in our special workshop edition, coming soon!) Later on, we caught her for an interview:
Nine o’clock and the reception of the Sunflower Hostel was buzzing with excitement. The newly formed group of 24 young Europeans was ready to go.
Awakened by the cold, and after a short journey through the maze of Berlin’s streets, we arrived at the Hertie School of Governance – our location for the E&M workshop.
We paired up after the introduction speech. It was time to turn into noisy ‘journalists’ for five minutes and find out as much as possible about the person sitting next to us. Some shared the nostalgia of a city they both loved and visited. Others found different meanings for similar words.
With a flair for details, everyone managed to unravel at least one particular thing about their interviewee. The person sitting next to us was no longer a name from a country, but a friend with whom you share passions and know personal things about. Someone was ‘afraid of spiders and the dark’, others liked ‘The Butterfly Effect’ and ‘Love actually’, many felt more comfortable among foreigners than in their own countries and many study or have already studied abroad.