April 18, 2016
By Arthur H. Gunther III
Having just returned from a family trip to Germany and Austria, and immediately thrown as an American into the country I cherish, the horizon has been expanded that I cannot fully come back. One half the mindset is elsewhere.
I realized this even before I left Weiden, near Nuremberg in Bavaria, where I was staying. On a walk into the dairy and farm country that surrounds, I was cast back to my youth in the once rural county of Rockland, New York State. The landscape was so very familiar, and as I did when a child, a solitary walk took me to a spot near the rise over a meadow not unlike what I saw at age 8 near my grandfather’s house in Spring Valley. The utter quiet, the smell of just-turned soil ready for spring planting and the great horizon that is analogous to your own future journey in life were delicious. Peaceful. Reaffirming. There was an immediate bond with this part of Germany and the nation of my Gunther forebears.
While ingesting the landscape I looked at what was in two pants pockets — in the right front pocket, a few Euros, distinctly shaped money that is now the currency in much of Europe and the equally few U.S. dollars I still carried in my back pocket. The dollars seemed odd, out of place, which they were. Before my trip, I saw dollars as the supreme way to pay bills, have security, more than get along in America. Here in Weiden, the Euros were that means. Returning to the U.S., I took out both my dollars and Euros and put the European currency aside as a souvenir and placed the dollars in my right front pocket. Yet the money now feels different.
It is American all right. So is what remains of the landscape in now suburban Rockland. But having taken a journey abroad; having meet truly wonderful people, so industrious and non-nonsense yet quite fun-loving; having seen the growing diversity in Munich and Salzburg and Nuremberg; having dealt with efficient and quite helpful shopkeepers; having lived a bit as a German does, I can no longer just pull the dollar out of my pocket and think as an American.
There is so much more going on in the world than my cherished birth nation. Germany, for example, is largely off the power grid, producing powder by wind and solar. Its new homes are highly insulated, many made of fireproof concrete. The electrical and plumbing systems are built for 100 years. Drivers must pay a few thousand dollars to train for the roads, and they are very good on the highway, driving fast, as allowed, but giving way, signaling, etc. If I were to visit other nations, there would be much to learn as well, much for our own nation to consider, perhaps adopt.
Our America is a nation of immigrants, so many from Europe, and we have both protected and served as a democratic example for the world. But we are not the beginning and the end, and we should be humble about receiving from other peoples as well.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at email@example.com This essay may be reproduced.
I’m so glad you had this wonderful trip. When we went to Russia it was also such a moving experience to see where your roots are. And yet, even though we speak Russian, and internally identify ourselves as Russian, we were still identified as Americans. Such a mix of emotions and such a mixed identity! But this is what makes America great, and why my parents chose to come here, as opposed to staying in France.
You are so right, Xenia! I wish all the peoples of the world could travel and see one another. So much hatred, distrust would disappear.