I spent two and a half weeks in Europe with my mom last month. What I was supposed to work on between tours and such: Darkside Seattle Hacker. What I actually worked on: I now have a new 5 book fantasy series outlined. Thanks, brain, you’re super helpful, because I didn’t have enough stuff to do.
For my trip, I visited Hungary, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands. At every stop, the biggest topic of every tour was World War 2. What buildings survived? How was rebuilding approached? What was the immediate aftermath? Why did they bomb this place?
The most striking part, for me, was the architecture. This hit me from the beginning, when I was suffering from jet lag and coming down with a cold. Budapest is a nine hour time difference from the Pacific Northwest, my friends. What else is
Budapest? A city that wound up on the other side of the Iron Curtain. I remember when the Berlin Wall fell. It happened when I was in high school. We all cheered and let politicians and the media carry our focus to the Middle East and the first Iraq war under Bush the Elder. Europe was saved and the Cold War was over, as far as us dumb kids understood. (And by that, I mean myself and those I knew who were vastly more concerned about our SAT scores and college applications.)
Upon reflection, what I saw in Budapest should have been obvious. They lived under Soviet communism for a rather long time. Most of the buildings reflect that hard fact. They still retain some of the splendor, as even Nazis couldn’t be moved to tear down the old, fancy buildings housing the thermal baths, and despite their statements, those Soviets did like a good ornate palace or two. But even decades after Hungary was released, it still bears the architectural scars of Soviet ideals. Plain, blocky buildings designed for utility rather than interest dominate the landscape. The city is currently undergoing a great deal of construction, which is a good sign, but you can tell they suffered.
Experiences like this make me proud to be an artist, even if it isn’t a visual art that I create. Art is terribly important for humanity, for the human spirit. I may not write deep social commentary, but I make the world a slightly brighter place for putting my stuff into it.
In Germany, the big issue, rightfully so, is WW2. In the 80s, students–people slightly older than myself, I might note–forced their country to reckon with its past. They wanted to talk about it and understand it. They wanted to know how Hitler rose, how he took power, what methods he used, and why it worked. How did Germany become the Third Reich? And so they talk about it. Quite a bit. Every stop in the country had museums, art installations, and memorials about the subject. The tour guides told us how Jews were treated in their respective cities. They understand how it happened and why.
Touring some of those places was hard as an American living through our current times. Though I doubt they specifically intended it, the messages seemed aimed at us. Hitler had marketing and psychological experts who crafted a message and helped him deliver it. They dreamed about making Germany great again, calling back to the time when the Germany headed the Holy Roman Empire and to the German Empire of the late 19th century. I had never truly understood why it was the Third Reich prior to this visit. (You can totally Google that, but it’s not the same as having a German explain the situation to your face while you’re looking at a Holocaust memorial.)
In Nuremburg, I surveyed the city and compared it side-by-side to pictures from 1946. That city was demolished by any measure of the word. Being able to picture the events themselves is the curse of an active imagination.
Heady, serious stuff.
It wasn’t all like that, of course. I sampled German chocolate and tried a wide variety of sausages and cheeses, plus genuine weinerschnitzel and sacher torte. I saw a number of castles, some from the inside. Bicycle rides were the highlights of my trip. The palaces made me barf with their excess and garish ornamentation.
I like to have a point when I write something, but I think my only point is here is that I’m grateful I had this opportunity and terrified about the future.
This coming weekend, I’ll be at GenCon in Authors Avenue with Jeff and copies of everything, including my two latest releases, Porcelain and Nova Ranger Academy. Stop by and say hi!