One of the primary reasons we headed to Berlin, Prague and Vienna this month was that our friend’s daughter was doing a study abroad semester in Berlin. We met up with the daughter at the end of her semester and she showed us the sites in Berlin before we departed for Prague.
One evening we met her host mother for a drink. At one point, I asked her about travel and whether she had been to the United States. “No, no. Germans don’t travel. It’s too unsafe out there,” she said. Or something like that. The sense I got was that she (and maybe other Germans) look at the United States as still being the Wild West. And, why shouldn’t they? There have been occasional stories over the years of German tourists being killed in this great country of ours. And all of the guns. And … it’s not hard to understand.
I can’t imagine a major city in the United States where I would feel comfortable walking around, through unfamiliar neighborhoods or in downtown centers. But, while we were in Europe, in those three major cities, I never felt unsafe or threatened.
It’s a weird thing. European airports don’t have as much security as American airports. The only time we experienced the body scanners was when I was selected for random extra security measures for the flight from Munich to San Francisco. I then had to go through the entire “shoes off, belt off, completely empty pockets, separate all electronics” rigamarole. Other than that, though flying into and out of European airports was like the old days.
If you read the right-wing blogs or watch the right-wing news, you would believe that Europe is overcome by teeming hordes of immigrants who are criminals, rapists, and terrorist. Or not. I saw none of this. What I saw instead was a multicultural environment in which people were trying to work and live their lives. The server at our dinner our very first night in Berlin was Middle Eastern. He apologized for his English not being as good as he would like it to be.
Every evening we were in Europe, we walked the streets, used various forms of public transportation (buses, trams, subways, taxis). Never did we feel unsafe or threatened. It’s a shame that America does not have the same feeling in its cities. There is something fundamental that we have not gotten right.