Back to the past during an archeological excursion in Trier
One might get dazed by the mind-boggling span of time covered by an archeological museum. The one in Trier undauntedly starts in pre-historic times before dwelling at length on the brilliance of the Gallo-Roman civilisation which apparently fluidly merges (was that so?) into early Christian times.
Because of the sheer solidity and beauty of some of the Roman artefacts it is tempting to believe that true grace & dignity “can never pass into nothingness but will still keep a bower quiet for us. and a sleep, Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”
However, historic timelines ruin the illusion, cruelly counting the number of times Trier was destroyed: in the 5th Century by Germanic Franks (5 times) and by the Huns. And after a return to splendour under Charlemagne the timetable then marks the year 882 with a brief devastating comment; “Vikings destroy Trier during Easter week (worst of 12 major destructions in all)”. Afterwards, destruction is meted out by WWI and WWII bombings (“40% of structures flattened, an additional 35% damaged”).
But humankind is resilient - unswayed by the succession of disasters, archaeologists & art historians gather the fragments and tirelessly reconstruct a parallel human history of arts & crafts, of traditions & believes, a ”Geistes-geschichte”.
And so an imaginative museum visitor can still pass, with equal admiration, from the vestiges of the antique world to the remains of the Christian medieval world. From a happy pagan world to a suffering devout medieval humanity? Surely not, the ancients “lived under the shadow of tragedy” as much as medieval man feared his God.
But maybe from a stoic world to a more empathetic world? Or so I am musing, not for the first time, in front of a heart breaking pieta, with a Madonna holding her dead son on her lap.
Contemporary reality bursts in: a rowdy class of school children has entered the room, and is spilling over into the next. The teacher doesn’t take long to re-assert his authority, with one boy charged to lead back stray pupils from the next room “hé les gars, il faut venir par ici, il s’agit de Jésus Christ”
Most of the pupils faithfully troop again around the teacher. It’s a French-speaking class - from Northern-Eastern France? or from Belgium, Verviers perhaps? Judging by his accent, the teacher is of Italian descent. The majority of the pupils seem to have African or North African roots. Most of the girls wear headscarves – in different shapes and colours. One girl is dressed from top to toe in a black dress – she’s excitedly showing something on her smarthphone to her friend, who is dressed in skinny jeans and a leather jacket.
The teacher is guiding his troops brilliantly through Western cultural history. With admirable enthusiasm & clarity he explains medieval iconography - the role of Judas, the passionate veneration for the Madonna. With gravity he admonishes his fidgety teenage pupils “il faut toujours respecter les images et les symboles, même si ce sont ceux des réligions des autres » .
When waiting in a queue, sitting down in a café, or walking by a newsstand – there’s no escaping the ardent German refugees-debate on TV and in the papers. With German thoroughness all angles are shown and investigated: from moving refugee tales and stories of altruist relief over instances of petty self-interest & duplicity to sectarian fights in asylum centres. From deep empathy to an even deeper seated fear of being swept away by the sheer size and momentum of this exodus. Lofty moral obligations inspired by “history standing in judgment” vie with rational real-politik.
The FAZ analyses the question with irrefitable logic “ Wenn man sich weniger attraktiv macht, denn wird der Ansturm geringer. […] [auch] im Fluchtgeschehen spielt das Gesetz von Angebot und Nachfrage. Wenn ein Land wertvolle öffentliche Güter wie Sicherheit und Daseinsvorsorge Bürgern anderer Staaten in Aussicht stellt, dann darf es sich nicht wundern, wenn diese Einladung von Hunderttausenden angenommen wird”.
The next day, on Saturday, scanning a German morning paper, I first think it’s an old one – what with this small article mentioning "18 dead in Paris attacks"?
Checking the news on-line, my heart misses a beat – at least 120 dead.
Killing unsuspecting people during their Friday night out is indeed easy.
Europe has had decades of (relative) peace, Europe seemed to have managed to tame its old nationalist demons.
Who on November 13th in 1915 would have dared to hope that 100 years later France and Germany would be playing a friendly football game with France’s president chatting with a German minister while watching the game? But then again, who in 1915 could have foreseen that 100 years later religious fundamentalists would spread terror in Paris, randomly killing people in bars, restaurants and a concert hall.
Shall Europe manage? Is a peaceful super-diverse society überhaupt possible? Can we preserve our pluralist free societies? How many liberties and illusions are we going to lose while combating terror?
Shall Europe manage?
In any case, let’s stick to the Parisian motto “Fluctuat Nec Mergitur”