Jews In Europe, Again

On Saturday, a gunman in Copenhagen went on a rampage at a free speech event and then shot and killed a Jewish man guarding a synagogue before being killed by police; Danish authorities think he may have been trying to recreate last month’s murderous attacks at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, and a kosher supermarket, in Paris.  On Sunday, hundreds of Jewish tombs were desecrated in eastern France.  Surveys of Jews in Europe show increased worries about anti-Semitism, and a recent hidden camera video shows a Jewish man being insulted, spat upon, and threatened as he walked the streets of Paris.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded to the Denmark incident by calling for Jews to emigrate to Israel; he said Jews deserve protection in every country but warned that the attacks will continue.  Some Jewish leaders in Europe rejected that call, arguing that, in one man’s words, for Jews to leave Europe would be handing Hitler a “posthumous victory.”  They contend, instead, that Jews should remain and advocate for increased democracy, vocal rejection of anti-Semitism by governments in the Eurozone, and increased police protection of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries.

What should Jews do?  No one is predicting a second Holocaust — but no one predicted a first Holocaust, either.  No one wants to retreat in the face of depraved and murderous attacks, but would you want to continue to expose your family and children to potentially unsafe conditions and a culture in which slurs and physical intimidation are increasingly commonplace?  It’s an impossible individual choice, being made against the dark historical backdrop of genocide that happened on the European continent less than a century ago.

The burden instead must fall on governments to stop Europe from backsliding into hell.  Protest marches and public pronouncements are nice, but more must be done to stop the anti-Semitic wave, demonstrate the commitment to a Europe that welcomes and includes Jews, culturally and politically, and aggressively identify and prosecute the perpetrators of street bullying, vandalism, shootings, and every other anti-Jewish criminal act.  Americans can reinforce that message by not spending their money in Europe unless action is taken.

If people are to leave the European continent in the wake of an anti-Semitic wave, it should be the wrongdoers, not the persecuted.

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Eurotrip 2011: Copenhagen

The Distortion music festival.

When I checked into my hostel in Copenhagen, the receptionist asked if I came for the music festival.

“What music festival?” I asked him.

He explained that Copenhagen was halfway through the 5-day Distortion electronic music festival. He marked down on my map where the festival would be taking place that night. It sounded interesting, so I bought a few beers (very expensive, like everything else in Copenhagen) and headed over.

I immediately liked the festival. There were numerous dance parties around different DJs scattered around the neighborhood. They were playing songs I liked (such as “Windowlicker” by Aphex Twin), and, despite the energetic dancing and club-style music, there was a friendly atmosphere. I saw a guy wearing an Ohio t-shirt, so I went up to him and asked if he was from Ohio. He was just a local wearing an Ohio shirt, for some reason, but he shook my hand and yelled “go Buckeye State!”

I was standing in the crowd, enjoying the music, when a young guy asked me something in Danish (the Northern Europe segment of my trip is also the segment in which I’m often mistaken for a local). When he learned that I was a foreigner at the festival by myself, he invited me to hang out with him and his brother. So, I spent the rest of the night with Michael and Martin and their friends. We ended up at a bar where they bought me a rum and coke and some tequila shots. Everyone in their group of friends was very friendly – the Danish like to speak English, sometimes even slipping in phrases in their conversations with each other. They speak English better than in any other country I’ve visited on my trip. Martin explained it to me like this: people in small countries like Denmark and the Netherlands have to learn English, because no one else in the world speaks their language.

After sleeping off my hangover the next day, I checked facebook to see that I had received a message from Michael inviting me to join him and his friends at the last night of the festival. I met him at the Islands Brygge neighborhood of Copenhagen, a former industrial district that has recently been gentrified. Michael pointed out some modern apartment buildings that were made out of cement silos.

People hanging out by the canal in Islands Brygge before the festival.

A former industrial buildings converted into apartments.

After drinking some beers by the canal, we walked to the festival. The last night of the festival was in Copenhagen’s meatpacking district, which is in the middle of a conversion into a neighborhood of dance clubs. The final party was supposed to cost something like 40 euros, but we snuck in over a roof.

The party was even crazier and more crowded on the last night. Part of the party was in a pool. I jumped into the water in my boxers, and regretted it later.

The pool party.

I traveled with Michael and his friends from one dance floor of the party to another, drinking many beers and Jagermeister shots, until I finally walked back to my hostel at 2:30 AM. Imagine my surprise when it started getting light outside on my walk back, and the birds started chirping.

Michael invited me to a barbeque at his family’s house in the suburbs the next day, so I took a train out there. Michael, Martin, and their mother treated me to a delicious meal of salad, potatoes and grilled chicken in their backyard. They claimed that their neighborhood was really crummy, but it seemed nice to me – maybe Americans have different standards for crummy neighborhoods than Europeans.

I was inexpressibly thankful to Michael and his family for giving me a nice meal at their home – the first home-cooked meal I’ve had in months. I think they enjoyed using their impeccable English with an American, and I think they also wanted to give me a good memory of Copenhagen. They certainly succeeded at that. Thanks in large part to their friendliness, I would rank Copenhagen among my favorite cities in Europe.

I especially appreciated their friendliness because my hostel, Hotel Jorgenson, was sort of a dud. Although the staff were friendly, the breakfast was excellent (plenty of cereal, meat, bread, and chocolate), and everything was clean, there wasn’t much of a social atmosphere. If I hadn’t met Michael and Martin at Distortion, it probably would’ve been a lonely four days for me.

Apart from going to Distortion and sleeping off the resultant hangovers, I ventured into Christiania, a neighborhood of Copenhagen that considers itself independent of Copenhagen, and Denmark, and even the European Union. At the neighborhood’s exit there’s a sign that says, “You are now entering the E.U.” The neighborhood was founded in 1971 by hippies who occupied former army barracks. Today, it still has a hippie atmosphere, with artful graffiti covering every surface.

The sign at the exit of Christiania.

There was a lot of great architecture in Copenhagen, including many interesting spires. I also spent time in a beautiful park near my hostel. Copenhagen was experiencing perfect weather while I was there (which is unusual, according to the people I met), so the park was always crowded.

A canal in Copenhagen.

On Monday I took a train to Berlin, carrying lots of great memories of Copenhagen and its locals with me. Thanks to facebook, I’ll be able to keep in touch with Michael and Martin. I deactivated my facebook account when I left for this trip, thinking that it would be good for me to get some time away from it, but I quickly reactivated it because it’s a good way to keep in touch with people you meet while traveling.

Eurotrip 2011: Bruges and Amsterdam

Eurotrip 2011: Lisbon and Porto

Eurotrip 2011: Madrid

Eurotrip 2011: Barcelona

Eurotrip 2011: Rouen, Le Havre and Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Nice and Marseille

Eurotrip 2011: Venice and Milan

Eurotrip 2011: Interlaken

Eurotrip 2011: Florence and Pisa

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 2

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 1

Eurotrip 2011: Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: The Journey To Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: Santorini and Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Istanbul

At An Odense Commune

Richard’s excellent reports on Eurotrip 2011 show how interesting travel can be.  You’re an American, knocking around Europe solo, and before you know it you’ve made some friends and had an interesting adventure or two.  My travels through Europe after college, three decades ago, involved similar experiences.

One notable adventure occurred in Odense, Denmark.  Odense is the third largest city in Denmark and was the birthplace of Han Christian Andersen.  It wasn’t on my itinerary.  However, I had met a fellow American, a Californian named Dan (last name now unrecalled), and we began traveling together to save a few bucks on rooms.  We were on an overnight train from Oslo to Copenhagen that I had booked as a cost-saving measure — if you slept on a train you didn’t need to pay for a hostel, of course — when Dan said he couldn’t sleep on the hard train seats and was going to pay for a sleeper car.  I stuck to my guns and dozed on the upright seats.  When I saw him the next morning he had made some new friends who had shared his sleeping compartment.  They were Danes who lives in an honest-to-god commune in Odense, and they insisted that we come and stay for a day or two.  How could we refuse?

I don’t remember their names, but they were about the friendliest folks I had ever met.  They opened their hearts and commune to us.  About a dozen commune members chipped in to pay for the house, which was in the middle of town, and supplies.  They plied us with food, beer, aquavit, and schnapps and were intensely curious about the United States.  What was it like, really?  Were some Americans really going to vote for a former movie actor for President?  What did we think of Europe in general and Denmark in particular?  Dan and I reciprocated by pooling our money one night and taking them all to a nearby pub where we drank a lot of strong beer, but that was all their generosity would allow.

The last night we were there they served a huge feast where we all drank too much and Dan hooked up with one of the commune residents named Oosa.  When we left on the train for Munich the next morning, heads pounding, they gave me a blurry Polaroid photo that I’ve long since lost.  And after we got to Munich, Dan decided it might be a good idea to go back to Odense and hang with Oosa some more — which he did.  I never saw him again.  For all I know, he’s still there.

Is This All it Takes To Be Happy ?

Oprah had a good show on the week before last where she did some interviews with citizens from other countries around the world that are considered the world’s happiest. Denmark consistently makes it to the top of the list year after year and below is the clip from her show.

There were several interesting points in the article titled Denmark the Happiest Place on Earth.

1 – Danes have an amazing level of trust for each other, their laws and for their government.

2 – Danes pay very high taxes, in fact the highest in the world, from 50% to 70%, but the government pays for all of the healthcare and education for it’s citizens. These are two huge burdens that Americans have trouble dealing with on their own. The government also provides a safety net when citizens lose their jobs. These situations are often cause for much stress in the United States.

3 – Denmark is a post consumerist society, with little emphasis on buying “stuff” whereas Americans need a bigger house or an additional car.

Believe me I’m not complaining and I am very happy with my life because it’s a very simple one. I’m not advocating a government takeover, but just some food for thought !