The ICE International train zooms, almost quietly, across the Belgium and then Germany countryside, heading to Frankfurt. We will get off at Koln (Cologne) to catch our next train to Berlin. I take the opportunity to read some more opinion pieces on Brussels, because I am still trying to process my feelings for this contradictory city.
In the article referenced in my previous blog, Derek Blyth mentions that there is “…confusion in the minds of Brussels people,” in part due to the fact they were never asked if Brussels should be the capital of Europe. He aligns it to just another, “foreign army marching into the city.” He describes Brussels as muddling on, not having any clear policy direction, instead “…it has placed itself in a situation where it creates confusion.” Where norms are not respected. “The city of EU laws does not respect laws.”
Others, who I will not reference because I am just grabbing snippets, refer to Brussels as having, “… a distinct, rough-edged character and bubbling conviviality.” “Brussels is a soulless city…dirty, depressing and unwelcoming.” “In Brussels, diversity is the norm.” “Brussels is often overlooked as a tourist destination, most people head to Bruges.” Brussels is the dull capital of Europe, full of hassled civil servants and bureaucracy. “Brussels is a quirky place full of contrasts.” “Brussels is many cities in one.” “…a multinational gem where bureaucracy and culture live side by side.”
So with these thoughts parked away for now we head off on a 6 km walk to clear the brain and stretch the legs. We are walking to the Atomium, the symbol of Brussels. We walk through inner city suburbs, small shopping strips, through parks with fountains and statues and artworks, then we cross a river.
Upstream there is a pile of metal that looks like it could be old bikes…I have heard of this, where all the bikes from the access bikes are being trashed…not sure if this has happened in Brussels…according to Jeremy, this area looks just like Jakarta.
The streets are littered with rubbish…bags of it piled up, like someone’s just dumped it there cos they don’t want to deal with it. I am curious, so I turn to Google to explain the waste collection in Brussels. They use colour coded plastic bags placed in the streets…so what I saw as laziness is in fact the accepted system. Sorting rubbish into its right categories is mandatory…and also obvious if you get it wrong cos it’s in a bag, no wheely bins which can hide sins. Blue bags for plastic, metal, and drink cartons. White bags for proper waste. Yellow bags for paper, cardboard etc. Green bag for garden. Orange bag for food waste. Bottles are taken to bottle banks.
We finally arrive at the Atomium. Built for the 1958 World Fair, the first of its kind after WW2, reflecting aspirations of humanism, world peace, and a better life due to scientific and technological progress. The Atomium also symbolises the enthusiasm that was around in the 50’s for the atomic age. The structure is 102m high with 9 spheres and 20 tubes, and it lights up at night. We had a picnic nearby and caught a train to the Parlamentarium.
The Parlamentarium is the visitor centre for the European Parliament and gives a excellent, and free, exhibition of the journey to a more combined Europe, as well as the impact the European Union has had on different parts of the world. You leave with a clearer understanding of the importance of the union in building peace and sorting out disputes over resources and borders, which in the past have lead to devastating wars. The EU today plays an important role in conflict resolution, however the union does seem to becoming challenged with Brexit and other countries talking of leaving.
It seems to me to be purely selfish reasons that UK has left. Fear of migrants is one plus this annoyance of British money being spent to help other countries in need. However, we saw many projects in Scotland and some in Wales and England that had been helped in part by EU funds. Surely, after the devastation of WW2 and the events that led up to it, people would accept the need to share the world’s resources more equitably and to help those in need. Our memories are perhaps too short, and our selfish desire to protect what we see as ours too strong. Australia is certainly no different, look at our record with the Indigenous people, and refugees today.
There was also a temporary exhibit on NAZI propaganda, called State of Deception. How the Nazis used propaganda to get support in order to implement their radical policies and to justify war and mass murder is shown through a number of often quite disturbing posters. Viewers are challenged to actively question, analyse and seek the truth.
And our time in Brussels has come to an end…but I have forgotten to mention the beer…and the chocolate…and the waffles… Belgium has about 200 breweries and thousands of beers to choose from. To walk into a beer shop or just the beer aisle of a regular supermarket is a major shopping experience. The chocolate is ok…I tried out some truffles but it is very touristy. We had a waffle…that was nice! And I am left thinking I really do like Brussels…