Hello! Greetings from a city of peace, chocolates, beer, waffles, comic strips, and small urinating statues that somehow became famous. Though it is the capital of Belgium, the city is remarkably French. The architecture and gardens in the city, financed by King Leopold IIís exploitation of the Congo, reflect his French tastes even to the point of having a small Notre Dame in town. Brussels is famous for french architecture, french fries, and french language. [Flemish] Dutch is the cityís second official language, a useful fact for language learning and city navigation. I know neither tongue, but by knowing relatives of each and seeing the same message printed in both, I could usually read something intelligible.
Basic language was easy because this 5-day expedition was with the English-speaking Lafayette-Jacobs exchange group. Somehow we managed to get great weather the whole time, with mildly excessive heat being the only possible complaint. We began by heading out through the blooming tulip fields of Holland with a brief beach stop on the North Sea, only a 200 km swim away from England! Our driving route also brought us through the Netherlandsí capital Amsterdam and its seat of government den Haag (the Hague), as well as the cities with the two largest ports in Europe (Rotterdam and Antwerp).
On arrival in Brussels, we had a brief orientation and a night-time visit to the Great Market, just as the elaborate architecual lighting was coming on. The next day we had a guided tour of both the European Parliment [pictured on this postcard] and the city of Brussels. We also had time to wander about a bit in the old town, where I saw several plazas, parks, and monuments (including Mannequin Pis), and sampled some delicious Belgian chocolate.
On Friday, we visited the German Permanent Mission to the European Union, where we had an interesting discussion about matters related to Germany and the EU. Because Germany is so federalized (strong states), each state has an EU mission in addition to the national representation, so we also met with the Bremen mission that afternoon. As a nice concluding question, I asked each ambassador what they thought was the greatest benefit to Germany's membership in the EU. They both responded right away with "peace" as their number one answer. The EU is a peace-building instituion by nature and intent, and is quite effective at it. There has been no war in the EU region for more than 50 years, and such a concept is now unthinkable. This is even true for longtime enemies like France and Germany, who have ended several centuries of armed conflicts to now become partners in an integrative peace.
Brussels really struck me as a place where peace is built. Everywhere I looked, I could see peace as an active concept and a primary goal of the cityís work. As the home of the EU, NATO, and the Belgian government, that mentality is especially refreshing to see. The peace mentality was represented not only in big things but small ones as well: a random "peace tree" in a park with the placard explaining how peace grows, a colorful model of multicolored hands holding up a globe with dove on top in what looked to be a schoolyard, monuments to peace found randomly throughout parks and public places, a red stoplight in the shape of a heart, a world map playground with features to build appreciation of other countries, and a public-square art exhibit with aerial photography showing the beauty of various places in the world.
The peace mentality was also evident in our exchange group. As I expected, this trip marked our 4th stage of group development [Performing], and we effectively organized barbeques at the hostel on both Friday and Saturday nights that were a lot of fun. Performing is the a plateau at the highest point a group will reach in its cycle of development.
On Saturday we visited the "Atomium," a giant model of an iron crystal molecule built for Expo '58. The whole structure and especially the restaurant in the top ball could have easily been a set for "The Jetsons" had that series not been animated.
We then walked around in the parks and in the city centre a bit more, and I visited the Museum of Musical Instruments. This museum had a few hundred different instruments from all periods of history, which one could hear played through a special pair of headphones [given out on museum entrance] when one stood in front of an instrument. I saw some interesting clarinets, saxophones, and trumpets of all shapes, sizes, and ages. Stringed instruments from all over the world appeared in many different forms, from scitars to guitars to classical strings to freestanding harps taller than I! The exhibit continued with instruments evolutionarily between a harp and a piano, progresssing to early and modern keyboard instruments. There were displays of bagpipes, even ones you could tell came straight from animal stomachs. Folk and percussion instruments, including one of Ben Franklin's glass armonikas, completed the ensemble.
Sunday was marked by Belgiumís celebration of the 100th birthday of Scouting. I ventured out in the morning to the streets and plazas filled with troops, from our hostel down to the Great Market and probably beyond. I talked to members of the event press and then rejoined the Lafayette group for a trip to the Auto World museum. Nearby Cinquantenaire park served as another main jamboree site, highlighted by active ziplines off the Arch of Leopold II. The Expo fields we had visited the previous day was also used as a main site; with 80,000 Scouts coming in for the day, they probably used every place they could find! I enjoyed seeing Belgiumís one-day version of the ten-day world celebration Iíll be working at this summer. Though I didnít speak either official language of this Jamboree, it was still fun to meet scouts from a different part of the world!
Iíll be sure to write again before the next Jamboree!
Grace and peace,
Postcard photo, text, & software ©2007 W. Ben Towne / WBT Productions.