In highschool, what we learned about America, the land of unlimited opportunities, home of the free and the brave, was that Washington and Jefferson and all their good ol’ bros had founded it and that it is, basically, the one and only symbol of freedom, liberty and democracy. There were all these nice stories, encouraging in their intent, about brave white men saving the world, maneuvering the planet to a better society.
So when we embarked on a little 12-hour walk through Brooklyn last Sunday, this land didn’t feel too brave, too heroic anymore. Instead, what we saw, where huge mountains made of trash and garbage, the streets marked with piles of leftovers, rotten rats, roaches running between the large bags full of whatever people left behind. And not to forget the smell! In stinks everywhere, and muddy water runs between buildings, leaking from rooftops, splashing to the bottom or just atop your head, missing your neck or your eye just by a tiny centimeter.
Is this the country we’ve been taught about? I know, it’s probably garbage day, people taking the trash out to the streets for the garbage trucks to pick the bags up tomorrow morning. Still, there’s a disappointment. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of those flip sides, not that I am (still) imaging everything to be perfect and great in the land of the free. But why am I shocked, every time I walk through the streets? And, am I, as a result, longing to be back in Berlin, where every tiny bit of garbage, together with its smell, seems to be neatly hidden from the tourist’s eye? That, definitely, would be a disappointment, to be longing for such a feature of German-ness.