The reason that this blog is called Through Brno is because it is through this city that I have learned about the Czech Republic, about the United States, about people, and about pretty much everything else that I had thought that I knew prior to moving here. This city is the prism through which I have come to understand who I am and how I fit into it all.
This is why I have written about such disparate topics, like the way that I arrived on Day No. 1; the way that I celebrated expat Christmases; the way that I experienced elections; the fact that I have – and enjoy having – a garden; the fact that I re-learned how to drive a car more than two decades after the first time; the experience of having a child, and then another one; the job of teaching high school students to read literature, analyze it, and write about it; the way to watch and participate in sports; and my ode to a personal literary idol. All of these things have come to my life through Brno. And that is, in essence, the life of an expat.
In fact, Through Brno was the original writing prompt for the Brno Short Story Writing Contest. To avoid confusion, the contest now simply asks entries to mention Brno in a significant way. (The deadline is April 30!)
A similarly named event is coming soon. Meeting Brno, which will be held May 19 to 28, is a festival that will celebrate the idea of bringing people together, be they lifelong locals or new-to-the-place expats.
Meeting Brno will include readings, theater, music, visual arts, performances in public space, and discussion forums in order to provide a platform for people of different views, cultures, and religions. The annual event started with a commemoration of the victims of the Nazi terror and the 1945 expulsion of the German-speaking population and, last year, focused on the timely issues of immigration. This year will focus on the unity of Europe being jeopardized by the rising populism and radicalization of our societies.
These are all complicated and delicate issues, but they are themes that are important to understand and acknowledge. And it has a great immediacy here in Central Europe.
Brno has taught me about how these themes are part of a history that is still very much alive. There are buildings here that are centuries older than the City of Seattle. World War II finished decades ago, yet it is still visible here today. Clearly, the times are changing in America with the election of President Trump, yet there is a visceral connection to radicalization here in Europe as well.
As an American, I have been indoctrinated into the winning point of view. We were taught that America has never lost a war: The Revolutionary War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II are all part of the positive national story. (The conflict in Vietnam, which ended a couple years after my birth, was, apparently, not officially a war. And, well, we “won” the Cold War anyway.) Clearly the veracity of this list, and especially the events that are not included, are suspect. But this is what I was taught by well-meaning home-team history teachers, by my friend’s patriotic fathers, and by the glorious books I read and the movies that I watched. America still clings to these powerful themes and have always held them tight, despite Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
In Europe, however, everything is brought into a different focus. History is so much closer, and winning has a very different meaning when yet another army has run over your country. Here I can still see and talk to people who were part of World War II: my great aunt, for example, was in a forced labor camp until the bitter end, but she met her future husband, a French soldier, later reunited with him in Paris, and had a son, my namesake.
My wife has an even stronger connection to history. Her grandmother was in Terezín, the concentration camp north of Prague, and her German grandfather was imprisoned for not divorcing his Jewish wife; their son (my wife’s uncle) was forced to join him in prison. The younger son (my wife’s father) was supposed to go to prison when he turned 16, but he hid out in a village instead. After the war, my wife’s grandfather was almost swept up in the Brno Death March despite having spent the war in prison.
Even more immediate: The house where I live was damaged by a bomb – an American bomb!
Through Brno, I feel that I understand history and social tension in a much deeper and meaningful way. Through Meeting Brno, I hope to better understand how it already impacts others and how it will impact the future.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Brno Expat Centre.