Pilgrimage to Poland & Byelorussia
There is something unnatural about going east, as if one were going against the sun itself. To go to Europe one goes, in a way, backward as well. Not that West Germany is backward at all. It is just that so much has happened there, and traces are left behind.
That is how it looked when, after an absence of 16 years, I returned to the Rhineland, first stop on a trip to the interior of the Continent, a pilgrimage to an ancestral homeland spanning today’s Poland and Russia.
Germany. I had always begun in Germany, since I first came to Europe as a high school student. I am one of those few Poles with intimate, and warm, ties to Germany.
Germany. The old Germany, what I remembered as “old,” even in the 1960s was there, but now the people were somehow all dressed as Americans. And the faces of the young Germans were different now, the young men with long hair, faces of pleasure and ease.
The family I lived with then certainly were little different than I had left them. Herr R. was dressed in the costume of his native Thuringia, as he always was on Saturdays. And Frau R. went to their bedroom and came out, giving me back the handkerchief I had left behind with them 16 years ago. The garden was a marvel of order, the bedding was out airing on the window sill. Ah — an embarrassed explanation that both their daughters had divorced since then. They are old people, the people with faces from a print of Luther’s own world. Honest and good, at once the admiration and the terror of their neighbors, my ancestors to the East, to whom they represented at once progress and evil, as Czeslaw Milosz has observed.
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