When East meets West. But where?

by Jorin Eichhorn

What is Western Europe, what is Eastern Europe? It is the question that I have in mind since a while. I don’t want to get into political spheres nor to exaggerate it in terms of social sciences. Rather I am wondering about myself when I have these kind of thoughts –oh yeah, this really looks like Eastern Europe now – or –yeah this is definitely not Western Europe anymore- But what is it exactly? How does this come up?

Pic Romania 01

Typical image of a Romanian village passing the main road

I wake up after a freaky cold night in my tent. Our group made it until the shallows of Transylvania in Romania now and has a great time hitchhiking. But damn it, I thought we would have a warm summer trip but apparently summer is not all the same in Europe. We have stayed for a couple of days on a farm, away from the mainstream life in order to experience a more basic lifestyle than we are used to have in our everyday city life. It’s time for hitchhiking again; time to leave the place behind with which we just started to get a bit more familiar. Yeah that’s how it always goes when being on the road.

After a while my hitchhiking partner and I find ourselves on a dusty parking lot again from where we want to continue our way towards our final destination of today. It doesn’t take long until a somewhat crazy Turkish truck driver is more than happy to give us a ride. And now the adventure in my mind starts off.

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An old woman sitting in front of a door in some random village

Sitting in a truck makes me feel like being the king of the road. The view is great and I have enough time to pay attention to a lot of things. Our way leads us through many smaller, sometimes bigger Romanian villages. The roads are pretty narrow; nonetheless some cars stop at the verge of the road for whatever reasons. Suddenly we see a big cluster of shops that sell some somewhat cheap tourist stuff. Baskets, wooden tools, garden decoration, souvenirs, too much stuff which makes me wonder who would really stop for it. Yeah, many tourists are around, I can see it on the number plates. What puzzles me is that I can see quite some German temporary number plates. Why is there always only one guy in the car, why do five of these cars pass us in the row? Who is traveling with a temporary number plate at all?
We get out of the village, going up a road winding around the hill. Wherever there is a bit more space than just this narrow lane that we are on, there are people standing to the left or to the right selling fruits or vegetables; onions, mushrooms, garlic, grapes. I am having a more precise look, our driver nods –all gypsies, everywhere gypsies-
Yeah, this is Eastern Europe I am thinking by myself. A few kilometers later we are passing a valley which is covered by smoke. Somewhere there must be a fire around and heaven knows why someone lit this. Is it on purpose? Well, this is definitely not happening in Western Europe. Yes, I am reassuring myself.

Pic Romania 02

Especially in rural areas it is quite common to see carriages on the road

The next village that we enter starts off with a massive car cemetery. Completely destroyed cars, and a truck where half of its parts are missing. Most of these parts are sold as replacement units. I can see many cars that are obviously from Germany but of a bit older age: the bus has the inscription “Stadtwerke Oberhausen GmbH” (public services Oberhausen cooperation), the old ambulance says “Red Cross Germany”.

Our driver has to make a somewhat dangerous maneuver because of an old man who is riding his crappy bike on the road. He doesn’t have any space to go somewhere else. The horse carriage which is coming across at the same time gets a bit in danger and needs to find a quick solution. Our driver is yelling and honks on both of them. I am not sure if this is positive for the whole situation. Only a few seconds later there is suddenly a police car popping up and I have to hide quickly behind the passenger seat where my hitchhiking partner sits. Yeah, it is a bit problematic to be three persons in the truck for legal reasons. So in order to not bring our driver into difficulties I have to keep an open eye on the road for the police that often stands at the road.

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They are waiting quite often at the verge of the road

The truck driver tells us that he was cool to take us. We are obvious foreigners, not one of these gypsy guys. He reassures that he is not racist at all. But he would never give a ride not even in his worst dreams to one of the gypsies that we can see all over in every village that we enter. Women with colorful clothing, dark skin, many kids around them, guys looking alike standing at their car drinking out of a big pepsi bottle and listening to loud music. Sometimes they wave to us in the truck; our driver doesn’t care about them. Who are these people actually?
We are in a rural area again. Our driver tells us that most of the bears living in Europe happen to live here in Romania. And most possibly, at the forest that we are crossing just now. We have to slow down because a random shepherd decided to block the road with his goat herd.

Much later we finish the ride in the same way as we began it: our driver stops in a spot that would have never occurred to me to pull over. Well, we are in Eastern Europe and it is simply different here. But why am I actually looking for this distinction between east and west? Why do I try to draw this border? Am I not the organizer of this project which says “Through the borders”?
I don’t want to draw these borders but neither have I wanted to deny differences. I rather accept the last one.

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