London calling!

Veröffentlicht: Oktober 8, 2011 in Idle speech

For the first time in a while I spent some time in London last weekend – and a few thorougly wonderful days they were!

London has had some quite bad press recently, what with the August riots and the widespread cuts in social spending that have led to things that seem absurd (library closures!!), but all the same I think it is remarkable what a wonderful city London is inspite of all its challenges. Given that the city has around 8 million inhabitants and the metropolitan area around 13 million it seems almost a miracle that by and large everything works, and people are able to move around their city freely and with minimal delay. Imagine – you can travel the length and breadth of London on the tube for a whole day for a little over 7 pounds and cross the city in around 20 minutes!

You can visit many museums for free and see works of art of world renown. That fact that the city has decided to open its museums to the public for free is something that I really admire. What a great and enlightened thought to allow access to art to everyone, to make museums really a place of the people. You can just wander in and see priceless art regardless of the size of your wallet. And people do: London’s museums now really have become places where old and young, rich and poor, the educated and the simply curious meet.
I went to see the Tate Modern for the first time and was blown away by its scale, both as a building and as a museum. I was especially impressed by Ai Weiwei’s mountain of sunflower seeds  and its visual impact.

London has had to deal with a huge amount of immigrations, both since the end of the empire but especially since the UK opened its borders for immigrants from Eastern Europe in 2001 and almost a million people came, most of them to work and live in the London area. That has really changed the ethnic makeup of the city: there is hardly a shop, restaurant, bar, pub, hotel where people with Eastern European accents don’t work. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to make room, both physical and emotional , for so many newcomers, yet most people seem to be cheerful and welcoming.

Now, I don’t want to gloss over any difficulties and I don’t want to romanticise any of the problems that I know exist in London. Nor do I wish to make a comparison between London or any other city – for all I know, things are as good in Berlin, Barcelona, New York, Delhi or Rio.
I just find it remarkable how Londoners deal with the daily challenges of city life with good grace and good humour and make their city a place worth living. And that makes my quite hopeful for the future: Maybe the lives of individual people do go on inspite of the economic mess we seem to be in. Maybe the mistakes of bankers and politicians are less grave than we believe. Maybe we have more talent for living together than many pessimists would like to make us think. I shall certainly travel to London again soon to find out!


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