by J.M. Sylvan
American Reporter Correspondent
August 10, 2009
A LOVELY NIGHT IN DÜSSELDORF
DÜSSELDORF, Germany -- What a wonderful, rich week in Germany! After arriving in Düsseldorf on Sunday, August 2, I drove past some fantasyland buildings designed by Frank Gerhy on my way to my hotel near the Rhine River. After I took a short nap and a long walk, my friend Maki arrived at 11 p.m.
Maki stayed with my children and me when she was 18, visiting us for three weeks as a Japanese exchange student. She is 34 now, lives in Frankfurt and works as a flight attendant for Lufthansa Airlines. In spite of many changes in residence on both of our parts, we managed to stay in contact with each other on and off over the years. Thanks to Facebook, I was able to find her and invite her to attend a concert with me in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. This was the first time we have seen each other in 16 years. We were both willing to have an adventure together…and Wow! Was it fun!
We were both exhausted and jet lagged from our travels, so we slept from 1 a.m. until 1 p.m. After enjoying the neighborhood's unusual architecture and a typical German lunch, we made our way through heavy traffic to the stadium. We were both amazed at how polite everyone was as we waited in lines for parking, bathrooms and seating.
As a flight attendant, Maki is used to traveling and the problem-solving that comes with that. She speaks beautiful English and German in addition to her native Japanese. With those skills plus my determination and nerves of steel (!) we were able to navigate our way (with the help of my new Garmin GPS system - thanks, Mikey!) to see U2 on Monday August 3.
I recently had my phone taken while I was home in Cali and had been mourning the loss of the rich collection of music that was on it. When we entered the concert hall, I was extremely happy to hear one of the lost songs. It was Snow Patrol singing one of my favorites, "Run," (hear it on YouTube). Maki and I had been wondering who could possibly open up for a band as epic as U2. It turned out to be Snow Patrol, and they were the perfect complement.
Gary Lightbody, a Northern Ireland songwriter and activist, had the crowd of 70,000 in tears as he sang the haunting song "Chasing Cars". It was so moving to be there, that my tears began to flow as Gary sang the lyrics that reminded us to seize our life "before we get too old."
Snow Patrol was instrumental in gathering the crowd into a sense of deep community and spirit before the four other guys showed up.
It was one night that is difficult to describe or explain. Even though there were so many people of many different cultures and languages, the music and sentiments brought us together as one.
The concert was dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's Democracy leader. She is the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate that has been under house arrest for 14 years and is currently on trial and may go to prison for five additional years (Update: She was sentenced to an additional 18 months of house arrest). She won the 1990 elections but the brutal military junta there known as the SLORC has not allowed her to take office.
U2 brought our attention to how the dictatorship of Burma (Myanmar) is trying to wipe out the ethnic people of East Burma. Some 3,300 villages have been destroyed so far; many of these poverty stricken people are enslaved.
Bono sang an old Irish melody, and then some of us wore a mask of her smiling face as the band played "Walk On" and Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke to us via streaming video about the need to continue supporting and working for the liberty of all - he asked us to please go to the U.S. Campaign for Burma Website to learn more about their work.
By that time the song was over we were all in tears and committed to continue the work for world peace. The experience was very mind-altering. It was at once intimate and also very large. It felt primitive, like a meeting of the tribes.
Perspiring profusely, Bono led us in many call-and-response songs, putting us in a trance-like state that connected us in one voice. We were dancing and howling along with him as the band members marched into the audience with their instruments (even the drummer, Larry Mullen, Jr., left his platform while pounding a drum tied around his waist).
I cherish the intense experiences of that night; it was the most inspiring event I have ever attended, and I've been to Woodstock and the first Beatles concert in New York City at Forest Hills. I was reminded that we really do carry each other. The spiritual nature of the concert empowered me as I begin my work with the children who need to be held and carried on the multinational NATO base here.
Maki was touched by the tenderness and power of the night as well. It was a pleasure to share the experience with her and to hear her thoughts and philosophy on work, love, families, children, and American culture.
She wondered why people were so concerned about eating organic food while at the same time eating so many M&M's and drinking large amounts of alcohol, or why we say we are worried about the environment and yet consume and throw away mountains of perfectly good items. For example, she said she purchased a cloth bag for her farmer's market shopping only to have it given to her in a plastic bag by the store clerk!
It was difficult for me to say goodbye to her the next afternoon as she took off on another flight. We bonded over the magical concert experience and our own willingness to cut across cultures and stages of life to reconnect.
My magic uncle, who was a weatherman at LaGuardia Airport in NYC, always loved the Lufthansa stewardesses (that's what they were called in the 1950s). Now I know why he fell under their spell. I'm glad I made the pilgrimage with her.