I was thinking about boundaries as I waited on line yesterday at immigration in Brussels. EU passport holders were zipping through while a number of people ahead of me were, in turn, being extensively interviewed. Already a powerful political and economic entity, the European Union significantly expands its critical mass on May 1, with the addition of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. This federation of member states with vastly different identities and attitudes is hardly a united front, but given the dollar's decline against the euro and the steady hum about issues ranging from American power to immigration, I'm no longer certain what I will find once I pass through the gate. The innocence (or unfamiliarity) I shed during decades of Continental travel may be regained.
T+L's annual European issue is being put to bed at this important moment in world history, and I am experiencing my own small transition from Brussels to Antwerp, Maastricht, and Berlin. Last night in a cavern-cum-bar in Antwerp, I sipped a dark beer just a few degrees cooler than room temperature while a Belgian friend reflected on the rise of regionalism in Europe. Local dialects, traditional crafts, and artisanal food products are in ascendancy, along with such closely held identities as Alsatian, Westphalian, Bavarian, Basque, Flemish, and Walloon. Like many of the newer EU member states, Belgium is a survivor, having endured centuries of domination by, among others, Rome, Spain, Burgundy, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Even now, I was told, being Flemish or Walloon is perhaps more relevant than being Belgian. To see this difference, you have only to travel from Brussels to Antwerp—from the land of sole meunière and moules frites to the realm of Rubens and fashion stars Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten.
As history advances, we linger and revisit the past. Even the bleak austerity of the German Democratic Republic has been drenched in a nostalgic gloss; 15 years after the wall fell, East German relics are becoming collectibles, Reggie Nadelson reports from Berlin. Sixty years after the invasion of Normandy, we search for connections to events and to one another, Christopher Benfey points out in his touching record of the transatlantic cooperation between French and American artists and intellectuals during World War II, when an annual colloquium held in France was moved to the campus of a New England women's college. Mary Haus describes how a legacy is restored in Vienna with the reinstallation in the Liechtensteins' family palace of an extraordinary collection of art once hidden from the Nazis.
The new world order that is being established in Europe will have far-reaching effects on us all, but Europe remains ever-changing—honoring its past as it speeds toward the future.