Social Growth

From Russia with love: about my trip to Tallinn, St. Petersburg and Helsinki and why travelling is essential for being an educated cosmopolitan

Written by Moritz Schröder

For me, travelling is without a doubt the best possible way to spend spare time and money. There is nothing that compares to it. One of the greatest advantages of globalization is cheap and unrestricted travelling. It is a privilege we have nowadays, a privilege people should make use of as much as they can. It gives you the chance to explore something new, to gain new experiences, to broaden your horizon and ultimately to understand the world we live in a little better.

(The way is see ‘Travelling’ of course implies that people actually engage themselves in the country they visit. Booking an all-inclusive holiday in Turkey and then lying at the pool of a 4 stars-hotel, together with other fat, lazy, sunburned Germans is not travelling.)

Recently I did a one-week trip to from Stockholm to Tallinn, then to St. Petersburg, from there to Helsinki and then back to Stockholm. I was excited about it beyond all measure, not only because all my best friends from Sweden joined me on that trip, but also because I had never before been to any of these countries we were about to visit.

And looking back, this week we really had it all.

Being in a group of 50 students that just finished their exams, we had the crazy parties! There was the night when I participated so eagerly at karaoke that at the end I got a coupon for a free drink at the bar. Under the condition that I don’t sing anymore.

There was the night when we went to a folk show and I got pulled on stage to participate in a traditional dance, only to get blown off by the dancer when I tried to kiss her (and yes, there is a video of that).

There was the night when a friend was so drunk that she insisted to call a taxi to get home, not realizing that we were on a boat in the middle of the Baltic Sea.

But we also have great memories from the countries we went to. Like the bar in Tallinn that had a halfpipe in one corner and an artificial ‘beach’ where you could build sandcastles in the other.

Or the Eremitage in St. Petersburg, one of the biggest art museums in the world, where I got completely lost for an hour during a desperate attempt to get breakfast somewhere.

And then there was a very beautiful day in Helsinki, where I was shown all the hidden places and secret sights by a local finish girl I met earlier during the trip.

This week had countless more good moments, moments I will never forget (like “fuck the fruit!”, camarote-parties, impersonating the Titanic scene, the limousine tour, the rabbit incident… )

But there were two moments during the trip that especially resonated with me and in my opinion really show why travelling is not only fun, but even necessary to create a deeper understanding for each other in this globalized world.

One day during a bus ride, our guide told us about the siege of St. Petersburg, former Leningrad, by the Nazis during World War 2. For 900 days, the city was completely closed off from the rest of the world with the explicit goal to systematically starve all the inhabitants to death. More than 1.1 million people died, half of the population of Leningrad. Even though it was 70 years ago, as a German that doesn’t leave me unfazed. It is part of our history. While doing sightseeing I couldn’t help but think about the cruelties that people from my country brought to this city.

Later that day, me and a friend went to a bakery to buy breakfast for the next day. There was an old lady working and we tried to tell her in English what we want, but she couldn’t understand it. But somehow she guessed that I was German and started talking German to me! So we chatted for a little while, she was very friendly and we just laughed and had a good time together.

It was just a little incident, but also symbolic in a way. Chances are that this woman had relatives that died during the siege of Leningrad, starved to death because the Germans. And here she was, selling me bread, so cheerful and happy to meet someone she could talk German with. That’s how you overcome problems and prejudices from the past: by stopping to think in stereotypes and starting to meet and interact with individuals.

After our trip officially ended, we spent the last weekend in Stockholm. Me and two other friends stayed with Faisal, a friend of ours from Iraq, and his family. They were all incredibly warm and welcoming, his mum cooked an amazing dinner for us, it was the perfect ending of a great trip we had together.

The very last night though, on our way back in the car, we got into a very heated argument. It started with a discussion about Julian Assange and soon turned into a controversy about 9/11, the Iraq War, and capitalism versus communism in general.

For half an hour we were yelling at each other, getting seriously upset about each other, calling each other narrow-minded and ignorant. It was intense!

The important thing however was that four friends from four different countries (Germany, Bulgaria, Canada and Iraq), all with different cultural backgrounds and upbringing, were having this fight! We all had different points of view, but for all of us our point of view was based on reality, the reality we grew up in. It was a real clash of cultures! And that’s when you really start to broaden your view and learn from each other. That’s when you become more understanding of where someone is coming from.

This is what travelling does for me. It puts things into perspective and at the same time offers you a new one. It questions the way you see the world and shows you a new, interesting side of it. And by that travelling ultimately increases the respect you have for people and cultures all around the globe.

Published in Social Growth

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