Reizen door de twintigste eeuw
A journey through the twentieth century
Geert Mak spent a year criss-crossing the continent, tracing the history of Europe from Verdun to Berlin, Saint Petersburg to Auschwitz, Kiev to Srebrenica. He set off in search of evidence and witnesses, focusing on one question in particular: what was the condition of Europe at the verge of a new millennium? Mak’s rare double talent as a sharp-eyed journalist and a knowledgeable and imaginative historian makes In Europe a compelling account of that journey. He speaks to hundreds of eyewitnesses, including prominent figures like Richard von Weizsäcker, Ruud Lubbers and the grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II as well as unknowns such as Adrinana Warno in Poland, with her holiday job at the gates of the camp at Birkenau, and Monica Angulo in Guernica, who describes the dilemma of the Basque country.
As he travels, Mak reads the evidence of history in diaries, including the dramatic account of Victor Klemperer’s life and Count Harry Kessler’s worldly entries. He reads about the International Exhibition in Paris in 1900 in newspaper reports that promise their readers a new century of light, and the memoirs of soldiers who served in the trenches of Flanders Fields less than fifteen years later.
But Mak is above all an observer. He describes what he sees at places that have become Europe’s well-springs of memory, where history is written into the landscape. At Ypres he hears the blast of munitions from the Great War that are still detonated there twice a day. In Warsaw he finds the point where the tram rails that led to the Jewish ghetto come to a dead end in a city park. And in an abandoned crèche near Chernobyl, where tiny pairs of shoes still stand in neat rows, he is transported back to the moment time stood still in the dying days of the Soviet Union.
Mak combines the larger story of twentieth-century Europe with details that suddenly give it a face, a taste and a smell. His unique approach makes the reader an eyewitness to his own half-forgotten past, full of unknown peculiarities, sudden insights and touching encounters. In Europe helps Europeans discover the past that truly unites them.