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Festivities for the European Community Eastward Expansion

April 30th - May 1st 2004

After I helped getting Americans fill out applications for absentee ballots at a table that was set up in front of the John F. Kennedy school auditorium where they where performing a barbershop concert / soap opera in which Ruthy was singing, I took the S-Bahn to "Unter den Linden" station to witness the Friday night party for the 10 new members joining the European Community on May 1st.

There where 10 sets of tents set up on the Pariser Platz for the new EC members and a large music stage in front, off to the side of the beautifully lit up Brandenburg Gate. Each new country had one large tent where they were presenting material on tourism and their path to the Common Market and a smaller concession tent where food and drinks where sold. An area with picnic benches was set up in the center of the square.

The crowd was growing. I'd say there were up to two thousand people there by the end of the evening. Many were crowding into the tents or standing in line for food. I checked out some tourist destinations. Can imagine going skiing in the High Tatra in Slovakia, weekend trips to Poland or Budapest, or vacation down in Malta. (Not necessarily Cyprus, 'cause they, that is the Greeks there, are too dumb to unify themselves.) The food lines where long. They all seemed to sell sausages of some sort. Polish with sauerkraut for example. So much for increasing culinary diversity. (Just kidding - probably sausages is just a good idea for what to sell at such a party.) And they all had beer or wine depending on their latitude. Quickest food line was at the Hungarians; had myself a Hungarian "szalami" sandwich.

On stage there where Polish and Check rock bands, which I listen to while studying the brochures I collected.

There are worries - actually prejudices - that the new expansion would be bad for the old members. Jobs would be exported from West to East and eastern laborers would flood the West. This actually contradicts itself. But on the one hand the jobs that go East have already done so in the past years. Not likely that many more companies would follow and the tax-free incentive for companies by these countries should be stopped soon. And the migrants from the East do not have the freedom yet to come here for several more years. With new prosperity in the East they ought not need to go West anyway.

Anyway, during the last half hour before midnight a chorus called the "Embassy Singers" made up of embassy members of the ten new EC countries gave a concert. They sang folk songs; one from each of their countries. As each title was introduced the director asked if there were any visitors in the audience from the respective country. Sure enough there always was a cheer from some corner of the crowd. Greatest response came of course from the Poles. There are more of them anyway than all the other nine combined. Just before midnight then all the respective culture attachés were called on stage, including the lady from Hungary who instigated this whole party here. (Other official and semi-official festivities were being held also in other parts of Berlin.) The MC shut up just in time then so that we could all count down the last ten seconds to midnight by the clock on the big video screen off in another corner.

After a cheer and someone not too far away from me opening and squirting a bottle of champagne we all joined in singing the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven's 9th symphony. Its text was conveniently scrolled on the big screen too.

And to finish the official part of the party we danced to the tune dedicated to a major European river that poignantly flows East connecting older EC nations with the new members. (Can you guess which one it is?) I asked a friendly looking young lady next to me if she'd care to waltz. Making some small talk as we circled about I found out she was not from one of the new countries.

The rock bands continued then for a couple more hours and the party continued on Saturday afternoon. I in the meantime headed home then, meeting a neighbor on the way. We came to the agreement that it certainly is a good trend that Europeans are striving to be together instead of trying to fence themselves off.