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The Killing Fields

published on 2010-11-10 by Sara
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Travelling through a city and living in a city can mean different things. While travelling I’ve become more sensitive to the matters concerning the history and the development of a country. That said, it’s not easy to avoid these things in South East Asia and everyone touches on that ground at some point.

Surviving both Laos and Vietnam with only minor injuries and no tropical diseases (though diseases nonetheless), we’ve arrived in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia. The story of its young past is intriguing yet horrifying. After years and years of genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime, the Cambodian people are now regenerating from the slaughtering, the wars and the exclusion from the rest of the world. Not as quickly as Vietnam, mind you, as this state is far poorer than its neighbor. Still: Phnom Penh is a growing and evolving place, and not much is left to remind you of the terrible situations that once were. People work quite eagerly, new construction sites are opened by the day and there is, at least to some degree, a new wealth and health spreading. Slow and steady.

All of the positiveness – the tourism, the growing economy and the positive atmosphere in the city – reminds me a lot of Berlin and the German side of the war story. Living in Berlin brings forth many great advantages: there is a spirit of freedom and liberty that you cannot grasp in the rest of Europe, a lifestyle so enjoyable and after the tragedies of the past 60 years, only a few scars and memories left here and there. From drinking on the street to wearing whatever the fuck you want to wear without anyone even blinking, and that’s only two very small examples of all that is possible.

We paid our tributes to the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh as well as to the horrible prison called S-21 that is a museum today, and it felt a lot like visiting a Concentration Camp (KZ) in Germany. Imagine what it was like, both Phnom Penh as well as Berlin, before the liberation, before people could rebuild their scattered and destroyed lives: it was inhuman and frightening. But with that said, maybe it is necessary to remind ourselves from time to time, that a place like Berlin – and hopefully in the future, Phnom Penh – does not come without a price tag on it.

Living somewhere often renders you oblivious to the obvious. Seeing all of these things today reminded me why I loved Berlin so much, because it recovered gracefully and became a role model for every other place in the world that has to battle inhumanity and chaos. People have fought for this, and it’s what we should appreciate the most today. I’m not trying to make this sound like an epic tale, I love the hedonism and the ease at heart just as much as the next person. Just remember the next time you witness a demonstration or a rave or a parade on the Berlin streets: it would have not been possible without the past.

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