Where shall I begin? To say my heart is broken would be too easy, far too easy. My heart broke so many times over the course of the last months and indeed years. But when it comes to old London town, the pain to me personally is of a different quality. Not because I would care less for the many victims in Paris, Nice, Istanbul, Berlin, Brussels, Orlando, in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s only because… I’m in love with London.
That city, that vibrant, diverse, cosmopolitan, international, multilingual, beautiful city has been close to my heart ever since I first saw her, heard her multitude of voices, breathed her air, felt her with all my senses, some 16 years ago. I’ve spent unforgettable days and weeks there, some of the most memorable, most beautiful ones of my entire life. Be it at the Royal Albert Hall on a solemn and emotional Last Night of the Proms in September 2001, two outstanding Model UN-conferences, and of course the ‘happy and glorious’ summer of 2012. And on top of it all, each and every time there were people around me, wonderful people, with whom I could share these experiences. My brother and my mother, an old friend from Kindergarten, friends I had just met a a short while ago in Hamburg, an ex-colleague from Hagen, and new friends I would make during my time there.
To witness that Olympic and Paralympic summer, just five years ago, but in many ways a world away, was a privilege, a tremendous experience. From the tour guide at the Houses of Parliament to the Scottish security guards (members of the armed forces, actually) at the ExCeL, from the young and truly international crowd (20+ different nationalities) in the pub at King’s Cross where I watched the Opening Ceremony to the Chinese TV team at Hyde Park, and of course the ever smiling ‘games makers’, everybody was so overwhelmingly friendly, helpful, kind, and welcoming. And, although it seems kind of surreal right now, walking through the streets of London, I always felt safe and secure. Was I blinded by the beauty of the summer? Maybe…
But now, is there any joy left in that city? In a city so bruised and battered and beaten and torn apart by the terrorist attacks in Westminster, on London Bridge and Borough Market. And on top of it all, we awoke this Wednesday to the horrendous news of the fire in Grenfell Tower. We saw pictures that we could not comprehend. The death toll continues to rise as I am writing these lines. Protests are beginning to form. People are demanding answers to all important questions about the causes for this tragedy (or rather: crime…?), about efforts to prevent similar disasters elsewhere, about what exactly the government and other authorities will do to help the victims.
With all that horror, despair and tragedy, how on earth can we go on? How can we recover and find joy and friendship and solidarity? There can be only one answer. It is rather obvious. One simple word and yet maybe the most complex idea and concept, mankind has ever known:
And we don’t have to look far for it…
One place where we already found it is Manchester’s Albert Square. A day after the terror attack, thousands of Mancunians came together to show their defiance, their unbroken spirit, but most importantly that the cornerstone of their society is and shall always remain love. It is the same spirit that is now visible among the many Londoners who volunteered to set up some sort of assistance for the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster. Those who donated or got active themselves to help their neighbours in need.
And there is yet another source of hope, amid all the chaos and all the tears. It originates from that inspiring, admirable, extraordinary and in every which way beautiful ‘proud Yorkshire lass’ who we lost a year ago this Friday. Jo Cox served as Member of Parliament for Batley and Spen all too short a while. But she had already dedicated her entire life to the service of humanity, for those who are most vulnerable, at home and abroad, and in order to emphasise time and time again that, as Jo herself said during her maiden speech in the Commons, ‘we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us’. It is in her memory that on this weekend, more than a hundred thousand events are being held across the UK as part of ‘The Great Get Together’ (BBC News – Great Get Together events honour Jo Cox (External Link)). Neighbours just meeting and getting to know each other, eating, drinking, talking, having a picknick, playing games or music, engaging in sports, anything really to bring the local community together. It is a demonstration of love, of compassion, of solidarity, of peace, and understanding. And to me, the mere fact that it is taking place right now, in these times, exemplifies, once again, that the ancient rule to ‘love thy neighbour’ is still alive in our rapidly changing world, and even more so, that it knows no limits, no boundaries, no walls, no exemptions.
My love for London and its people is quite similar to my love for sport, the Olympics, and Olympic athletes. Both of them, all of them, bring us together. They don’t deny that we have differences, but they show us that through acknowledging and sometimes overcoming but often indeed cherishing them we can grow and learn from each other. And when we learn, we will surely find out that we are after all ‘united in diversity’.
There is still so much love in our societies. Let’s set it free!