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Bells in the fog

Lake Constance was as smooth as glass and our boats were pointed to 280 degrees when church bells pealed through the fog. First from one town, then several.

From the sound – and later the sight of numerous steeples – I couldn’t tell whether they were Catholic or Protestant. That may not mean much to us now, but hundreds of people were burned and tens of thousands were massacred over the choice between sects throughout Switzerland. Cantons just to my left are split in two, half Protestant and half Catholic. What slight twists in an otherwise shared history would provide reason enough to kill and then to split to prevent further killing?

But splits between religions were just one reason to fight each other. I think the fortress tower in the spectacularly beautiful little lakeside town of Arbon was built long before Luther and Calvin. Over the centuries, each town, valley and other strangely divided region competed, battled and allied with each other in a bewildering web of mischief.

I am incredibly grateful to have been born into perhaps the most peaceful era in European history. The horrors of the early 20th Century were merely the technologically more advanced versions of all the tribalism of the past. And through my youth the great and enduring fear was that the Americans and Soviets would blow each other up, taking the world with them. But now for the first time ever we live in a world where it’s nearly impossible to imagine war in Europe. May it stay that way forever.

I’m now drifting on the lake next to the ferry connecting Switzerland and Germany. Still many more kilometres to paddle, so I’d better go.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR