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Traversing a summit

Take hundreds of people and stick them in a huge, square room. Feed them sandwiches and give them coffee. Make them run and rush and jump when you say so. If this sounds a little bit like a pycho training exercise, you’re not too far off. It’s also known as an EU summit.

Journalists sit, lined up at tables sprawled across the Schuman building. If you walk around enough, you can hear most of the EU’s 24 official languages. And yet, everyone is waiting to say the same thing, though in their own language. Everyone is waiting for the doors to open, the leaders to emerge and the announcement to be made. As my bureau chief said, it feels more like regurgitation than journalism. And yet, it’s still infinitely important to report what goes on behind those closed doors, where the direction of Europe is decided.

The big topic at this summit was data protection. Angela Merkel had a NSA hacking scandal break the morning of the Summit, propelling forward debates of privacy and responsibility, and of course renewed distrust against America. It has been absolutely fascinating to sit back and listen to European journalists rail on America, especially where I was sitting just a stone’s throw away from Daily Mirror and Daily Mail reporters. If you need some more sensationalism in your life, I know exactly where to point you.

Besides eavesdropping (I am American, you know), I spent the summit running around to different events and feeding quotes to the FT reporters writing articles back at the summit building. I quickly found that covering a summit well takes multiple hands and even more ears, and I have no idea how some papers like the International New York Times do it as a one-man show. Attending every presser and doorstep feels impossible, but it’s those details that count. I was sent to the Party of European Socialists doorstep, where the party members magically appeared in shinny black cars and walked down a red carpet to reports yelling questions.

Occasionally some stopped and answered, such as European Parliament President Martin Schulz. But most, i.e. Italian PM Enrico Letta, walked right on by. Regardless, it was incredible to be just a few feet away from political giants (in Europe, at least) and it felt unreal more times than not, especially when sitting in the same room as Angela Merkel and David Cameron later on.

Lampedusa – and the EU’s vast migration issues – were set to be the key topic of debate for state leaders on Friday, and yet, the majority of what I heard and read remained focused around America’s spying blunder. While the experience as a whole was an incredible learning opportunity, this part of it made me uneasy. As timing made phone tapping the new hot topic, that’s what journalists’ questions centered around and what merited front-pages.

EU leaders said the topic of migration will be revisited at a summit dedicated to the subject in June of next year. Until then, it will be more words and full, reporters and papers, and Lampedusa will be forgotten. Where’s the urgency Europe spoke of when the Italian border dominated front pages just two weeks ago?

As one of my journo heros, Martina Stevis put it:

“But the pressure on Europe’s fragmented asylum system will only mount in coming months, as Syria’s civil war deteriorates and the weather in the Mediterranean worsens in winter. For those desperate enough to attempt a boat crossing to Europe’s southern shores, next year’s summit may be seven months too late.”

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A Bauman returns to the Rhineland

When I was about to graduate high school, my parents graciously offered me a trip in celebration of making the leap to college.

Now, if I had said Mars or Nepal or somewhere a bit off the map, my mom probably would’ve reined me in. But, “anywhere,” she said. “It’s your trip.”

Looking back, I wonder if I should have given it some more thought. Yet, at the time, I didn’t even need five minutes. “Puerto Rico,” was the ready response.

Puerto Rico is where my mom came from. Surrounded by water, made up of cobble-stone streets filled with Spanish speakers, it was about as different from Arkansas as you can get. And I longed to see it. I longed to see where I came from.

But this post is about the other side of that coin.

After all my last name is Bauman, which is clearly not Puerto Rican. And the Baumanns (we dropped and “n” somewhere between the home country and Ellis Island to make us seem less German, you know) come from the Rhineland, or so my father tells me.

So, naturally, my heart’s been longing to see the second piece of what perhaps used to be mine for a while now.

Last weekend took me to Cologne (Köln), a stunning, ancient town spilling out from both banks of the River Rhine.

I have no idea where in the Rhine valley my surname calls home, but I hope to one day. Until then, I’ll be content with seeing as much German country as I can.

The train ride from Brussels to Cologne took me through some beautiful valleys and hills. My Mizzou travel buddies and I  reached our final stop at the Cologne station late afternoon on Friday, grabbed our backpacks and stepped outside.

A stunning view of the cathedral every postcard in Cologne features greeted us, basked in golden 5 p.m. light. We meandered to our hostel, which I’d highly recommend, before making our way to a local beer hall, of which Cologne is famous for.

One very German meal later – filled with mashed potatoes, sausage and the city beer, kölsch – and we were ready to roll (literally) into our bunk beds.

Fantastic weather stayed with us all weekend. We started our day at a chocolate museum (I was cast in the role of Augustus Gloop. I smashed it), got lost in the streets surrounding the river and boarded a river cruise for the afternoon.

As the sun started to droop, spreading it’s rays into the depths of the Rhine, our boat circled back toward the cathedral.

Though thousands of miles separate me from my family, whom I very much so miss, in that moment I couldn’t help but feel at home.

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