Ten days ago, I had presented you with this photo and had posed the leading question “isn’t that a beautiful place?”.
Predictably, and I would not have responded differently, all of you agreed. Many exclaimed how beautiful of a scenery it was, that you would use the photo as a wallpaper on your computer or as the background photo on your phone.
I had asked you to guess where the photo had been taken. Many of you came close and guessed that it was somewhere in the Baltic, but none of you could guess the exact location. Which had of course been the point of this whole exercise. I had deliberately chosen a small detail of a larger site (and was shocked when one of you discovered the structure in the right hand side of the photo as I had tried to conceal it).
But I tricked you, I am sorry to say (and I promise I won’t do anything misleading like that again). I wanted to show that what we see often only touches the surface. Even if we look closely and intensely think about something, we won’t get to the truth without additional background information. This is an important lesson for travellers: We will see a lot of things with our own eyes, and locals will tell us a lot about their place. But if we don’t get some information beforehand, especially about history and politics where the locals’ opinion is often rather one-sided, we won’t get the true picture.
For the forest depicted on the photo is at Salaspils in Latvia, only a short train journey away from the capital city of Riga. From 1941 to 1944 there was a Nazi concentration camp in exactly that forest. Thousands of people died in that forest under miserable conditions. “Behind this gate the Earth groans” it reads at the entrance to the memorial site.