In London, Europe’s decline becomes evident

For those arriving in London via Stansted Airport for the first time, the experience might come as a surprise. Yes, Stansted is not the vast international hub that Heathrow is, being more associated with budget airlines. This much is clear, but in a city many regard as a global metropolis, one might expect something a bit different. Upon disembarking, travelers are greeted at the gate by a dreary gray, which soon gives way to a yellowed, worn carpet along the corridors. From afar, an escalator squeaks, seemingly neglected for decades. The walls are adorned with tiles reminiscent of 1980s public swimming pools. Everything appears aged, and not in the charming way of Wabi-Sabi aesthetics that find beauty in imperfection and authenticity. Instead, it’s a decline that’s evident not just at the airport but throughout many parts of the city.

It’s not just the weather that’s gray

Complaints about the English weather are commonplace, cliché, and frankly, dull. The drizzle and gray skies have been the subject of enough commentary. Yet, the city does give off a gray impression, and it’s not because of the sky. Like many European cities, London seems as though its best days are behind it. The subway stations are outdated and overcrowded. Stepping outside, one finds oneself surrounded by various well-known fast food chains within a 100-meter radius, interspersed, in some areas, with what used to be called “hipster shops” offering vegan junk food, overpriced avocado dishes, or garishly colorful cakes, donuts, and other sugary treats. The true essence of being in London is found between the lines. Pubs, brick houses, and cozy bookshops still convey the charm the city might have once possessed. But aside from these, one could well be in any other major European city – or even in the USA. The overall appearance is not significantly different.

Out of time

The city gives the impression of being left to its own devices by those in charge. Much is in need of renovation. The long history that could be palpable in the city is overshadowed by the growing sense of poverty. There are not as many homeless people as in Berlin, less trash than in Paris, yet everywhere there are signs that prosperity and quality of life are diminishing – bit by bit. London is not alone in this. This energy is felt in other European cities as well, and the signs are everywhere. Many residents seem to sense it, albeit perhaps subconsciously. One question remains: Is this a steady decline, or will there be a change for the better?

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