Memories can ambush you in the strangest places, at the most unexpected moments and from the oddest angle. I had such a memory ambush Tuesday when I was out on assignment to shoot footage and interviews for a special on "The Competitiveness of German Industry."
(A recent study had just concluded that, all the hemming and hawing about the structural inflexibilities and high labor costs notwithstanding, German industry came out as No. 1 on competitiveness in Europe and No. 2 -- only topped by China -- in the world.)
But back to memories, we went up to Germany's old industrial heartland, the steel and mining belt of the Ruhr district, which is composed of Essen, Duisburg, Bochum, Dortmund and Hagen.
We drove past mining complexes, turned into leisure parks and event centers, past derelict almost-ghost towns where the once-busy workforce for steel and mining had long left, and to the second-largest steel plant on the planet, the fully integrated steel mother ship of German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp.
And I was ambushed by memories because, you see, I grew up in one of those steel towns (in Hagen) ... Krupp, Hoesch, Eiken, Südwestfalen, Klöcknerwerke ... almost 100,000 people living off steel and related businesses there when I was a child. Now, NONE.
All the major steel plants there have long been closed down. Hagen has become a much prettier little town, the air is cleaner, old factories have either been pulled down or beautified. But you know what? The vibrant pulse, the heart of the town has stopped beating as well.