52 States in 8 Months

The place where the nations unite

Posted in East coast trip by Ulf on February 19, 2009

Realizing that “United States” sounds boring, we went to the “United Nations” instead. Luckily, they were not so far away:

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Actually we haven’t been in the famous skyscraper which you see on the picture. That is only an office building (they call it “Secretariat Building“). We’ve been in the one next to it, the “Headquarters“. Nobody ever notices it since the office building is taller and better-looking, and because there are many well-known sculptures in front of it (No, they don’t have a sculpture of Mila, that’s the original one):

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And they even had a full segment of the Berlin wall — it’s about 5m in length and full of graffiti :-). After we passed the security check we could go inside. As we wanted to go on a tour, we had to wait there for about 1,5 hours. All earlier tours were completely booked. This gave us some time to learn about the former Secretary-Generals (if you also have problems with their pronunciation: Wikipedia helps, e.g. here):

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The UN has its own postal services which is cheaper than the USPS (Wikipedia disagrees). I think they charge $15 for 20 stamps while the USPS wants 94ct for each letter/postcard. And the best thing: You can also create your own stamps! They’ll for example put your picture on a stamp :-). Maybe I’ll try this once I’m in NYC again.

There was an alarming exhibition on child soldiers. Here are some of the impressions:

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One of the labels said that it would take 45 minutes to teach a child how to use an AK-47. Another one mentions that a 14-years old girl was kidnapped when she was 8. That means that she has already been a soldier for almost half of her life! Another one mentions the misuse of drugs in those armies.
I remember some more stories which I apparently did not take any pictures of. One was by a young boy: He said that soldiers came to their house and asked them if they wanted to join the army. When his brother refused to do so, he was shot in the head.

With these stories in mind we started our tour. It began with an introduction of what the United Nations are and how they work. Our tour guide put a special focus on the international character of the UN (and not a supranational one).  There would be no UN peacekeeping missions if there were no countries giving funding and soldiers. Btw.: the list of countries sending the most soldiers to UN missions is quite disjunct from the list of countries giving the most funding (Pakistan is on the first one while the US, Japan and Germany are on other one).

Some of exhibits they showed us: a few glass bottles which melted during the Hiroshima attack, and a Kalashnikov rifle which was converted to a guitar. I wonder how it sounds like without any hollow body.

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Finally, we went to the General Assembly Hall. The main floor has enough space for 1164 persons, and there can be another 244+564 people on the 3rd and 4th floors. Luckily it was not that crowded, so we could go inside:

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It seems that there have not been too many renovations since this building was created in the 1950s: Look at those headphones! They you can choose between translations to five or six languages, at most! This is stone age technology ;-).

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In the General Assembly Hall we learned at lot of interesting things about the UN. The Holy See for example is a member, but they refused to have the right to vote. The PLO has a seat in the General Assembly, too, but only as an observer. That seems to be very important if you look at this graph. And China, although being a permanent member of the Security Council, is a story of its own. At least the People’s Republic of China made it to the General Assembly in 1971. This was still two years before Germany joined the UN.

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After we left the General Assembly we saw many gifts that various nations had given to the United Nations. I’ve forgotten most of the stories behind them. I think one of them came from China while the mosaic came from the US. Well, the first picture does probably not belong to them ;-).

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They also cited the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights“. It really says “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.” I like that one ;-).

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