A Grand Finale

Final stop. Berlin, Germany.

Being from Cincinnati, it is well assumed that there is some German linage in me, about 50% actually. I’ve grown up with the Hofbrauhaus down the street and traditional German food my entire life so there was no one surprised when I was most excited to visit Berlin. The atmosphere from the beginning was much different than I expected. On the first night we had a meal that contained traditional German dishes. I was used to sauerkraut and pork but let me tell you this was far better than any food I could get at home. Surprisingly enough this would be the last “real” meal I ate in Germany. The rest of the time I spent eating bratwurst and currywurst from street vendors.

Enjoying some of the most delicious bratwursts.

Enjoying some of the most delicious bratwursts.

After being in Poland, I knew how delicious street food could be but this was something completely different. The frites that came with them were some of the greatest French fries I have ever eaten. Everything about Germany seemed relatively simple. The building were all much newer than the previous cities and there didn’t seem to be a huge rush to get anywhere. The most interesting thing I found was that most businesses were closed on Mondays.

As we began to explore museums and historical sites, we were given an even newer perspective. We were seeing the war from the eyes of those responsible for it. Most of the museums were much more factual than any we had seen before. They contained no sense of nationalism or emotion. I was also surprised to learn that German school children must visit a certain number of holocaust informational or memorial cites in a certain period to enhance their curriculum. This might be the most powerful way that Germany is taking responsibility. This complete acceptance of responsibility for their part in the war is being turned into a learning tool to help Germany stay a part of the Western World.  I think putting Germany at the end of our trip increased my knowledge to let me see just how much responsibility they took for the war. A tour guide told us her Grandmother was a part of the war and when asked about it she always said she didn’t want to talk about it or that it was the Nazis and not the peoples fault. It’s surprising to me that the next generation had to be the ones to change the views and education to reflect the faults in the German past.

View from the top of the Bundestag.

View from the top of the Bundestag.

The place I found most nationalistic was the Bundestag, the home of the German parliament. Here it was repeated over and over how much the city believes and supports democratic ideals. The architecture even led to the ideal of the people being the main voice in government decisions.

Berlin is known to be the site of division of the eastern and western worlds because of the Berlin Wall. Going into the city I had no idea the size or power of this wall. After visiting the eastern gallery, a small section of the wall dedicated to the art created on it, I began to gain a perspective of just how large the city was. This small part took around thirty to forty minutes to walk past. The gallery has dedicated their time and money to the upkeep of the wall. In 1990, a year after the wall fell, they had local artists use the remaining portions as a canvas. I found this incredibly inspiring as they took something that was so ugly and so destructive and made something incredibly beautiful. Most of the art encourages the viewers to look at their world and change what is wrong with it.

The 1936 Olympic stadium.

The 1936 Olympic stadium.

Overall, this city and the entire trip in general, gave me a new found appreciation for myself and the world around me. This journey has taught me not only that I am completely capable of navigating foreign countries but also that perspective is everything. Over time I have gained a certain beliefs or expectations of the world and this trip destroyed that. By immersing myself in so many different cultures I began to understand much more about the bubble I had been living in and how happy I was to change that. This journey will be one not soon forgotten and as I sit in the Orlando Airport I am desperately tempted to jump on a plane back to London. Over the last month I have been given so much more than I could’ve hoped and I couldn’t be more grateful.

The best people I have ever met.

The best people I have ever met.

żyje się tylko raz,



Entering Krakow was not something I had ever ventured to expect in my life. I had no idea what I was walking into and without knowing a lick of polish I was more nervous than any other city. But to my surprise I found it to be one of the greatest cities I’ve visited to date.  Krakow had some of the most beautiful buildings. The city was not flooded with modern architecture or skyscrapers. Most of the building didn’t exceed 5 stories and were painted a beautiful pastel color, enhancing their historical design. The market in the town center was bustling with local artists and vendors and the food was delicious. The people around town were incredibly friendly and were always up to something interesting, such as concerts on the square.

Unfortunately for Poland, their city life was not always this bright and enjoyable. During World War II more than 70,000 Jews were deported from the city with only around 3,000 surviving. Today there remains little of the Krakow ghetto, where many Jewish people were forced to live at the beginning of the war. The Schindler factory, run by Oscar Schindler was located within walking distance of the ghetto. This enamelware factory became a saving grace for more than 1200 Jews who otherwise would’ve been sent to concentration or death camps. Schindler, originally interested in making the most profit saw the Jews as a cheap alternative to the polish workers he was originally employing. He however eventually began to see the horrors, and realized he could make a large difference in the lives of many. He employed entire families with his youngest worker being around 10 years old.  He spent his money on bribes and pay offs, ending the war penniless and without his company. We spent our first morning visiting this factory as it was opened as a museum in 2010. Throughout the museum was a timeline of Poland during the time span of 1939-1945. It began with the joyful and celebratory life before Germany and the Soviet Union began their invasion. Poland fell quickly and from then on suffered under the German occupation. The Germans were quick to spread anti-Semitism and by 1940 all of the Jews were relocated to the ghetto. The museum tried to focus on this part of the occupation and recreated the ghetto conditions. It was unbelievable how dirty, dark and inhumane the living conditions were. There were several families packed into a single room and rats and other rodents were scare as they were used for food. The inflation was so high, food and other goods were around 500 times what they were just outside the walls. As we continued, we entered a room which recreated a basement that 8 human beings living in for months. This room had no light and the floor was dirt. 8 people lived there and with 3 other people in the room for a few minutes, I was uncomfortable. I can’t even begin to imagine how unbearable life must have been. The museum ended with two books, a white book and a black one. The white contained the names of those who had aided and provided refuge to the Jews and the black contained the names of informers. This seemed terrifying to me as I read the names and crimes committed by the people in the black book. One woman betrayed her own husband because she was fearful for her social future. This seemed to be one of the more disturbing concepts to me as it gave great insight to the thoughts of people at the time. It proved just how easily people could be convinced to join the bandwagon and how fear is sometimes the most powerful motivator. Although the general content of the museum did not focus on Schindler specifically, on the outside of the building there were photos of many of the people he helped. His office also remained relatively untouched with the addition of a beautiful memorial to those he aided. The memorial contained 1200 metal pots for the representation of all those who were saved by the factory and on the inside were the names of each individual.

Our second day in the city continued to deepen my understanding of the horrible crimes committed during the war. Day two was our trip the Auschwitz-Birkenau. This camp remains exactly as it was in 1945 when it was liberated by the Allies. It genuinely surprised me how close the surrounding town seemed to be to such a significant sight. It seemed strange to me that people were living their daily lives just meters from a place in which so many innocent people lost their lives. I also was shocked at the amount of visitors that came each year, totaling around 2 million. Arriving in the parking lot we were only one of several groups of students, with most being much younger. The Polish school groups looked to be either middle or high school students. It was interesting to see how these school children were being exposed to something so horrific.

We entered the camp through gates inscribed “Arbeit Macht Frei” or work will set you free. This gate, for so many people, was the difference between life and death. Upon entering this gate there was no hope for escape. Being inside a place in which such devastating crimes occurred was overwhelming. Whilst listening to our tour guide it was almost impossible to believe a lot of what he was saying. Once we entered the buildings we were shown the remains of what the Germans had left behind in their haste to escape. This was the most tragic. Upon entering the first building, 2 tons of human hair had been preserved. The Germans had left almost 7 tons in their retreat. The 2 tons filled a room larger than the entire first floor of my home. This was unbelievable to me. The excessive greed and complete dehumanization of these innocent people was truly shown in this room. Whilst the hair was meant for fabric, stuffing, and other miscellaneous uses the room also contained enamelware and eyeglasses. This was the most sickening proof that could exist for the Nazi use of these lives for profit. Actually seeing these amounts of items was truly eye opening for me. Although statistics had been thrown at me my entire life, there was something completely life changing about seeing these mass amounts of daily item in person. I can now understand the emphasis placed on keeping Auschwitz forever in the eyes of the world. By visiting this camp I could finally begin to comprehend the numbers and statistics I have learned about. Being in such a significant place gave me a new more personal connection to something I hadn’t been able to fully understand without seeing. Our tour guide also provided us with personal accounts and stories about the prisoners which helped increase my understanding as I was standing in the same place. By the end of my visit to Auschwitz I had been an entire new appreciation, respect and general heartbreak for the victims of such treacherous crimes. It made me thankful to know that Poland would never let what happened to the people of their country, and those of so many others be forgotten.


New Country, New Perspective

Stop two, Bayeux, France.

Heading into the trip I knew this would be one of the places that affected me the most emotionally. After focusing on Omaha Beach during class, I was intrigued to experience the sight in person. Before the program I couldn’t picture the thousands of soldiers or the setup of the beach. I assumed the bluffs were similar to dunes and didn’t understand the exact set up of the German defense and just how deadly it was.

A few things drastically changed my perspective. First, the American Cemetery in Normandy opened my eyes to the people involved. The graves just kept going and they were all identical, aside from the Jewish stones which contained the Star of David. The stones were perfectly set so each row was a perfect line in any direction. The British Cemetery was also quite emotional for different reasons. Although the number of graves were much smaller, the graves had personal messages which humanized and brought attention to who the individual soldiers were. I happened upon a grave with my last name, and the soldier died at the age of twenty. This stuck me especially hard because as a current 20 year old I began to imagine what my life would be during that time period.

Tombstone of W.J. Ayres

Tombstone of W.J. Ayres

I also was shocked at the amount of unknown soldiers and the way they were set to rest. In the German Cemetery, the stones simply translated as “Unknown German Soldier,” whereas the British and American cemeteries gave much more honorable dedications both saying the soldiers were known but to God. Evidently, the honor bestowed on the soldiers was depending on their country.

Second, the actual beach still contains the German bunkers. These bunkers are not only directly on the beach but also much higher up than I imagined. The bluffs are much taller than dunes and semi- resemble small mountains in which the German gunman and snipers could easily pick apart the American troops. The beach was also much wider than I imagined, and it was truly horrifying imagining the fear and determination as the men tried to make their way to the bluffs.  We were standing in the spot where the first waves of the 29th division landed, specifically, the 116th infantry. This group of about 150 National Guard soldiers suffered a huge loss with only around 19 soldiers not being killed or injured. These men were told they would be given a front row seat to the greatest show on earth. The Allies believed their bombing and naval shelling campaigns would destroy or at least damage the German bunkers and the men would simply walk up the beach. This however was not the case as the campaigns did relatively nothing. As compared to Point Du Hoc, which had bomb craters everywhere, Omaha was basically untouched. The bunkers were set up in such a manner that the first waves of men had almost no hope of survival. They had around 500 yards of open sand before the bluffs. Standing on the beach with the tide out really showed just how dreadfully far the men had to run without cover and with enemy fire as strong as a storm wind. Lastly, Point Du Hoc gave me a chance to see just how difficult the tasks at hand were. The cliffs that Rangers had to climb were much higher than I expected, and the bombs left such deep craters in the ground. It amazed me that the site remained intact and no one interfered with preserving it. The bunkers and even the craters in the ground were basically untouched. Although some of the bunkers had collapsed from wear and tear of weather, the remains were not moved. The craters were also not filled in which gave a great perspective of the destruction of the bombs.


Me standing in a bomb crater, Point Du Hoc.

Overall Normandy was incredibly moving. I enjoyed it because you were consistently immersed in the history even when we were just walking around the town. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing the rich history the town had worked so hard to preserve.

A Typical Tourist in London

There she goes! Arriving in London was a much smoother transition than I expected. After overcoming my jet lag in Dublin I was ready to take London. I had limited knowledge of the city before hand and expected it to be similar to New York. On the first day we had to take the underground to our destination, and I was amazed at the extent of the underground system. Everyone knew where they were going and what they were doing even though there are more than 100 stops and routes. People also wore business casual attire and pants the entire time. Not that we don’t wear pants, but shorts were extremely uncommon which was surprising because the weather was warm. I was genuinely surprised by how assimilated I became to city life by the end of five days. I loved the big city life. I have never been in such a fast-paced environment, and I felt as though everywhere I went I had a distinct purpose. The street food was also amazing. I’ve never had such delicious caramel and sugar covered almonds.

I have never been in a city with buildings that were originally built before my country was even formed. The architecture and preservation were amazing. I would say my favorite part of London was the mix of such rich history and the modern world. The mindfulness of the citizens in the previous centuries impressed me significantly. They realized the importance of the monuments and buildings in their city and worked to protect them. I’ve seen and heard about so many castles but did not expect to find them in the middle of the city. The tourism economy is huge. The Londoners seemed to be accustomed to tourists. Even when we accidentally missed our tube stop a local boy just laughed and gave us proper directions.


Ben, Amelia, and I acting as typical tourists.

I’m thankful my first European experience began with an English speaking country. Just the culture change was enough to throw me the first couple of days. It’s almost more difficult to adjust to London only because the language tricks you into believing the culture is just as similar. The lifestyle in London however, is only similar to Columbus by the language. Even the things you would think to be the same were not. I walked into a McDonalds and expected to see the same foods but I did not. The London menu consisted of the “Tastes of America Collection.” The sandwiches on the menu looked much healthier than options offered in the US.  I was expecting to find similar or the same menu as I can find in Columbus and was pleasantly surprised at the difference. Watching others eat I also realized what a social event eating is. People would sit around for hours just chatting with their meals lasting almost as long.  And although the street food was delicious it seemed to be only tourists eating or buying it.  Overall, I loved the city and although France is exciting, leaving London behind was tougher than I expected.

Hello Its Me

Shalom. I’m Catherine Ayres and fortunately for me, I am about to leave for Europe (in 3 days!!!!!!!) to take part in this incredible trip. As a current third year , International Business major, this trip and the classes leading up to it have been a much needed change of pace compared to learning about financial accounting. Beside working and going to school, my activities consist of hanging out with my 1 year old border collie, Papa, who I’m desperately hoping fits in my suitcase.

World War II has always been an intriguing subject so I absolutely cannot wait to see the sites I’ve learned so much about. Thanks to my mom, my semi-acceptable saving habits, the history department, and STEP I will be spending 5 days in Dublin before heading out to London. I honestly could not be more excited since I have never crossed the Atlantic! Catch you on May 31st America.