A Change of Pace in Berlin

In Berlin, there wasn’t a single part of the city that wasn’t touched by the massive bombing campaign that occurred in the city during the final years of World War II. As a result, it is rare to be able to visit somewhere in a city that is from before the war. Schloss Charlottenburg is an exception, as the palace originates from the 17th century and was home to Prussian royalty, starting with Frederick the 1st. My visit to this palace ended up as the highlight of my time in Berlin. What endeared me to this palace was not just the beautiful rooms or wonderful gardens; rather, it was also the surroundings of the palace, which gave off a very different feeling from the rest of the city. Located in the aptly named, somewhat sleepy neighborhood of Charlottenburg, the area feels completely different from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Berlin. It has many small cafes, restaurants, and neighborhood parks. Emphasizing this, when I visited, I was surprised to find what seemed to be a small children’s fair going on in the courtyard outside the palace. It almost reminded me of the fair that my hometown puts on every summer. It made me glad that a happy scene like this is able to occur in a city that has gone through so much turmoil in the not-too-far past.

It just needed a couple amusement park rides that failed all their safety checks and I would have felt at home

The Palace itself has an interesting story, as even though the palace dates back to the late 17th century, the history of the palace does connect to World War II and what our group has learned about all throughout this program. While certain rooms look untouched from the 1700s, Schloss Charlottenburg was not an exception to being affected by the bombing of the city during the war, as it did take heavy damage during the war. Parts of the palace were reconstructed from their original states, which is helpfully explained through the tour of the palace. This was something I did not know about before I visited the site, although it really should not be surprising. This fact only goes to emphasize that it’s nearly impossible to escape the war, no matter where a person is in the city.

This room that was unaffected by the bombing was filled from floor to celling with expensive china

Moreover, there is another connection between Schloss Charlottenburg and the war, specifically with the most famous resident of the palace, Fredrick the Great. Fredrick the Great was a person that Adolf Hitler had a great appreciation for, and he even kept a picture of him in his personal war headquarters. He particularly idolized him during the Battle of Berlin, as he hoped to outsmart the Soviets surrounding Berlin to save the city, similar to how Fredrick once performed a similar action during the Seven Year’s War. However, ironically, Hitler only idolized the superficial aspects of Fredrick’s story. In reality, Fredrick was an accomplished non-conformist musician and a homosexual, someone Hitler would’ve hated. Frederick is a celebrated figure even in modern Germany, which is wholly evident at this palace. The celebration of Frederick the Great and other points of Prussian history at this palace was an interesting breath of fresh air from most of the historical sites in Berlin that I visited as a part of this program which portrayed history in an apologetic manner rather than celebratory.

He’s so beloved that they even turned him into a marketable figure (which I of course bought)

Altogether, my experience at Schloss Charlottenburg was a change of pace compared to the rest of my visit to Berlin, that also provided evidence that the war still touches all parts of the city.

Connections Across Time in Bayeux

The town of Bayeux, an absolutely delightful Norman French village, is home to the “Bayeux Tapestry,” a famous 11th-century piece of medieval artwork that portrays the Norman conquest of England. During our group’s visit to Bayeux, this tapestry was by far the highlight of the Bayeux portion of the program. It is frankly wonderful that the piece was able to survive for as long as it did. The tapestry’s origins and exact purpose are debated, leaving many interpretations of the artifact. One of these is that those who created the tapestry, the majority of whom were women, were hiding messages to show dissatisfaction with William the Conqueror, showing things like him burning the homes of innocent women and children and refusing to portray Harold II as a villain. These depictions seem out of place in a tapestry that supposedly glorifies William. If those who created this tapestry had used their needlework to subtly protest William’s actions, this would be a great example of resilience in the face of an overwhelming, controlling force.

The Bayeux Tapestry

This is the 47th scene of Tapestry where it shows William’s army burning the houses of the innocent

What stood out to me was how this parallels the bravery and resistance of certain French women in the French Resistance during WWII that we have been learning about throughout our group’s visit to France. Both would have been using forms of silent resistance against a force that likely would not have perceived women as capable of resisting. Women played crucial roles in the Resistance, undertaking dangerous missions to sabotage Nazi operations, gather intelligence, and aid Allied forces. They made use of their enforced role as homemakers to find opportunities to participate in resistance activities. Similarly, if the creators of the Bayeux Tapestry were indeed embedding subversive messages within their work, they too were participating in a form of resistance against a ruler using a tool almost exclusively unique to women to resist.

From the buildings around town to pieces like this, history feels like it comes life when you are in Bayeux

At first, it seemed like our group’s visit to the Bayeux Tapestry was somewhat out of place, as amazing as the visit was, as it is not directly connected to WW2. However, after reflection, I realize that the story of Tapestry reveals how, while aspects of war and conquests have changed over thousands of years, how people react in the face of war and conquest has often stayed the same across history. This is why I believe that it was important for our group to visit the tapestry. I, as a history major, believe it is important that history be studied so we can learn from our past. A town like Bayeux emphasizes this, even outside of just the Tapestry. The past felt alive here, especially for a person like me, someone who’s hometown is barely 200 years old!

An Artist’s Touch at Bletchley Park

As I visited Bletchley Park, among the displays regarding codebreaking, the Ultra devices, and the Wrens, the different propaganda posters around the park caught my eye the most. Compared to the propaganda that I came across at the other sites we visited, the simple cartoon art style immediately caught my eye. The use of colors and space was interesting, and it reminded me more of the posters I would see in school than propaganda. Propaganda is a striking and effective tool, and many pieces are genuinely interesting and deserve artistic recognition outside of just their wartime purpose. These pieces were a great example. The fact that they sold this art as postcards in the gift shop (which I, of course, bought) makes it clear that I am not the only one who thinks this. This made me want to learn about the artist behind these interesting pieces, which I would learn was a man named Fougasse.

This was the first poster that stood out to me

His real name was Cyril Kenneth Bird, and he was originally an engineering student at King’s College, but after being injured in the Battle of Gallipoli in World War One, he could no longer do so, so he turned to art. Over time, he developed his unique art style as he worked for, and eventually became the editor of, Punch magazine, a popular British magazine. When the Second World War started, he was given the job of creating propaganda during the war, which included many pieces like the ones above and below. These are the pieces that dot Bletchley Park. Even after eighty or so years, his artistic works still work as important pieces of pop art that still stand out to a person like me, someone just randomly wondering on the site. I am glad that these pieces stood out to me, as they allowed me to discover Fougasse’s story. It reminded me of what we discussed in class and throughout our visit to London about how many people in Britain often emphasize how each person did what they could for the war effort, even if they could not fight, when recounting the war. Fougasse did what he could, and his posters are a legacy of this. His war story is a small piece of a bigger story, just as his art is a smaller piece of a large site. I want to learn more about these small stories, and I hope to discover these small stories as I continue this trip.

The use of space is great in this piece

Further reading on Fougasse:


FOUGASSE, (Cyril Kenneth Bird) (1887 – 1965)