Berlin: The Final Destination

Arriving in Berlin, I again had few expectations for what the city would be like and I had an overwhelming curiosity on how this country would portray and remember its involvement in WWII. All around Berlin, there seem to be reminders of the war. If not through historical sites, there are plenty of monuments and memorials to commemorate the war. Even in the Bundestag, where the legislative Branch of Germany’s government carries out business, there are remnants of the walls from war period which were covered in graffiti by Soviet soldiers who captured Berlin signaling the end of Nazi Germany. Germany does not seem to be intent on forgetting about this war, which is a rightful mindset. The country uses the war as reminder, so that these events never occur again and to recognize their past as an example. I do believe these constant reminders can prove to be somewhat detrimental to German identity.

As far as German portrayal of the war, there was nothing that appeared as if Germany was trying to downplay any portion of the conflict based on the sites we visited. At the German Historical Museum specifically, I got the impression that the Germans were owning up to everything that was done in the war. The section on WWII was packed with information and when it began to focus on the concentration camps, there was information on multiple groups of people including some that I had previously never seen mentioned as victims of the holocaust, such as black people and middle easterners. After going through this exhibit it was almost as if I could hear the people who put the exhibit together saying ‘Alright, we’ve mentioned every group affected, talked about every occupied country, explained how Hitler came to power. We’ve said it all. No one can say we’ve left anything out’. This exhibit showed, in multiple ways, the general outlook towards German history. It had an expansive, overpowering section on WWII that flowed into postwar conflicts with soviet occupation and the division caused within the country and further slowly branched out into advancements in German society. This all showed the way in which German identity has been clouded by the events of the war. Even though so much progress and good has come out of this country, there seems to be a real question of how to be proud of a country with such a negative period in history.

On our last day of the trip, we traveled to Potsdam to see the Wannsee House where the Wannsee Conference was held and plans for the Final Solution were discussed. The Wannsee House overlooked a picturesque lake and the area around was overwhelmingly beautiful. It didn’t seem at all fitting that in such a beautiful place, such horrible things could be planned. The museum in the old house characterized the actions of the Nazis as being widely intentionalist rather than functionalist. In other words, it expressed that the Nazis were always planning to exterminate those that were not identified as Aryan from the beginning of their seizure of power rather than being the result of a series of events within the Nazi party. We discussed as a group, the ability for both schools of thought to be correct in understanding the events of the Holocaust and the way in which so many things are more complex than they may seem on the surface.

As I sit in my room back in Kansas, reflecting on this trip and reviewing all the stories that I have told my friends and family, I am astounded by how much I have done and learned in such a short amount of time. This trip enabled me to see the realities of WWII, the people and places it touched, and its effects across the European continent. Most importantly it allowed me to see the events of this war through the perspectives of other countries besides America. WWII had been raging for over 2 years before America’s involvement and to see the memory of the war from countries involved from the beginning, truly enhanced my knowledge of WWII as a global war. Because of this trip, I was able to see places, I never thought I would see with twenty-two other remarkable students. I am so thankful for all those who helped to make this trip a reality for me as it was truly an experience I will carry with me for a lifetime.


Poland was a surprising place. I had very few expectations going into the country except for it to be a place still stuck a few years in the past and struggling to catch up. This is not necessarily the case. Yes, there are some buildings where you can see the influence of Soviet occupation, but Krakow appeared to largely be a city of the present day both in architecture and technology. One glaring thing that I did notice in Poland was its lack of racial diversity compared to the more urban areas that we have visited like London and Paris and even Bayeux. I don’t at all feel like my interactions with people in the city had any racist leanings but I did notice that people would stare at me as I walked through the street. In one instance, it was pointed out to me that as I walked by, a group of school children stopped and pointed amongst each other at me. I imagine that if these children are from rural areas in Poland, it is likely that I could be the first black person that would have seen. It was definitely an interesting change of pace compared previous Columbus and previous areas visited on this trip.

I found the Schindler museum to be one of the better museums that we attended on this trip. It focused a lot on the history of Poland as a whole throughout the war which was beneficial because, as Americans, we don’t really here about Poland during the war at anything more than surface level generally. The museum also did a good job in the way of its lay out which allowed you a better ability to place yourself in this time of Poland. For example, when the Nazi invasion is first introduced, three large Nazi Flags are hung up in the walkway that must be passed through to get through the rest of the exhibit, this is a very obvious display of the abrupt occupation in Poland. In the next few rooms though, swastikas are present but in much more subtle ways such as hats, stamps, there was even a room where the floor design was tiles with swastikas on them. I think this was meant to display and represent the ways in which Nazism slowly overtook all aspects of life in Poland, in ways that sometimes may not have even been noticed. Continuing through to the end of the museum, I was struck by the final room which was small and all white with type script accounts of the occupation in varying languages. This room, to me, represented a very hopeful future where differences in background, race, and ethnicity could come together unified while also acting as a commemorative room of narratives from the groups of people terrorized in Poland by Nazi rule.

Our final day in Poland was spent at Auschwitz. Witnessing this site in person was a very humbling experience and it will be a place that I remember for a lifetime. To stand in a place where over a million victims of the Holocaust were murdered was overwhelming. We began our tour of the camp in Auschwitz I which functioned as the concentration camp. It had one gas chamber and crematorium which were destroyed as the allies got closer to the camp. It was rebuilt to replicate the gas chambers and crematoria in Auschwitz II- Birkenau which was the death camp. The gas chamber and ovens which were in the following room were surreal to see. In the moment that they are seen it becomes all too real the horrors that occurred to Jewish people and other outgroups in the Nazi territories. The area that made the deepest impression on me was the room with the shoes from prisoners. The gas chambers which were empty and, while still exuding a deep emotional toll, presented their use without any human element present. This missing human element was probably because previous information had been given about the human toll of the camp and the area was meant to connect that information with the most destructive part of the camp. The room with thousands of shoes left so great an impression on me because it quantified and to some extent, showed the lives of those killed in the camp. The style of shoe could be indicative of the class or gender, even age of a victim of this camp. In that moment it became clear that those were real people who had lives and jobs and people that they loved just like I do and that they were not just some people that I read about in a history textbook.

Walking into Auschwitz II-Birkenau, I was shocked by how expansive this camp was compared to Auschwitz I. After entering the gate and looking to the right, all that could be seen were barracks or remains of barracks. It is hard to imagine that there was a time when that whole camp was full and all 4 gas chambers and crematoria were functioning. After listening to the site reports given on the atrocities that occurred in Auschwitz and going through the camps, the question was posed to our class: How should the preservation of Auschwitz and our opportunity to see the camp first hand relate to the phrase “Never Again”? I do think that after experiencing the camp I have a greater sense of the individual human toll Nazi atrocities took on the European landscape. In a more preventative view, I see this site as a reminder of the dangers of dehumanization. The more that a group can be made into “other”, the more acceptable it becomes to push individuals and groups out of society. We all know that hatred and discrimination of groups of people did not end in 1945 with the holocaust and is still very present today. The memory of Auschwitz however, can remind global society that taking away the total rights of a group and causing further dehumanization can only lead to tragedy.



As we traveled into France, I couldn’t help but be wary of what my experience was going to be in the country. I think that France is spoken of so highly that I almost expected to be underwhelmed by the country. Truthfully, I found France to be absolutely breathtaking and worthy of all the positive reviews it receives. We began our time in France in the northern coastal city of Bayeux. The area that we stayed in looked very much like the older part of the city with narrow one way roads and buildings that looked at least a century old. The city was characterized most distinctly by a large cathedral that was built in the 11th century.

Main street of Bayeux

Bayeux is in close proximity to both Utah and Omaha beach where the beach landings occurred for the D-Day invasions. We visited both beaches as well as Pointe du Hoc. Going to the beaches and actually standing where these events took place allowed me to gain a better understanding of the she

Utah Beach

er undertaking that was needed for those landings. I was actually surprised by the ways in which people used the beaches in present day.I thought that there wouldn’t really be any people on these beaches accept for tourists or school groups. There were actually very nice, what I assumed to be, beach front vacation homes on and around some of the cliffs of Omaha beach and there were people having picnics on the sand with their families and playing games. Omaha was the more lively of the two beaches and I think that how active the beach was, took away from seeing and experiencing that specific beach to its full capacity. Within the museums at the varying museums in the Normandy area, I got the continued message that the allied invasion was welcomed by the French but it was also a source of tension because of the destruction of the pre-invasion bombings.

Remains of ship from landings on Omaha Beach


While in Normandy we also visited the German, American, and British cemeteries. I was truly amazed by how different the locations and the set-up of the cemeteries were. The German cemetery was located next to a highway away from the beaches. It had sets of 5 crosses placed sporadically throughout with a large monument in the middle. This site did not seem to be well traveled and had a very somber feel to it. Aside from the lack of people, the small brown graves that were embedded in the ground made the area seem much more open and empty. These graves were also generally honoring two soldiers which added to the magnitude of death that could be felt there. Walking into the American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, I was struck by how large it was. There was row after row of white crosses that I think accurately depicted the destruction that the soldiers were faced with during the beach landings. The memorial at the beginning of the museum depicted a muscular man with his arms outstretched. The memorial at the beginning of the museum depicted a muscular man with his arms outstretched. I feel that this monument helped to depict the youth of many of the soldiers memorialized at the cemetery and worked to actively celebrate their service.  This gave the cemetery a more commemorative feel and there was a great sense of honor and pride that could be felt from those within the site. The British cemetery was the last cemetery and was not the largest or most extravagant but its layout memorialized its occupants in the most fulfilling way. The headstones were all engraved with different sayings and pictures unlike the headstones from the other sites which were all for the most part incredibly uniform. The diversity of those who were memorialized here was unexpected. There were Muslims, Jews, and Germans represented outside of the British soldiers which highlighted how far reaching the conflict was and how many different types of people were affected. I really got the sense that this was a place of peace and rest for those buried there. I think these aspects made me more appreciative of this site.

In France, for me, was the first real time culture shock was felt on this trip. It was when I heard people speaking a language I was hardly familiar with and there was just a different way in which people did things. In Bayeux, everything seemed to close very early. By 7pm, the main street had many of its stores closed and on Sunday, it was almost impossible to find anywhere to eat because so many places didn’t open on that day. The sun also set very late, around 10:30 pm, in all of France which is something I was not used to and it really influenced the way that I perceived time while there. Paris was more similar to what had been seen previously in London but there was a noticeable uptick in the amounts of PDA shown which is definitely outside of the norm elsewhere. I did feel like England and France were similar in the arrangement of living spaces. In both countries, within urban areas, houses were very close together, it seemed like houses had barely any yard space on the sides and had minimal amounts of space in the backyard area. I assume the closeness in living areas is due to the age of the cities and the need for space as the cities expanded. Still, I feel like in the suburbs there would be more room to spread out which I didn’t notice in either country. I look forward to our travel to Poland where I expect there will be much more stark cultural differences from America and even Western Europe.



First Stop: London


The first part of the trip found our group meeting in London. I left the airport with one of the later groups of other students flying in from the airport. We were able to navigate The Tube fairly well to the station that our hotel was closest to, but we did get lost in route to the hotel though with a quick gps check. After checking in to the hotel, we headed to Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and had dinner at this little restaurant that is like a quick Panera called Pret-a-Manger.

We started our first full day by going to the Churchill War Rooms. We had an audio guided tour that went through all of Churchill’s life and accomplishments as well as having replicas of his rooms. Afterwards, I walked around St. James Park and was truly astounded by the size and amount of birds that are around the park. I then had lunch with a few classmates on the Thames where I had my first encounter with the restaurant culture in Europe. I like that at most restaurants, they give the table a pitcher of water rather than just filling the individual glasses. Even though I had been warned about the time restaurants took in Europe, I was still surprised by how long restaurants took. I don’t think we spent less than 90 minutes at any restaurant. For dinner, we had a guest speaker talk to us about his experience in the Blitz. It was amazing to hear what he had to say as I have not hear
d any first hand accounts from this event in history.

For our free day in London, I went with some fellow students to the Tower of London and saw the crown jewels. The room was overwhelming full of understandably priceless artifacts. Being surrounded by these things I couldn’t help imaging myself being a part of the royal family and wearing some of the items. After the Tower of London, we went to the British Museum and saw the Rosetta ston
e and thousands of other brilliant ancient artifacts. While everything at this museum was very important and elaborate, I did find the museum to be a bit overwhelming and possibly too full of things. I met up with a friend from high school that was studying abroad in London for the whole semester. He showed me the more native side of London rather than the tourist areas. We went to a fast casual Mediterranean restaurant and went to a small lounge called the Piano Bar near the university inLondon.


The following day, our class traveled to Bletchley Park via train. The English countryside was very nice and full of sheep. Bletchley was a small area, much smaller than I imagined it would be for all that was done there. I found this to be one of the more interesting things that we did in England. We were able to see the areas in which many of the codebreakers were worked and deciphered enigma code. They also had replicas of the bombe machines that aided in the codebreaking. The mansion on the property was beautiful and I wish that more of it would have been open to view while we were there. I went to Kensington Palace afterwards which had fantastic gardens that were wonderfully picturesque. The palace itself was surrounded by a public park which I thought was odd, but it did give the feel that the royalty were a part of t
he people which is probably a good idea to portray to the people of England.

On our last day in London we saw the Imperial War Museum. They had a very good exhibit on World War I (WWI) but I felt that their World War II (WWII) exhibit was lacking. The WWI section was set up by time and went thoroughly the war. The WWII exhibit was spread all around the second floor and had no distinct start or end. It seemed to focus more on the weapons and machinery used during the war rather than the war itself. I went to Westminster Abbey after the museum and was truly in awe by how ornate the building was. There was so much detail in the Nave, on the ceilings, on every monument and memorial, it was truly incredible. I wish that pictures could have been taken here so that I could relive its beauty. I think that this was my favorite place that we visited. After the Abbey Westminster we traveled up and down the Thames to grab lunch and visit the Tate Modern Art Museum. I finished the day by going on a Jack the Ripper walking tour of London. It explored the eastern side of London in the White Chapel area rather than the areas we had already seen. It was quite an interesting tour full of dramatics. The information given was very intriguing but also kind of creepy. It was weird to see buildings that were the same ones standing as in the late 1800s and to know that a notorious mass murdered had been in them. After tubing back to our hotel area we picked up a late dinner and headed to bed to get ready for our early morning.



My name is Traci Blue and I am a second year studying Biomedical Science at Ohio State. I am so excited for this trip and can’t wait to see everyone on May 8th!