A Somber Acceptance

The manner in which a country presents the events of World War II demonstrates its unique cultural history. After having studied the war in an American university and then toured museums in London, Normandy, Paris, and finally Berlin, I have been able to see distinct differences in the way each country perceives the war and its own role in the outcome. The United States, referring to the war as the “Good War,” has the tendency to overstate its significance in the ground fighting of the European theatre. The British focus on their initial victory in the Battle of Britain when they stood alone against Hitler. The French frequently gloss over their role as collaborators and glorify their resistance efforts.

Yet Germany looks back on the war, with solemn remembrance, and accepts its role as aggressor and enablersof the Nazi regime. Walking through the German Historical Museum, Topography of Terror, and the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, it is apparent that the German people make no effort to conceal their past. While many German people are surely not proud of their lack of resistance or support for Fascism, they do not allow the events of World War II to define them. Instead they accept their history, learn from the past mistakes, and move on as a culture.

This does not mean, however, that the German people simply forget about their actions in the war. Sachsenhausen, with its sinister past, remains as a memorial to those who died there under the S.S. and Hitler. The Topography of Terror explains the creation of the Nazi police state and the ideological decisions regarding Jews and “inferior races.” In the German Historical Museum, a large section is dedicated to those who suffered or died under the Nazi rule. Sitting in the heart of Berlin, the Holocaust Memorial silently pays tribute to the millions who perished at the hands of the S.S. School children in Germany are even required to visit a site of Nazi terror to learn of the atrocities.

In this way, the German cultural memory of World War II is inherently different than that of the other countries’ historical memories we have studied on this trip. As the defeated country, occupied by all of the Allied forces (including the Soviet Union), Germans were forced to accept their actions in the war. France, the United States, and Britain were victorious. As a result, these countries tend to highlight the positives instead of their own moral atrocities. Britain and the United States understate the enormous civilian deaths in strategic bombing across Europe. The French stress their resistance and gallant defiance rather than acknowledge their collaboration and deportation of Jews. Germany, as the defeated power, could not run from its actions and had to reconcile in order to rebuild.

Furthermore, Germany is unique in its postwar years. The division of Berlin and Germany inhibited a unified resolution until after the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Since the 1990s, the East and West German social histories have merged into a single remembrance. Today, walking through the museums of World War II and listening to the tour guides, Germany’s acceptance of the war is apparent. Yet this acceptance was necessary in order to progress as a country and move forward from their dark past.


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From Tourist to Traveler

Before our departure, I had been most anxious about our stay in Paris. I was convinced that a distinct language gap existed between Americans and French, which would reveal the repressed tourist in me. I was convinced that my inability to speak French would cause locals to berate or ignore me. I was convinced that Paris would swallow me and that I would be unable to communicate. Despite my initial presumptions, I arrived in Paris with an open mind. I sought to explore the city as thoroughly as I could in my short time there.

While the most frequented tourist spots had plenty of English speaking officials and people to assist the group, the restaurants and attractions off the beaten path proved a little more difficult. Venturing on foot from our hotel, we stumbled upon a small, cheap Chinese restaurant on the corner and decided to give our wallets a break for the night. The waiter only spoke bits of English with a heavy accent and we only knew limited French, which made for an interesting evening of pointing at the menu to order, switching meals once they arrived, and comical hand gestures to convey our desire to split the check. It seemed that this one meal would confirm all of my original fears.

The meal was initially difficult and frustrating, but eventually became enjoyable and lighthearted. I realized that the language gap, while being an inhibitor, also gave us unique experiences. Each meal became its own adventure as well as an opportunity for us to immerse ourselves in local culture and to practice our own French skills. Time and time again in Paris, our lunches and dinners allowed us to not only discover new dishes (which mostly involved bread and cheese), but also to integrate into a culture we had spent so much time studying the past semester.

Fully adjusting to the different culture takes more time than the few short days we have here. Language plays an integral role in assimilating, and I have noticed that as I learn French and basic norms of the city, I separate myself from other tourists. In Starbucks by Notre Dame, a place flooded with Americans and other foreigners speaking English, I placed my order in broken French. The cashier smiled and complimented my effort. I was ecstatic with this small but satisfying accomplishment (even more so when my order came out correctly).

For me, Paris served as a catalyst, allowing me to evolve from a simple tourist to an experienced traveler. While the city was undeniably filled with tourists, I tried to detach myself from acting as the stereotypical American student abroad. By actively learning and employing the language, I felt more connected with Paris and the city’s culture than I had with any of our previous stops. In London, the official language was English. In Bayeux, English was spoken widely enough that it desensitized me to culture shock in a new country. Yet in Paris, I found myself forced to adapt to the language gap in order to thrive.

Moving now to Berlin, I hope to continue to grow my connection with each city and with Europe as a whole. I am excited to experience a large city that is far less inundated with tourists and see if that changes my perspective at all.

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“Peace Lad, You Played the Game”

Many of the men who were buried in the cemeteries we visited were killed here at Omaha Beach.

Many of the men who were buried in the cemeteries we visited were killed here at Omaha Beach.  

During our time in Normandy, we had the opportunity to visit the German, American, and British Cemeteries, which became the final resting place of the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in the fierce fighting for the region in 1944. Our first stop after Utah Beach was the German Cemetery. In the center, a single, solemn hill with a large stone cross overlooks the gravestones. The gravestones are small, flat, and dark. Each offers the names of multiple soldiers interned at the site. The small cemetery offers little information of the soldiers besides their name and date of death. Its simplicity offers somberness. Men old enough to be my father and boys years younger than myself rest under my feet. I am moved by this thought. They were our enemies. But they too were human.

            The next day, we walked the grounds of the American Cemetery overlooking the English Channel and Omaha Beach. As we laid roses at each of the thirteen Buckeyes who lost their lives in the Normandy campaign and were laid to rest in the cemetery here, I pause to stop at several graves. Reading a name, rank, and date of death does not give much information on the individual soldier, yet each time I look up from the headstone, I look beyond the Cross or Star of David and see row after row of graves. The numbers are overwhelming.  Here I get my first understanding of how many U.S. servicemen gave their lives. The numbers we studied in class become more than numbers—they become individuals. Despite this feeling, I found it difficult to understand the story of each individual grave. Thousands of white Crosses blended together. Eventually, they all seemed the same.

It wasn’t until I visited the British Cemetery the next day that I felt a personal connection and understanding of the thousands of men buried at these military sites. Walking along the rows of headstones, I read the names engraved on each marble stone. The face of the marker bore the insignia of the soldier’s unit, his rank, the date of death, an optional religious sign, and a short quote chosen by a loved one from home. Through these quotes, I really felt that a personal touch was added to the remembrance of those who sacrificed.

While psalms, poems, and one-line obituaries adorned the majority of headstones, one quote stood out to me. It read: “Peace Lad, You Played the Game.” I stopped walking and thought about what this game could be. It occurred to me that nations had gone to war, but men had lost their lives. Individuals had paid the greatest price in this supposed game of nations. The British Cemetery, to me, honored and respected the individuals who perished in special ways. The German and U.S. cemeteries had seemed uniform and impersonal in contrast.

Furthermore, many German and some Polish, African, Soviet, Czech, and Arabic soldiers were buried at the British Cemetery. This served to remind me of the widespread impact World War Two had, and how much death it brought. Seeing such foreign, especially German, headstones intermixed with British, Canadian, and Irish gravestones was surprising. My mind wandered once again to the “You Played the Game” epitaph. Each of these young men was forced to play a deadly game. Perhaps they were similar to each other. Perhaps they might have been friends. Perhaps they had a family. Many were fathers. All were sons.

Visiting the cemeteries demonstrated that all these men were individuals to me. In class, we read books and remember numbers of casualties in specific battles; however, until we walk the rows of the dead, we cannot fathom the true cost of the war.

I gave my site report on the sands at Utah Beach.

I gave my site report on the sands at Utah Beach.




An Eye on London

After several planes, busses, and trains, Iarrived in Dublin with Kelsey Mullen and Nick Gelder to do some preliminary sightseeing. We used our few days in Ireland to acclimate ourselves to Europe and ward off the ubiquitous jetlag. We visited the Guinness Storehouse and Jameson Distillery—obligatory stops, it seems, for all travelers in Dublin—and toasted a successful semester and the beginning of our trip. Afterjust a few short days in Ireland, we flew on towards London and rendezvoused with the rest of our group.

With the first evening free, I took the opportunity to explore the districts surrounding our hotel. During this initial wandering, I opened my mind to the city of London and its subtleties. Walking down a narrow, congested, and unmemorable street, I turned the corner and immediately found myself on Piccadilly Circus. Theatres and clubs, bright lights, and a bustling energy immediately overwhelmed me. The atmosphere immediately contrasted the previous street. I was in sensory overload.

For me, this exemplifies the nature of London. Simply turning down a new street leads you into yet another new adventure. The juxtaposition of gritty city life and beautiful parks, monuments, and historical sites astonishes me. One minute, I am walking down the side of the River Thames on a windy and rainy day, typical offices and apartments lining the street. The next, I am crossing a bridge looking up in awe at the parliament buildings and Big Ben, with Westminster Abbey just across the street.

I think that’s what really attracts me to this city. The infinite number of treasures tucked between office buildings and shopping strips brings a unique charm to the city. I am not from a big city and have limited experience travelling in large metropolitan areas.  London maintains a certain aura.

It is this that captivates me: The modern city perfectly blends with historic areas.  Sitting on the Thames in the heart of London is the HMS Belfast, an iconic battleship that served in the Second World War. The Belfast, now a museum and naval memorial, sits on the river as if she’s always been there, as if the city were built around her. The ship stands out next to tourist riverboats and the new architectural designs lining the shore, but it’s not out of place. In a way, so much of London has arisen around the historic areas, blending the old and new together in a unique way. The rich history and tradition of England is perfectly placed within the city just waiting to be discovered amidst the throngs of people and distractions of city life. All you have to do is open your eyes and look.

After several days exploring the obvious attractions as well as thehidden gems of London, I still feel as if there is so much more to discover. So many more museums left to learn from. So many more roads, parks, and city squares left to travel through. And so much more culture to immerse myself in. I leave London having thrown myself headfirst into Europe, and I experienced as much as I could in the short time here. I know that London will call my name at some point in the future, beckoning with its balance of history and modernity. I shall be all too happy to answer and return to a city that has so much to offer.

But now, I must cross the Channel and prepare for Normandy. Cheers, London. I will see you again.

London Eye O-H-I-O

Buckingham Palace


The semester is over. The countdown dwindles down. The day we leave is almost here.

I have spent the better part of the last week since my last final procrastinating packing, as I don’t think that it has really hit me that I will be leaving Sunday. First, I will be going early to Dublin with some of the other students to do some touring and exploring in Ireland. After a couple of nights there, we will meet with the rest of the group in London on the 7th. I am getting progressively more excited, especially as grades are being finalized and the suitcase to pack has actually been dusted off. I have converted currency, printed my boarding pass, and purchased my outlet converters…All that remains is the trip.

This will be a short blog for me, as I am testing the waters and getting used to the interface. But a little about me for those interested:

I am a third year History major from Solon, Ohio. I am also looking at getting Education and International Studies minors. I transferred here from Emory University after my freshman year (I competed in Track and Field there) and have loved my decision to attend The Ohio State University. I am a brother of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, a member of the 106th class of Bucket and Dipper Junior Class Honorary, a member of the Pistol Club, and I work at the Newport Music Hall on High Street.

I look forward to studying abroad and can’t wait to keep everyone posted on here!