The beginning of the end.

Berlin was different from what I was expecting. I didn’t see any skyscrapers and there was a lot of construction. I didn’t understand until later until it was explained that the German people were still readjusting after being separated for so long. Many of the building haven’t changed from the cold war. The first sight we visited was the Bundestag or the Reichstag building, the German seat of government or parliament building. We went on a small tour and saw the parliament room and learned that it changes every four years to fit the seats available for each political party. I also didn’t expect them to be purple.  We saw how they have preserved the writing the Russians did when they captured the Reichstag building during the Battle of Berlin.  They wrote their names, locations and other graphite all over the walls and any place they could. They also tried to preserve the bullet holes and some of the other evidence of the battle. We learned that there are only tram cars on the east side of Berlin because tram cars were only in East Berlin. When we went to see the German version of their war museum, it focused on what lead up to and how the Nazi’s gained power. It went through the aftermath of the First World War, the great depression and how the Nazis came to power. It also showed how the aftermath of the Second World War and how Germany was under the Soviet occupation and how it was divided during the cold war. There was no museum that we had visited previously that showed how the Nazi’s gained power. It was very different from the previous countries museums to see the German perspective.  As we were spending time in Germany I realized that I don’t like sausage or a lot of German food but I did like the Weiner Stitzel. Of the other cemeteries, the Soviet one was very different, it was massive and grand but the only grave was the mass grave near the end under a massive statue of a Russian soldier carrying a small child, brandishing a sword and standing on a broken swastika. The Soviets believed that because all of their fallen were seen as equal that they don’t deserve individual graves, thus they have the single mass grave.  Overall from what I had gathered from the different museums and memorials in Berlin, the German people were trying to make penance for what was committed during the Second World War and are still adjusting to the fall of the Soviet Union. This was made clear at the Russian-German museum or the capitulation museum, the sight where the second signing of the German surrender occurred. This museum was the only one that I can recall that focused on the eastern front and the atrocities that occurred there.  That being said, I only saw the German atrocities committed on the eastern front and not any of the Russian atrocities the Soviets committed.

Of everything that we got to see in Berlin, my favorite sight was the civilian bunker that was not bombed in WWII. It was dark and cramped and put into the perspective of how crowded it was and how there were not enough bunkers to cover the 3 million Berliners during the bombing of Berlin.  There was about 25 of us on that tour and there wasn’t enough space. It was hard to imagine how up to 400 to 500 people squeezed into that bunker during the bombings.    This was an amazing trip that I am glad I was able to be a part of and I will miss my classmates and will cherish our experiences together. I am sad to go but now I am heading to my final stop before heading home to the states.

Now I’m off to Florence!

Then we stormed the beaches…

As we progressed onto France, we went and stayed at a hotel in Bayeux. Bayeux is a small country town in Normandy. The air was clear and the people there were hospitable and it was a good place to adjust to the French language. I felt like one of the international students on campus who are in a foreign environment and doesn’t understand the local language. The language barrier was difficult and I don’t know French and what Spanish I do know was unhelpful when trying to communicate with the locals.

Bayeux was the first town liberated from the Germans after the Allied invasion of France called Operation Overlord or also known as D-Day.  The D-Day invasion happened on the Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah beaches. While in Normandy we visited the Utah, Omaha and Gold beaches. The beaches were not what I expected when I learned about them. They were different from what I had imagined. The Utah Beach was the first we visited and it reminded me of the beaches of North Carolina.  With that in mind, I tried to imagine traversing the beach with all of the wet, heavy gear and weapons the soldiers of the D-Day invasion had to carry along.  The wet sand that they sunk into only made their assault harder under enemy fire. Later that week we went to Pont de Hoc, the small peninsula between the Utah and Omaha beaches. Pont de Hoc was where the Germans had heavy guns that could have affected the Allied navy’s assault and the Allied invasion. Pont de Hoc was covered in mass craters caused by the Navy shelling. Allied forces had to climb up the cliff face to surprise the enemy and capture the guns. The sight was beautiful but it was hard to think that it was a battlefield.  Later we went to Omaha and I had my biggest surprise. Most of the beach was flat and then there were tall hills instead of the rock faces that I thought that the soldiers had to climb. It turns out that I was thinking about Dog Green, the farthest west Pont of the beach closest to Pont de Hoc. Dog Green was the rockiest part of the beach while the rest was easier to advance on but the soldiers had to deal with heavy enemy crossfire from down the beach.  I learned that the amphibious transports dropped off there load to far from their intended target range. They were supposed to drop off the tanks 3 to 5 clicks off the beaches in low tide but they dropped them off almost 7 clicks and from there most of the heavy armor and tanks drowned. Through the actions of the transports, the Omaha assault had only 10 percent of their original tanks.  The last beach we saw was the Gold Beach. I didn’t expect to see that it had a town on the beach front. So that when the allies advanced on to the beach, they rolled right up to the town and had to face the enemy in an urban area.

Normandy underwent heavy strategic bombing, the allies destroyed the local’s homes and businesses, their communities and had to deal with all of it under the Nazi occupation. It was hard to think that the Normans were thankful to the allies for freeing them from occupation when these same people who freed them also destroyed their property and left their homes in ruins. It was a surprise to learn that the church in Bayeux was unharmed by the allied bombing. The church is called the Notre Dame de Bayeux and it was built in the 1100’s.

While we were in Normandy we went to the different cemeteries. We first visited the German cemetery. It was located near a highway and was not was I expected from a cemetery. The German soldiers who died in Normandy were buried there. Their tombstones were flat on the ground and when closer examined they had multiple names. Many of the graves were shared graves and many unknown soldiers. In the middle of the cemetery, there is a large mound that was actually a mass grave of unknown German soldiers. It was a very despondent sight. How the cemetery was arranged brings to mind trying to remember the fallen but not what they fought for. The other cemeteries we visited were the American and British cemeteries. The American cemetery was close to the ocean, with the well-known white crosses and star of Davis’s. The sheer scale of graves brings into perspective how many died. It is one thing to know the number of those who died and another to be there and see the graves.  The British cemetery was different in that they had tombstones for all who were involved because they believed that in death all of the soldiers deserve a proper grave. They also had the different designs of the soldier’s regiment on their tombstones. What they have written on them was left to the families to decide. This made the graves more personal and hopefully brought closer to the families.

One thing I really liked in Normandy was the airborne museum that had a building to show and inform people of Operation Neptune. Inside they had an area where people had to walk through a replica of a plane that dropped the paratroopers over France and had a small scale of what the paratroopers were dropped over under a glass walkway. It was really cool to see what the paratroopers experienced as they jumped. And then from Bayeux, the group travels to Paris.

The beginning of my travels across the pond

This trip has allowed me to experience a lot of new things.  For my first time abroad, what I have seen and experienced were beyond my expectations. My first international flight felt longer than it was. My excitement and nerves for the trip kept me up for most of the flight and only prolonged the experience. Overall, the trip across the Atlantic was good, but I was not prepared for the jet lag that followed. Even on my last day in London, I was still recovering.

I have enjoyed my first time in London so far and was able to see many of the sights. On the first day, I went to Westminster Abby with some of the other people in my group and we had a good time. The Abby was beautiful inside, and I’m sad that no photos were allowed inside so that I could have shared what I had seen. Before seeing the inside, I thought that it was just a church with lovely architecture both inside and out, but I was wrong. There were monuments and memorials to many renowned people and more history there than I previously thought. Seeing the different monarchs and nobles buried or remembered there reminded me of just how long British history is. This was seen again at many of the other sights.

One of my favorite sights was St. Paul’s Cathedral. The architecture was beautiful and how the black and white artwork contrasted was different from other churches. The glass piece murals on the choir ceiling were stunning and my favorite part of the cathedral. Yet in the church’s history that part of the cathedral was hated by the people because it was perceived as “too French.” All of the artwork and monuments within the cathedral showed again how old Britain’s history is. I didn’t expect to see a small bust of George Washington in a small corner of the crypt. St. Paul’s cathedral was built after the great fire of London demolished the old medieval Gothic St. Paul’s. During the Blitz, a bomb hit St. Paul’s and hit a private altar, it destroyed the altar and blew a hole into the crypt below. After reconstruction, the cathedral dedicated a new statue of Mary holding a small child to commemorate all of the men, women, and children who died in the Blitz so that St. Paul’s could still stand. During WWII, there was a special volunteer fire brigade that stayed at the church to put out fires from the bombs that hit the church and the areas around it.  There is also a special memorial at the back of the east altar behind the choir section that commemorates all of the Americans who were stationed in Britain and who died to defend England. The memorial holds a book that contains all of their names, and the special decoration around the memorial shows the different plants and animals native to the U.S.  During the war and the aftermath, the cathedral was a symbol to the people that they couldn’t give up in the face of the oppressive odds and the hard conditions they endured. If the cathedral could still stand after the bombs than the people could also survive and endure.

The National Gallery was different from what I expected, yet the artwork there and the diversity of the pieces was a pleasing sight.  Morgan Moon and I went to the Sherlock Holmes museum and had a blast. The other museums we saw were the Natural History Museum and the British Museum. The Natural History Museum reminded me of the one in the U.S. and a bit of COSI. There was a lot of things at the British Museum and I kept wondering why they have so much and how did they transport it all. They have an entire Greek temple and huge statutes that weight several tons. How did they move it all and did any pieces get damaged or lost in transition? My main overall thought was that many of these items were on “permanent loan” or was taken when England occupied the different areas. I didn’t see any mention of the Second World War in the museum, maybe it wasn’t affected or I just missed it.

Of my experience of London, there are so many different people who speak many different languages and cultures yet they all somehow fit. That being said, I can’t get over all of the smoking and pollution that fills the city. The first day I was constantly coughing and sneezing because of the smoke and the exhaust. It’s just another part of their culture and another difference from what’s back home.