A Refusal to Forget


Berlin had always been the ultimate goal for both the Allies and our small landing party, but I never realized just how much the city had to offer. I think I liked Berlin more than Paris and London because it isn’t a huge tourist destination. That doesn’t mean the city is dead, however. In fact Berlin is quite the opposite.
Berlin is the capital of what today is a strong and confident Germany. However, Berlin is a city that doesn’t shy away from its past. On the contrary both the city and its people are more than willing to recognize both the good and the incredibly bad aspects of German history.
Berlin shows this in the way that it chooses to remember WWII with monuments to the victims of the atrocities committed by the Third Reich. We had the good fortune to visit many of these solemn sites during our time in Germany. One of the first museums we visited was the Topography of Terror, a museum on the grounds of what once held the headquarters of the SS. This amazing museum provides a detailed look at the SS from their conception all the way to their downfall.
As the museum chronicles the various atrocities of the SS, it also shows the men of the SS as regular German citizens, which is what they were. There are pictures of Himmler laughing at his desk with a colleague, and pictures of SS members on trips, hanging out, and just goofing around in their off time. I found this hard to take in, because I always think of these men as monsters who perpetrated one of the most heinous crimes of the 20th century. However, there in front of my eyes was proof that these men and women had also been normal Germans. It is a realization that everyone, even Germans today, have to cope with.
Another very emotional site that we visited was Sachsenhausen, which was a concentration camp not far from Berlin. It was the first ever concentration camp, and it served as a model for the concentration camps that would spring up all over occupied Germany. Our guide around the camp was a German historian, and he didn’t shy away or try and explain away what happened at the camp and others like it. I found this refreshing because in France there had been an overall sense that they wanted to forget their compliance with the German occupation and roundup of Jews and other people.
Germany has the complete opposite mindset of France when it comes to its Nazi past. Our tour guide at the concentration camp was the first one to mention this state of mind. He informed us that it is required for every German child to visit at least one site of Nazi terror such as the Topography of Terror or a concentration camp. I think this is a very important thing, because it helps so that the future generations of Germans never forget what could happen if they forget their Nazi past.
Germany has taken some steps to avoid this, as we learned at the Bundestag, the modern seat of the German Parliament. Our tour guide there mentioned at one point that the German people no longer directly have a say in the election of the prime minister or other critical offices. Their interests are represented by the members of the parliament. He jokingly said that this is because the German people are no longer trusted in such decisions, yet he went on to say that this in a sense is true. The German people very clearly remember how Hitler was able to manipulate the masses, and they are determined to never let such a thing happen again.
The Bundestag itself was a very interesting building. It was designed with a modern feel and a plethora of glass. This represents a new transparency in the German government. However, at the same time they have left some of the original walls from the Reichstag that still holds the graffiti that conquering Russian soldiers wrote on the walls.
Our adventure through Europe has given us a whole new understanding and appreciation of just how massive the war really was. For me it has been a very emotional, incredibly life-changing trip that has taken me through not only the history of my own country but that of several of the countries effected by war. In the future I hope to visit the other theaters of war such as Italy, Africa, and the Pacific so that I can truly get a feel for just how global the war was. Until then, however, I am excited to be returning to my home in America so that I can resume my way of life that so many fought and died to protect. I only hope that one day I will be able to say that I earned their sacrifice.

5 for 1 Euro

​When I stepped off the bus into the bustling streets of Paris I was expecting something completely different from what I found. I was told was that Paris was going to be the biggest culture shock of all the cities we were visiting. I have to admit there were some things that struck me as odd, but nothing too off putting.

One thing that I noticed was the amount of dog poop. If you didn’t watch out you could step in it anywhere, even in the metro. In London the tube was very clean and orderly; however, I got the opposite impression of the Paris metro. Once you got the hang of it, the metro was easy to use, despite the learning curve. Where the big difference lies is how dirty the Paris metro stations can be. They are often full of homeless people sleeping where people should be sitting, and many stations smelled of feces. What I did like was some of the performers who actually rode the metro and played music from the godfather and other classic movies as you ride by the streets of Paris, giving everything a distinctly European feel. That the metro actually rides in some places above ground was a welcome change from the tube because it allowed you to still see the city and get to your destination in a timely fashion.

​Another cultural norm I noticed was the people-watching that takes place from covered outdoor seating at many of the cafés lining the road. I actually enjoyed taking part in this tradition because it felt very European to me. There is something about eating a crepe and drinking a coffee while people-watching that makes you realize you are in Paris. This also comes in handy on rainy days, which are quite common this time of year in Paris, seeing as it can give you a slight reprieve from the sometimes torrential downpour.

The main thing that I believe most people are warned about in Paris are the gypsies and their skill at pickpocketing. There are signs for it everywhere, and I even read an article while riding the metro in the Paris Newspaper about increased security because 500,000 Chinese Nationals had reported being pick-pocketed last year. Besides seeing one young American get her phone stolen I didn’t much notice the gypsies, perhaps because of the presence of armed patrols by the French military in tourist areas.

​The problem is that Paris today is a modern city. The gypsies no longer look like what most people would hear about or think up in the states. The typical gypsy is billed as wearing the flowing clothing and head scarfs and large jewelry. I always imagined them as they are portrayed in the second Sherlock Holmes movie. In reality the gypsies today are mostly African immigrants trying to sell miniature Eiffel Towers literally everywhere, I arrived at Versailles only to be asked if I wanted 5 cheap trinkets for 1 euro, and women and children asking you to sign petitions as a distraction. As long as you just keep saying no and walking they don’t pose much of a threat.

​Despite the amazing tourist sites and the interesting French culture I thought that we spent too much time in Paris and actually questioned why we were there at all. The Shoah museum and the memorial to those deported during the Jewish roundup were absolutely brilliant and heart wrenching. Besides that, however, there was really nothing relevant to WWII. The military museum is similar to any other WWII military museum, and the French resistance museum was disappointing.

There is predominant sense of denial in the French culture surrounding their collaboration in WWII. There is no denying that many in the government and even some in the resistance collaborated to save their own lives. However, the French Resistance museum glossed over this fact and actively promotes the De Gaulle myth that every Frenchman and woman was an active part if the resistance. This frustrated me, because they down played the role of the Americans and the rest of the allies in saving their country. To me it just seems to be an act of vanity and a refusal to admit that the French got their hands plenty filthy during the German occupation.

​Overall French culture in Paris did not really surprise me, seeing as we had a soft introduction to French culture in Bayeux. It seemed as if Paris had all the typical trappings of a tourist city such as souvenir shops and citizens who are tired of dealing with the day-in-day out mental and physical struggle of putting up with hordes of tourists. I’d say I quite enjoyed Paris far more than I ever could have dreamed I would have. That being said, I was glad to put Paris in the rear view and set my sights on Germany and the true goal of both the allied war effort and our small band of modern day invaders, Berlin.

Gone but Never Forgotten


I was most excited to see Normandy when I found out I would be going on this trip. In respect to the military history of WWII, Normandy is extremely important especially to us Americans. I was looking forward to seeing the remnants of the Atlantic wall and I was just generally ecstatic about seeing and experiencing all that we had learned about.
Our accommodations in Bayeux were here and there. I quite liked the hotel we stayed in even though they kept moving us around. The town itself was very nice and full of history. We even visited the Bayeux Tapestry which was a very detailed account of William the Conqueror’s rise to the throne of England.
I think what I was most excited to see in Normandy were the beaches at Utah and Omaha. However I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed by what I saw at te beaches. Firstly it was high tide at both places and so we didn’t get the full effect of seeing just how far the soldiers had to go to get off the beaches. Also I was expecting there to still be some remnants of the war there. I was looking forward to seeing large bluffs and huge bunkers overlooking the waters. Instead there were no bunkers and only smaller hills by the beaches. I don’t mean to say that I don’t think the beaches were formidable but I wish there was still enough there to give visitors a feel for what it would have been like.
What I was most surprised by was Point Du Hoc. I was expecting a small outcropping to be what we would find. However when we got there the area was much larger than I imagined and it was pot marked by enormous craters from bombs and naval artillery shells. The landscape was also dotted with German bunkers and gun emplacements left exactly has they had been at the end of the war. It was an amazing site and I enjoyed climbing around the ruins and finding more and more of the German complex that was there. Also this helped me to get a better feel for the nightmare of a battlefield Point Du Hoc would have been during the war.
The museum that we visited in Caen was a great WWII museum. Something different about French museums is that they are very heavy on the reading. There is much to be read at each exhibit and I have to say I didn’t mind. Each part of the museum told stories from WWII that I hadn’t even known. Another cool thing that they had was actual weapons from the war. I have seen a good many of the weapons used in the war before but this museum had some I had never seen. These included weapons such as the mp-40 and the German mini tank that acted as a remote controlled bomb car.
When I think WWII I tend to think of everything being very condensed such as it is in the movies and games. What was a constant theme for my visits to the sites of the war was the sheer size of the battlefield. What people don’t realize is that the countryside, beaches, and towns that played host to the war are much larger than one can imagine. The beaches for example are extremely wide and the town of Saint Mere Eglise is a lot bigger than I thought. The square for example is open and devoid of cover and paratroopers landed right in the middle of it. When I saw that I wasn’t surprised that many of them didn’t make it.

It’s a Boat Ride

Before traveling to London, Dave, Kelsey and I took a short two day trip to Dublin Ireland to soak up the Irish culture. Dublin was much smaller than I thought it would be but it was still a pretty cool place with plenty of things to see. During our second day there we toured the Jameson Distillery and then the Guinness Storehouse where we learned to pour the perfect pint. In all Ireland was an awesome place, however, I hope to see more of the countryside next time because I hear it is absolutely beautiful.
We flew into England via the Luton airport which we soon discovered was a considerable ways outside the city. We were able to get a bus for relatively cheap and so were off on our London adventure. This was not my first time in London as I had stayed here for two weeks about two years ago with the London Honors program. Regardless it felt good to be back and I was excited to get exploring more of the city.
Dave, Kelsey and I were surprised to find that we were the first students to arrive at the hotel. We checked into our rooms and freshened up before heading out. We didn’t have tube passes yet so we decided to just pick a direction and start walking. We saw a lot that day including Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace. We met up with the rest of the group later on and got our tube passes and London passes. We decided that we would get dinner but our group was far too big to be accommodated at almost any of the pubs and restaurants. Jenna, Hannah, Kelsey and myself decided to split off and we had dinner at the TCR Bar which was a pretty cool place. We were joined later by Dave for some drinks.
The next day was when we got started on the WWII part of the trip which is what I was most excited for. We visited the Churchill War Museum which is inside the bunker that he commanded from during the Battle of Britain. It was cool to see how Churchill and his people lives and worked during the battle. There was also a pretty extensive museum that chronicled his life all the way to his death with a very moving video of his funeral profession. After the museum me and some of the group went around to the typical tourists spots such as Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral. On our way home we crossed the millennial bridge which I had never done. I was on the lookout the whole time for death eaters. Luckily none appeared.
The following day we took a train out to Bletchley Park and visited the site where they cracked the enigma code and worked around the clock to decipher German and Japanese intelligence during the war. We took a leisurely tour through the grounds and it was hard for me to imagine over 8,000 people living and working there. The museum was cool to me because it included a small section on some of the double cross agents such as TATE and GARBO that I did my research paper on.
Saturday was a very busy day for me and some of my friends. The group first visited the HMS Belfast which I thought was one of the best things we did in London. I love touring large military ships and the Belfast did not disappoint. I thoroughly enjoyed winding my way through the boiler and engine rooms especially. I was disappointed that they did not have more of the ship available to look around but it was still a great experience none the less. We had spent the previous night planning our day so after the Belfast we quickly boarded a ferry and traveled to Greenwich to see the prime meridian. After thy we ferried back to the heart of London and traveled around seeing the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker St, the Marble Arch and many other sites. It was a fun but tiring day and we took it easy that night by just walking around Piccadilly Circus and soaking in the culture and nightlife.
After so many exciting days in London a lot of us were pretty beat. Regardless Dave and I decided we wanted to see a football stadium. If it had been in the cards I would have liked to have visited Old Trafford in Manchester. Seeing as that was a no go we decided to see Chelsea and Arsenal both were on the London pass but Chelsea was renovating their field so we decided to stick with just Arsenal. The tour was fantastic and allowed is to see the Directors box and the Diamond box. It even included a tour of the dressing rooms and press rooms. The coolest part was getting to go through the tunnel and out to the pitch. Sitting in the home dugout and imagining the roar of tens of thousands of fans is a pretty crazy experience. After that our day was pretty much done. I called my mom and wished her a happy Mother’s Day and we spent the rest of the day relaxing walking around and working on our blog posts.
London was cool but I felt that I had seen and done most of what there is in London before. As I write this I am eagerly anticipating getting to mainland Europe. Normandy is what I expect to be the most exciting part of the trip for me. As we sail into Normandy I will prepare to storm the beaches with the rest of my group. It would be amazing if we could land on the beaches in Higgins boats but I don’t think that is very plausible. Regardless I am excited to start the next leg of our adventure!