We started the trip off with a long bus ride to Berlin from Krakow, and almost immediately went to visit the Bundestag. The actual building, the Reichstag, was last renovated in 1999, and I thought it was so cool that the architect, Norman Foster, decided to preserve the Soviet Union graffiti and bullet holes throughout the entire building; this added a lot of character to the building and was a nice tribute to the building’s history.


I also found it absolutely ingenious that the chambers were reconstructed every 4 years to match the number of delegates per number of seats in each party. The iconic dome on top also offered a nice 360 degree view of the city. I really enjoyed our tour of the Bundestag because I had known absolutely nothing about it, and it was a great way to get introduced to Berlin. While in Germany, we also visited the Cathedral, river walk, Museum of Terror and the German Historical Museum. A large group of us also ventured out to Prater Gärten, the oldest biergärten in Berlin. The atmosphere was very relaxed and calm, and I really enjoyed just spending time with the group underneath strings of lights, munching on hot pretzels, corn on the cob, and schnitzel.


As we visited each museum and exhibit, I was impressed that Germany made almost no excuses for their behavior during WW II. The nation owned up to their actions, both of the proactively violent SS soldiers and gestapos, and of the German citizens, who acted as bystanders and allowed the atrocities around them to exist with little resistance. Having just come from Auschwitz, I was nervous that the Germans would try to downplay the Holocaust and pin the blame on just Hitler, but the museums told the truth and didn’t sugarcoat or gloss over their unforgivable behavior.

On our last full day, we traveled to Potsdam and visited the Wannsee House, where the Wannsee Conference took place. The property itself was beautiful, and the surrounding lake and greenery were picturesque; it seemed like the perfect place to have a picnic. The house itself was also preserved nicely, and I could tell that it was an impressive building in its day. This beauty provided a stark contrast to the menacing and dark decisions that were made within the home’s walls. Just imagining that Hitler had walked in the same rooms as I was now strolling through, bringing even the most minute details of the Final Solution to fruition was very eerie, and in the end, took away from a lot of the charm the house would have otherwise had.

Our last meal and night out were very bittersweet. Every country we traveled to brought the group closer and closer, so by the time we made it to Berlin, we had become a family. I don’t think anyone was prepared for how well the group dynamic would work, or how much fun we would all have just playing cards or sitting around talking. There was never a dull moment and I could always count on someone to call out a funny inside joke on the bus or send a hilarious meme into the group message. Not only did I learn far more about World War II than I thought possible, but as I got to know everyone more and more, I realized that I was so lucky to be in the same group as so many talented, intelligent, and high achieving people. I know that the friendships I made on this trip will last as long as the memories, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have been a part of this experience.


Out of all four countries on the trip, I definitely knew the least about Poland; I knew the nation was famous for its pierogis, but was a bit unsure of how they contributed to the war effort. Because Poland was not a major power during the war, rather a place of occupation, I did not know exactly what “box” Poland fit best into in my mind because it was neither an Axis or Allied Power. Our visit to Schindler’s Factory was very eye-opening to me because it forced the me to embark on the same journey as a typical Polish citizen during World War II and the postwar era. The museum was very well done in the sense that each room completely transported the visitor to a different war scene- even the ceilings were different in every room to fully complete each landscape- and no detail was left out. The number of displaced and enslaved Poles was staggering, and even though we discussed this in class, it took me being in the museum to fully grasp the gravity of the situation. I was also blissfully naïve to the fact that the Poles continued to suffer even after the war was over. I know that they did not technically “win” because they were not a part of the Allied powers, but considered the end of Nazi occupation to be a nice consolation prize. However, Soviet occupation, as shown in the museum, was hardly much better, so clearly the war did not end in 1945 for the Poles like it did for the United States.




The rest of Poland was actually very scenic and pretty. The square in the middle of Krakow was very picturesque with its old, beautiful buildings and numerous horse-drawn carriages. The atmosphere was bustling and lively as tourists and locals zigzagged from stand to stand in the markets. I also really enjoyed the Jewish sector of the city, a community that seemed to be very close and proud of their regrowth since the end of World War II. Finally, walking through the park was gorgeous, as there was lush greenery surrounding the pathway as far as our eyes could see and hip eateries and restaurants tucked just off the beaten path. The Poland I saw offered a sharp juxtaposition to the Poland that was occupied during World War II. The people were very friendly to us the entire time we were there, and were very happy to point us in the direction of good food and cheap drinks. Although the Poles were targeted and marginalized during World War II and the Cold War afterwards, it was nice to see that the nation was building itself back up and that old wounds seemed to be healing.




By the time we got to Paris, I had been in France for a week and had eaten about 150 cheese sandwiches. Bayeux had proven to be a lot different than I expected- the pace of the city was very slow, almost everyone went to bed at 10:30, and there was not a ton of variety between the three streets we had access to. Bayeux also allowed for a lot of down time in the evenings, which was both good and bad, but as a result, the group became a lot closer and we had a lot of fun just relaxing, talking by the pool, and playing cards. However, after 6 full days, I was excited to get to Paris for a change of scenery.

As we drove into Paris, it was easy for me to see why it is such a popular tourist destination. The buildings were beautiful- intricately carved and tall- and there were tons of historic places to see within each square mile. There were statues and monuments every couple of feet, it seemed, and the city looked very scenic with the Seine running casually through it. The Notre Dame Cathedral was as impressive in person as it looked in pictures, the pop-up book shops on the river’s bank were quaint, and the weather was beautiful. I also enjoyed the variety of food, easy transportation system, and bustling atmosphere that was absent in Bayeux. However, the language barrier was difficult at times, because less people than I expected spoke English.




With a slow start to my free day, I only managed to check a few things off my Paris bucket list. I visited the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, walked around the surrounding courtyard, and that night a group of us went down to see the Eiffel Tower. It was breathtaking. It was both impressive from afar, and from practically underneath it. I didn’t realize just how massive it was, but standing at the base trying to fit the whole thing into one picture quickly put its sheer size into perspective. I had dreamed of seeing the Eiffel Tower since I was about 10 years old, and it did not disappoint. As the sun set and we all sat in the lawn, talking, laughing, and sipping champagne, we were all in awe as the Eiffel Tower lit up and started glittering.




Although the Eiffel Tower was hard to top, my favorite part of France was visiting the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. I knew of its history before the trip, but after Patrick’s speech, was much more informed and impressed by Sylvia Beech. The bookstore seemed right out of any child’s fantasy, with hundreds of books lining each shelf, crammed every which way to take up as little space as possible, so that more books could fit in every square inch of each bookcase. With a staircase winding around a corner, leading upstairs to more books and ladders propped up against shelves to reach all of the books near the ceiling, the place seemed absolutely magical. I could see right away how the likes of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein and so many others were inspired to create and tell stories.




In Bayeux, we visited three different cemeteries commemorating the soldiers that had fought and lost their lives during World War II. I noticed a lot of similarities between the American and British sites; both featured bright white, standing graves, beautiful flowers, and clean kept landscape. I felt that both cemeteries conveyed the pride that each nation felt for their soldiers’ sacrifices and assistance in defeating the Axis Powers. Although both burial grounds were very solemn and moving, I felt a bit of underlying positivity in the air as I walked through the graves, because it is easy to see how each sacrifice directly contributed to the protection of democracy and religious freedom throughout Europe.




The German cemetery provided a stark contrast, as all of the graves were black and lying flat on the ground. Many of the graves did not identify specific men and instead just referred to a number of bodies buried underneath the ground, and almost all the gravestones marked the remains of multiple soldiers. I was also unaware of the meaning of the 5 raised crosses that were seen scattered sporadically throughout the cemetery, which also emphasized a kind of haphazard construction that contrasted with the careful planning of the British and American cemeteries. To me, the cemetery seemed to try to acknowledge the mistakes of a nation, while still paying respect to the individual men that had given the ultimate sacrifice for their country. It was as if Germany was still taking responsibility for their wrongdoing, of a nation still filled with quiet shame and regret.  However, regardless of what the German soldiers were fighting for, there is still honor in being willing to die for a cause, one’s country, or even just the men in your unit, which was captured in the cemetery.




Regardless of the differences between the American, British, and German cemeteries, each one successfully conveyed the effects of the harsh realities of war. I became much more aware of the fact that each soldier that died was someone’s son, brother, husband, nephew, etc. I think it is very easy, especially as an American that has not witnessed any fighting on my country’s soil, to grow desensitized to the staggering numbers. However, it became much more real as I stood in front of each grave, noticing how some, even after all these years, still had fresh flowers from mourning relatives and loved ones. Before Bayeux, World War II seemed finite, an event in the far past, but as I stood in the craters at Point du Hoc and on the Omaha and Utah beaches, I was confronted with the uncomfortable reality that Europe still has a lot of healing to do.


After being in Dublin and London with family for about a week, I was very excited for the trip to officially start. When I arrived in London, my great aunt and uncle took me to “The Shakespeare” where I tried my first cup of English breakfast tea; I surprisingly really liked it. I also got my first taste of London’s beautiful architecture as we zigzagged through the city in a taxi. We went to London Public Square and the Covent Garden area, where I saw a ridiculous street performer and the most intricately carved buildings. We ended the night with a trip to The Crowne, an apparently iconic Irish pub on the outskirts of London. The building itself was adorned in all gold and was beautiful, and the Irish atmosphere in the bar reminded me of Dublin. The next day, Charlie and I finally joined the rest of the group, and we were quickly shown the Tube, Big Ben, Churchill’s statue, and Westminster Abbey. Westminster Abbey was so beautiful, and I WISH I could have taken pictures to show my mom, because she would have loved it. I especially liked the gold leaf painting and stained glass, because it was so meticulously and perfectly completed. Morgan ended up knowing almost all of the history behind each room, and listening to her explain why or how something was completed was extremely interesting.

We also visited the Churchill War Rooms, which were much larger than I had anticipated. I gave my site report at the bunker, and after doing research, had assumed that the bunker had little more than a sleeping room, map room, and telephone room. As I walked through the bunker, it finally struck me how much of the strategizing and tactical planning for World War II took place within its walls. After the war rooms, a few of us went to an absolutely gorgeous restaurant right on the Thames under a gazebo with lavender cascading from its roof and a view of Tower Bridge in the distance. We also took a group trip to Bletchley Park, which I didn’t know very much about. I was shocked that a central intelligence operative of that size and success was able to go completely undetected by the Nazis, but am glad the mansion and grounds were not destroyed by the enemy because walking through them was so much fun! To end the London portion of our trip, we went to the Imperial War Museum and I ventured out to Camden Market. I liked the portion of the museum dedicated to the home-front the best, probably because the women’s role in the war had not been emphasized at all of the other museums we visited. Camden Market was also a highlight of my trip because I loved the busy atmosphere, original items by each of the vendors, and overall energy of all the people walking around me.

From the moment I stepped into Covent Square, I felt at home in London. The city felt very warm and inviting, and the locals were very helpful when giving directions, restaurant recommendations, and advice. The pace of the city was a nice change from that of the U.S., but was still quick enough that I was always engaged and learning something new. Not very many cities are able to seamlessly combine centuries of old architecture and tradition, while still managing to be modern, easy to navigate, and charming, but London did a brilliant job.