From my perspective, it seems that Germany is a country which is continuously trying to atone for World War II. Our visit to Berlin started off with a trip to the Reichstag, where the Bundestag is housed and which is essentially the German parliament. Inside the Reichstag, the first thing we ran into was the central hall where all members of the Bundestag meet and sit. It is a huge hall, surrounded entirely by glass. This glass is indicative of a transparency which the German government wishes to have with its people, as the Germans want the entire public to be able to see and understand what is going on within. They seek to avoid a repeat of the early 1930’s. Visits to the German Historical Museum and the Topography of Terror Museum further supported that the Germans do not forget the Third Reich as a part of their history. Coverage of the rise of Adolf Hitler and his party and their takeover of Germany is extensive in these museums, and it strives to show the complete German acknowledgement and understanding of what happened. With every exhibit it seemed that there was some effort to say: “This is what happened, and here is how and why we will not let it happen again.” These museums were followed with discussions of the German Resistance, however small it was, and a trip to the German Resistance Museum. At St. Mathias Church I gave my site report on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and member of the religious German resistance. The German resistance was represented in these museums as a disjoint collection of a few small groups. While resisters in France may have numbered in the thousands or tens of thousands, German resistance most likely never numbered more than a few hundred people. The general population typically lived in fear of the regime if they didn’t actively support it, and had very little collective courage to actively resist the Nazis. The religious resistance, as mentioned earlier, was paralleled by a group of students, among them Hans and Sophie Scholl, and a group within the military, including Klaus von Stauffenberg, who attempted to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944. While all of these groups were particularly passionate about stopping the Nazis, all of their methods proved ineffective and none of them were met with success. The failure of the resistance also factors into the Germans’ inability to fully move forward from the war, as they need to hold on to it in order to distance themselves from it.
I came into Poland with a sense of relief stemming from “D-Day fatigue.” After spending so much time in Normandy, the D-Day story almost became played out (I don’t want to say it this way but don’t really know how else to put it). Coming into Poland gave us a new perspective on the war, as we were now in a land that was invaded by Soviets, then Nazis, then Soviets again. The Polish people have no triumph as the French and British do. There was no People’s War here in Poland and there was no government collaboration to deny existence of. In Poland there was only humiliation and defeat. The Oskar Schindler Museum and the visit to Auschwitz gave an incredibly humbling idea of what the Polish and Jewish people went through. I don’t really feel comfortable talking much on Auschwitz, as I really don’t think there are sufficient words to describe the experience there in the present day, let alone trying to describe how unimaginable it must’ve been during the Holocaust.
The Schindler Museum is my favorite museum that we’ve visited so far. It gives the Polish account of the war starting at with the close of World War I. The most moving aspect of the museum is that it is primarily told from the perspective of various children from the Krakow and other Polish ghettoes. Seeing how such innocents perceived their dreadful surroundings strikes a chord, especially when they were so young that they can’t have known much else then the oppression surrounding them.
Learning Schindler’s story was particularly interesting to me, as I have not seen the movie and didn’t really know anything about what he had done during the German occupation of Poland. It was fascinating to learn that Schindler had a history of weaseling his way in and out of shady business deals, and that he had a history of taking advantage of various different businesses and people. To see his transformation into somebody who reportedly had very personal relationships with his workers and cared so deeply for them that he went to great lengths to protect them from the Nazis was very fascinating, and a good way to see the way that care for humanity was not completely lost among the invading Germans.
On the whole, I greatly enjoyed our time in Poland. It was very refreshing to see the war from a perspective other than that of the victors, and this experience has continued into Germany and seeing how the Germans attempt to atone their war experience.
May 8 – Arrival
I woke up at 4:30 AM in Prague for my flight to London. Upon arrival in the airport, I met up with Beau, Maya, Michele, and Morgan. Beau, using his prior knowledge of the Underground, led us to the hotel with no issues. After waiting around the hotel for everybody else to arrive, we took the Tube to Westminster and saw Big Ben and then went into Westminster Abbey. That evening we turned in early to get ready for the Churchill War Rooms the next day.
May 9 – Churchill War Rooms/Getting Lost with Beau/Michael Hanscomb Dinner
The Churchill War Rooms Museum was our first stop of the study trip. Here were the reproduced/preserved rooms from which Churchill and his Cabinet conducted the majority of the war after he was forced underground. The museum was interesting, and reveals the general cult of personality surrounding Churchill among the English public, which was a little strange as I don’t believe there’s a large FDR museum in the US. After the War Rooms, Beau and I went to Trafalgar Square and avoided some sort of Russian Nationalist protest before going into the National Gallery. We didn’t stay long in the Gallery, as there was a surplus of British schoolchildren that were quite irritating. After a quick lunch, we went exploring trying to find the various embassies, but instead wound up getting lost in some swanky neighborhoods south of Hyde Park. At the end of the day we had the great opportunity to hear the story of a survivor of the Blitz, Michael Hanscombe, who told us how London was before, during, and immediately after the war.
May 10 – British Museum/Cartoon Museum/HMS Belfast/Tower Bridge/All Hallows Church
Wednesday was our free day, so Beau, Brittany, Michele and I planned some things we could see across the city. First, we went to the British Museum, where we all broke off and saw our own areas of interest. Brittany and I went through the Native American, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese exhibits. From the British Museum, we went across and down the street to the Cartoon Museum. The Cartoon Museum was a little hole in the wall with a few rooms filled with cartoons and caricatures dating all the way back to the 1700’s. The political and social cartoons were actually pretty hilarious, but the comic section of the museum focused heavily on Judge Dredd and was lost on me. After the Cartoon Museum, we took the Tube to the Thames and walked along the river to HMS Belfast. The Belfast is one of the British’s most legendary warships from World War II, and it was fascinating to climb aboard and explore the ship. The Belfast sank the German ship Schwarzhorn(?) during the Battle of the Atlantic and was involved in combating many U-boats. From the Belfast, we went over to the Tower Bridge, and went through the exhibit relatively quickly. The bridge itself was pretty from a distance, but the only real valuable takeaway from going inside it was the panorama of the city taken from its observation deck. Afterwards, we crossed the bridge and walked past the Tower of London to All Hallows Church, the oldest church in London. The church, dating back to 675 AD was already nearly 1000 years old when William Penn was christened there in 1644. After All Hallows, we met up with Morgan and Alex and all had a late lunch/early dinner of meat pies at a pub called the Hung, Drawn, and Quartered.
May 11 – Bletchley Park/Kensington Palace/Curry
Thursday was back to our study trip, and we took a London Midlands train out to Bletchley to see the center of Ultra operations here in England. It was very interesting and satisfying to see the actual site where so many of those from our readings relied upon for intelligence. I inherited a love of mechanical based machines from my dad, and it was therefore fascinating to see the Bombe replica itself, seeing it actual run was a real treat. Additionally, the large collection of Enigma machines was very impressive, my next recommendation to my dad for an eBay purchase is definitely going to be an old encoding machine. After spending most of the day at Bletchley, we returned to London and walked through Kensington Gardens and the Kensington Palace to finish off the evening, before going and getting an obligatory curry from a small Indian hole in the wall.
May 12 – Imperial War Museum/Fishcotheque/Fan Museum/Cutty Sark/St. Paul’s/Jack the Ripper
Yesterday we started the day off at the Imperial War Museum, which was very impressive and satisfied my itch for seeing some of the machinery of the war. Being able to see the V-weapons was especially interesting, having only read about them and seen very old photographs. Seeing the V-2 in person really gave me an appreciation for how much more devastating those weapons could have been had their launch sites not been destroyed. The replica of Little Boy was also very cool to see, as the ratio of the size of the bomb to the destruction inflicted by it is almost unfathomable. The World War I exhibit was incredibly detailed and immersive, and it would be nice to see the World War II exhibit evolve into something similar. After a walk through the Holocaust exhibit, Brittany, Alex, and I went to find a chippy close to the museum, and wound up in a place called Fishcotheque, (which I thought was a hilarious name), across from Waterloo Station. After that, Alex went on to the Tate Museums, and Brittany and I rode the Tube east to the DLR, and then southeast through Metropolitan London to see the Fan Museum and the Cutty Sark. The Fan Museum was as I expected, a small old house that was ran by a bunch of old British ladies, but the fans themselves were actually quite interesting and intricate, and the craftsmanship required to make such beautiful pieces is incredible. After the Fan Museum, we went down the street in Greenwich to see the Cutty Sark, a famous tea-trading ship that was once the fastest in the world, making the passage from Sydney to London in just 73 days. After the Cutty Sark, we sat by the Thames and looked over the city for a while, as the weather had finally cleared up, before then heading back to St. Paul’s to take a few pictures before our Jack the Ripper tour. The Jack the Ripper tour was a guided story through East London which was interesting, but I personally expected Jack to have quite a bit more victims to be such a legendary figure. After our tour, we wandered through the Bangladeshi streets before heading back to the Lancaster Gate Hotel to pack up for this morning’s ferry.
After a full weekend of travel, I’ve arrived with my mother in Budapest. Starting in Cleveland on Saturday morning, we rented a car from the airport and drove to Chicago, returned the car at O’Hare, and boarded our flight to Berlin, with a stopover at Stockholm. After five and a half hours in Stockholm, we boarded for Berlin, where we ran into trouble. Being the genius I am, I didn’t realize I would have to book our flight from Berlin to Budapest on the 30th, not the 29th. Following some frenzied German from my mom, and a little bit of magic, we wound up on the flight to Budapest and got in at midnight local time.
This morning, Maria and I met with a local from Budapest, Magdi, who showed us around the city for the first half of the day. Our hotel was on the Pest side of the Danube, but we immediately bought Metro tickets and went under the river to the Buda side (much more scenic) to start the day. We started the day on the Castle Hill at Our Lady of Buda Church, almost always referred to as the Matthias Church, which is from where these first two photos were taken. The church was heavily damaged in the war and consequently rebuilt and refinished, and now looks like this:
From the Matthias Church, we walked past the Hungarian President’s office and to the Royal Palace, which now is host to an art museum. According to Magdi, it doesn’t look as good inside as out, so we didn’t go in. We then went down the Castle Hill and took a tram to Gellért Hill, where we looked in on the Gellért Baths and went into the Cave Church and Monastery.
From the Cave Church, we took another tram across the Liberty Bridge and past the Great Market Hall, which was unfortunately closed today for Labor Day, on our way to the Dohány Street Synagogue. The Great Synagogue is the largest in Europe, and second largest in the world. The synagogue itself was beautiful, and in its rear courtyard we saw the Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs.
The memorial was very symbolic and moving. The large black portion is fashioned to represent the two tablets bearing the Ten Commandments, and they are voids to show that, during the Holocaust, God’s laws had been abandoned. The monument itself is a weeping willow tree, to represent that sorrow beset upon the families of those affected by the Holocaust. Each small leaf on the tree bears an individual’s or family’s name in remembrance, but not all of them are engraved, which allows more families to place a deceased loved one’s name on the memorial. Finally, the tree itself is shaped to be an inverted menorah, with the limbs facing downward to represent the light of hope extinguished by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
From the Great Synagogue, we switched religions and went to St. Stephen’s Basilica. Named for the Hungarian king who converted Hungary to Christianity in the early 1000’s, this Basilica was too big to really get a good picture from the outside. The massive size of the church astounded me, but it was truly beautiful. This church is unique, as it has a king on the altar, which wouldn’t be expected in a house of God. The most interesting part of St. Stephen’s for me was seeing the saint-king’s hand. St. Stephen’s mummified hand from nearly one thousand years ago is on display in the Basilica. Every year on August 20, (essentially Hungary’s Fourth of July), St. Stephen’s hand is paraded in its casket throughout Budapest.
From St. Stephen’s, we returned to our hotel and spent the rest of the day walking along the Danube and generally relaxing, before heading up to the Citadella to take a few pictures as the sun went down. Tomorrow we’re doing a tour of the Hungarian Parliament and then heading to a few more parks and thermal baths. Wednesday, it’s onward to Vienna.