Wrapping Things Up – A Few Things That Make Berlin, Berlin

Berlin was a very different city from what I was expecting. As far as my knowledge of the city goes, I’ve generally only ever associated Berlin with World War II and the Cold War because of what I’ve learned in school and the lack of depth at which the information was taught. Nonetheless, I expected Berlin to 100% fully-vibrant all the time. A large part of Berlin is vibrant and vastly expressive, but the place is definitely a large Eastern-European city filled with its ups and downs. I loved the program activities we did here in Berlin (things like touring the Reichstag, going to Potsdam and Wannsee, and Treptower Park), but I definitely leave this city not feeling like I got to everything that I wanted to and not having the most pleasant experiences here. Part of this was sheer exhaustion from the first three weeks of travel, while another reason was having a nasty cold that even resulted in a trip to the ER. Regardless, I’ve noticed a couple different things that in my mind make Berlin, Berlin. This city is highly expressive in the way its citizens display their emotions, political viewpoints – really anything – through public art. I’ve also noticed that many Berliners are very friendly and especially towards Americans. I really got the sense that inter-continental relations amongst Americans and Berliners is something the latter quite enjoys in 2016.

The expressiveness of Berlin street art was vast and in many different forms. The East Side Gallery was a really cool example of this. Situated along the longest stretch remaining of the inside part of the Berlin Wall, the wall serves as a gallery for different artists to express themselves through paint. Regardless of what they’re art is trying to express – styles, religion, or politics, etc. – the main point in my observation of having this gallery is to express wholly freedom from the divisiveness caused by splitting up Berlin and Germany after World War II.

I acquired a really rather awful cold while traveling in Poland and the cold got even worse as we went to Berlin. I became congested, non-stop coughing, runny nose – the typical nastiness that happens when germs spread. After being prescribed aspirin and another cough-type medicine, I thought I was feeling better. In reality, I was, but wasn’t. With aspirin being a blood-thinner and me constantly blowing my nose, I guess I should have realized that a nosebleed would have been worse than normal, but I guess the pharmacist should have as well. So, on cue, I got a nose bleed after dinner one night and it just flowed like a river. I was freaked out. We got the bleeding stopped eventually but I still went to the ER for some tests just to make sure I was okay. While in the process of leaving and on my way there, I talked to the German EMTs who had come to help me out. As it turns out, we have a lot of similar interests. The three of them loved looking at my passport. Comparing it to a German passport, they described the differences between the two, mainly the American one having a lot more color and the various watermarks throughout the pages. On the ride over, we talked a little more, mainly about how I was causing them to miss a big soccer match on television, at which I prompted the guys about what they thought of American football. Immediately, the first one to respond says “crazy” and playfully thumps his hand in a fist on his head to simulate the brunt force of a helmet to helmet hit experienced in American football.

What was important to me about the conversation wasn’t the content, but more or less the ability to have such conversations. Seventy-five years ago, when all this war and destruction was taking place, this conversation wouldn’t have happened. The experience I had with the Berlin EMTs made the process even smoother than it already was. It was nice for that to be able to happen, and to see how far our two nations have come since the Second World War, because we know it wasn’t always like that. The conversations had reminded me of an episode of the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. During the episode “Why We Fight”’ Shifty Powers spoke on the same situation he wishes he could’ve had that I was able to take advantage of because of the efforts of him and so many others during the war. A rifleman in Easy Company for the 101st Airborne during the European campaign, Darrell ‘Shifty’ Powers expressed a solemn idea about the enemy while interviewed for commentary used in the series during its production in the early 2000s. “We might have had a lot in common. He might’ve liked to fish, you know, he might’ve liked to hunt.” Shifty said. “But under different circumstances, we might have been good friends.” Shifty understood who the enemy was, but definitely had the ideas in his head that things could have been different. I’m glad that in 2016 I can now communicate with and admire the Germans and have the same mutual respect for Berlin and for Germany. Berlin was a fitting end to my time here in Europe. I will be grateful for the time I spent here for the rest of my life.

Nothing Will Ever Compare


You know, life has been pretty tough to me and my family for the last two years. We have experienced job loss with my dad and pressing financial burden because of it. We held my grandpa’s hand as he went to heaven last October, losing his battle with heart failure. And finally, over spring break this March, my mom suffered a brain bleed, caused by a meningioma, a non-cancerous tumor of sorts that hemorrhaged into her brain stem, resulting in life-saving, all-day brain surgery, and a hospital stay that will probably take six months to a year to recover from. The Longo family is a tough group of people and we will make it through. As hard as this all seems, none of what has happened over the last two years to us stands up to what happened to the prisoners and victims that died at Auschwitz. Walking through Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau today affirmatively helped me to further realize the quality of life that I live and that no matter what I’ve been through, things could surely be worse.

Auschwitz mentally and emotionally drained me. The tour guide’s horrifying and disheartening facts and accompanying statistics hit me in the heart like bullets lodged in a brick wall. 1.3 million Jews went through Auschwitz after being stripped from their homes, forced to relocate to ghettos, and finally deported to Auschwitz. 1.1 million Jews died in the same places that I stood today. One of the most shocking realizations for me at Auschwitz was knowing that potentially and likely everywhere I looked a Jew could have been beaten to a pulp for no particular reason, or a mother could have hugged her children and husband for the last time on the same dirt path that I walked along with my classmates. It’s a harsh reality to face for anyone, seventy some years later, knowing how much life was taken from innocent people.


Positioned at the entrance to Auschwitz I, these barb-wire fences once held an electric charge, capable of killing those who tried to escape.

At Auschwitz I, we spent toured three different buildings. These blocks held different artifacts and information and focused on different sections of Auschwitz. The hallway in Block 4 was the first place that really broke me down. Seeing the names and death dates, occupations and pictures of prisoners in the hallway really worked to show how much innocence was lost. The occupations of these people particularly struck me; lawyers, doctors, writers, cartoonists – all these people could have and did offer so much value to the world outside of the camps. Block 5 held physical, material, proof. Two tons of human hair was stacked in bunches (seemingly almost to the ceiling) behind glass for us to observe. Block 11 took us to the basement of the block. Here, we viewed things like the standing cells. The Nazis would put up to four people in a 3 x 3’ cell, not giving them room to sit, causing extreme exhaustion. In this room, Zyklon B was also first tested on prisoners here in Block 11. In Block 11, the Nazis discovered that the pesticide caused death and they used it as a weapon for killing mass amounts of people in a short amount of time.


Canisters of Zyklon B displayed at Auschwitz I that caused the death of many, many innocent people.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau was hauntingly sprawling in size and substance. After getting off the bus and taking steps towards the camo, the view of the entrance in the sun and the grass actually made the place look nice to the uninformed. First inside Birkenau we walked along the dirt road path, across the same rail-line at which transports came through when entering the camp, and observed an original transport boxcar, which would have a tough time fitting a decent-sized minivan inside of it. Sixty or more people were stuffed like sardines inside of this and other boxcars. There was no room for any passenger to blink, let alone have any kind of comfort. Our tour guide said something like 25% of passengers in these boxcars died before they even got to the camp. After viewing the boxcar, we walked west down the path and viewed the ruins of crematoria 2 & 3. Each crematoria was mirrored from each other across the street, and it seemed fitting that these buildings were destroyed and not left standing by the Nazis, as if the horrendous, inhuman things that took place in the basement and through the chimney of these buildings took a toll on the buildings as well. After the crematoria, we went through a barrack at which Jews stayed while waiting for the inevitable gas-chamber fate. This building, with dirt floors and wood beds, still seems so eerie as all the pictures that held stuffed people inside of them. As many as eight people were forced to fit into one rack, which looks as if the rack would fit one person normally.

Each rack, minuscule in size and support, was supposed to fit 6-8 people.

As we ended the tour of Birkenau, we went up into the top of the main gate. The view, while surreal to me and indicative of just how vast the spread of this camp was, also packed a moral punch that came with the view. Seeing all the people around the grounds with our vantage point, the visual presented was truly a chilling way to end the tour. The Nazis had this same view so many years ago. What I saw is sewn into my mind, the horror of what happened to these people is branded on my heart forever. Leaving the camp on the bus headed back to Kraków I reflected on how emotionally drained I was. While thankful I got to go, I was more than ready to leave. I spent three hours at Auschwitz, walking free under my own power and yet still felt a burning desire to free myself of the emotional burden the site brought me. Over one million people died here during the war, perhaps some of them are still trying to be freed too.

Some Happy Norman Cows

I’ll be honest: I have a deep appreciation for cows and did not think that my travels to France would lead me to writing about them for one of my blog posts. I was born into a family that has maintained and operated an average-sized Ohio dairy farm through generations for the last seventy years or so. Cows are something constant I have been around my whole life. While I did not physically grow up on the farm, I spent a lot of time there and being able to go to grandma and grandpa’s and likewise, out to the barn, was a real treat growing up.

Because of being around the dairy farming culture growing up, I understand the business side of it in some capacity. Cows and the milk that they produce are necessary on a daily basis for millions of Americans (my family included) to make a living and also provide the products that many Americans like to fill their fridges and pantries with. The United States produces the most gallons of milk annually and will always remain an important piece of what makes up the American workforce.


Holstein peering at me at the brief moment at which he isn’t eating grass.

Coming in second place in world annual milk production, the cows of France, and the Normandy area specifically, seem to tell a different story from my observations. Starting last semester, our class was studying the Normandy invasion one week and discussing a particular piece that involved families – and their animals – being in the direct battle line of the invasion. The number of cows alone lost during D-Day nears 100,000 and gives an indication of the toll the invasion took on livestock in Normandy. Losses aside, as we were discussing D-Day, the topic of “Happy Norman Cows” came up in class, and I was quite skeptical of just how happy they were at first. Although, the first time on the bus I saw a field of cows just laying around grass fields that stretched for miles and miles, soaking in the sun, gnawing grass to the soil, my skepticism instantly evaporated. These cows are genuinely ecstatic, excited, and all-around generally joyful. While the cows I’ve been around all of my life roam the fields, are always treated with care and with comfort, and are used in the right way, the animals are also valuable tools to producing product and therefore profit that helps put food on the table. In comparison, Norman cows live like animal royalty if there were distinctions for such things. I cannot recall ever seeing a cow smile, nor am I completely sure that they can, but I’m almost certain that I have seen it here (pictured right) in the French countryside. I did not get to see an actual French dairy farm, though I’m sure they are fairly similar to American farms in the way they operate. Nonetheless, the way American and French cows live are different, but that’s okay and interesting to see and compare.


Please try and tell me this Holstein isn’t smiling — I won’t believe you.

As it relates to World War II, I did a small amount of research on the involvement of cows within Operation Overlord out of pure curiosity. While the results were slim, the information I got was superb. From the September 2, 1994 edition of the Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, Virginia, I found an article titled, “Normandy’s cows played curious role in WWII.” The opening two sentences give a clue-in to just how odd but fascinating their role was as it says: “The curiosity of Normandy cows could get a soldier killed or captured in the summer of ’44. If he were lucky, those natural – but neutral – animal allies could save his life.” Cows served various purposes in the operations. While the cows’ honest curiosity of the invading Americans in their area lead the animals to unintentionally give away allied positions, they also would stare at enemy German soldiers to within two-three meters, giving the allies across the field indication that the field held an enemy. Even more so, American soldiers used cow carcasses as bearings for when giving directions and orders to follow. The hedgerows in Normandy are tall and hard to navigate through, so using the carcasses was something that useful to point out that differentiated from the hedgerows to help navigate. The troops were entirely grateful for being able to use the fallen creatures.


A trio of Normande cows enjoy the cool May afternoon.

Again, I never thought that traveling to France as part of our World War II trip would enable me to write about these furry, ginormous, milk-producing creatures, but in retrospect, I highly doubt that American soldiers rushing the beaches of Normandy thought that these same creatures would serve as bearing points, indicators of enemies ahead, or that a field hadn’t been mined because there were still cows trotting through it. From Eisenhower down to the lowly, neutral – but happy – Norman cow, every ally involved with the Normandy invasion played their part on the way to a successful operation.

The Impact of Bletchley Park


The Park Mansion beyond the pond and tree-line.

Bletchley Park for me was the most interesting part of the time my comrades and I spent around the London Area. During World War II, Bletchley Park held thousands of workers who spent their time during the war with British intelligence, helping the Allied effort by working to decode messages that potentially held valuable information about the Germans. While away from the bright lights and fast-paced London atmosphere, the experience I received and knowledge I gained at the grounds of Bletchley still packed a thorough punch of excitement. At first sight of the grounds, I was reminded in some respects of Ohio State in its college-campus-like setup and similar styles of architecture. Beyond a small pond sits a mansion on the grounds. The architecture of the Park Mansion reminded me a lot of the buildings at Ohio State surrounding The Oval, most closely in comparison to University Hall (pictured bottom left). Even more so, the pond in front of the mansion made it a Mirror Lake-esque kind of moment at first sight for me. Seeing the mansion through the tree-line with the pond in front of the scene made for some really beautiful pictures (pictured upper right). The bright colors of the various trees and plants surrounding were accentuated by the cleared skies and the benefit of lots of rain in the area in the previous two days.


World War II Study Abroad Students in front of the Park Mansion at Bletchley Park.

The mansion itself held an exhibit on Imitation Game, a movie detailing the code-breaking operations held at the park through the lens of Alan Turing, the park’s most notable and celebrated employee. Turing was key in lots of codebreaking efforts and aided in building the Bombe Machine. Aside from the mansion, the various huts definitely held some really cool historical value. In particular, Hut 8, one of the huts which the British Navy were in, held Alan Turing’s actual office. Being able to see the office of one of the Park’s greatest minds was a very cool historical connection to make. My favorite exhibit was the still-operational Bombe Machine the museum had on display (pictured lower right). The Bombe Machine was a piece of machinery used to decipher German codes, which held important intelligence messages regarding things like; troop movements, strategic information, and supplies and aid. While bulky and intricate with many connected wires and parts, for a man-made machine to be able to decipher codes of that magnitude of importance and number of combinations in the time period that it did is something unequivocally remarkable and irreplaceable to winning the war.


The still-operational Bombe Machine at Bletchley Park.


The most memorable part about Bletchley Park for me was realizing and noticing effect that inter-war Bletchley Park still has on the people who both work there and visit it now in the 21st century. The first place I went after entering the park was the mansion. There, being myself I guess, I struck up a conversation with a worker at the park named Paul. We talked for a few minutes, mainly about the geographical location of Ohio in relation to New York and Boston, but also about why he does what he does at Bletchley. Later in the day he even showed our group how to use an enigma machine, and even let me type in my own code to be decoded. Paul only works a Bletchley Park one day a week, but from the way he describes his job there, the one day he spends at the park per work week is his favorite one. He described coming to Bletchley as “getting away from the busyness and constant stress that comes with my job away from here.” I didn’t think to ask him what that other job was, though the intent was understood. It is so notable that almost eighty years after thousands of men and women came to this park to do something quite remarkable and directly affect the outcome of the war, a working man in one of the premier cities of the world all this time later could be affected as well. I thought that full-circle feeling was pretty cool. Paul taking a shift out of every week to help himself find peace, and to help visitors remember what happened here at Bletchley, speaks to the kind of place it was then, is now, and will continue to be.


Jimmy Longo – Introductory Post

Hi everyone,


I’m Jimmy Longo. I am a second year student here at Ohio State. I am majoring in History and minoring in Political Science and Media Production/Analysis. My intentions are to either go to law school and become a lawyer or to get a Masters Degree in the field of journalism and become a journalist. I was born and raised in Marion, Ohio, about 45 minutes north of campus up RT 23, and attended River Valley High School.

Before being involved with the World War II Study Abroad Program, I had never gotten the opportunity to travel out of the United States. Flying overseas in a few days will be my first inter-continental experience, let alone inter-country.

I’m really looking forward to providing readers and followers of our trip some interesting content, and hope you’ll enjoy my writing too. Already, I am so grateful for this program and what Dr. Steigerwald, Dr. Davidson and all the supporting cast and donors do to help put this trip together. Through this trip I’ll be able to leave the country for the first time, leave Ohio for the first time outside of playing sports since 2010, and on the way back I’ll also get to make a pit stop in New England to see my grandparents for a week, whom I have not seen since I graduated high school in 2014.

Thanks in advance for reading and for keeping tabs on us while on the trip. The best is yet to come.

Jimmy Longo