Berlin’s Past and Future

Berlin was the most interesting city we visited because it is heavily shaped by the effects of the war, more so than London or Paris.  Despite World War II having ended over seventy years ago, remnants Berlin’s past as the capital of Nazi Germany are still present throughout the city.  My preconceived ideas about Berlin were that it is a modern city with little remains from the Nazi era.  After visiting Berlin, I realized it was both a modern city with remnants from its Nazi past openly throughout the city.

It seemed as though on every street corner you could find a building or monument marked off to commemorate victims of the Nazi régime.  For instance, outside our hotel there are stone markers on the sidewalk to commemorate the Jews who lived at that address and were deported.  On the Berlin skyline you can see the building of the chemical company BASF – formerly known as IG Farben – who made the Zyklon B for the Nazi gas chambers.  Or even just the random building covered in bullet holes from the war remains as a constant reminder of Germany’s past.


Bullet holes in a building

The Bundestag – German Parliament – is a great example how the German people acknowledged their Nazi past but are looking forward towards the future.  The Bundestag was built in 1995 after the reunification of Germany and is proud monument for Germans as it represents their democratic ideals.  The design of the German parliament is very modern inside and made of all glass so that the people can have a transparent democracy and literally watch parliament in session.  The structure of the building is the original Reichstag building which has some association with the Nazis, although the Nazis never used it during their reign.  There was a major battle for the Reichstag and when the Soviet soldiers captured it they drew graffiti on the inner walls.  The graffiti can still be seen today and is a reminder of their past inside parliament.  It is almost as if they gutted out the Reichstag building, which represented the old Germany, and built their new democracy from within.  The idea of what the new Bundestag represents was important for the woman who gave us a tour of the Bundestag as she told us her grandfather was a member of parliament and ousted when the Nazis came to power.



In the end, Germany is a country that acknowledges the past that is present throughout the city, but looks towards the future.  It was really amazing to see how even though the war ended, it really would have been impossible to totally de-Nazify all the memories of the war throughout the city.  The new Bundestag acts as the piece of Germany that is looking towards the future as it is built within the remains of the past.


Auschwitz-Birkenau as a Tourist Destination

The Nazi concentration and death camps known simply as Auschwitz-Birkenau are a top tourist destination for visitors of Kraków, Poland.  Before I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, I didn’t imagine the small Polish town of Oświęcim where it is located to receive the amount of visitors it does each year.  I was shocked to see advertisements throughout Kraków saying “Auschwitz day tour” and “cheap shuttles to Auschwitz,” as I was not expecting it to be a tourist attraction.  When we got to Auschwitz-Birkenau my preconceived ideas were wrong.



The ticketing area of Auschwitz-Birkenau was full of large groups of people – including ourselves – speaking different languages and waiting for their turn with their guide to tour the grounds.  Although most of the people seemed to be schoolchildren, I did notice some Jews who were wearing shirts with the name of the organization that brought them on a pilgrimage to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Around the main entrance there was a gift shop that sold books and posters (yes, posters) about the Holocaust, a snack bar, and a post office to send your Auschwitz-Birkenau postcards home right away.

When we were on the tour, there were many people taking photographs of everything as if it were just a normal tourist destination.  As for myself I limited my photographs to the outside of the camps rather than the artifacts on the interior to be able to take in their significance and out of respect for the victims.  When we were walking through the old camp barracks that were renovated into museum buildings there were specific rooms that held artifacts where visitors were not allowed to take photographs.  These buildings were packed full of people, and we had to walk in lines on the left and right through the building to be able to see everything and yet not cause chaos.  On our tour other visitors continued to take pictures of these artifacts as our tour guide yelled at them to turn off their cameras several times.  Maybe these visitors didn’t speak Polish or English and didn’t understand our guide’s orders to turn off their cameras.  When we went inside of the Crematorium I located at the original Auschwitz camp, I noticed a teenage girl taking a video for her Snapchat.  It made me think about how society has become that we have to live-feed everything on social media, rather than experiencing the moment.

In my opinion, part of the problem is that many people are visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau as tourists with limited knowledge on the Holocaust and therefore not in the right mindset to be at such a place.  Indeed, some disrespectful people etched graffiti inside one of the prisoner barracks at Birkenau.  This barrack was used to hold prisoners before they were to be sent to the gas chambers.  In this barrack people wrote their different words and phrases, as well as hearts with couples’ names in the middle, on the walls which was shocking to me.  I am fortunate enough to have visited Auschwitz-Birkenau after a semester of studying the history of World War II and the Holocaust, which enhanced my experience and appreciation for the things I saw.

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Graffiti Inside the Prisoners’ Barrack

The main problem I see is that there is a difference between visitors coming to educate themselves and pay their respects and tourists wanting to site-see.  Auschwitz-Birkenau has had problems with tourists in the past, most notably the girl who took the infamous Auschwitz Selfie that caused outrage as it went viral on social media.  The most logical solution to me to solve this problem is to not allow visitors to bring cameras onto the grounds, and hope people come with an understanding of the camps’ historical and cultural significance to the world.  I don’t think they should close Auschwitz-Birkenau to visitors, but rather find a way to monitor visitors’ actions better to create a more respectful atmosphere.

It is also the decision of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum which image of themselves they want to project to the public, whether that be a memorial site or tourist attraction.  After my visit I would argue they seem a lot like a tourist attraction from the way they advertise and sell souvenirs.  Most memorials don’t have an entrance fee or gift shop.  In addition, I believe that they want to be a tourist attraction due to the fact that at the end of our tour our guide asked us to like/follow Auschwitz-Birkenau on Facebook and Twitter.  Auschwitz-Birkenau is a great example of how we can turn anything into a money making venture, even the most solemn of places.

The Atlantikwall at Pointe du Hoc

Pointe du Hoc was my favorite place we have gone to so far on our study abroad.  Pointe du Hoc is a 90-foot cliff near Omaha Beach at Normandy that the American Rangers climbed to take out Nazi artillery emplacements.  These cannons had up to an 18-mile firing range and could have been used against American forces landing at Omaha Beach.  Fortunately, after the Rangers took the cliff, they realized the guns had been replaced with telephone poles to trick Allied reconnaissance.

The cliff of Pointe du Hoc

The cliff the Rangers climbed at Pointe du Hoc

This past semester I studied Nazi defenses and the creation of the Atlantic Wall.  While learning about the Atlantic Wall it was difficult to imagine the scale the Nazi’s fortifications.  The Atlantic Wall was a series of bunkers, offshore obstacles, and machine-gun nests along the 2,800-mile Atlantic coastline the Nazis occupied.  To this day mines are still being found which were part of Nazi coastal fortifications.  This territory stretched from the Spanish-French border to the top of Norway and along the French-Mediterranean Sea border.

Pointe du Hoc is one of the best sites left from the war that exhibits the Atlantic Wall, with many almost complete bunkers and fortifications left alone since the 1945.  My experience visiting Pointe du Hoc allowed me to comprehend the magnitude of the Nazi’s Atlantic defenses by witnessing the remnants in person.  After seeing the vast distance which makes up the stretch of Norman coastline the Allies landed at – not only by viewing it from afar but by driving the distances to each beach – it is mind-boggling that the Nazis believed they could have had the manpower to defend so many beachheads.  The construction of the wall to me was first a political display of power and second a defense mechanism.

Nazi bunker

A Nazi fortification

The first thing I noticed when we arrived at Pointe du Hoc – besides the numerous French school children running around – were the extremely large and sometimes steep craters that made up the landscape.  I walked along the paths above and in-between the craters while observing my surroundings at Pointe du Hoc.  It took me a while to piece together that this landscape was created by Allied pre-invasion bombing.  One might not notice at first that the landscape is man-made because grass and brush have grown abundantly over the craters making them look natural.  It is truly incredible to see the long-term destruction one 500lb bomb will leave on a landscape, let alone several hundreds of them.

Me at the top of a crater where a Nazi bunker used to be

Me standing at the top of a crater on remnants of a Nazi bunker

The bunkers had no lights inside, and I had to use my iPhone for a flashlight.  Most of the bunkers had bent and rusted metal exposed through the concrete due to deterioration over the years.  It was amazing to think that men day-in and day-out guarded their post here throughout the war, just waiting for an Allied attack.  When you see the size and number of walls alone at Pointe du Hoc, it is amazing to think how much work was put into laying the amount of concrete needed to fortify all of the bunkers of the Atlantic coastlines with 10ft ceilings and 6.5ft walls.

Artillery used to defend the Atlantic Wall

The artillery used to defend the Atlantic Wall

My final observations are that it was interesting that the site of Pointe du Hoc had no acknowledgements of the Atlantic Wall and its significance.  It was significant because it made up the whole landscape and environment of Pointe du Hoc where the Rangers landed.  The site felt more like an American memorial because of all the quotes from American leaders and plaques commemorating the Americans who died at Pointe du Hoc.  Part of the reason I think they don’t speak much of the Atlantic Wall is due to the fact that the Vichy Régime in France collaborated with the Nazis, using French construction companies as well as slave labor to help build the fortifications.  The Atlantic Wall in France used to be called the “food wall” because if French families wanted a job under the Nazis, they had to work building the fortifications.  In the end, seeing the Atlantic Wall in person was an amazing experience that shows the remnants of history and how the French culture interprets and displays it for the public.

The landscape of Pointe du Hoc

The landscape of Pointe du Hoc


London: A City of Immigrants

When I first arrived in London, what struck me most about the city was the diversity of its population, which has immigrated from around the world and many of its former colonies.  The diversity of London’s population was a central part of my experience in the city.  When riding the Tube, I witnessed the congested mix of businessmen in suits conversing next to school boys wearing uniforms alongside lost tourists trying to read the Underground map for their next stop.  The cuisine was a cultural mix as well.  My most memorable meal was at Baba G’s which was a restaurant that served American food using Indian spices.  This melting pot of cultures which defines London as an immigrant city is represented by the recently elected and first Muslim mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.  Despite immigrants making up such a large portion of the United Kingdom’s population, I was surprised not to see much information about them at London’s museums and monuments.

Baba G's

Baba G’s.

The legacy of England’s colonial past is displayed in a public square across from Westminster Abbey through statues, although in an interesting way.  The statues contain numerous international democrats from countries of England’s former empire such as Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.  Though I believe this to be a genuine display of solidarity with other countries that support democracy – and I think its great because I have never seen in America public monuments devoted to foreign leaders – it is ironic because many of the people are from countries the British used to oppress, and the monuments do not recognize that reality.  There were many contrasting scenes, such as a statue I saw of King George V right across from an Indian restaurant, which is odd to me because he ruled over colonial India.  It is a scene that contrasts the remnants of England’s colonial past next to its current reality, which I think is pretty cool.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln statue across from Westminster Abbey.

At the Imperial War Museum (IWM), they paid a decent amount of attention to the role of former British colonies in World War I and World War II.  The IWM was truly one of the most impressive museums I have ever been to, and they did an amazing job collecting artifacts and displaying the information.  They have uniforms and decorations from the soldiers of all their colonial armies, but refer to them by their current country and ignore their past colonial status.  Countries like India are represented as Allies and not what they actually were, countries forced to fight in the war while simultaneously fighting against British colonial rule.  The IWM leaves out all information about immigrants’ experiences during World War II, which is a shame considering many immigrants fought for the United Kingdom and they are central part of their history.

Propaganda leaflets against Churchill distributed by Imperial Japan throughout ('Allied') India.

Propaganda leaflets against Churchill distributed throughout (“Allied”) India by Imperial Japanese soldiers.  Part of the Japanese effort to cause Indians to rebel against British colonial rule and disrupt the Allied war effort.

Although the diversity of London is visible throughout the city – from riding the Tube to the definition of their local cuisine – their public history does not accurately represent their long history as a city shaped by immigrants.





Micah’s Introduction

Hey everyone!

My name is Micah Maani and I am going into my senior year here at The Ohio State University as a History major and Spanish minor. This past semester I studied Nazi defenses for D-Day and the Atlantic Wall and will be giving a corresponding site report at the Musée du Débarquement in Normandy. Although I have traveled internationally before, this will be my first time in Europe so I am excited about this experience! I am looking forward to visiting England because they have such a unique perspective of the war as they are so close in proximity to Germany, and were a powerful threat to the Nazis, yet never invaded. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with you all through this blog!