Berlin’s East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery One

The first thing I saw when approaching the East Side Gallery. This is near the edge of a piece of the Berlin Wall that still stands.

The East Side Gallery is long and winding along the Berlin Wall. When we got there, the day was hot and sunny, and the city was alive with people. There was a train station near the gallery that undoubtedly left off many interested in viewing the art. There were many restaurants on the streets near the Wall and their smells wafted over to those walking past. As we approached the Wall on our left, we could see it curving far into the distance. It stretched forward as a lengthy testimony to the past and the present, and baring prophecy for the future.

The East Side Gallery is a long stretch of the Berlin Wall that remains up in the middle of Berlin. Artists have come for years to paint whatever they wish on the Wall, each getting a section to call their own. A fence protects a lot of the art, not even it is protected from the ubiquitous graffiti of the city. The top is high, seemingly at least ten feet when looking up at it, a testament to oppression. It is because of the Wall’s oppressive history that the art seems so appropriate; expression rightly covers repression.

East Side Gallery Two

The first writing I encountered on the Wall. This text mentions dreams among other texts and pictures along the Wall.

The Wall looks like it was made of cement and is quite thick, seemingly around six inches. But amazing art covers much of the cement, and now, there seems to be more bright color than the dull gray of the original Wall. There is some writing on the Wall among the pictures and designs. One of the first things written that we came to said “Lead me on my dreams among different time and space.” Dreams seemed to be a reoccurring theme at the wall. Perhaps the Wall held in dreams for so long that it was inevitable that it would be decorated in dreams once that was allowed.

East Side Gallery Three

The painting of colorful, futuristic-looking gas masks on the Wall. War seems to be a common theme in the Gallery.

Not far into our walk we came upon a painting of gas masks. They were blue, yellow, red, and black and looked futuristic. Their tubes were twisted and knotted. The masks were disembodied, but strange and darting eyes appeared in their openings and were unnerving. War, death, and destruction were other common themes of the Wall. Perhaps that too is appropriate for a Wall built in the mounting tensions of the post-World War II world. It seemed further appropriate for a wall maintained in an age of possible nuclear destruction. Like the shadows of people burned into the ground of Hiroshima, the Wall, in a way, documents the possibility of total annihilation.

East Side Gallery Four

A colorful painting on the Wall. Here, panicked people seem to curl into the distance in some kind of explosion.

East Side Gallery Five

A swishing torrent of variegated faces. Many of them look disturbed in their blue-black world.

The Wall is happy also, and vibrant and artsy. The art covers the ugly Wall beneath it and symbolizes a new nation and a new people, or perhaps an old people finally let loose from the fetters of oppression. The art is more than a mere mask though. It cannot simply fall off at any moment, caught in a brisk wind. The art is there to stay. Now, the only thing to replace the art is another coating of art. And I don’t think that would be a bad idea either. Just as nations and people built their culture and themselves upon the previous nation and people, the wall can built upon itself. New paintings could cover and use the paintings beneath them to create new things. Just as the German people are built now on the Cold War generation, and the World War II generation before them, they will continue to build. In fact, the Wall as a medium is kind of the first painting in itself. The first layer of art is only the second painting, and happily a more colorful and expressive one. The art and the Wall carries repression and dreams, real and prophetic death, art and artlessness. And the Wall carries on it Berlin and its people. I think maybe every city would do well to find its Wall, whatever that may be, and begin painting. The layers of the past don’t need to be permanent. Art can always cover the dull gray Wall.

What Krakow’s Central Square Reveals about Poland

Krakow City Center Picture One

Krakow’s central square in the evening. A statue is in the center of the photograph and a small shopping area is behind it.

It isn’t easy to say what makes Poland, Poland. For me, the best way to describe the country is through detailing Krakow’s central square as I sit there. The streets at the center of Krakow are lined with what almost looks like cobblestone, and, being from a country with few such roads, I noticed them immediately for the unevenness it produced in my walk. Many of the stones are gray, speckled, and rectangular. But in the very center of the square, the stones are worn, chipped, and dark red. They seem to have been walked over for many, many years. These old stones surround a statue that rises in gray tiers and holds several figures draped in a metal that has been aged green. The buildings around the square are painted in various vibrant colors: pink, yellow, red, and green among others. Many of the top edges of building facades rise and fall in old looking architecture. Many of the facades’ peaks hold the vestiges of older times, supporting what look like golden urns, gargoyle heads, and winged creatures. The deep history of the place seems to show itself at every corner.

Krakow City Center Picture Three

The old architecture found on the top of the facades of buildings. Here, objects resembling urns and a winged creature can be seen.

Now, I can hear the voices of a choir singing from across the square. The choristers are robed in white, and a simple, wooden cross stands behind them. A sprawling cathedral rises high behind their stage. Its face is brick and the windows appear Gothic. A golden flag or cross caps every pinnacle on the structure. A sign hanging above an entrance reads “Prayer Only” and it seems to be an attempt to prohibit wandering tourists from entering impiously. Across the square from the church, on the front wall of a restaurant, a large painting of the Virgin with Child guards the entrance. Just today, while walking to this spot in the square, I saw several nuns, monks, and priests, walking toward the concert I hear now. In the bazaar-like structure near the square’s monument, many of the items for purchase are paintings and carvings of Jesus, Mary, various other Christian figures, and crosses. The country’s Catholicism is plainly visible in the square.

Krakow City Center Picture Two

The cathedral in the right corner of the central square. Choristers are on the stage in front of the church. The concert has just begun and the crowd is growing steadily. 

I have heard many languages sitting on this bench as conversing people pass by. Much of the writing around the square, such as on signs, menus, and in shops, is in multiple languages. English is prominent among them. The songs I have heard playing from radios have often been in English. Restaurants promoting food from different places are on the square: Italian, American, and Mexican. Yesterday, I was looking at tea cups at a shop on the square. I was hoping to find one with Polish writing to take home, and I took one up to the counter to ask what language it was in: French. Neither of us knew what it said. And the people have been very nice to me. They do not seem to mind trying to speak English and have usually been very helpful. Diversity seems to be accepted in Poland, even enjoyed. Yet, I have noticed an almost indescribable pride among the people for their nation. Much still remains distinctly Polish around the square. Most of the many, many restaurants around me seem to promote their traditional Polish food. And yes, I am sure they are accommodating tourists eager to get their fill of Polish cuisine. But it seems like more than that in regards to the food, and in regards to everything else. To leave the square briefly, the Polish guide we had at the Schindler Museum and the museum itself seemed to reflect this situation. The guide pointed to two particular

Krakow City Center Picture Four

The painting of the Virgin Mary with Child hanging above the door to a restaurant on the central square.

pictures as we walked into one room of the museum filled with photographs. The prewar photographs of two black children hung on the wall among many other faces, an example of Poland’s prewar diversity, and an example of why Poles should be proud of Poland.

This lively square in the center of Krakow shows much, I think, about Poland. It reveals its long history and tradition, its vibrancy and its color. It shows it religious roots. It brings out its diversity and acceptance. And it reveals its beauty. I have seen and heard its beauty this evening. The square, though darkening, is animated with happy, talkative people. The Madonna and Child is still visible in the glow of the restaurant’s firelights below. And the piano behind me has stopped playing, for now, to give way to the Alleluia that spills proudly and piously from the crowd and the choir beneath the crosses of the church across the square.

Remembering the Dead of Normandy

We walked through the gates of the German military cemetery in Normandy and it stretched out in front of us. The manicured, grassy lawn was interrupted from place to place by small, short gravestones that marked the dead. The markers were simple, evenly sided stone crosses on top of square cement slabs. The epitaphs bore witness to one or two names and their respective dates of birth and death. Many inscriptions read only “Ein Deutscher Soldat.” At varied intervals throughout the cemetery, five crosses, side-by-side, dotted the grass. Two shorter crosses were on either side of a taller cross, but all of them stood taller than the unimpressive gravestones. There were no flowers except for the small, appropriately simple wildflowers that sprung up graveside in the grass. Trees shadowed many of the graves. In the center of the cemetery, a large earthen mound rose up as the place’s only impressive structure. Around the base, small metal plaques marked the names of more of the dead. The mound was topped by a large gray cross, and two solemn-looking figures stood beneath the cross’s wings. The place was very quiet, and there were few visitors present to pay their respects.

German Graves One

A German grave with a set of five crosses behind it. In the background, the cemetery’s mound can be seen.

To me, the cemetery’s distinctly simple design seemed to have meaning. There were no grandiose structures, no walls with quotes to show the sacrifice and valor of the dead, no flowers to supplement the stone, and no words, save their names, to mark the soldiers’ resting places. The entire design seemed to plea with visitors to respect the dead, though not their cause. The simplicity of the place distanced the soldiers from the grand plans of the Nazis and the  incredible persona of the Fuhrer. The soldiers were made, through their graves, into simple soldiers, simple people, who died the same death as any other soldier regardless of cause. And the many crosses of the grounds tie the German soldiers there to soldiers of various other nations around Normandy. The cemetery states that just as American families

German Graves Two

The steps leading to the top of the mound in the center of the German cemetery. The backs of the figures under the wings of the cross can be seen at the top.

have found asylum in their sons’ crosses, so too can German families; just as American soldiers can find rest in heaven, so too can German soldiers.

American Graves One

The blank sides of crosses as they stretch into the distance at the American cemetery in Normandy.

The American cemetery in Normandy offers a different picture. As we walked into the cemetery, we passed through a large stone-surfaced area. The back of the area had a columned arch that declared the eternal honor due the dead who were sacrificed in a campaign to uphold basic human ideals. In the center of the area was a large, black statue of a man looking up with his arms outstretched toward the sky. The statue seemed to represent the Allied cause, embodied in the dead American soldier, a cause which upheld the ideals of a free world. Down steps, we saw a large, dark pool of water, and passed that two tall American flags rose. Next were the graves, a seemingly endless sea of white crosses and six-pointed stars. The epitaphs told the soldier’s name, division, home state, and date of death. Well-kept trees and flowers surrounded and dotted the grounds. A small, domed chapel was in the center of the graves. There was a view along one side of the cemetery to Omaha Beach below and the ocean beyond. The place was busy with people, and a ceremony was ending when we arrived. Many Americans were there, but I also saw groups of people from France and Great Britain. Many faces looked indifferent, even happy, but others were solemn, even tearful.

The cemetery gave the impression, by stating it as fact, that the American fight was a just fight. The American dead were made into heroes and martyrs. The location of the cemetery also encouraged the idea that they were liberators. The graves sat high above the beaches, many marking those who died taking that very sand. The arch discussing just ideals, the crowds, and the white crosses looking down at the beach seemed to validate that those buried there had liberated that place. They had been selflessly sacrificed to regain France’s freedom.

American Graves Two

The tall, black statue at the front of the American cemetery. The arch declaring the sacred ideals of the Allied cause is behind the statue.

But the cemetery also worked to dehumanize the dead. Of the waves of graves, there were only two designs, and most were the same white cross. The American soldier’s grave, and thus the American soldier, became mass produced. The graves looked as if they had come straight off the assembly line. The soldier became a tool of efficiency, quantity, and replaceability. There were no personal epitaphs or tombstones. The soldier’s epitaphs all seemed to become that of the arch that declared the ideals of the Allied cause. And the soldiers all became the large statue that held up those ideals. The white crosses became small, just footstools for the statue that watched over them. The soldiers, or the entire military, became Atlas, the weight of the world had fallen upon them, and they had held it high. The white markers seemed to be mere twinkles in Atlas’ eyes, necessary, tragic, and heroic.

British Graves One

A gravestone at the British cemetery marking the place of a dead British soldier.

The British cemetery was different still. As we walked through the entrance a green lawn stretched back into the distance, baring about a third of the way back what resembled a gray tomb with the words “their name liveth for evermore.” On either side of the tomb was a columned mausoleum-like building, and hanging, purple flowers snaked and drooped around the columns.  A large gray and black cross rose up another ways back, the tallest monument of the cemetery. Graves rose around these structures in rows, many of which were skirted in various flowers and covered in trees’ shadows. The gravestones were all the same shape, and they were designed with a cross, six-pointed star, or neither, as well as the insignia from the soldier’s fighting force. The gravestones also indicated the soldier’s rank, name, date of death, and age. At the bottom of the stone, most of the graves had a personalized epitaph picked by the soldier’s family. The cemetery even had graves for war dead from such countries as Germany, Canada, and the United States.

British Graves Two

The gravestone of a German soldier at the British cemetery.

To me, this was a cemetery for soldiers, but even more, a cemetery for people. The dead were not exalted to lofty ideals and not degraded to sorry soldiers who died hapless deaths. There was not the same exclusivity that the German and American cemeteries had. Personal notes and flowers adorned the graves similar to civilian cemeteries. Though the cemetery was unmistakably a military one, these things  made it feel more personal, and to me, almost more sincere. The cemetery seemed to convey that the people buried there had signed up, or were drafted, to fight, not to die. It seemed to say that while in death they remain forever part of the military and its cause, they return to their family and friends in memory and mourning where they truly belong.

Matt McCoy

Great Britain’s Memory of World War II

When walking the winding roads of London today, you could easily overlook the role World War II played in the city’s history. No smoldering ruins of bombed-out buildings remain, no wailing air-raid sirens scare those sleeping awake, and no masses of people can be found nestled in the Tube fearful of bombs. But if you look in the right places, you can see that London has not forgotten the war. The Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum in the shadow of regal, downtown London remind passersby that not long ago war came to England. With my travel group, I descended steps into a room of the underground bunker that the British War Cabinet used to conduct the war. I then passed down the halls of the bunker and looked into the rooms where meetings were held imagining bumbling chaos, tense meetings, critical decisions, and a shaking roof as London swallows the bombs of the German Luftwaffe above. As I proceeded through the complex, I moved past sleeping quarters, secret telephone rooms, and map rooms detailing the movement of armies around the globe. A museum dedicated to Winston Churchill sits alongside the recreated War Rooms, showing in great detail his life from childhood to death. Visitors pass by rows of Churchillian artifacts and biographical material. I listened to excerpts of some of Churchill’s most famous speeches, read some of his letters, and watched clips from his funeral.

The recreation of contemporary life found in the Cabinet War Rooms, is found elsewhere in Great Britain. The HMS Belfast sits stationary in the River Thames. Various rooms of the large gray vessel are filled with contemporary World War II items, displaying the hard and cramped life of sailors. I was even able to enter a gunroom on the ship’s deck and experience a simulated naval gun barrage with sound effects and smoke.

The HMS Belfast docked in the River Thames.

The HMS Belfast docked in the River Thames.

I traveled to Bletchley Park on a train heading north of London. The park’s gates are not far from the train station and they open into a sprawling estate full of buildings resembling barracks. The buildings are surrounded by much vegetation, wide-trunked trees and flowering bushes. The place is pleasant, and on a sunny day one would be tempted to sit in the grass alongside the small pond on the estate and not question its history. But inquiring visitors would move past the pond and soon be standing before a mansion, which would be imposing for its size if it were not for its curious architecture. After studying about Bletchley in class and taking a guided tour of the grounds, I learned that Bletchley Park is no ordinary English countryside estate. Shortly before and during World War II, the park was home to the intelligence gathering organization of the British government known as the Government Code and Cypher School. There, during the war, thousands of people, including linguists and mathematicians, worked feverishly to crack and translate enemy codes. Much of the work at Bletchley focused on cracking the code of messages sent from German Enigma machines. The people who worked there inhabited the park’s mansion as well as newly built barracks buildings, which can be found throughout the grounds. I passed through the mansion and some of the barracks, which have been renovated to look as they did during the war. I also visited some of the estate’s several museums, one of which includes a newly constructed Bombe machine, a device that helped the codebreakers at Bletchley in the cracking of Enigma encryptions during the war.

Aside from bringing to life structures that had significance during the war, Britain is also concerned with monumentalizing the country’s efforts. While the War Rooms, HMS Belfast, and Bletchley Park are monuments in their own right, war memorials also exhibit a more standard makeup of statues and stone. A good example of this appears along the paths of Green Park not far from Buckingham Palace. There, on the edge of the park, not far from the last of its trees, I came to a lonely columned building. As I neared the structure, I began to make out the impressive statues standing triumphal on a platform therein. They are airmen, the centerpiece of the Bomber Command Memorial. During the war, Bomber Command was responsible for protecting the skies of London from the nightly raids of Luftwaffe aircraft, and later, taking their own bombs over the skies of continental Europe. The airmen’s gazes are fixed out across the park, past Buckingham Palace, and toward London beyond. Their sure stances and stares seem to declare that they have saved London and that they will save it again if need be. The monument’s position allows the confident airmen to survey the natural beauty of London, and of Britain, as well as the stately beauty of the country’s royal palace that they have preserved from destruction. Not only that, but they have saved the lives of many British people who reflect that natural and refined beauty, a beauty found also in the cold metal of the memorial’s realistic figures. The window above the figures’ heads allows light to shine down and gleam off their skin, a sign to hint at divine approval.

Bomber Command Memorial

The bronze airmen statues within the Bomber Command Memorial looking out toward London.

Much of Britain’s remembrance of the war seems to show a glorious and almost proud victory. The statues of the Bomber Command Memorial guard London’s skies while the big guns of the HMS Belfast guard the murky Thames. But occasionally a darker not so magnificent side of the war is paid its sad respects. A small silver memorial to the Polish efforts at cracking the German Enigma codes is tucked in a tight, shadowy corner of Bletchley Park. There, those Poles who began to crack the Enigma codes are given some of their due. During our tour of Bletchley the monument was mentioned only fleetingly, and we were told to circle back on our own after the tour to see it if we wished. All of this seemed to point to Britain declaring it did the great majority of the labor in cracking the codes of World War II.

Polish Memorial Bletchley Park

The shadowy Polish memorial at Bletchley Park.

Looking into the Bomber Command Memorial, above and behind the backs of the proud airmen, I saw engraved in the stone, “this memorial also commemorates those of all nations who lost their lives in the bombing of 1939-1945.” The many thousands across Europe who died due to the actions of Bomber Command are remembered as almost an afterthought. After all, though the gazes of the airmen look to the west toward Buckingham Palace, their stares would be strained to see still farther to the graves of those bombed in Normandy or the dust of those burned in Dresden.

Matt McCoy

First Blog Opening Remarks


My name is Matt McCoy. I am a second year history major at Ohio State. I am very excited for the upcoming World War Two study trip to Europe. Before the trip even starts for me, it begins. The trip gives me a great excuse to go to Ireland for a few days and explore. I have always wanted to go to Ireland, as it looks like a beautiful country and also because many of my ancestral roots dig into its soil. But, aside from a short trip to Ireland and the tea in London, the trip offers me much more. I am allowed the opportunity to stand on the same soil as American servicemen who crossed the Atlantic, and stormed the beaches, and kept moving east until the war was over. I am allowed to stand not only where they marched, and ran, dodging bullets and bombs, but where they died. And I get to experience that in a way that I do not think you ever could through the pages of a book in a faraway country. And there is so much more. American armies are not the only ones that stormed those shores and crossed a continent. And American armies are not the only ones I owe respect. Armies, of many nations, are also not the only thing that I will get to experience. I will be given the opportunity to breathe the air and traverse the ground of those doomed to die in a death camp in the East. I feel like they, too, deserve my understanding their plight just a little better, not that I could really ever understand it, than I could if I never walked where they walked. Wehrmacht soldiers also, those innocent men and women of a poisoned country who felt no fanatical adherence to Nazism, slave labor, and the gas chambers, seem like they should be understood better. They seem like they, too, those men who died shooting at an unknown enemy on the beaches of France, those families lost in the bombing of Germany, young and old, deserve it. World War Two was, and is, a powerful thing. So many who were in the war deserve, more than I could know, my understanding just a little more of how they lived, what they went through, and for too many, how they died. And I am very grateful that this trip will give me an opportunity to do just that.

And to end this first blog a little less solemnly, I am still also looking very much forward to that tea in London.