Germany: Lessons of War

Finishing our trip with Germany seemed only suiting. We discussed, in Poland, the historical narratives that were depicted in each countries museums throughout the trip. England really pushed the “People’s War” agenda, while France, in bold font, highlights the contributions of the Resistance. Even Poland, had a particular theme throughout its many sites – victimhood. Poland, of course, rightfully deserves this title but nonetheless, themes of collaboration during the Nazi occupation were absent in all their museums. Each country had an agenda and left out certain events that would tarnish this image. Germany, on the other hand, put its worse face forward. Germany does not hold back on its dark history and promotes peace by highlighting their many mistakes even in the various metro stations.

The first site, where this was evident, was the tour of Bundestag – the house of parliament. The building, called the Reichstag, houses the Bundestag parliament. During our tour, we learned that no Nazi governmental actions actually took place in this building, due to the Reichstag fire in 1933. However, the approaching Soviet forces believed the building to be a prime objective during the Battle of Berlin. Thus, the Red Army forces fought valiantly to capture it and their enthusiastic triumph can be seen by looking at the Soviet graffiti and bullets that cover the walls of the building. The Reichstag makes no move to cover their past, including their defeat. When the new building was constructed following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the architecture decided, instead of removing the graffiti, they would preserve it.

The only fallacy in the historical narrative, that our group noticed, was the tendency for the narrative to take an intentionlist approach. While in the Wannsee House, the location where the Final Solutions was supposedly put into action, the narrative follows that Hitler had a decisive impact on the actions leading up to the Holocaust. Throughout the museum, it would say, “decision already made at the highest level before the conference.” To me, this seems like a way to push atrocities off the whole community onto a scapegoat. While Hitler was by no means a good man, he was only human and could only carry out his mischievous deeds through massive support.

After our tour, we discussed the importance of acknowledging both sides of the argument. Functionalist state that there was a build up to the final solution – with no preconceived idea. The final solution was the result of error and adaption to policies meant to rid the Jews from Germany and did not begin as mass extermination. It is important, as a historian, to not focus completely on Hitler. It is important to study the various reasons inside and outside of Germany that lead to the mass extermination of Jews and other groups.

Wansee House – Beautiful Location with a Dark History

Germany was the last stop for this amazing program. Our last dinner together felt like a family meal – full of inside jokes and immense laughter. For some, the journey through Europe was far from over but nonetheless, the group was splitting ways the following day. We had grown and learned together throughout the trip. While I am sure our friendships will continue upon our arrival back in the states, the last day was bittersweet for all. This trip taught me what I hoped for and more. This program really strengthened the foundations of my undergraduate education in military history. I am forever thankful to all the donors who made this experience possible.

Forever Humble.

Poland: Bloodlands

I have personally been studying the Bloodlands over the past semester. The Bloodlands, written by Timothy Snyder, refers to the regions of Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic Republics during World War II. In these regions, between 1933 and 1945, fourteen million noncombatants were murdered. In places like Poland, Hitler and Stalin engaged in interactions that led to more mass killing than either side could have carried out alone. This was the context that framed my thinking as I traveled into Krakow.

Poland, except for the Soviet Union, suffered more casualties than any other country during the war. In fact, Poland lost 16% of its total population by the end of 1945, due to murderous policies imposed by Hitler and Stalin. Walking through Krakow reminded me of something Professor Mansoor, who taught World War II, stated about Poland losing its culture due to triple occupation. Unlike France, which was occupied for a short time, Poland suffered tremendously not only during the war but for about fifty years after under the Iron Curtain. Cities, like Warsaw, were virtually razed to the ground. Meanwhile, Krakow, the capital of the German General Government, remained almost untouched. Despite the mass repressions of the Polish inhabitants, the city itself never suffered as a result of warfare. When the Red Army approached Krakow, in 1945, the German’s blew up the bridges on the river Dunajec and retreated rather than defending the city – so little destructive street fighting occurred. This allowed my group and I to experience one of the very few Polish cities whose history remains intact.

The Schindler Museum really highlighted the vast sufferings that occurred in this blood-soaked region. The museum is laid out in a way that makes you feel like you are walking through the history of Polish occupation and oppression from 1939 onward. The museum is constructed inside the remains of the Schindler Factory – made world renown in the film “Schindler’s List.” The wealth of information, partnered by the dark and unsettling architecture, really made this museum stick out in my memory.

The museum honors Oskar Schindler – who is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories. One of my favorite quotes is by Edmund Burke, who states, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” This exhibit highlighted that Schindler did not arrive to Krakow as a hero, but as a entrepreneur. He was a common man who was able to achieve incredible deeds just by going against the norm. He was a good man who did something.

The Nazis aimed to destroy, not only people, but a culture. They tried to achieve this by destroying monuments and statues, prosecuting intellectuals, and banning languages. Yiddish and Hebrew were prohibited in public. As I learned in my Eastern European Immigration course, a language is the backbone of culture and national identity. To deny a language, is to deny a person right to their heritage. Polish works of art were also confiscated and Poland ceased to exist as of 1939. The timeline of the museum did not have a happy ending. While America was celebrating its “Good War” and Britain its “People’s War” in the end of 1945, Poland fell under the power of the Soviet Union. It was now under the leadership of a man who killed his own civilians no less efficiently than Hitler killed civilians of other countries. Poland would be force to compare the rulership of both murderous occupiers.

During our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau there was a 60% chance of rain. These storm clouds, partnered with the small evening crowds, really produced an ominous and intimate visit. All over the world, Auschwitz has become the symbol of the Holocaust and the Holocaust as the evil of the century. While my research on the Bloodlands was centered on expanding this context, the camp really put these murderous policies into perspective.

Our visit began at Auschwitz I, which is the site of the original concentration camp. This part of Auschwitz was the work camp, where prisoners would be forced into harsh labor that would inevitably lead to death. Being placed in the work camp meant to prolong the inevitable. As people were forced to work in unsanitary and cruel conditions, they would become sick and fatigued. The prisoners, who did not die directly on the job, would later become unfit for work and be sent to the gas chambers.

Walking through these grounds was moving. We walked through Block 11, also called the death block. This was the camp jail. We saw the starvation cells, the standing cells, and isolation cells that were used to punish any camp resistance. We also saw the death wall, where the SS would carry out executions by firing squad. We saw where prisoners would be forced to do roll call twice a day, regardless of harsh elements, and where escapees were hung. During roll call the same number of people had to be present before and after a shift of hard labor, which meant that the prisoners would have to carry the dead to be counted before being sent off to the crematorium.

The displays of the prisoner’s possessions were the most affective parts of the exhibition. In these exhibitions the scale of the killings was really transformed into individuals. Many of these people, in the beginning of the Holocaust, believed they were being relocated and brought with them everything necessary to begin a new life. These rooms were filled with cooking supplies, combs, and other personal possessions. The rooms of human hair also brought the atrocities to life – here the dehumanization of the Nazi party was particularly evident. Nothing was put to waste in the camps – from using human hair for Nazi shoes to spreading the ashes of the Jews as fertilizer.

I was unsure of what my emotions would be while traveling through Auschwitz. I knew that this would be a somber site, but I wasn’t fully aware of the extent of the emotional impact it would cause. I broke down in the room of shoes. When the Soviet Union liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, on January 1945, there were 43,000 pairs of shoes in the camp. This room, now, is piled floor to celling on both side with only a portion of that number. Looking around I saw shoes from all levels of society and all ages – even slippers of a toddler. I could no longer hold back my emotions and silently cried as I imagined not only the individuals in the shoes that suffered, but also the individuals whose shoes were not found. Unlike Auschwitz, the other death camps were completely destroyed and all evidence turned to ash. In the killing fields in the east and other areas of the bloodlands, the individuals is even farther from coming to life. As I looked at these mountains of shoes, I imagined what fourteen million shoes would look like. Each shoes held a life and a story that was carried to its death in similar areas for similar reasons. This room and memorial really brought to life the immense dehumanization of both the Nazi and Stalinist Regimes.

We also visited Auschwitz II, the death camp. Unlike Auschwitz I, the death camp only served one purpose – mass extermination. Here Jews, Gypsies, Soviet POWs, and many more were brought by cattle cars to make the long walk to the gassing facilities. Our guide told us, as we walked down death road, that many of these individuals were clueless of their fate. While this may have been true in the beginning of the final solutions, soon rumors had spread to many of the ghettos and by the end, I would argue, that many of these individuals were not ignorant. I imagined myself walking toward the funnel of smoke, looking at an old man struggling to walk beside me, and being herded like cattle to slaughter. There were little theatrics, unlike Treblinka, and as I was forced to undress to “shower” and herded into an underground block, my fate would have seemed clear. How terrible it must have been to stand in one of the four gas rooms, which were probably covered with claw marks from past exterminations, alone and cold with little to no lights.

Now only ruins of these four gassing facilities are left after the Germans destroyed them during their retreat. In fact, all of Auschwitz II is left in its original condition. This side of the camp has no exhibits – only a memorial to the Hungarian Jews and a large international memorial to all the prisoners who perished in these camps. The horrors of this camp and its people were real. This visit really brought to life the individuality and fate of each of the prisoners. This hollowing experience, I believe, was the most beneficial of the trip. Often historians become detached from the numbers – sites like Auschwitz really turn statistics into people.

On toward Germany.

Bayeux: Spirit of Youth

It is an amazing experience to be staying within one of the few French towns that was spared from destruction during the Battle of Normandy. It is a real blessing to be able to walk down the original narrow cobblestone sidewalks of Bayeux and to be able to sit outside, on the lawn, shadowed by Notre Dame du Bayeux – the cathedral constructed in 1077. The majority of the other French towns that lay within the path of the Normandy Invasion were destroyed by either street fighting or strategic bombing. This area of France paid an enormous price for liberation. The men fighting for the liberation also paid an enormous toll. These last few days, I was able to tour the German, American, and British cemeteries, which house the many casualties resulting from the invasion. I compared each cemetery and each of the sites appeared, through their architecture, to highlight what the country saw as important in the after war period.

Bayeux Cathedral

Americans have always succeeded in making bold statements. As I walked through the huge marbled cemetery looking upon the 9,387 clean white stones, I kept looking out at the ocean, which the cemetery overlooks. The cemetery is clearly memorializing the “Spirit of Youth” – as the statue in its center is rightfully named. This is depicted throughout the memorial, from the sacrifice stories in the well-organized museum to the continuous list of names read over the loud speakers. Each story in the museum highlighted the everyday individual who achieved a collective courage. Having visitors walk through the museum first, then step out into the gigantic cemetery, really paints in bold relief sacrifices that occurred near these very beaches. I was reminded of Arlington National Cemetery – how each stone is symmetrical and identical for row upon row, which depicts the sheer amount of sacrifices that young American men endured. One thing that really struck me was, as I walked, I noticed that every stone, rather then facing the entrance, faced out toward America.

American Cemetary

We visited many sites that hammered in the idea of American unity and collective sacrifice, such as Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, Utah Beach and Pegasus Bridge. Omaha and Utah Beach were not what I imagined before my trip. After reading many first-person sources regarding the planning and execution of the Normandy landings, I expected a large memorial to honor the 425,000 Allied and German troops who were killed. While a memorial was present on the beach, massive beach houses and fancy seafood restaurants that advertised names like “Overlord” surrounded it. Seeing the beaches really helped me understand the full invasion plan and appreciate the sacrifices of A Company at Dog Green on Omaha Beach. While the beach was much less somber than I imagined – the research I did prior to the trip really helped me to understand the strategic importance behind each landing.

Postwar Germany faced a difficult task between honoring their dead and not memorializing their deeds. The German cemetery was bleak with simple architecture. Many, if not all, of the headstones were shared between two men. Rather than facing out towards their country, these stones were flat and only faced the heavens. No silver hearts or iron crosses were written under the names of officers, only their rank, birth, and death. There were very few flowers or tokens of grief at each headstone, unlike the American and British cemeteries. The cemetery was simple and uniform, but lacked the dramatic impact that the American and British cemeteries carried. These were still young men and, while they fought for the wrong side, they were also fathers, sons, and husbands. Each man buried there left behind a future. I think the architectural message, especially based on the museum, is the promotion of peace. The Germans do not deny their wrongs and certainly do not memorialize them. The Germans strive to promote peace and show that the loss of life, no matter the side, is wasteful and should be avoided at all cost.

The cemetery that left the biggest impression on me was the British cemetery. Unlike the state commissioned stones at the American and German cemeteries, the British cemetery let the family of each of the dead customize their stones. This personalization really brought forth the British idea of the “People’s War.” The British believe that all fallen soldiers should be memorialized. Within this national cemetery lie, not only British citizens, but Polish, Czechs, Muslims, Jamaicans, and many more young soldiers who lost their lives during the invasion. Each inscription on the graves serves as a way of making the man who lies there not just another number in the high amount of casualties, but an individual. There were inscriptions from parents, children, and wives who memorialized the dead buried below. Each grave also was decorated with a wide range of flowers so that not one grave lay barren. This cemetery highlighted the sacrifice of the person rather than the group – turning numbers back into people.

Headstone in British Cemetary

As I was walking through the Caen Memorial Museum I noted a ratted and torn Nazi flag. I was reminded, from this, of an old poem titled, “Ozymandias” by Percy Shelley. In this poem a traveller comes upon a ruin in the middle of a barren land. Upon this crumbled statue is the inscription, “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look at my works, ye mighty, and despair!” Nothing remains, during the time of the traveller, but a lone decayed embodiment of what was. I have begun to compare Hitler’s Regime to that of Ozymandias. As Hitler built his empire, his followers and soldiers must have really believed they were building a great power that would attest the wrath of time. All of these flags, bronze eagles, and insignias that I pass in these various museums were made with an aspiration of grand legacy. How amazing it is to now to see the remains of this empire that completely crumbled away in only twelve years – ye is no longer mighty.

Tattered Flag

During my time in Bayeux, I also saw the Bayeux Tapestry and Mont St. Michele. I have studied the Bayeux Tapestry since my freshmen year – when I was also studying anthropology. The Tapestry, often referred to as the first comic strip, is one of the best-preserved pieces of art from the 11th century. Commissioned in 1066 to celebrate the coronation of William the Conquer, this visit really melded well with my other visits to both Notre Dame de Bayeux and Westminster Abbey. The survival of the ornate detail, that remains intact after nine centuries, is truly miraculous. I really wish I could revisit the tapestry and spend hours studying all the pictures and hidden gems – it seems like one of those works where you notice something new each time you view it. Mont St. Michele was stunning with its gravity-defying medieval architecture. It was rainy, foggy and dreary during our visit, which is my absolute favorite weather. I felt like I was crossing the misty and haunting moors of Bronte’s, “Withering Heights.” From a distance, the abbey really does appear to be something out of Dracula. Its spires and dramatic location upon an island, surrounded by farmlands, really makes it look foreboding. The inside of the abbey was stunning and I really felt transported back to the medieval period.

Off to Paris tomorrow. Still humble.

London: The City of Fog

My two favorite things in this world are World War I and pop culture. My last two days in London have successfully quenched my thirst for both of these passions. Our study abroad group visited both Bletchley Park and the Imperial War Museum. These sites took up the majority of the last two days but I also managed to squeeze in Kensington Palace, the Tate Modern Art Museum, and a Jack the Ripper Tour.

Bletchley Park was the central site for British Codebreakers during World War II. It was the main aggressor in penetrating the secret communications of the Axis Powers – most importantly the German Enigma. The “Ultra” intelligence produced at Bletchley played an important role in shortening the war and was significant in the Battle of Atlantic and in the Mediterranean.

In order to arrive at Bletchley Park, our group had to ride a train shortly through the English countryside. During the war, the location was chosen for its rural nature and its close proximity to a rail line. I really liked looking out the window during the ride over and imagining the ten-mile bike ride that some of the staff would take to and from work each day. We passed by beautiful green fields, sheep, and even some short cobblestone walls. I kept being reminded of the poem “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost, which I have read many times. In the poem two men in rural England argue over a stone wall about their property lines – I highly recommend the read.

The reason I mentioned pop culture earlier was because shortly before my trip I watched the movie The Imitation Game. This movie highlights the accomplishments of Alan Turing in cracking Nazi codes, including Enigma – which previous cryptanalysts had thought unbreakable. While the movie did tend to over glorify the central role of Turing and the effectiveness of Ultra – it piqued my interest in learning more about Bletchley Park. I was very excited to further compare the movie to the actual history during my visit. This caparison between film and written history I will revisit again during my site report at the Schindler Museum in Poland.

The Turing Bombe Machine that was used to crack German Enigma

During the tour, I was able to visit the entire grounds of Bletchley Park, which has mostly been restored to the conditions that would’ve been present during the war. In one of the various huts, which housed the intelligence, analysis, and code breaking departments, I was able to see Turing’s office. They had also rebuilt the Turing machine, which was the machine used to crack German Enigma.

After the war ended all of these machines were destroyed by the British government and the staff was sworn to secrecy. The “People’s War” was especially evident in the 12,000 individuals that worked there who were able to keep the site’s activities secret until its declassification in 1974. It is hard to imagine this same level of secrecy being accomplished in today’s world of social media and rapid 24-hour news broadcasting.

While Alan Turing was a brilliant man who broke the unbreakable, his life was relatively short. Turing is now widely considered to be the “father of modern computing” due to his fundamental work during the war years. Turing, though, was sadly prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts that at the time were seen as criminal in the UK. Turing’s conviction led to the removal of his security clearance and barred him from continuing on in the British signals intelligence agency and later he would commit suicide by cyanide poisoning. In 2009, the British Prime Minister made an official public apology on behalf of the British government and the queen granted him a posthumous pardon in 2013. I really loved the memorial in his honor at the museum – it was made entirely of black slate and I have never seen a statue quite like it before.

Slate Memorial to Alan Turing

After the tour of Bletchley Park, we only had a little daylight left so we didn’t stray very far from the hotel. Luckily, our hotel is situated in a prime location and Kensington Palace was less than a five-minute stroll through Hyde Park. The palace was beautiful and there was also I really interesting exhibit on Princess Dianna. I really liked the gardens and our group took a nice stroll around. One thing I find interesting about English gardens is their lack of flowers – unlike the dramatic colors that are seen in palaces, like Versailles, that English prefer manicured greenery. After catching a quick bite for dinner, we then headed across Hyde Park to the memorialization for the many animals whose lives have been lost throughout the many British conflicts – a casualty of war that is often overlooked.

The next day we went to the Imperial War Museum. The Imperial War Museum is one of the few museums funded by the British government and it is comparable to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. The museum was built following World War I and their exhibit on WWI is extensive. I have studied this war extensively both at university and on my own time and especially enjoy studying the revolutions that occurred from 1848 on, which greatly added to the powder keg that made anything aside from a war inevitable. A quote during the exhibit that I believe summarized the fighting during this war is, “Fighting in an alliance meant honoring agreements.” These agreements led to long bloody battles aimed at not letting others down.

British sniper robe for blending into position

I really liked walking through the simulated trench that depicted the 250 miles that cut through Belgium and France. I also found the British sniper robe, that was used for blending into a position, to be really intriguing. They also had a lifebelt from the original Lusitania, which was a civilian ship attacked by German U-boats who believed that weapons were on board. This attack led to the loss of 1,195 lives, majority Red Cross workers, and greatly added to the American desire to join the war efforts.

During my visit to the Family at War exhibit within the IWM, I met a man who had survived through the Blitz of World War II. He had an interesting perspective regarding life in the war that I had never really thought of prior. We began the conversation by talking about shelters used during the Blitz attacks on London. He had stayed in a Morrison Shelter, which I was less familiar with in comparison to an Anderson Shelter. A Morrison Shelter was an indoor cage that was designed to protect the occupants from debris if a bomb hit the house. He also talked about the improvements of the working class during the war. Unlike during the depression, the working class benefited greatly during the war years. They often ate better during the war because they received constant rations and home evictions were suspended for six years. For once in English history the working class was receiving the same amount and quality of food as the Prime Minister and even the King.

The Tate Modern was fabulous. I love modern art and visiting one of the largest contemporary art museums in the world was definitely a privilege. I went to the museum by myself, which I now realize was my first time voyaging completely alone in another country. I got a free audio tour device upon entering and truly was able to immerse myself in the museum. I spent four hours wandering around the many rooms and one painting in particular sticks out. It was a painting by Mark Rothko and it was the sort of painting that I normally would have walked past without a second glance because it’s not the type of work that necessarily calls out to me. My audio tour, though, gave the immense background about the artist and the inspiration that went into his works. The part that struck me was that in 1970 the artist committed suicide and the composer Morton Feldman was so saddened that he composed a memorial symphony in his honor called “The Rothko Chapel.” Being alone in a low-lit memorial exhibit while looking at the large work that inspired this haunting melody really moved me. I listened to the composition three times and exited the exhibit with goosebumps and a new found appreciation for the broken artist, who like Turing, had his life end too soon while having so much more to give.

One of the pieces by Mark Rothko

Officially on my way across the English channel by way of ferry. As I look out the window, I imagine the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II and the sinking of the Lusitania during the Great War. I cannot believe I am traveling across such a historic body of water, but am happy I am doing it without the threat of a U-boat attack. On my way to Bayeux, France and super excited for the culture shock that is in store for my comrades and I.

Bon Voyage

London: Mind the Gap

Traveling over to Europe went very smooth, but the goodbyes were surprisingly hard. I arrived in London at 9am, after only a slight delay in Charlotte. Only minutes prior to landing, I realized that my colleague, Michele Magoteaux, was also on my plane. After a short wait through customs, we met up with a group of four other participants, who had also landed around the same time. We traveled together from the airport to the hotel with zero hiccups and only slight discomfort from carrying our large suitcases up the underground’s many steps.

On both of my flights I had to leave the plane by stairs

After arriving at our hotel, that is situated across from Hyde Park, our group practiced reading the tube maps by embarking for Westminster. Once at Westminster, various groups broke off and went their separate ways. A group of girls and I visited Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Trafalgar Square. The girls joked that I should be their tour guide, but I could not contain my excitement about sharing the immense history of the places I have so long read about. After many photos, I got to also experience my first real English pub!

The second morning was the first day of our study tour on World War II. We headed out early to visit Churchill’s War Rooms. These rooms made up the bunker that was used to house the British government command center during World War II. The bunker lies beneath the Exchequer building under the protection of a six-foot slab of reinforced concrete. Many of the government officials and staff spent years down in this dim lit bunker – giving their part in the war that the British referred to as “The People’s War.”

Since I know that this next month will be jam packed with site after site of important historical information, I decided to jot down interesting or new information during my tours in a notebook that I am carrying around with me. I noted that the bunker had a weather sign, controlled by George Rance, which would tell the weather for that day in London. When the sign read “windy” it meant the occurrence of a blitz – “windy” was a cheeky term, at the time, for freighted. I thought it was inspiring that even at the most frightening of times, the British humor lightened the moods of the individuals down below. Another part of interesting humor was that the secret Allied telephone room was disguised, on the outside, as a private lavatory.

The War Rooms also contained a great deal of information about Winston Churchill. Churchill made clear his skepticism about his Soviet allies: “Trying to maintain good relation with a communist is like wooing a crocodile. You do not know whether to tickle it under the chin or to beat it over the head.” No wonder Churchill later coined the term “Iron Curtain.”

Secret Japanes Invasion Plans

The room I loved the most during my visit to the War Rooms was the Map Room. The room had scarcely changed since its abandonment after V-E Day. The exact maps used to chart the war are hanging up on the walls covered by hundreds of pinholes that marked the individual convoys throughout the war effort. On one wall you could see the maps of the Pacific Theater and one titled “Secret: War against Japan,” which I really enjoyed. Also on a map in another room, an important British official doodled a crude sketch of Hitler – which highlights, again, the use of humor even in darkest of times.

Today was the group’s free day in London. My roommate and I decided to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Natural History Museum, the Sherlock Holmes Museum, and the Tower Bridge. Also we ended up walking over and meeting up with friends to visit a pub that specialized in meat pies and hopped over to see the memorialization of the Great Fire of London that devastated the city in 1666. I have never seen a more beautiful cathedral than St. Paul’s and, while photos were not allowed inside, even a picture could not have capture the dramatic colors and scenes of the mosaics and painting on the gigantic dome ceiling. I enjoyed the Sherlock Museum and also learned, during the tour, about actual Victorian Era murderers. I also forced myself to ignore my fear off heights and walked on the glass floor of the Tower Bridge, which allowed me to have a unique view of the Thames River below.

This trip has been absolutely fantastic so far. I have made fast friends, explored a beautiful city, and learned much from World War II back to the history of the beginning of London. One remark that I made during my visit to the Abbey, which I believe will continue to follow me throughout my tour around Europe, is that I cannot believe that I am standing inside a building and touching the walls of something that drastically predates the founding of my own country. I am so excited to continue my journey and take in these historical sites. It’s one thing to know the dates and significance, but it is another to experience the place in person and to stand beneath its 300-foot baroque dome.

Staying humble.

Soon to be Miles and Smiles Away

I will soon be off to begin my travels to England, France, Germany, and Poland to study World War II and its historical impact on each region. I am entering my junior year at OSU and am majoring in Military History, Russian, and International Studies: Security Intelligence. This abroad experience will be tremendously beneficial for both my undergraduate and graduate career. As one of my favorite Winston Churchill quotes states, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” One of the countries I am most excited to visit is Poland, so that I can get my first real taste of Eastern European culture.

One of the first places that we will be seeing upon our arrival is Westminster. In order for me to fully appreciate this site I did a little pre-trip research on some of its history. The area of Westminster is comprised of three buildings that are often considered the very heart of London – Westminster Abbey, Parliament, and Big Ben.

Westminster Abbey, as it stands today, has been a site of religious worship since the year 1065. This beautiful site has crowned 39 monarchs since the coronation of William the Conqueror. The Abbey, in 1257, was also home of the English Parliament, but was later relocated in 1587 to the location we see today.

It is at this new parliamentary location that some of the most infamous persons of history have been tried – including Guy Fawkes in 1606 (“remember…remember”). Parliament contains two separate institutions, which are the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The members of the House of Commons are elected, while the House of Lords is comprised of aristocrats. As a rule, a reigning monarch is never allowed into the House of Commons. In fact, the last time a king interrupted the House of Commons was King Charles I, which eventually led to a bloody civil war  and ended with the first trial and execution of an appointed king.

Big Ben, one of the most pictured spots in London, has been running on time for little over 150 years. One of the things I found most fascinating, in my research, is that Big Ben is still mechanical and is hand-cranked about three times a weeks to always be kept within two seconds of the actual time. There are five bells in the tower – four for every quarter hour and one large hour bell. Also the tower is not named Big Ben, instead it is only the massive hour bell that is named Big Ben. The tower’s actual name is the Elizabeth Tower. At the opposite end of parliament is a similar tower called Victoria Tower, which is where the priceless archives of the British parliament are kept. These archives house 500 years worth of parliamentary documents, including the original 1765 Stamp Act.

Super excited to be embarking on my journey and will be posting more in the days to come.

Source: (also on Netflix)