Looking Back and Moving Forward: Berlin

When traveling to Germany for the first time, I had no idea what to expect. A place rich in culture of soccer, beer, schnitzel and hospitality, it is hard to think that this country was the head of evil. The entire country itself was not evil per say, but it had the face of a dangerous and persuading man, Adolf Hitler. To travel to what once was the heart of the Nazi Regime in Berlin was very difficult for me. Being of German descent, I was very excited for all the sights and smells I was to expect in Berlin. And not to say I wasn’t excited the entire time I was in Berlin. For me, it was my favorite city and country to visit out of the entire trip. Yet, at the same time, it held the most revealing history of all of the sights. The history itself is not necessarily told in the History curriculum of the United States. This is the history of World War II through the eyes of the German people, and through the deception laid out by the Nazi Regime.

Historically, with the rise of Adolf Hitler, Berlin was supposed to be the capital of this new great super nation called Germania that would encompass all of Europe and sooner or later all of the world under the Nazi Leadership of Hitler. Traveling through the German museum showed me so much Nazi propaganda that was being thrown at the people of Germany by Hitler and it scared me. Even 70 plus years later, some of the posters and what they proclaimed about the United States, about European Jewry, and about total world domination were frightening and eerie to see. The Reichstag (known as the Bundestag now) was also just immensely intimidating. This is where the main governing body of the Nazi Regime did their work. From here, they rose above their enemies around Europe, but soon towards the end of the war and the Battle of Berlin, this was the place in which they died. The Soviets came in and tore the city apart, destroying everything and everyone in sight. The death and destruction they experienced throughout the Eastern Front and Battle of Stalingrad in particular was enough for the Soviets to unleash hell upon Berlin and all of Germany. Even more thought provoking and just indescribable was traveling to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, one of the three first camps centralized solely on forced labor. This camp was for political prisoners, soviets, and others the SS captured and moved. There was so much nature around the camp, but once inside, it became a reminder of the death and horrors that took place. Not even being an extermination camp, Sachsenhausen was still a significant place during WWII.

The final main point I found intriguing and bewildering to me was the Berlin Wall itself. The remnants of the wall all around the city were a constant reminder of what the citizens of West and East Germany had to see every day. The Allied West Germany, although divided into three separate sectors from the French, British and US, was treated much better than the Soviet East Germany. Those who tried to escape East Germany faced dire consequences, as the Soviets, in a way, held a grip around the German people like the Nazis did. Looking around the city and seeing parts of the Wall covered in graffiti demonstrated that the people could now express their freedom through their expansive and colorful street art. This trip all together was an experience I will never forget and will cherish forever. Thank you all for being a part of this journey with me! 😀20150527_150735 20150528_180308 20150601_192250 20150529_201825

My Friend My Friend! Where are you from?! I give you a good deal!

Paris. The city of love. This is a city that I particularly loved. As soon as I arrived in the big city environment from the small, historical town of Bayeux, I was instantly teleported into a new world. The sights, sounds, smells and ecosystem of France was like nothing I have experienced. Traveling on the Tube Metro in London, I felt confident and ready for the Paris Metro. The map was easier to traverse, and the train itself was faster, but as soon as I entered, I entered a flurry of Parisian music. The music being played in the train was stereotypical in nature of a French song, but to have that be one of my first hand experiences was incredible. Continuing through Paris and seeing the grand old touristy sights of the Eiffel Tower, Trocadero Square, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, etc; the feeling of being in Paris became more real. When I first arrived in the city, I thought it was a dream. But continuing to see historical sight after another was something completely different. Dream turned into reality and at one point there I was, taking a selfie with Napoleon’s Tomb because of course, why not?

But after taking in the history and how the city was massively affected by German occupation and then liberation, I saw what made Paris…well Paris. The people. Coming into the city, we were foreigners. But leaving the city, I felt like I was a Parisian. I couldn’t speak a lick of French, but I knew how to haggle like a boss for Eiffel Tower keychains and Selfie sticks. I enjoyed some nice wine and good conversation with my close comrades on the trip while watching the Eiffel Tower light up like a Christmas tree. I enjoyed the majesty of cheese and chicken in the Heaven that was a lightly grilled crepe. I climbed the Arc and witnessed the beauty of the Parisian landscape and metropolitan life going on below me. I experienced the devotion and love for the Parisian soccer club Paris Saint Germain as they were crowned champions of France and saw how the fans chanted, screamed, and celebrated. It was within these simple moments in life that I truly knew what life in Paris was like. The beautiful art, beautiful women, and the beauty of just living. Without wifi, without technology, without stress or rushing the day at all. It was a beautiful way to live. And even though the danger of pickpockets was evident, it never really phased me. I felt safe and relaxed and welcomed in a city that was very different from me. I didn’t conform, but rather went with the flow and became part of the people. They taught me how to enjoy life and enjoy the beauty within affection, nature and passion. France, in particular Paris, was dear to me, and was the city so far that has made a significant impact on me.20150523_215052 20150523_220750 20150524_131250 20150524_220012

Exploring World War II History through the Waves and Sands of the Beaches of Normandy

You can read about the struggles of the soldiers storming the beaches. You can read about the strategic struggles that a grand amphibious invasion on that scale was for the Allied forces. You can read about how the Nazis dug in and held Europe within their clutches and defended the beachheads with their lives, machine guns and bunkers. But until seeing it firsthand, you cannot comprehend what destruction, chaos and bloodshed both sides faced on June 6th, 1944. D-Day, the greatest and largest amphibious invasion ever, named Operation Overlord by the Allied forces, was the simultaneous invasion of Normandy by Britain, the USA, Canada and other Allied nations against the Nazi Regime. When visiting Bayeux, France, you get the feel for a small town that is very peaceful and happy. It is a quaint little town that enjoys football, pastries, and good company for conversations. Yet around 70 years ago, it was under siege by the Nazis and liberation by the Allies. During our time in the Normandy region of France, we visited three of the five main beaches that the Allies invaded during D-Day and the sights were astonishing. After visiting Utah, Omaha and Gold Beaches, my comprehension of World War II knowledge and life was changed forever.

First looking at the most successful of the five beaches, Utah Beach was our first stop, and during high tide and speedy winds, it was very wet and sandy. After collecting your thoughts and some sand in a glass jar, you walked into the museum which helped tell the narrative. Operation Neptune, the preliminary paratrooper mission that took out most of the main Nazi artillery in the Cherbourg Peninsula near Utah Beach, was the main reason Utah Beach was a success. Even though the Allies fought against tough Nazi bunkers and machine gun fire, the casualties were fewer than expected. Yet the success of Utah was the polar opposite of what happened at Omaha.

The memorial at Omaha and the solemnity that existed in the waves at this beach were indescribable. The landings themselves were off the original path, the German resistance was toughest here, and the death count was high for the Allied forces. Even though there was an eventual success at all five beaches, Omaha was definitely the one that cost the most lives at such high risk. Walking along the coastline and imaging the dead bodies of the fallen Allied forces is just heart wrenching. It is a part of history and a cost of war, but from the ashes of the dead soldiers came new life for freedom and peace once the Allies defeated Hitler and the Germans by conquering Berlin.

The final beach we visited was my specific site report on the trip: Gold Beach and Arromanches, a small French commune turned artificial harbor. From here, the Allies, specifically Britain, made their supply drops, movement of people and materials across the English Channel and was a vital strategic location for the Allies to continue to have reinforcements while moving inland towards more fortified German positions. Being able to see what I was researching and talking about was mesmerizing, and to imagine the amount of men and material that went through the harbor and the town many years ago was incredible. Bayeux itself and the region around it has so much history of the Second World War and was fantastic to visit! 20150518_104639 20150519_144927 20150520_092827

A Taste of London through the Net of a Goal and the Stage of an Actor

Ever since a young age, my fascination for the game of football (soccer to us Yanks) has enveloped every fiber of my being. I have been blessed to be able to see domestic matches involving various MLS or European big names like Manchester United, Real Madrid, etc. But to be able to see a game abroad in its natural habit is something else. With the grace of god when traveling abroad to England now about 4-5 years ago I was able to see Stoke City vs Aston Villa at Villa and it was an entirely different world. But this trip to England a second time around with some of my WWII Study Aboard comrades, we were able to watch one of the biggest fixtures in world football. To be able to watch Chelsea vs Liverpool at Stamford Bridge (Chelsea’s Stadium) is something out of a storybook. Chelsea just recently claimed the most points in the Premier League and have become Champions this year, so the stadium was rocking! The fans screaming and chanting the songs of their team before, during and after the game, the class and skill of the professional footballers, and the emotion and drama that takes place on the pitch is indescribable for me. The sea of blue Chelsea fans combating with the speck of red Liverpool fans was a sight within itself and rivaled the game on the field, as each tried to outdo the other with their team specific battle cries and chants. Soccer is such a vital component of culture for most every other country around the world outside of the USA, and to be able to experience the culture of the game with the people who share its passion and love like I have is truly transcendent for me as a fan. But England, in particular London, is not solely known for their fantastic football.

The fun in exploring London’s culture, for me as a theater guy, was traveling and touring the Globe Theater, where Shakespeare’s playing company performed. Shakespeare, a genius of the theater, literary and language world, is a vital part of culture around the world. His plays and productions are studied in schools across the world and performed at various venues holding thousands. Delving into the history of the Globe Theater right on the Thames River in the heart of London, it was built in 1599 by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (Shakespeare’s playing company). The original Globe itself was destroyed from a prop malfunction in which a cannon was fired from the thatched roof to simulate an explosion in the scene of a play. The roof ended up catching on fire and the Globe burnt down, yet luckily no one was killed or injured. The second Globe, completed in 1997, is the one seen today on the river and is magnificent. The foundation itself is held together by English Oak, metal pegs and a paste of brick, goat hair and other substances to create the white walls. The poor would congregate in the center of the floor, while the seats in the theater themselves were for sale for those who could afford them. Of course, those of royalty sat behind the actors and stage so that everyone could see them. Even the though globe that stands today maybe not be completely authentic, it still holds much history and holds great cultural importance not only to London but all around the world. To be in the presence of history itself and to stand where many influential actors have stood was breathtaking and truly one of my favorite moments so far on the trip. Chelsea Game Globe Theater