Ich Bin Ein Berliner

After weeks traveling in Europe, we finally reached the last leg of our journey, Berlin, Germany. As I stated in earlier posts (I don’t blame you if you haven’t read it) I had never been out of the country before, and one of the places I have always wanted to visit was Germany. Aside from all of the many historical and cultural draws of Germany, I was excited to visit the country my family (Schneider) was from. Going into the trip Germany was probably the country I was most excited about visiting, and Germany did not disappoint.

I found the overall cultural atmosphere of Germany to be quite agreeable (that’s the fancy way of saying enjoyed it). To begin with, the people in Germany came across as friendlier and certainly more willing to speak in English. The people were very frank and easy to talk to and I personally had a much greater number of enjoyable conversations with natives in Berlin than I did in Paris of Normandy. Again, the willingness to speak English cannot be overstressed. Not only were most of the people in Berlin able to speak English, they never appeared to be upset by having to speak English when talking to me.

The German people are also very orderly. The thing that best exemplified this for me was the German public transportation system. There are no turn styles in the German subway system. The entire time I was there, I also did not once have anyone ask me for my ticket. Essentially, this means I could have rode the underground for free my entire time there (I’ve been told that people do occasionally check for tickets, but I never I never personally saw it happen). The whole time I couldn’t help but think, “There’s no way you could do this in America.” I felt that it would take no time at all for that system to be abused in America. But the fact that that system is still used shows that the Germans must not abuse it. I think this speaks volumes as to the German culture, it shows a very deeply engrained sense of order.

The German culture also appeared to be one of the best nations at remembering the Second World War. Were as other nations narratives of the Second World War were aimed at stirring national pride and presenting that nation in the best possible light, Germany makes no attempt at this. The German culture includes a very frank and upfront view of the Second World War. Try do not appear to excuse or reason away the events of the war, they accept what happened and tell the whole story just as it happened. The German museums were very upfront and honest about the events of the Second Word War.

The German culture was very interesting to experience. It was culture that was at the same time very forward thinking and orderly while still possessing a great deal of respect for and observation of the past. I greatly enjoyed my time spent I Germany and my time spent experiencing the German culture.

Morning in Paris

Paris, city of lights. Unfortunately, I spent almost half of my time there sick in the hotel. None the less! I did get to see many of the hallmark Paris sights, and what I did see was quite nice. Paris is also a city deeply steeped in its own history and its own unique culture.

The first sight we visited was actually the sight that I had been most excited about, the Notre Dame. Now you can laugh all you want, but one of my favorite Disney movies growing up was Hunchback of Notre Dame. And to be at the cathedral itself was breathtakingly beautiful. When we happened to stop in at the Notre Dame there was a choir preforming and it sounded very lovely. I sat down and listened to them for a bit before continuing on to view the rest of the cathedral. The Cathedral was pretty standard but still had a very appealing sort of old charm to it. I know it might sound strange, but I very much enjoy old churches (lucky for me considering how many are on this trip).

After the Notre Dame I actually almost got lost in Paris. This happened when I turned around for one second and realized soon after that my group seemed to have moved on without me. I spent about thirty minutes looking around the plaza just outside the Notre Dame for my group. I was a little terrified because I was in a large city that I had only been in for half a day and that I did not speak the language of at all. Luckily I was able to find my group and reunite! After almost getting lost halfway across the world, I decided that it would be best to go straight home. Of course going straight home, meant trying to navigate the underground of Paris. Which was a nightmare. At least that day it was, when I was new to the city and beyond tired, if I recall correctly. That day taught me that Parisians are not very talkative in general, and often won’t try to help strangers.

Remember when I said I went straight home after the Notre Dame? I lied. We had a quick layover at the Eiffel Tower first. It was nice. Got to see the Eiffel Tower. Which was cool but, I don’t know. At the end of the day, it’s just a radio tower (albeit a cool looking one).

That day was the most sight-seeing I did in Paris not related to the trip. I feel like I didn’t really get a good chance to experience Paris as fully as I could of, but at the same time I don’t really feel as though I missed out. One of the biggest revelations I’ve had on this trip I think is this, a city is a city. There might be a different people occupying that city, but when you get down to it, most people are pretty similar and so are most cities. Paris is just a city the same way New York is just a city. We may have slightly different ways of doing things, but that doesn’t make either way necessarily better than the other.

Down on the Bayeux

Bayeux, France may not be a city with which you are particularly familiar, but you have no doubt heard of Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches. Even those names aren’t ringing any bells, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Allied invasion of Normandy better known as “D-Day.” Bayeux served as our jumping off point for studying and visiting sites related to the D-Day invasions.

It’s very hard to describe what it’s like standing on one of the beaches of Normandy. It’s so peaceful there now. It’s very hard to imagine those beautiful, beautiful beaches being the site of such brutality and such bloodshed. To stand on one of the beaches of D-Day and to think of how many men around my own age lost their lives at that very spot. It’s a chilling spot and very reverent place. The two beaches we visited were Utah and Omaha (the two American beaches). Those beaches were one of the few places on the trip that seemed very quiet and still (they were also one of the few places not overrun by screaming French school children). It was an extraordinary feeling to be on the beaches of Normandy, a feeling, so far, unmatched by any other on the trip.

Another site we visited was the Pointe Du Hoc, a heavily fortified area of the Normandy beach. The US Army Rangers were tasked with climbing sheer cliffs and assaulting the German instillation and destroying the large artillery pieces. This was a very interesting site because unlike the other sites we had visited, it was very clear that a battle had been fought there. There were large bomb craters all over the site, with half destroyed German bunkers scattered throughout. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of national pride at the site where the US Rangers carried out a now legendary assault against a highly dug in enemy. The site was also where the Rangers earned their motto of ‘Rangers Lead the Way’.

In addition to American monuments, we visited French museums on the Second World War. In these museums, the French narrative of the Second World War became apparent. In this museum, there was a very large portion of the museum dedicated to total war. And when I say very large, I mean it was about one fourth of the exhibit. The French have a great remembrance for the time in the war when French cities proximity to Nazi forces made them a target. The museum goes into great depth as to the planning of “strategic bombing” as it was called as well as the implementation of these methods. This was a very dark time in the history of the world in which the line between combatant and civilian often became blurred in the bomb sights. France clearly has a deep remembrance for those lost in bombings of the French cities and infrastructure.

A more curious aspect of the French narrative of the Second World War involves Vichy France, collaboration and the Resistance. The French clearly do not look back fondly on the time of Vichy France, but they are very quick to say in the museum that it was simple the best option available for most French people at the time. One aspect of the Vichy that the French appear very reluctant to speak about is the collaboration with the holocaust. Nowhere in any of the museums in any of the museums we visited in Bayeux was it explicitly stated that the Vichy actively assisted the Nazis in carrying out the holocaust (which they did). This is clearly a very dark chapter in French history, and one it appears they are hesitant to speak about. The other aspect heavily ingrained in the French narrative of the Second World War is the Resistance. The French people appear to be quite proud with the work of the French Resistance during the war. Although it seemed as though the museum itself was a bit confused with just how much of a role that the resistance played. In the win of the museum dedicated to the Nazi occupation of France, and the emergence of the Vichy rule, the museum stated that open resistance was very dangerous and few people were involved in such resistance but that that was ok and that was alright and that passive resistance was resistance all the same. Later in the museum, they would claim that the French resistance was supplying the Allies with the majority of their intelligence on the Germans in France (not quite 100% accurate (thanks ULTRA!)). And even that the majority of France had liberated itself by the time of D-Day.

The French people seem to be clearly deeply imbedded into their narrative that they suffered greatly during the war and that they persevered and ended up over coming and liberating themselve3s from Nazi rule.

London Calling

Hello there! My name is Cameron! But if you’re reading this, you most likely know that already. Until very recently, the most far off and distant place I had been in my life was Columbus, Ohio (being that I’m from South Florida!). That of course changed just a few days ago when I stepped off of a plane and into London, England. One of the first impressions I got from the city was just how old of a city London is, just about every corner appears to be steeped in history. History, of course, being the main reason for me being here. If you are reading this and you didn’t know who I was, there’s still a high chance you know why I’m writing this blog (if not, seriously how’d you end up here and why are you still reading this?). This blog is a part of my study abroad trip studying the Second World War in Europe, and I can’t think of a better place to start taking about the Second World War than in London, England.

As I mentioned earlier, London in a city dripping in history and the history of the Second World War is no exception to this. For a period early in the war, Great Britain was the only nation remaining in Western Europe that stood against Nazi Germany. During this time, Great Britain was subjected to nightly bombings and began to view themselves as the last bastion of liberty in Europe. This spirit of defiance and endurance appears to saturate the British interpretation of the Second World War. Every nation involved in the war has its own way of remembrance and its own unique narrative for the course of the war. Much of Great Britain’s narrative seems to begin during the Blitz. These interpretations can be seen in the ways that Great Britain chooses to remember the war.

The first historical site we visited was the Imperial War Museum. The very first thing we saw at the museum and the thing that seemed most surprising to me was a small stone monument outside of the museum, off to one side. It could be seen from a distance that this monument was covered in roses. This plain looking monument turned out to be the Soviet monument to all Soviet people lost in the Second World War (or the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union as they called it). This seemed a bit surprising, not only the location of a Soviet monument, but the fact of how visited it seemed to be based off of the number of flowers left there. Moving on to the museum itself, the museum was a very good one, but ended up having a far better and more well put together exhibit on the First World War, rather than the Second. I that this was because the Great War exhibit had just recently been redone. The Second World War exhibit was more disjointed and didn’t follow a single flow.

The next site we visited in London was the Churchill War Rooms. This helped paint a very strong picture of the British war narrative. First off, the site greatly glorified Winston Churchill. Despite the museum (there was a museum dedicated to Churchill inside the war rooms) claiming to present an unbiased look at Churchill’s life, I couldn’t seem to find anything that spoke a negative word about Churchill. The bunker also strongly perpetuated the narrative of Britain during the Blitz. The Bunkers were created to serve as Churchill’s base of operation during the Blitz and the bunker invoked many of the feelings associated with the Blitz.

The last World War II specific site we visited was Bletchley Park (I gave the site report for this site!). Bletchley was the home of Allied code breaking during the Second World War and was the site of one of Britain’s greatest achievements. The codebreakers of Bletchley ended up being able to break and read just about every German message toward the end of the war. Expert’s today estimate that the work done by Bletchley shortened the war by two years. It was fantastic to be at Bletchley, where all of this was done, but the site itself honestly isn’t much. True to its top secret nature during the war, there isn’t much flash associated with the site and it may not provide much appeal to someone unfamiliar or uninterested in Bletchley’s history.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed my time spent in London. The city has a rich history and just about every street has a story to tell. London is also a city that has a very strong remembrance of the Second World War and remembers that time in history as a time when they alone stood against the full fury of Nazi Germany and prevailed.