The Great Divide

Arriving in Berlin on May 26th gave me more culture shock than I initially expected. Being that it’s Germany and, well, it is very westernized, I expected it to feel fairly similar to America in that it’s a big city with modernized buildings, however when I began walking around, I felt that it was a little different than back home. First things first, the Berlin Wall was just standing in various parts of town, sometimes with only a small plaque to tell you what you are looking at. This happened on multiple occasions. I would be walking down a main drag, see a small piece of the Wall or see the line of bricks indicating that the Wall was standing there some 25 years ago, and wouldn’t realize that I was literally crossing over from East to West until seeing the plate on the ground. Granted, it isn’t divided into the different sectors anymore, but regardless, it was pretty awesome.


The Soviet Union constructed the Berlin Wall in 1961 and it stood throughout Berlin for almost 3 decades, creating two distinct cultures on either side of the Wall. In the West, life became modernized fairly quickly since western powers controlled this sector which was quite different from life in the East. It was fun to walk past Checkpoint Charlie and try to imagine what it must have been like trying to get from one allied sector to the next, let alone from the West to the East across the Wall.


Surrounding the Wall and throughout the city, street art was definitely in style. It was everywhere! You would walk down an alley or walk alongside a small piece of the still standing Berlin Wall and see art painted on every square inch. At first I thought that spray painting such an historic landmark was destroying the history of the Wall and city, but then I realized that it’s the street art that had been there since the time of the Wall. The street art showed the colorful culture of both sides of the Wall and helped to explain some of the thoughts that people must have been thinking during the tumultuous times of the Cold War. It completely changed my perspective on how to look at the so-called street art.


My time in Berlin consisted of walking around the city and taking in all of the sites where historic battles took place during WWII, political reformation, and the dissolution of the Nazi Socialist Party. The food was delicious and the atmosphere of German life in a big city was just breathtaking. I am so glad that I decided to travel with the WWII Study Abroad program and I can’t wait to share my memories with those back at home.

The City of Love

We arrived in Paris in the late afternoon of May 22nd and quickly took to the city after getting into our hotel rooms and a brief introduction to the Metro. Within 5 hours of being in Paris, I had already walked through the Louvre and made it to a small café along the Seine for dinner and some light people watching. Later that night I began to think about why Paris, and not other romantic hotspots such as Venice or Rome, is called the City of Love? Is it because of the Eiffel Tower when it is gorgeously lit up at night or the long walks couples can do along the Seine River just as the sun begins to set? Or is it the fact that PDA is everywhere and it is actually socially acceptable to make out on the subways? Or is it simply that the food and atmosphere seem to be aphrodisiacs that bring out the romantic side of people? Honestly, after just 4 days of being in Paris, I think it’s a combination of everything here that makes Paris the City of Love.

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The first time I stepped foot onto the subway, I saw a younger couple flirting with each other followed by a long make out session. I thought to myself that they must really like each other to heavily show affection in such a public place. But, then I realized that it is common to see such PDA in Europe and it started to make sense. Throughout my time in Paris, I saw many couples holding hands, make out in public, and also just stand and walk really close together, obviously showing affection to each other. This happened everywhere, but especially by the Eiffel Tower. I think the tower may have special couple powers because there were always couples under, on, and around the tower. We even saw couples take their wedding photos near the tower, which by no means would not be completely awesome, but it just fueled the fire in the City of Love department.


After spending a few days in Paris, I began to understand why Paris is the City of Love. The food, like bread, cheese, and chocolate along with the abundance of wine, and might I say cheap wine, all create a great feeling of romance within the city. The city also promotes love with romantic river cruises, selling flowers and wine in front of the Eiffel Tower, and even by selling condoms in the subway station. Hey, apparently 4 condoms for 2 euro is what works for Paris. It sounds expensive, but regardless, it’s the sheer fact that they are selling condoms in the subway stations. Not exactly romantic, but I believe it promotes a sexualized culture and some people confuse sex with romance.


Needless to say however, Paris has shown me that it has special powers that attract couples and love that simply cannot be repeated in other cities in the way that Paris does. It is a beautiful city, and one which I want to return, preferably with my boyfriend, fiancé, or husband because I think I would get a much different view of the city. I would be able to partake in the romantic atmosphere and may see it more as the City of Love than the city that was once liberated by the Allies in 1944.

D-Day in Real Life

As we slowly made it to port in France, I was overcome with an immense feeling of déjà vu. We spent all semester learning about the importance of the war in, and the Allied liberation of, France. It finally hit me that we had just made the trek across the English Channel and arrived in France after a very similar journey to the one that the Allies made just 71 years ago. Everything we learned in class came to life and seemed much more real. It was amazing to be able to compare then and now with pictures, soldiers’ recollections, and memorabilia to the material we read in class.

My favorite museum of our time in Normandy and Bayeux was the museum at Utah Beach, as well as looking out over the dunes and seeing the peaceful waves lap at the coast. IMG_1330 IMG_1336

The museum was simple and small, but very well done. The first exhibit that caught my attention showed a pair of German boots that had a sign underneath it which said that the felt from these boots “often consisted of human hair taken from the millions of Jews murdered in concentration camps.” The wording struck me as unusual because of the curator’s choice to use murdered rather than a euphemism like the ones we had seen throughout the British and French museums. I think the curator who designed this exhibit used the correct word because the Jews and others in the concentration camps were murdered, simply put. You can say they perished, died, were deported or liquidated, but murdered creates the negative connotation that the history deserves. The Germans murdered millions of Jews, Gypsies, mentally handicapped, etc. and many of the museums we have seen that discuss the Holocaust use euphemisms to describe the events of the Holocaust. Well done to the curator of the Utah Beach museum.


I enjoyed the rest of the museum and learning about how invading through Utah Beach was not in consideration until the final months leading up to the invasion. There was also a book that I saw in one of the cases that talked about a prisoner of war’s rights and I can’t imagine the Allies received many of those rights if caught by the Axis Powers. Regardless, it made me think about the cruelties of war and what life as a POW would have been like. It sent a cold chill down my spine.

Throughout my time in Bayeux, I saw the many sites of the D-Day invasions and was impressed with the preservation of the memories and sites of the historical event. To see a bomb crater ten feet deep and twenty feet wide shocked me. I can only imagine the noise that the bomb made when it crashed to the earth on Pointe du Hoc. Incredible! I enjoyed seeing the French interpretations of the war and the liberation of France, even if some of it was a little, ok a lot at times, skewed towards their point of view. I mean I doubt the French would have been able to liberate themselves without Allied help, but that can be saved for another discussion. I am excited to head to Paris to be a very touristy American and also to enjoy the atmosphere of the City of Love! Au revoir for now!

The Secret to War

Well my second time around in London was just as good as the first. Last year I was in London studying music, more importantly the Beatles, and had the opportunity to tour many of the main tourist attractions such as Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Royal Albert Hall, Tower of London, as well as seeing Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, and more! This year, because I had seen many of the popular buildings and places, I could take a second look at the main sites, but also see the smaller, yet very important places like the Imperial War Museum, Churchill War Rooms, HMS Belfast, and of course Bletchley Park.

Because I had spent all semester researching the positive effects for the Allies of code breaking during the war, I had a profound appreciation for the work of the codebreakers at Bletchley Park. When we stepped foot off the train platform and began our short walk to the best, in my opinion, WWII site in England, it felt like Christmas Day to me. I was so excited to see how everything would be set up and how the story would be told through their eyes. We received our tickets and I was off exploring the buildings and huts where history was made and the strategy of war was forever changed. I absolutely loved hearing the stories of Bletchley Park from our tour guide because it was familiar territory in that a lot of what he said could be found in my research paper.


Walking around the grounds and through the huts where the codebreaking actually took place was so cool! I liked the set up in that they tried to keep the inside look of the buildings and huts the same as they were back in the wartime period. I can only imagine what it must have been like during WWII when they broke the codes and obtained information in time to give it to the commanders on the battlefield. Knowing what I know now from my research, it would have been a sigh of relief, but not too much knowing that they would have to continue doing it the following day with the new keys and messages. The atmosphere of Bletchley must have been inspiring with all of the bright minds and talented mathematicians working on such difficult theories and codes.

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By far the most fascinating part of Bletchley was the working bombe they had on display. I researched the bombes and enigmas used during WWII, but I never truly understood the workings of these machines. I was blown away by the technology the codebreakers used to decipher and decode the Axis Powers’ messages.

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Before we left, I took a second quick look at the first exhibit just to make sure I didn’t miss anything and lo and behold I saw the explanation of the importance of codebreaking for the battles of the Atlantic and Cape Matapan, two of the six battles I used as evidence in my paper. It was such a surreal feeling! If I could go back to Bletchley Park, I would be back in a heartbeat!

Now that we are on our way to France, I can say that I cannot wait to go back to London someday! With the historical importance and the royal family, yes I am quite the fan of them, of England, I hope I have the opportunity to return in the near future!