The End of Our Journey

We have finally come to our last stop on our three-week excursion: Berlin.

Somber. The tone of the Berlin museums we visited were nothing like the Allied nations that won the war. The Topography of Terror Museum was brilliant in my opinion because unlike many other museums this one walks you through the SS and Nazi police state system. I liked how they displayedall types of the Nazi police forces, which made me understand the process behind the power of the Nazi government. It was surreal to me that we were walking on the site of the former SS headquarters. The museum offered photos of every country the Nazis invaded and showed photos of their Jewish people being deported. It’s mind boggling how many countries the Nazi’s conquered so quickly with no one to stand in their way.

Site of Berlin Wall at TOTM

The Soviet war memorial was very interesting as well. The statue felt so awkward placed in this city because of the tens of thousands of rapes perpetrated by Soviet soldiers as the conquered Germany. Yes, they fought for liberation but in their own way they took freedom away from the people in East Berlin. The USSR stands for communism; why have a memorial in their honor today? At the base of the memorial people were leaving flowers and bouquets in memory of those lost. It makes me question the motivation of the soldiers buried there; were they naïve young men fighting for their country or were they soldiers taking revenge for the atrocities committed by the Wehrmacht and the SS in the Soviet Union?

Our visit to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp made me notice the stained red grass on the roll call area. Walking through the entrance gate made me uncomfortable in a way that haunted me as I looked around. You immediately see barbed wire, stone walls, watch towers, and the notorious roll call area. This area was the spot for all prisoners in the camp to stand ensuring everyone was there. The grass presently was red, I’m not sure why, but it was very saddening nonetheless. The thought that young and old men had to stand in that spot for hours twice a day, no matter the weather condition, was devastating.

Being in Berlin was much different than London or Paris. The architecture was modern with few relics of the past like the Brandenburg Gate and parts of the Berlin Wall. The city also had fewer skyscrapers than normal which I thought interesting, so when on the S-Baum you can actually see most of the city without buildings in the way. I really enjoyed the Tiergarten and its hefty size relative to the city; it is strewn with memorials, bridges, and flower gardens that make it very unique. Hyde Park in London had a bigger open area for sporting activities and in Paris, Luxemburg park had cafes and sporting courts making it much more commercialized. This park in Berlin was the best of the three, having me walk miles and miles just in one day.

I am so thankful for this lovely journey I was able to participate in and being able to blog our stops along the way. I’m happy to say the knowledge I’ve gained and the new perspectives opens my mind to all the other chapters of the WW2 story.

Very Dearly,

Sophia L. Bruck




Point Alpha

Observation Post Alpha – now called just Point Alpha – was the forward-most U.S. Army observation post in Germany, where WW3 would have started on a moment’s notice. Located in the state of Hesse near Fulda, Point Alpha is now a monument and museum where only a fence and two observation towers – one East German and one U.S. – tell the story of what happened during this forty-year confrontation. Exploring this venuewith our German guide taught me a great deal about a part of history with which I was unfamiliar. The spring history courses on the Grand Alliance and World War II provide me a solid foundation on the Second World War, but the Cold War was new territory for me. Seeing Point Alpha opened my mind to another part of history with which I’ve become fascinated.


The Iron Curtain – here at Point Alpha literally an iron fence and not a cement wall – stayed up for forty years and progressively got more dangerous. The East Germans added motion detectors that fired robotic guns at anyone trying to scale the fence, as well as an electric fence and mines that prevented most escapes. More than two-thousand guard dogs were ready to tear into the flesh of anyone straying into their territory; after the Iron Curtain fell these dogs had to be euthanized because they were too vicious to be adopted as pets.


This border became a cruel reality for many East Germans who desired to emigrate to the West. It was surreal to me seeing how small the gap was between the Warsaw Pact and NATO sides. So close to freedom yet so far for so many East Germans; they were locked in a national prison. Taking a deeper look, this isn’t much different to what’s happening today in North and South Korea at the 38th parallel. During the Cold War tourists visited the border and peered at the other side of a world that was alien to them. It was definitely very devastating for me that people were locked up within their own communities, and that too many continue to be shut in today around the world.


Guard Dog and Electrified Fence Used at Border


In sharp contrast to the fortified border, the American forces installed a flag pole that did not touch the ground, but was attached to four supports. The U.S. troops wanted to raise the American flag every day in the border camp, but they wanted to make the point that they were not occupying Germany but rather defending it.

Arromanches and the Artificial Harbors

Arromanches and the Artificial Harbors

Getting off the bus at the little town of the Arromanches was astonishing. We saw the great cliffs over the beaches and a breathtaking view of the ocean. I am happy to say that view made my trip. We entered the 360 theater at the top of the hill to watch the new and improved video about D-Day. The big screens with the civilians and soldiers faces on it gave me a sense of realism as it brought the people to life. I saw raw emotions from the liberated civilians and close up videos of cities bombed by the allies.

Our group took an impromptu visit to the new museum built in Arromanches, and it hadwonderful exhibits showing us how the allied artificial harbors worked. I learned about the three prototypes that were proposed before the initial invasion. Ultimately, the allies used a network of floating bridges that were flexible due to the tides, designed with metal rods drilled into the sea floor which were attached to bridges able to shift up and down staying in the same position relative to the shore. These piers were protected by a breakwater of sunken ships and caissons; sunken concrete chambers filled with water. In the museum they had a great display with a machine moving waves below a model of the prototype. 

After the museum, my fellow student Frenchie and I walked along the beach and found this beautiful fossil and washed up ashore. I was planning on having lunch in town but as soon as I walked on the beach I just couldn’t leave! Then we started walking and didn’t look back. The experience made me think about what the soldiers who moved supplies ashore felt as they went about their work. I can imagine they felt a new dawn arising with victory nearer each day.


Fossilized rock in Arromanches

At the Pegasus Bridge we saw the first building to be liberated in Europe! I learned about the men in the gliders seeing the exact spot where they landed. Only two men died while completing the successful mission to capture the bridge. I thought it was interesting how the middle glider landed last, meaning it most likely just missed the last glider by inches on short final. Also, the training their officer put them through paid off a great deal because if unsuccessful I can imagine this memorial would be a somber remembrance to the 90 men that landed just past midnight.

The first liberated building in France

The Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum in London was an amazing experience. The informative and interactive exhibits kept my attention for hours. A couple of artifacts from World War II I found interesting were the Morrison shelter and the Nazi eagle statue. During the blitz, London was bombed daily and the citizens needed protection from the unexpected attacks. The Morrison shelter was built as an easy access shelter for low-income families. Normally used as a dining room table, a family of four could theoretically fit below it to protect themselves from aerial bombardment. When I saw it, it looked like it would be comfortable for only one person and that person would be buried alive if a raid came and bombed the house. It made my heart melt to realize that people had to sleep in such shelters nightly for many months during the Blitz and for those that were trapped underneath.

The second piece I thought was interesting was the Nazi Eagle. Those who lived under the Reich and appreciated Hitler and his motives swore their life to it, but to others it was the devil in disguise. The Nazi Eagle was recovered by the British when Berlin finally fell at the end of the war. An emblem once hoisted high in the sky is now viewed in a museum on the ground. Remarkably, there is an accompanying video showing the allies breaking the concrete the eagle stood on.

Museums in Ohio have limited physical evidence of the war itself, and most of what they contain are American items. Visiting museums of World War II in Europe that are close to the fighting grounds sheds a new perspective on the conflict. I was astonished with the beautiful job the curators did to put the story together along with the accompanying artifacts. The Imperial War Museum has given me a new appreciation for the British perspective on World War II.


Imperial War Museum