GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: July 2016 (Page 2 of 5)

Passing through Potsdam

With colorful graffiti, modern architecture, and wide open streets everywhere, Berlin is an amazing place to be. The people are really cool, too: yesterday while on a long metro ride, I struck up a conversation with a woman who’d lived in West Berlin about her experience on the day the Berlin Wall fell, and of her opinions on Angela Merkel. She said she’d sat in shock for about an hour when she saw what happened on TV, because for so long the wall had become a normal thing for her: “I didn’t realize how abnormal it was until it fell,” she said. As for Angela Merkel, the woman had a positive opinion of her. “Many people think she isn’t strong or assertive enough, but I think her tactfulness is a good thing. You can’t have someone like Trump when you’re dealing with Syria!”

However, this morning, we had a much more somber experience. First, we ventured to the Grunewald S-Bahn station memorial on the outer western part of Berlin. In 1941 and 1942, trains carrying Berlin’s Jews left from this station to deport them to death camps and ghettos such as Auschwitz and Minsk. Along the railway there were plaques bearing the amount of people deported, the date they were deported, and where they were taken. Stevie, our tour guide, told us an interesting story about a survivor from Theresienstadt who she’d taught English to. Because the woman’s husband had been a doctor, they’d had a leg up on escaping murder.


plaque: taken to Auschwitz




site of the Wannsee conference


Afterwards, we travelled to the site of the Wannsee conference. On January 20, 1942, high-ranking members of the SS and the Nazi party met in a mansion to discuss specifically how to eliminate all European Jews, what they called “the Final Solution.” It was horrifying to realize that the Nazis had meticulously planned out the murders, down to the dates and the construction of the death camps. Their detailed reports are partly why we have so much information about them today. “This is why Holocaust deniers are in such a minority–it happened,” said our tour guide. He explained the different reasons leading up to the Wannsee conference, starting with anti-Semetism that dated back to the Middle Ages and what he called “biological racism”–the idea that Jews were biologically less evolved and inferior to the “Aryan” race. I couldn’t believe how easy it was for the Nazis to successfully blame the Jewish people, an extremely small but generally affluent population, for the entire ruin of Germany after World War I. 

one foot in west berlin, one foot in the GDR--at Glienicke Bridge

one foot in west Berlin, one foot in the former GDR–at Glienicke Bridge

We then travelled to the Glienicke bridge, the infamous bridge featured in “the Bridge of Spies.” During the Cold War the bridge connected West Berlin with Potsdam. Only diplomats could cross the bridge freely. It was amazing to walk across the bridge and literally stand on an object that had divided a country for so long. After getting back on the bus, we took a tour of Potsdam (including the Dutch quarter) and stopped by the Sanssouci Palace, the former summer palace of King Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. Directly across from Sanssouci Palace was the New Palace, which was built in 1763 by King Frederick as well. Continuing our royal tour, we ventured to the Charlottenhof Palace nearby, which was the summer residence of King Frederick the Great’s palace in the 1740s. After listening to our tour guide Stevie’s descriptions of him, I found King Frederick to be an extremely interesting character. As he was somewhat of a humanist, Frederick was good friends with the French philosopher Voltaire, who was the longest resident of Frederick’s palace. Also, since Frederick was credited for introducing the potato to Germany, people were leaving potatoes on his grave!

King Frederick's palace

King Frederick’s palace

Our last visit in Potsdam was to Cecilienhof, the former palace of the last of the Prussian royalty and the site of the Potsdam conference. (The Potsdam conference was the conference between the leaders of the UK, USA, and the Soviet Union in order to determine the post-WWII order, including reparations, borders, and war crimes). To stand in the very room that the Big Three–Churchill, Truman, and Stalin–had stood in 65 years ago  was incredible. It was amazing to think that the decisions made in that room led to the birth of modern Europe. All in all, it was a great day.

site of the Potsdam conference

site of the Potsdam conference

This post will be my last for the trip. I couldn’t be more thankful to have gone to Europe this summer. I’ve been at the right place at the right time for so many things: at the EU on the day of Brexit, at the Swedish Parliament when they passed a controversial refugee bill, in Paris during the Euros, and everywhere in between to witness European reactions to events like the Nice attacks and the coup in Turkey. Getting up close so many security, political, and humanitarian challenges has been enlightening. There has not been a day of this program when I haven’t gone, “Oh my god,” in response to something I learned or saw. Auf Wiedersehen, Europe! Je T’aime!


Berlin: German Foreign Ministry and Simulation

With layers of history from various eras marking every area of the city, Berlin has proved to be one of the most historical places I have ever visited in my life. While yesterday we took advantage of our free day by visiting the Holocaust Memorial and other significant sites, today we returned to business as usual as we completed our last official site visit, a brief trip to the German Foreign Ministry. Following this interesting visit we participated in the long awaited EU and US simulation. Weeks of work culminated into about two hours of introductory speeches and negotiations concluding with a final paper of agreements. Both of our activities today proved to be very insightful in different ways.


Upon arrival to the beautiful German Foreign Ministry building, we met with a young diplomat named Marius Osswald who had just finished a three-year period in Washington DC. He began by showing us a short video about German foreign policy that included a few interesting and memorable moments. While most of the video seemed very typical of any foreign ministry, one particular quotation struck me as interesting. In a brief clip that would never be dreamed of in the United States, the video stated that the UN was the “most important actor in world affairs”. This brief quotation served as a key example of the difference between the view of the US and German foreign policy. I find it interesting that views can be starkly different and still lead to success. While the US arguably gained the majority of its international respect through hard power, Germany gains its respect in a different way as it prioritizes partnerships and organizations including the UN and the EU. Germany strives to be “good at building relations between states” and their success has lead to their respect in the international community. Both entities have used different approaches to reach the same goal, international respect and success.


Following the video, Mr. Osswald spoke at length about the current events that are most relevant to German policy. The topics that he focused on included the effects of the UK Referendum and the influx of refugees into Germany. While it was interesting to hear of the effects of the UK Referendum from a German perspective, the discussion of the current state of the refugee situation in Germany captivated me. As a country, Germany has been a leader in the situation, taking in over a million refugees according to our speaker. Well this was already common knowledge, I had never considered why Germany took initiative when many countries shied away from responsibility. Mr. Osswald spoke at length of the capabilities of Germany due to its economic strength and cited this as a key reason for the acceptance of so many refugees. I believe this coupled with the position of Germany as one of the leaders of the EU has facilitated this much needed acceptance of refugees. Without the UK it is likely that Germany will have to step up in more situations in the future; however, this is only speculation due to the overwhelming uncertainties created by the UK Referendum.

After a swift lunch, we began our simulation. For this assignment, we were divided into two teams, the EU and the US. Within these teams we were further split into four groups of two that chose a particular issue to research and present. Following these presentations, negotiations between the two sides ensued. These negotiations ultimately resulted in a lengthy final transcript of the agreements and compromises between the two sides. The four topics negotiated were the future of NATO, the Russian and terrorist threat, TTIP, and data privacy. The entire process was an interesting chance to culminate all that we have learned into one process. Perhaps the most significant part of this process was the negotiations. Well I cannot speak for the entire group, I can speak for myself in saying that it was a difficult but rewarding discussion. Seeing this process made me understand fully the effort it must take to make negotiations and compromises in the real world.

International handshake

International handshake

In sum, today was an excellent way to end our long series of site visits and also a great opportunity to culminate all that we have learned in one assignment. With nine days left in our trip, I feel that our course material is being wrapped up nicely and will value the coming days before our departure home.

The Holocaust Memorial and The German History Museum

Yesterday was our third day in Berlin. After having a wonderful tour and a briefing inside the German Parliament in the morning, we headed out for lunch. Our wonderful tour guide, Stevie, showed us many historical sites on the way. One of them was the Holocaust Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which was dedicated to six million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide during World War II. This special memorial is located near the famous Brandenburg Gate to remind people of one of the saddest moments in German history.


The Holocaust Memorial consists of 2711 rectangular blocks, and it was designed by architect Peter Eisenman. It is fascinating to see that the Memorial could be approached and walked through from all directions. Below it is a small section where Hitler’s bunker is buried. We did not have time to visit the bunker because everyone was so hungry after the site visit at the German Parliament. However, since this is once-in-a-life time opportunity to learn more about German history, my friends and I would like to come back here on our free day.

Being able to see the Memorial in person made me feel emotional. The holocaust has been always an unforgettable part not only in German history but also the world history. To me, this particular moment has made people to think about fundamental human rights. The right to life cannot be denied, and universal human rights should never be taken for granted.

After the Holocaust Memorial visit, we headed out to get a “currywurst” for lunch in a restaurant nearby. I had an interesting discussion with Dr. Birchfield about the site visit at the German Parliament in the morning. Most of us fell lucky to have such an amazing tour guide and a thorough tour inside the Parliament. We had a chance to visit not only different parts of the building but also many artistic works serving different political ideologies. Dr. Birchfield and Dr. Fabry said that the tour visit this year was significantly more broad than previous ones.

After a wonderful lunch, we continued our adventure to the German History Museum. I was astonished by the huge amount of information that the museum has to offer. With more than 500,000 objects from technical instruments, fashion, costumes, furniture, military weapons, to photo albums, newspaper, etc., the museum literally covers the entire German history from the beginning to the end of Nazi regime in 1945. I was more interested in the Nazi regime, so I went directly to the exhibition grounds where they are dedicated to modern history. It was absolutely captivating to see one of the darkest moment in German history as the Nazi gained control over the entire country. The exhibition depicts the political situation as well as the environment in Germany in that period and how Nazi step-by-step obtains power. One interesting fact that got my full attention was how the National Socialists proceeded from the Social Darwinist vision of a natural struggle for existence between people and races and later came up with the idea of the superiority of the Aryan race. This idea eventually led to one of the most brutal genocides of Jews, known as the Holocaust.

IMG_0676IMG_0697 IMG_0699

This is my last blog of the semester, so I want to say that I couldn’t be more thankful to be a part of this wonderful study abroad program. It has opened a door of opportunities for me to learn more about Europe. I have had a great time, so thank you!


After seeing Portugal win the EURO 2016 last night 12 years after losing to Greece at home, we had the pleasure of having a tour of Berlin today. Our tour guide, Stevie, is an American who has lived in Berlin for over 30 years, so she had plenty of knowledge and was obviously passionate about her city!

We started off by visiting the Charlottenburg Palace which is the largest palace in Berlin. Stevie told us that the palace was commissioned by Sophie Charlotte and a bit more history. Unfortunately, there was scaffolding so we couldn’t see it but upon doing a bit more research I learned that it’s made in baroque and rocco styles. After this we drove to our next point and on the drive Stevie told us that Americans are loved and told us about an experience she had when she first moved to Berlin- she was watching a film with a German friend and he said “I never thought I would be sitting with an American watching a film.” During this drive she also explained to us that in the area we were in many of the buildings were badly damaged, and therefore most buildings were new.

We got to our next stopping point, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The original was built in the 1890s but was severely damaged during the Second World War. Today, there is a memorial hall and then a separate church.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

After this brief stop, we continued driving and Stevie would point out where the Berlin Wall would have been as well as where the British, French and American sectors of West Berlin were. We then stopped along the wall and walked along where it would’ve been. Stevie also showed us where the Second Wall in East Berlin would have been, as well as the “no man zone.” Also near here was a piece of the Berlin Wall as well as the Former Air Ministry during the Third Reich which is now the Finance Ministry.


After this, we passed by Checkpoint Charlie and went to the East Side Gallery. She told us that it was developed after wall fell by an East German advertiser and West Berlin artist in 1990. We then drove through what would have been East Berlin and Stevie pointed out typical buildings and Soviet Art. Our last point on the tour was the Book Burning Memorial and the Neue Wache (New Guardhouse). The Book Burning Memorial commemorating the book burning consists of a glass plate in the ground, giving a view of empty bookcases (Which can hold all 20.000 burnt books). The Neue Wache was originally a guardhouse for the Palace of King William III of Prussia but is today the Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Dictatorship. The sculpture inside is an enlarged version of one by Käthe Kollwitz, who was a famous artist who died during the War.

After this, we were free and a few colleagues and I went to the Topography of Terror which sits on the site of buildings of the headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS. The exhibitions were quite interesting and informative.

Today was a truly informative and day and I look forward to visiting the Bundestag (Parliament) tomorrow!


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