GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: May 2018 (Page 1 of 2)

Two Types of Briefings

The day started off with the last of our member state presentations. We went through the 4th enlargement, working our way to Croatia. It was interesting to me because I do not usually keep up with current events in Latvia, Estonia, or even Poland. I know that as an International Affairs major I should keep up with the news, but it is not exactly the priority of American News channels to report on the possibility of Czexit when there are larger stories that are more relevant to their demographic.

My presentation was specifically on Latvia. At first, it was a challenge to find information that was relevant and interesting enough to mention in comparison to the rise of Populism in Italy or the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland. But then, I stumbled across a few articles on the Baltics’ exploration in the digital world.  This really shocked me given that when I was first assigned to Latvia, I was less than thrilled. What relevance does Latvia play in the European Union? Let alone, how many common American citizens were even aware that Latvia was a country? As an International Affairs and Modern Languages student with a Computer Science minor, this truly peaked my interest. It is interesting how if you given a struggling economy the access to technology it turns into a basis of development. For example, Air Baltic, in Latvia, was the first airline to accept Bitcoin as a form of payment. Latvia is primarily based on an agricultural economy, but ever since they have joined the European Union they have had an increase in competition, especially in agriculture. So they found they explored the digital market with their neighbors Estonia, the European Union’s digital leaders.


I really enjoyed being briefed on each of the member states. I would have never explored Maltan politics before this course, and who would have? It gives students an overall look at the state of the nations, and how the citizens interpret the European Union. I thought it was interesting to see the comparison of states who had self-sufficient economies in comparison to those who relied heavily on the European Union. All of the post-communist states who recently received independence from Russia, all had positive views on the European Union.


After 12 briefings, we headed to the Hotel de Ville as a group to be briefed on Metz. We walked through a brief recap of the past of Metz and looked on to the hopes for the future of Metz. One comparison, he made was that Metz was the “Luxembourg City of the Middle Ages.” And as I looked out the window, it was definitely hard to imagine that this was once a town of great wealth when all of the building (except the Cathedrale of course) looked so modest. Now, 19,000 citizens of Metz commute everyday to Luxembourg for work which really strains the transportation infrastructure.


I have studied France extensively and never have any of my professors mentioned Metz. I was shocked to find out that it was in the Grand Region according to the EU for infrastructures and development and also apart of the Quatropole. Metz is also the only Metropole that shares its border with 3 countries. There seems to be endless possibilities when at the doors of 3 European Markets, but as I mentioned earlier there was a lack of infrastructure to support the transportation of tens of thousands daily. Also, it is difficult because Luxembourg is a state in itself, it does not have to relay information and seek approval before it can make decisions like Metz has to go to Stratsbourg.


However, Metz is swarming with opportunity. It hopes to double its highway in order to account for the rise in transportation. In addition, Metz offers a combination of arts, geography, research and creativity. Soon Metz will be hosting the World E-Sports Convention which kind of relates to my earlier thoughts in that introducing technology into struggling economies helps develop and retain its citizens. Metz is also home to French Tech, which employs more than 2000 citizens of Metz. It is a signal to the young people of Metz to be ambitious and entrepreneurial in terms of start-ups and digital development. Further, in relation to research, there is a slew of Universities that have set up there campuses surrounding Metz including Georgia Tech Lorraine.

Thinking back to the four main draw Metz offers — arts, geography, research, and creativity — I truly understand which Georgia Tech chose to put a campus in this region. Georgia Tech’s Atlanta campus is located in the middle of the hub on the brink of innovation. It offers Liberal Arts students the chance to receive a Bachelor’s Degree of Science mixing art, creativity, and research in a geographic location that allows students to access opportunities within the city or easy access to highways and the busiest airport in the world. Metz is truly a gem of a city, and I hope that many others will come to the same realization in the future.

Our Last Lecture Before a Free Weekend

Bleary-eyed and coffee-fueled, it was our last class before our first free weekend in Europe. As soon as class begun, Dr. Birchfield woke us from our dreams of travelling with a thought-provoking discussion no one saw coming. The conversation stemmed from our viewing of the Ted Talk, The Danger of a Single Story. The talk underscores the idea that we all have a deficiency to view a group of people who share a common attribute and identify them only as that attribute. We miss out on the individuality of people because we selfishly want to easily identify them. While these identifiers may be true in some cases, they are incomplete and stem from power relationships in society. A person’s position in society clouds their view of their relationships with others and helps to create these labels.

To dig even deeper, Dr. Birchfield asked us to describe ourselves and explain the single story we fear the most. As a class, we decided it best to not read them aloud. To me, this was because reading that single story makes it all the more realistic, and it is our duty not to perpetuate them but to defy them and become so much more.

To transition this into a more concrete example about the European Union, we discussed that people create identities “in opposition to”, and we, as residents of the United States, view the European Union in this same manner. We are able create narratives about nations against how we view our own. This was evidenced by the member state presentations of Greece, Spain, and Portugal.

These three countries were part of the second enlargement and have since experienced varying paths of growth within the European Union. Greece entered into the EU with a very poor economy. Although they were asked to take action prior to entering, their economy remains in a deep deficit. As they continue to pay off their debts, they are also experiencing other crises, including a refugee and an unemployment crisis. On the other side of the economic spectrum is Spain, with the European Union’s fifth largest economy. The largest ongoing crises in Spain has to do with the independence of Catalonia. The people of Catalonia feel culturally unique and have voted for independence from Spain. Spain does not recognize this and neither does the EU. Also, in opposition to the economic imperfections of Greece, Portugal had previous economic problems but effectively used austerity to correct them. They are one of the few economies were austerity was actually observed to work.

Our final class-oriented activity of the day was watching the film, Europe at Sea which began to explain the ever-changing borders of the European Union and the role of the Global Strategy. It detailed the Operation Sophia that has helped to save thousands of refugees travelling from Syria and Libya, as well as, taken action in northern Africa to stop human trafficking at the source. The film also spoke about European Union relations with other organizations, such as NATO. The Global Strategy continues to progress but not without setbacks, and as a few people in the class pointed out, the video seemed to only be portraying the Global Strategy from a positive light. While we may agree or disagree with the Global Strategy, it is always important to show both sides of the argument as to be fully informed.

As our discussion wrapped up for the day, many headed off on their travels. Some students left for Barcelona, some for Ireland, and a small few were left in Metz for the evening. A couple of us that would be in Metz for the evening ventured out to the fair. Walking in, we were immediately overwhelmed with the same sights and smells as the county fairs back home, only more grandiose. The prices were also more grandiose, as the one ride we rode cost 7 euros! But those 7 euros were made worth it at the top of the ride where we could see out onto the varying landscapes of Metz.

In continuation of our exciting evening, we met up with Dr. Birchfield for fondue. Throughout the meal, I couldn’t help but notice how evident it was that each of us are here because of our interest in international affairs. The conversation was littered with talk of future sight visits and the state of current transatlantic relations. And as the evening began to wind down, we parted ways with Dr. Birchfield in pursuit of our own adventure that we would set off for the next morning.

Ouvrage du Hackenberg

We spent this day at Ouvrage du Hackenberg, or the Hackenburg Fort, learning about its background and the specific ways in which it was utilized during warring periods. Before we started our tour, we reviewed the history of the region – starting from the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. A series of conflicts stemming from the Kingdom of Prussia’s desire to unify German states and become the dominant force in Europe countering France, this War is credited to be a factor in setting the stage for World War I. From the start, Prussians had an advantage in terms of military strategy, leadership, and technology, and German forces quickly overtook the French in several battles. The Siege of Metz, the most pertinent French defeat in the region we were in, resulted in several hundred thousand deaths and casualties and German capture of the important city. At the conclusion of the war in 1871, the Germans were given the Alasce-Lorraine territory, and French determination to regain their territory was a prominent tension contributing to the first world war.

Next, our guide talked about the background of the fort itself, which played a role in France’s defensive efforts in World War II. In 1940, after several German attempts to advance forward through France’s defensive posts, the Hackenberg was invaded and occupied, a significant blow to French forces, acting as an obstacle to further advancements to take back the Lorraine region. 90th infantry division of American forces finally broke through in 1944, infiltrating the fort through the Block 8 entrance.

The background information we received was particularly helpful as we traversed the fort, as it gave meaning to what we were meant to be observing. First, we walked to a location in the M1 “Magasin a Munitions,” or ammunition store, an oval shaped gallery on the west wing of the fort that contained bomb launchers, cannons, etc. Afterwards, we were given a brief history of a large door that ran almost the entire height of the fort (20-30 feet tall). The door had a specific locking mechanism that allowed it to be opened and closed in a set amount of time. However, an explosion in another part of the fort generated enough force to slam this steel and concrete door shut, causing the bottom part of the door to be bent outward. I loved how something as inconsequential as a door had an interesting story behind it – as we exited through the door, our guide jokingly asked us to “pay our respects” and listen for the “ringing of the explosion” contained within the door.

Next, we went to the kitchen area. We saw several different machines that fed around 1000 soldiers – their diet consisted of beef, vegetables and around a pint of wine a day. Our guide emphasized how although they were at war, still had decent food and drink/wine every day as per French culture.

Afterwards, we went to the emergency power plant, which was utilized if the power the fort received from external sources, could not provide electricity. The motors are also still able to run, although the association that preserves the fort chooses not to.

During the Cold War, the fort served as an acting hospital, in addition to guarding against possible Soviet advances in the area.

We also saw the way in which they controlled the air quality underground. The different machines they used filtered out dust and dirt particles and kept the entire fort at a constant temperature. Although the machines often malfunctioned due to the accumulation of particles, I think it’s fascinating how advanced the technology was to create such infrastructure in a relatively short period of time. Another example of this is the overhead monorail system, which safely transported equipment, food, etc. to different parts of Hackenberg. We got the opportunity to take this monorail system to travel to the museum area that the preservation association created, where military equipment and decorations, reenactments of living quarters and word areas, and various other interesting scenes and items were put on display.

After a couple hundred steps up a spiral staircase, we reach a height that’s close to ground level – this is where the “action” happens in the fort. Guns, automatic rifles, machine gun turrets, are positioned in a way so that they can aim above ground to potential attacking armies, and are lifted by automation to do so. We saw a live demonstration of a gun turret, a steel dome that would disappear to enemy eye after firing, as it would retreat back underground/ into the fort. Soldiers would communicate with each other through transmission lines – soldiers located at observation points, which allowed them to see above ground, could communicate the angle or position a gun would need to be aimed to the soldiers manning the weapon. We saw the gun turret and the damages done to the fort by the American attack in 1944 from outside. Although this fort was used during the Cold War, this part of the fort was never restored.

It is truly remarkable how far the Franco-German relationship has come since the initial building and use of this fort. At one point a German prize of occupation, it was later used in cooperative efforts against the Soviet Union. Seen from a nationalist viewpoint, it’s remarkable how these countries have changed in order to cooperate. However, I think their progression can be largely credited to the efforts of the EU, and further contribute to the narrative of the European Union as a peace project.

A Day Focused on the Darker Parts of France’s Past

Sunday was a day full of history but it also included some focus on the heavier times in France’s history. 

We began the day in Gravelotte at the Museum of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Annexation. This provided more background for the Lorraine region and it’s first annexation to German forces (Prussia at the time) before this would occur again in the Second World War. It was interesting going to this museum to see how the region where GTL is based was so affected by war before the world wars even started. France had already been occupied once during this war which I’m sure made it all the more frustrating and defeating when this happened again in WWII. Understanding all the conflict of this area makes it all the more impressive that the European Union as a peace project had any success when it began. 

As the museum walked us through the events of the war, this sign marked the point of annexation

After visiting the museum, we traveled a short distance to the battle site of Dornot-Corny. It’s hard to believe that this was once the site of violent battles and dangerous attempts to cross the Moselle river when the area has now been converted to a vacation spot in France. There were signs along a trail guiding us through the “60 hours of hell” that American soldiers fought through. Many of the signs had quotes that contained first-hand accounts of the battle. It was a reminder of how the US played a role in the efforts to liberate France and how so many lives were lost in the process. It’s easy to forgot that these “smaller” battles that are not given as much attention as other battles like D-Day in Normandy. However, they’re just as important to remember.

“Freedom path” at Dornot-Corny

After visiting the battle site, we made a short stop to see some Roman aqueducts. These were built when the region was part of the Holy Roman Empire. It’s impressive to think about how centuries ago, the technology for running water existed and that humans were able to build these huge structures. Pictures don’t really do justice to these aqueducts, but it did provide a good group photo opportunity!

Roman Aqueducts

Group photo!

Next was a quick trip to Robert Schuman’s house in Scy-Chazelles. We will be coming back in a few weeks so we didn’t stay for long after our tour of the house. Robert Schuman is often referred to as the Father of the European Union for the efforts he made, along with Jean Monnet and others to convince the founding members of the EU to come together after the war to form the European Coal and Steel Community. This was a huge feat given how close the Schuman Declaration was made to the end of the war and how France and Germany hadn’t even started healing from post-war destruction. It was almost crazy at the time to suggest to a country like France that they could come to a peaceful economic agreement with Germany, the country most still saw as the enemy. But, Schuman had a clear vision that peace would only be possible if these two powers came together to be an example of reconciliation, not just for Europe but for the world. He was such an influential piece to the creation of the EU that it’s an honor to visit the place he called home. Visiting the Schuman house gave us such an insight into who he was as a man and what his priorities were. Schuman was a man who never wanted anything extravagant and led a simple life. He valued books and studies over his own personal comfort. This is made clear by the large amount of space in multiple rooms dedicated to storing his thousands of books compared to his tiny bed in a small bedroom. He was also very religious and lived right across the street from the church he attended so that he could go there as often as he liked. It is also clear that Schuman valued life and beauty which can be seen in the gardens behind the house. We got the chance to walk through the gardens and get a taste of what he would see on a daily basis. As we’ve been studying Schuman and the creation of the EU in detail in our lectures, it was nice to see the home of the man that was so influential into creating the Europe we know today. 

Robert Schuman’s house

A flower from the gardens

The last stop of the day was also the heaviest. After visiting a war museum, a battle site, and the home of an EU founder we had a guided visit of Fort de Queuleu. Just a short walk from the GTL campus, Fort de Queuleu was a Nazi Concentration and Interrogation camp in WWII. When those thought to be part off the Frenc Resistance were found, they were bound by hand and feet, blind folded and driven to the fort. Our guide walked us through the process prisoners went to after arriving. They were pushed or tripped down a long flight of stairs and often bitten by dogs at the bottom. When registering, they were given a number to be known by as a way to dehumanize them. The entire time in the camp, they were bound and blind-folded and forced to be silent. When not being interrogated, they were forced to sit in communal rooms or in personal cells quietly. Always bound and bind-folded, always is a state of sensory-deprivation. This was a tactic used to make the prisoners alone with their thoughts and drive them to a point where they would crack under interrogation. We got to see into the lives of those taken prisoner under Nazi rule and the terrible conditions they lived in. Luckily, there was one brighter story at the end of our tour. There were some prisoners who had a little more freedom because they did labor for the fort. Since they needed mobility and sight to do work, they were the only prisoners not bound and blind-folded. With a series of lucky events, a few prisoners were able to escape and discover that they were in Metz. Since they knew the town, they had places to hide and were able to tell locals what was going on at Queuleu. No one in Metz knew it even existed. It was later liberated by American troops and the area around the Fort has since been converted to biking and jogging trails and play grounds. In one sense, it’s strange seeing an area meant for exercise and recreation on the same land that once contained a concentration camp. But, I believe that is also a testament to the goal of the EU and post-war reconciliation. It’s about preserving the memory so that we don’t forget or repeat the same horrible mistakes. It’s also about taking a place that’s known so much violence and loss of humanity and giving it a fresh start.

Fort de Queuleu

Fort de Queuleu

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