GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: July 2018 (Page 3 of 5)

Bastille Day in the City of Light

We woke up early this morning, bid our hotel and Berlin farewell, and took two public buses to the airport for the last leg of our study abroad in Paris. After going through a very lenient baggage check and equally thorough security check, many of us spent the next several hours waiting to board the plane by preparing for our upcoming EU-US summit simulation and composing our reflections on our site visits in Brussels and The Hague to the Human Rights Watch office and International Criminal Court, respectively. Something I’ve really appreciated over the course of this summer is not only the content of our site visits and the places we travel, but how the arrangment of both is structured in a way builds upon what we’ve already learned with more complex experiential learning. One of the core components of the foundation of the European Union was a declaration by Robert Schuman announcing that France and Germany would unify the core parts of their economies, so concluding our program and study of the EU in the hearts of the capital cities of both countries seems natural and means significantly more than if we started in either city back in May.

Paris upon arrival was as breathtaking, as was to be expected. We departed the airport on the RER line into the city, transferred to a connecting metro line, and walked the remainder of the distance to Hotel Bonaparte. The hotel is quaint and within walking distance of the Seine, Notre Dame, the Louvre, and other Parisian icons, and I’m sure we will take advantage of our location for sightseeing throughout the week. After spending enough time at the hotel to freshen up following our day of traveling, we set out for our dinner cruise along the Seine to celebrate Bastille Day. What an experience! We were joined by American diplomat and Georgia Tech alumnus Johnny Jones for our cruise and shared the small boat with a group of American families.

Waiting to board our dinner cruise on the bank of the Seine

Our courses included a plate of delicious hors d’œuvres, chicken and pasta, and an assortment of desserts. The view of Paris on either side of the river while we were dining were no less rich and splendid. From our tables we watched the boat glide past the Assemblèe nationale, the Concergerie, Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Eiffel Tower. I doubt we could have asked for a better introduction to the cultural treasures of city.

The Assemblee Nationale lit in patriotic colors

Our view of the Alexander Bridge

After we finished our meal, we sat outside on the deck and prepared to watch the fireworks, and it was then that the City of Light lived up to its nickname. It’s difficult to articulate in words how magnificent it was to be on the Seine looking at the Eiffel Tower sparkle with lights and explosions of color against a backdrop of more fireworks-and on France’s National Day, no less! French citizens and tourists alike lined both sides of the Seine and covered bridges, waving flags and enjoying the camaraderie of celebrating together. There was a strong sense of communal joy and excitement, and it was electrifying. I was reminded of all the times I watched the A Capitol Fourth production in Washington DC on the Fourth of July with my family, and I imagine the energy must be the same. I doubt any of us will forget the experience we shared tonight for years to come, and it was the perfect way to begin our final week of the program in Paris.

From The Hague to Berlin!

Our last morning in the Hague began with a quick final breakfast at the hotel buffet, with many of us managing to even slyly sneak out a to-go sandwich to eat later on the afternoon train ride. We then all piled into taxis to head to the train station, bidding farewell to the Netherlands and our time visiting the International Criminal Court, Peace Palace, and more. Our first leg of the 6-7 hour trip from The Hague to Berlin was a quick forty five minute train from the Hague to another train station in the Netherlands. We all handled the train change with surprising ease, helping each other to lug our luggage from one train to the other (and commenting on how we should’ve listened to Dr. Birchfield’s advice on overpacking). The trip flew by, with many of us napping, reading, our catching up on assignments and blog posts. When we arrived in Berlin, we again lugged our luggage from the train station to the hotel, relaxing there for a few minutes before heading off to our first group dinner in Berlin.

Our first dinner was the perfect introduction to German culture. The restaurant offered traditional German cuisine, including Schnitzel. They even had delicious vegetarian schnitzel that Dr. B, Lauren, and Sanika all enjoyed. We all passed around our large portions, sharing food and getting to take in all that the restaurant had to offer. Throughout dinner, we all chatted about Berlin and what we were most excited to see. Personally, I am most excited to see the paintings on the East Side of the Berlin Wall. While the wall alone has monumental historical significance, I think the modern touch of the paintings on the wall add a unique cultural touch, showing how the city has taken such a negative aspect of history and made it its own, while still honoring the city’s past. Other students mentioned visiting the numerous museums in Berlin, including museum island and the Holocaust memorial. With so much culture and history to take in, we were all incredibly excited for the next week spent in Germany. This excitement only increased when Dr. Birchfield briefly spoke to us about our tour guide for the next day, a lady who has been living in Berlin since the rise of the Berlin Wall.

After a long day of travel and a large dinner, we were all ready to head to bed and rest up before the tour tomorrow. A few of us stopped by the local Haagan Daz (located dangerously close to our hotel) to experience the delicious ice cream chain in its home country. We then headed back to the hotel, excited for all that’s to come in Berlin!

Schnitzel in Berlin!

Amsterdam Day Trip

Today was our day trip to Amsterdam! After a filling breakfast at the hotel, we departed on our journey. We arrived at the beautifully architected train station in the mid-morning and had a nice walk through the city to the Anne Frank house, snapping pictures of the flowers, canals, and the city’s plethora of bikes.

When we arrived at the Anne Frank House, we were given a presentation by a tour guide on Nazi Germany and the life of Anne Frank. We learned about Germany’s economic crisis in the late 1920s and 1930s and the rising anti-Semitism in Germany, two factors which contributed to Hitler’s rise to power. We saw many pictures and artifacts from this period. The one that struck me the most was this image (below) of two Jewish school children being made to stand in front of the classroom while the non-Jewish children read a message on the blackboard that states that “the Jewish people are the root of Germany’s problems.“ It makes me so upset to think of the innocent children being humiliated by their own teachers in front of their classmates.

Next, we learned the Frank family’s story. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, witnessed the highly concerning discriminatory laws in Germany towards the Jewish people, so they immigrated to the Netherlands while they could still leave Hitler’s oppressive regime. They enjoyed a few years of safety living there, but then went into hiding when Anne’s older sister, Margo received a notice in the mail that she was to report to a concentration camp. The family of four spent two years in hiding along with four other Jewish people in the annex of Mr. Frank’s business. In 1944, the Franks were betrayed (who turned them in is still debated) and all eight of the residents were sent to concentration camps.

Otto Frank, the only survivor, published the diary Anne kept during her time in hiding. Anne had eventually wanted to publish a book about her experience, entitling it “The Secret Annex” and her father wanted to carry out her dream after her death. The book has since been translated into 70 different languages and has been turned into famous plays and moves. Anne Frank’s legacy has lived on for so many years because of its deep insight into a family’s struggle for survival in the face of grave danger.

After the presentation, we began the tour of the house with the audio guide. We moved slowly through the narrow staircases and cramped corners, trying to put ourselves in the Frank family’s shoes. One of the things I found most impactful about the visit was the video on Anne Frank’s legacy at the end of the tour. The video contained quotes about the impact of the book/tour on readers/visitors. Nelson Mandela was videotaped speaking about how reading the diary gave him hope during his imprisonment. A US Army Veteran wrote in the museum’s signature book that he now realized why he fought at D-Day. John Green writes in his book “The Fault in Our Stars” about the vastness of the number of people killed in the Holocaust, remarking that there were 4 Arron Frank’s who died with no mourners, memorials, or museum to remember their life and legacy. We mustn’t forget that Anne Frank’s hardship is only one of the 6 million Jews murdered.

After our tour, we walked to the museum quarter of the city to say our goodbyes to the beloved Dr. Markley. We wished her a great rest of the summer. Next, we ate lunch at the “hipster” food trucks in the park, enjoying some delicious veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, or chicken sandwiches. For dessert, some of us went to try some of Amsterdam’s famous delicacy, Stroopwafels!

For our free afternoon, some of us watched the England-Sweden match of the World Cup, while others walked around and explored the city. A handful of us, myself included, chose to go to The Van Gogh Museum. I loved getting to see the famous Sunflower painting as well as the Almond Blossom painting. I feel so lucky to have been able to witness some of the world’s most famous masterpieces during my time abroad. I also learned a lot about Van Gogh’s troubled life and struggles with mental illness through the museum’s extensive audio guide.

After the museum, we walked around the city for a while and then some us went to get a delicious meal in Chinatown to end a rich day in Amsterdam. I feel fortunate that we got the chance to visit a city with so much history, art, and culture.

Exploring Berlin!

Today our dear Dr. Birchfield let us have the day to explore museums and more of Berlin on our own. Besides the gloomy sky and inconsistent rain from Mother Nature, today was a great day filled with fun excursions.

I began the day with a visit to the Jewish Museum. This is the largest Jewish museum in Germany and was intended to preserve and present Jewish history as well as highlight Jewish art collections. On the first level there were artifacts from Jewish people who were forced to leave behind their possessions upon evacuations orders from Hitler’s regime. There were journals, postcards, jewelry, pictures, etc. paired with descriptions of the people and families to which they belonged.

Also on the first level were two main exhibits – the Holocaust Tower and the Memory Void exhibit. The Holocaust Tower had dimmed lights with one flash of silver light every so often. The tower gave me the feeling of what I imagine the streets of Germany were like during the time Jews were forced out of their homes by Nazi soldiers – with the watch towers and random house searches. The Memory Void exhibit in the second tower had metal sheets in the shape of faces. The artist dedicated his work to the victims of violence and war.

The other half of the museum was a special temporary exhibit – Welcome to Jerusalem. The exhibit walked us through daily life in current Jerusalem, the history of the city, and the history of the conflict surrounding the city. Being in Europe, where a number of former colonial powers have a history of supporting Israel, I somewhat expected the exhibit to be one-sided with a more favorable light shining on Israel. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find the story more balanced. Overall, the museum was very informative and I enjoyed the experience.

After the museum, we were a bit hungry so we went to a really nice soup shop, Soup Kultur – after all this was the perfect weather to have soup. Although they did not have any English menus, the server was kind enough to tell us everything they had, soup by soup. Each option looked delicious, but I decided on rice and spinach soup. It was amazing!

My next adventure was a visit to Berlin’s Museum Island – an area with five major museums. I went to the Neues Museum. The museum was built in the mid-1800s but closed during World War II because of substantial damages from the bombing of Berlin. You can still see the damages to the building and the artifacts today. The museum houses a Prehistoric and Early History collection as well as an Egyptian collection. The prehistoric section feature artifacts from early history – dishes, tools, weapons, jewelry, journals, paintings, and more! My favorite part of that section was the exhibit on Homer and the myth of the Trojan War. The Trojan War and the downfall of the city of Troy based on Homer’s the Iliad used to be one of my favorite things to read and learn more about. It was really cool to see depictions of parts of the story and the lengths historians and archeologists went to in order to find the lost city.

The Egyptian section of the museum was incredible! There was so much history and so many untold and under-told stories. There were so many paintings and relics that I had only ever seen in books and movies, so it was quite an experience to see them in person. On display were partial statues, walls, and paintings.


They had a section devoted just to pharaohs! Something really fascinating I noticed was that many pharaohs’ noses were destroyed. This was striking because the rest of the pharaohs’ faces were almost perfectly intact – just the nose was missing. One of the main features of the Egyptian section was the exhibit that paid homage to Queen Nefertiti. I really enjoyed the Egyptian part of the museum. Overall, I had a great day and am so glad we got the chance to explore.

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