Bonjour! My name is Audrey Clark and this past weekend, the study abroad program visited the Franco – Prussian War museum in Gravelotte. This museum provided information on the history between Germany and France. The Prussian army was led by Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck used France as an issue to rally the fragmented German states to unify around. The Prussians won the Franco – Prussian war and gained territory in France. The territory of Alsace-Lorraine, underwent German occupation in 1871 after the Franco-Prussian War, then in 1919 after WWI the territory was reunited with France, then to Germany again during WWII in the 1940s, and finally back to France in 1945 at the end of WWII. This German influence is evident in the architecture and culture of the regions. In our home of Metz in Lorraine, we see German influence in the train station since that was the imperial district for the Germans.
On Saturday, we visited Strasbourg which is the capital of the Alsace region. The German architectural influence was ever present throughout this city. Strasbourg is also home to one of the European Union Parliamentary buildings. This was a very exciting building to tour especially since the EU parliamentary elections concluded on Sunday. This election featured higher voter turnout than the previous year. There was an increase in the representation of populist and nationalist parties from 20% to 25%. This might not have a significant impact in the parliament since they have trouble organizing. The most important takeaway from these election was the message they sent to state’s individual governments. In France and Italy, the far right parties gained traction. A week before the election there was a pro-right rally held in Milan by Italian nationalist Salvini and featured notable nationalist from around Europe such as Geert Wilders (Netherlands) and Marine Le Pen (French). These nationalist leaders are eurosceptics which means that they wish to decrease the power of the European Union and increase the power of the Nations. It will be interesting to see the political landscape of Europe evolve on this trip.
On Sunday, we visited the house of Robert Schuman in Scy-Chazelles. This was a very humble, serene, and beautiful home. Robert Schuman was truly a citizen of the world. His father was born a french citizen in Lorraine but became German due to the annexation after the Franco – Prussian war. He then left to live in Luxembourg where Robert Schuman was born. It is said that when Robert Schuman mowed the lawn he crossed the border between Luxembourg and Germany. This unique childhood exposure to three different european countries shaped his idea of what is was to be European and neither french nor german nor luxembourgish. He was a very religious man and after his mother’s death he almost entered priesthood. Instead, with encouragement from his friends, he followed his passion for law and politics. He was Prime Minister of France twice, Foreign Minister, and Minister of Finance. His most important contribution was as Foreign Minister on May 9, 1950 when he proposed the “Schuman Plan”, this called for a European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 that was the precursor the European Economic Community in 1956 and the European Union in 1993. May 9th, is celebrated as Europe day in honor of this historic speech. Throughout his life in politics he always stayed humble and rode public transportation to stay connected to the citizens he served. In 1960, the European Parliament awarded him the official title, “Father of Europe.” He then passed away in 1963 at his home in Scy-Chazelles. We had the honor of visiting his grave across the street from his home.