GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Ann-Marie Sills

European Court of Justice, Parliament, and Strasbourg

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With a passport in one hand and breakfast in the other, we boarded the bus to set out on one of our most jam-packed days yet. For our first stop, we ventured to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. We were greeted by a charming Croatian tour guide and metal detectors, followed by a briefing session led by three young lawyers. Each of the lawyers walked us through one current case that is presently shaping EU law and outlook. The first case focused predominantly on business deals and companies present in the EU and how their taxes affect the region. As technology grows, more and more companies are looking to establish a European presence, but this also brings to the table the need for new regulations and mutual understanding and recognition of the corporate laws of various member states. Furthermore, the second case addressed the wearing of the hijab in the workplace; the outcome of the case stipulated the right of the customer, implying that though religious freedom is allowed, separation of religion and public doings is essential. Lastly, the third case was the Singapore Agreement, which essentially just highlighted the discrepancies in exclusive versus shared competencies of the EU. To conclude, we learned about the General Court, which is currently not filled to capacity.

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Next, we proceeded to the main courtroom, where we learned that the room houses no flags because the judges represent the EU, not their countries. Additionally, we learned that everyone in the courtroom is obliged to wear the respective robes of their country; except the EU justices wear red robes instead. The main courtroom is absolutely stunning, with beautiful woodwork and lighting. As such, it is the induction room for new EU member states.

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After departing the Court of Justice, we took a rainy bus tour around Luxembourg, a city approximately a thousand years old with Prussian, German, and French influence. Known for Napoleon’s presence, the 19th century is often considered the most important century of the city, especially considering that it was liberated in 1839. Currently, the 20,000 people who live in the city are comprised of 160 different nationalities, a population base made up of 60% foreigners. Being so, Luxembourg has three official languages: French, German, and Luxembourgish.  The heart of the main city is stoic- it has forts from as early as the 14th century! Despite its extensive history, the country is extremely modern and progressive.  (Fun fact: Near the court of justice building, there is a place where you can have one foot in Luxembourg and the other foot in Brussels!)

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After getting to know the city a little better, we went on over to [one of] the European Union Parliament buildings. (The other two are in Brussels and Strasbourg.) The building itself has quite symbolic architecture; it is made up of a large amount of glass, which symbolizes the transparency of democracy and emphasizes how all parliamentary debates are open to the public. Additionally, it looks as though it is never completed because the aim is for it to represent how the EU itself is constantly evolving and being shaped. The building is vast in size; it is made up of five buildings, totaling in 400,000 square meters. On the inside, the main chamber has 1,550 seats for all the MEPs, as well as approximately 200 translators.  Though,”the most used language is bad English,” every language translation is offered to represent the equality of the members states. Furthermore, the MEPs meet for one plenary session per month, with the exception of October, which has two sessions. Lastly, the tour was concluded going down an elaborate staircase over top of a red carpet, reserved for the MEPs and special guests. In fact, the youngest person to walk this carpet was Malala at sixteen!


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To finish off the day, we went to Strasbourg for a sunny-rain filled tour and a delicious dinner. Strasbourg is picturesque; with its Tudor-style homes, rivers, music, shops, and color, the city really is a postcard. The city has a lot of little things that make it special, including using grass in between train tracks to minimize noise, but also to make the city greener! The “city of the crossroad streets” is considered the political capital of the region, and it has substantial history considering that it was a part of the Holy Roman Empire. The high roofs of the houses, originally for leather tanning, give the city character, but the cathedral really makes the town special. However, the cathedral only has one tower because the foundation was not strong enough to support two towers. (Fun fact: there are 330 steps to get to the top of the cathedral!) Our long day was concluded with a scrumptious Strasbourg dinner of local pizza and cheese (Yum!). In fact, we were all so full that we most definitely needed to measure our bellies between the a pillar and a wall- a piece of local folklore! Sadly, the time came to leave and head back to Metz. However, I intend to return to visit the famed Christmas market and try some of Strasbourg’s well-known white wine!

Fort Hackenberg and Camp Struthof

Fort Hackenberg

With sleepy eyes and bellies full of chocolate croissants, our entourage boarded the trusty coach bus at 7:45am to venture to Fort Hackenberg. Never wasting a moment, en route to the fort, we had an open discussion about the movie “I Am Not Your Negro”. The film took the format of a contemporary documentary tied into a narrative. Our discussion touched on many things, notably calling attention to perspectives that often go unrealized by privileged eyes: institutionalized idealism and misrepresentation, the concept of human error, and the divergences and convergences of MLK and Malcolm X’s messages. Concise, yet thorough, the discussion ended leaving everyone with their thoughts until we arrived at Fort Hackenberg. 

After a quick photo-op outside, we braced ourselves for the cold as we delved into the inside of the damp, cold fort, where we were met by a pleasant tour guide who immediately began to enshrine us with knowledge of the fort’s long history dating back to 1929. At 10km in length, Fort Hackenberg stands as one of the most extensive forts along the Maginot Line and has always been considered a pivotal military strategic point…No wonder it was so sought after by the Germans! The fort goes so deep into the earth and covers so much ground that it even has an electric train that runs along through parts of the fort; historically, this was a means to deliver supplies, including ammunition, food, and soldiers. The fort was particularly known for its abundant weaponry stash made up of sizable tanks, huge engines, a few large ammunition chambers, and a couple of turrets. Moreover, the military architects designed the fort in a U-shape because this configuration would lessen the blast of an explosion should one ever occur. Despite the ample armory, the French lost the fort to the Germans in 1940. However, the American military reclaimed the fort under allied control in 1944.

Hackenberg was built to manage quite a large number of people. In fact, up to 1,000 people could stay in the fort’s 25 blocks! With a population that size, about 400 liters of beer a day were consumed inside the walls of Fort Hackenberg. Conversely, all those people necessitated large amounts of energy and power. About 10.3 thousand volts of electricity were needed to run the place, which meant that four different submarine engines working on diesel had to be utilized. All those people and all that machinery also meant that the air had to be filtered throughout the fort, so engineers designed and executed such a filtration device to keep the air relatively fresh. The tour was concluded with a look at the fort’s exterior, a showing of the turret in action, and a WWII exhibit. A few more group photos and then we were on our way to our next destination!

Camp Struthof    

The next stop on the group’s tour was much more somber.


The post-lunch lethargy was met with the silence that comes along with the journey to a former concentration camp; the bus climbed into the mountains and turned through valleys and small towns, up into the hidden alcove where Struthof resides. One can’t help but think of the thousands of people who made the very same, but oh so different, journey not even a hundred years ago. We arrived quietly, many of us breaking into small groups of two or three as we made our way first to watch a short historical film and then to the museum. The museum was mostly about the context of World War II and background information that set the stage for what we were about to experience outside.

                              Nestled in the Alsace region of France, the site of Struthof has a harrowing beauty to it. Personally, I found myself awestruck that such a beautiful place could harness such a dark history. It’s unsettling, but it is also necessary and respectful to remember. To commemorate remembrance, the camp has multiple memorials- the biggest being a large, stone monument bearing a torch-like shape with the French and EU flags alongside it. However, before you can really even take in the memorial site, you must pass through the Struthof gate: an act that runs a chill down your spine and brings tears to your eyes. Beneath the memorial, you see guard towers lining the perimeter of the camp, barracks, “vegetable gardens”, and crematoriums. The barracks housed a mini-museum of their own, detailing how approximately 52,000 people were forced through this camp, where upwards of 20,000 people were killed in the three years of its functioning (1941-1944). In solitude, I walked down the steep incline, flanked by barbed wire, guard towers, and a noose. I approached the crematorium and the cells with sadness and awe, having trouble believing where I was. It’s shocking to stand in such an infamous place that you’ve heard about all your life. Textbooks and documentaries can’t prepare you for the sensations that you feel as you stand in the fields of a former concentration camp.

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