GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Abigail Williams


Today we had a really early start to a full day. We rolled out of the hotel at 6:15am to catch our train to Normandy! We grabbed a quick breakfast at the train station and then we were on our way. After a 2.5hr ride, we arrived at a rainy Bayeaux. We made our first stop at the Bayeux Museum to see the Bayeux tapestry. We each got an audio guide that walked us through the story told on this 70m tapestry. We learned about the story of the conquest of England by the Normans through 58 numbered scenes that end with the Battle of Hastings. After walking along the tapestry, we got to explore the rest of the museum and learn about the methods and tools used to create this tapestry. It was incredible to see all the skills they used to make this masterpiece by hand. The museum ended with a quick movie that brought the story of the tapestry to life as a wrap up.

We all got a quick lunch break then we were on a bus to the coast. We were dropped off in front of the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial where we were given a few hours to explore the area at our own pace. In the museum, there were movies telling the story of D-day and of all the young men who died that day. There were personal testimonies from soldiers and their families about what it was like to fight in the war or to lose a loved one. This museum did an incredible job honoring those who risked everything on June 6, 1944. 

After visiting the museum, I walked to the memorial and cemetery. It’s sobering to look out over the cemetery and to see rows and rows of headstones of those buried there. I also took some time to walk along the Wall of the Missing. This wall contains the list of all the soldiers who were never found. Some of the names have rosettes next to them, marking that the remains of that soldier have now been identified. Those names are rare. That area was a little more secluded from the rest of the cemetery but I think it is just as important to read those names as well as those on the headstones. All these soldiers deserve to remembered. 

After walking through the cemetery, we found a path down to the beaches. On the way, we met up with the rest of the group on top of one of the bunkers that’s been preserved to discuss our experiences going through the memorial. After talking for a bit, we only had a little bit of time before we had to catch the bus into town. So, we went down to the beach to get closer to the waves and at least stick our feet in the water. After getting our fill of the salt water and sand, we were on our way back into town for our last group dinner. 

Just like our first group dinner in Metz, we had crepes. The perfect bookends for our summer. During our last big meal together, we talked about the summer and some of favorite visits and briefings. We went through all of the cities we visited together and laughed about some of our crazy travel experiences. It was great to have one more meal together with such an amazing group of people. But, it wasn’t goodbye quite yet. We still had our train back to Paris and one more free day before going our separate ways for the rest of the summer. I’m confident that we’ll all make the most out of our last day in Paris and keep in touch when we’re back on campus in August. This summer has been everything I hoped it would be and more and I wish anyone planning on doing this program the best. It’ll be one of the best summers of your life!

Dutch Parliament and Peace Palace

For our second day in The Hague, we got to experience Dutch culture and history. We started out at the Binnenhof which is the Dutch word for Inner Court. This historical complex of buildings houses the Dutch Parliament. We were lead by our wonderful guide into the main square of the Binnenhof where we could take in the beautiful architecture. 


We went inside one of the buildings to watch a brief video about the Binnenhof and to be exposed to some Dutch history. We learned about the Hall of Knights, a castle that is part of the Binnenhof. It was originally built to be a hunting lodge because the surrounding dunes and woods are ideal for hunting. Construction began with Count Floris IV of Holland and was completed under the reign of his grandson, Floris V. It was interesting, after focusing so much on European integration as a whole to zoom in on the history of The Netherlands specifically. 

After watching the video, our guide took us into the Hall of Knights. When you walk in you can really see the beauty but also the humility of the building. There is a throne in the center for the King to sit in that’s large, but not incredibly ornate. Our guide explained that it’s very Dutch for this style to be more simple. She also pointed out small facial sculptures all along the ceiling that each have one large ear. This is meant to show that someone’s always listening to what goes on in the Hall of Knights and that what is said travels through their ears and up to the heavens. While being comedic, these sculptures also stress the importance of the work done in the Dutch government. We learned about how this room is used for Prince’s Day every year, a very important holiday in the The Netherlands. On this day, there’s a grand procession from the palace to the Hall of Knights where the King rides in the Golden Coach. All of the citizens of The Hague come outside to wave to the royals. Kids even get the day off from school to watch the parade! When the King gets to the Hall of Knights he makes a speech outlining the government’s plan for the upcoming year. This is more or less a formality given that the King does not have a lot of power in government. However, it’s an important symbolic moment for the country each year. The Hall of Knights isn’t only used for Prince’s Day, it’s also the place where heads of state are welcomed to the country and it’s the site of official royal receptions and conferences. 

Hall of Knights

After the Dutch Parliament, we had a quick break to get ice cream, a coffee, or to try the Dutch specialty of raw red herring. I stuck with ice cream, but I heard from those who were brave enough to try the red herring that it was really good! After our snack break, we were off to the Peace Palace. Given that it’s difficult to get a visit inside the actual building, we only went to the visitor’s center. Right outside the entrance was a tree where people could tie notes about their own wishes for peace in the world. We all stopped for a moment to read some of the hundreds of notes tied to this tree. It was moving to see various messages in so many languages about the hope people of all nations have for a more peaceful world.

“Peace in the world”

We then went inside for an audioguide tour of the visitor’s center. We learned about how the Peace Palace houses two different courts:  the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the International Court of Justice. Between visiting the International Criminal Court and the Peace Palace, it’s been interesting to see how The Hague is such an integral city for institutions that stand for maintaining peace and human rights in the world. 

Peace Palace

After our visits, we were free for the rest of the day to explore The Hague. Some went to the Mauritshuis museum to see the infamous Girl with a Pearl Earring painting. Victoria and I decided to enjoy the beautiful weather and did some reading on the terrace of a cafe behind our hotel. In the evening we got dinner at the pier and enjoyed the sound of the waves crashing while watching the sunset. A great ending to our second day in The Hague!

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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