GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Harper Melnick

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!

Stepping Back Into History

This Wednesday gave us a fun mid week break from security lectures in which we were able to focus more on some of the historical background that led to the creation of the European Union. With a meeting time of 10:40, we were able to sleep in a little more than usual before taking a bus ride to our first stop of the day, Waterloo. After learning so much about the famous battle that led to Napoleon’s downfall, we were all excited to see where the battle actually took place as well as learn more about the background and details of the battle. We first stopped in the interactive museum, which took us all the way through the battle, beginning with the Enlightenment and rise of the French Revolution. From here, the museum began to focus on the rise of Napoleon and his conquests throughout Europe. With portraits and details from many of the major battles during his rule, the museum gave strong context for the growing tensions from all of the other major European powers that led to the battle of Waterloo. Further, maps from different years showed Napoleon’s conquests around Europe and his growing power, as well as growing number of enemies. With this historical context in mind, the museum continued with a detailed description of the battle of Waterloo. What I found particularly unique about this battle was the vast number of different nationalities working together against a single common enemy. Many of the soldiers fighting against France had previously been under the control and leadership of Napoleon in the past, adding another layer of complexity to the battle. The partnership against Napoleon shows a strong forge against a common enemy that overcame language and cultural barriors and previous conflicts. Further, Waterloo as a whole is a strong representation of the need for a European Peace Project, as the Congress of Vienna (which took place after the defeat of Waterloo in an attempt to re-establish European borders) serves as an early example of an attempt to prevent major European conflict. Overall, our visit to the museum at the Battle of Waterloo site helped put the necessity of the EU into stronger historical context. After visiting the museum, we all decided to climb the nearly 300 stairs to the top of the battlefield memorial. While we were all exhausted after the small hike, the view from the top was beautiful and provided a great view of the memorial and the surrounding area of Waterloo.

View from the top of Waterloo memorial

After our visit at Waterloo, we then boarded a bus and began the hour and a half trek from Waterloo to Ypres. Once arriving in the quaint Belgian town, we immediately went to In Flanders Field, a museum focused on the major World War I battles in the area. While we have already spent some time learning about WWI and its European and worldwide consequences, this museum was a great reminder of the real-life human consequences war had on this area of Europe. Different interactive activities, like videos with “doctors” from the war further emphasized the deadly impact of the war. Further, the museum featured a fake trench that we could walk through, meant to accurately display the dire conditions soldiers lived in during the war. A small, but touching detail at the end of the museum was a list of major conflicts (civil wars, genocide, battles, etc.) that have occurred since the end of World War I. While we could find no description for this list, we interpreted it as a representation of how WWI was not truly the “war to end all wars”. This helped to directly tie the museum into our studies on the EU as a peace project, and how ultimately its purpose is to prevent Europe from being engulfed in such dangerous conflict again.

After a day full of travel and museum visits, we were all starving and excited for dinner in the beautiful town of Ypres. Dr. Birchfield treated us all to a delicious Italian dinner, and then we were all ready to head home after an exhausting but exciting day. Can’t wait to see what else the rest of our time left in Belgium has to offer!

One Last Class in Metz!

Our last day before the long weekend (and our last day at GTL!) was full of presentations and tying loose ends together before we head to Brussels! To start the day, Dr. Birchfield treated us for our last day of class with a variety of tasty pastries from a local bakery. After getting our sugar fix, we started with brief group presentations for Dr. Markley’s Human Rights class.

For these presentations, we referred back to our EU member state that we did presentations on a few weeks back, and this time focused on what human rights offenses are present there today. We grouped ourselves based on development level/similarities between countries (ex: well developed democracy, post- Communist state, etc.) and then focused on one human rights issue in this region that we found particularly interesting. My group consisted of Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia, and we chose to focus on the discrimination against the Roma people in Romania and elsewhere. We first began by giving a history on the Roma people and their migration from India to Europe, as well as the history of discrimination against them in Europe. For many centuries they were enslaved, and still today face discrimination preventing them from obtaining jobs, housing, and education around Europe. Dr. Markley’s first-hand Romanian insight was particularly helpful, as she was able to further fill us in on the Roma’s access to education, and the conflict between the cultural Roma tradition of pulling girls out of school and the need for education as a basic human right. She compared the treatment of the Roma during the Communist regime (during which the Roma were forced to change their culture to fit that of Romania) to today, where they are heavily discriminated against, but maintain the ability to act in accordance with their own culture. From here, we had a brief discussion on the difference between acculturation and assimilation in relation to human rights, particularly for the Roma people. Other groups gave interesting presentations regarding topics ranging from Finland’s data collection to the refugee crisis and mistreatment of refugees in Hungary, Greece, and others.

After presentations, we took a brief break in which many of us decided to return our rental bikes to the shop in Metz. Despite our own doubts about our ability to bike all the way into town (in a group of 19!) without a crash or fall, we all successfully made it to the bike shop, enjoying the beautiful sights of Metz along the way for one of our final times. Afterwards, many of us feasted on delicious crepes in town before heading back to GTL for the afternoon session of class.

Back in class, we all continued to work on our argument for our scenario for the future of Europe, as outlined in the White paper. This paper presents five future possibilities for the European Union by 2025, with possibilities ranging from simply improving the current EU setup to decreasing the EU back to just an economic community. My group was given scenario 1, entitled “Carrying On”, in which the EU maintains its current institutions as well as improving upon policy and functions of the EU. This includes a more outlined and communal immigration process as well as improvements on the stability of the Euro. Each group gave a brief “rough presentation” on our scenario, to be perfected during our time in Brussels, and debated again a few weeks from now when we have more polished research and first hand experience from our site visits and briefings in Brussels.

Today was a perfect wrap up for our time in Metz, with the future of Europe scenarios helping to fuel our thinking before our time in Brussels, when we are fully delved into the world of the EU. As class ended, Dr. Birchfield gave us a brief overview of what our next few days will look like, getting everyone excited for what’s to come!

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