GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Shekinah Hall

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.

Welcome to Brussels!

Belgium welcomed us with chilly, but open, arms on our first full day in Brussels! It was pretty cloudy, but thankfully did not rain and the temperature was really nice – although others may disagree. We began the day with a walking/bus tour of the city. Our first stop was at the Robert Schuman statue – as is expected for our EU group. We all made sure to tell our tour guide that we were great friends with Robert Schuman.

From the statue, we walked down to Schuman square, which is in the center of the EU institutions – European Commission, European Parliament, etc. in the area. We had a beautiful view of the city on both ends.

After Schuman Square, we piled into the bus again and headed to the Atomium. The Atomium is a massive structure that was built in 1958 for the Brussel’s World Fair, an international event that originated as a technology exhibition. After the World Fair ended, the Atomium was supposed to be torn down, but ended up being the only structure left intact. The structure has a great view, especially from the top, but unfortunately, we did not have enough time to actually go inside and/or make it to the top of the Atomium.

While we were there, we had a short break during the tour to get coffee and snacks. There was a waffle truck across the street that a few of us went to – and boy, am I glad I went. That was hands-down the best waffle I have ever had in my life!

After the Atomium, we headed to Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert to find lunch. This is a beautiful shopping center covered by an arched glass roof, which stretches on for miles, and has high end stores, restaurants, and theaters. Because we are a pretty big group, we split into two smaller groups for lunch and went to two different restaurants, but everyone really enjoyed their food!


When we finished eating we were able to walk around the area for a bit to wait for the other group to finish. Dr. Birchfield pointed out a nice, cozy bookstore that she loves. We all piled into it and found the English books. The selection was in a small space, but there were some really great books in the collection!

After our leisure time in the bookstore, we began our Chocolate Tour! On the tour our group went to a number of chocolate shops and for the first store Dr. Birchfield picked out different types for us to try and divided it among us. I tried the milk chocolate option and it had hardened caramel in the middle with another ingredient to balance out the sweetness. It was absolutely delicious! There was also a dark chocolate option that had vanilla in the middle. I did not try that one, but everyone who did said it was amazing as well. At the next two shops, we all were able to go into to the shop with Dr. Birchfield and pick out the individual pieces of chocolate we wanted. Both of the stores had wonderful options and the chocolates were beautifully crafted. The nice thing about the tour was we also got to see more of the city while we walked from store to store.

After the tour, we had a spontaneous visit to a beautiful cathedral. The inside had great artwork, architecture, and stained glass windows. It was particularly nice to be able to compare this cathedral to the previous ones we have seen in Metz and the many we have seen in other cities. We ended the day in a nice, semi-secluded park, pretty close to the cathedral, where we talked for a bit about the highlights of the day. I would definitely say Day 1 was a success!

Robert Schuman’s House and the European Court of Justice

Friday was quite an interesting day filled fun adventures and many meaningful lessons. We started the day with a visit to Robert Schuman’s house and ended the day visiting one of the most important institutions of the European Union – the European Court of Justice.

Our bus ride over was quite an experience! Our EU study abroad group was joined by about 17 students from the GTL 2000 class, so we used a large Schidler bus to transport the group. On our way to Robert Schuman’s house, our bus driver had a bit of trouble navigating the small city streets. We drove down a road that gradually became too small for the bus to continue. With a little help from some local men on the street, our bus driver was able to partially reverse and drive us up to the top of a hill.

Contrary to our hopes that the hill would yield a clear passage for the bus to continue, there was only a house at top of the hill – a dead end. As the bus driver tried to reverse and maneuver us back down the hill, an older French woman watched skeptically from her balcony window and did not seem pleased to have strangers that close to her house. I think she was about 2 minutes away from calling the authorities!

Luckily we made is out – major props to our bus driver! We showed our gratitude with a hearty round of applause. As we made our way back down the hill, we were met by the mayor of the city and he escorted us back to the main road. We all waved goodbye to him when we finally made it out to the main road, but he didn’t seem too please with us lost Americans. Needless to say, with his dutiful public service he’ll have great material for his reelection campaign.

Thankfully we made it to Robert Schuman’s house in one piece. The EU program students had been to the house on a previous occasion, but the GTL 2000 students had not been there before. We all sat through a short presentation on the evolution of the European Union and the important role Robert Schuman played in its development. Because of our extensive discussions of Robert Schuman in class, we were able to actively participate when asked questions and offered nice insights when prompted.

“Say EU!” at Robert Schuman’s House

After the presentation, the GTL 2000 students went on a tour of the house and our group played Kahoot, a game similar to trivia, to test our knowledge about the EU. Shout out to the ‘Cool Team,’ which was made up of Simon, Hamid, and me, for winning the game! We started the game in last placed and made a big comeback to win it all – what a game!

After the game, our group toured the exhibit in the lobby area of the facility and it was pretty fascinating. There were several prints of beautiful parts of the city, pieces devoted to the Found Fathers of Europe, and a timeline of the development of the European Union.

We left Robert Schuman’s house and headed to the European Council of Justice. As I have a deep passion for the law and the vital role it plays in the stability of government, I was particularly excited for this visit! We started off the tour in the main courtroom in which all 28 judges make up the full bench.

As you can see, the room was incredibly beautiful and words don’t do it justice! The tour guides gave us a rundown of how a typical procedure would work. In their description, they highlighted the essential role linguists play in court proceedings. There are 24 official languages of the court and because French is the working language of the court, there are about 1,000 linguist and interpreters working daily to translate court documents from the various languages to French and vice versa. Because all judges and lawyers must speak French, the translation is primarily done for the public and institutions and people in the member states. After our tour guides finished explaining, we took a nice group picture and plenty of individual pictures.

We then went to another section of the building for a more detailed presentation on the composition of the court and some recent high-profile court cases.

Our presenter was a press correspondent from the United Kingdom. She explained how the court is divided up into subsets and how they have different jurisdictions and serve various purposes. Some of the recent cases were especially interesting as they dealt with discrimination in the workplace as well as American companies, such as Google and Uber, and their adherence to European laws.

We finished up the tour after the presentation and went to beautiful entrance of the building as well as a smaller courtroom where a small panel of judges convene for certain types of cases.

As the power of the Court of Justice has substantially increased over time and its purpose of safeguarding the constitutionality of EU law and balancing the power of EU institutions constantly becomes more important to fulfill, it was surreal to stand in such a sacred legal institution. This has definitely been my favorite visit so far! 🙂

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