GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Vy Tran

Terrific Tour of Berlin!

Monday marked our first full day in Berlin. After a long day of travelling on Sunday, we were excited to finally see the city of Berlin and all that it has to offer. We met bright and early at nine to meet our amazing tour guide, Stevie, and our uber-cool bus driver Mike. Stevie has been living in Berlin since she was 19 and has had an impressive diplomatic career. Mike served in the German army and still actively participates by providing training and being part of the reserve. We boarded the bus and were on our way. One of the first monuments that we passed was the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a Protestant church that was built in the 1890s, but was heavily damaged by WWII bombings in 1943. The church was not rebuilt, but a new church with a more modern design was built next to the ruins. The next major site was the Berlin Victory Column. The column is topped with a golden statue of Victoria, the goddess of Victory, and was erected to celebrate the Prussian military victories. In 2008, Presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a speech in front of 200,000 people at the Victory Column. As we kept driving, Stevie pointed out the Fernsehturm, a 368 meter tall television tower that is the tallest tower in Germany and the second tallest tower in the European Union. Our first official stop was the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is a series of 105 murals painted onto the the Berlin Wall by artists from around the world. One of the most famous murals is one by Dmitri Vrubel which depicts Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing.

After taking pictures on both sides of the wall, we headed over to the Brandenburg Gate, a neoclassical monument built after the Batavian Revolution in the 18th century. The Brandenburg gate is located in the same square as the U.S. Embassy and the Adlon Hotel. The Adlon Hotel is also the hotel where Michael Jackson held his son Prince Michael II over the balcony.

We then visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe which consists of 2,711 concrete blocks that are arranged on a sloping platform. There is also an underground exhibit lists the names of 3,000 Jewish Holocaust victims.

We passed through Checkpoint Charlie which served as a checkpoint between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Close to Checkpoint Charlie is Potsdamer Platz, a square that houses the Mall of Berlin which contains three floors and three hundred stores. We passed the Topography of Terror which contained some of the main offices of the SS and now serves as a museum that showcases the inner workings of the Nazi regime. After grabbing bagels for lunch, we began the walking portion of our tour and walked over to the Neue Wache Memorial, or New Guardhouse in English. The Neue Wache serves as the Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Victims of War and Dictatorship and contains a replica of the statue of a Mother with her Dead Son by Kathe Kollwitz.

The monument is right by Museum Island, a series of five museums in close proximity of each other near the Berlin Cathedral. We concluded the day’s tour with a brief walkthrough of Museum Island which contains the Altes Museum, Neues Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode Museum, and the Pergamon Museum. (Fun fact: Museum Island is near Angela Merkel’s home!) By the end of the day, we were all exhausted, but extatic to explore the city in more depth over the next few days.


First day in The Hague!

   This morning we all said our last goodbyes to our host families and thanked them for their generosity and kindness over the past couple of weeks. We all managed to lug our heavy suitcases onto the train and we were on our way to the next portion of our adventure. We kicked off this last part of our ten week excursion with a one way ticket to Den Haag, also known as The Hague. When I told my friends and family that I was traveling to The Hague, many were confused as to where it was and why I was going. Most do not know that The Hague, the third largest city in the Netherlands, is an international city of peace and justice that houses some of the most influential institutions in terms of human and civil rights. It is home to the International Criminal Court and the Peace Palace, which seats the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Aside from the institutions, The Hague has all of the elements to make a perfectly balanced city. It contains the city aspect with the close and compact office and shopping buildings, but also has a beautiful beach and absolutely amazing weather!

   After clumsily carrying our luggage from the train station to the hotel, we settled in and then were immediately on the move. We has an appointment at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at 14:30 and made it there with time to spare. Upon arriving, we were greeted by the daughter-in-law of one of our host families! She gave us an extremely informative presentation on the ICC and how it operates. The International Criminal Court was established on July 17, 1998 with the Rome Statute and went into force on July 1, 2002 after being ratified by sixty states. She explained that the ICC puts individuals on trial for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and most recently: crimes of aggression. The Rome Statute established that the ICC can only hold trial if a state unwilling or unable to properly investigate and prosecute the perpetrators, meaning that the court does not infringe on national sovereignty. Cases are brought forth in one of three ways: 1. A state request that the court conduct an investigation and/or trial, 2. The United Nations security council refers a case, or 3. The Office of the Prosecutor opens an initiative for an investigation with permission from the Pre-Trial chamber judges. The ICC has heard 26 cases and resulted in 8 convictions and 2 acquittals. The ICC can issue arrest warrants, but the court itself does not have a police force meaning that arrests rely on states and cooperation between states. This is due to a stipulation in the Rome Statute which states that the court holds the judicial pillar and the states hold the states hold the operational pillar, meaning that any execution of action is left up to the individual states. The court is funded by a combination of state contributions, individual contributions, international organizations, and corporations.

International Criminal Court


   Two of the most interesting aspects of the court, in my opinion, is the concept of no immunity and the most recent addition of crimes of aggression. The concept of no immunity is simply the idea that no one is exempt from the prosecution of the court, including head of states, government members, or other people in prominent positions. This reinforces the idea that no one is above the law and everyone must be held accountable for their actions. The other interesting aspect is the addition of crimes of aggression to the court’s jurisdiction. The ICC defines a crime of aggression as the planning, initiation, or execution of using force to infringe on another state’s national sovereignty. The individual that would be held responsible is whoever has the authority to exercise military action in a state. The concept of no immunity and the newly added jurisdiction of crimes of aggression seem to compliment each other, with the crimes of aggression being more specifically targeted towards powerful and influential individuals. The addition of crimes of aggression comes with the most recent amendment of the Rome Statute in 2010 and will be going into full effect within the next month.

   After our informative presentation and session in the visitors center, the group gathered outside in the nice, sunny weather to discuss and unpack all of the information with Dr.Birchfield and Dr.Markley. One of the most interesting points of the conversation touched on how the United States is not apart of the International Criminal Court. Criticisms were made against the United States because the US claims to champion human and civil rights, but does not take part in the ICC, one of the core institutions that works to promote human and civil rights. Others pointed out that if the United States were to take part, it would make the US a target to many cases involving high level military officials due to the large number of military missions that the US is involved in. The United States will most likely continued to be criticized for not participating in the ICC, but it does not seem to have the desire to join any time soon.

International Criminal Court Debrief


   Once our session at the ICC ended, we all prepared to have a traditional dutch pancake by the beach for dinner. The pancake is not at all like a traditional American pancake, but it was still just as delicious! There were various options for savory filling such as stir fried chicken, smoked salmon, or Thai beef. For dessert we had a traditional dutch dessert called poffertjes. They are reminiscent of American mini pancakes, but slightly denser with a sweet touch. After dinner we watched the sunset on the pier, a perfect way to end to our first day at The Hague!

Tour of Downtown Metz

The day started with gorgeous weather, a theme that fortunately lasted for the duration of our three hour walking tour through downtown Metz. Our group, including special guest Dr. Alasdair Young, met slightly earlier than our designated time for a quick ice cream break, a stop that I’m sure no one had complaints about! I opted for the caramel and chocolate chip which I would HIGHLY recommend!

Caramel & chocolate chip ice cream!

We met our tour guide, Vivian, in front of the Cathédrale Saint Étienne de Metz and while we were waiting we were lucky enough to get to witness a wedding party outside of the city hall. Vivian explained that in France, the wedding party goes to the city hall to witness the couple legally get married and then they all move to a church or a religious ceremony place, followed by a reception dinner that often lasts until one or two AM! (She recommends bringing comfortable shoes if your are ever invited to a french wedding).

Our tour guide Vivian

French Wedding

Vivian then took us into the Cathédrale Saint Étienne de Metz, the third tallest cathedral in France, where we were all awestruck by the forty two meter high vaults and the seemingly endless collection of stained glass windows. There are 6,500 meters of stained glass windows in the cathedral, enough to cover the soccer stadium that FC Metz plays in. Some of my favorite pieces were the ones by modern artist Marc Chagall in 1960.

Marc Chagall stained glass window

Metz Cathedral

After the cathedral, we made our way down to Rue Taison, the street to visit the legendary Graoully. Legend has it that Graoully terrorized Metz in the third century, so the people of Metz begged Saint Clement to vanquish the dragon. He accepted under one condition — the people of Metz accept Christianity. Desperate to get rid of Graoully, the people accepted and Saint Clement led the dragon to the river where it was never seen again. The gossip of the town is that Graoully drowned because everyone of course knows that dragons are terrible swimmers!


After visiting Graoully we walked over to the Le Fonds régional d’art contemporain de Lorraine, a project funded by the French Minister of Culture that hosts public exhibits and showings of regional contemporary art. It houses many exhibits by local artists in order to promote and education the public about art and culture in the region. One of the artist manipulated the rust on a pipe and created a amazing map that left us all in amazement.

Le Fonds régional d’art contemporain de Lorraine

World map made by rusting techniques

Afterwards, we made a couple more short visits to to the Sainte-Ségolène Church and the Église Saint-Maximin de Metz. The Sainte-Ségolène was a stunning church in the birthplace of Metz that holds the oldest stained glass window in Lorraine. The architecture of the outside was absolutely breathtaking (pictures don’t do it justice!). Vivian said that her favorite church was the Église Saint-Maximin de Metz, a small Romanesque church that houses stained glass windows designed by the famous Jean Cocteau. Jean Cocteau was truly a jack-of-all-trades — a filmmaker, poet, writer, artist, playwright, and designer. You might know him from his famous 1946 film Beauty and the Beast! He was a societal rule breaker and often strayed from societal norms, but ironically people loved him and he proved to be quite famous. The Église Saint-Maximin was gifted to Jean Cocteau as a place to hold his stained glass window designs. He designed the windows from 1960-1961, but unfortunately never got to see his life’s work as he died from illness in 1963.

Sainte-Ségolène Church

Sainte-Ségolène Church

Église Saint-Maximin de Metz

Jean Cocteau stained glass window

After touring a street of million-dollar French homes, we ended at our last stop which was the train station. Located in the Imperial Quarter, the train station was built during the German Empire’s annexation of Metz in the early 1900s when the Germans attempted to integrate the region into German culture. The architect, Kaiser Wilhelm, wanted to make the citizens feel more German, so he designed the building with heavy German influence. The station was voted most beautiful train station in France in 2017.

Gare de Metz

The walking tour was enlightening, but exhausting! We all took a short drink beverage break before heading off to our delicious three course meal at a restaurant not far down. The day left me estatic for rest of the trip — not only because I get to explore more of the gorgeous city of Metz, but also because I get to do it alongside great company! 

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