GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Category: Intercultural Learning (Page 2 of 3)

Passing through Potsdam

With colorful graffiti, modern architecture, and wide open streets everywhere, Berlin is an amazing place to be. The people are really cool, too: yesterday while on a long metro ride, I struck up a conversation with a woman who’d lived in West Berlin about her experience on the day the Berlin Wall fell, and of her opinions on Angela Merkel. She said she’d sat in shock for about an hour when she saw what happened on TV, because for so long the wall had become a normal thing for her: “I didn’t realize how abnormal it was until it fell,” she said. As for Angela Merkel, the woman had a positive opinion of her. “Many people think she isn’t strong or assertive enough, but I think her tactfulness is a good thing. You can’t have someone like Trump when you’re dealing with Syria!”

However, this morning, we had a much more somber experience. First, we ventured to the Grunewald S-Bahn station memorial on the outer western part of Berlin. In 1941 and 1942, trains carrying Berlin’s Jews left from this station to deport them to death camps and ghettos such as Auschwitz and Minsk. Along the railway there were plaques bearing the amount of people deported, the date they were deported, and where they were taken. Stevie, our tour guide, told us an interesting story about a survivor from Theresienstadt who she’d taught English to. Because the woman’s husband had been a doctor, they’d had a leg up on escaping murder.


plaque: taken to Auschwitz




site of the Wannsee conference


Afterwards, we travelled to the site of the Wannsee conference. On January 20, 1942, high-ranking members of the SS and the Nazi party met in a mansion to discuss specifically how to eliminate all European Jews, what they called “the Final Solution.” It was horrifying to realize that the Nazis had meticulously planned out the murders, down to the dates and the construction of the death camps. Their detailed reports are partly why we have so much information about them today. “This is why Holocaust deniers are in such a minority–it happened,” said our tour guide. He explained the different reasons leading up to the Wannsee conference, starting with anti-Semetism that dated back to the Middle Ages and what he called “biological racism”–the idea that Jews were biologically less evolved and inferior to the “Aryan” race. I couldn’t believe how easy it was for the Nazis to successfully blame the Jewish people, an extremely small but generally affluent population, for the entire ruin of Germany after World War I. 

one foot in west berlin, one foot in the GDR--at Glienicke Bridge

one foot in west Berlin, one foot in the former GDR–at Glienicke Bridge

We then travelled to the Glienicke bridge, the infamous bridge featured in “the Bridge of Spies.” During the Cold War the bridge connected West Berlin with Potsdam. Only diplomats could cross the bridge freely. It was amazing to walk across the bridge and literally stand on an object that had divided a country for so long. After getting back on the bus, we took a tour of Potsdam (including the Dutch quarter) and stopped by the Sanssouci Palace, the former summer palace of King Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. Directly across from Sanssouci Palace was the New Palace, which was built in 1763 by King Frederick as well. Continuing our royal tour, we ventured to the Charlottenhof Palace nearby, which was the summer residence of King Frederick the Great’s palace in the 1740s. After listening to our tour guide Stevie’s descriptions of him, I found King Frederick to be an extremely interesting character. As he was somewhat of a humanist, Frederick was good friends with the French philosopher Voltaire, who was the longest resident of Frederick’s palace. Also, since Frederick was credited for introducing the potato to Germany, people were leaving potatoes on his grave!

King Frederick's palace

King Frederick’s palace

Our last visit in Potsdam was to Cecilienhof, the former palace of the last of the Prussian royalty and the site of the Potsdam conference. (The Potsdam conference was the conference between the leaders of the UK, USA, and the Soviet Union in order to determine the post-WWII order, including reparations, borders, and war crimes). To stand in the very room that the Big Three–Churchill, Truman, and Stalin–had stood in 65 years ago  was incredible. It was amazing to think that the decisions made in that room led to the birth of modern Europe. All in all, it was a great day.

site of the Potsdam conference

site of the Potsdam conference

This post will be my last for the trip. I couldn’t be more thankful to have gone to Europe this summer. I’ve been at the right place at the right time for so many things: at the EU on the day of Brexit, at the Swedish Parliament when they passed a controversial refugee bill, in Paris during the Euros, and everywhere in between to witness European reactions to events like the Nice attacks and the coup in Turkey. Getting up close so many security, political, and humanitarian challenges has been enlightening. There has not been a day of this program when I haven’t gone, “Oh my god,” in response to something I learned or saw. Auf Wiedersehen, Europe! Je T’aime!


We’re in PARIS!

These first two days of our trip to Paris have been fantastic. Everyone in the group is giddy because of how excited and grateful we are to be here, and a lot of that has to do with the all of the cool activities included on our itinerary for this week.


One of the famous Love Lock bridges in Paris!

After arriving at the hotel Sunday afternoon, we quickly settled in and set off for the Quartier Latin (the neighborhood where the Notre Dame is), where half the group got crepes for dinner and the other half had falafel sandwiches. Already, we knew what we were in for in terms of quality food this week. Afterwards, we strolled for about an hour in the area, and watched street dancers and walked through shops, etc.

Around 9:30, at dusk, we started our boat tour on the River Seine. The tour guide explained all of the major bridges and landmarks that could be seen from the river, as well as an explained the history of some of the neighborhoods. It was a great start to this week, because it gave us some much needed information for exploring, site-seeing, etc.

One of the breathtaking views from our boat tour of the sunset.

One of the breathtaking views from our boat tour of the sunset.

To top off our beautiful boat tour, we stopped for gelato at Dr. Birchfield’s favorite spot. The flavor choices were endless, but I decided on raspberry, lime-basil, and chocolate hazelnut. It was SO good, and I’m already looking forward to going back (maybe or maybe not every night this week).

Raspberry, lime-basil, and chocolate hazelnut gelato!

Raspberry, lime-basil, and chocolate hazelnut gelato!

Monday started with a lecture by Professor Cottle of Georgia Tech’s School of Architecture on the architecture of Paris’ arcades. He explained to us the history of the architecture and how the arcades have both evolved and maintained their original styles, and then took us on a walking tour of Paris’ arcades on the Right Bank. It was super informative, and a great way to explore an area that we otherwise may not have discovered!

The very typical glass ceiling of the Parisian arcades.

The very typical glass ceiling of the Parisian arcades.

Portrait of George C. Marshall

Portrait of George C. Marshall

George C. Marshall Center

George C. Marshall Center








The beautiful view from the George C. Marshall Center.

The beautiful view from the George C. Marshall Center.

And like any typical tourists in Paris, we finished our first full day first with the climbing of l’Arc de Triomphe for a beautiful view of the city, and next with a picnic at the Eiffel Tower. We spent time discussing some of our favorite experiences so far this summer, and gushing over how lucky we are to be here in Paris!

No picture can justice of our view from the top of l'Arc de Triomphe.

No picture can justice of our view from the top of l’Arc de Triomphe

Me, Madeline, and Rebecca at the top of l'Arc de Triomphe!

Me, Madeline, and Rebecca at the top of l’Arc de Triomphe!

An accidental candid of Will in front of the Eiffel Tower during our picnic!

An accidental candid of Will in front of the Eiffel Tower during our picnic





In response to our visit to Omaha Beach in Normandy, I wrote a poem in an effort to capture the fleeting feelings and emotions of the beach.

Gray touches Gray.  The Green is out of place.  Waves seep the shore clean.

The Breeze rushes through you, by you, up, up  towards the lush cliffs.

Like Water rubbing the cliffs away, the wind leaves the soul and mind

rough and bare.  The Tide draws you out, pulling you further from shelter.

Slowly Sand sways under your step.  Water encloses your foot,  step by step.

Closer to where Gray touches Gray.  The Cold morphs away as the tide pulls

you further,  further into its grasps, piercing your soul, making you forget.



Silence.  Silence crawling up your spine, seeping into your souls and weaving in

your mind.  Rolling Waves hush.  NOT Telling of the remains pulled back.

refusing to reveal the bygone souls.  There lays a Sole scrap succumbing

to the sea slowly,  slowly trying to stay a float in the sinking sand.

Every Tide carries sand to soften the edges, burying the remainder

encouraging Gray touching Gray.



Follow the Wind.  Allow it to turn you.  Cliffs asunder out from the land

meeting the clouds.  Gray touches Gray.  Quaint Cottages once lost in the mist

find souls.  Pivoting, Following the land, find Yourself in the presence of the upward

looming defense.  Eeriness shudders.  All alone where Gray touches Gray.

Soundlessly the Breeze ruffles through the foliage surprising the voice

of the land, the story of forgotten souls.  Twisting, Intertwining leaves smooth

over the damage.  Death marked only by ST. Bishop’s lace.  Here no Gray touches Gray.

It’s all Greek to me

“The Greek government-debt crisis is part of the ongoing Eurozone crisis triggered by the arrival of the global economic recession in October 2008, and is believed to have been directly caused by a combination of structural weaknesses of the Greek economy along with a decade long pre-existence of overly high structural deficits and debt-to-GDP levels on public accounts.”

It is one thing to read this very bland description of the 2008 financial crisis’ effect on the Greek economy (courtesy of Wikipedia), but an entirely different experience to see abandoned buildings falling apart in the heart of Athens.

One statistic that is often thrown around in class is that Greece has recently had higher unemployment than America had during the Great Depression. It doesn’t take an economics or international affairs background to see that there is unrest in Greece. It’s literally written on the walls. These high levels of unemployment have led to some of the most beautiful and disturbing pieces of graffiti that I have ever seen. To say that there is an exorbitant amount of graffiti in Athens is like being out at sea and noting that the ocean seems to have a lot of water. You’re literally surrounded by it on all sides.

This lovely piece of graffiti depicts Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany and an avid supporter of austerity measures in the highly indebted southern European countries.

Austerity – Without boring you, austerity is the act of cutting government spending in light of high levels of debt. This sounds great in theory: You’ve been spending too much. It’s time for you to spend less and start paying off some of your debt. However, adopting austerity measures during a recession is like trying to finish paying off your car payments right after your boss cuts your hours. You’re going to be hungry. The people of Greece are ravenous. They cry out for change.

One argument I’ve heard is that Greece has a strong economy that was simply knocked down by the financial crisis and subsequent sovereign debt crisis. Supporters of this argument often point out that Greece had decent levels of growth during the years prior to the 2008 crisis despite high deficit percentages relative to GDP. I find this comparable to a teenage boy driving to school 25 miles per hour faster than the speed limit, who suddenly crashes into another car. The boy has a broken leg and is taken to the hospital. A passerby notes, “Well if he hadn’t crashed, he would have been on time for school.” Just like driving at a high speed will get you to your destination more quickly, high levels of government spending will stimulate growth since government spending is a part of a country’s GDP. However, if the boy had been going the speed limit, he would not be on time for school, just like if Greece had not been running huge deficits it would not have experienced the growth that it did.

What does this mean? In the situation with the boy driving to school, the solution is simple: he needs to leave the house earlier on his way to school so that he has plenty of time to get there. Greece’s problem is not so easily solved. If I could tell you in a few short sentences exactly what Greece needed to do to get out of its problems, they would be so easy that they would have already been solved. Difficult as change may be, it is needed. The people are hungry, and another crash may leave Greece with more than just a broken leg.

Page 2 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén