Normandy

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!

Last Official Briefing

Today was our last official briefing for the entire EU study abroad program. It was a bittersweet experience based on the fact that we had completed so much over the past ten weeks, but saddened by the fact that in just two days we would all be heading our separate ways. Most of us did not know what to expect while visiting the French Foreign Ministry. This was our first opportunity to sit down with someone working in the French Foreign Ministry and ask them questions and hear their perspective. We all wanted to see the contrast between the think tank and research institution, such as Ifri and OECD, perspective compared with the perceptions of the French Foreign Ministry.

Our visited started off with a brief tour of some of the entrance areas within the Quai d’Orsay. We were once again met by the opulence and grandeur that characterizes French government offices. As we walked through the halls looking at gilding and majestic ceiling paintings opening up to the heavens, we suddenly found ourselves in a room, devoid of furniture, with a small picture in the corner. One of the first things that we read while beginning our program back in Metz was the Schuman declaration. The idea of making war “materially impossible” had been an underlying theme to our study of the European Union. Of course, the EU has developed far beyond the European Coal and Steel Community; however, the essence of the Schuman declaration to start a European peace project lives on through the challenges that we now face in the modern era. At the French Foreign Ministry the group was now standing at the exact spot that Schuman boldly proposed a new future for Europe. This future would unite people throughout Europe to bring peace and prosperity. Standing in front of the fireplace, we could not help feeling the gravity of this experience. This could not have been a more perfect location for us to finish with our last briefing. In this building the European Project, the subject of our entire 10 weeks of study, was born and we were sitting in the same place discussing the future of Europe and the world.

The briefing itself was given by the Deputy Director for some of the Quai d’Orsay’s research and policy work. The content of the briefing encapsulated most of the issues that we were wrestling with over the summer. From challenges to world order to Franco-German relations and the role of France in the EU, the briefing comprehensively posed perspectives and questions about the direction of both the EU and the world. He particularly focused on the transatlantic relationship, offering the French perspective on the changes developing in the relationship and the responsibility of both France and the US. However, he offered not just commentary on the situation in the transatlantic relationship, but, also, perspectives about France’s own politics. He touched upon France’s key relationship in terms of defense with the United States. French military efforts have been increasing in order to move towards strategic autonomy. His commentary also brought in historical perspectives regarding France’s history with the US during and after the war. Charles de Gaulle played a massive role in the development of post-war France and the direction it would take going into the future. His influence and icon status continues to impact the French psyche when it comes to international affairs.

We all left the briefing with a sense of clarity, not in the sense that we had all the answers to the questions, but we had clarity in the sense that we knew what the issues were and perspectives on the issues in the modern world. This day was also marked by the birthday celebrations for Angelica Wagner. We all went and ate macarons after the visit and walked back to the hotel with optimism and excitement for working towards solving the issues of the modern world, and continuing the spirit of Schuman, Monnet, and all of the great men who believed in a different world, a world of peace and happiness for all people.

The Legislative France

Today we had the privilege to visit the French National Assembly and the Senate, which together form the French legislative branch. On a beautiful sunny morning, we were up bright and early to catch the bus to the Assembleé Nationale. We got off at our stop right in front of the Seine river, and were received by both the staff of the Assembleé and a beautiful view of the septième arrondissement of Paris. After going through security, we watched a film explaining how the French government works right before we were given a tour of the building. The first room looked like a gigantic ballroom, but gilded and with huge mirrors and artwork everywhere. Every room thereafter was covered with paintings, beautiful tapestry, gilded ornaments, ceilings displaying the symbols and historic events that shaped the history of France, and doors with artfully crafted patterns. It was truly wonderful to be able to walk through these rooms, it felt absolutely surreal. It is also something that would be nearly impossible to do if you visited Paris only as a tourist. To put the icing on the cake, we ran into Jean Lassalle on our way out, a parliamentaire who ran for president in the last election cycle, and was able to get almost half a million votes. He shook my hand.

Inside l’Assembleé Nationale

 

 

Inside l’Assembleé Nationale

Assembleé Nationale

Library of l’Assembleé Nationale

After l’Assembleé Nationale, we took a break to walk the streets of Paris and to get lunch. We stopped at a small Creperie that had a fluffy cat welcoming the guests. After eating our savory crepe, I ordered the famous beurre sucre for dessert, which is a crepe with butter and sugar. It is simple but delicious, and it never disappoints. After taking pictures of the cat and finishing our crepes, we walked over to Le Sénat, where we were received and led by a terrific guide that made sure to explain to us all about the beautiful building we were in, including its art, its architecture and its history. Once again, we were absolutely amazed by the beauty and extravagance of the buildings. The level of detail in every painting, every marking, and every door hinge was impressive. Also, every piece of art, be it paintings, sculptures or markings, was carefully placed and positioned to add to the larger symbolism of the room, the palace, and ultimately, the French Republic.

Le Sénat

Le Sénat

Cat in the Creperie

While at Le Sénat, we got to witness a vote on legislation as spectators. Most of us non-francophones were a little lost during the session, but it was nonetheless fascinating to watch the senateurs debate and argue passionately in support of their positions. We were also honored by the visit of senateur Cristophe-André Frassa, who represents the French abroad. He joined us for a short walk through the library of the Sénat, posed for a picture with us before the end of our visit. Once outside, we walked through the Jardins du Luxembourg, a beautiful garden across Le Sénat. It was a great way to end a fantastic day of enjoying and learning about the cultural richness and beauty of France.

Group photo with senateur Cristophe-André Frassa

The OECD, George C. Marshall Center, and German Marshall Fund

Our first site visit of our busiest day in Paris was to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD. The OECD began on September 30, 1961 as a joint platform between the United States, Canada, and twenty other countries to be used originally for the funds given for the economic rehabilitation of Europe in the devastating aftermath of World War II. Today, the OECD continues to recognize the interdependence of the economies of its 35 member states as well as Key Partners like India, Brazil, and China, and it works to analyze, discuss, and propose solutions to problems or barriers to economic cooperation and success. In fact, as a non-authoritative body, the OECD primarily concerns itself with this analysis, acting as an economic watchdog. Member states apply peer pressure and publish evaluations to ensure concepts like fair trade and competition are respected and upheld. We were lucky enough to have representatives of both the United States and the European Union speak to us, and they presented perspectives of their involvement within the OECD and how they differ. Notably, the U.S. representative, Georgia Tech alumnus Alexander Bryan, highlighted that the U.S.’s economic relationship in the OECD on a working level has not been altered, and he touted its key role within the Organisation, espacially as an essential watchdog with its biannual peer economic evaluations. The EU’s relationship with the OECD was interesting because it isn’t a signatory, but is rather a Special Observer. This important distinction means that while the EU has an active seat at the table of member states, it has no voting power and cannot initiate any projects. It is also does not have any obligatory financial responsibility, though it is the second-largest financier of OECD projects after the U.S. Following these two speakers, we were briefed by a representative of the Trade and Agriculture Department, who explained the challenges facing international trade such as negative public perceptions and digitalization. We were all wholly impressed with the quality and depth of the information and the speakers themselves, and left the OECD more aware of the need for economic interdependence and the proliferation of such a positive interaction within the international community.

Posing with Alexander Bryan after our excellent briefings at the OECD

Next was our visit to the George C. Marshall Fund off of the Place de la Concorde. Originally the house of the French aristocrat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord and later the Rothschild family, the Center’s current residence is furnished with lavish wallpapers, plenty of beautiful chandeliers and intricate wood panelings, and, in true Parisian fashion, its fair share of gold leafing. Our brief tour walked us through the history of the building and showcased all of the former diplomatic apartments. We finished in a large dining room and joined a group of MBA students from Westminster for our briefing by U.S. Foreign Service Officer Suzanne Marie Yountchi. Mrs. Yountchi is the newly-installed Primary Secretary to Economic Affairs and provided a fresh perspective on not only U.S.-French economic relations, but also to the life and career of Foreign Service Officers. She also spoke on the issues presented by the digitalization of the economic market, but specifically commented on how France, as a personal project of President Macron, is trying to boost its startup industry by taking notes from Germany and the U.S. on how to encourage young entrepreneurs to stay and develop the domestic economy. Yountchi has only been in Paris for a few weeks and was very transparent about what she was learning and the process of becoming settled in an new country, and we so appreciated her taking the time to speak to us as she was still acclimating and transitioning into her new role.

Touring the George C. Marshall Center

We finished our day with a conversation at the German Marshall Fund center here in Paris.  A representative of the thinktank shared its perspectives on French politics, France’s activity and place within the international community, and France’s relationship with the European Union. One of the most interesting points our speaker commented on was President Macron’s perceived misjudgment of how to manage the France-U.S. relationship with the Trump administration. He stated that Macron seemed believe that following his visit to the White House and meeting with Trump, which was generally perceived as positive and constructive, he thought the resulting relationship was strong enough to influence Trump’s attitudes on issues like the Paris Climate Agreement, the U.S. relationship with the EU, and the JCPOA, or the Iran Deal. However, when Macron had no impact on any of Trump’s statements or action, he found himself depleted of social capital with nothing to show for it, and has since taken a much harder stance against the current U.S. administration’s policy. Later, I had the opportunity to ask how he foresees France responding to the U.S. and UK’s isolationist policies and resulting power void and shift in world order, and he echoed the Franco-German partnership that many of our other speakers also predicted emerging in the coming years. This, to me, is evidence of the success of the European Union’s original mission as a peace project between France and Germany. Time and time again, experts and professionals in economics, politics, society, or some combination of all three pointed to this relationship as becoming a leading world power, both within the EU and globally. 

Discussing French current political affairs at the German-Marshall Fund

Today was generally full of optimistic and intellectually-stimulating conversations about stable working relationships between publicly at-odds entities, the continued successes of post-WWII-era projects, and the future of the international community. There are plenty of challenges that have either presented themselves in full force, are only beginning to emerge, or are predicted to materialize in the future, but there are equally as many organizations and individuals who are ready to respond to these challenges with an equal amount of gusto and determination. As I look at the itinerary for the remainder of the week and the conclusion of our time here in Europe, I realize how much progress we have made and how much we have grown as students over the past nine weeks. Not only do we have extensive exposure to a dozen of current event topics, developments, and crises, but we are able to have in-depth conversations with experts about these issues in a very engaged and intellectual way that I would bet none of us foresaw on May 14 back in Metz. Since this is my last post, I would like to emphasize how much I have appreciated the opportunities and experiences this study abroad has provided me, and how grateful I have been to be able to learn and see so much and to meet so many incredible people. I look forward to benefitting even more from our last site visits and to spending our remaining week together here in Paris!

Simulation and Security Issues with IFRI

After much preparation today was finally the day to show off the accumulation of knowledge we had gain over the past nine weeks on transatlantic relations. This was done in the form of our EU-U.S. simulation. The nineteen students of our program split into two teams. These two teams, one representing the U.S. interest and one representing the interest of the European Union, disputed three key policy foreign policy areas. We did this at Science Po, a renowned political science university in Paris. These policy areas being security policy (stance on the JCPOA), internet policy (stance on the GDPR and AI), and trade policy. For example, I found myself representing the interest of the European Union of the issue of security policy in regard to the United States withdrawing from the Iran Deal or JCPOA. Each of the six working groups came up with a two page policy stance paper that was then presented by a representation in a five minute speech at the beginning of the session. After each group presented their stance our teams split of to reconvene with our policy expert counterparts. As I was in the working group discussing the Iran Deal, I only gained this perspective in terms of debate. We discussed the current positions of both sides as well as what was plausible given Iran and other gulf countries’ stance in the region. It is an extremely complex issue with many moving parts and in our limited time discussing and deliberating our teams agreed to work towards policy that would bring the United States back into the agreement eliminating the need for secondary exemptions to tariffs put on European companies that do business with Iran.

This is a very different approach to what is being discussed currently in politics but isn’t completely outside the realm of possibility. After this portion of the simulation we went back to the entire EU team and presented our joint agreement. The other groups commented and added amendments then we returned to our policy expert groups to write up our stance that would then be combined to with the other groups pieces to make a two page Joint Position Paper that was then presented to the “press” at the end of the simulation.

After the simulation we left Science Po and headed over to IFRI by metro. IFRI stands for institut francais des relations internationals. They are ranked the second most influential think tank in the world and were founded by Thierry de Montbrial in 1979 to analysis international issues and global political systems. The information gathered and analyzed policy experts is used by political and economic decision-makers as well as academics, opinion leaders, and civil society representatives.

Our briefings at IFRI were done by Head of Security Division on French foreign policy priorities; expert on Ukraine crisis and relations with Russia; and an expert on counter-terrorism efforts and French security and defense policies. Our first speaker outlined 3 areas of focus that would be discussed during our time there. Those being European Defense policy, defense spending and a jihadi terrorist profile. He then went on to explain the first topic which highlights the French perspective in terms of defense policy. The speaker pinpointed the need for strategic autonomy while discussing defense policy and while this makes sense in theory there are 3 key problems that arise with this line of thinking. For one there is no exact definition for this term which can lead to asymmetry in its interpretation. Two, because of this strategic autonomy can be used to justify vagueness when it comes to coordination by the European Defense community. Thirdly, the defense community is also dealing with a burden sharing problem that is currently being addressed at the NATO summit and we will have to wait and see how this issue plays out among nation states. In terms of defense spending and budgeting specifically our second speaker gave us an update on where the French are. There are more than 30,000 soldiers in operations despite the tight budget. It is increasing however but still stretched too thin. France is conducting operations in Lebanon, Northern Africa, and the Balkan States as well as other regions. Macron has stated they plan to increase their budget by 1.7 million euros each year over the next 4 years and by 3 million the 2 years after that. Our speaker seems skeptical about the achievability of this plan, so it will be interesting to watch in the coming years. Our last and final speaker did a presentation on the jihadist terrorist profile that he had created using data analysis in his study. HE provided us with very interesting insight on the subject and open our eyes to the impact this struggle still has on their community overall. After our guests graciously answered our question the group then went back to change and spend our remaining few hours of the day watching all of Paris celebrate the return of France’s very own World Cup Champions as they paraded through the streets.

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Visiting the Louvre

On our first full day in Paris we visited none other than the Louvre. From the start with the I.M Pei designed entrance the Louvre was a masterpiece in architecture as it combined the modern entrance and lobby with the classic buildings surrounding it. The elevators seemed to be an object out of the Art Deco period that had somehow been realized by the technology advancements of the 21stcentury Our main objective for the day was to see the Delacroix exhibit which we were given tickets to. Each of us were assigned to a partner and the two of us could explore the Louvre together. My partner and I started with the Delacroix exhibit. Admittedly, and to my surprise, the exhibit was one of the most interesting that I’ve seen in Art museums. Personally, I am a great fan of modern art and did not think that I would enjoy the Delacroix exhibit as much however, I realized that I could not have been more wrong. My previous dislike of classical art in museums was most likely due to my lack of exposure and knowledge. I simply felt left out and did not know as much about the artists, and their works and was overwhelmed by the people at the museums who seemed to know a great deal. And like any subject that I am not well-versed in, I tried would stay away and let those more familiar with the subject to enjoy. However, the Delacroix exhibit did much to change that.

 

With no previous knowledge of Delacroix, his background, and his paintings, I felt as included as anyone else in the exhibit. I walked out of that wing of the museum with sufficient knowledge of Delacroix so that if he ever came up as a topic of conversation in the future, I would feel comfortable talking about him. I will now attempt to share some of my acquired knowledge of Delacroix bellow along with particulars that I found to be interesting personally.

 

Of particular interest to me was the fact that Delacroix was born into a family of fame and novelty as his father was an ambassador while his brother was a general and baron of the Empire under Napoleon. Having grown up in such fame and prestige he sought to recover some of it through art, since a military career like his brothers was not an option. He then went through three stages as a painter. From 1822 to 1834 he was caught up in trying to establish a name for himself as he rose as an artist. From 1835 to 1855 he became a more traditional painter with bewildering murals and the fame that came to him after the Universal Exposition in 1855. The last chapter in his artistic career was from 1856 until his death in 1863 when he was drawn increasingly to landscapes and nature.

 

In the first stage of his career, Delacroix had tried his hand at almost every genre, seeking fame through the exploration of what was desired at the time. From literary scenes (mostly lithography) to what was regarded as scandalous modern paintings at the time (The Death of Sardanapalus), he was not afraid to explore. However, one painting, his most famous, was also product of this era. A painting that needs no introduction and has come to be as iconic as the Statue of Liberty when it comes to notions of freedom and liberty. The painting is of course his 1831 masterpiece, Liberty Leading the People, which was painted a year after the revolution in 1830 to commemorate the event. This was for me the most crucial part of his life as a painter, and the one that I found most interesting.

 

The Death of Sardanapalus

Liberty Leading the People

Beyond his classics, I found the paintings he produced after his trip to Morocco to be fascinating as they were filled with details and were in a way portraits of the past. War scenes showing the heroic actions of the French in Nancy or in Greece are great, but they seem all too common to the untrained eye such as mine. Delacroix’s depictions of life in Northern Africa at the time were nothing short of mesmerizing for me. His paintings from this period allow you to step back in time and see what life in Algiers or Tangiers was like in 1832. Much like he takes his audience back in time through these paintings today, Delacroix himself also felt that the region was something akin to a time travel back to ancient times of the Greek or Roman empires and found it very inspiring. I appreciated the lack of drama and the need to depict the classical Roman times for a change. I am grateful that Comte de Mornay allowed Delacroix to accompany him on his diplomatic trip to the region as without him, Delacroix’s talent in depicting such scenes would have most likely remained unrealized.

 

Jewish Wedding in Morocco

Delacroix’s Sketches from his Trip to North Africa

 

Although disappointing to the art critics at the time who had grown used to seeing large classical murals and paintings from Delacroix, the final stage of his career truly highlighted his powers as an artist as he painted many landscapes and scenes from memory. Although of smaller sizes, these paintings had a beauty of their own that could. The ocean was depicted beautifully in his painting La Mer A Dieppe, to a degree that it was almost hypnotic, despite being a painting from memory. Also from this period were his paintings depicting Jesus and his followers in a boat. My first thought when seeing such these paintings was how remarkably similar they were to those of the refugees fleeing from Africa in hopes of a better life in Europe. In both cases the boats are small and the occupants seem to be struggling in battling the harsh waves of the indiscriminant sea that has no regard for the lives of children or those of holy figures. I stood for a while looking at these paintings and the sad condition of humanity that in the 21stcentury these refugees have to resort to such rudimentary ways of departing their homelands, in search of safety, opportunity, and at times, the right to survive. And yet our treatment of these refugees, in both the U.S. and the EU is simply shameful at times. Perhaps seeing paintings like this and the hardships of Christ and his followers can change the hearts of many who albeit “religious” and god-loving, claim to have an ancestral right to the safety provided in the EU and the U.S. which is somehow not endowed to these refugees. Maybe these paintings can do much in highlighting the hypocrisy of unfair measures against refugees throughout the world.

 

 

Sea Viewed from the Heights of Dieppe

Having focused on Delacroix for the majority of my blog, it is only appropriate to devote a small section to the Louvre as a whole as well. To try to express its grandeur and splendor in the confines of this blog is simply not possible, however, I can mention that seeing the Mona Lisa was both essential and humbling in a way. And furthermore, the crown jewels, the décor and architecture of the Louvre, and its sheer size expressed much about the powers, wealth, and size of the French Empire over the past centuries. I was however, as always, surprised by the number of artifacts from countries such as Iran and Egypt that end up museums such as the Louvre. I am no art historian or expert on the subject but I do see it as an unfair practice at times.

Crowd at the Louvre viewing Mona Lisa

Lastly, I could not end this blog with the mention of the Final FIFA World Cup match where France was pegged against Croatia. Having no particular interest in soccer itself, I found the spirit of the French people to be much more fascinating than the game itself. After a few attempts of getting into popular spots for watching the game, some of us had to settle for overcrowded local bars around the city. Observing people’s reactions throughout the game was an eye opening experience for me as I had never seen such unity and shared interests before. The ability of sports to bring people together like this is simply astonishing to me. Furthermore, as if their actions during the game were not enough, the streets of Paris after the game were unreal. I had seen the likes of it in the uprisings in 2009 in Iran as part of the Green Movement but this seemed even bigger than that. Champs Elysees was packed, people were climbing over buildings, and it seemed like humanity had snapped back a few stages on the evolutionary chain. Smoke bombs, pepper sprays, and irrational bikers adorned the streets of Paris alongside more traditional ways of celebration such as fireworks, flags, and horns. While the walk back to the hotel was tiring, it was an absolute pleasure to have been able to experience this, it was truly an experience of a lifetime. To a more rational person like I, there is no reason to flood the streets and engage in what was pure dangerous hooliganism at times just because 22 people passed the ball around on a grass field in Russia. However, I am clearly missing the point and part of the fun, having never been invested in sports, but even I, was glad to celebrate this victory with the French people.

 

 

 

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.

 

Track 17, Wansee House and German MFA

 

Joined by our amazing Berliner Stevie once more, we began our day by visiting Track 17 at Grunewald Station. Track 17 is the primary location where the Nazis kidnapped deported the Jews of Berlin. The majority of which went to Theresienstadt and later death camps such as Auschwitz. The track was hidden, in a less populous part of town surrounded by a rich forest. Because of this, the Nazis viewed the track as the best location in which Jews could be deported out of the public’s sight. Nowadays, the track features a memorial listing the number and locations of the deportations alongside a monument. Stevie pointed out the Israeli flags nearby, most likely from a memorial gathering a few days prior. Besides this, the area was still filled with bikers and joggers, as well as a small grocery stand. This environment, much like what we saw at the bunker site of Hitler’s suicide, shows how Germany seeks to remember the past while remaining careful not to glorify it. This visit was a nice precursor to the Wannsee house, which we made our way to shortly after.

As we approached the Wannsee house however, it was interesting to note the area in which we were entering. The Wannsee area is a beautiful suburb of Berlin on the shores of the Havel river. The neighborhood was calm and lavish, hardly preparing us for what we were about to experience. The Wannsee Conference was held at this house, property seized by the Schutzstaffel (SS) a few years beforehand. The conference was a meeting of senior officials of Nazi Germany ordered by Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich. The purpose of the meeting was to establish the logistical implementation of the “Final Solution” plan, previously agreed upon by Hitler and other high-ranking officials. Although the conference lasted a mere 90 minutes, the decisions and planning implemented here had an unimaginably destructive impact of Europe, WWII, and society as a whole. When touring the museum on the inside of the building, it was made apparent that something of this caliber could and possibly will happen again. Antisemitism, bigotry and institutionalized violence and oppression did not start with the Holocaust and it will not end with it. The house served as a reminder of scale on which these atrocities were committed. What was simply at short meeting out of thousands at the time, is now remembered as a crucial and devastating part of world history.

After leaving the Wannsee house, we made our way to a biker restaurant and indulged on some homestyle German food. We then made our way to the German Federal Foreign Office. As we were walking in, it was interesting to see a world cup viewing area, complete with a giant tv and refreshments. We then made our way to the briefing room at were greeted by a high-level official rom the Office of European Correspondent. Our briefer began by describing her role within the MFA and how her office coordinates between German’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the European Union. The office was busy as the EU would hold a FA ministerial meeting the following Monday, a monthly attempt to coordinate member-state foreign policy according to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and bring awareness to various issues of concern. We then moved into Q&A and discussed several current topics include migration, tariffs, and the Iran Deal. Many of us asked similar questions to those we asked in Brussels as it was interesting to hear the purely German perspective on various topics. In the realm of security and tariffs, Germany has distinctive positions, somewhat contrary to those of France and the rest of the EU. Exploring this dynamic was an interesting way to examine the issues from varying perspectives. We then delved into the transatlantic relationship and specifically, the German-US relationship which has transitioned from the Obama-Merkel bond towards a weaker relationship. We finished up with a few more questions, putting a busy and informative week in Berlin behind us.

 

 

Bastille Day in the City of Light

We woke up early this morning, bid our hotel and Berlin farewell, and took two public buses to the airport for the last leg of our study abroad in Paris. After going through a very lenient baggage check and equally thorough security check, many of us spent the next several hours waiting to board the plane by preparing for our upcoming EU-US summit simulation and composing our reflections on our site visits in Brussels and The Hague to the Human Rights Watch office and International Criminal Court, respectively. Something I’ve really appreciated over the course of this summer is not only the content of our site visits and the places we travel, but how the arrangment of both is structured in a way builds upon what we’ve already learned with more complex experiential learning. One of the core components of the foundation of the European Union was a declaration by Robert Schuman announcing that France and Germany would unify the core parts of their economies, so concluding our program and study of the EU in the hearts of the capital cities of both countries seems natural and means significantly more than if we started in either city back in May.

Paris upon arrival was as breathtaking, as was to be expected. We departed the airport on the RER line into the city, transferred to a connecting metro line, and walked the remainder of the distance to Hotel Bonaparte. The hotel is quaint and within walking distance of the Seine, Notre Dame, the Louvre, and other Parisian icons, and I’m sure we will take advantage of our location for sightseeing throughout the week. After spending enough time at the hotel to freshen up following our day of traveling, we set out for our dinner cruise along the Seine to celebrate Bastille Day. What an experience! We were joined by American diplomat and Georgia Tech alumnus Johnny Jones for our cruise and shared the small boat with a group of American families.

Waiting to board our dinner cruise on the bank of the Seine

Our courses included a plate of delicious hors d’œuvres, chicken and pasta, and an assortment of desserts. The view of Paris on either side of the river while we were dining were no less rich and splendid. From our tables we watched the boat glide past the Assemblèe nationale, the Concergerie, Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Eiffel Tower. I doubt we could have asked for a better introduction to the cultural treasures of city.

The Assemblee Nationale lit in patriotic colors

Our view of the Alexander Bridge

After we finished our meal, we sat outside on the deck and prepared to watch the fireworks, and it was then that the City of Light lived up to its nickname. It’s difficult to articulate in words how magnificent it was to be on the Seine looking at the Eiffel Tower sparkle with lights and explosions of color against a backdrop of more fireworks-and on France’s National Day, no less! French citizens and tourists alike lined both sides of the Seine and covered bridges, waving flags and enjoying the camaraderie of celebrating together. There was a strong sense of communal joy and excitement, and it was electrifying. I was reminded of all the times I watched the A Capitol Fourth production in Washington DC on the Fourth of July with my family, and I imagine the energy must be the same. I doubt any of us will forget the experience we shared tonight for years to come, and it was the perfect way to begin our final week of the program in Paris.

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!