STUDYTOUR

 Cesky Krumlov & Sudentenlands

 

View of Cesky Krumlov

View of Cesky Krumlov

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After our three days in Prague, we took a bus to Cesky Krumlov, a town near the Sudentenland mountains and the Austrian border.

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The Sudentenlands are a ring of mountains that run almost in a circle around the Czech Republic, and have been habituated by mostly German speakers for hundreds of years. During the Austro-Hungarian empire, the ruler had incentivized the moving to the area because no one wanted to live there with its harsh climate and overgrown terrain.  Before WWII, it was the first part of Europe annexed by Germany, with approval from the rest of the West during the Munich agreement, because the area was populated by people who wanted to become part of the German nation.

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After the war, the Czechs decided that all the Germans ought to be removed from Czechoslovakia, so when they were deported, the Sudentenlands were left barren, and became overgrown again without the care of the people who had lived there for generations.

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Cesky Krumlov was one of the places that sustained absolutely no material damage from WWII, because Hitler liked the architecture of the charming medieval town. Even today, the place looks absolutely unreal, like something from a fairytale, with a majority of the tiny, sleepy, town taken up by a huge castle.

During our time in the area, we had a wonderful guide named Ollie, who was from Cesky Krumlov, and had lived through communism and the Velvet Revolution( the nonviolent transition of power from communism to democracy in the Czech Republic) after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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She told us stories about how after the East was opened, it was very popular for Czechs in their teens and early twenties to hitchhike all over Europe for weekends, savoring their new freedom of movement. But seeing the west for the first time often was disillusioning; they had become so distrustful of the government that they assumed that EVERYTHING about western democracies was perfect.

They do not take kindly to communism in these parts

They do not take kindly to communism in these parts

She told of the first time she went to McDonalds in Paris, assuming it must be a fantastic restaurant, because the communist government had always warned about how terrible it was, and was surprised to find out that it was indeed, not so great a place.  Her stories of her own life as well as those of her family brought a human face to what we had been studying about Czech history for the last two months. Overall, our study tour was the perfect example of what it means when DIS tells us that we will have “Europe as our classroom” while we study abroad.

Sites of Genocide: Lidice & Lety

Where Lidice used to lie

Where Lidice used to lie

On a more somber note, we also visited two sites of mass murder that took place during WWII. A town called Lidice, and a concentration camp for Roma (commonly called Gypsies) named Lety.

Memorial at Lety

Memorial at Lety

Lidice was burned to the ground, all the men killed, and most of the women and children sent to concentration camps, except those who were deemed ethnically suitable to be Germanized. All this because they were suspected of harboring two Czechs who had been trained by British special forces to Assassinate Heydrich, one of Hitler’s high ranking officers who presided over Bohemia during WWII. The intention was to make an example of the town, in order to warn others who considered rebelling. During it’s time, the Allied Powers used it as a symbol to rally behind, on why we must protect the innocent victims from Germany.  Because of this, there are remnants of the tragedy found in the obscure places in the United States, for instance the town outside of Chicago that was renamed Lidice in honor of the Victims. Despite all this, I had never heard of Lidice before studying in Europe.

The actual visit was powerful, the former town has been left empty and desolate, a reminder of those lost. With a museum and a memorial built near the edge.

Memorial to the Children killed during WWII

Memorial to the Children killed during WWII

We were lucky enough to be accompanied on this trip by Torben Jørgensen, who specializes in Holocaust and Genocide Research, and (teaches a class on it) at DIS, as well as being  a favorite among students for just being supremely interesting. I’m not the first, and I’m sure I won’t be the last to blog about what a great experience it is to have him as a teacher and friend.

Torben Jørgensen

Torben Jørgensen

Later we continued to Lety, where a concentration camp specifically for Roma had been situated. It’s here that you begin to find some of the more complicated nuances of who perpetrated the crimes of the war. The Roma people have a long history of being persecuted for their migratory lifestyle and struggle to fit into mainstream society, and Lety was actually originally run by Czechs, before Germans took the camp over during the war. Furthermore the Roma Victim’s memorial is denigrated by the fact that a pig farm now lies on the land that used to be a concentration camp, leaving only a small, and fairly recent memorial off to the edge.

Torben explained that sadly, this may have to do with the fact that Roma are still heavily persecuted in Europe, often continuing to live on the outskirts of society. He also explained that “Atrocities will not be remembered unless the victims push for remembrance,” drawing light to the fact that history in some ways is a coping mechanism, for dealing with the darker sides of what humanity is capable of.  As human beings, we may want to forget things that have damaged us, but we must also realize the importance of remembering to cultivate empathy, understanding, and hopefully move towards a “better” world.

Prague

 

Beautiful Day in Prague

Beautiful Day in Prague

I just returned from my long study tour in Prague, Cesky Krumlov, and the Austro-Czech border area with my European Humanities course, which was a wonderful experience, both intellectually and generally.

In the three days we spent in Prague we attended a soccer game, saw a castle, visited Radio Praha (the Czech version of NPR) and met a controversial Czech Artist.  The best part is that it was all academically relevant to what we’ve spent the last two months studying.

IMG_1382 IMG_1316Our core course has been focused on how a people form their identity and what factors have a potential to complicate ones concept of self and belonging. We’ve focused primarily on metanarrative of WWII, first studying the concept of a Danish/German Identity as found in the borderlands, and then Czecho-German identity.

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A famous photo taken in Weneceslas Square in '68; waiting for communist tanks to roll into Prague

A famous photo taken in Weneceslas Square in ’68; waiting for communist tanks to roll into Prague

Recreating famous photos

Recreating famous photos

The Czech Republic is just twenty two years old. It was part of the German ruled Austro-Hungarian Empire for hundreds of years, became one half of Czechoslovakia after the first world war, was annexed by Germany during the second world war, liberated by Russia (not the United States) in May of 1945, and a part of the Communist USSR/Eastern Europe throughout the cold war, until finally becoming the Czech Republic in the early 90s.

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As an American, the class has been particularly interesting because I’ve learned a lot about first about WWII, and then the Cold war that was never included in courses taught in the United States, but also has drawn attention to how different an Americans concept of identity is than someone from Western Europe.

The United States as a concept is a nation formed by the mixing and melding of various identities. Many people identify as Irish-American, Italian-American, Jewish-American, Chicano, or the like. The concept of a hyphenated identity is not nearly as prevalent within many places in Europe. Anecdotally, Denmark is a place where someone with a Swedish mother, and Danish father will consistently be called Swedish by other Danes.

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Soccer Game

Soccer Game

While I know seeing a soccer game doesn’t seem relevant, I promise it is! In fact sports teams in general can be a huge contributing factor to identity; I had never thought about it before, but the same applies in the United States. Southerners are notorious for identifying with an SEC school’s football team, New Yorkers divided between Yankees & Mets fans.

Cerny

Cerny

We also met David Cerny, a Czech artist responsible for some seriously controversial  works, as well as absurd ones like the one above outside the Kafka museum.

David Cerny- part Rockstar, part controversial artist.

David Cerny- part Rockstar, part controversial artist.

A group at David Cerny's Bar

A group at David Cerny’s Bar

Lastly, I felt extremely lucky to be in this course because it it actually the last time it will run in its current version. Unfortunately, this fantastic course has suffered from under enrollment, presumedly because of its interdisciplinary approach, so beginning next semester, the European Humanities department at DIS will be focusing on a more discipline specific approach, offering Literature in St. Petersburg, Art & Cinema in Prague, Philosophy in Athens, and Comparative History (which looks most similar to the current Memory & Identity) in Berlin and Warsaw. As much as I loved my course, I find myself being a little bit jealous of the future Humanities students at DIS for the options they’ll be offered.

Core Course Week Adventures

I just returned from 3 days of travel with my core course European Memory & Identity,a course in the humanities department which focuses on understanding how people form their personal and ethnic identity using both institutional narratives (such as history taught in school) and social memories (the stories your grandmother tells you).  One of the most awesome things about DIS is how the travel is integrated into your class, allowing you see great new cities, while simultaneous having a great experience with a core group of Americans who share your academic interests. Over three days we traveled to several sites within the Schleswig-Holstein region along the Denmark/Germany border. The border has been in three different places in the last 150 years, so people who have had family in the region for generations tend to have a mixed identity, somewhere between German & Danish.

Flensburg

Flensburg

Our first stop on the tour was the Duborg Skolen, a Danish school within Germany. We talked to three different students who attended the school including a German whose parents thought that the Danish school methods would cope better with his ADHD, a guy with a Danish father and a British mother, and a girl who said she considered herself completely Danish.

Later that day we visited Glucksborg Castle, and finished the evening with a fantastic dinner at Hansen’s Braurei in Flensborg—a town within Germany that seems almost completely Danish from my perspective.

Glücksberg Castle

Glücksberg Castle

Delicious German Food

Delicious German Food

The next day we visited Frøslev—technically a Danish concentration camp from WWII, with a very different story than any other camps in Europe.

Frøslev

Frøslev

White Buses- Swedens humanitarian effort to rescue Scandinavians from concentration camps after WWII

White Buses- Swedens humanitarian effort to rescue Scandinavians from concentration camps after WWII

During WWII, Denmark peacefully collaborated with German forces. There were some Danes who even joined the German army, but Denmark’s collaboration was not indicative of widespread support for Nazism, but of a desire to save as many Danes as possible. The Danish resistance and saboteurs were aided by the Danish police force throughout the war, in spite of their supposed collaboration with Nazis.

When the Nazis insisted that Danish Saboteurs and & Resistance had to be punished, the Danes asked for the right to build their own camp right on the Germany/Denmark border in which they could ensure that any Danish prisoners had enough to eat and good living conditions. By the end of the war, German rations had gotten so tight, that the Germans guarding the camp demanded to be fed the same food as the prisoners. During its time as a camp, no one was executed, however it was used to hold and punish Nazis for war crimes following the war. Today the camp serves as a museum, as well as hosting a boarding school and even offices to Amnesty international.

After, we continued to Hamburg to understand how German cities have shaped the memory of WWII with monuments and publically funded art projects. For instance, in the streets of Hamburg, Stolpersteine or “stumbling stones” are laid into the sidewalks near the homes of those persecuted by Nazis in order to commemorate them.

Stumbling Stones

Stumbling Stones

This Nazi propaganda art was put into dialogue with a new piece of art that depicts the atrocity of war on the innocent.

Brian explaining Hamburgs efforts to remember WWII without condoning Nazism

Brian explaining Hamburgs efforts to remember WWII without condoning Nazism

Nazi/Fascist Propaganda

Nazi/Fascist Propaganda

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Art in Dialogue

On a lighter note, Hamburg is also home to the largest model train exhibition in the world, and it was AWESOME, by far the first thing I’d recommend to anyone who intends to visit Hamburg.IMG_0567 IMG_0568

The attention to detail is amazing

The attention to detail is amazing

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Rotterdam & More

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Despite the lengthy blog post on my Dutch Adventures, I didn’t manage to tell quite everything that I wanted in it. We were in Holland for a total of five days, and the last post didn’t sufficiently cover Thursday or Friday.

Basically, on Thursday we took a bike tour of Rotterdam, which was a lot of fun for me, despite the mishaps that happened to other people in my class (flat tires, getting lost and whatnot) and then we visited the Hague to meet with the National Rapporteur on Human Trafficking.

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some of the ultra modern architecture in Rotterdam

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excited to be biking a new city

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Before heading to the Hague after the bike tour we got to take a cooking lesson  at Keizer Culinair (because DIS does awesome, fun stuff like that) in which our class collectively cooked a delicious Dutch meal together.

Laura & I are ready to cook

Laura & I are ready to cook

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mushrooms as a vegetarian replacement for the lamb

mushrooms as a vegetarian replacement for the lamb

Friday was the last day in Amsterdam and I finally made it out on my solo exploring trip. Generally when I visit a city I end up being the navigator because I like maps and have a good sense of direction. However this trip, someone else took charge and I got to wander the city without a clue where I was going. Luckily my sense of direction didn’t fail me and I found my way around with the help of a map just fine. However, the best part of the day was undoubtedly going on the swings above the city in the carnival at the center.

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carnival time

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Lizzie & I are pretty pumped to be 100 feet in the air

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Despite of everything, I’m still afraid of heights

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Swinging above Amsterdam

Dutch Adventures (former and present)

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I’ve spent the last week in Amsterdam with my long study tour learning about the Dutch legal approach to prostitution and the sex trade. And because it’s a DIS study tour, that also means I’ve had tons of free time to explore the city personally as well as lots of fun, tourist-y things all on DIS’s dime.

I was particularly excited to see Amsterdam due to a past experience in which I felt like I narrowly missed out on the city. Let me explain; when I was 17 I had the incredible opportunity to spend three weeks in Spain studying Spanish Literature and International Business.

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Throwback to that time when I studied abroad in Spain

It was an awesome experience and really piqued my interest in traveling and studying abroad.  However, on my way home I faced some travel complications. I was flying Madrid to Amsterdam, and Amsterdam to Atlanta on my way home. But in Amsterdam, they told me my flight was cancelled, and that I had to wait until the next flight back to the U.S.

I was seventeen, alone, with no cell phone, no working knowledge of Dutch, and no cash, just a backpack and a debit card, because my checked luggage had been locked in the airport basement. Luckily a trip to customer service gave me a waiver for a hotel room and a shuttle to get there. They also told me that I’d be headed home the next day on a flight to Dallas, and then take another connection to Atlanta. I was pretty lucky to be a minor at that point, because the 19 year old boys from UGA who were also originally on the canceled flight to Atlanta were stuck in Amsterdam for a couple days, until the next DIRECT flight home.  Long story short, I spent 24 hours in Amsterdam three years ago, but being the sensible teenager I was, figured I probably shouldn’t explore a strange city, alone, with no working knowledge of Dutch. Today I’d probably charge into the city with a map in hand and hope for the best, because adventure is my life’s top priority.

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Ecstatic to actually be exploring the city and it’s iconic spots

The education part of our week started with a visit to the Prostitution Information Center, run by a former sex worker who believes that the most important help sex workers need is understanding and respect from society. She’s also the woman behind Belle, the iconic statue of a sex worker in a window in Old Church square.

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Belle, a monument to the Sex Workers of Amsterdam

The rest of the first day was spent sight seeing. The rumors are true; Amsterdam is beautiful, the canals do not disappoint, and many of the details of the city make for interesting exploration.

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Rembrandt’s Square

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This is what my architecture teacher would call “neo bad idea” with too much use of gaudy overdetailing on the facade

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The only birds in Amsterdam that aren’t pigeons

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On Lock Bridge

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View from the Canal Tour

Amsterdam is probably the only place with more bikes than CPH

Amsterdam is probably the only place with more bikes than CPH

On day two after our first academic visit of the day, a lecture with an anti-trafficking organization, one of my roommates for the trip, Laura, and I went to the modern art museum. Afterwards we decided to take advantage of the gorgeous weather by buying sandwiches at the supermarket and eating outside in Mueseumplein park (the place with the iconic “I Amsterdam sign and several art museums). The grocery store we went to was actually really cool because it was conveniently in the park, but mostly underground, with the entrance being dug into an artificial hill that was essentially made for sitting and relaxing. It was really cool to see  the available space efficiently used for public leisure while still finding a way to provide community necessities that tend to be an eyesore.

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The iconic I AMsterdam sign

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Museumplein

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The angular hill in the back is actually the roof of an underground supermarket

Day Three was essentially all “cultural activities” on DIS’s bill. We visited the Van Gogh Museum, and they gave us an audio tour, something I had never done at a museum before but I enjoyed it a lot and I’ll definitely spend the extra money for it at the Louvre when I go.  We also got to tour the Anne Frank house, something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid.

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Our class is headed to the Van Gogh museum on an early, dreary morning

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Van Gogh

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Outside the Anne Frank House

Day 26

Well the big news of the day is that my iphone is gone. Considering my generally good history of not losing things, and the fact that several people bumped into me unnecessarily on a crowded bus minutes before I realized it was missing, I’m pretty sure that I was pickpocketed. I got off the bus and retraced my steps back to the shop on Stefansgade where I knew I had it last, because I took a picture of the sign as I walked in.

But on a positive note, it could have been much worst. My wallet, with cash, IDs, credit cards, and transportation pass are all safe and sound. I’m also extremely glad that I made the choice not to upgrade my phone this past summer when I was due, because then I’d be shit out of luck for a phone when I got back to the U.S.  As of now, when I return to the US I’ll just get a new phone. Not having a smartphone will probably even have some benefits, I’ll break the habit of constantly checking it, and live a little more simply for a while.  I still have my international PicCell phone that texts in t9 and whatnot. The worst parts of the situation are definitely losing my pictures and not having an iPod, followed by the fact that I no longer have the ability to instagram or snapchat. It’s a rough life, I know.

Even though a lot of pictures were lost with the loss of my phone, here are some random vignettes of my time abroad so far.

One of the Hostels we stayed at in Sweden during core course week

One of the Hostels we stayed at in Sweden during core course week

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The Night Box at Krogerup Højskole

The night box is a common room at the høskole that none of the staff ever enters, it’s covered in random art and graffitti, and has a couple couches and a fooseball table.

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A blurry photo of the market in Israel Plads

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Flowers in Israel Plads

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Iconic “Fire Houses” of København. They were all built after the fire of 1728, and most of them were destroyed when another large fire ravished Copenhagen in 1795.

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A view of København H or Copenhagen Central train station on the walk to Vesterboro

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The storage room in the back of the original Mikkeller in Vesterboro

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Malmö, Sweden: an example of Dutch Renaissance architecture, characterized by red brick and sandstone detailing.

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St. Petri in Malmö, built in Northern Gothic style

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Kiviks Musteri, an apple orchard in Sweden

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Some of the (canned/pickled?) apples from the Orchard

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The apple juice factory at Kiviks Musteri

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Swedish countryside running right into the Ocean

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Wind turbines are everywhere in Scandinavia

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Cliffs overlooking the Baltic Sea in Löderup, Sweden

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Ales Stenar (Ale’s Stones) monument in Sweden often compared to Stone Henge, possibly an ancient burial ground.

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Touristy pictures at Ales Stenar

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Picturesque village in Löderup, Sweden.

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Sheep running around freely at a manor house

These sheep were comically loud, and I wish I could link you to one of the vines of them baying incessantly at us.

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Christinehofs Ecopark, a “castle” in Sweden.

Despite the fact that I was taking most of my pictures on my phone, thankfully I had the foresight to bring a point and shoot camera, so I’ll still be able to visually document my travels and adventures.