On a free Wednesday, Kimbrell, Renata, Gabby, Kayla and I went to Brussels, Belgium. We all used a day on our Eurail pass to experience this day in Belgium. The most important part of the trip was, of course, the waffles. They were dessert waffles with ice cream and chocolate which is a very yummy combination. Brussels has very beautiful architecture. It was a small city that was very hipster. It felt like a combination between Paris and Berlin. It was like Berlin with the vibes and Paris with the architecture. We walked around much of the city in the eight hours we were there. A really important monument in Brussels is a statue of a small boy peeing. There were so many souvenirs of this little boy and the actual statue was less than a foot tall so that was fairly disappointing.
Over the weekend of June 22nd, we took a fast train to Nice and spent the weekend in the southern coastal town. Being on the French Riviera was an unrivaled experience. It was so nice to get away from the cities and create our classic "Nice is nice" joke. We spent the weekend exploring the small, colorful streets and spending time by the ocean. We listened to the Mamma Mia! soundtrack as we walked around the city. On the first day, we went to a quirky little vintage market (which I had many photos of that I lost because they were on my stolen phone) and met a man who was trying to joke with us in French even though we understood very little. We walked around the beach and boardwalk as well as exploring the checkered streets. On the second day we were there, we went to the top of the stairs of a cliff to see the lovely view pictured above. Then we got spots on chairs along the beach where we napped in the rain while waiting for the sun to come out. The beach was very rocky so it was hard to walk on but we ended up swimming for a very long time. It was a wonderful and relaxing weekend. I loved going to Nice and I would go back to the French Riviera in a heartbeat.
Belleville was a quirky area of town that I enjoyed touring. It was a residential area that had a lot of graffiti and reminded me more of Berlin than Paris. It is a very diverse area of town that houses people with an array of religions and ethnicities. This was the area of town that was targeted in the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks which is significant because the target was an area where normal Parisians live. Walking by the restaurant where the attacks occurred was crazy because it looked so normal. If we hadn't had our tour guide, Kevi, to tell us where it had happened it would have been very hard to tell. Life has gone on as usual in this neighborhood that has been a victim of terrorism.
Little Africa was an area of town right below Montmarte. We toured this area and then ate some amazing cultural food. I enjoyed seeing all the colorful markets and interesting cultural aspects of the neighborhood.
This week we toured some of the areas of Paris that aren't typically tourist destinations. One of the areas was called Le Marais which is known as the gay, Jewish and fashion district of the city. It was more of a residential area with many fashion shops. Notre Dame was part of the tour and it was so interesting to learn about the importance of the architecture of the building. They created the building so that people who weren't able to read would know the stories in the Bible. Each figure represents a story from the Bible.
The next area that we toured was the area around The Sorbonne and the Pantheon. After going to the Banksy exhibition in Berlin, we were very aware of the stencil art and we saw one on the side of the Sorbonne that actually ended up being a Banksy! It was extremely exciting to see a newly created Banksy piece up close. On this tour to see the Pantheon, we learned about the importance of this building to The Revolution. The people stormed the Pantheon, which used to be a church, and turned it into a burial spot for successful French people. The area that we walked around is known as the intellectual area of town. In the past, it has housed writers and artists such as Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso. Currently, the area is in the heart of Paris so it is very expensive which has caused many of the intellectuals and cutting edge artists have moved out to the suburbs but it was interesting to be in the area that has been the center of Parisian cultural enlightenment.
"Paris is always a good idea" -Aubrey Hepburn
Paris is a charming city that has captured the hearts of many people throughout history. Some of my first impressions walking around the city is how grand the architecture is. All of the streets are filled with beautiful, old buildings and colorful cafes with street side seating. We have been listening to La Vie En Rose while walking through the city and it makes everything look so much more romantic.
Going to the Banksy exhibit in Berlin opened my eyes to a whole new form of expression. Banksy has been known in the past as a deviant because of the social commentary and political opinions displayed in his artwork. I didn't know much about Banksy going into the exhibit and it was so interesting to learn about how he has influenced the world of graffiti with his artwork. His anarchist social commentary makes people think about the world they live in in a more critical light. Nobody knows who Banksy is and that serves to increase his mystique as an artist.
The day after going to the Banksy exhibit, we went on a cultural and graffiti tour of Kreuzberg, Berlin. Jared was our tour guide and he informed us about the history of graffiti art in Berlin. Graffiti became an important part of art in Berlin because of the Berlin Wall and the freedom of expression of the West Side of Berlin. It became a political statement to graffiti the wall and ever since graffiti has been an important form of expression in Berlin.
"Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it."-George Santayana
A large part of German history includes WWII and the Holocaust. Being in Berlin and going to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was an overwhelming experience because it is shocking to see the condition of the prisoners of the SS during the war. Hearing about the horrible things that happened is one thing, but to walk the same roads as the victims of the Holocaust is an entirely different one. Last summer on my exchange to southern Germany we went to Dachau Concentration Camp which is where the first two photos in this blog post are from. Even having seen the horror of a concentration camp before, Sachsenhausen hit me hard. Despite these trips being saddening, it is so important to continue to keep concentration camps open so the world can continue to remember the crimes once committed and avoid future inhumane treatment of human beings.
It is hard to put into words exactly the types of emotions that face you while seeing the conditions that Holocaust victims dealt with. Extremely cramped quarters, tortuous guards and severe physical punishment are among the atrocities captives of concentrations camps were forced to deal with on a daily basis. Often, people going into these camps understood that they wouldn't make it out alive which is what the pictures above represent.
Despite all the terrible things that happened during WWII, one very important thing to remember are the wise words of Anne Frank.
"...I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."
Sansoucci palace in Potsdam, Germany was the summer home of Frederick the Great in the 18th century. Notice, this extravagant house was only his summer palace. Frederic the Great was the King of Prussia and owned over 35 palaces. The gardens on this property are said to be the German rival of Versailles. They were designed by French artists who believed in straight lines miles of greenery. The extravagance of this palaces garden amazed me.
After visiting the palace and taking photos on the grounds, we walked to the town of Potsdam and explored the city. It was a small, quaint place with lots of colors and fun shops to peruse. The lightheartedness of the palace will be a stark contrast to the burdens of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp we will experience tomorrow.
Our travel group checked into the hotel last night for a 10 night stay. I have been traveling through London, Paris and Berlin with my parents in preparation for this trip which will be a month-long study abroad trip in Paris and Berlin through the University of Arizona. Now that I have explored this metropolis a little bit, I have a few thoughts I would like to share. First of all, Berlin is extremely spread out. With everything I had heard about the history of Berlin as the bustling capital of Germany I had expected a city similar to New York. I expected action at very turn and an innumerable amount of people but instead Berlin has turned out to be a fun and relatively quiet city. Don't get me wrong, there is still plenty of hustle and bustle; such as the Berliner Trodelmarkt where I purchased a twin lens camera or Alexanderplatz which is where our group is staying. Another observation I have had is the amount of new buildings. Berlin is a city in Europe with the same great history as many of the other famous metropolitan areas such as Paris or London but it has far less classic architecture. Many of the older buildings are currently under construction and walking through the streets of Berlin currently gives the impression of quite a bit of infrastructure rehabilitation or construction. Many of the older buildings were destroyed during the bombings of WWII which left an interesting juxtaposition of new and old on the streets of Berlin. My first impressions of Berlin is a quaint city that leaves much history to learn and places to see.