Saturday, May 24, 2014

Berlin and Dresden - Germany

Germany is a country with a very complex history. From its dark past to its economic distress, difficulties have arisen. But their spirit is strong and the country has dealt with its transgressions in an appropriate way - with transparency.  By constructing a Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims, funding a Topography of Terror museum and other memorials in Berlin, it is insured that what transpired cannot and will not be forgotten.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered under the Nazi Regime

But it's not all solemn. Potsdamer Platz is full of stores to explore and Museum Island has amazing examples of human feats.  The Berlin Wall, though once erected as a barrier by the GDR, now serves as a platform for political and inspirational art.  And in Dresden, the Zwinger Museum is host to unbelievably beautiful art, including Raphael's Sistine Madonna, as well as a china collection from Augustus the Strong, the elector of Saxony and King of Poland.  The architecture, though mostly reconstructed after the Dresden bombings, still contains some of the original stonework, visible as black stone mixed in with the newer material.
Portion of the Berlin Wall

While we weren't able to spend as much time as we wanted to in Germany, I am looking forward to our remaining time in Europe! Tomorrow we explore Prague!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sammi from Italy

Ciao from Italy! Hi all I am Sammi Macht at forensic science and chemistry going into my third year at CC. I am just finishing up my second day in Italy and wow Florence is a beautiful city. I have been amazed at the fast past of the Italians here. Cars and motorcycles fly by on narrow streets and so many people are walking. Florence is a walking city everything is within walking distance that is if you are will to walk for fifty minutes. Tonight I had my first sit down Italian meal and man was is good. I tell you they just keep coming course after course of delicious food. Bread, pastrami, salami, and more meats and that was only round one. Next was a slice of the most amazing Lasagna  and then we topped it off with two rounds of pasta. What a great introduction to Italia food. We'll I am off for the night. Till the next post  have fun and be safe.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Hey, everyone.  Brian reminds me that we will have a free day in Prague--actually our first day there, before our city tour, etc.  So we probably need to be thinking about cool, fun, guide-and-Brian-worrying activities to go do!


Does anyone have exciting ideas or sites or activities for that day?

later, bob

Thursday, May 15, 2014


In less than 2 months, I will be heading off to Oxford, England. I cannot believe I have this wonderful opportunity to study abroad and travel England. I am very excited to explore the country and go to many beautiful and unique cities while in England. Any suggestions on where to go and eat and explore, PLEASE SHARE! Many thanks!

Aleah Hayes
Columbia College

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Politics in Krakow, Poland

Hello CC friends!

Scooter encouraging everyone
to have a great trip!
Taken from:
            Before we embark on our tour across Central/Eastern Europe, I was thinking that it might be helpful to understand the politics of current governments in the region. Considering how many people on this trip have been studying the history of the countries to be visited and the history of the holocaust, I will try to focus on how governments were structured after the revolutions from communism in 1989. At the fall of communism many communist leaders kept their current positions. Running under a new name, communist political parties still maintain some control and positions within government. For those who may not know, the far left of the political spectrum are those that want government to control the economy and everyday life (communist) and the far right of the political spectrum are those that want government to not have control over the economy and basic everyday life decisions.

Image of Revolutions of 1989
Taken from:
            In particular, Poland, the country that began the revolutions of 1989, is one of the Central European countries that has majority support on the right side of the political spectrum. But even in a country where a large majority opposes a communist government, the government is still occupied by some far-left (communist) officials. Krakow, the second largest city in Poland and one that we will be visiting, has formed a unique type of government. Overwhelmingly, Polish voters vote for the right side of the political spectrum but when it comes to electing the mayor of the city of Krakow, the voters have always voted in a left-wing candidate.

          Image of Krakow taken from:

            The structure of the government in Krakow is somewhat similar to how the United States' government is laid out. There are 16 providences in Poland and each providence is broken down to a county and then a commune level. You can relate this system to the United States if the providence is viewed as a state government (the Missouri legislature), the county government in Poland is just like the county government within U.S. states (Boone country), and the commune government of Krakow can be related to the municipal governments in the States (Government of Columbia Missouri). A fundamental difference between the U.S. and Poland is the way political parties come into power.

Image of Krakow's mayors headquarters
Taken from:

            In the United States, only one party will when seats within a given district. In other words, the United States uses a single-member district plurality to decide which governmental party controls the government; the party with the most votes will control the government. Krakow on the other had uses a system based on proportional representation. This means that the government will be controlled by a multitude of parties instead of just one. If a party receives 5 percent or more votes in a district, they will have some positions within the government. This makes it very difficult for government to function smoothly because one party rarely wins with a majority of votes.

            Political parties are forced to integrate with other parties to form a majority, sometimes resulting in the collapse of government. The major disagreement between the left and right side of the political spectrum is government involvement in the economy. Since the fall of communism, businesses in Poland have been transferred from the control of the government to the control of private citizens. This transfer has resulted in growing inequality but also a growing GDP. During communism everybody had a job and access to the essentials of life but when communism failed, people were no longer provided a place to work and many citizens became unemployed. Democracy, by some, is blamed for the inequality and the hard times that followed the transfer to democracy is a major reason communist officials still retain seats in government.


Cold War Remnants

What to expect?

It’s hard to imagine what life was like during Communism. I was born in the summer of 1991 well after the Berlin Wall came down, the fences cut, and the USSR was no more. My post-Cold War ‘Americanized’ perception of what the Cold War was comprised of varying influences taken from rural Missouri educators who barely touched the subject. As far as I can remember, the Cold War was an arms race to see who could gain the ability to blow up the world faster. Under all of that Rocky Balboa and Drago would battle it out to see who would be on top. Of course the American exceptionalism portrayed in such films doesn't give us the whole story, it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that Eastern European countries are only a little over two decades into democracy.

The economic transition from the Russian-based trade market to the west alone has been a feat and most countries we will be visiting have only just begun shaking the economic turmoil created by the transition. The unemployment level of communist countries prior to the revolutions was almost at zero. However, this figure jumped remarkably to the late teens and early 20% of the workforce being jobless. This jump immediate. Uncompetitive factories and manufacturers did fine employing thousands of workers under communist rule, but the West was too far along for such production inequality. If the factories survived the market transition, they could only employ a few hundred – a mere fraction of communist right to work policy. Income inequality under communism was almost nonexistent; everyone was poor together.

Grocery line in Communist Romania

The citizens who overcame communism in the revolutions of 1989 wanted more. They knew that the West was more advanced both in human rights and economy, and Eastern Europeans wanted a slice of the capitalist cake. Some countries (like Poland) issued a “shock therapy” policy where they jumped their economic policy into capitalist markets without holding anything back. This caused a massive collapse in the state’s economy and social welfare services and put the countries into heavy foreign debt just to stay afloat. These countries now produce a higher GDP than those who transitioned to western economics gradually. The initial failure of the new regimes to benefit from western capitalism caused much disappointment among the people because they expected so much from ousting the communists. But life in Central and Eastern Europe took a while to pull itself together, a lot longer than expected. This caused some populations to vote the old leaders back into office through their new democratic power. The old communists were no longer communists, but reformed Socialists. Many of the political elites, especially the moderate and open-to-reform leaders, were kept in political power, at least until new parliamentary structures could be put into place.
The more "left-wing" the more socialism was incorporated into economic policy

Of the countries we will be visiting, communist “socialist” influences still hold some validity in political party agendas. These countries, all of whom are now in the EU and NATO are growing with a heightened acceleration. We must, however, remember that the days of Soviet bloc lifestyle is still a recent memory and the governments here are still recovering from the transition. Switching between such drastic political movements after the collapse of communist governments is an entirely new maneuver in the modern world. These countries have had success in the change – some more than others – and seem to be integrating nicely into Western society.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

8 More Days!

Hi! My name is Jessica Montgomery and I am a sophomore studying Elementary Education at Columbia College.  Like a few of the other bloggers, I am taking Dr. Compton’s History of the Holocaust class.  Over the eight week course we covered aspects of the Holocaust that I had never heard of before.  My understanding of this tragic event in history has grown immensely and I’m excited for the opportunity to learn even more when we are abroad.  With just a little over a week before we depart, the excitement is building.  I have never been out of the country before so I am so thrilled to see what the world has to offer!

Golden Week!

Hey there awesome people!
As promised, I am here to relay the new experiences I had during Golden Week in the Tokyo area.  But first, please let me explain what Golden Week means.  Collectively, it is a period of nearly consecutive holidays which fall on April 29th (Showa Day) and May 3rd-5th (Constitution Day, Greenery Day, and Children’s Day/Boy’s Festival, respectively) annually.  Many schools, colleges, and business are closed on these days.  Likewise, specialty stores, shopping centers, restaurants, and public attractions are open an increased amount for business.  Thanks to the help of several gracious friends, I was able to arrange traveling to and from Tokyo by overnight bus, and stay with a friend I met at Columbia College my freshman year in her family’s home.
During my stay, one can bet I did a lot of exploring, shopping, and eating!  While in the Tokyo region, I was able to visit the Chiba, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Taito areas just to name a few.  Despite visiting some of these areas more than once, I probably did not covered more than a couple square miles at each location.  The activities were abundant, as was the food.  I have learned how (1) matcha parfaits are by far my greatest weakness, and (2) raw horse meat is rather delicious.  It is a good thing the former are not readily available in my area, and as for the latter, after consuming my first bite I spoke a quick apology in my head and promised my two horses in Missouri they would have nothing to fear. Seeing as my trip was not solely based around food, please keep reading so I may share with you the awesome-sauce that was my holiday.

The actual sequence of events in the coming days is a little iffy (I am not really good with chronology), but they are memorable nonetheless. Within the first few hours of arriving, I found myself with friends walking the roughly 5-kilometer outer sidewalk of Kokyo, the Japanese Imperial Palace.  This one sidewalk has so much regular foot-traffic, there is a rule saying which direction you are have to jog. Fast-forwarding the same day, one will find us inside a Starbucks overlooking an even higher-trafficked area, the famed Shibuya Crossing. On this trip, I was blinded by the sun when gawking up at the Tokyo Sky Tree, and calmed by the glow of city nightlife when gazing down from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. While the choice of forest over cityscape is an easy one for me, I have a certain amount of amazement set aside for indescribably tall buildings.  This being said, there was one other tall building I will mention.  It is physically smaller than the others, but it is larger in my heart. In Shinjuku, I was able to visit the Square Enix HQ along with their accompanying merchandise store and café, Artnia. I will not bore you with my deep-seated esteem for this company and its history, but I would have had no complaints had it been the only place I visited during my holiday.

Actually, my former statement would be a slight exaggeration.  Every place we visted was worthwhile in its own way. Such an example would be Sensoji temple in Asakusa.  The grounds consist of many divine buildings and structures, each with their own unique craftsmanship. From what I was told, Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple.  It is obviously a major tourist destination as there is an entire street just for shopping which connects the outer and inner gates. While there, I did a little shopping, drew my fortune and said a prayer. Seeing as I am a layperson with a smart-phone camera, the photos I took are unable to give true credit to the beauty which existed all around.  My favorite view was looking down the shopping street at the temple.

Since the majority of this post involves awesome views and sightseeing, one of the last places we visited as a group was the Tokyo Sea Life Aquarium. Aquariums are obviously not exclusive to Japan, but here they have an astounding collection of species encompassing all the oceans, most seas, and a few places in-between. If you are ever in the Tokyo region, all of the places mentioned here are fairly easy to get to, and are either free or at minimal cost. The biggest expenses are probably travel and food, and even then one is able to find good bargains and conveniences. May I someday be able to return the favor to the awesome people who made my holiday a colossal success and pleasure.
It seems that is all for now.  Thank you for persevering through another one of my ramblings. Stay safe and well, everyone.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Pre-Golden Week!

Greetings everyone!

I hope this post finds you well. I know it has been a while, but I have a lot of updates for you! I will be making two blog posts back-to-back.  This one contains everything about my time spent before traveling to the Tokyo area for Golden Week.  The other will concern the many amazing experiences I had during Golden Week. Read on, and enjoy!

Hikone City & Hikone Castle -- Part 2
Since the last time, I have made it out to conveyor-belt sushi with friends.  It is so nifty you pay by the plate, in that different colored plates represent various prices and orders. Have I mentioned by love of salmon? 
Otherwise,  Hikone Castle has made it into my travel log two more times now. Guess I can't get enough of this place! So far, all three trips have been unique and special. I was able to visit the area surrounding the castle at night with friends to enjoy the sakura being lit-up.  Also, on a separate occasion Meena and I were able to meet the town mascot, Hikonyan. He put on a nice show for the crowd. : )
Korei-Taisai Festival at Tagataisha
After class on April 22, I traveled to Tagataisha by bus with a few friends.  It is a Shinto shrine within Shiga Prefecture dedicated to the god Izanagi-no-Mikoto and goddess Izanami-no-Mikoto.  In Japanese mythological history, they are considered the creators of Japan. An annual festival is held to pray for the productiveness of grain.  While here, we were able to watch part of the parade, explore the grounds surrounding the shrine (but sadly not inside), and peruse many of the vendor stalls and specialty shops.  After stumbling upon what I assume functioned as the parade grounds, the lot of us were approached by several locals for high-fives, pictures, and some genuine conversation.

Kyoto -- Part 1
Recently, I was Kyoto-bound to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2. In addition to seeing the movie, I was able to enjoy a western-style lunch at Shakey's, a walk through the neighboring shopping district, and some wonderful okonomiyaki for dinner.  Oishii desu yo! I barely made progress in seeing all there is to see in Kyoto, so I hope to return soon (in either one or multiple visits) to witness what other great opportunities await.
I will be sure to update within the next day or two about my Tokyo sightseeing.

Thanks for tuning-in,

(P.s.- 20 points if you can guess the name of the friendly character to the right.  Hint:  Think Studio Ghibli)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Introductory to my Scottish Experience

Hi! My name is Tiffany Hockett and I am currently a sophomore exchange student at Robert Gordon University in Scotland. The Scotland exchange program is one of Columbia College’s newest exchanges which means lucky me got to be the first test run!
When I first arrived here in Scotland, it was almost daily that I was answering the question, “So why did you come to Aberdeen?” (Aberdeen being the city I am studying in) and it took me awhile to really figure out how to answer that question. Why did I come here?
Originally, I went to the Columbia College study abroad department because I was interested in doing an internship abroad. I was quickly informed that getting a visa just to work in another country would be difficult and would require a lot of time that I wasn’t sure I was willing to spend. If I was going to go abroad I wanted to go ASAP. Thankfully the Study Abroad department was quick to offer me more suggestions which included everything from volunteer work (yes, I looked at the Peace Corp) to being an exchange student. And that is when I was introduced to Scotland.
After weighing the pros and cons of each option I decided on Scotland for several reasons: 1. It was English speaking, unlike several other options, and I really like to talk so that was good. 2. The business school at Robert Gordon was top rated. 3. I got to be the first student from Columbia College to do it so it still sounded like an adventure to me!
So here I am! I made it all the way here! The rain is constant, the accents are strong, and the adventures are frequent. I am excited to share all of my experiences so please ask if you have any questions and thank you for reading.

Xxx Tiffany

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Excitement Builds!

Hey everyone!

It sounds like everyone’s just as excited as me to fly off to Europe! Just wanted to share a little tad about myself. My name is Ethan Sellers and I’m a senior at CC this year. I thought this trip would be a great way to cap my undergraduate career, but as it turns out, you’ll see my face around campus once again this fall! I’m a political science major with a minor in legal studies and I’m planning to go to law school in the future, maybe international law. I’m currently taking Central European Politics with Dr. Kessel in conjunction with our trip. We've been studying the political transition from WWII through the Cold War to the collapse of Central European Communism and the integration with Western Europe.

Studying politics in the region has peaked my interest in some areas that were significant to the 1989 revolutions. The closer historical ties a country had the West, the faster they loosened the grip of the Communist Party. The revolutions started in Poland and snowballed to stir protest in Hungary, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia and so on. The protests overtook their respective communist governments more rapidly as inspiration from the other movements flowed from nation to nation.

So far for the Central and Eastern Europe course, a main focus of mine has been that of Czechoslovakia. The revolution here is known as the “Velvet Revolution” for its peaceful methods. The protesters sufficiently dethroned the communist party there in a matter of days starting in mid-November of 1989. Massive protests were held in the famous Wenceslas Square in the capital, Prague, and modern festivals and gatherings take place there today.

On January 16th, 1969, a 20 year-old Jan Palach set himself on fire enraged at the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in Wenceslas Square. Almost twenty-one years later the site blew up again and forced the administration there to resign. 

The site is huge and serves the icon of the city! It’s filled with shops, hotels, restaurants, and memorials and will make a great stop in our tour.

I’m excited to see you all there!

Monday, May 5, 2014

So Close But Yet So Far

Hello Columbia College Travelers!

My name is Justin Davis and I am a Political Science major with Criminal Justice and Administration, Legal Studies and a Philosophy minors. I am taking a 3-credit hour course, Politics of Central Europe, which focuses on the rise and fall of communism in Eastern Europe. For this class I have researched the city of Budapest and located a few landmarks/places/monuments that are of significance to communism.

(Cells in House of Terror)
(House of Terror Museum)
I have come to find that Hungary took a very unique path during the rise and fall of communism after WWII. Immediately after the war ended, the Soviet Union’s influence and strength over Hungary, Budapest in particular, was too strong to fight. Before the Soviets controlled the city of Budapest, Nazi Germany had a secret police headquarters in which those who opposed communism would be tortured and interrogated. The Soviets later took over the secret police headquarters and began to practice the same techniques that the Nazi’s did. The building is now called the House of Terror and the holding cells in the basement have been left in the same condition the Soviets left them in.

(The Budapest Ghetto)
Budapest had one of the largest remaining Jewish populations in Eastern Europe at the end of WWII. Although Hungary remained friendly with Germany, Hungarian Jews in Budapest were largely left alone until the concluding years of Nazi control. The Jewish community in Hungary began to be grouped in the Budapest Ghetto where they were separated and killed or shipped to a concentration camp.

(Statue on top of Gellért Hill)
After the revolutions of 1989, the Hungarian people tore down almost all of the Soviet/communist icons in Budapest. One of the icons that was not destroyed is the statue that sits upon Gellért Hill. Gellért Hill is one of the tallest locations in downtown Budapest that looks over many historic sites. This location would be a great place to visit as the sun goes down because of the great view it offers over the city. The statue was originally erected by the Soviets but when the Soviets began to give more freedom to the Eastern European states under Gorbachev, the meaning of the statue changed to honor the Hungarians that fought for the freedom of Hungary.

Hungary was one of the first countries that had a large opposition to communism before Gorbachev allowed more freedom and one of the first countries that had begun implementing economic changes. After the revolutions of 1989, Hungary experienced what is known as shock therapy. Shock therapy is when a country rapidly changes its economy. Hungary’s transition to a capitalist system was a great success, although it did experience some hard times. One of the main reasons for Hungary’s success was its willingness to allow foreign direct investment.

(1956 Uprising - Statue of General József Bem)
The uprisings that occurred in Budapest in 1956 marked the beginning of the fight against Soviet rule. Hungary was far more educated than many of the Eastern European countries and the Students of Hungary took to the streets to protest Soviet control. The protests were crushed by the Soviet Union but the uprising showed that there may be enough opposition to Soviet control to gain independence in the future. The uprising began around the statue of Polish General József Bem, which would be another great site to visit.

The official separation from Soviet control began when the 150-mile long fence that separated Hungary from Austria was removed. This allowed many East Germans to escape to the west. The following year Socialism took hold of the government and after the first free elections, Hungary rapidly embraced the western market and government. The soviet model of government was left behind and Hungary began its path to be a successful European country.
(Soviets leaving Hungary)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Holocaust Remembrance

Greetings, friends and fellow travelers!

Yes, we are getting close to our departure time.  Meanwhile, on the home campus, Study Abroad and the History/Political Science Dept. sponsored a related event, a Holocaust Remembrance.  During the trip, we will be visiting the Auschwitz camp, an important part of understanding this region and its long history.

The Remembrance event featured a history overview by David Karr, a video of a Holocaust survivor, and a talk by Rabbi Feintuch of Congregation Beth Shalom here in Columbia.  Two survivors were planning to come speak, but could not make the trip.  We wish them good health.

David Karr, a CC history professor, stressed that it is important for us to learn the history of both the Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, as soon the witnesses to these events will be "passing from the realm of living memory." Although the Holocaust "can't really be talked about," the "unspeakable," yet we "absolutely need to remember."

David began with a history of the Jewish people in Europe in the 1300s, when the plague arrived in Europe via the trade routes from the far east.  In those days before germ theory, "Christians sought scapegoats," and often the blame fell to the Jews.  One effect of this was a great migration of Jewish people to the more welcoming kingdom of Poland.  There, a successful and prosperous Jewish community established itself and lasted for 600 years.

In the 1800s, several strands of ideology began to join--biologically based racism, new, exclusionary forms of nationalism (e.g., Germans began to think of themselves as Aryan, and a genetically distinct people), and various conspiracy theories about both wealthy financiers and "disruptive" labor movements.  In all these, the Jewish people were labeled as causes of problems, impurity, etc.  This rather clearly sets the stage for the growing anti-Semitism of the 20th century, which David labeled a "toxic, fit-anything, ideology."  And in this framework, the Nazis came to power.

David stressed how the Nazi approach to the "Jewish problem" was "improvised"--that is, it developed in stages, from the early camps in 1938, shifted with the invasions of Poland and then Russia, and congealed into a government-planned "final solution" in 1942.  In that year, 1942-3, the majority of the  Holocaust victims were murdered.  [David read several powerful passages from C. Browning's Ordinary Men.] [Here a review of Ordinary Men from the New York Times.]

For more, or more complete information, you can reach David Karr at

Next at the Remembrance, we watched a video interview of a survivor of the Nazi roundup of Jews in Hungary.  The video is archived at the USC Shoah Foundation .  The survivor described in detail how her family and community were taken captive, thrown, literally, on the cattle cars and transported to the camp in Poland, where they were quickly separated, a few to the barracks, but most to immediate death.  The video is unsettling, her unflinching account of the process.  Try to see some of these interviews for yourself.  [Tonia Compton, at , could supply you with the exact information about this video, and answer more questions about this Foundation.]

Finally, Rabbi Feintuch helped us think about how to approach both these memories and the site.  He stressed the need to not be distracted by those who would lessen the enormity of this crime, that even if we "will never understand what happened there," yet "we must believe it" and come to know that "each of us is the other man's brother."

Later, bob
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