Monday, June 16, 2014

CC's trip to Eastern/Central Europe

After taking a few days to let the study tour to Eastern/Central Europe sink in, I am still amazed by all of the cities and museums that we were given the chance to visit. From cathedrals to concentration camps, our group of 33 got to see some incredibly eye opening places. When I realized that the fall of communism is the same age that I am, the trip really put the path of communism into perspective. All of the countries we got to see still have a long way to go to rebuild their economies and politics but the light at the end of the tunnel may not be so far away.

Graffiti on the Berlin Wall
East Berlin has financial and political help from the rest of Germany and it seems their next main goal is to develop clean and sustainable energy. While visiting Berlin we got to see: what remains of the Berlin Wall, the Holocaust Memorial, Museums, the Parliament buildings, and many other historical structures that our wonder tour guide Naddia took the time to show us. It was kind of strange to hear that marking the Berlin Wall with graffiti was encouraged but once we saw the symbolic graffiti it made since. Of course there was pointless graffiti but Berlin had some of the best artist come in to memorialize the time that East Berlin was under communism.

Gates in Berlin
Castle in Dresden
After three nights in Berlin, we packed up our stuff and headed to Prague, Czech Republic but not before we got the chance to stop in Dresden, Germany. Dresden was a beautiful city that basically consisted of one huge castle. When we got to Prague, the differences between the United States and Eastern Europe were becoming more apparent. Prague has buildings that are many centuries old and the city has memorials and statues lining the streets. The nightlife in Prague was quite fun and the younger generations were very welcoming to Americans.

Our tour group listening to our guide in Prague
Cathedral in Krakow
Once our time in Prague was up, we gathered our belongings and set off to Poland. Poland was a very rural country that focuses a lot on agriculture and lumber. We were told that some of the best wood from around the world was grown in Poland. Unfortunately, our tour only allowed us to stay in Poland for two nights. While we were in Poland we got to see Auschwitz I & II, which was an eye opener for me. We got to see cells people were unjustly held in and work camps that people were forced to work in whether they were sick or not. All in all, it was a very humbling experience. The next day we had a tour take us around the city and we got to see a few historic Jewish communities. It was a great stop, especially in terms of history and education.

Parliament in Budapest
Now, the last leg of our journey begins. But before we could get to Hungary, we had to pass through Slovakia. Although we did not get to see much of Slovakia, it was one of my favorite places to see. The mountainous country had winding roads that had you looking down hundred foot cliffs and we go to see a fortress sitting atop a huge cliff. When we finally made to Hungary we got there just in time to eat a delicious meal before we went to sleep for the night. The next day, Naddia and our city guide took us to Buda (the wealthy side of the city) to see the beautiful castle on the hill. The next day we got to walk through the Parliament building, which houses the oldest crown known of. With a little help from the United States the crown returned to its rightful place after WWII.

As our trip was winding down, we got to see a few more historic locations. The House of Terror is the location that both the headquarters of the Nazi's and Soviets when they took over the country. It was an informational location now and taught us the path communism took in Hungary. The basements still have the original torture cells that were used by the two unjust regimes.

I strongly encourage everybody with the opportunity to visit these countries to do so. It was an amazing experience with a great group of people. If you have not thought about going on a study tour with Columbia College, you are missing out!

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