Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
I could not even begin to explain all of the experiences and knowledge that I gained from my time in Europe especially in regards to this grant. Back around this time last fall I was looking at spending a semester abroad in France. I was excited for so many reasons but mostly because France is the country of my mother's family; a place I had always heard of growing up, but not one I had ever been able to see. This led me to think about the other side of my family, my father's side, who lived right over the French boarder in Germany. His parents both emigrated from Germany after they were married, but the rest of their family still lives there. I could never live in France for three months and not cross the boarder into Germany.
Growing up in America I received an American education, not surprising, but always frustrating. The World Wars were always talked about from the perspective of "our side." I knew my family had lived through both of them, and some had even fought in them. But my youth and physical distance from my extended family had created a big gap in my understanding of their lives and how they were changed by their experiences - what they had seen and been through first hand.
At the beginning of May, after my program in France ended, I started my work for my grant. I stayed in Europe for the rest of the month. I took the train into Paris visiting my great grandmother and seeing as many museums as I could in order to gain the most French prospective on the World Wars as I could. What I found out was that information open to the public was limited on this subject. The most information I found was at Les Invalides, a museum made up of a complex of buildings relating to the military history of France. There is a wing for the World Wars.
Following my time in Paris, I went to Germany by way of a long bus ride from Paris to Dresden a major city in the old Eastern Germany. Dresden, the capital of Saxony, is very famous for the devastating destruction from the bombing of the city at the end of World War II in
From there I went to Berlin, the city where my grandmother grew up and where both she and my grandfather lived before they immigrated. The city was full of history from my family, but also from the wars. Berlin is full of museums and exhibits relating to the World Wars; the Deutsches Historisches Museum was the most informative. The museum goes through every time period in mans' history showing what was happening in Germany at that time, the sections on the World Wars were the largest sections. I even found information in unexpected places, the Deutshes Technik Museum, a technology museum made from an old train roundhouse had a section devoted to trains from World War II explaining the integral part the railroad companies played in the deportation of the Jewish, Roma, and Sinti populations. I saw the building where the holocaust was decided on, now a museum about the holocaust. The kitchen where a handful of men sat and discussed "the Jewish problem," now houses cases containing the actual documents condemning the Jewish people.
After Berlin I went to Heitersheim a small city near the French boarder and then Stuttgart, one of the largest cities in Germany that had also sustained heavy bombing during the war. The best part was having a family member in each place I visited ready to show me the real Germany, and tell me about his or her own experiences.