Final Stretch of Europe

One of the best things about this trip is that, although any one of us may have traveled or intent to travel back to these countries/cities, I doubt that we will chose or get the opportunity to visit and sit in on these international courts and tribunals which have brought countries together for a greater purpose.
Although we were unable to stay in Luxembourg for an extended period of time, I found the country to be an amazing, remarkable and gorgeous place. While in Luxembourg we visited the European Union. It was interesting to sit in on one of the hearings and be a part of an international union which has brought countries together and kept them out of war. Having learned a fair amount about the European Union while I was in Ireland, this experience cemented my feelings towards its purpose and validity within the confines of the countries which are signatories.
Our next stop was The Hague, Netherlands. (Being of Germany heritage, of course it meant a great deal to me to be in the country of my ancestors, but educationally I was the most excited to be in The Hague). First, when we were in The Hague, we went to the Peace Palace, which is the home of the International Court of Justice. The building itself was a work of art that I cannot put into words. Also, the best part about the building and the artwork contained in it was that it was all donated by various countries, including a remarkable wood ceiling by the United States (I assure you it is much more impressive than it sounds because it is a work of art itself). One of the most memorable pieces though was of a mural in one of the courtrooms which was begun by in artist in order to depict the horrors and emotional toll of war on people in order to promote peace. Sadly, and in an ironic twist, this artist was killed during WWII and the artwork was never finished. Now it stands as a reminder to all of us the atrocities of war and those who fought, in various ways, to keep the peace. Besides the Peace Palace itself, we were able to have a discussion with the clerk for the United States judge on the Court. It is awe inspiring that various nations will take their disputes to the Court for arbitration rather than fight among themselves via war or other negative means. It is these countries giving up a little bit of their power to have a conflict resolution which will is a positive means rather than a negative one to get their a fair solution.
Finally, while visiting The Hague came my favorite part, attending a trial at the International Criminal Court. The ICC has had a lot of criticisms in the past because of their lack of backing and enforcement. They are heavily dependent on their member countries to bring forward the criminals (unless they willingly surrender on their own) and rely on the countries to house the criminal if convicted. It is a fledgling tribunal, but it is one that I hope flourishes in the future. Also, I look forward to seeing the new grounds which, if memory serves me correctly will break ground in 2016. Nevertheless, this was so incredibly amazing to attend part of the trial, specifically witness testimony, of Jean Pierre Bemba’s trial. He was on trial for various war crimes and crimes against humanity. Some may have heard about him on the news, but as a class, we got to sit merely 20 feet or so away, behind glass of course, from this man. He looked so normal (so to speak). I so wish we could have stayed longer to watch the trial, but in those minutes listening, via headphones for translations, was inspiring. It made me feel how big the word is and the problems that face other nations, cultures, and individuals were so different than those that I faced. Sitting in that room, compiled with all the information we were able to take in while in Germany… what would I do if I was in a different country, with different cultural beliefs (whether in war or peace) which I felt were not conducive to my moral compass. Would I just lie down and let the chips fall where they may, or would I fight for my own personal beliefs and what I truly believed was right? It is a daunting question…


Dachau and Nuremberg

In between traveling from Munich to Nuremberg we stopped at Dachau Concentration Camp. This experience was one of the most humbling and sobering of the trip thus far. I was surprised at the vastness of the camp itself. And on the other hand, to consider how many individuals were there and the fact that it was often overcrowded was a depressing feeling. While walking though the camp I did not feel compelled to take pictures or even speak because I felt that would trivialize the importance of what happened if I did not spend the majority of the time to reflect on the past and the history of the camp. We all got audio tour guides and, while I have spend a number of years and variety of classes learning about camps such as this one, some of the information still hit me really hard. One thing that you cannot prepare yourself for is visiting the gas chambers and crematorium. As you walked into the “showers” there was an immediate eerie feeling, like the weight of the world was on top of you. My views on ghosts and spirits on earth is incomplete, but at that moment I had no doubt that there was a sort of presence in that very room. additionally, It was quite sad that when you looked outside of the walls a village was right there, and it seemed that most turned a blind eye to what was happening (probably in fear). When the Allies liberated the camp they made the villagers go in the camp and see what they were ignoring in their own back yards. There was a unbelievable amount of information fed to us via the audio tour, various signs and displays, the museum, and a video. In some ways Dachau seemed unreal, peaceful, and museum like but seeing pictures and trying to imagine it in its most infamous days was something that one hopes people never have to experience again.

Going through the museum at the sight of the Nuremberg trials was a great experience. Once again, it was a bit of an information overload so I attempted to see and listen to the information which I did not know much on prior to the museum. It still astonishes me the amazing attention to detail that the Nazi Party had in their documentation and records. Such callousness to individual life and freedom. Reading some of the prosecution documents and hearing the excerpts, especially in comparison to today’s world, any lawyer would realize that you do not put anything like that on paper which it would be held against you later in such a manner as the Nazis did. It just shows that they truly had no remorse for their course of action and in most cases eventual action. Although we did not get to go into courtroom 600, which was the site of the Nuremberg trials, we did get to look into it from windows above the room. Thinking about what you are looking at and what it represented in the world at one time is really humbling. Also, Understanding that we are at the sight of the trials of the some Nazi parties, it still feels a bit like victors justice when those trials are so highly publicized, but yet there was very little on the trials of the Japanese and their war crimes. However, I was pleased to see some on the Japanese trials and most recent international war crimes tribunals.


The Seeming Pointlessness of Luxembourg

Luxembourg is small country that exists in a Bermuda Triangle of sorts, surrounded by Germany, Belgium, and France. It’s capital is Luxembourg City. It’s beautiful, sitting high atop a hill. It was protected, in the old days, by this fortress:


Today, Luxembourg is home to The Court of Justice of the European Union. Composed of twenty-seven member representing each member state, the Court is the highest court in matters of European Union Law. Here is the Court’s grand main chamber:


Luxembourg is a vital member of the European Union. However, in my time there, I kept wondering: Why does it exist at all? The country itself is a strip of land that is roughly 968 square miles. For perspective, that’s smaller than the Rhode Island, which is about 1,214 square miles. Though Luxembourg’s relative smallness is notable, what’s more striking is it’s location.


Luxembourg is the tiny white dot situated between two powers (Germany and France) that spent the better part of two hundred years trying to rip each other apart. Why didn’t one them bother to conquer the tiny white dot?
Let’s go back to 1867 and a dispute between Napoleon III and Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck goes back on a pledge that he made to Napoleon two years earlier, an oral agreement in which the German Federation would allow French hegemony in Luxembourg in exchange for German hegemony in the Rhineland.
Bismarck’s decision not to honor the prior agreement made Napoleon pretty sore, and for good reason. He had just agreed to purchase Luxembourg from William III of the Netherlands for 5,000,000 Dutch guilders. That’s just under $3 million at the time, and $48 million today. Sabres started to rattle.
Unwilling either to go to war, or allow Luxembourg to be ceded to Germany or France, the other European powers brought everyone together for a conference. The result was the 1867 Treaty of London. Germany and France agreed to withdraw their claims to Luxembourg in exchange for its neutrality. The fortifications of Luxembourg City were torn down, never to be rebuilt. Today, in it’s place, stands a thriving economic and cultural center.


Running Through Munich and The Hague

These two places do not have a great deal in common, so it may not make a ton of sense to write about both of them in one post, except that these are the two places I ran while on our trip. I thought that running through the cities that we visited would give me a unique opportunity to see large areas of these cities in a relatively short amount of time. Unfortunately for me, it also meant getting lost in these cities due to a lack of international cell phone coverage, but there are definitely worse places to get lost in than Munich and The Hague.

Munich. One of the first things I did after getting to Munich was go for a run. Munich was a great city to run in, primarily because there are so many squares and streets that are pedestrian only. It also makes for a very interesting run when you are dodging tourists and locals as you run through crowded squares and streets. There was also added motivation to get done with the run as quickly as possible because of all the intoxicating smells of grilled meat in tube form as well as the palpable smell of yeast that permeates areas of Munich. So with daydreams of beer and sausage in my head, I pressed on for a run. As I said earlier, the city is built for running because of its pedestrian friendly layout, so I got to run through markets and squares catching all the sites and sounds of Munich that I could. The other reason Munich was such a great city to run in was that there are great parks in Munich. The English Gardens were beautiful and had trails throughout. This park was full of runners, bikers, and dog walkers and was a wonderful place to run/people watch. I do have a couple of observations about German runners that I found different from their American counterparts. Typically when I run in the States, runners give one another a little bit of a head nod, hand wave, or some sort of acknowledgement to sort of say, “hey, how are you, we’re doing the same thing, and I understand your pain.” Well, maybe it does not say that much, but it is at least a polite gesture, but my gestures to the Germans fell on deaf ears (or is it eyes? I’m not sure). The German runners seemed far too into their own running (quite a few of them resembled Dolph Lundgren circa Rocky IV) to acknowledge my silly American gestures. However, aside from getting the cold shoulder from the running Germans, the running is Munich was great.

The Hague. I went for a run in The Hague sort of on a whim and didn’t really plan it out, which around mile six or seven really bit me in the tail. The Hague was beautiful, but in a completely different way from Munich. Munich was so nice because of all the great architecture, squares, shops, and markets, but The Hague was beautiful because of the canals, the people, and the neighborhoods. I spent most of the run in primarily residential areas (this was mainly due to the fact that I had no idea where I was going). There were a lot of people out and about riding bikes and walking, and these people were much friendlier, giving smiles and head nods voluntarily. Also, instead of the town smelling like beer and sausage, the markets in The Hague smelled like fish. A smell that is probably off-putting to some, but having grown up near a large fishing community, it was kind of nice. Then around mile six or so, I began getting tired and really wanted to get back to our hotel, but the problem was I was completely lost. Unlike Munich, where you could see the towers on the big cathedral from nearly anywhere in the city, The Hague did not have these tall landmarks to help you with directions. I had two choices, use my limited data plan on my phone and possible pay some money out of pocket, or press on and try to see something I recognized. I pressed on hoping to see the Peace Palace, which we had visited earlier in the day. I ran for another mile or two and ran across some beautiful, yet completely unfamiliar, parks with streams and canals running through them. Then finally, I caved. I was lost in a foreign country with no clue where I was, so it was time I just sucked it up and used my phone to find the Peace Palace and my bearings. I got on Google Maps only to find that I was less than two blocks from the Peace Palace, and now breathing a sigh of relief, took a nice stroll to the Palace before heading back to our hotel.

Aside from my time spent lost in The Hague, I highly recommend going for a run or a walk in either of these great cities. They were great for different reasons, but it gave me a nice opportunity to catch a glimpse into the daily life of the locals, while also giving me an opportunity to see a good deal of sites in a relatively short amount of time.


Dachau: Emotionally Exhausting, Yet Moving

To be perfectly honest, the visit to Dachau was not something I was looking forward to when thinking about this trip. This feeling was strengthened after leaving the emotional high that was the visit to Munich. I had such a great time in Munich that I did not want to “ruin” it by visiting a concentration camp. However, the trip to Dachau may have been one of, if not the, most worthwhile experiences in a trip that was full of worthwhile experiences.

To preface the following, you must understand that I am not some kind of super patriot. I am happy and mostly proud that I live in the United States, but I fully understand that we have our fair share (very large share) of problems. We have every flavor of inequality, income, racial, gender, etc., not to mention our political turmoil. We have our own historical scars as well, such as the institution of slavery or our treatment of Native Americans. The importance of this preface is to emphasize the fact that I am an American realist of sorts, not often succumbing to the sort of patriotism that is to follow.

When we arrived at Dachau and picked up our audio tour headphones, I went off on my own to make sure that I could see as much as of the site as possible in our limited amount of time. When I approached the gates of the concentration camp, I saw the following words on an iron fence: “Arbeit Macht Frei” or, in English, “Work will make you free.” Given what we know from grade school about what happened at concentration camps, my feelings regarding Germany went from, “I can’t wait to move here” following our time in Munich, to “I cannot stand Germany. Get me on the next plane to the States.” I know this is not a fair characterization of Germany as a whole, and it isn’t meant to be. This was just my immediate reaction upon entering the gates of Dachau.

As I walked through the grounds of Dachau, I saw various pictures of the atrocities that went on at this concentration camp, as well as pieces of art that were both horrifying and hopeful. As I approached the tomb of an unknown concentration camp prisoner and saw the words “Never Again” written above the tomb, I had to avert my eyes to keep from crying. After this, I went into the museum located in the Maintenance Building. The photographs and exhibits depicting the horrible things that went on at Dachau just built on the emotions that I was feeling after the tomb of the unknown prisoner. Throughout the museum, there were times when breathing was difficult due to the shock and awe of seeing what went on at this camp.

This brings me to my moment of patriotism. As I walked through the museum, I got to the portion dealing with the liberation of Dachau. After traveling down an emotional freefall of seeing the terrible things that happened at Dachau, I arrived at the end. An end that our soldiers brought about. As I gazed at photographs of malnourished prisoners reaching out with joy to greet their American liberators, I could not help but be moved with a patriotism that I have never felt before. It was a national pride that literally left me speechless. If I would’ve opened my mouth, I’m sure I would have sobbed. To go from the emotional low of the tomb of the unknown prisoner to the emotional high and swelling of national pride of the liberation was truly emotionally exhausting. However, no matter how exhausted I was upon leaving Dachau, the Dachau Memorial was one of my favorite experiences during a great trip. It is a must see for any American visiting the area.


Looking Back . . .


​I wanted to write my third blog after we finished the trip so that I could reflect back on the entire journey. There were some definite highs and lows, but thankfully it was mostly highs. I am truly thankful for this opportunity and sincerely hope that others have the same chance to experience the wonderful places that we visited.
​Munich – I must say that Munich was one of my favorite places that we visited. It is such a modern, cosmopolitan city. You can definitely tell that much of the city was destroyed during WWII, and that it had to be rebuilt. However, it is such a fun city to visit! I loved visiting all the breweries and eating the wonderful Bavarian food. And, of course, the Segway tour was a blast too!
​Nuremberg – As I am sure that anyone can see from my previous-two blog postings, Nuremberg made the biggest impression on me. Being the history buff that I am, I still cannot believe that I was able to actually visit the location of the Nuremberg trials, as well as the Documentation Center where, essentially, it all began.
​Luxembourg – What a beautiful city!! After a long and arduous journey to get there, what with the freak snowstorm and train delays, it was well worth the wait. The inside of the EU Court was very nice! I was surprised to see the works of art being displayed from the various countries. It was also amazing to be able to sit in on the hearing that was happening that day. During our free time that afternoon, many of us walked through the city center. After that experience, I can see why it is a pricey place to live! However, it was a beautiful place to visit and I would love to go back sometime….maybe when it’s a bit warmer and there is no snow on the ground.
​The Hague – This was yet another fantastic place to see. The Peace Palace was absolutely gorgeous! I was shocked to realize that it was built by Andrew Carnegie. There is a bust of him located in the halls, along with some of the past judges for the ICJ. We also were privileged to visit the ICC while we were in The Hague. My initial reaction is that it was the least “traditional” of any of the courts we had visited. I was a bit surprised at how modern the building and courtroom was. I also did not realize that they are “borrowing” the building while a new complex is being built for the court. Something else that impressed me was the number of female judges who sit on the ICC. While we were watching the proceedings that day, one of the very first things I noticed was that all three of the presiding judges were female. I was also surprised by the number of attorneys who were present in the courtroom, during the proceeding that we observed. I feel like I shouldn’t have been surprised by that, but I think it was actually seeing all of them in the courtroom that was so surprising.
​Amsterdam – Kristin and I took a little afternoon trip over to Amsterdam (from The Hague) so that we could visit the Anne Frank house and museum. It is something that I have wanted to see/visit since I was a very small child. Because it is the off-season, we only waited about 5 minutes to get in to the exhibit! I am so glad that I decided to spend the money and take the few hours to do this little trip. It was everything that I had expected. I will be getting out my copy of The Diary of Anne Frank and re-reading it yet again.

​My last closing thoughts on this wonderful adventure – I wanted to give a big thank you to the Dean, Paul, and Judi Ray. You all made this trip so enjoyable, and I will be eternally grateful. THANK YOU!


ICJ and ICC!

Luxembourg was amazing, although we spent a short amount of time there. It was amazing to be able to actually attempt to use my French language skills. I was able to read signs and order food in French. Honestly, that’s about it, but prior to this my only use of French was to sound fancy when ordering wine. We had an amazing meal and the buildings were just beautiful. In Luxembourg, we went to the European Union Court of Justice. The most striking thing to me about this was just that we had only days before learned about the Nuremburg trials, a very recent part of global history. It was amazing to see a civil international problem being settled by a court. It’s a major amount of political and judicial progress in a really short amount of time.

Next, we traveled to The Hague. We were given a tour of the International Court of Justice by Jim from The Office. (Ok, that’s not who he actually was, but he really looked like him.) His real name was Michael Becker, and he lead a really good talk on the International Court of Justice. The talk was informal, and it was cool to see and talk to an American who was involved in the international justice system. The International Court of Justice was the most beautiful building we had been in until that point. My favorite part of the entire place was a painting that was meant to depict the horrors of war. The painting, however, hung unfinished because the artist died during WWI.

We also had free time to go to Amsterdam, which was amazing. I had the best goat cheese salad I’ve ever had in my life there. I have tried to recreate it since I’ve been home with little success.

The International Criminal Court was the last major leg of our trip. It was amazing to stand beneath the iconic building that I’ve seen in so many pictures and videos about international criminal law. We watched a video and listened to a talk on the court, then we were again permitted to ask questions. I asked about the principle of complementarity. Complementarity means that the ICC will only have jurisdiction if a country is “unwilling or unable” to adjudicate themselves. I learned that “unable” usually means a structural collapse with in the country. We then got to actually sit in on a trial. The trials last years, and it occurred to me that the lengthy trials just make sense. At a domestic murder trial, you’re trying to recreate a killing. At an international human rights trial, you’re trying to recreate a war. The difference is heavy and it shed a dark light on the entire proceeding.

Overall, I had an amazing time. This is something I would easily recommend and do again.