WWI: Final Update (Munich)

A day later than expected (thanks to a mechanical problem that led to the postponing of our flight from Amsterdam) our HIS230L World War I group returned to the Twin Cities last Friday afternoon, having spent the last leg of its journey in Munich, Germany. A few final highlights:

For many of us, last Sunday started in Munich’s historical cathedral, the Frauenkirche, attending Mass. We then regathered at our hostel and walked up to Munich’s art museum district, the Kunstareal, where leading museums on Renaissance and early modern art (the Alte Pinakothek) and 19th century art (the Neue P.) have now been joined by one dedicated to the movements of the twentieth century (the Pinakothek der Moderne). There we encountered themes like fragmentation, dehumanization, abstraction, and mechanization in the works of numerous artists who had had direct experience of the Great War. German veterans Max Beckmann and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner feature prominently, as do Franz Marc, a German artist who died at Verdun in 1916, and Italy’s Giorgio di Chirico, who tried to enlist in 1915 but was rejected. (Learn more from an older post Prof. Gehrz wrote on the relationship between World War I and these artists.)

Given a free day on Monday, everyone took the chance to do some travel to other sites in the region. About a third crossed the border into Austria and toured scenic Salzburg (at least a couple students took the Sound of Music tour) and another third made the somewhat difficult trip to Neuschwanstein, the iconic castle built by Bavaria’s “Mad King Ludwig” that inspired Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland. (And yes, there’s a small connection to WWI here: too young to enlist in the army, Walt Disney drove an ambulance for the Red Cross in France for a year after the Armistice. But I digress…) Then Profs. Mulberry and Gehrz and three students took the train north to Nuremberg, where they walked up the hill in the medieval Altstadt to the castle where the Holy Roman Emperors often held their councils (Kaiserburg) and then took the train out to the city’s Nazi Documentation Center, built into the remains of the grounds where Nazi Party rallies were held annually (famously captured in Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film, Triumph of the Will).

The Kaiserburg in Nuremberg
Nuremberg’s Kaiserburg

That visit foreshadowed the theme of our remaining days in Munich: how the war of 1914-1918 helped inspire Adolf Hitler and other fascists in the interwar era, and how its conflicts and brutality continued (and expanded) into a Second World War and a genocide even worse than the one that afflicted the Armenians starting in 1915.

Joined by a couple of Social Studies Education majors from Bethel’s Band of Brothers trip (who stayed at the same hostel as us the last two days of their trip), we spent late morning and early afternoon on Tuesday walking in the footsteps of the postwar Bavarian politics that birthed National Socialism. From the spot where Kurt Eisner (leader of the Bavarian Soviet Republic that took power for several months after the war’s end) was assassinated in February 1919 (an outline is carved into the sidewalk on Kardinal-Faulhaber-Straße), we walked to an early headquarters of the National Socialist German Workers Party (now a computer store) and read from its 1920 program (nationalist, racist, and anti-Semitic, but also much more anti-capitalist than the later history of Nazism would suggest) and then on to the Haufbräuhaus, the huge beer hall where war veteran Adolf Hitler gave speeches on that program as he moved into the leadership of the NSDAP. The beer hall where Hitler and his comrades launched their 1923 putsch no longer exists, but we concluded the first half of our tour at the Odeonsplatz, where the attempted coup ended with a firefight — and where thousands of Münchners (and, perhaps, Hitler) had gathered on August 2, 1914 to celebrate Germany’s entry into World War I.

The Sleeping Soldier, at the Bavarian War Memorial in Munich
“The Sleeping Soldier,” the statue resting in the crypt of Bavaria’s War Memorial

After lunch, our tour continued into the nearby Hofgarten, where we saw two memorials: the War Memorial built in the mid-1920s to honor the thousands of Bavarians who died in 1914-1918 (many of their bodies lie in Langemarck, the haunting cemetery we visited in Belgium); and the stark cube that celebrates anti-Nazi resisters like the students of the White Rose. (In the White Rose leaflet we read that day, the students called on Christians to resist the evil of Nazism: “I ask you, you as a Christian wrestling for the preservation of your greatest treasure, whether you hesitate, whether you incline toward intrigue, calculation, or procrastination in the hope that someone else will raise his arm in your defence? Has God not given you the strength, the will to fight? We must attack evil where it is strongest, and it is strongest in the power of Hitler.”) In 1943 the leaders of that group were arrested and taken to the former royal palace — not far from the Hofgarten — that was used as Gestapo headquarters; it no longer stands, but nearby is a memorial to victims of National Socialism (taken down for renovation during our visit, unfortunately).

A couple blocks further down Briennerstraße we came to Königsplatz, where Nazi parades were held regularly. The two temples built to honor the streetfighters who died in the 1923 putsch no longer exist, nor does the NSDAP headquarters (the Brown House) that is now the site for a documentation center scheduled to open in 1914. But we could still see Hitler’s personal residence, the Führerbau. Now used as a music school, in September 1938 it was the setting for the Munich Conference that saw the British and French try one last, tragic time to appease German territorial ambitions in Central Europe.

The failure of that policy led one year later to the beginning of a Second World War, which killed more civilians than soldiers — including the millions who perished in Nazi concentration camps. So we concluded our study of the aftershocks of WWI by taking the train out to the suburb of Dachau; a short bus trip ended at the site of the concentration camp that makes the name Dachau still infamous.

Catholic memorial at Dachau
From inside the Roman Catholic memorial at Dachau: the Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel

Our two hours walking those terrible grounds ended in the Protestant Church of Reconciliation (built on the grounds in 1967 and opened with a sermon by Dachau survivor Martin Niemoeller), where we gathered once more for prayer and worship. Among other texts, one student read the 73rd Psalm, whose lament resolves to words of assurance:

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.

But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.

It’s hard to think of a better way to end three weeks spent studying a period of history marred by death and despair. Or to imagine that we could have had a better group of students than the twelve who went along for this inaugural edition of the course.

But mark your calendars, because we’ll look forward to doing it all over again in January 2015!

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WWI: Week Three Update (Paris)

We’re a couple of days into the third and final week of the inaugural travel course version of HIS230L World War I, taught by Profs. Chris Gehrz and Sam Mulberry. They and their twelve students have relocated once more, to the southern German city of Munich, from which they’ll fly home this Thursday. But first, a look back at the five days they spent last week in Paris, France:

As Prof. Mulberry has observed, the course follows an interesting arc: the initial week in London focused on the background to and origins of the war, with a leisurely pace and burgeoning enthusiasm appropriate to the Europe that entered 1914 and greeted the outbreak of war so gleefully; that gave way to three intense, challenging, and uncomfortable days on the former Western Front, imaginatively understanding the soldier’s experience of the war. But then to Paris, and an awkward question that faced many at war’s end: How should we feel? Can we enjoy life when so many have lost it?

Our students found plenty to enjoy during their five days in Paris: the art of the Louvre, Orsay, and Orangerie; the January sales that make Paris shops almost affordable; and the sight of the Eiffel Tower lit up on a snowy night. But they also found themselves better understanding that the war’s wounds did not heal quickly, and that European and American attempts to make meaning of ten million deaths often foundered.

We started at Les Invalides, last resting place of French military heroes like Napoleon Bonaparte and Ferdinand Foch (the Allied commander who finally defeated the Germans in 1918). It’s also home to a well-designed military history museum whose WWI wing introduced French perspectives on the war and gave our students another chance to walk through its story in its entirety.
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After lunch on the rue Cler, we paused on the Champs de Mars to gaze up at the Eiffel Tower and contemplate how the war had complicated the industrialized West’s fascination with technological innovation.

Wednesday took us to the royal chateau of Versailles, which has several connections to the origins and aftermath of the war. It was here in 1871 that a unified German Empire was proclaimed, an event that ended up leading Russia, France, and Britain into alliances with each other. In a spirit of revanche it was here that the French hosted the 1919 peace conference that yielded a harsh treaty that many Germans regarded as a Diktat. One of them, war veteran Adolf Hitler, rode resentment of the Versailles Treaty to power in 1933, proceeded to ignore its attempts to restrain German power, and launched a Second World War in 1939 – a final blow to the late Woodrow Wilson’s belief that 1914-1918 could be redeemed through peacemaking in 1919, and the world made “safe for democracy.”

If only Bethel students had been in charge of the peace… For nearly an hour, they roleplayed the peace conference — in the Hall of Mirrors itself! — and the American and German teams managed to talk the British and French teams into a much less severe peace than the one that was signed in that same room in June 1919. Here are our team leaders, clockwise from the left foreground: Gretchen Luhmann (a.k.a. British prime minister David Lloyd George); Sarah Herb (French premier Georges Clemenceau); Anne Magnuson (American president Woodrow Wilson); and Annie Berglund (German chancellor Philipp Scheidemann — who resigned rather than sign the actual treaty); with Prof. Gehrz moderating a point of contention.
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WWI: Week Two Update (The Western Front)

Greetings from lovely Paris, where our World War I students are settling in to their new digs and catching up on laundry and Skype. It’s been a busy few days since our last update. Here’s some of what we’ve been up to…

The weather took a turn for the wintry as we crossed the English Channel last Saturday and began a three-day tour of the former Western Front, led by our incredibly gifted, knowledgeable Belgian guide, Carl Ooghe. (Look him up on Trip Advisor if you want a second opinion. He also leads bike tours in the warmer months.)

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Carl started us at sites around Ypres, the small city in Flanders that hosted three major battles during the war. (Future world war leaders Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill both fought there.) Starting at the dressing stations where Canadian physician-poet John McCrae wrote, “In Flanders fields the poppies grow / Between the crosses, row on row,” Carl then introduced students to the eery beauty of the German cemetery at Langemarck (with its inscription from the prophet Isaiah) and the terrible grandeur of the British/Commonwealth cemetery at Tyne Cot, stopping along the way at the moving Canadian memorial known as the “Brooding Soldier” and a farmhouse whose garage holds rusted shells, grenades, rifles, and other relics plowed out of the clay soil. Meanwhile, the bitterly cold wind gave students a taste of the misery that freezing soldiers on both sides experienced. (Of course, for us, the misery gave way to a comfortable hostel and tasty restaurant supper. For this Irish soldier, the war ended only with death — leaving an embittered epitaph behind.)

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Our day in Ypres ended at the majestic Menin Gate, a memorial to tens of thousands of unidentified British soldiers. At 8pm five Belgian firefighters played “Last Post,” the bugle tune that marked the end of a combat day during the war. A ceremony repeated every night since 1928 (save for the years of German occupation during WWII), we were present for its 29,091st iteration.

The next morning we continued on to northern France: first, the enormous Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge (next to a set of preserved trenches that we walked); then a series of sites in the region where the Battles of the Somme were fought in 1916 and 1918. After a short walk into French farmland, we looked down the gentle slope of a hill to see the commanding view that German machine guns had of the British ranks as they marched to their deaths on July 1, 1916. A series of cemeteries mark the No Man’s Land where over 20,000 died that day.

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Something like 50,000 British soldiers killed in that sector were never identified; their names are carved into the massive memorial at Thiepval.

After a Sunday haunted by memories of death and dying, we concluded our day by gathering for an intimate service of Communion, breaking bread and sharing the cup in remembrance of the one whose death we proclaim — and whose resurrection lets us live as a people of hope, even in a shadow as dark as the one cast by the First World War.

Monday was technically a travel day that would take us to Paris for the third leg of our trip, but on the way from Albert to France’s capital, we stopped at several sites marking the United States’ brief participation in the war.

There are several American WWI cemeteries in France; we stopped at two. First, a small one at Bony, where American and Australian units struggled against stout German defenses in September 1918. (This striking, backlit photograph of the cemetery – as all others in this post – courtesy of Prof. Sam Mulberry.)

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Later we stopped at the Oise-Aisne cemetery, the second largest U.S. military cemetery from WWI. The site superintendent (a former French major from the University of Minnesota!) noted that, unlike the American Expeditionary Force itself, the cemetery is integrated: white and black soldiers lie side by side. (He lives in a house across from the cemetery that was once used to provide apartments to “Gold Star Mothers” arrived to visit their sons’ graves – trips paid for by the U.S. government.)

Our final stops were outside the village of Belleau, where American troops – in their first pitched action of the war – helped to stop the last great German offensive, barely fifty miles from Paris. In the woods overlooking the Belleau cemetery stand artillery pieces and a memorial to the Marines who manned them.

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If you’re interested in learning more about this travel course… Remember that one of our students, Sarah Herb, is also blogging about the trip, and Prof. Gehrz’ blog has daily suggested readings related to our activities.

And look for another update here after we finish our time in Paris this weekend.

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WWI: Week One Update (London)

Today’s a free day for the twelve students on the HIS230L World War I trip with Profs. Sam Mulberry and Chris Gehrz. Many will use the time to get in some final project research in London before leaving for a three-day tour of the former Western Front tomorrow.

We thought we’d share some highlights of the trip so far:

Memorial Tour
We started our first full day in Britain’s capital (last Saturday) in Trafalgar Square. In the shadow of Nelson’s Column, we read the philosopher (and anti-war activist) Bertrand Russell recall walking through that same square the day that Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914:

During this and the following days I discovered to my amazement that average men and women were delighted at the prospect of war…. I had supposed until that time that it was quite common for parents to love their children, but the War persuaded me that it is a rare exception.

After discussing reasons for the enthusiasm that greeted the beginning of the war, we walked down Whitehall towards the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, stopping to look at three war memorials along the way that stand in the middle of the road: a memorial to the women who served the British war effort during the Second World War; a traditional equestrian statue honoring the British commander on the Western Front, Sir Douglas Haig; and the decidedly non-traditional Cenotaph, erected in 1920 and past which a parade marches every November 11th at 11am (the moment of ceasefire on the Western Front in 1918) in honor of what’s now called Remembrance Day.
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After a short Tube ride we found ourselves at Hyde Park Corner, where a huge arch celebrating Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo towers over four WWI memorials. Two date to the 1920s: one honoring the artillery men who showered tons of shells on the German Army in 1914-1918; the other honoring British machine gunners with a Renaissance nude of David and this odd biblical inscription:

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The other two memorials are from the first decade of the 21st century and commemorate the participation of Britain’s former colonies in the two world wars: one from New Zealand, and this one from Australia. (The large words are battles in which Australian forces took part; harder to see until you get up close is that almost the entire surface of the memorial is covered with names of Australian towns whose sons and daughters took part in WWI and WWII.)

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How to Follow Our World War I Travel Course Online

Tonight we’ll be sending two of our professors (Chris Gehrz and Sam Mulberry) and twelve Bethel students on a plane to London to start a three-week travel course (HIS230L) in Europe. They’ll be studying the history and legacy of World War I in England (London and Oxford), Belgium (Ypres), France (Vimy, the Somme, Belleau, Paris, Versailles), and Germany (Munich and Dachau).

If you’re interested in following their progress…

  • One of the students, Elementary Education/History major Sarah Herb (’14), will be blogging about her experiences, at Belle Souvenirs
  • Tour leader Chris Gehrz has written extensively about the war and this course at his blog, The Pietist Schoolman. Earlier this morning he posted the itinerary of the trip, with day-by-day suggestions for posts to read that would give insight into the class’ experiences in Europe.
  • Then he’s planning to post updates here at AC 2nd during off-days in London and Paris (January 10th and 17th, if all goes according to schedule), plus occasional reports on Twitter.

Once we’re into the spring semester, look for us to announce an event at which course participants will share some of what they learned, what struck/surprised them, etc.

Fall Study Abroad Fair

Current students: Bethel’s annual Fall Study Abroad Fair will be held on Monday, September 17th, 11am-2pm, in the Brushaber Commons Atrium (outside the Student Life office). This is a good way to check out a number of the many study abroad options that Bethel offers, including fourteen partner programs from around the world, some of the semester-long terms run by Bethel academic departments (e.g., Communications Studies, English, and Business all offer semesters in Europe), and a selection of our J-term trips.

For more information about study abroad, go to the Off-Campus Programs/International Studies page on Bethel’s website. You’ll find information about applications and policies, a FAQ, and lists of current semester and J-term programs.

Our department has an increasingly strong track record of students and faculty being involved in off-campus study. To get a taste of how Bethel History folk participate in international studies, check out:

  • The World War I trip that our own Chris Gehrz will be leading in January 2013 — as of now, there is only one spot left, and the application deadline is Sept. 17th, so don’t delay! (Applications available from the Off-Campus Studies office in CC320A.)
  • Interviews on this blog with current students and a recent graduate who spent semesters in Scotland, the Czech Republic, and Ghana
  • These photos taken by former History and Social Studies Education students while they were studying abroad
  • And this 2011 video featuring three History alumni reflecting on their semesters off-campus

Summer Reading for WWI Buffs

While we take a slight intermission in our faculty summer reading series, today we’ll suggest a different kind of reading list…

As we’ve blogged about this past spring, next January our own Prof. Chris Gehrz will be taking his class HIS230L World War I on the road, leading a group of 10-12 students on a three-week trip with stops in England, Belgium, France, and Germany. (There are still a couple of spots open, in case you’re a current student reading this and haven’t applied yet!) Here’s the video preview he created to help advertise the course:

For students going on that trip — and anyone else interested in learning more about the Great War as its 100th anniversary approaches — Prof. Gehrz suggests the following additions to your summer reading list: (links to Bethel/CLIC library entry, if possible)

John Keegan, The First World War / Hew Strachan, The First World War / Martin Gilbert, The First World War

Three straightforward, identically-titled military histories by well-respected British historians.

Peter Englund, The Beauty and the Sorrow / G.J. Meyer, A World Undone

Stories of the war as compiled by professional writers.

Keene, World War IAlister Horne, The Price of Glory

The book that convinced Prof. Gehrz he wanted to be a historian… Horne’s is a great study of a single, very long battle — the one that raged outside the French city of Verdun for almost all of 1916. Alas, those sites are closed in January, so we won’t be going to Verdun, but this book (fifty years old, but still gripping) would certainly help fill that gap (and prepare students for much of what we’ll see when we do visit battlefield sites at Ypres, Vimy Ridge, and the Somme).

David M. Kennedy, Over Here / Robert H. Zieger, America’s Great War / Jennifer D. Keene, World War I

Of these three books focused on the American experience of the war… Kennedy’s is the most scholarly and detailed; Zieger’s is the best introduction; and Keene’s is the one we’re likely to assign for the course itself, since it draws heavily on first-person narratives from American troops.

Chad Williams, Torchbearers of Democracy / David Laskin, The Long Way Home

Then two more focused studies of two different groups that played important roles in the American war effort: Williams’ is an award-winning book about the experience of African-American soldiers; Laskin weaves together the stories of European immigrants who returned to the Old World to fight the Great War as part of the American military.

Peter Balakian, The Burning Tigris

During our stay in Paris, we’ll visit the local Armenian community and learn about the genocide that happened in present-day Turkey during the war, a catastrophe that killed a million Armenians. Balakian’s book tells that story, and that of America’s non-response to genocide (a term that didn’t exist until after World War II).

Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919

The book on the peace conference at Versailles that followed the end of the war on the Western Front. Thick, but hard to put down.

Ernst Jünger, Storm of Steel / Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth

Two of the greatest works of literature written by veterans of the war: excerpts from both will show up repeatedly in the course reading packet. If your idea of a WWI novel written by a German soldier is All Quiet on the Western Front, read Jünger’s harrowing but patriotic autobiographical novel and have your eyes opened. (Prof. Gehrz blogged about the contrast between the two authors in the “Over There” series he wrote last summer at his personal blog.) Then Brittain’s memoir — certainly the most famous by a woman who participated in the war — is great for insight into Britain before 1914, what it was like to be a nurse and to lose loved ones during the war, and then the rise of pacifism after it.

Samuel Hynes, The Soldiers’ Tale

WWII veteran and writer Hynes looks at literature produced by soldiers and veterans from several 20th century wars, not just WWI. But this would be a great start for students thinking about doing their project on comparisons between WWI and WWII (or other wars).

J.M. Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning

Commemoration will be a major theme of the course, as we’ll visit cemeteries, monuments, and memorials both on the Western Front itself, and in the cities of London, Oxford, Paris, and Munich. Jay Winter’s book is easily the best on the subject of WWI commemoration.

Ghosts of 1914

Kept by a graduate student working on the British experience of the war, this blog features interesting posts on all sorts of things related to WWI — especially its cultural history. Recent posts touched on the role of the war in creating the literary character Dr. Dolittle, how the British used camels for cavalry, and the poet Siegfried Sassoon.

Study World War I in Europe!

Later this month Bethel’s annual J-Term Study Abroad fair will include a History course for the first time in a long time:

Starting January 2013 (and then odd-numbered years thereafter), Chris Gehrz and Sam Mulberry will be teaching HIS230L World War I on location, in four European countries whose citizens fought on the former Western Front. Further details will be available later this spring, but the course will roughly follow this schedule:

Chris Gehrz and WWI Artillery
Prof. Gehrz at the Imperial War Museum this past January, posing with a British artillery piece from WWI

LONDON/OXFORD (8 days)

Key Sites/Experiences: Imperial War Museum, National Army Museum, Museum of London, Tate Britain or Tate Modern, the Cenotaph, Hyde Park Corner memorials, and St Paul’s Cathedral; seeing the play War Horse in the West End; plus a day trip to Oxford where we’ll tour sites associated with WWI participants/authors like Vera Brittain, J.R.R. Tolkien, or C.S. Lewis.

BELGIUM/NORTHERN FRANCE (2 days)

Key Sites/Experiences: a local guide will lead a tour of the Ypres, Vimy Ridge, and Somme battlefields, where we’ll walk through preserved and recreated trenches, visit British, Australian, Canadian, French, and German memorials and cemeteries, and experience “Last Post” in Ypres. Then we’ll also take in the American cemetery and memorial near Belleau en route to our next stop…

PARIS (5 days)

Key Sites/Experiences: French army museum at Les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, Versailles (site of the peace conference that followed the war), Nôtre Dame, art museums (Louvre, Orsay, or Pompidou); plus an afternoon with members of France’s Armenian community and a lecture on the genocide that killed a million Armenians during the war, and a walking tour of Paris sites associated with Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and other postwar expatriate authors and artists.

MUNICH (5 days)

Key Sites/Experiences: a walking tour of Munich’s Nazi history; the Munich City Museum and Jewish synagogue; memorials in the Hofgarten; and a day trip to Dachau to see the concentration camp museum.

To get a taste of what you might see on the trip, check out the video preview that Dr. Gehrz produced (mostly using photos and videos he shot during a scouting trip to Europe this past January) and posted on our new YouTube channel:

For more information, contact Prof. Gehrz.

(You can also check out a series of posts that Prof. Gehrz wrote on his personal blog last summer, in which he essentially thought aloud through each day of the course. Some of those links are embedded in this post.)

UPDATE: Only one spot remains and time is running out…