Category: history

The class had completed our trip around Europe, and I knew I’d remember the places I’d seen for a long time.  I had enjoyed being able to help out my professors in a behind-the-scenes way by keeping track of the digital photos.  (A big bonus for me was the fact that I didn’t have to write a report about the trip!)

I had a few souvenirs– some tea from England, postcards from France, a little plaque with an anchor on it from the catacombs.  (Nothing against Germany; I just didn’t have time to pick anything up there!  Instead, I left my umbrella there by accident.)  And I had a handful of coins, maps, and brochures from each country.

I had been worried that people would be annoyed with us because we were Americans, but almost everyone I interacted with was patient and friendly.  I thought it was touching to hear the expressions of sympathy from all of these countries for the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks.  I saw on the news that the guards at Buckingham Palace in London even performed the Star-Spangled Banner!

Of course, the U.S. had grounded all flights the day of the attacks.  By our departure date on Saturday, the planes were in the air again, but the airports were having to work through a backlog of postponed flights and treat every flight with increased caution under a lot of stress.

We got our things packed and went to the airport early, ready for a long day of waiting.  We prayed that God would help us to get home safely.  Dr. B. warned us that no one should mention anything about bombs, terrorism, the Middle East, or New York, or even think of joking about anything related to them.  (Probably good advice, but being obsessive-compulsive, I’m always afraid I’m going to be the one to blurt out something inappropriate in a situation like that even though I don’t think I ever have.)

We listened to music, played cards, talked quietly.  Some of my classmates worked on writing their reports.  The flight before ours took off for the U.S. but was directed to turn around and come back to Italy after a couple of hours.  We boarded our flight, not knowing if we were going to get to take off.

I am so thankful– our plane did take off, and we were allowed to make the entire flight.  The flight before ours had been sent back, and we later learned that the flight after ours was as well.  But ours wasn’t– we arrived at the Newark airport on time.  I looked out the window and could see the site of the World Trade Center, smoke still rising from it.  Once we had landed safely, the passengers applauded.

Getting off the plane and through customs was a slow process, but everyone seemed willing to be patient.  The airport workers looked tired– I’m sure the last week had been awful for them.  I wondered if any of them had lost someone they knew in the attack.

We waited at the airport from afternoon until late evening.  Our flight from Newark to Ohio ended up being postponed, then canceled.  Finally, Cedarville arranged for a bus to drive us home from New Jersey.  Exhausted, we piled onto the bus for the last leg of our journey.

We were driving through the countryside of Ohio as the sun came up, and I could see American flags on most of the houses and mailboxes as we passed.  We got home in time to go to church on Sunday and sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

I was so relieved to be back home and able to tell my family about everything we’d done.  The trip had been full of memories that I would always keep with me.  And the next time I had to cross the street in Cedarville, it didn’t seem as scary.

Well, it’s about time I got on with my story!

I slept very soundly that night on the train as it took us over the mountains to Italy.  When we arrived in Rome the next morning, I saw newspapers with pictures of the World Trade Center and headlines with the words GUERRA and AMERICA.

I think the news had the effect of making strangers more likely to talk to each other.  Seeing that we were from America, native Italians and fellow travelers alike expressed their sorrow over the lives lost and asked if the situation was likely to delay our return home.  We had to tell them that we didn’t know.

In the meantime, there was a lot to see in Rome.  The other cities we had visited were old, but Rome was ancient!  We didn’t have to go to a museum to see artifacts from Biblical times.

I don’t remember the exact order we took in touring Rome; the days are a bit blurred together.  But here’s a list of some of the highlights:

— We visited the Colosseum, site of the Roman Empire’s bloody games.  Even though the ancient Romans didn’t have access to the building materials and technology we have today, it’s my understanding that we still make use of many of the same construction principles they used in building our stadiums and arenas.

One thing I found particularly interesting about the Colosseum was the versatility of its design.  The floor of the arena itself is gone, and you can see the maze of passageways and rooms underneath, but originally, they could have used platforms to lift people and animals from the tunnels up into the arena for a grand entrance.  And apparently, the arena could be flooded in order to stage miniature naval battles.  That’s something even a multipurpose stadium like Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh never did.  (Thankfully, they never had fights to the death there either, though.)

— We stopped at a rather nondescript grassy field with a large, dusty oval track.  I wouldn’t have noticed much about it if Dr. B. hadn’t stopped to explain that this was once the site of the Circus Maximus, where the Romans held chariot races and other public events.  He also said that while you usually hear about Christians fed to the lions in the Colosseum, it was likely that far more Christians had been martyred here.

— We visited some ruins thought to be the remains of a prison where the apostle Paul was held.  He wrote some of the epistles while he was imprisoned in Rome.  I tried to imagine what the place might have looked like as a dark, cramped cell.  Some arches, columns, and walls were still standing, and I could see the outlines of the rooms, but now the place was open and full of sunlight, more like a courtyard than a prison.

— A guide took us through some catacombs, the system of tunnels and tombs that the early Christians used to meet in secret and hide from Roman persecution.  (If I remember correctly, the tunnels and burial chambers were around long before the Christians began to use them, but they came in handy.)  The walls were marked with symbols like the cross, the fish (which became a Christian symbol because the letters in the Greek word for fish, ichthus, are an acronym for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”), and the anchor (which may refer to a verse in the book of Hebrews).  I remember specifically keeping an eye out for the anchor, because the Christian musician Michael Card had recently released an album about the book of Hebrews, “Soul Anchor,” and in the album notes he mentioned that the anchor was at least as prevalent as the cross among early Christian symbols.

— So far, I had visited England, France, Germany, and Italy.  But I also got to visit a fifth country– a country so small that’s it’s inside a city, and most maps of it include all of its buildings!  Vatican City, the capital of the Roman Catholic Church, is the smallest country in the world.

The most memorable thing I saw there was the Sistine Chapel, with Michelangelo’s amazing painting covering the ceiling.  In the middle is the famous depiction of God’s creation of Adam, their hands just a few inches from touching.

Almost everyone has seen photos of this painting, but what isn’t easy to see without being there is that the chapel ceiling is arched, not flat.  That had to make painting it a lot harder, but Michelangelo actually used the three-dimensional shape of the ceiling to his advantage.  Some of the architecture from the walls continues seamlessly into the painting, making it look like the room is taller than it really is.  At the top, it looks like you are looking up into heaven.  Pretty clever!  Michelangelo made a painting with perspective effects for people on the floor even though his view of it was from a couple of feet away, with paint dripping in his face.

— The climate in Rome was a huge change from cold and rainy Berlin.  It actually got very hot, and it was tiring to be out in the sun.  The remedy for that was to buy gelato from a street vendor.  Gelato is a bit like ice cream, but more flavorful, like fruit sherbet.  It is really, really good!

— The hotel we stayed at was just across from a little pizza place.  Pizza originated in Italy, but American pizza is actually quite a bit different, from what I understand.  This was an American-themed pizzeria, so it was like a taste of home!  There was even a picture of the New York skyline on the wall.

The pizza there was flatbread, cooked on a griddle in a big rectangle.  You could ask for a piece of any size, and you paid for it by weight.  The proprietor was happy to see us come back each night– we told him that we might be eating there for a while, since no one knew when we were going to be able to get a flight back into the United States.

I’m almost done with this story– one more post should do it!

September 11

I’m afraid this post is about some terrible things, but they are true, and we need to remember them, or they will happen again.

On Tuesday morning, September 11, I was on a trip through Europe with my Biblical Archaeology class.  On our last day in Germany, we visited an awful place about ten miles from Munich.

Dachau was a concentration camp, where anyone the Nazis deemed “undesireable” was sent to be used for forced labor or to be put to death.  During the Holocaust, over 200,000 people were taken there as prisoners, and over 30,000 died at Dachau– shot or beaten by the guards, worked to death, killed by disease or starvation, or used in medical experiments.  We don’t actually know the full number of people who died there, and no one can calculate the amount of violence done to people’s lives.

A museum there recounts the ugly history of the place.  There was too much for me to take in at once; I’m afraid I don’t remember a lot of specific images from the black-and-white photos, but there was one showing the belongings of people lined up in a corner.  Where were the people?  They had just been killed.  I saw the propaganda of the time that sought to portray Jews as less than human; the drawings nightmarishly distorted their faces.  There were the gold stars of David that Jews were forced to wear, and the pink triangles forced on homosexuals.  Other documents talked about the mentally and physically handicapped in terms of monetary cost to society; it would be better for “everyone” just to get rid of them, they argued.

This was not something that could only have happened in Germany; I knew that America had a strong eugenics movement at the time, and we still hear some of the same arguments today about the “cost” of a disabled child or an elderly adult to society.  We still hear anti-Semitism and the hatred of people just because they are different.  One of the saddest things for me was to consider how many Christian churches in Germany didn’t see, or chose to ignore, what was happening.  It seems like only a few, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie ten Boom in the Netherlands, put their lives and freedom on the line trying to do something about the evil that was taking place.

We saw the wooden barracks that the prisoners were crowded into, and the ovens used to dispose of the bodies.  I saw a memorial with a phrase in bold letters repeated in several languages.  The one at the top was Hebrew.  I scanned down until I found the English translation:  “NEVER AGAIN.”

As you can imagine, seeing Dachau was a sobering experience; we didn’t speak much on the bus ride back.  But it was important to see, especially when I consider that there are people who try to argue that the Holocaust never happened.  I saw where it happened.  Someday, there won’t be any survivors still on the Earth with direct memory of the concentration camps under the Nazis, but I will remember what I saw.

We spent a little time walking around Munich and getting lunch.  I feel bad that there is so much heaviness in this post, because Munich is a beautiful city, and I don’t want everything I say to be negative.  The whole class had lunch at a huge table in a restaurant, and we scared the waitress when someone initially asked for separate checks for each of us.  Her eyes got really big, and she said, “So, you want… eins, zwei, drei…” and her voice trailed off as she continued to count.  We could tell we had made a mistake, so we told her a combined check would be fine, and we would figure out how much each of us had to pay.

The class split up into smaller groups until mid-afternoon, when we began to gather at the Munich train station for our trip to Italy.

The scene when I got there was surreal.  People were standing everywhere, watching the news on large screens.  I could not understand what the German reporters were saying, but I could understand the proper names in the captions, and the billowing smoke in the video spoke for itself.  There had been an attack on New York City.

Some of my classmates who had been at the train station longer explained what they knew.  Terrorists had hijacked passenger airplanes, killed the pilots, and steered the planes to collide with the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  I continued to watch as the news showed one of the towers collapsing under its own weight and disintegrating in a huge cloud of smoke and dust.  Then I saw the same thing happen to the other tower.  I felt like asking someone if what I had just seen had really happened– the Twin Towers, which I had seen close up just a few months ago– were gone?  Until then, I had assumed that they were just hidden by smoke.

Another video showed people blocks away from the towers running as the smoke and dust billowed out towards them.  It looked for all the world like a scene from the movie Independence Day, a silly alien invasion movie.  The destruction in that movie was offered as entertainment.  Why had we thought it was entertaining to imagine?  This was real.  I don’t watch that part of Independence Day anymore.

The shock seemed to break down some of the social barriers.  People shared their reactions, feelings, and worries with anyone who spoke English, even total strangers.  Rumors spread– some partly true, some totally false.

— “A terrorist named Osama bin Laden was behind the attack; he was also responsible for the bombing in the 1990s.”
— “There might be a million people dead in New York.”
— “President Bush told Colin Powell, ‘Go get bin Laden now.’ Our troops are already on their way to Afghanistan.”
— “Another plane hit the Pentagon in Washington.  There might be more attacks on other cities.”
— “A plane went down in Pittsburgh.”

That last rumor shook me.  My grandparents lived in the Pittsburgh area.  Also, how many planes must the terrorists have if they were using one to attack Pittsburgh?  It can’t be that high up on the list of important targets in the United States.  It scared me to think there might be that many more attacks.

Of course, you probably know now that the source of that rumor was the account of Flight 93, which was hijacked and was likely intended to hit the Capitol or the White House in Washington, D.C.  The passengers were able to learn of the other attacks, and they sacrificed their lives by fighting the terrorists, causing the plane to crash in western Pennsylvania before it could reach its target.  I am amazed at their choice to fight back despite the danger and cost.  As deeply as the attacks hurt Americans, can you imagine what that day would have been like if the White House or the Capitol had also been destroyed?

As is typical of me, I didn’t talk much or even reach much outwardly; I just turned my thoughts over in my head.  What an experience this trip was turning out to be.  Was I going to be in Europe for the start of World War III?  The first two started there, after all.  All things considered, I was probably safer here than in America right now.  I said a prayer for my family; I wondered what they were doing.  My mom was probably worrying about me.  I prayed for the people in New York and elsewehere who had been hurt by the attacks, and for their families, and for the President.  God was in control, even in terrible times– I reminded myself that he was not unaware or caught off guard by anything.  I didn’t know how anything good could come out of this, but I believed that God can bring good out of even the worst situations.

I wanted to talk to my family.  My parents had given me a couple of calling cards in case I wanted or needed to call home, and I decided to give it a try, even though people were saying that all the phone lines to the U.S. were overwhelmed.  To my surprise, it worked!  I got through to my brother Jonas, who was watching over the house while my parents were on a road trip out West.  He asked how the trip was going, and I told him it was pretty amazing.  I asked him if he was watching all that was going on today.  He said that he had been working on something for class– what was going on?  I told him he might want to turn on the news and told him what little I knew about the attacks.

Jonas said that Mom and Dad hadn’t called yet, but he had heard from them over the past few days, and their trip was going fine.  I told Jonas just to tell them he had heard from me, and we were all fine.  I didn’t know what was going to happen to the rest of our class trip or when I was going to get home, but I was fine.  My mom later told me that she was really glad to hear that when she called Jonas to tell him she and dad were cutting their trip short and coming home.

The class eventually gathered in the same place.  Dr. B. explained what he knew of the situation, and he told us that as far as the rest of the trip went, we were going to follow our planned itinerary and go to Italy.  There wasn’t really anything else we could do anyway, as all flights in and out of the U.S. were grounded, and no one knew when it was going to be possible to fly again.  We would have to wait and see what things were like four days later when we were scheduled to fly back to Newark from Rome.

Some students had tried to get in touch with their parents but had had trouble getting through.  One of my classmates was very upset, because her father was an airline pilot, and even though she knew he probably wasn’t on one of the planes, what if he was?  Dr. B. had a relative who worked in the World Trade Center, and he hadn’t heard from him.  We all prayed together that God would keep us, our families, and our country safe.

Finally, it was time to board our train to Italy.  We sat down across from a young woman who recognized that we were from America and asked us where we were from specifically.  “Ohio,” we told her.  “Oh.  So not very near the disaster,” she said.  “No,” we said, but it still felt very close.  We rode on in exhausted silence.  A while later, I asked my classmates if I could read Psalm 2 to them.  Its words had been on my mind.

“Why do the nations rage?”

(Sorry about the long delay between posts; I had a great deal of this one written a few weeks ago, but I forgot to save my work before my computer’s batteries ran out, and whenever that happens, it takes me a while before I feel like writing again.  I am also planning to get back to posts that deal more with Asperger’s syndrome again once I’m done talking about my class trip.  Anyway, thanks for reading my story; let’s go on!)

On Monday, we got on a bus and set out for Munich, which is about 350 miles south of Berlin.  Some of my classmates were excited about the prospect of seeing the Autobahn, Germany’s famous highway system that has no speed limit under certain circumstances.  (The speed rules on the Autobahn have gotten more strict in recent decades than they once were; it now uses electronic signs to adjust the speed limit and number of open lanes based on the amount of traffic and to warn of accidents blocking the road.)

As one might suspect, riding a bus on the Autobahn is not very different from riding a bus on a highway in the United States, except that the speed of the cars passing us may have been faster.

I talked with some of the other football fans in the class, sharing the results and scores of the games I could remember seeing the previous day.  I observed that while obviously soccer is the most popular sport in Europe, Germany seemed to be the country most receptive to American football, based on the fact that all but one of the NFL Europe franchises had ended up moving to Germany.  (NFL Europe no longer exists, though, so obviously it didn’t catch on that much.  The teams were all pretty terrible anyway, being made up of players who were trying to make it onto an actual NFL roster.)

About 50 miles out of Berlin, we stopped at the smaller town of Wittenberg.  It was there that Martin Luther, a priest and teacher of theology at the university, published his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517 and started the Protestant Reformation.

I saw the church building where, according to one of his students, Luther nailed his document to the door so that everyone could read it.  There was a paper printout of the Ninety-Five Theses stuck to the door still.  Of course, it wasn’t the same door as was there in Luther’s time.  In fact, the entire building had burned down and been rebuilt at some point over the intervening 500 years.  I was reminded of the old story about the farmer proudly declaring that he owned the very hatchet that had once belonged to George Washington– only the axe head had been replaced three times and the handle four times.

Still, it was amazing to see the spot where such an influential moment in church history (and world history, really) took place.  I thought about the story of Martin Luther’s life.  After surviving a terrifying thunderstorm in which he cried out to God for help, he vowed to become a monk.  But he found that nothing he could do– hard work, sacrifice, even punishing himself– could take away his fear of having to answer to a perfect, holy God.  Every selfish thought, every careless word, every wrong motivation was an offense against God, who required perfect obedience arising from pure love.  Luther would spend hours confessing his sins until his fellow monks were weary of him. He was terrified that he would leave some forgotten sin unconfessed, and the more closely he scrutinized himself, the more sinfulness he found.

Luther found comfort in reminding himself of Christ’s sacrifice for his sins.  A Bible verse that greatly influenced his thinking was Habbakuk 2:4 (which is quoted in multiple places in the New Testament), “The just shall live by faith.”  Luther could never earn salvation by trusting in his acts of repentance; rather, God had provided the perfect sacrifice in Christ and called Luther to look to Him in faith.

Years later in Wittenberg, a traveling friar named Johann Tetzel was raising money for the church by selling indulgences.  For doing the good deed of donating money to the church, the purchaser of the indulgence received a guarantee that the punishment for his or her sins would be lessened.  People could also purchase indulgences on the behalf of relatives or friends who had died, in order to shorten the time their loved one would need to suffer for their sins in order to become fit to enter heaven.  Tetzel was a fiery preacher and a good salesman, and he was very good at stirring the emotions.

In his Ninety-Five Theses, Martin Luther argued that Tetzel’s preaching was in conflict with the teaching of the Bible.  He didn’t disagree with the importance of repenting of one’s sins– in fact, he stated that “the entire life of believers” should be “one of repentance.”  But Tetzel’s promises were leading people to trust in their own deeds and the effectiveness of the indulgences he was selling rather than in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  Luther quite boldly took the leaders of the church to task in his document, accusing them of allowing Tetzel to preach these things because it was an effective way to raise money.  His stand caused him to make enemies in the church, and it would end up putting his life in danger, but Martin Luther continued to write about trusting in God’s grace for the rest of his life.

Inside the Wittenberg church, our New Testament professor led us in singing Luther’s most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  “I’ve always wanted to do that,” he said.

We made it to Munich that evening after stopping for dinner at a restaurant that had something similar to a buffet.  The bread in Germany is so good!  I used my nonexistent German skills to ask for food by pointing to it and saying “Das, bitte”.

I think I was trying to say “This, please,” but I may have been saying “The, please.” and I probably wasn’t even using the correct form of the article.  My phrase book basically said “der, das, die— use whichever one you want.  People will still know what you mean.”

Also, they will probably not confuse you for a native speaker of German!  The servers were very kind, smiling when I would say “Danke schön.”

We attended two church services while we were in Germany, but I’m having trouble remembering the exact details of when and where they were.  One service was in German, in a large, old church building.  Since I didn’t understand a word of the sermon, I didn’t feel guilty about not getting much out of it.  The hymns were pretty, but I didn’t sing along since I had no idea what I’d be singing if I did.

The other service was a worship meeting at a church that had a lot of visitors from other countries.  It was much less formal, but it was in English.  We sang worship songs and heard a couple of personal testimonies; there wasn’t really a message– it was actually more of an announcement of how they weren’t going to meet at the same time anymore.

Some other random memories of exploring Berlin:

— There were big, colorful painted statues of bears all over the place.  Based on a Web search I just did, the bear statue custom has since spread to many cities around the world, but it apparently all started that very summer, 2001 in Berlin.

— I really like drinking soda (or pop; whichever word you prefer), so I thought it would be a bit tough to get used to drink refills not being free at restaurants in Europe like they are in the United States.  (Really!  In the U.S., you can just go back and refill your cup of soda by yourself in a lot of place!)

But I survived somehow.  ; )  Actually, I discovered a new favorite soda thanks to my trip to Europe:  Fanta.  There was a grapefruit or other citrus-flavored variety that I tried in France, and then in Germany, I discovered orange Fanta, and it ended up supplanting orange Crush on my list of favorites.  I was surprised when I came home and found that they had sold Fanta in the U.S. too all along.

— We visited a department store, with multiple floors and everything!  These seem to be pretty much gone in the U.S., replaced by miniature versions in malls.  I found a computer with Internet access and used it to check on how the Pittsburgh Steelers were doing in their season opener.  They were losing 21-3 in the second half to Jacksonville.

— German is cool because it has an extra letter that English doesn’t have, the eszett: ß.  It’s basically a double S.  The place I saw it the most was on road signs, because the German word for “street” is straße (strasse).

Previously, I had only ever seen the eszett in a shape that looked like a rounded letter “B,” like this:  
But most of the street signs in Berlin used a different shape: 

The eszett on these signs looked a lot like the letters “fs” combined into one symbol, and I realized where the letter had come from.  English used to have two ways to write the lowercase letter “s.”  The most common way made it look a lot like a lowercase “f.”  The short “s” was only used if it came at the end of a word, or if it immediately followed another “s.”  So, for instance, on the Bill of Rights, the end of the word “Congress” looks like this:

Does that look familiar?  If you merge the two letters together, you get the eszett from the Berlin street signs.  If you smooth the letter out so it can be written quickly, you get the more common ß.

I know this is probably stuff that everyone in Germany learns in preschool, but it was fun to figure out, at least for me.

— Sadly, the only German words I really retained from my trip were the basic numbers.  I learned them when I was playing a fun card game with my classmates.  It was like Uno, in that the object was to get rid of all of your cards.  But we kept adding rules to it until it was almost impossible to keep track of them all, and every time someone was caught breaking a rule, they had to draw more cards as a penalty.  One of our rules was to say the value of the card in German.

We visited two Berlin museums, the Egyptian Museum of Berlin and the Pergamon Museum.  There were a lot of incredible and beautiful artifacts; I ended up taking a lot of pictures (not the one shown here; this is one I just found with a Google image search).

The Ishtar Gate

The most amazing thing was the Ishtar Gate, which was built in about 575 BC in Babylon under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar.  It is almost 50 feet high, made of bricks that are glazed blue and gold.  In the wall are raised images of lions and dragons.  “Daniel walked through this gate,” said Dr. B. with a little tremor in his voice.  The prophet Daniel was led captive from Jerusalem when he was a teenager to serve in the king’s court and spent the rest of his life in a foreign land.

Seeing the impressiveness of the gate made me think about the bravery of Daniel and his friends to trust in the power of the God they could not see rather than the power of the king, which was on display all around them every day in Babylon.  They remained faithful, even when threatened with death, and even when faced with the passage of many years far from home.

On Friday evening, we returned to the train station and set off on an overnight trip to Berlin.  This was the first time I had ever been on a train that had sleeping cars.  Our path took us through Belgium, so I guess you could add that to the list of countries I have been to, but I don’t think it really counts, since I was on the train and probably asleep at the time.

As with the other cities, we started our time in Berlin with a guided tour.  We stopped at the Reichstag Parliament Building, which was famously damaged in a fire in 1933 that the Nazis used as an excuse to suspend civil liberties in order to go after their opponents.  We saw the Brandnburg Gate, and we saw the site of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963. (“I am a Berliner!”)  In honor of the speech, a few of my classmates then bought jelly doughnuts, also called “Berliners,” from a street vendor, and we shared them.

(A commonly told story is that JFK’s speechwriters used the German article improperly, and as a result, the President ended up stating that he was a jelly doughnut rather than a citizen of Berlin.  I have since read that is not true and they in fact got the statement correct.  Still, the jelly doughnuts were good!)

We could also see a small remaining part of the Berlin wall, every square inch of it covered with colorful graffiti.  I remembered the world atlas from my childhood, with the separate countries of West and East Germany, mirrored on a smaller scale by the city of Berlin.  I had seen the tearing down of the wall on the news, and I was impressed at the importance– this meant the maps would all have to be changed!  (Yes, I admit that I was a bit obsessed with maps.)

Berlin was full of history as the other cities had been, but there was a difference.  Whereas London and Paris were dominated by centuries-old buildings, the center of Berlin had more modern skyscrapers, a little more like an American city in some ways.  Our tour guide told us that this was because so much was destroyed during World War II.

We saw a very moving memorial in the public square where the Nazis had burned thousands of books written by Jewish authors, or that were deemed contrary to Nazi ideology.  The memorial is a plate of clear plastic set in the cobblestone ground, easy to miss unless you stop and look down.  Through the window in the ground, you can see rows of white bookshelves, all empty.  Our guide pointed out that, in the early part of the 20th century, Germany produced many Nobel Prize winners, great scholars, and scientists.  Many of them were suppressed, killed, or driven away because of the Nazis (some to America)– it is impossible to calculate how much was lost.  Then there is the memorial’s engraving, a quote by poet Heinrich Heine (loose translation): “Where they burn books, they will one day also burn people.”

The overall sense I got from the tour was of a city and country determined not to forget the lessons of its history, but also not to dwell on them.  Other countries, like my own, can very easily fool themselves into thinking “Well, something that bad could never happen here,” ignoring the many bad things that greed or the desire for power brings about in every country in the world.  The memorials in Germany are a reminder that it can, and did happen.  But at the same time, Berlin did not strike me as a depressing place.  On the contrary, there were lots of new building projects going on and a healthy sense of city and national pride.

Germany is a beautiful country, and there is even some country inside the city!  At one point we were riding the bus through Berlin, when suddenly we entered a dense forest.  I figured that we must have left the city, but our tour guide told us that we were still within it.  There is a huge forest inside the city limits of Berlin– pretty neat!  We would get to see more of the German countryside later on, as we were set to visit a couple of other cities.

The rest of our time in Paris was spent mainly at two landmarks– the Louvre and the palace at Versailles.  The interesting thing about the Louvre is that it is at the same time a museum and a historical artifact chronicling the history of France.  The very oldest parts of the Louvre date back to the 12th century, when it was a fortress.  There’s really only one connecting passageway left from that time, and you can walk through it on an elevated platform and see the rough stone walls on all sides.

The building was added to and remodeled many times by various kings over the centuries; it was transformed from a fortress into a dwelling place, and then a palace.  With the Renaissance came changes in architecture, and as kings continued to add new sections to the Louvre, the building became a record of architectural history.  It was also home to an ever-growing royal collection of works of art, and in the 18th century, kings Louis XV and XVI started using it as an art gallery.  It became truly public for the first time during the French Revolution, but that didn’t last long.  Napoleon added more sections, as did 19th-century rulers.  During World War II, the art had to be cleared out and hidden from the occupying Nazis.

The newest addition to the Louvre was completed in 1989– a pyramid made of many small triangular panes of glass.  Visitors enter the museum through the pyramid and take escalators down to the new underground entrance section.  Not everybody was sure that the pyramid fit with the centuries-old stone building, but since the Louvre is already a conglomeration of many different styles, I think it makes sense to give modern art a chance to be represented.

Once again, I stuck close to Dr. B., taking pictures of the artifacts he pointed out and keeping track of them with a notepad.  I really liked having someone to follow around through the enormous museum rather than simply being told to wander around.  It also meant that I got to pay attention to and read about some of the smaller artifacts that most people would walk past because there’s just so much to see.  We spend most of our time in the antiquities section of the museum, since we were looking for Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Babylonian, and Assyrian artifacts.  It wasn’t crowded where we were at all.

The funny thing is that I ended up not seeing the work of art that the Louvre is probably most famous for– Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.  I wonder how many other people have been to the Louvre but not seen the Mona Lisa!  My classmates told me that the Mona Lisa is smaller than most people imagine it, and that it is painted on a piece of wood, not on canvas.  It’s amazing how practically every movie and TV show gets these things totally wrong.  How many times have you seen a story about art thieves trying to steal the Mona Lisa by tearing it out of its frame and rolling it up?  You can’t do that; it’s a piece of wood!

I did see the Venus de Milo (a Greek statue of the goddess Aphrodite), though, which is not bad as famous works of art go.  It made me wonder if it was more or less famous because the arms are broken off, and whether the artist would be annoyed that everyone thinks of it as “that statue with the arms broken off.”

The garden of Versailles

Anyway, the other amazing place we got to visit was the palace at Versailles.  Versailles is a little over 10 miles southwest of southern Paris– I think we took the subway to get there.  It was where the French royalty ruled in luxury for most of the 18th century.  During my freshman year, I had read a book for class about Voltaire, Rousseau, and other French philosophers who were part of the Enlightenment movement, and for background it gave an overview of what was going on politically at the time.

I wish I had a better memory of what I read about; as it is, I am sure I have made plenty of mistakes in my recounting of French history.  The gist of it, though, is that during the time that the royalty lived at Versailles, the monarchy went from Louis XIV, the “Sun King,” who reigned for 77 years and took the monarchy to the height of its power, to Louis XV, who mishandled the nation’s foreign affairs and wealth while his court became known for decadence, to Louis XVI, who was driven from Versailles and executed by guillotine in the midst of a bloody revolution.

As I toured the palace, I thought about how it used to be that only the nobility and well-connected would have ever gotten the chance to see the things I was seeing.  There was room after room of ornate furniture, grand windows, gilded statues, and paintings large enough to cover an entire wall.  Some rooms were rich with portrayals of Biblical scenes; others were full of the gods of Greek and Roman mythology.  The windows gave you beautiful views of the garden, which went on for acres with hedges and fountains.

As pretty as the palace was, there are a whole lot of things that “common people” in many parts of the world have today that Louis XIV couldn’t have dreamed of.  Like air conditioning, for one.  Tylenol and aspirin also come to mind.  Clean food you can prepare and eat in minutes.  Not to mention libraries and the Internet.

The garden outside the palace was the favorite place I visited during my time in France.  It was big enough that you could wander around and find places that weren’t crowded; find a bench somewhere in a quiet corner and just look at the beauty of God’s creation.  On our day of free time, a few of my classmates and I went to the store to get food (I bought some chicken salad sandwiches) and had a picnic on the grounds of Versailles.

I guess if I had to sum up my impression of France, it would be with that picnic.  A place that had been built for royalty only was now open for anybody who wanted to come and enjoy.  Freedom is a wonderful blessing.

September 5: Paris

Our bus driver and tour guide in Paris was Antoine.  My mental picture of him is that he was bald and wore sunglasses, but I’m not too confident in my memory of faces.  He was experienced with the sometimes chaotic traffic of Paris, weaving the giant bus through gaps as easily as if it were one of the tiny cars zipping around.  Traffic jams could develop quickly, producing a cacaphony of horns and raised voices, but Antoine was usually able to anticipate and avoid them.

He shared a few facts about the city of Paris as we neared the hotel, including the fact that it was divided into districts, and the one where our hotel was located was known as a “red-light district.”  This produced nervous laughter from the students.  Our professors issued a friendly reminder not to be tempted by establishments selling sex.  “Once they have you inside, they will get you to give them as much of your money as they can.”  I don’t think we were tempted– in fact, we were a little nervous about possibly being in a rough part of town.  We made sure to only go out in groups.

The hotel was an old building with plenty of charm.  There continued to be lots of honking and shouting from the intersection outside, and as the hour got later, voices from the buildings joined in, presumably yelling for them to keep the noise down.  Believe it or not, I still got a good night’s sleep.  In the morning, we went downstairs for a breakfast of tea and croissants served by a delightful old lady.

I feel bad that this post so far has dwelt on the negatives of the part of town we were in.  I was impressed by the friendliness and warmth of the Parisians we interacted with.  Overall, our time in Paris was the most relaxing part of the trip– there was a laid-back attitude to the city that permeated everything.  Yes, people yelled in traffic jams, but that almost seemed more like a sport that people embraced with gusto rather than an outpouring of stress.

And, of course, the city is beautiful.  On Wednesday, Antoine took us on a bus tour to see many of its most famous sights.  We stopped at the Arc de Triomphe, which is in the middle of a huge roundabout– making your way to the center is an interesting challenge!  We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, which gave us a great view of the city.  I noticed several football (soccer) fields.

Notre Dame Cathedral was awe-inspiring.  I thought about how it almost two centuries to build and wondered what it must have been like to spend a lifetime working on a project that wouldn’t be complete for generations.  It still stood as a monument to God, who is not constrained by time.

For some reason, the thing that sticks in my memory the most was seeing the “zero point” of Paris, which is about fifty yards away from the cathedral.  Apparently, whenever the distance from Paris is given, if one is to be precise, it is actually the distance from that point.  So until you have been there, you have always been at least some distance from Paris.

Paris holds a lofty place in the development of our system of measurements.  A meter used to be defined as one ten-millionth the distance of a line from the North Pole to the Equator that passed through Paris.  And the standard weight still used to define a kilogram is kept in the Paris suburb of Sévres.

In the late afternoon, we took a sightseeing tour of Paris by boat on the river Seine.  One of the interesting things we saw was the other Statue of Liberty, the miniature copy that the United States gave to France as a thank-you for building the big statue designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi that looks out on New York Harbor.  Hopefully, they did not think it was tacky to give them a smaller version of the same thing.

As afternoon turned to evening, buildings and street lamps lit up, and we saw why Paris is called the City of Light.

One last thought for the day:  I’m fairly sure I remember seeing a memorial for American soldiers who died in France during World Wars I and II.  I thought about my grandfather, who had spent time in France as a soldier during the second World War.  He had been so excited to hear that I was taking a trip to Europe– he sent me a note wishing me a good trip along with some coins from each country I would be visiting.

He shared with me that he had made instant friends in Europe by giving people a pack of gum and suggested that I could do the same.  Of course, today anybody in Europe can get chewing gum any time they want to just by going to the store.  Practically anything that’s available here in the U.S. is also available in Europe.  But my grandfather’s story drove home how much the world can change in a lifetime– and how people in places like France and America are free to enjoy good things only because of the sacrifices of people like my grandfather, and the soldiers remembered at that memorial, and countless others from other countries.

I was surrounded by history on this trip– not just Biblical history, but also recent history that had shaped the world.

It’s interesting how some things stand out sharply in my memory, while other things are a complete blur.  For instance, the names of almost anyone who went on the trip with me.  (Sigh– I don’t know whether it’s faceblindness or self-centeredness or both.)  I really did have a great time with all of the classmates who went with me on the trip, and I’m so thankful for them– it’s just that, with a few exceptions, I cannot remember their names.  Isn’t that awful?  I even have a list of them, and I can’t remember who’s who.

Other things have blurred for me, such as what day things took place on.  I talked about getting caught in the downpour of rain on Saturday night, but based on what I wrote on the postcards I never got around to sending, that actually happened on Sunday night.  It’s strange that I seem to be able to remember things from early in life better than I can remember things from ten years ago.  There are several possible explanations for this, of course:

  • My memories from early in life consist of the most memorable events over a period of several years, while my memories of this trip come from a period of just two weeks.
  • My brain became overwhelmed by input by the time I was in college, and it dealt with this by not bothering to store things long-term.
  • My “hard drive” ran out of memory about when I turned 18.

Anyway, classmates with better memories are welcome to dispute the details of when we did what.
: )

Monday was mostly a “free” day; I think the only thing on our schedule was a visit to the British Library.  Among the items on display there were the Codex Sinaiticus (a 4th-century copy of the Old and New Testaments in Greek from before lowercase letters OR spaces were used!), the Magna Carta, the Gutenberg Bible, and some of Shakespeare’s writing.  All of them much older than my entire country.  Pretty amazing!

Here’s an example of how awesome my classmates on this trip were.  When we were on the bus tour, they noticed that the Palace Theatre was advertising Broadway musicals like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, at prices that you would never see in the U.S.  Several people in the class were interested in trying to go, though it didn’t seem likely we’d be able to get tickets during the short time we’d be in London.  But my classmates stopped by and got tickets to see Les Miserables on Monday evening, the night before we were to leave for Paris!

I was excited; I loved the story and had a CD with all the songs on it.  It’s one of the most powerful portrayals of Christ-like love and mercy I’ve encountered in art.  Our seats were up in the balcony, but the view was fine.  The seats cost only 10 pounds, which was about $15.  And the performance was terrific.

A few other random memories of London:

  • The pavement near the crosswalks had “LOOK RIGHT” written on it in big letters to keep people like me who are used to cars driving on the right from instinctively looking the wrong way and stepping out in front of traffic.  That was considerate.
  • I liked the simplicity of using the London Underground (the subway) to get around the city.  It kept me from ever getting totally lost.  I also liked the famous simplified underground map, which I would eventually study as an example of efficient technical communication.
  • The British one-pound coins were my favorite coins from the trip.  They have a nice thickness and weight that feels good to hold in your hand (appropriate for a coin worth more than a dollar).  Like all British coins, the “heads” side has the queen on it, but there were a lot of different designs for the “tails” side.  My favorite was a dragon– unfortunately, I don’t think I managed to hold on to that one, because I needed it for a bus ride back to the hotel.  It occurs to me that this was before the U.S. started making a quarter for every state in the union; the different designs may not have made as big an impression on me otherwise.
  • We walked through Harrods, a famous department store with all sorts of things much too expensive to buy.  I noticed a chess set there with an American Revolution theme, with Washington and his blue-clad colonials facing off against the British redcoats.  I remembered the old rule “white on the right, and queen on her color,” and looked closely at how the pieces were set up.  Sure enough, the red queen was on a white square, making the British the white pieces and thus the forces of good in this chess game.
    : )

I felt so much better on Sunday morning after getting a good night’s sleep.  I found out that all of England was in a celebratory mood, because England’s national soccer team (more properly their “football team,” since we were in Europe) had just defeated Germany 5-1 in a World Cup qualifier that evening while we slept.  In soccer, 5-1 is a major beating, and this win had come against a historical rival on their home turf, in Munich.  England’s Michael Owen recorded a hat trick (three goals in one game), which is cause for celebration in ice hockey but truly a rarity in soccer.

We got breakfast in the hotel’s cafeteria.  I got there a bit late asked the woman at the cafeteria line for some scrambled eggs, and she responded with something I didn’t understand.  I repeated myself, and she repeated herself a few times, until finally she gave up and served me some scrambled eggs.  Finally, one of my classmates explained that she had been trying to tell me that the hot breakfast items weren’t included in our room fee and I’d have to pay for them.  I had the money to pay, so it was no problem, but I felt bad that I hadn’t been able to decipher her accent.  It was strangely ironic that during the course of our whole trip, the only time I couldn’t understand someone speaking English, it had happened not in France, Germany, or Italy, but in England.

We attended a morning service at All Souls Church, an Evangelical Anglican church in London.  According to Wikipedia, the building has stood since 1823 and survived damage during World War II.  The church itself has withstood a trend in 20th-century Christianity (in America as well as in Europe) to focus on preaching about what humans should do to improve our lives rather than what Jesus Christ has done to save us from the penalty for our sins.  Influential evangelical leader John Stott, who passed away just a few months ago at the age of 90, ministered and worshipped at All Souls Church for most of his life.

I found the service very encouraging.  As we sang the hymns and worship songs and read the Lord’s Prayer, I thought about my family, who would be going to church back home in Ohio in a few hours.  They were probably praying for me, and I could pray for them.  We were on opposite sides of the ocean, but we were loved by the same God.  All the years I had been going to church in the U.S., there had been believers in England and other countries, in every continent, meeting to worship God.

The sermon that morning was from Zephaniah 3, which I’m having a hard time summing up because so much is in it.  It’s a message from God to Jerusalem, the capital city of his covenant people Israel.  At the start, God declares “woe” upon the city because its leaders– the rulers, prophets and priests– are preying on the weak and leading the people to disobey God.  The preacher was quite bold in talking about leaders within the church in Britain who were leading people astray.  (He made the point that God’s message in this passage is directed towards those who consider themselves very religious– not people who don’t go to church.)

God promises to be the righteous judge that those disobedient leaders were not; he will pour out his anger on those who deserve it.  Which is bad news for me, because I too have disobeyed God, and I’m sure I’ve led other people to disobey him, even if it was just by watching how I behaved.  But that is why we need a Savior.  As impossible as it may seem, our hope is to turn to that same God who promises to punish sin.  God tells the city that “the remnant of Israel will trust in the name of the Lord.”

The second half of the chapter is as joyful and tender as the first half is severe:  “Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!  The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy.”  God promises his people “I will bring you home.”  How can this be, if being a righteous judge requires him to punish the city?  It is only possible because God poured out that judgment on his own perfect Son, who willingly took the punishment we all deserved in order to save us.

Sorry; that got a bit long– I told you it was hard to summarize briefly.  I’m not sure I did it justice.  One of my favorite souveniers from the trip is a recording of that sermon.  I really wanted to share it with my parents, but the group was getting ready to leave, so I did something I don’t like to do and asked a stranger where I could get sermon tapes.  At first the elderly man didn’t understand what I was saying, but after I repeated myself, he said, “Oh, TYPES!” (pronouncing the “A” like a “Y”) and pointed me in the right direction.

That afternoon, we visited the British Museum.  I stuck close to Dr. B. and took digital photos of each artifact according to his instructions, using a notepad to record the identity of each object.  I wish I could give more detail about the things we saw there, because they were really neat, but the museum visits have blended together a bit in my mind, and so I can’t remember which things I saw in which museum.  The British Museum had artifacts from Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon, some of which were old when Zephaniah was still alive.