2015 Human Dignity Tour of Central Europe (Germany/Poland)


The 2015 team in front of the Berliner Dom, Museum Island, Berlin

In March of 2015, a second Human Dignity Tour of Central Europe was offered. Compared to the 2014 trip, this one would be more intimate and more focused. Eleven Asbury University students signed up to take the course and the tour. In addition to five psychology majors (Lincoln Erikson, Liam Handley, Al Mattingly, Josh Moore and Claire Webb), there were six other students (Nicole Allen, Maeghan Cartmill, Emily Cross, Dominique Ducdoc, Kaitlyn Hickey, and Brian Patterson) reflecting the broad appeal of the program (see team picture to the right). The “home base” for the 9 day tour was split between two European cities: Berlin, Germany and Kraków, Poland. In addition to many of the sites that were part of the 2014 trip (like the Topography of Terror Museum, Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Auschwitz I and II, and the Schindler Factory Museum), a couple new sites were added: Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, situated just outside of Furstenberg, Germany, and the Płaszów Concentration Camp, in greater Kraków. This camp held the Kraków Jews and it was from this camp that Oskar Schindler rescued over 1000 lives with his now-famous list.

The Travel Packet

Highlights of the Tour

One highlight, as mentioned above, was the increased level of intimacy with this group of students. Group cohesion was strong given that so much of the tour, even outside of the visited sites, was a shared experience. Additionally, the smaller group allowed me to spend more time with each individual student – getting to know them better and hearing their individual reactions to the different components of the tour.

This trip was also marked by many new experiences. For instance, we used the regional train system for the first time. Use of this train system allowed us to visit Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. It is located near a German town called Furstenberg-an-der-Havel that is about a 90-minute train ride north of Berlin toward the Baltic coast.

Other new sites experienced were the newly-created Aktion T-4 Memorial (in remembrance of the euthanasia program enacted by the Nazi’s against their own mentally- and physically-handicapped citizens), the Pergamon (Germany’s most famous museum of antiquities), and the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin. In Kraków, we found the last remaining stretch of the ghetto wall and also took different tours of the Wawel Castle; some of us toured various formal rooms and halls, while others of us surveyed an incredibly wide array of medieval and premodern weapons, including swords, shields, bows, maces, rifles, patrinals, pistols, halberds, pikes, spontoons, partisans, lances, and even cannons, housed in the armory.

Finally, when I think about this trip, I am reminded of many of the unique people and individual personalities that made up this team. For example, a couple of the guys were absolutely determined to wear shorts as much as they could on this mid-March trip, despite the cold weather and despite the fact that shorts are usually only worn in Europe when one is engaged in athletic activities. But neither cold legs nor European conventions could deter them, they were going to wear their shorts! Another student was as aspiring photographer whose photo-signature was to include her bright yellow Chuck Taylor’s, while still on her feet, mind you, in the lower foreground of as many shots as possible. We also had one student who insisted on wearing his bright red Bavarian hat everywhere we went! This was such a great group! Good times!

Personal Highlights

This was the first tour I led by myself. And boy was I put to the test! We had a flat tire on our way to make our departing flights at the Cincinnati airport (Joe Bruner from Asbury Student Life really saved the day!), a local taxi driver who overslept for our shuttle ride the Kraków airport, and in the middle of the trip, just two days before we were to board a Lufthansa flight from Berlin to Kraków, I was informed by email that a pilot strike across all the major European carriers was effectively cancelling this flight. Well, after many hurried phone calls, and with the benefit of critical and savvy support from both my contacts at Asbury as well as the educational travel company I was partnering with for the flights, 12 seats were found and secured on a Berlin Air flight (the last 12 seats I might add). This last minute heaven-sent solution allowed us to get to Kraków on our intended day and maintain our schedule. If we had been delayed by just one day, we would have missed our reservations to tour Auschwitz. Because of this narrow escape, and after learning about the frequency of strikes by European airline pilots, I have become rather partial to using ground transportation whenever possible when traveling within Europe.

It was on this trip that I also decided that Berlin and Kraków would serve well as the foundation (axis, one might be tempted to say), on which to build future tours. However, I also determined to try and expand my repertoire of familiar sites and locations with at least one new venue and/or destination city on each subsequent trip. Confidence grew and I began to dream a bit about what this study-abroad experience could become.

Future Tours

For more information about future academic tours, check out this website: https://www.asbury.edu/academics/cce/travel-courses/germany-poland/

Other Photos from the Tour

Below are some other pictures from the 2015 tour – many from our visit to Auschwitz I and II (Birkenau) – always the most challenging day of our tour.