Get Out of Town

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by Rich Landesberg

And that is just what we did today….got out of town to the city of Eger, a town of about 60,000 people that is home to a major university and the major wine producing region in Hungary. It was a long day and a two-hour coach ride each way. It’s late and we are on the road to Zagreb in the morning so this will be a brief post. Here are the highlights: We met with a Parliament member from the radical right-wing party, the third largest party in Parliament. This nationalist group is anti-Gypsy and its leader recently described Jews as “lice.” It was interesting to question him. Our one hour session lasted for two hours. We had lots of questions. John Milton said we should let truth and falsehood clash to create a marketplace of ideas. Sometimes that is difficult.

That was followed by a chance to get to know our Hungarian student hosts, followed by a walk around this lovely old town and then a meeting at city hall with the deputy mayor. By late afternoon we were headed to a local winery, one of many caves built into the side of a mountain. Our guide, the son of the owner, explained the wine-making process. We all enjoyed dinner after that in one of the caves and those who cared to taste wines were given a full explanation of what they were tasting. It was a great experience and a terrific lesson in how wine can enhance a meal, a far cry from those who would use alcohol ony as a means to get drunk.

Here are some pictures from our day(the group is in front to the main unviersity building)

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On Top of Old Buda

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by Rich Landesberg

It was a full day in Budapest. Our morning lecture was about the Jewish community here that was decimated by the Nazis and local fascists in 1944 and 1945. We had previously seen the sculpture of shoes lining the banks of the Danube. The empty shoes represented Jews rounded up by the Hungarian Arrow Cross, marched to the river bank, and shot, falling into the Danube and turning it red with innocent blood. Our hotel is on the edge of the old Jewish ghetto where 200,000 people were forced to live in 2,000 homes before being sent to concentration camps and murdered. Hitler is said to have stood on the (now gone) upper floor of the hotel to watch parts of the ghetto burn. From my room, you can see the old synagogue.

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After class, we walked over to the restored synagogue for a guided tour. The building is magnificent, with moorish architecture and interior parts reminiscent of a Catholic church. Even in the late 1800s, the Jewish population tried to blend in to keep from attracting the attention of those who would do them harm just because of how they chose to worship. Our guide was born just as the war ended, with a Jewish mother and Catholic father, both of whom lived in the ghetto. Her father is credited with saving hundreds of Jewish lives and his name is enshrined on a wall outside the synagogue. During the war, the Nazis used the building as a stable. Now, this biggest syngouge in Europe is once again a house of worship.

After that sobering morning tour, it was time for lunch before a city tour at 2:30. That took us to all the major sites incuding hero’s square in Pest (the lower part of the city) and old Buda (the mountain on the other side of the river, overlooking Pest). Great views and many photo ops were part of our afternoon as well as talking with our guide who was 15 when the Soviets finally left her country. The evening was spent over dinner and working on group projects for this blog.

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A Night at the Opera

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by Rich Landesberg

Budapest seems to have gotten away from me, with no updates yet from Hungary. Our flights went well and our arrival in this beautiful old city heralded the start of our eastern journey through the European Union. The first night here was spent at the classic old opera house to see a production of Die Fledermaus, by Johann Strauss. Most of our students had never been to the opera and, at first blush, may have been disappointed when they found out the translated name of the opera, The Bat, was not the latest installment of the Twilight Saga. But if the building was not breathtaking enough, this opera blew everyone away. Despite the language issues–the dialogue was in Hungarian, with German subtitle; the music was in German, with Hungarian subtitle–everyone enjoyed the music, dancing and acting and most of us could follow a good chunk of the plot. Many of the students are now determined to make this only the first opera they have seen, not the last.

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The next morning, students were given a list of things they could do on their own in Budapest. I took a small group to the central market where Hungarians have been buying food for more than 100 years. It is a great place to eat, buy local food products and find souvenirs. Some readers of this blog may even be beneficiaries of our morning walk to the market. Dr. Morgan took one of our hardier students on a long walk across the bridge to Old Buda and up to one of the highest peaks where they had a grand view of snow showers rolling down into Pest, the lower part of the city.

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The afternoon was spent touring the grand old Parliament building and learning a bit about Hungarian history. Our walk over, created the route of the students who protested for freedom in 1956, only to be coldly shot and killed by the Soviet occupiers of Hungary. It was sobering moment. After Parliament we were off to European Central University where our students were exposed to the possibility of doing graduate studies here. Of course, between the two events we had to stop for coffee and what better place than Gerbaud, the famous 19th century coffee shop that has been serving intellectuals and coffee lovers for about 150 years. The evening featured a group dinner with typical Hungarian food at the Soul Cafe. A great way to top off a very full day.

By the way, the title of the entry today refers to a classic Marx Brothers movie. When we were in Brussels, we saw where Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital. I made a crack about the place next door being where Groucho wrote A Day at the Races. There were nothing but blank stares from the group. I know that many of my generation “rediscovered” the Marx Brothers. Maybe it is time for this generation to do the same

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St. Stephens church by European Central University.

Next….Sunday in Budapest

A De-LUX Day

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by Rich Landesberg

Our study of the European Union took us to the heart of being an American. Our coach journey took just under three hours to get to the little country of Luxembourg but what we found there not only taught us about the EU but about ourselves. It all started with a 5:00 AM wakeup call and everyone on time for the 6:30 AM departure.

We started with a terrific briefing and tour of the European Courts of Justice. Our students were engaged and asked great questions, making it easy to stay awake despite the early departure. We learned about how laws are interpreted and lawsuits adjudicated in the evolving experiment that is the European Union. After our morning session, it was off to a walking tour of Luxembourg City.

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Things sure are different here. The picture above is taken in front of the Luxembourg Prime Minister’s office. Note the absence of guards, dogs or barbed wire. It would not have been surprising to have the PM walk out of his office to say hello. The rest of the city has the same mellow vibe. After our walk, everyone had a chance for lunch. Some folks found one of the great patisseries in town and stopped in for a sandwich or quiche and, of course, for some decadent pastry. We would need the fuel for our next, emotional, stop.

The US military cemetery in Luxembourg is one of a number around the world. Just like the others, this has row upon row of crosses and Stars of David, all neatly aligned, all with the name of a young man or woman who never came home from WW II. Most of them were fighting in the battle of the bulge which came through this area (this is the battle immortalized in the excellent HBO series, “Band of Brothers”). There are ordinary draftees here along with Medal of Honor winners and General George S Patton.

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Our students listened intently as our guide talked about Patton and the soldiers who fought the battle of the bulge. With each story, we learned more about the everyday citizens who became soldiers in the 1940s. For Dr. Morgan and me, these were the stories about our parents and their friends. For our students, it was about many of their grandparents. For all of us, it was about being an American and paying our respects to those who gave so much for us and others in this world. It was hard to walk away unchanged.

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At dusk, our students were invited to participate in the flag-lowering ceremony. As taps played on a cold, grey, windy day, our students helped the cemetery superintendent make sure the flag was properly stored for the evening. It was a quiet, reflective drive back to Brussels.

Tomorrow is another early day, with a morning flight to Budapest.

Talking EU Issues

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by Rich Landesberg

Where do the representatives of the people of Europe go to debate issues? The European Parliament, where we spent the morning in a briefing about how it works…and how it doesn’t. With more than 700 members representing more than two dozen countries and about a dozen political parties, the EU Parliament can have a difficult time getting things done. In fact, more than ten percent of the Members of the European Parliament are “Euro-skeptics” who oppose the very institution of which they are members. Yet, Europe is the most unified it has ever been without the use of force to achieve that unification. And, for all the troubles and worries over the Euro and the economy in general, there is great optimism alongside the skeptics. Our student asked great questions and showed knowledge of the institution that even some Europeans don’t possess.

If this blog is a bit late in getting posted or is a bit light in content, blame our students. Dr. Morgan and I often use the informal setting of traveling with students to fill in our gaps in popular culture. So, early one, we asked for, and received a lesson in how to play “Angry Birds.” I immediately downloaded it and immediately became addicted. I’m blaming my students,

This afternoon, everyone had an opportunity to explore places in the city that we have passed in our stay here. Museums, monuments or just plain wandering, everyone had one last chance to enjoy Brussels. Tomorrow, the bus leaves at 6:30 am for our ride to Luxembourg. We’ll see the European Courts of Justice and a lot more before returning about 8, just enough time to eat and pack for our early Friday flight.

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Old Europe

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by Rich Landesberg

When we left Frankfurt, we left behind a city of glass and steel, modern skyscrapers housing some of the most powerful banks in the world. The old part of the city had been rebuilt out of the rubble of WW II. When our coach pulled into Brussels after an almost five hour ride, we entered an old, western European city steeped in centuries of history and tradition with antiquity at every corner.

We have only been here for 24 hours but we are already settled in. Yesterday began with a briefing at the European Central bank before we hit the road. We traded the coach for our boots when we arrived. Last night was a walking tour, culminating in dinner across from the city hall and guild buildings in the old market square. Dr. Morgan lead the tour and made sure to stop at one of the best chocolate shops in the city where she bought enough for everyone to taste. We made sure to point out the best waffle shops, too. Everyone would need their strength for our meetings today.

The day started with a 10 am briefing at the Council of Europe, then lunch followed by another briefing, this one at the European Commission. Our students now know more about the inner workings of the European Union than most people who live here, After a full day of learning about how the EU works, students had time to explore and have dinner. Tomorrow, it is time for another briefing, this one at the European Parliament.

The pictures:
Students in the area of the EU Institutions
Students at Council of Europe

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