NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The history of Europe, to a large extent, defines the course of America’s own history.
Enlightenment ideas born in Europe intermingled with nationalism from the colonies to create the revolutionary spirit of the 18th and 19th centuries. The World Wars were testing grounds for a new idea of American military power. Actions taken by protesters in Europe ended the Cold War. Mennonites came to the United States directly from Europe, creating another connection for Bethel College students.
Led by Mark Jantzen, associate professor of history, a group of 15 students traveled to east central Europe during January to experience firsthand the places and ideas that essentially gave birth to the modern age and to see how that history shapes Europe in a way not identifiable in the United States.
The tour began in the city that was once a symbol of the East-West divide in Europe. Berlin, now the capital of Germany, was split down the middle by a dividing wall from 1961-89. Remnants of the Prussian Empire, the Third Reich and the Communist regime are everywhere on display in Berlin.
We then went to a number of sites of interest in Poland. Aside from the two cities we explored, Gdansk and Krakow, we enjoyed a tour of an old Teutonic castle and were able to see what remains today of two Mennonite churches. In Poland, we had one of the most powerful experiences of the tour, the visit to Auschwitz, the most famous and one of the most brutal Nazi concentration camps.
After Poland, we traveled to Vienna, for years the seat of the Austrian Empire. We toured some of the remaining monuments and estates of the Imperial family – a great historical learning experience. As has been true for centuries, a vibrant musical community still exists in Vienna and talented street musicians abound.
We then moved to the Balkans, specifically Serbia. U.S. forces bombed the capital, Belgrade, in 1999 in retaliation for ethnic cleansing against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Today, Serbia has recovered from much of the damage. On the day we left Belgrade, there was an election widely interpreted as a tenuous victory for pro-democratic forces.
We concluded our tour in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Fourteen years ago, it would have been almost certain death even to stand in the streets we walked, as ethnic violence between Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslims had reached a fever pitch. Today, Sarajevo is a beautiful, vibrant city that, if it hasn't forgotten the war, has at least managed to move on.
The trip highlighted many key aspects of European history, such as nationalism and the role of revolutions in creating modern Europe, as well as how those factors influence the world around us today, illustrating the modern face of European nationalism quite clearly. It was an incredible experience and I highly recommend it.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.
Jonathan Nathan, McPherson, is a senior majoring in history.
Other Bethel College students participating in History of East Central Europe:
Mark Abrahams, junior, Newton
Aaron Gaeddert, junior, Leawood
Amber Goossen, sophomore, Beatrice, Neb.
Mallory Haedt, junior, Wathena
Brett Jackson, junior, North Newton
Levi Lear, junior, Garden City
Amanda Marsh, senior, Fresno, Calif.
Jordan Penner, junior, Reedley, Calif.
Bryce Schmidt, junior, Freeman, S.D.
Charles Schrag, junior, Freeman, S.D.
Kristen Schrag, sophomore, Moundridge
Kari Thimm, sophomore, Beatrice, Neb.
Aaron Voth, senior, Hesston
Robert Weaver, senior, Wichita