By Victoria Cheng ’16 and Raquel Florez ’16
With passports in one hand and their luggage in the other, 26 Hornets travelled to Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary from April 22 to May 1, expanding their horizons past the Atlantic Ocean. Over the course of ten days, the group was introduced to five different cultures and learned about the history of the five countries.
Five chaperones, Ms. Fern Bren, Ms. Fannie Daniels, Mr. Albert Peterson, Mr. Matthew Bonavita and the group leader, Mr. Lawrence Kolotkin, accompanied the students on their adventure to new lands. Their faithful tour guide from EF Tours, Lala Rasulova, travelled with the group throughout the whole trip, acting as their translator and teacher. The rich history of the countries added to the learning experience for both the students the chaperones.
“I loved the trip,” said Ms. Bren. “I was actually surprisingly happy because those [countries] were not countries that were on my radar. I felt that I learned so much about World War II and Eastern European history.”
However, there were extra precautions put in place due to the ISIS attacks in Brussels and Paris. For example, the group was not allowed to take public transportation and the chaperones held frequent passport checks.
“With everything going on in the world, there were a few more restraints” said Mr. Kolotkin, the main organizer of the trip. “There were a few times that I didn’t think we were going. I think I lost a lot of hair because of this.”
First up on the adventure was Checkpoint Charlie, an entry way into East Berlin for American diplomats of West Germany. The group walked along the infamous Berlin Wall, a forum of self expression in the form of graffiti and murals during an era of oppression. In addition to Berlin, the group also explored Potsdam and Dresden, cities filled with palaces and churches.
“Germany was my favorite because that’s where my family was from,” said Matthew Pero ‘16. “I especially liked Dresden because of the large squares, old churches and palaces. In every city we visited, there had lots of history that was relevant in our lifetimes such as the Berlin Wall.”
In the Czech Republic, the group walked across the Charles Bridge, a large tourist attraction with a great view of the Prague Castle, and wandered around the winding, cobble-stoned streets of Old Town in their free time. They visited the St. Vitus Cathedral, a well-known cathedral with stained glass decorating its walls and beautiful gothic architecture of the 14th century. The tour included the John Lennon Wall, a wall near the Charles Bridge filled with spray paint graffiti of lyrics, quotes and pictures.
“Czech Republic has an amazing view that I couldn’t forget,” said Judy Lam ‘16. “Even a camera wouldn’t be able compensate with what I saw.”
Nicolle Feldman ’16 said, “Prague was my favorite country because of its sheer beauty. The landscape view from the Charles Bridge or the magnificence of the Prague Castle all took my breath away.”
The next stop on the adventure was Krakow, Poland. After a five hour drive, the group arrived in Poland and went directly to Auschwitz, the largest concentration camp used in World War II and the grave to over one million people. The weather was cold; a persisting rain set a gloomy mood from the beginning of the visit. With a guide explaining the history of the camp, the group entered the different facilities, including the cramped sleeping quarters, the torture center and the gas chambers, and saw exhibits of the remaining items that the prisoners had when the camp was liberated. They learned horrific facts about the atrocities that occurred in the camp. For example, the remains of hair from female victims whose heads were shaved before entering the gas chambers and later used to make into rugs, carpets and paper.
“The most memorable event on this trip for me was our visit to Auschwitz,” said Feldman. “I didn’t know what to expect and I think it’s a feeling that’s indescribable. I was overwhelmed the whole time and it brought tears to my eyes.”
Mr. Kolotkin stated “Auschwitz was the most memorable and the most powerful experience. Still to this day I think about it. I can’t believe I was there.”
After Auschwitz, the group continued onto a guided tour of Kraków, visiting the Wawel Cathedral and St. Mary’s Basilica. Then, they were able to spend their free time, exploring Glowny Square.
Next, they took a guided tour down the Wielczka Salt Mines, one of the world’s oldest salt mines. To get down to the mines, the group had to walk down 53 flights of stairs which lead to a tunnel that only took them deeper into the Earth. Once in the main hall student took it upon themselves to lick the salt walls and courageous ones took to the salt-tiled floor. The guide explained the dangers miners were exposed to underground, CO2 leaks and cave ins, yet despite these threats, they created sculptures and rooms made entirely from salt.
Their last stop on their journey was Budapest. Hungary, but to get there, they had to drive through Slovakia, thus spending a lovely lunch in Hlavné Námestie Square. They then continued onto Budapest, with a walking tour through the city, the Matthias Church and free time at a local carnival. The last night in Budapest, the group board a private cruise and sailed along the Danube River, seeing the Parliament Building up close and lit up.
“It [Budapest] was essentially the melting pot of Europe,” said Angella Katherine ‘16. “ I met people from all parts of Europe and learned a lot about the different European cultures and how those culture accepted others.”
With heavy heart, the group left Eastern Europe with new knowledge of the world, new friendships and lasting memories.
“Students going overseas and seeing different cultures is a very important part of education,” said Ms. Bren. “I think it helps teach students that there is more to life than Brooklyn and I highly recommend everyone a trip like this one day.”