A Month like the Austrian Alps

Ruzbeh Ghaffar
February 26, 2020

My last blog was centered around my trip to Stockholm. As I was thinking about what exactly to write about in this blog, I thought it would be necessary to talk some more about that trip. Stockholm definitely exceeded my expectations. Whether it be the people, the food, the architecture, or the layout, the city was much better than I had predicted. The trip was something that I planned really only because everyone else had been traveling abroad. I thought that I needed to get on that too. This past weekend I got to go to another Scandinavian city, Copenhagen. Unlike Stockholm, I had spent much more time planning out my trip to Copenhagen. I think that may have been a reason why I wasn't as surprised about what I saw when I got there. Regardless, I enjoyed both cities very much; however, I would say that I prefer Stockholm. I've been told that there is a big rivalry between the Scandinavian cities.

Between those two trips, I actually ended doing a trip that I had in mind for a later date but decided to do it earlier. This trip was definitely a major shift from my previous trip. Stockholm was a very joyful city, and the place I was about to go to is one of the darkest places in the world: Auschwitz. To get to Auschwitz, I had to leave Vienna on a Friday night, and spend close to two hours in a Polish town called Bielsko-Biala to wait for my next bus. I arrived there at about four in the morning, and the only things that were open were the central train station and gas stations. Walking around that town at that time was almost something out of a movie. I told my dad that it reminded me of a scene from one of my favorite movies, No Country for Old Men. For those who have seen it, it really reminded me of one the couple night scenes from that movie. For those who haven't seen it yet, I would highly recommend doing it. I just rewatched it in German. Regardless, let's get back to the trip.

Eventually, my bus arrived and took me to the town of Oswiecim. Auschwitz is actually the German name of the town. And for those of you who don't know, Auschwitz was actually divided into two camps: Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The reason why there are two is that in 1941, Heinrich Himmler believed that it should be expanded so that more people could be sent there. I also believe that Auschwitz II served more for extermination purposes. Auschwitz II has the gatehouse with the railroad, and Auschwitz I has the gate that says Arbeit macht frei which translates to work sets you free. And unlike Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II is mostly in ruins. The reason for this is because when Germany realized that they weren't going to win the war, they tried to destroy as much as possible to hid what they had done. That is why if you were to go to Auschwitz II, you'd notice that it looks like an open field with a few structures scattered around. However, you can still see pits and ruins of where certain facilities were located and what they were used for.

Overall, I spent six hours at both camps. Something that I found very touching that I don't think a lot of people mention is the area around the camp, specifically Auschwitz II. It's surrounded by large patches of trees and some farmland. I went on a sunny day, and I would be walking along the edges of the camp where the trees were. You would hear birds chirping and the trees blowing in the wind. It let off a very peaceful and calming feeling, despite it being one of the darkest places in the world. Having both of those things together really touched me.

I will be leaving for my last trip for this month tomorrow. This will be to Bratislava, Slovakia. Slovakia will actually be holding their parliamentary elections while I'm there. Europe elections have been rather tense recently, and this one will definitely be controversial. From what the polls are saying a party that many consider being neo-fascist may win second or third place in the election. The answer to why many Slovaks are heading towards that direction is something that I hope to figure out while I'm there. Despite the current trends, I'm rather excited to see a foreign election take place around me.

I've been spending a lot of time talking about what I've been doing outside my host city. After I returned from Poland, I got to see a soccer game, and like a true Viennese, I've been spending a lot of my free time at cafes, mostly eating Sacher torte and Apfelstrudel.  My home university had me take over their Global Studies Instagram account for a day to show people back home what Vienna is like. This mostly consisted of me recording myself awkwardly at different landmarks and cafes. I tried to feature a variety of locations in Vienna, such as the Baroque Hofburg and the modern Vienna International Center. I got to use this time as an opportunity to visit some new locations as well. It was a sunny day, so I decided to go up the tower in St. Stephens Cathedral to give the viewers a good view of the city. What I didn't realize is how many stairs I had to climb to get to the top, and also how narrow the staircase was. In the end, the view was definitely worth it. And getting to video myself around the city was a great way to realize what I knew about Vienna, and what things I need to do soon. 

As February comes to a close, I've begun to look back to realize that this month has been rather turbulent. I've seen some of the most beautiful places in Europe, as well as some of the darkest. And with only a few days left, it seems that those last few days will also be quite turbulent. They're filled with so many unknowns, such as what will the outcome of this Slovak election be, or what will happen next in this European crisis. I'm sure most of you are aware of this coronavirus outbreak in Europe right now. I have a friend who lives in Northern Italy, and he has been telling me that everything has come to a halt. Just recently, Austria has had around three cases, it has shaken everyone. People have been asking so many questions, and with so many questions and so few answers, everyone is so anxious. Just like the Austrian alps, this month has had several ups and downs. Some slopes have been gradual, while others have been steep. And it seems as if the last few days will be rather steep. I had a hard time deciding what photo to use for this blog. I decided to go with a photo that I took from the tower at St. Stephans Cathedral. I love the view of the city it gives, and although those aren't the alps, it's close enough. Hopefully, soon I'll get to write a blog from the Austrian Alps so that I can write a blog that truly has to do with the Austrian Alps.

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Ruzbeh Ghaffar

<p>Hello, my name is Ruzbeh Ghaffar, and I'm a Political Science major from Lincoln, Nebraska. Aside from politics, I enjoy traveling, reading, running, and doing photography.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Lincoln, NE
Political Science
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