My trip began in Berlin where I visited various buildings of the Humboldt University of Berlin, something I was especially interested in doing because I am about to embark upon a degree in Philosophy and Theology. It was therefore very exciting to visit a place in which highly influential thinkers such as Schopenhauer, Hegel and Marx have worked and studied.
I was also able to gain a further insight into German history and culture by visiting the Deutsches Historisches Museum and the DDR Museum, both of which trace the development of Germany particularly throughout the 20th century.
Whilst in Germany I was able to visit Dresden, a city which still bears the scars of Allied bombing during the Second World War, but also a place which serves as an example of admirable determination to rebuild the city’s buildings in their original 18th century style. It was here that I visited the Kreuzkirche, an 18th century Lutheran church which suffered heavy damage during the war.
I was delighted to find that the church was holding an exhibition on the philosopher and political activist Simone Weil, and I was therefore able to see some of her notes and letters first hand.
On my trip I also visited several countries which once formed part of Yugoslavia, such as Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia and Slovakia. Having studied the Cold War and the break up of Yugoslavia which followed, I was particularly interested to find out more about the impact that the conflicts of the 1990s had on these countries.
For example, whilst in Ljubljana - the capital of Slovenia - I visited the National Museum of Contemporary History. The exhibits at this museum provided a fascinating insight into the complex ethnic tensions and political upheaval the country experienced in connection with its declaration of independence in 1991.
Although I had studied the history of the former Yugoslavia before going on this trip, visiting these places first hand shed a completely new light on the history of the area, one which I would not have been able to grasp had it not been for speaking to locals and listening to their take on their country’s past.
When visiting Prague for example, I met a young woman named Barbara studying at Charles University who offered to show me round the city she was clearly very proud of. One of the most striking things she pointed out to me was a giant metronome on the outskirts of the city which had been built to take the place of a statue of Josef Stalin which had been destroyed in 1962.
She explained that the metronome held a profound and symbolic significance for the people of Prague: that the times are always changing. That is to say that no matter what terrible persecution a community or even a nation is experiencing, it is only ever temporary. It was at times such as these that I was reminded of the remarkable resilience and courage the people of this region have shown; something which I will endeavour to take with me throughout my own life.
I would like to thank the Committee for awarding me this scholarship as it has given me a fantastic opportunity to explore places which I would not otherwise have been able to, and I believe the experience will greatly enrich my future studies and work.