My Christmas Trip to Europe

Ting-Shan Lin, a current MA Translation student from Taiwan, talks about her experience travelling across Europe over the Christmas holiday.

This was my very first backpacking experience to Europe in my life, needless to say how excited I was, especially as the trip was during the Christmas holiday. We went to Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Salzburg and Munich. Every place has its own beauty and attractive part, but there was one thing you could never miss during this season– the Christmas market. Basically we came across at least one Christmas market every day in each different city, even without planning.

IMG_7822

Gendarmenmarkt, a German Christmas Market

Germany has the oldest Christmas market tradition in the world, so I was really excited about every visit and enjoying the Christmas vibes there. Of course, we didn’t miss the hot mulled wine, which was really comforting and warming especially after a long walk in such cold weather. But what made me crazy about the Christmas market was the various mugs that we could keep if we really fancied the design. It was quite an adventure for mug hunting. Every time we wandered around a Christmas market, I couldn’t help but check the mug that they served their wine in.

Enjoying a tipple at Gendarmenmarkt

Enjoying a tipple at Gendarmenmarkt

This was the very first mug I got in a Christmas market, called ‘Gendarmenmarkt’ in German, which is really famous for its white roof stalls. Actually, it was the only one that we had to pay an entrance fee (¢1) for, but I really enjoyed the atmosphere there. There was a stage area where crowds gathered for some performances and there was a big indoor market selling a variety of goods from Christmas cards to decorating ornaments.

My favourite Christmas market mug

My favourite Christmas market mug

This shoe-shaped yellow mug is my favourite collection from Vienna’s Christmas market. I still remembered that morning we saw so many people walking around holding it when we were admiring the grand buildings around Hofburg. We started to check every stall for the mug and forgot why we were there initially. Luckily we found it at last, and yes, I tried a different drink which was lovely and the whipped cream not only made it taste better, but also made the mug look even cuter.

Places we visited

Germany:

Berlin – a collision of modern and history

IMG_9465

Reichstag Building, Berlin

Berlin is an interesting city in my opinion. At the first glance, the city has an array of grand modern buildings, and streets are tidy and organised. A special building that we visited during our stay was the Reichstag building. It’s designed as a green building utilising renewable energy technology due to a fire incident in 1933. We booked a free tour, including a brief introduction about the building and an audio-guided tour to the top of the arch. I was amazed by the audio guide because when we started to walk into the circular pathway leading to the top of the arch, the audio guide just spoke automatically and introduced what we could see at the spot we were. We didn’t have to bother working out which button to press or which channel to choose. During this tour, I not only enjoyed the scenery but also learned more about the city.

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall

Compared to the tidiness of the western part of Berlin, the east had a totally different atmosphere and a street scene with countless graffiti. Walking along the ruins of the Berlin Wall, it gave me an illusion of travelling back in time, as if the West and the East were still controlled by two different parties. Some of the graffiti along the wall depicted the historical incident, others may convey the atmosphere of uncertainty during the split period. It’s a great place for tourists who want to have a taste of history and a different vibe away from modern Berlin.

After a four-day stay in Berlin, I found it’s a city combining modern elements, but still preserving its historical characteristic of the Second World War. I love the advanced part of the city as well as the slightly messy side.

Munich

It was really close to Christmas when we travelled back to Munich, Germany. Actually, we planned to go to a world famous Christmas market in Nuremberg during our stay in Munich. However, we forgot to book train tickets and the last minute deal was literally robbery! Moreover, we were all exhausted at this point- the twelfth day of our journey- so we decided to go easy with the last four days.

3

New Town Hall, Marienplatz, Munich

We visited our last Christmas Market in front of the old city hall on the 24th December. I found the day of Christmas Eve was quite similar to Chinese New Year’s Eve. Most of the stores were closed by around three in the afternoon to prepare for the night with family. Instead of a Christmas feast in a restaurant, we had a Chinese style dinner to celebrate the night for reunion. We bought some ingredients from a Chinese market for hot pot, which is a tradition in my family for Chinese New Year’s Eve, to celebrate this special Christmas Eve in Munich. After so much gourmet food in local restaurants, this was a special meal to me during the trip. I think I’ll always remember this special Christmas Eve, sharing hot pot with friends in a foreign city.

Our Christmas Eve meal preparation

Our Christmas Eve meal preparation

After the comforting meal, we joined a Mass in a local church, which was recommended by a lovely receptionist at our hotel. I am not religious but I was quite interested in the ritual held in church on Christmas Eve. When we arrived in the church, the event had already started. I was a bit surprised by the number of people participating and the chorus, with the Organ accompaniment, echoing around the grand church was astonishing. It was a peaceful moment and I even closed my eyes and started to remember my year of 2016. It was a time for appreciation and reflection.

Christmas Eve Mass

Christmas Eve Mass

Czech Republic:

Prague

Out of all the cities I visited during this trip, Prague is my favourite one, although we didn’t have a good impression at first. The time we arrived at Prague was quite late at night. The first problem we encountered was that we didn’t have the proper currency we needed and secondly I was totally unfamiliar with the language they use (I learned German for two terms during undergraduate studies: although I am only at basic level, I can read and listen to some key words). It was quite a messy night, especially when we arrived at our hotel around 10 pm. It seemed like a private accommodation and we couldn’t find how to get in there. After confirming the address with a coffee shop nearby and getting inside the building, we also found the e-mail the house owner sent us, which included the room number and password of our room. Actually, it was our mistake for not paying attention to the detail of the check-in time. It was a novel experience that we didn’t even have to check in to get into a room. Although it seemed quite scary from the appearance of the building (built during the middle ages with some superstitious stories), it was a cosy apartment with a lovely attic. Much to our surprise, it turned out to be our favourite accommodation and we really felt at home there.

Prague

Prague

Compared to other cities, Prague has a lower commodity price and cheaper fees for transportation. It was a great tourist spot to explore on foot. We visited the area of Prague castle and Charles bridge, which was really magnificent. But the most memorable spot during my stay in Prague was the viewing platform at the top of the Astronomical Clock, which was breathtaking. I still remember it was a beautiful day with brilliant weather, but it was also quite windy and the air was still chilly. Although it was freezing and I could hardly feel my fingers, I still had the temptation to take pictures. It was a totally different angle but a marvellous spot to see the beautiful city underneath, which was like a vivid showcase of various building models with orange roofs shining under the sun.

The colourful roofs of Prague

The colourful roofs of Prague

Austria:

Salzburg – King’s Lake

If the tour to other cities was an exploration of grand architectures, the trip to Salzburg was an adventure of the magnificent natural environment. We went to King’s Lake (Königssee), which is near the border of Austria but located in Germany. As the bus travelled through the mountainous area, a change of scenery caught our attention. Not only the site of the remote mountain’s tip covered in snow, but also the trees and extensive fields along the road. Since we come from a tropical area, it was not every day scenery for us. Needless to say, it was far colder than the places we’ve been for this trip so far. The white snow was shining under the sun, bright and spotless.

Driving through Salzburg

Driving through Salzburg

After a long ride, we finally got to our destination- King’s lake. It was quite misty. Although we couldn’t see anything during our cruise around the lake due to the fog, the view was still spectacular. It was windless and the lake seemed so calm and sparkly. The tour guide also played his trumpet in the middle of the lake to show us the clear echo through the mountains. In the end, he joked that he also had to pay for his cousin who played the melody back in the mountain. It was an enjoyable cruise and I gave a double tip.

King's Lake, Salzburg

King’s Lake, Salzburg

Wandering around Salzburg

It was the 12th day of my trip to Europe. It was also the last day in Salzburg. After nearly two week’s trip with friends, I decided to leave a day for myself. Actually, I had no plan at all, but I was so excited that I could explore the city on my own. Walking along the street from my hotel to the city centre, trees were covered in snow and shining under the sun. It was a bright day but the air was still freezing.

Without a map, I just roamed around the streets. Then, a market popped up after I turned into a busy street. I was surprised and excited because I love exploring local markets wherever I go. There were many stalls and food trucks with a variety of food and daily commodities. I was like a child who went into a candy shop where everything was so novel and attractive. I can’t help roaming around and trying to find out what they were selling. I tasted some food samples like cheeses and sausages. It was like an adventure, even though it might be just daily life for the local people. After 30 mins wandering, I stopped by a food truck which was selling fried chicken. When I was ordering, the salesman asked where I came from. I said Taiwan, and to my surprise, he replied ‘oh, Formosa.’ It was really delightful to find out people from a foreign country know my hometown. The conversation was short, but it really made my day. As I stood around a table and had my meal like the other locals, it gave me the illusion that I was a part of them. It was one of my most memorable mornings of the whole trip.

Presenting my ‘Judas Superstar’ paper at the South West PG Theology and Religion conference

web_Stephanie_3col692
Stephanie Roberts, a current MA Theology and Religion student, talks about her experience of attending and presenting a paper at a recent PG conference, hosted by the University of Exeter’.

On Saturday 6 May, the 22nd Joint Postgraduate Conference on Theology and Religion was held at Exeter for the first time. With a total of 30 research papers presented, the day proved to be a fascinating exploration of the current research undertaken by MA and PhD students in the South West.

The presentations were split in to themes covering all things from ‘Belief and Practice in Antiquity’ to ‘Philosophy, Ethics and Revelation’. This is just some indication of the great diversity of papers explored during the day. The eclectic nature of this conference inspired a feeling of open-mindedness amongst the guests and speakers. This relaxed atmosphere, and the words of encouragement from my fellow postgraduate students, somewhat eased my nerves of presenting a paper for the first time later in the day.

For my part, I was curious to learn more about the areas of theology that some speakers had chosen to dedicate three years of their lives to, and yet had never crossed my path of study. I found throughout education that many students (including myself at times!) have a ‘but will this be in the exam?’ approach to learning, unwilling to clutter their minds with information that will not increase their final percentage. It was refreshing to be involved in a day where the audience were enthusiastic to widen their view of theology and engage in these new areas of study that are, no doubt, often outside their own chosen sub-discipline.

Following the coffee break, it was time for me to give my first presentation at an academic conference, with a paper entitled ‘Judas Superstar? A reflection on the relationship between Jesus and Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar’. Despite my apprehension as a fresh-faced MA student addressing an audience who, generally, had much more experience of academic conferences, I was relieved that the questions were less intimidating than I had feared!

As far as academic papers go, I have found this one particularly enjoyable to present as the inclusion of movie clips and rock-ballads naturally accompany my analysis and the sight of audience heads bobbing along to Judas’ solos made me feel more at ease throughout the presentation. It seems the perfect way to have introduced myself to this academic rite of passage.

One paper I found particularly thought- provoking was by Amna Nazir, a PhD student of Law and Theology with cross-institutional supervision from Birmingham City University and the University of Birmingham. She demonstrated the necessity of interdisciplinary study in her paper, ‘The Death Penalty in Islam: A Religious Necessity?’. Having never studied Islam, this is a topic I knew very little about but I was intrigued by the provocative title.

Nazir explored the death penalty in Sharia law and international law and argued that, until there is absolute justice in the courts and governments of these countries, the death penalty cannot be right. Nazir explained that court cases’ reports are often restricted and so it is impossible to know whether countries have properly adhered to both Sharia and international laws. Furthermore, the great variance of its practice across Islamic countries is indicative of the fact there is a lack of consensus even within the faith about when the death penalty is to be evoked.

I found the paper incredibly interesting to listen to and the discussion that followed was just as rich. It became clear that there are a small number of Muslim voices supporting this view and, where westerners attempt to enforce their views against it, their criticism is merely met with disdain or suspicion by Islamic countries. Ultimately, if the application of the death penalty in Islam is to change in any way, the impetus must come from within the religion.

It was exciting for me to be involved with such a packed day of research papers and, in my view, the conference aptly demonstrated the active interest present in the theology’s many manifestations. The post-graduate community highlighted their willingness to engage in interdisciplinary study and to recognise the impact religious studies can have in a modern context.

Arguing about Empire: the Dreyfus Affair and the Fashoda Crisis, 1898

This article was originally posted on Not Even Past, the public history website of The University of Texas at Austin. Reproduced with kind permission.

We are very happy to announce a new online collaboration with our colleagues in the Department of History at the University of Exeter in the UK. Not Even Past and Exeter’s Imperial & Global Forum, edited by Marc Palen (UT PhD 2011) will be cross-posting articles, sharing podcasts, and sponsoring discussions of historical publications and events.

We are launching our joint initiative this month with a blog based on a new book by two Exeter historians, Arguing About Empire: Imperial Rhetoric in Britain and France.

By Martin Thomas and Richard Toye 

“At the present moment it is impossible to open a newspaper without finding an account of war, disturbance, the fear of war, diplomatic changes achieved or in prospect, in every quarter of the world,” noted an advertisement in The Times on May 20, 1898. “Under these circumstances it is absolutely essential for anyone who desires to follow the course of events to possess a thoroughly good atlas.” One of the selling points of the atlas in question – that published by The Times itself – was that it would allow its owner to follow “most minute details of the campaign on the Atbara, Fashoda, Uganda, the Italian-Abyssinian conflict &c.” The name Atbara would already have been quite familiar to readers, as the British had recently had a battle triumph there as part of the ongoing reconquest of the Sudan.

Fashoda, underlined in red, lay on the eastern margins of the Sudanese province of Bahr el-Ghazal. As this 1897 map indicates, the French Foreign Ministry, too, needed help in identifying Marchand’s location. (Source: MAE, 123CPCOM15: Commandant Marchand, 1895-98.)

Fashoda, much further up the Nile, remained, for the time, more obscure. Newspaper readers might have been dimly aware that an expedition led by the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Marchand was attempting to reach the place via the Congo, but his fate remained a mystery. Within a few months, however, Captain Marchand and his successful effort to establish himself at Fashoda would be the hottest political topic, the subject of multitudes of speeches and articles on both sides of the English Channel as the British and French Empires collided, or at least scraped each other’s hulls. It never did come to “war,” but there was certainly sufficient “disturbance, fear of war and diplomatic changes achieved or in prospect” to justify a Times reader purchasing an atlas, perhaps even the half-morocco version, “very handsome, gilt edges,” that retailed at 26 shillings.

The clash at Fashoda was both a seminal moment in Anglo-French relations and a revealing one with respect to imperial language. In addition to rhetoric’s role in stoking up tensions, there are further angles to be considered. Falling at the height of the Dreyfus affair, in which a Jewish Army officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, endured a protracted retrial after being wrongly convicted of spying for Germany, British official readings of the Fashoda crisis were also conditioned by the growing conviction that the worst aspects of French political culture – an overweening state, an irresponsible military leadership, and an intrusive Catholic Church – were too apparent for comfort.

Viewed from the British perspective, dignity, above all, was at stake. The French were obsessed with the prospect of their own impending humiliation; whereas the British, from a position of strength, showed verbal concern for French amour propre, even while their own actions seemed guaranteed to dent it severely.

French Poodle to British Bulldog: “Well if I can’t have the bone I’ll be satisified if you’ll give me one of the scraps.” J. M. Staniforth, Evening Express (Wales).

What the rhetoricians of both countries had in common was their willingness to discuss the fate of the disputed area exclusively as a problem in their own relations, without the slightest reference to the possible wishes of the indigenous population. This is unsurprising, but there was more to the diplomatic grandstanding than appeared at first sight. It was the Dreyfus case that best illustrated how embittered French politics had become.

Dreyfus’s cause divided French society along several fault lines: institutional, ideological, religious, and juridical. By 1898 the issue was less about the officer’s innocence and more about the discredit (or humiliation) that would befall the Army and, to a lesser degree, the Catholic Church (notably imperialist institutions), were the original conspiracy against him revealed. So much so that the writer Emile Zola was twice convicted of libel over the course of the year after his fiery open letters in the new print voice of Radical-Socialism, L’Aurore in early 1898 compelled the Dreyfus case to be reopened,

Twelve months before Dreyfus was shipped back from Devil’s Island to be retried a safe distance from Paris at Rennes, Zola’s convictions confirmed that justice ran a poor second to elite self-interest.

High Command cover-ups, the ingrained anti-Semitism of the Catholic bishopric, and the grisly prison suicide on August 31 of Colonel Hubert Joseph Henry, the real traitor behind the original spying offense, brought French political culture to a new low. From the ashes would spring a new human rights lobby, the League of the Rights of Man (Ligue des droits de l’homme). Meanwhile, the Dreyfusard press, led since 1897 by the indomitable, if obsessive, L’Aurore, wrote feverishly of alleged coup plots to which Marchand, once he returned from Africa, might or might not be enlisted.

Charles Léandre, Caricature of Henri Brisson, Le Rire, November 5, 1898. Here caricatured as a Freemason.

At the start of November, Henri Brisson’s fledgling government finally decided to back down. A furious Marchand, who had arrived in Paris to report in person, was ordered to return and evacuate the mission. The right-wing press, fixated over the previous week on the likely composition of the new government and its consequent approach to the Dreyfus case, resumed its veneration of Marchand. La Croix went furthest, offering a pen portrait of Marchand’s entire family as an exemplar of nationalist rectitude. The inspiring, if sugary, narrative was, of course, a none-too-oblique way of criticizing the alleged patriotic deficiencies of the republican establishment and siding with the army as the institutional embodiment of an eternal (and by no means republican) France.

Something of a contrived crisis – or, at least, an avoidable one – Fashoda was also a Franco-British battle of words in which competing claims of imperial destiny, legal rights, ethical superiority, and gentility preserved in the face of provocation belied the local reality of yet more African territory seized by force. If the Sudanese were the forgotten victims in all this, the Fashoda crisis was patently unequal in Franco-British aspects as well.

“Come Professor. You’ve had a nice little scientific trip! I’ve smashed the dervishes — luckily for you — and now I recommend you to pack up your flags and go home!” John Tenniel, Punch, Oct. 8, 1898.

On the imperial periphery, Marchand’s Mission was outnumbered and over-extended next to Kitchener’s Anglo-Egyptian expeditionary force. In London a self-confident Conservative government was able to exploit the internal fissures within French coalition administrations wrestling with the unending scandal of the Dreyfus case. Hence the imperative need for Ministers to be seen to be standing up in Marchand’s defense. In terms of political rhetoric, then, the French side of the Fashoda crisis was conditioned by official efforts to narrow the country’s deep internal divisions in the same way that the Republic’s opponents in politics, in the press, and on the streets sought to widen them.

Martin Thomas and Richard Toye, Arguing about Empire: Imperial Rhetoric in Britain and France

Originally posted 1 May 2017