Author: André Dombrowski, Associate Professor, History of Art
A few weeks have passed now since our return from a remarkable trip through Western Europe that took us through Switzerland, France, Germany and the Netherlands, much of it spent onboard as we cruised up the Rhine River. The trip offered a range of experiences for both lovers of nature and culture: the Alps and the UNESCO heritage site of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley were interspersed with visits to charming towns and churches. It was a pleasure to meet the Penn-affiliated passengers on the trip who numbered 18 and who shared their memories of the university, which stretched from the class of 1959 to the law-class of 1989. My mother-in-law Joan, who accompanied me, would like to thank everyone for including her so warmly within our group. She said she had the trip of a lifetime!
When we arrived in Zurich, we were greeted by our charming Gohagan travel directors, Brian and Cory, who accompanied us throughout the trip and proved able entertainers with singers’ voices! It is hard for me to name the highlights of the trip. Lucerne (and also Bern) was especially appealing and our accommodations there just spectacular. Surely the visit to Zermatt was one of my favorites, reached by a slow Alpine train. On the day we visited, the Matterhorn’s peek was visible for long stretches of the day; unlike during my previous two visits…, just one cloud hugging its side. The snow in my hands in June felt good. After our time in Switzerland, we boarded the MS Amadeus in Basel and started our journey up the Rhine from there. I loved Strasbourg, such a charming town with so much to offer; Heidelberg was a favorite, especially the castle ruins, which I had never seen before; and also the impressive Niederwalddenkmal in Rüdesheim, built a few years after the Franco-Prussian War and in response to the German victory over the French in 1871, which I often study and teach in my classes. Finally, I enjoyed going up the Rhine through the famous gorge and see the Lorelei cliff from atop the river. Having grown up not all too far from there—a few hours away in North Rhine-Westphalia where my parents still live—this stretch of the trip gave me a whole new perspective on my own home country.
Two times during the trip I lectured to the passengers on the ship, one of a total of four faculty hosts who shared their research. My first talk was focused on architectural history. I had taken lots of photos along the way and wanted to provide everyone with some quick tools to understand the style of buildings—we covered baroque, rococo, historicist architecture and some aspects of modern art—and also their various functions, showing especially how both informed each other. My second lecture covered the artistic consequences—from impressionism to early modernism—of the conflict between France and Prussia/Germany stretching from the Franco-Prussian War in 1870/71 to the outbreak of World War I. I wanted to show especially the ways in which military victory and avant-garde expression do not always, if ever, go hand-in-hand.
The trip was one of the most memorable for me. I had not been to most of the places we visited for many years—sometimes for more than a decade—despite having grown up in Germany. Exploring this part of Europe with other Penn guests made me look at its special and varied beauty anew.
I will participating on the Paris to Provence trip in 2015, I hope you join me!