In May, seven King’s students traveled to Europe through the College’s fifth Europa trip. Dr. Henry Bleattler, chair of the program in Media, Culture, and the Arts, directed the month-long program. Once final writing assignments are submitted, students will earn six credits for their studies of the culture and civilization of Berlin and Vienna.
In the first week, May 7-11, students attended full days of classes taught primarily by Bleattler. Dr. Dan Siedell, senior fellow in modern art history, theory, and criticism, and John Silvis, a New York-based artist and curator, provided additional instruction. On May 12, the group flew to Berlin, staying through May 23. While one student returned to New York after the Berlin visit, the rest of the group continued on for another 10 days in Vienna. The Austria trip concluded on June 2, and students have spent the last several weeks writing around 40 pages of responses to prompts about both Berlin and Vienna.
Every morning in Berlin and Vienna, the team ate breakfast together to discuss what they were experiencing and to plan their day. They would then visit sites in groups until late afternoon. In Berlin, students visited some of the world’s great museum collections, saw key locations involved in the rise of Prussia and its transformation into imperial Germany, and toured sites focusing on Nazi Germany, the Cold War, and the Berlin Wall. They also made day trips to nearby towns, visiting Potsdam to see Frederick the Great’s rococo masterpiece Sanssouci Palace and traveling to Wittenberg, the town that birthed the Reformation. Cambridge University theologian Dr. Jonathan Linebaugh, one of Siedell’s colleagues, joined the group in Wittenberg. Linebaugh, Siedell, and Bleattler led students on tours of Martin Luther’s home, the home of Reformation-era painter Lucas Cranach, and the church where Luther nailed his 95 Theses.
For students, the trip to Wittenberg was both personally and spiritually illuminating. Alexa Scull (Humanities ’20) says, “Seeing these artifacts, and Luther’s church and his home, put into perspective the things we were learning by connecting them to an actual place. I felt a closeness to these figures and significant moments in history.”
Another highlight was the series of studio visits that John Silvis arranged with local artists in Berlin. Silvis was born in Vienna, has spent extensive time in Berlin, and speaks fluent German, so he served as a host for the group. Campbell Moore (MCA ’18) says, “We visited the studio of Emmanuel Bornstein, a French painter who has made Berlin his home. For several students on the trip, this was the first time ever visiting an artist’s studio. Bornstein gave us much more than just a glimpse into his process: he told stories of his past and explained how they contributed to his work.”
These studio visits helped students to understand a work of art’s journey from a studio, to the art market, to a gallery. Alexa says, “As someone who wants to go into the gallery and art market world in the future, being able to talk to the artists was really affirming to me that this is what I’m passionate about.”
In Vienna, students toured major churches like the Karlskirche, Peterskirche, and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and historic sites like the Belvedere palaces and the Leopold Museum, one of the largest collections of Austrian art in the world. The group made a day trip to Melk, the site of a Baroque abbey, and journeyed by boat on the Danube river on the way back to Vienna.
While 2018 is the first year that Bleattler has led a group of students to Germany and Austria, the inspiration for the Europa program originated in Berlin. Several years ago, Bleattler had been in Berlin for personal travel when he realized a former mentor was in the city at the same time. This mentor had brought along students from her university, and she was leading classes on the Protestant Reformation at the sites where the Reformation unfolded.
As Bleattler and his mentor met for lunch at Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie, Bleattler says he realized he already does this kind of museum education in New York City. Visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art are a staple in his Arts and Ideas courses at King’s. To bring a class to a city like Berlin, Vienna, Florence, or Paris would take more work, especially with a language barrier, but it would be possible. This germ of an idea has bloomed into five successful years of the King’s Europa trip, three in Paris, one in Italy, and one most recently in Germany and Austria.
Next summer’s Europa trip is planned as a four- to six-week stay in Rome and Florence. Dates for this trip, as well as the College’s other study abroad offerings, will be available in September. Bleattler is also exploring the possibility of a trip to Russia to study the nation’s literature and politics.
“It’s this extension of the classroom, and just a unique experience,” Bleattler says of the Europa program. “Many of our students have gone overseas in other settings, but what’s unique about Europa is that it’s led by King’s faculty. Our faculty, whom our students know, are leading the classes on the ground.”
The Wittenberg trip was just one example of the way the Europa program blends international travel with a Kingsian focus on academics and Christian faith. “We could go into the church where Luther preached hundreds of sermons, and there was a famous altarpiece of Lucas Cranach’s where Luther is depicted preaching,” Bleattler recalls. “It wasn’t like we signed up for a tour group and just did ‘the usual’: we spent a lot of time visiting these places together and unpacking what we saw. We could talk about issues of faith and theology in a way that we wouldn’t get to on a traditional tour.”