Our Time Has Come

The day (Sunday) started off like any other day. We gathered in the morning for a brief group meeting to discuss travel plans. Afterwards, we were set free for an entire day to ourselves in Paris. Some of us went to museums, others went to Versailles & the catacombs, and the rest of us went to take much needed naps before venturing on with our own plans. You might be thinking, “Why take a nap when you have an entire FREE day to do whatever you want in Paris?” Exhaustion had set in for most of us by this point in the trip. (13 students + travel + no sleep = cranky beyond belief) My original plan was to go to Versailles with a few of the other students, but I want to come back to Paris someday, so I thought it’d be best to save it for another time. I went downstairs to take one last stroll through the beautiful French Market before it closed for the day. The market was such an authentic French experience. Many of the people only spoke French, but they were so friendly and willing to let you try their foods to show you how fresh they were. I bought a Nutella-banana crepe, then it was back to the hotel to pack up my things, this way I wouldn’t have to worry about it later on that night.

Nutella-Banana Crepe at the French Market

Around the time I finished my packing, our group had received news of the Orlando shooting.

I’ve written the start of this paragraph over and over again several times, but there are no words to express how I feel about this horrific event. Before the trip, I think I would have been sad for the families & friends of those that passed, but I wouldn’t have felt the sense of connection that I do now, knowing some of the beautiful history of this community and having had the opportunity to meet some of the most incredible people that are deeply involved in the LGBT community. This event has shown all of us that you really don’t know when something bad will happen and that we need to cherish every day. My heart goes out to the entire queer community around the world during this time.

Some of the students that were in the hotel lobby were having a difficult time after hearing the news, so we all went to dinner together to try and get it off our minds for a bit. The absolute best part of dinner was knowing that, when tragedy struck, I had family to hold me and grieve with me, even though I was thousands of miles away from home. I can’t even begin to express how incredible our instructors were to make sure that we were okay before they even considered how they were feeling themselves, which stuck out to me more than anything. As a future educator, they have given me so much to strive for. The way we have all been here for each other during this time is a strong reflection of what the LGBT community is like as a whole. Always sticking together through hard times, grieving together, standing proud together; this community is just unbelievable.

It was an early morning (Monday) getting up at 4:45 am to head to the airport. Who knew traveling meant lack of sleep?! Once we checked our bags and went through security, (a super simple process – surprisingly) we patiently waited to board our plane. Most of us took naps in the waiting area since we had roughly 1.5 hours until our plane boarded. As our boarding time grew closer, I became somewhat anxious because they were pulling people aside as they were boarding to check through their things and pat them down. Lowell let me know that not everyone goes through it. They typically only select “random” people to check. Fortunately for our group, none of us were selected. The plane ride was long (7ish hours – I was able to watch at least 4 movies during that time) and a little rougher than usual. Luckily, on long flights, the airline provides you with a small flat pillow, a paper thin blanket, questionable meals, and a screen to watch the latest movies on, if you so please. The landing was bumpy, but we made it. It turns out, customs wasn’t as terrifying as I expected it to be. It was actually quite simple and took the least amount of time. Once we finished with customs, we had to get our bags, recheck them, and wait to board our second plane for the day. The second plane was SMALL. It was only 3 seats wide, the side with one person on it didn’t even have overhead bins. This flight was short and I napped for most of it.

Charles De Gallue Airport

Adjusting to the United States has been kind of weird. I never thought that I’d have to adjust to my home: the shower, the toilet, talking to my friends or people in public, etc. I’ve struggled so much with the language barrier for the past week and it’s weird that I will no longer have that problem.  Overall, the adjustment has been pretty easy, but I still can’t order food without saying “merci” when I finish.

After reflecting on this trip, I can tell you that the past few days have been difficult for me. My feelings about leaving have been mixed; one part of me is happy to be home, the other part is heartbroken that this wonderful trip has come to an end. But I think that even though this trip has ended, this is not the end for our group. Our time has come to stand up and make a change. We will take what we have learned about queer history and spread it like wildfire. The LGBT community will be a huge part of our lives and the connections that we have made on this trip will last a lifetime.

Is this Real Life?

June 11, 2016  –  Day Fifteen

Even though our trip is coming to an end, we still had a very exciting day. I apologize now for the length of my post but so much is racing through my head, so please bear with me. The “Sex” part of our “Sex, History, and the Cities” trip has definitely been represented this afternoon. Today’s itinerary scheduled for the Musee D’Orsay and the Musee de l’Erotisme. I did venture further than that today and found incredible experiences. The Musee D’Orsay holds magnificent pieces which date from 1848 to 1914.

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This museum first opened in 1986 and consists of works from three institutions: the Louvre, the Jeu de Paume museum, and the National Museum of Modern Art. The art varied from extravagant paintings to brilliant sculptures. On most of our past museum visits, we’ve had a tour guide to lead us and help us break down pieces with the histories and hidden meanings. Today, we did not have a guide, however, we have learned so much that we did just fine without one. As a person who usually just looks at art and doesn’t think much more than “That’s a pretty tree,” I feel I now know what to look for and how to find it. Not taking for granted our previous tour guides of course, (because they have all been spectacular and I am so grateful for the experiences.)

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On our trip we have learned that our history, queer history, has always been there but it has either been hidden or never brought to attention. Many times we have found queer art that has no mention of its queerness.

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With this trip, our minds have been given new lenses to look through to find our queer histories. My new lenses helped me find the relationships between people that were not familial, but rather sexual and/or romantic.

After Musee D’Orsay, we traveled to an area called Montmartre which was filled with sex shops, strip clubs, lingerie stores, porn shops, the Moulin Rouge (which is a cabaret theater), and the Le Chat Noir (a restaurant which has catered to this area’s community.)

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The Moulin Rouge had very risque performances by prostitutes, sex workers, etc. One famous woman in particular was La Goulue. La Goulue was a dancer, sex worker, larger queer woman who danced provocatively and has even ripped her panties during performances. We actually saw a painting of her earlier that day in the Musee D’Orsay.13407658_10206868448611813_552493852_n

We were released in the Montmartre for lunch and I would just like to mention how incredibly difficult this language barrier has been for me, I’ve faced language difficulties before but never like this. I know some Spanish but absolutely no French and I feel so ignorant and frustrated for coming to a country thinking everything will be just dandy without knowing their language. Luckily, most people I have interacted with knew at least a tiny bit of English, today however, was difficult. Randy, Avery, and I stopped at one of the first places we saw for lunch, Le Bistrot, and found the waiter barely knew any English and the menu was 100 % French. Thankfully with Avery knowing some French and with many hand gestures, we ordered. Our food turned out to be pretty incredible, too. I just wanted to share how this has been a challenge for me.13405568_1201319739880632_683023187_o

After lunch, we moved on to the Musee de l’Erotisme (Museum of Eroticism.) The Musee de l’Erotisme was established in 1997 and was made to present the missing histories of sex and sexuality.

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The arts of this museum have been hidden and silenced because of their content. The Erotic Museum brings sex and sexuality to light and instead of shaming the material, these pieces are embraced and brought to life. This museum is very sex and body positive and represents all types of sexuality. I personally saw representation for all types of communities ranging from lesbian couples to the disabled. This museum was a wonderful finish to our art stops. Very queer, real, and historical.13445864_1201319083214031_234968997_o13405634_1201319143214025_1444060484_o                                           13410746_1201319119880694_805499300_o

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After the Musee de l’Erotisme, a few of us went up this hill at Montmartre and found the most beautiful view. Our friend, Sister Rose, who we met earlier in the week, mentioned to us to go here and see the view in front of the big, ugly church. Religion can be a beautiful thing, however, Rose described to us that this church is so fat because of money and faith is not a value with it. So, we followed her advice, went to the big, ugly church, and saw the view that laid before it.

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We returned from this incredible view back to the hotel just to go out again to an art market outside of our place. I ventured alone mostly and found the most incredible art. There were people who had hand made paintings, jewelry, ceramics, cloths, and much more. I bought a scarf and a tiny painting and am so happy with my purchases. It was great to see work from actual French people.13423960_1201598833186056_8552444135229619401_n

Finally, to end our day, a few of us decided to visit the biggest must see, tourist thing to do. We went to the Eiffel Tower! Never in my life would I have thought that the world would bring me here. The metro rides were long but the view is well worth all of the distance.13427869_1201599149852691_2052240275061600260_n

We were all dumbfounded and elated. We waited until the area closed and then all of a sudden the tower started to sparkle and it was wonderful!! Because we are dumb Americans, we also ran across a crosswalk multiple times to get pictures in front of the tower. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity of not only seeing the Eiffel Tower, not only my splendid adventures today, but for this entire trip. Dr. Pitts and Lowell put a lot of effort into making this an experience of a lifetime and although I am sad it is ending, I am gracious that it even started.


A Day To Remember

By Nate Albrecht

10th June, 2016

Plaque to the Martyrs of the Deportation
The Garden with a small plaque which cannot be read behind the fence

Today as we continue our adventures in Paris, we visited two memorials. The first is the memorial to the deported people of France in occupied France, and the second is the Memorial to the Shoah. Unfortunately, we were unable to go inside the Deportation Memorial because it has been flooded by Seine River. I can however tell you that we talked about the collaboration of the Vichy Regime in the deportation of thousands of men, women, and children (especially Jews) to concentration camps, many of whom would not survive. The Garden above the memorial is simple yet dissatisfying in acknowledging the complicity of the French people during this time. The Nazis did not ask for any Jews under age 18 to be deported; however, the French willingly sent what we now know to be about 13,000 children under age 18 to the concentration camps. This memorial spoke to the importance of remembering the complicity of many parts of Europe during World War II that allowed the Holocaust to progress to the extremes that it did. The memorial itself sits behind Notre Dame which is a popular tourist site. This placement (directly behind Notre Dame) is important as is the language in the lack of accountability of the French to claim responsibility for their own complicity in the actions that led to the deaths of millions of people as well as the scars collectively France still caries as a nation over their own contradiction in belief of a universal citizenship where all are treated equally (idealized in the motto “Death to the Republic, Long live the Universe”) and their own willingness to comply with Nazi demands.

This leads us into the Memorial to the Shoah, where I will start by explaining the term Shoah to those who may be unfamiliar with its meaning. Shoah is the Jewish word for Holocaust or martyr, it can also be a term used for a great catastrophe. Shoah also has a biblical meaning of Destruction. Shoah as Holocaust can also mean death by fire. I believe this is important to remember when thinking of the Holocaust because people should be responsible for understanding the language of the people who are experts on what happened to Jews in concentration camps – themselves. Jewish survivors themselves are the experts on this topic.

The memorial itself has the tightest security I have thus encountered in Paris which speaks to its importance to the memory of the French people. Set in the heart of the Marais, the memorial sits in the oldest and most beautiful part of Paris. Walking to the memorial, we passed buildings that were 500-700 years old.

This building is 700 years old! This is what Paris would have looked like in 1300!!

After entering you come into a courtyard with a circular memorial to the places the Jews were sent to be exterminated. As you walk down the steps from the courtyard to enter the museum and memorial, you find walls of names of those deported from 1942-45. There are walls 8-10 feet high by 20-40 feet long of name after name of Jewish person who was killed. After you enter the museum, you go down one flight of stairs and can see women who were resistance fighters and continuing forward you go down a few steps and you can see the memorial to the murdered Jews. The final resting place for the ashes of Jewish people in a black granite and marble room with a large black marble Star of David in the center above is glass circles in the shape of the Star of David as well, which provides a soft light over the marble memorial. As you approach, you can hear every footfall, every swish of the fabric of your pants, every intake and exhale of breath and you know you are in a sacred place to be revered. The room is quiet and reverence hangs in the air. You almost get the feeling that dust even wouldn’t dare to settle here. Because of the impossibility of identifying millions of peoples’ ashes, they were buried there in soil brought from Israel on February 24, 1957. I apologize for the deep descriptions, but I feel that photos of this place are inappropriate to the justice of the individuals who died under Nazi persecution, not that a photograph could ever do this place justice. Upstairs from the memorial on the 2nd through 4th floors are artifacts and information about victims of the

Packs from the red cross given to survivors with blankets, food, etc.
Nazi records on French Jewish populations

Holocaust. It was interesting to think about the people who survived the Holocaust and to know that not everyone received reparations and that many people were displaced and moved through displaced persons’ camps which in some cases were just as bad for these survivors as the concentration camps themselves. There unfortunately was not enough time to look at everything in the collection, but what I did see was fascinating. There was even a section on memorializing the Shoah as to prevent history from repeating itself. This was a horrific period of history and if we as a society and generation refuse to memorialize all parts and pieces of it, we are doomed to repeat it because history is doomed to repeat itself. In far too many places, the holocaust is a distant memory in a time long ago and a land far away, but that time was not so long ago and land was not so far away when one can stand on the ground where victims stood and take in the sights they saw and remember that these are people too.

Let us not be afraid of memory, let us revere it and celebrate what should be celebrated, cry over what must be cried about, and never forget the joy or tragedy of the past which can help us to inform the next generation about how to live. I was inspired today not only by memories of perseverance, memories of sadness, and memories of bravery and courage, and I would like to end on a note where I find great courage. As we walked by a particular house, we saw a plaque which was dedicated to a mother and her three sons. This mother had sons in the French resistance who were fighting against the German occupation as well as French compliance. As we know the Gestapo did not take too kindly to French Resistance members and found out who these men were and stopped by their house looking for them, where the gestapo found the mother of the young men whom they were looking for. The gestapo asked her where are your sons and she refused to tell them… even under torture she refused to tell them. The Gestapo killed her. In this action of love, I find bravery and courage to remind us all not only to not forget, but to stand tall for our beliefs and to be kind to one another even in the face of great danger or death. Reflecting on this day has been difficult and while the language to describe the events of the holocaust and the outcome – the death, and destruction – while I find myself thinking impossible or unbelievable, I know that those are not words I can use to describe the Holocaust. I find the word Shoah to be the most useful as well as horrific, traumatizing, and memory. My generation is the last to meet survivors – many who were adults are gone, and those who were children are quickly disappearing. It is up to my generation – it is up to ALL of us to remember this and educate others on the Holocaust the impact it had on communities including Jews, Homosexuals, and the Roma people. We must never forget the atrocities and we must never forget the most important part of life, which is to love one another and not to dwell on fear and hate.

We Must Fight Back

Today was absolutely amazing! The day started off at the Bastille Market in which Lowell and Dr. Pitts introduced us to the most amazing crêpe stand. After we each managed to consume said crêpes (within seconds), we explored the market and got a fantastic glimpse into Parisian life. There were souvenir stands, clothing, toiletries, and food out the wazoo! There were people singing to passersby and a wonderful elderly woman scolded Madaline for standing in her way.


The delicious crêpe stand we ate at

A little bit past noon, we traveled to meet with some members from ACT UP Paris.


Hugues Fisher (right) and Dr. Yvonne Pitts talking prior to the meeting

Aside from being able to purchase some great gear, talking with Tom Craig and Hugues Fisher of ACT UP Paris was an extremely beneficial and informative experience.


Shirts, buttons, and informational packets from ACT UP Paris

Being able to have such direct conversation with the two gave us the opportunity to see how different or similar HIV/AIDS (known as “VIH/SIDA” in France) are handled in respect to government regulation, societal mindsets, and recent occurrences. The biggest difference when it comes to the epidemic is healthcare and how it affects contraction/reported rates amongst the French population. Since healthcare is free and provided by the government, citizens of France are able to easily test for HIV/AIDS and to receive treatment. Concerning similarities, Paris is experiencing some upsets when it comes to youth involvement. This is a theme that I can’t shake from my thoughts; it’s centered around the new generation – that younger people are not joining the fight against HIV/AIDS. Tom stated that the lack of concern seems to be from the idea that, with the new medications and testing systems, HIV/AIDS are an issue of the past. However, aids.org says with about 50,000 new HIV infections yearly, HIV/AIDS is still considerably an epidemic and still spreading. The end goal of ending AIDS is growingly dependent on younger generations. Going back to our experiences with ACT UP New York, it seems that the issue of youth involvement is worldwide. The need for younger generations to take action and become activists, in this case concerning the HIV/AIDS epidemic, is heavily and increasingly necessary. Having experienced what we have thus far along this trip, it only seems right to say that we are responsible to spearhead this call to action, bridge the gap between the generations, and promote education on safe sex and the facts behind HIV/AIDS, something that each and every school system is far too behind on. We, as informed young adults, are responsible to fight back and fight AIDS.


Group photo with Hugues Fisher and Tom Craig

The Louvre and an Afternoon with the Lovely Sister Rose

Today was our first full day in Paris. It’s my first time abroad and I’m so overwhelmed at the sights and smells I’ve been able to experience. Paris is the last (but certainly not least) of our three cities, and it’s definitely a sight to see.

After a long day of travelling, we were up and ready to tour the Louvre today. As we entered the courtyard, the magnificent view of the Louvre became a reality. Stunning, detailed architecture with hand carved statues everywhere. I’ve never seen anything so breathtaking. The humongous palace was so beautiful in the morning air. As busy as it seemed, with hundreds of people in line for the Louvre and taking pictures—like the tourists we are—it was a rather peaceful walk around the courtyard, admiring the architecture up close. Through the morning fog, I could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance.

group photo at the Louvre
group photo at the Louvre

We were treated like royalty as we got to bypass the regular tourists in line who had probably already been there for a few hours. Make way, Purdue Queer Study Abroad Squad coming through! Our tour of the Louvre was a short one, but filled with great art from the Greeks, French, and Italians. We walked by so many truly magnificent pieces of art. Everything was just jaw-dropping. Even the ceilings were painted! I could lay down in a hallway and stare up at the ceiling for hours.

We saw art by Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Ingres. We blew through our stops at pieces of art so quickly that I feel that I didn’t really get a chance to appreciate and study the art and the technique of the artist. It was also extremely crowded and loud, we all had to get “Jonathan Katz” close to hear what our tour guide was saying. But we hit the highlights, but still only saw less than 1% of what the Louvre had to offer.

left: Michelangelo, top right: Da Vinci, bottom right: Ingres "La Grande Odalisque"
left: Michelangelo, top right: Da Vinci, bottom right: Ingres “La Grande Odalisque”

We broke for lunch and some of us stayed at the Louvre to explore more, while others went back to Bastille where our hotel was to get some lunch and decompress from a busy, bustling morning. I went to a market that was right across from our hotel and bought bread and cheese and ate a peaceful lunch within the comfort of my hotel room, watching and listening to the Parisian environment. It was nice to sit and relax and watch the world go round for once, without having to endure another crowded restaurant and spend a few handfuls of Euros.

After lunch we met up with Soeur Nykky and Soeur Rose de Paname of Paris Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at a cute café where we were treated to a delicious variety of meats and cheeses; we definitely indulged ourselves. The sisters just wanted to have a conversation with us. It was very casual and friendly. We ate and laughed into the early evening while the pleasant breeze of the day waved the smoke and heat away.

Soeur Nykky (right) and Soeur Rose de Panamé (left) of Paris Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
Soeur Nykky (right) and Soeur Rose de Paname (left) of Paris Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

Sister Rose’s involvement with the organization is focused on bringing awareness to everyone by creating conversation. Change comes through a culture’s politics, but before any politics can happen, first comes activism, then empowerment, and then political change. “Politics comes from the word politica (Greek) meaning ‘what defines the limits of a city.’” They just want to get people talking about issues, so that they are aware and can hopefully pass this information on to their friends and family. These sisters are not afraid to voice their opinion. The law will change when enough people start talking about it. As Sister Rose was explaining some examples—using HIV controversy—they said that you have to get people talking, even if it makes you or the other person uncomfortable. Information is a powerful tool, “You are beautiful and you are worth it and you have to protect the person you love.”

group picture with Sister Rose (center back row)
group picture with Sister Rose (center back row)

We had a wonderful time with the sisters and after we were dismissed for the night, we continued to hang out with Sister Rose as they took us on a small tour of the area. We went to get dessert, where I treated myself to a box of macaroons and then Sister Rose walked us home.

Breakfast in Berlin, Dinner in Paris

Bonjour from Paris!
This morning, Kelsey and I had an early start and walked from our hotel to see the Brandenburg Gate, as my trip to Berlin would have been incomplete without it. We then went back to the hotel, set a record for the fastest breakfast ever eaten, met up with the rest of the study abroad squad and our friend Heiner, and walked to the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe.

Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate

At the memorial, we were given time on our own to explore the seemingly endless rows of concrete blocks. The paths are uneven and hilly and the giant blocks are of all different heights and textures. The deeper you walked into the labyrinth of stones, the steeper the path and the taller the monument became, swallowing you entirely and allowing you only to see the sun. At any moment, you could have run into another visitor, but when in the rows it appeared to be a rather desolate and solitary experience.


After some time, we met up to talk about our individual experiences within the very post-modern monument. Some of us had little to no emotional reaction, while others spoke of a feeling of isolation and anxiety. The confusion, isolation, anxiety, and the fear of what may be just around corner can be very easily juxtaposed with the experiences of the Jewish people sent to the concentrations camps. These people had no idea what would become of their lives and often could not see a way out and much like the people in the maze of the memorial, the only bright spot was the sun above.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Our discussion also involved the fact that the memorial is extremely controversial and has had two books written entirely about the concept of the structure. Having been built on the grounds of a former Gestapo headquarters, it hits a bit of a tender spot with many people. Paired with the idea that the enormous space has no real meaning (just as the genocide of millions of people), it is a place of much debate.


We then walked across the street to see the Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals. At first glance, the memorial doesn’t look like much. Tall and concrete, it could have been very easily assumed that they had been intended to belong together, though they were built years apart. The homosexual monument however, had slanted edges and was not perfectly rectangular. There was a small window on the front side of the box, and inside there was a video being played that portrayed a passionate kiss between two men. Upon inspection, there is no plaque or sign to tell visitors the name or reason for the monument. This lack of acknowledgement as well as the much less triggering word “persecution”, rather than “murder”, shows the hesitancy to address the mistreatment of homosexuals in Europe. We have seen this selective erasure of information and memorialization on every stop of our trip thus far.

Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals
Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals

Back to the hotel we went and frantically did the packing we were told not to procrastinate on, and caught our shuttle to the airport after shoving 15 people’s luggage into one vehicle like jenga pieces. We made it through security (barely), grabbed lunch, treated ourselves at the duty free, and waited. And waited. And waited.
After a slight delay, we got on our plane, where most of us swiftly became dead to the world (I took the BEST nap on Randy), some of us ate truly terrible macaroons, and we were in Paris in no time!

Welcome to Paris!
Welcome to Paris!

After arriving in Charles de Gaulle airport, we grabbed metro passes and crammed on to the train luggage and all. We took incredibly awful metro identification photos and after hauling 90 lbs of luggage up and down several flights of stairs and on and off a couple trains, we arrived at our hotel!

View from our balcony. Amazing!
View from our balcony. Amazing!

Exploring Gay Berlin

By Kayden Habron

Last night, some of us went out clubbing to explore the night scene of Berlin and the rest of us went to sleep to rest our jet-lagged and emotionally exhausted bodies. Regardless of what we did last night after our day at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, we were all still somewhat tired this morning when we met in the hotel’s lobby.

Finding the Bus
Finding the Bus

Our fearless instructors took us on the bus to Nollendorfplatz, which was the older gay neighborhood of Berlin and is now still a gay neighborhood with many bars that are labelled “For Men Only” or are specifically for those with fetishes, like leather. The first place we went was to a monument for the homosexual victims of the Holocaust.

Monument to the Homosexual Victims of the Holocaust

It was at the monument that we met our companions of the afternoon, Sisters Suzette and Aura from the Berlin Order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were founded to spread joy and to reduce stigmatization in the queer population. Berlin’s chapter was founded in 1993 when a Sister from another chapter in Germany moved to Berlin, and they estimate that they currently have 14 sisters and guards in their chapter alone. The Sisters participate in a wide variety of events to spread sex positivity and raise money for different causes. They do bar crawls where they hand out condoms and flyers, walk in pride parades, and attend benefits. Recently, the Berlin chapter attended a protest for marriage for all in Germany because people of the same sex are only allowed to have civil partnerships. In the last year, they donated 17,000 euros, mainly to organizations that are related to HIV and AIDS.

This is the Goya, or former Metropol, an old theater and dance club.
This is EisenHerz, a queer bookstore.
This is the former Eldorado gay nightclub, which is now a supermarket.
Many of the buildings in Nollendorfplatz display pride flags outside.

Sisters Suzette and Aura took us on a tour of Nollendorfplatz, past leather shops, rubber shops, queer bookstores, and the famous Eldorado nightclub that is now a supermarket. The Eldorado was under surveillance in the late 1930s and was used to round up homosexuals for violating Paragraph 175.

Ice Cream Shop
This is the ice cream shop we visited in Nollendorfplatz.

Many of us went to an ice cream shop for a lunch snack and the flavors were very different from the ones offered in the United States. I had some wonderful honey and sesame ice cream, but some other options were pear, banana and chocolate chips, as well as white chocolate and pumpkin seed.

AIDS Memorial
This is the AIDS Memorial in Nollendorfplatz.

We went to the AIDS memorial in Nollendorfplatz where we picked up litter that had been blown onto the memorial and participated in a ritual with the Sisters to remember those who lost their lives due to complications related to AIDS. Then we helped the Sisters move into their new archives space. We split into three groups: a cleaning group that prepared the new space for the archives, a moving group that helped move the archives from Sister Suzette’s apartment, and a cataloging group that helped Sister Aura create a list of what was in the archives.

Cataloging the Archives
Some of the students helped catalog the archives.

Halfway through, our instructors went to a local supermarket to get lunch meat, “American sandwich bread,” cheese, cookies, potato chips, and bottles of still water for our lunch and we took shifts eating and helping the Sisters.

We had a modest lunch.

Outside of the Sisters’ building, we found Stumbling Stones from a family that was deported from Berlin to the concentration camps. Stumbling Stones are found throughout Europe outside of the residences of victims of the Holocaust to remember them.

Stumbling Stones
These are the Stumbling Stones of a family that was deported to a concentration camp from Berlin.

After we bid our farewells to Sisters Suzette and Aura, we went to Humboldt University to listen to Kama La Mackerel, a trans and queer person of color, discuss “Not Your 101: Gender History is Colonial History,” and two things really resonated with me when she was speaking. First of all, she said that gender is a kaleidoscope, and as someone who identifies as transgender, I’ve often though that gender is not necessarily a spectrum as many people have tried to explain. Second, she said that as people with privilege, we need to “take the voices from the margins and center them.” One of my organizations tries very hard to include people with varying physical abilities when we host events, but it’s difficult to not only find places that are accessible on Purdue University’s West Lafayette campus because of the campus’ long history and older buildings but to find places that are easily accessible. It’s important to try to include people whose voices may not normally be heard or who may not be able to attend events because of their identities. I think it’s important that the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence seemed to recognize this in their commitment to accepting people of all backgrounds and identities in their organization. Though I’ve enjoyed our time in Berlin, I’m excited to see what tomorrow holds as we journey to Paris, France.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

By: Erin Osborn

Day two in Berlin brought our group to the most emotionally challenging part of our trip yet. Today we visited Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. On the way there we met our guide Finn, who proved to be very knowledgeable and informative, yet appropriately personable. We boarded a train from Berlin to the town that the camp is located in, and we walked the same two-mile trek that the prisoners marched. Finn mentioned that yes there are new buildings, but for the most part the architecture that we saw throughout the town was the very same that the prisoners had seen. What immediately stuck out to me was how pretty and quiet the streets are, and just imagining the numerous victims trudging through them didn’t make sense. How could the people of the town stand to see this? After all, the camp was not isolated. In fact, it was practically in their backyards.

In the far background of this picture, the gate is the entrance to the camp site right next to the house.


Upon our arrival, we learned that Sachsenhausen was established in 1936 and it was the first camp to be built. Finn pointed out a building that he said was probably one of the most important buildings of the time. This was where new concentration camps were planned.


After a bathroom break and a brief overview of German history, we finally walked through the gate leading into the camp. Finn mentioned that there was only one addition to the gate – the clock on top.

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The clock was permanently set to 11:07 to commemorate the exact time the Soviets arrived and liberated the camp in 1945. Most of the 35,000 prisoners had already been evacuated on a death march by this time, but about 3,000 were too sick to walk and they were left behind. There are six mass graves just inside the camp to the side, and each holds around 50 bodies of these 3,000. I have a picture of one of these graves but the file size is too large to upload.


We toured the central watchtower above the gates, and through the windows every part of the camp was visible. Sachsenhausen was built in the shape of a triangle for maximum visibility by the guards. This watchtower along with several smaller ones positioned along the walls ensured nothing in the camp was out of sight. Again, I have a panoramic video of the view from the watch tower, but sadly the file is too large to upload.

This is the layout of the camp. The black box on the right side is the central watch tower.

Sachenhausen wasn’t a death camp, but this does not mean that killings did not take place. In fact, it was actually one of the first places to experiment with fixed gas chambers. As we passed by a pit where prisoners were taken to be shot and as we walked through the foundation of what was once a gas chamber and a furnace where the victims’ bodies were cremated, many in the group were moved to tears.

This is the pit where prisoners were taken to be shot.
This is the foundation of the gas chamber.

Something Finn talked about particularly made me sick: the manner in which the ash was disposed of. There was so much ash from the bodies of the prisoners that it was sold to construction companies to make concrete. It was also sold to families of victims under the falsehood that it was the ash of their loved one. As if torturing and working countless people to death weren’t enough, the Nazis made a profit from the dead bodies…from the loved ones of those directly affected.

This is one of the four furnaces.

Toward the back of the camp there is a memorial dedicated to the communists. This memorial has the trademark red Communist triangles on the top, and below there is a statue depicting the Soviets freeing the German communist prisoners. This is a tribute to the liberation from fascism and it shows the communists as victims. What is interesting is that the statue originally showed the German communists as healthy and robust as the Soviets. This wasn’t accurate, and the statue was redone three times in order to paint a more “accurate” picture.


At the close of our tour, we saw the foundations of the prison within the camp. Located here was also a memorial to the homosexuals who were victimized. The plaque reads “Beaten to death, Silenced to death. In memory of the homosexual victims of National Socialism.”


Hearts were heavy as we walked out of the camp, and as we all needed time to process what we had just experienced we were released for the rest of the afternoon. To me this was the most educational and fascinating part of our journey so far. It was a very hard day, but it was necessary not only to our knowledge of the treatment of homosexuals but in opening our eyes to the mistreatment of a wide range of people.

Goodbye NYC, Guten Tag Berlin!


patriarchyOur final full day in New York City started with an analysis of the photograph on the left, which we quickly bestowed the title of “End of Patriarchy”. The title seemed to be a fitting start to the day given the repeated motif of social justice, activism, and civil disobedience throughout our week in NYC.


This conversation ceased, however, when Jim Eigo and Michael Kerr from ACT UP NY arrived to speak with us again. Listening to Jim’s mostly undocumented narrative of what it was like, living through the 80’s and 90’s, when HIV ran rampant and claimed the lives of so many was an incredibly moving experience. Jim’s narrative was raw and emotional, and made me feel more immersed in the terror the entire community felt, than anything thus far.


Michael hung out, bestowed upon us brand new ACT UP NY buttons, and ensured that each of us had enough ACT UP clothes to last us a lifetime. Having a few hours to spend with Jim and Michael, to listen to their stories was such an intimate experience, and has been by far my favorite part of the trip.

si  Following our conversations with Michael and Jim, we ventured over to Greenwich Village to the historic Stonewall Inn. Upon arrival, myself and two other trip participants presented on the historical context of the Inn, including the Stonewall Riots, and how the riots changed the gay community irrevocably. Listening to Tree Sequoia, current bar tender at the Stonewall Inn, speak to his experiences as a young man who used to frequent the Stonewall before the raids was an incredibly enlightening experience. Though Tree is 77 years old today (31 if you like ’em young), he speaks about life before the riots as if it were yesterday. “It was a better time, in my opinion. At least, it was more fun,” Tree reminisced, talking about bribing the police, working at a bar under the control of the mafia, and the constant, invigorating risk of attending a bar regularly raided by the police.


Tree divulged his perception of how the area has changed over the years, reminiscing about the good ole days when you could sneak up to the rooftop of any given building, lamenting that now, every door is locked up. He candidly discussed his own experience during the HIV epidemic of the late 80’s and early 90’s, discussing all of the loss that he experienced, and how the loss still affects him today.

Overall, talking to Tree was a much different experience than talking to Jim. Their stories feel so much different, where Tree seems to look back on the past with fondness and longing and Jim with pain and loss. These stories of these two men, both who have watched the queer community change over the many years, were so moving to listen to first-hand. It’s a special memory for me, knowing that we may very well be the last generation to hear from people who were there the night of the Stonewall Riots. I hold my conversations with individuals who are long term survivors and activists in the fight against the HIV epidemic so dearly. I know that I am incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity to have these experiences over the last few days.


As our final evening in NYC drew to a close, I spent a quiet night in my dorm room, doing laundry, packing, and preparing myself for a long day of travel. After waking up bright and early to have my final breakfast in the city (a fabulous toasted poppy bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese), I reluctantly rolled my suitcase into the elevator and took my final 22-floor ride in the elevator to leave the NYU Founders Hall dorm.


Together, we arrived at the Newark Airport nearly 6 hours before our flight, made it through the shockingly painless security process, and spent five hours in an airport, anticipating the long, 8-hour-flight we would soon be boarding.

The hours flew by pretty quickly, and after two movies, two mostly edible berlin collageairline meals, and an entire book later (If I Stay by Gayle Forman, a great book if you’re looking for a tear-jerker!), we landed in Berlin, exhausted, but excited to be on the next leg of our program!

After a few hours of much-needed relaxation, we ventured off to visit a piece of the post-WWII Berlin Wall, now decorated with a bright yellow spray-paint peace sign. It was shocking to me how what I would have assumed to be a stark reminder of the context of the wall, seemed to be a memorialized in a peaceful way. This reminded me that the Germany we visit today is not the same Germany I learned about in middle school, something I hadn’t realized I’d been nervous about up until that moment. Of course, I knew that WWII was over, that Nazi Socialism had come to an end, and that the work and death camps had been liberated long before I was born, but I’d never really learned about present-day Germany, up until I found myself here in Berlin.


Being here today has been tough. I don’t speak or read German, and find myself unsure of what to do when a language barrier prevents me from living my life as I would usually do. I’ve never been out of the USA, so I’ve never been in a position where I need to be concerned about not being able to read menus or maps, but it has been strangely liberating to navigate the few blocks I’ve managed to explore thus far, despite being in a foreign country for the first time.


Overall, the day presented a few surprises after we saw the wall. We explored the Mall of Berlin, witnessing both an Indian dance flash mob and a protest for unpaid wages within an hour of one another. Both experiences were exciting, and made me happy that I hadn’t chosen to sleep my jet-lag away. Now, it is nearly 10pm in Berlin, and I haven’t had any substantial sleep for over 30 hours. I am exhausted, but I am fulfilled, looking back on my experiences in New York City and so far in Berlin.


I hope you all look forward to hearing about our upcoming adventures. I am incredibly excited to be here, learning about history while simultaneously embracing the present-day culture of these new cities. Thank you all for reading, I hope you enjoyed hearing about my experiences these last few days!

Deb Edel: Lesbian Archivist Extraordinaire

Early this morning, we set off toward Brooklyn to visit the highly esteemed and internationally recognized Lesbian Herstory Archives (LHA). Founded in 1974 by Joan Nestle, Deb Edel and other feminist lesbians, the Archives was a place to recognize the lesbian community and the relationships within that community. Now maintained by Deb and other volunteers, the LHA is home to thousands of collections, periodicals, and books, all pertaining to lesbians and the queer community.

Lesbian Herstory Archives
Lesbian Herstory Archives

As our group arrived in Brooklyn and approached the LHA, I was surprised to see that it was in the middle of a suburb, half a block from Prospect Park. Although I soon realized that the residential setting suited the LHA- the accessibility that it provided to all women, not just scholars, was a core tenet of the Herstory Archives.

Meeting Deb Edel and being invited into the Archives was a profound experience. To me, this was one of the biggest highlights of the trip. My exposure to lesbian and queer culture was painfully limited growing up in the Midwest. The Archives held in its shelves the proof that lesbians lived and loved across the nation, including the blue-collar communities of small Midwestern towns. I was amazed to learn about the thousands of women that had sent the Archives their stories: love letters, poetry collections, even periodicals shared within lesbian communities. The Archives maintains a real humanity in its work and I am incredibly grateful to all of the hours that Deb and others have put into it.

The Archive space is four stories: a basement and three floors. The basement is used for processing and storage. The first floor houses many books of many genres. Deb shared that the books are alphabetized by first name, in order to avoid the patriarchal alphabetizing by last name, which I thought was absolutely genius. The second floor houses the collections of material that have been sent to the archives from lesbians all across the world, and the many periodicals that the LHA also owns. The top floor is living space and not officially part of the LHA.

First floor of the Lesbian Herstory Archives

One could spend countless hours sifting through the Archives and discovering the intricacies of lesbian life. One could also discover one of the coolest feminist jean jackets in existence.

Jean Jacket
Woman Spirit, Woman Power

Dr. Pitts and Lowell gave us time to peruse, although we hardly knew where to start. After taking a group photo and saying goodbye to Deb, we had a free afternoon until we met up in the evening to watch a show on Broadway. Kinky Boots was my first live theater production ever. Although I needed some recap from Dr. Pitts on what was going on, I did enjoy the show- but I think my heart was left behind in the Archives.

Deb Edel with the troupe
Deb Edel with the troupe

Queer History, Activism, and Service Learning: Reclaiming and Connecting in New York, Berlin, and Paris