Mercyhurst students immerse in German history

Mercyhurst students posing for a picture on trip to Berlin, Potsdam, and Munich, Germany

From the former headquarters of the East German secret police to the iconic Brandenburg Gate, 13 Mercyhurst University students recently experienced German history firsthand under the guidance of three experts. 
Accompanying the students were Fred Hoffman, associate professor of Intelligence Studies, who served as an Army intelligence officer in West Berlin and then as a Reserve Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin;  Dr. Katie Duda, an assistant professor of Russian Studies, who lived in West Berlin and multiple countries in the former East bloc; and Katie’s father, Joe Duda, who served as an Army officer in the U.S. Military Liaison Mission in Potsdam, East Germany, during the Cold War. 
Dr. Jim Snyder, dean of Global Programs, helped organize the trip that included visits to Berlin, Potsdam, and Munich from May 12-21. 
"This was my first time traveling with students on a short-term study abroad trip, and, consequently, I was thrilled to see how much independence they gained within our relatively short stays in Berlin and Munich,” Duda said. “It was impossible not to be impressed by the curiosity with which they explored things outside of their familiarity and comfort zones. Students' thoughtfulness and generosity with our guides and guests are testaments to their desire to grow in empathy and understanding." 
Students who made the trip must have taken one or both of the following courses during the spring semester: Duda’s “Ostalgie” course about why people who lived in the former East bloc feel nostalgic about the communist era; and/or Hoffman’s “Cold War Intelligence” about how intelligence was conducted during the Cold War, especially in the divided city of Berlin. 
"Learning about something that happened in the past in a classroom, or from an assigned reading, is one thing; seeing the venue where the historical activity actually occurred is quite another,” Hoffman said. “Several students mentioned this to me after we visited where pro-Nazi students burned books in Berlin in 1933, when we visited the Berlin Wall memorial on Bernauer Strasse, when we visited the Stasi Museum, and after some students visited the Dachau concentration camp memorial outside Munich. This was the true educational value of a trip like this." 
The professors filled each day with illuminating experiences, among them visits to:

  • Berlin
    • Hackescher Market
    • Alexanderplatz
    • The TV tower built on Alexanderplatz by the East German regime that became known as “The Pope’s Revenge” because it reflected the sign of the cross when hit by the sun
    • Walking tour of downtown Berlin
    • Brandenburg Gate
    • The Reichstag (Germany’s historic parliament)
    • DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republic) Museum
    • Stasi Museum (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit or Ministry for State Security)
    • Soviet war memorial at Treptower Park
    • Berlin Wall memorial at Bernauer Strasse
    • East Side Gallery
    • Allied Museum
  • Potsdam 
    • Glienicke Brücke (“Bridge of Sighs” movie; where spy exchanges occurred during the Cold War) 
    • Cecilienh of Palace
    • Linden Hotel (a former Stasi interrogation center and prison) 
    • Walking tour of Potsdam’s pedestrian zone
  • Munich 
    • Walking tour of Munich with emphasis on sites and activities of the Nazi regime 
    • The Deutsches Museum (German technology museum)
    • The National Socialist (Nazi) documentation center

Students also dined with East German author Katja Hoyer, whose 2023 book “Beyond the Wall” described life in the former East German state, visited Zugspitze, which is the highest point in Germany, sampled some traditional German culinary fare like Wiener Schnitzel, and went surfing on the Isar River in Munich. 
Students making the trip included Jeanette Baker, Mia Burrington, Ronnie Jones, Abby Lynn, Johnathon Morvay, Madeline Principe, Aidan Reichert, Gina Sarama, Jack Schihl, Marcus Shelly, Kate Wigton, Parker Wood, and Michael Zacur. 
Mercyhurst plans to offer this trip again in May 2026.  
PHOTO: Trip participants gather at historic Brandenburg Gate.