Every other January since 2013, my Bethel colleague Sam Mulberry and I have taken students to Europe for a three-week course on the history of the two world wars. Whether we’re in Trafalgar Square or at a Canadian memorial in France or on the chilling grounds of Dachau, leading that travel course has become my favorite kind of teaching: exploring history where it actually happened, and where it continues to be remembered.

Sam Mulberry and Chris Gehrz at Versailles
Sam and me in Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors in January 2015

So I’m very happy to announce that Sam and I will be leading an eleven-day “World Wars in Western Europe” tour in June 2019!

The tentative cost per person will be $3,395, which covers all the tours led by us and a local guide, plus double-occupancy accommodations in superior tourist hotels (at least three-star, some four-star), all breakfasts and seven other meals, most ground transportation, admission to the Churchill War Rooms in London and a two-day Paris Museum Pass, a reading packet and suggestions for further resources, and an optional pre-trip series of classes (recorded, if you can’t join us in person). Airfare is not included — in order to give you flexibility with when and where you begin and end your trip to Europe.

The application for the “World Wars in Europe” trip is at the end of this brochure, which contains a full itinerary, leader bios, cost details, terms and conditions, and frequently asked questions. To learn more:

  1. Follow Pietist Schoolman Travel on Facebook, where we share photos and links
  2. Listen to our podcast, where Sam and I are talking through each stop on the trip
  3. And check out this map to see the sites included in our trip — plus others nearby that you might want to visit on your own.

Ideally, this summer trip will become an annual occurrence, with a different topic every year. Maybe the Reformation and Pietism for June 2020…

Travel Philosophy

There are many options out there for travel to places like Europe on subjects like the world wars. What makes Pietist Schoolman Travel different?

We don’t approach historical travel as a kind of tourism, but as an act that is educational and spiritual.

Travel Need Not Be Tourism

We’re accustomed to thinking of travel as tourism. The kind of travel that ad man Don Draper pitches to a fictionalized Conrad Hilton in a third season episode of the great TV drama Mad Men:

Rome, Tehran, Tokyo are magnificent destinations. And that’s really been the focus of almost every campaign you’ve had until now. How to lure the American traveler abroad. What more do we need than a picture of Athens to get our hearts racing. And yet the average American experiences a level of luxury that belongs only to kings in most of the world. We’re not chauvinists, we just have expectations. Well, now there’s one word that promises the thrill of international travel with the comfort of home. Hilton. “How do you say ice water in Italian? Hilton.” “How do you say fresh towels in Farsi? Hilton.” “How do you say hamburger in Japanese? Hilton.” Hilton—it’s the same in every language.

We definitely want our trips to be thrilling, but our goal is not to make American travelers feel like they’re visiting a slightly more exotic version of their own country. As much as you should expect physical comfort when traveling with us, you should also expect intellectual, emotional, and spiritual discomfort, as you’re pushed to look at the past and present in new ways. Because that kind of discomfort produces the thrill of genuine education.

Historical Travel as Educational

We do these trips as extensions of our callings as teachers who believe that education can be both informative and transformative.

Historians often say that the past is like a foreign country. Even if you were to study an older version of your hometown, you would notice important differences in how people think, feel, and act. But that’s all the more true when we travel mentally across time and physically across space.

Krieger's Mourning Soldiers
Emil Krieger’s statues of mourning soldiers at the German military cemetery in Langemark, Belgium

In a classroom, we can try to make you imagine what it was like to be a German soldier in 1915 Flanders or an American in 1944 Normandy. But what if you did that in a cemetery at Langemark or on Utah Beach itself, listening to the words of eyewitnesses describe those events as you see, hear, touch, and even smell the scene for yourself?

Trust us: it’s a kind of learning that can’t be duplicated anywhere else.

It’s inspiring — as you get a deeper sense of the courage and sacrifice of those who risked their lives for others.

But it’s also heart-breaking, even wounding — as you better understand the cost of war for those who fought… and many more beyond them. As you’re led to ask profound questions about purpose, meaning, suffering, justice, and belief.

“The trip was the once-in-a-lifetime experience I expected it to be,” wrote one of our students, “but it changed me in a way that was anything but expected.”

Historical Travel as Spiritual

Because we are both historians and Christians, we also think of travel as a spiritual act — a powerful reminder of our ongoing journey as “foreigners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11) who sojourn in this world.

Church of the Mortal Agony of Christ
Inside the Church of the Mortal Agony of Christ, Dachau

So we’ll suggest that our travelers treat this trip as an act of pilgrimage — an external manifestation of the interior journey that begins when anyone joins Jesus on the Emmaus Road and becomes a person “of the Way.” They might not find much that seems redemptive or holy in the story of the world wars, but they may well find Christ, since he was certainly present in the trenches we’ll walk through, where soldiers awaited death and suffered pain (as he had), and in the cemeteries we’ll visit, where people mourned the wrenching loss of family and friends (as he had).

As we see what warring governments demanded of their citizens, we’ll learn in new ways that “here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). But travel will also challenge us to think about how we love our neighbors — and our enemies — in space and time. Like the Lutheran travel writer Rick Steves, we think that exploring other places and times can get “you out of your comfort zone. It teaches you empathy and lets you come home with a broader perspective.”