The History Department trip to Berlin took place between Monday 23rd and Friday 27th of October, under the leadership of Alistair Hamilton. Some of the pupils who participated have provided this diary of events of what was a fascinating and memorable visit…
We gathered bright and early at City Airport – some of the group having left College on the 4am bus! – for our flight to Berlin. After being introduced to the unique complexities of the Berlin public transport system and checking into our accommodation, we were off to view what remains for many the defining monument of the city: the Berlin Wall. With context from the teachers, we visited a section of preserved wall at Bernauer Straße and got a better understanding of how the Wall divided the city.
Next, it was off to the East Side Gallery, which celebrates Berlin’s rich tradition of street art in a 400m stretch of open-air gallery with the old concrete slabs of the Wall as the canvas. After some supper, we then travelled to the Brandenburg gate for a bit of an introduction to the Prussian and medieval history of the city.
After an early start, we began at the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial. After an explanation of the uniquely triangular shape of the site, we went into the main part of the camp, to the sleeping area of the inmates. We were told many tales of the horrific treatment of the victims and learnt the specifics of their living conditions. We were led around the circumference of the camp, visiting areas such as the kitchen, the infirmary, and the crematorium (also known as Station Z). It was an eye-opening experience and helped us to truly understand the horrors of the Holocaust.
After leaving Sachsenhausen, we travelled back into Berlin to see the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This monument commemorates the deaths of the millions of Jewish people who lost their lives during the Holocaust. It was being guarded by police due to worries over antisemitism because of the ongoing conflict in Palestine: it was a highly moving and unique monument.
Afterwards, we stopped at the Topography of Terror museum, which is located on the site where many headquarters of Nazi organisations were located between 1933 and 1945: the headquarters of the Gestapo, the high command and security service of the SS, and from 1939, the Reich Security Main Office. Today the site serves as a museum educating visitors on many of the Nazis’ beliefs and methods of violence.
The final trip of the day was to the Reichstag, the building in which Germany’s federal parliament meets. After passing through security, we entered the main building and took the lift up to the roof. From there we were free to roam around and, despite the pouring rain, were given an amazing view of the city by night.
An 8:45 breakfast, consisting of a surfeit of dense German bread, was much appreciated by the group following yesterday’s early start. Following a trip to the Kurfürstendamm and the ruined Gedächtniskirche (a ruined church built for Wilhelm I of Germany) and a quick lunch, we visited the Olympic stadium on the outskirts of the city. A guided tour led us to the VIP section, the interior of the stadium and a much-anticipated visit to the players changing rooms: the news that Messi had once been there was met with great excitement by his fans from amongst the group.
We then made our way toward Checkpoint Charlie to pick up some crucial souvenirs – mostly, fluffy Soviet-style headgear, including one rather alarming gas mask – after which we caught the train again to Friedrichstraße to visit the Palace of Tears (Tränenpalast). We were given another tour and headed over to Hackescher Markt where a leisurely supper ended a more leisurely day.
Thursday began by leaving Berlin for Potsdam, site of Prussian royal palaces, on the ever-excellent public transport. We started with a quick trip to Frederick the Great’s ‘summer house’, the Sanssouci Palace. Then, after some lunch, it was on to the Schloss Cecilienhof, site of the famous ‘Potsdam Conference’ held in the summer of 1945 after World War II. A really detailed audio guide gave us lots of information as we toured the exhibitions.
On our return to Berlin, we had time for a break before then visiting the TV Tower, in the former centre of East Berlin, which dominates Berlin’s skyline. The poor weather meant that visibility wasn’t great, but we still had an amazing view of the city which most people (apart from those afraid of heights) could appreciate, including spotting places we’d already visited.
We walked back to Hackescher Markt for dinner once again. Our final engagement of the evening was a performance of the Falling In Love: Grand Show at the FriedrichStat-Palast theatre. This was an utterly mesmerising, if at times slightly bewildering, cabaret-style revue with aerial and acrobatic performances as well as singing and dancing. With costumes designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier and sponsored by Swarovski, it was a real spectacle and a great way to spend the final night.
Our final historical visit was to the DDR Museum on the banks of the river Spree. We were fortunate to have the museum largely to ourselves to begin with, and could explore the very interactive exhibits at our own pace. Then, one final combination of tram and train rides brought us back to the hotel, and then to the airport for our flight home, including a slightly death-defying descent into City Airport.
In all, the trip was great fun: we crammed a lot into our five days, and covered a lot of ground in the process (AJH’s step counter suggests about 90,000 steps in the five days!). We got an excellent flavour of the city and its culture.
Alistair Hamilton commented: ‘I hope this trip has inspired the pupils to return to this fascinating city under their own steam in the future. The group were excellent company throughout, engaging fantastically with locals and with cultural visits as well as with the staff. I am very grateful to Tina Rainer and Josh Lynbeck for giving up their time and for their tireless enthusiasm and energy throughout the week’.