Sixth Form Visit to Berlin
During the February 2012 half term break, a group of sixth formers and three staff travelled to Berlin.
The visit was a successful one. Nothing could stop us from falling in love with Berlin – not the extreme cold, nor snow, ice, a lost passport, fatigue and sickness. We were bowled over by the clean, green spaces of the city, the friendliness of the Berliners, the efficiency of the public transportation system and, of course, the food and drink. We were impressed by the way the Germans are trying to come to terms with the country’s Nazi past, and how they are embracing being part of a new European Union.
Berlin is one vast building site, and we saw how many different types of architecture sit side by side in this buzzing city – from the Wilhelmine grandeur of the Unter den Linden, to the Communist-era concrete monstrosities of the old East Berlin.
Monday 13th February
After a 3am departure from school we arrived at our hotel at lunchtime.
The afternoon was spent in Berlin Mitte – this is the part of town with culture and museums galore, memorials and statues, history all around. Several students visited the world famous Pergamon Museum to see the antiquities plundered in the 19th century by German adventurers. Others visited the more hands-on DDR Museum, which tells of life in a divided Berlin from 1949-1989.
Tuesday 14th February
In the morning we visited the Berlin Wall Memorial in Bernauerstrasse, and the afternoon was spent in the grim and bleak Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. For those of us who have only seen such things from movies, photos and textbooks, it was very sobering and humbling to be in the very places where people were murdered for their beliefs.
In the evening we went to Potsdamer Platz, a lively part of Berlin with shops, cafes and night life.
Wednesday 15th February
The morning was spent at Topography of Terror, which is an exhibit on the site of the old SS and Gestapo buildings. Many students found this especially useful for their A level coursework.
Checkpoint Charlie museum was a disappointment – too much information displayed in a confusing way, but the day finished off with an amazing guided tour of the Reichstag building, now the Bundestag, or Federal Parliament. We got to see parts of the building where the general public are not usually allowed, and were given an interesting talk about how the German parliamentary system works. To finish off the tour we climbed up the glass dome, mastermind of British architect Lord Foster.
Thursday 16th February
We finished off our trip by looking at the Brandenburg Gate and then a visit to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, otherwise known as the Holocaust Memorial. The students were lost in thought as they explored this unusual and provocative memorial site.
A Memorable Trip
The visit to Berlin was a memorable one, and I think that many of the students felt able to overcome some of the prejudices they may have had about Germany and the Germans. What we experienced this week was life in a modern pro-European democracy, one which is trying hard to overcome its very chequered past and move forward.