Berlin Trip: 30 June - 3 July 2019
Students take in the History of Germany's Capital
A group of 21 Year 10 students, traveled to Berlin last week visiting numerous historic sites. These included the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, East Side Gallery, the Stasi prison, the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag and Holocaust Memorial, the Palace of Tears and the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) Museum, to name a few.
The students experienced a wide view of the city and saw the importance of this moment in German history. They spent most evenings talking with BACA staff about the events of the day and what they had found most interesting.
Students returned from the trip with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the circumstances for those who lived in Berlin between 1945-91 and are now better able to visualise the height of the conditions during the Cold War. The activities and museum visits served to both reinforce and deepen their learning from the classroom, about a topic that is arguably one of the most difficult for them to access.
Ms Jane Smithson accompanied the trip, along with Mr Harvey and Ms Richardson. See below for Ms Smithson's account of the trip, with the photo gallery to follow.
Our first stop was to head over to Checkpoint Charlie, where we spent a couple of hours looking through the museum. It was filled with a wealth of information, imagery, videos and apparatus that really enabled the kids to envisage the gravity of the divide between East and West and what some East Berliners were willing to do in order to escape Soviet rule e.g. homemade hot air balloons, zip lining between buildings, human suitcases etc. The Reagan and Gorbachev sections were also very detailed and helpful in reinforcing the end of the Cold War unit, which isn't necessarily the most interesting to learn about in the classroom.
We then took public transport over to the East Side Gallery and the students were able to envisage what it was like to be only metres away from the Western zone and yet unable to access it from the side that we were stood upon. The most observant pupils even took note of the differences in how the two sides of the city were built up today - with more subtle, but still poignant examples of the wealth that the Western zone had prospered from during the divide. They were also able to appreciate the sense of celebration that the city felt when the wall was dismantled; through the various murals lining the wall, which emphasise the symbolic freedom, integration and euphoria that Berliners felt when the city was reunited.
Following a picnic lunch by the river, we made our way over to the Stasi prison for an afternoon tour of how the Soviet secret police tortured, incarcerated and incited confessions from their hostages. The students explored the inside of the prison cells and transport vehicles, as our guides provided detailed accounts of how certain cells and treatment methods were devised purely for the psychological torture of their prisoners. Through real life stories of ex-inmates, the pupils soon realised that definitions of crimes under Stasi rule were vast and punitive and that many innocent victims would confess due to extreme psychological coercion. Feedback from the pupils indicates that this was their favourite historical visit and we were very lucky as they begin renovations at the prison at the end of this summer, meaning that we were one of the last groups able to experience a full tour for the foreseeable future.
The students were positively exhausted by the evening and so after making a quick stop at Lidl so that they could stock up on sugar, we headed back to the hostel for dinner and chill out time.
In the morning we set off on a walking tour of the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag and Holocaust Memorial. Ms Richardson was brilliant at taking the students through an understanding of how the gate, once recognised as a landmark of division, now stands to represent the reunification of Germany. Likewise the Holocaust memorial, although not part of their Cold War module, was nonetheless a wonderful opportunity for the kids to appreciate the significance of 20th century events and repercussions of the atrocities of war.
From there, we then made our way on foot over to the Palace of Tears. Once a GDR border crossing, we had a wonderful tour guide who talked the pupils through the various experiences that East and West Berliners would have undergone when trying to cross over. Details of what they could and could not take with them, of the thousands of people who remained separated including mothers, sons, sisters etc and the constant feeling of imprisonment that East Berliners felt in their daily lives; were carefully retold to us, with the use of original artefacts and recreated border control offices.
Following on from this we headed back to the hostel for a late lunch and to change for an afternoon of swimming. The swimming pool was located next door to Tempelhof airfield and we got to have a quick look at one of the main drop-off locations for Western supplies during the Berlin blockade and airlift. We all then had a couple of hours to enjoy the sunshine, unwind in the pool and/or relax on the grass.
On our final day we checked out and stored our baggage before making our way over to the DDR museum located in the centre of former Soviet Eastern Berlin. This was in my opinion, one of the best museums during our visit. It was incredibly interactive, with a wide variety of games, activities and cinematic videos that enabled the students to explore and experience life in East Berlin under Soviet control. There were reconstructed houses, elevators and prison cells, as well as sample vehicles, canned foods and original photographs; all with the intent of allowing visitors to touch, feel and interact with the past.
With only a couple hours left before we had to make our way to the airport, we walked around the corner to Alexanderplatz, formerly East Berlin's central pedestrian and shopping area, where we had lunch and the students had an opportunity to look around the shops and buy any souvenirs/gifts.
Ms Richardson, Mr Harvey and myself found that the trip overall was a wonderful success. The students were impressively well behaved and we spent most evenings talking with them about the events of the day and what they had found most interesting. The activities and museum visits served to both reinforce and deepen their learning from the classroom, about a topic that is arguably one of the most difficult for them to access. They have returned from the trip with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the circumstances for those who lived in Berlin between 1945-91 and are now better able to envisage the conditions of one of the pinnacle hot areas of the Cold War.