Before half term, a group of Year 11 and 12 students could be seen dragging their suitcases behind them, layer after layer of their clothes being worn not just because the weather seemed unbeknownst to the fact it was Spring, but also due to the fact they were limited to only hand luggage. Impressive as it may seem that they managed to pack four day’s worth of clothes, toiletries and many other miscellaneous items into such limited space, this was nothing in comparison to how impressive Berlin truly was.
Personally, this was my first time abroad and Berlin had been somewhere I have always wanted to visit. After all, it is a centre of culture and history within Europe. Or at least, that was my original assumption: The trip to Germany confirmed this however, not exactly on the first day.
We arrived in Berlin at around 3pm (CEST) that Thursday afternoon to be surrounded by an environment no different to Liverpool One (as many people compared it to). Though the logos of Pull & Bear, Urban Outfitters and H&M flashed in front of us, it wasn’t exactly the greeting I had imagined. Nonetheless, we at least found ourselves in hostel rooms that looked as though they had been plucked out of an Ikea catalogue, a view of picturesque architecture and the passing cars below visible from our window. Given time to settle in, we soon began our exploration of the city I had spent so long wanting to visit.
Through the rain we met the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a side-by-side juxtaposition of old and new. Though closed to the public at that time in the evening, many people found one of their first photo opportunities here. Luckily, with it being so close to where we were staying, we were able to enter the two buildings first thing on day three.
From here onwards, we gained our first experience of the German underground. Though busy and cramped, they reinforced the fact of how efficient their railways are- Unlike in Britain, German trains actually show-up on time. We travelled to a food market full of stalls overflowing with a variety of mouth-watering sweet and savoury treats. I say that, but as a vegetarian in a country known for its many variations of sausage, I was quite limited as to what I could actually eat.
As day two dawned, we were met with the horrifying reality of an early start, with breakfast being served at 7am. Despite this, there was an underlying excitement as we headed out on our first full day of exploring Berlin. Another train journey and plenty of walking brought us to Checkpoint Charlie, a museum telling of the history of the Berlin Wall and its supposed ‘best security system in the world’. Despite this, we discovered the feats of a few in their successful escapes. Some tailored their own military uniform identical to those permitted to pass from the German Democratic Republic to Federal Germany, and many found innovative ways to simultaneously sneak their friends and family over the border. This included the modification of suitcases to hide a person on the back seat of a car, and escaping through the use of a wooden cable drum.
Stopping off at the Ampelmann Shop along the way, we headed from Checkpoint Charlie to the Brandenburg Gate. [click the images below for more information]
We later saw a stunning view of the city down below from the top of the Berliner Fernsehturm TV Tower before heading to Potsdamer Platz. A few separated slabs of the Berlin Wall stood before us, a relic of the division between the East and West. Painted with graffiti, one section demanding for ‘PEACE NOW’, these reminders of Germany’s past found themselves coated with chewing gum from head to toe. Though some may argue against this defacement, it could be said to stand as a representation of the continued hatred to such a societal division in Germany’s history, capturing the desperation of Berliners in the early 1990s to completely destroy what had divided them.
Day three was certainly the best. Starting with the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, our aching feet then carried the group from train to train throughout the day to reach each destination. The trains themselves were an experience in Berlin. With nothing to separate the carriages, one man walked back and forth entertaining the passengers with his own rendition of ‘Hit the Road Jack’, singing and playing the trumpet along to a backing track on a speaker that he dragged behind him. With so many people using the train to commute, another used it as an opportunity to explain his work as an artist and sell his art- which he did very well, may I add. (I was 3€ richer before I got on that train)
Such a journey took us from the KWMC to the Berlin Wall Memorial, which painted the history of the creation of Federal Germany and the German Democratic Republic, and their separation. At one point, a stretch of the wall stood before us grey and bare. It seemed to tower over us all, creating a feeling of hopelessness- But of course, nothing close to the hopelessness of those who once wished to cross it without having to risk their lives.
But with the bleak, came a highlight of the trip soon after: The DDR Museum, rich in the history and culture of East Germany. It painted the realities of workers and their hobbies within their day-to-day lives. In turn, it gave a basis in understanding the concept of ostalgie – that being the nostalgia many Germans today feel towards aspects of the DDR. Hoping to visit the Berlin Cathedral, we didn’t get to spend as much time as possible within the museum. However, when a small group of us turned up three minutes before the final tour began, we were quickly told that the Cathedral was ‘closed’. Let’s just say that the woman to bare such news so coldly was not thought of favourably in the aftermath. Nevertheless, another highlight of the trip awaited: The Reichstag building. As you spiralled your way up the Reichstag dome, an audio guide described the views that greeted you to then immerse you in the scenery.
Finally, day four came all too quickly. A long train journey carried us to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, a place that brought unease as soon as you were greeted with the words ‘ARBEIT MACHT FREI’. Another harrowing part of Germany’s history unravelled before us, a chapter of many people’s lives under the repressive, fascist regime of the Nazis. Walking the same paths as prisoners of war created a sense of discomfort, but a necessary one; this was an important part of history for all to learn from as to avoid an unnecessary repeat.
Spirits were lifted by a trip to the East Side Gallery, which stretched out as a collective masterpiece of so many artists’ work. With each piece came a new style and a new message that provoked a response.
Even now, one month later, I still miss Berlin. A buzzing city with so much to see, it is my goal to visit it again in the future- and it should be one of your goals to visit it in your lifetime. For those planning to take A-level History in the future, this is a trip that you should definitely take advantage of. Not only does it supplement what you learn in the course, but it reveals to you a history and culture of an exciting city that no textbook can perfectly capture to the same extent.
By Rebecca Warburton
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