Our pupils and members of the history department enjoyed a three day trip to Berlin from 19 to 21 January 2024. We also were joined by former Exeter School teacher Mr Nick Keyes who guides for Anglia Tours. The trip was not only a wonderful means of enhancing our understanding of German history and culture, but also a test of endurance.
On arrival in Berlin we dropped bags and refuelled before a walking tour of the centre of the city taking in the main sites of the Nazi era. This involved visits to the Reichstag, memorials to murdered members of the parliament and Sinti and Roma victims of the regime. We then walked through the iconic Brandenburg Gate and on down Unter Den Linden. The group was moved by the impressive memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, before seeing the site of the Fuhrer Bunker, now a car park and children’s play area. Next was the site of the former Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda and then one of the few remaining Nazi buildings not bombed or blown up, the Air Ministry. Nort far away was Bebelplatz, the site of the infamous book burning in 1933 and home to a thought-provoking memorial. We also saw buildings of the Imperial era such as the rebuilt Humboldt Forum, Lustgarten and the Old Museum. We returned to our excellent hostel for food and bed, tired but most satisfied with the amount of places we had seen.
On Saturday we took a coach to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp where the chilling reality of Nazi Germany was brought home to us in our extensive tour. We then visited the 1936 Olympic Stadium where Hitler’s dreams of Aryan supremacy were challenged by the legendary Jesse Owens. From there we travelled to the Wannsee Conference House, the place where the fate of the European Jews was sealed with the decision to enact the Final Solution in a meeting chaired by Reinhard Heydrich. The last destination for the day was the Reichstag Dome tour where magnificent nighttime views of the city can be had from Sir Norman Foster’s impressive glass edifice. After a meal in a local Italian restaurant and a trip to a supermarket to stock up on essential food supplies, we returned to the hostel after another excellent day.
After a hearty breakfast, our final day was action packed. A journey by the U-Bahn and tram system took us to the Hohenschoenhausen Stasi Prison for a guided tour of this imposing site. We learnt how the State Security arrested, interrogated and imprisoned their suspects in a psychological war to ensure obedience to the Communist regime during the Cold war. We then travelled to the Topography of Terror Museum that told the story of the SS/Gestapo complex. Outside was an impressive remaining section of the Berlin Wall that cut off the West from the East from 1961-1989. We then moved on to the infamous Checkpoint Charlie which saw many flashpoints between the USA and USSR sectors of the city.
This was our last visit before getting some lunch, picking up our luggage and heading back to the airport. Due to bad weather in the United Kingdom it was touch and go whether our flight would take off. Luckily it did and we experienced one of the most exciting landings many of us had ever known.
The trip seems to have been a great success, not least due to the excellent guiding of Mr Keyes and his local assistant, Charlotte. Their expert knowledge really helped to bring the modern history of Berlin alive. Thanks to Mr Baker and Mrs Culley for their support on the trip, and to Miss Nye as joint leader who worked so hard beforehand to make it all happen. The pupils conducted themselves excellently and were a great credit to Exeter School.