Forty-two students from Year 10 and 11 and four members of staff, Mr Mills, Mr Callery, Mrs Jervis and Mr Vine, have taken advantage of a four-day visit to the German metropolis of Berlin. The aim was to experience the city’s powerful history, sample its vibrant culture and gain a deeper understanding of aspects of our GCSE History course – and it ticked all the boxes!
Trip leader, Mr Mills reports on a thought-provoking exploration of a city that oozes mid-twentieth century History. First of the list of historic landmarks was Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. “Its Neo-Romantic style, originally boasting five spires, was the target of air raids in WW2 and still bears the heavy scars of war. Later, we took a coach ride outside the city to the elegant villa of Wannsee, location of the Wannsee Conference of January 1942. “The house is located in an affluent area on the banks of a grand lake and its beautiful setting belies the murderous intentions of the meeting,” said Mr Mills. Ninety minutes was all the time it took for top Nazi officials and bureaucrats to determine the final solution to the Jewish question. A lecture and tour of the house allowed students a glimpse of the grotesque plan to transport Jewish people from across Nazi-occupied Europe to concentration and death camps such as Auschwitz.
After our evening meal in the well-located Schulz Hotel, we walked down to the Berlin Wall to take in a different aspect of city’s history – the Cold War. It was built in August, 1961 by the order of the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev to stop East Berliners escaping to the more affluent West which was controlled by the Allied Forces. For almost 30 years the wall would become a huge physical symbol of the division between the Soviet Union and the USA. Its destruction began in 1989 when a thaw in the relationship between the two superpowers began. Berliners gathered and, using hammers, picks and their bare hands, began to bring down the wall. Today, what remains of the wall has become a canvas for artists who adorn it with beautiful images, graffiti and political messages.
On Saturday morning we travelled to Berlin’s central railway station, the Hauptbahnhof, the starting point for our guided walking tour of Central Berlin. At the Reichstag, students recalled how in February 1933, the building was set ablaze in mysterious circumstances. The newly-elected Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, pinned the blame on a communist and was able to galvanise support and gain greater authority to punish political opponents. It was a significant step in Hitler’s journey to become dictator. We move on to take in the incredibly powerful Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
Our next stop was the site of the Fuhrerbunker, where Hitler and other prominent Nazis took refuge as the Russians and Allies began to close in on Berlin in the dying days of the war. The bunker became the refuge and its walls witnessed the marriage of Hitler and Eva Braun and their ultimate suicide. Today, the subterranean site, near the Reich Chancellery, is simply marked with a low-key information board.
After lunch we took a train to the outskirts of the city for a guided tour of the 1936 Olympic stadium. This huge arena was built for the Nazis to host the Olympics. The event was a purposeful showcase for promoting Nazi propaganda on a world stage. The stadium is now the home ground of Hertha Berlin and has held many great sporting finals including the 2006 World Cup Final and the Champions League Final in 2015.
On Sunday we travelled to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, 22 miles north of Berlin. Sachsenhausen became the model extermination camp, housing over 200,000 prisoners from 1936 to 1945. Mr Callery became our guide and led an excellent tour of the camp. Students discovered the dreadful conditions and terrible treatments metred out by Nazi soldiers; it was a moving and chilling experience.
In the afternoon, we lightened the mood with a wet-and-wild visit to Turm Waterpark. This huge indoor and outdoor swimming centre has flume slides, jacuzzis and a wave pool. It was great fun and hugely energetic!
The final day was beautiful, warm and sunny and perfect for wandering around Alexanderplatz, Berlin’s best-known public square. Above us towered Berlin’s iconic TV Tower, an impressive 368 metre-high structure topped with a Sputnik-style topper as a nod to the time of the Soviet space satellites, first launched in 1957. It was a wow moment for students and an even bigger wow when they saw the 360 degree views from the top! “We took the lift up, shooting to the top in under a minute! Once there, we were able to marvel at where our trip had taken us.”
The trip was brought to a close with an evening of ten pin bowling before the 21.50 flight home. It had been a brilliant trip and despite being tired, spirits were high. Our students were impeccably behaved and a pleasure to be with – a real credit to Brooksbank and to themselves. Bring on next year’s trip!
“The History trip to Berlin was brilliant! We all became very close – just like a family. I would really recommend other students going. The history sites are amazing and even the teachers were great as well!” said Amelia Horsfall Year 11.
“Berlin was a whirlwind experience with lots to see and lots to do. Everyone met new people and new friendships were formed. Would give the trip 10/10 and recommend that all History students go,” said Poppy Greenwood Year 11.