Berlin History Trip

14 June 2019

In May half-term 42 boys, four members of the glorious History department and the intrepid Mr Jamison from the English department ventured out to sunny Berlin for what was a fantastic trip. The teachers overcame all possible passport and baggage control obstacles, and erroneously completed forms, to get the boys safely into Germany by noon. Our tour guides took us on quite the merry walk through central Berlin: we took in the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, Neue Wach memorial, Bebel Platz (where the Nazis infamously burnt books in 1933), the Holocaust memorial, Hitler’s bunker, the memorial to murdered homosexuals and another to the Roma-Sinti victims. Suitably exhausted, the boys devoured a decent German spread, readying themselves for day two. One boy, who had managed to lose his clothes, also enjoyed a shopping trip to Berlin’s H&M. Reports are that he has since set up his own online fashion brand and will no longer be completing his GCSEs, such has been his success!

Day two entailed some rather sombre and poignant visits: we were given a quite superb tour around Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp on the outskirts of Berlin; the boys were impeccably behaved and asked probing questions. Thereafter we took ourselves to the Olympic Stadium, home of the 1936 Olympics where, much to Hitler’s chagrin, Jesse Owens famously won four gold medals. Now Hertha Berlin football club’s home, there ensued the dreaded purchasing of footballs, mini-footballs and shirts. Immediate confiscations of some items drew some groans but such was the excitement about visiting the SS torture chambers at the Topography of Terror, that these transgressions were soon forgotten. Bowling that night was a highly competitive affair, except in the teachers’ league where Mr Knowland won comfortably, scoring more than double the points of any of his competitors in the History department (well done to Mr Jamison for making this less than an easy walkover).

The next day, a visit to the wonderful Museum of East German Life saw the boys immerse themselves in communist life, including rides in a trabant and east German music. Alas, none of this music impressed Mr Allen as much as his new favourite song of the 1990s - 99 Luftballons. The visit to the Wannsee Conference Hall, where the terrible decision to exterminate Europe’s Jews was formally taken in January 1942, brought home the banality of evil (a term coined by Hannah Arendt after the 1963 trial of Adolf Eichmann). The Checkpoint Charlie Museum saw the boys taken on a wonderfully bizarre tour by a 75 year old German who had been imprisoned by the Stasi for 9 years, including 2 years in solitary confinement, for helping east Germans across the Berlin wall in the 1970s. Our other guide was born in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. It was quite fascinating. That evening we toured the beautiful interior and glass dome of the Reichstag.

Our final day was equally stimulating: we toured the Stasi Prison in east Berlin where torture chambers and interrogation rooms were but part of an incredible tour. The visit to the Berlin wall death strip on Bernauer Strasse saw the boys still captivated and Treptower Park Soviet memorial, a great example of Stalinist gigantomania, brought home the impact of communist Soviet Union on Berlin’s post-war history.

Thanks go to Mr Allen, Mr Chase, Mrs Wenham and Mr Jamison for their wonderful support and for travelling in the holidays.

Congratulations to David Haar who won our best photo competition! Thanks to Mrs Wenham for also successfully converting many of our pupils to be more eco-minded.

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