Last week I took my students on a three day trip to Berlin and I was very impressed with the educational value that the city has to offer. I will admit, my knowledge of war time/political history is pretty dire. However this trip really enlightened me, and my students!
Upon arrival into the city we went on a walking tour to see the main sights, and wet and windy weather aside, it was very enjoyable. We visited a number of the main sights including the Holocaust Memorial, the Brandenburg Gate, The Reichstag building and Check Point Charlie.
I learned all about the wall separating the East and the West (and the different traffic light systems- Amplemann), and for me, seeing the last remaining segment of the wall was the most fascinating sight. As I stood by the wall I knew that there must be thousands of horrific events that took place right there, right where I was standing. And it wasn’t even that long ago- my grandparents were alive during the war.
It was scary to learn how so many people were killed trying to cross the wall and how the site of Check Point Charlie is home to countless horror stories from that period. We visited the Palace of Tears museum, a free museum that was small, yet displayed a wealth of information. I don’t normally like museums, but quite frankly I feel that to ignore the histories they present would be an outrage in a city that has suffered so much. It is these histories that may the city what it is now.
Another museum that was particularly enjoyed, although perhaps somewhat overwhelming was the Topography of Terror. Here you could read every detail about the second world war, from its political underpinnings to the terrible treatments in the concentration camps. Leaders are named and shamed with a detailed account of their offences. The amount of information was huge and after two hours in the museum I felt both exhausted and overwhelmed. I learned more during those two hours about the war than I ever did at school.
Whilst in Berlin we took a tour down into the one of the Bunkers. This was absolutely fascinating and one of the highlights of my trip. Here we got to see the living conditions underground, where people would hibernate until it was safe to return to their homes. Ironically, despite years of planning for the war, I learnt that Hitler did not make purpose built bunkers for the people of his city. Instead, when they were deemed necessary, underground areas such as underground stations were painted with relevant signs to give the impression that they were safe and were bomb proof, however most of the time this was just to make the people feel safe and in fact they were not bomb proof at all.
Whilst down in the bunkers we got to see the glow paint used to light up the rooms when there was no electricity, we saw the toilets they would use and learnt about how they would strategically place candles at different heights to measure the level of oxygen in the room (oxygen rises so the lower candles would blow out first to give warning that oxygen was running low). We also saw some of the bombs that have been found intact and a number of different wartime artefacts including an enigma machine! It was all absolutely fascinating.
Across the road from the bunker was a mount of earth with two concrete blocks on top. It had around 100 steps to climb to the top and was covered in grass and trees. This used to be a war building. After the war they attempted to demolish it but putting 10,000 tonnes of dynamite inside, but it was so well built that this had little impact on its structure! So instead, they decided to fill the building with rubble and now it acts as a viewpoint to admire the city. I climbed this prior to our tour and had no idea what it was until afterwards- again, I found this fascinating!
Finally, we visited the place of Hitler’s bunker. Interestingly, the site is now a car park, with only a small sign to mark Hitler’s presence. This is to prevent any remaining Nazi supporters from commemorating his life.
All in all I had a brilliant trip to Berlin. Although many of the attractions and museums have very sad connotations, it was incredible educational, for both me and my students. I would definitely recommend a trip and I can’t wait to learn all about chapter two during my forthcoming trip to Auschwitz.