Year 11 Historians in Berlin
Year 11 GCSE History Trip to Berlin
Forty Year 11 GCSE History pupils and five members of staff travelled to Berlin, the capital of Germany and the centre of the Cold War, from Saturday 4 until Tuesday 7 November 2023. Pupils supported their GCSE History studies of Nazi Germany and the Cold War by discovering more about the city’s past.
Following a day of travelling, with an early flight from Heathrow Airport, pupils had the opportunity to explore key sites in the heart of Berlin through a walking tour with our expert guides. The tour included Hitler’s Bunker, The Brandenburg Gate, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Reichstag and the Soviet War Memorial. Pupils were able to orientate themselves with the city, as well as beginning to develop their understanding of this unique capital. Our group stayed in a hotel with a view of the German Parliament, the Reichstag.
On Sunday morning we travelled to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp where pupils were able to discover more about the conditions of the camp and discover the stories of some people held there during WW2. Primarily political prisoners, they included Stalin’s son and Martin Niemöller, a famous member of the opposition to the Nazis and co-founder of the Confessing Church, an organisation that undermined Hitler’s own Reich Church. Over 30,000 people perished at Sachsenhausen and it was an emotional day for us all. All pupils showed tremendous respect for the memorial and were a credit to the school. Through the visit they deepened their understanding of persecution of minorities at the hands of the Nazis and the importance of Holocaust education.
The day concluded with a visit deep into the East of Berlin to visit a former Stasi Prison, where pupils heard the stories of inmates, including how they had been arrested and detained by the East German Secret Police for a range of crimes, some as small as using lipstick to graffiti a political poster and trying to leave East Germany. They learnt about the interrogation techniques and conditions to which prisoners were exposed. It was particularly moving to hear the story of an ex-prisoner who inspired our young people with his resilience and determination to survive.
After a much-needed night of rest, our pupils were up and ready early on Monday for another busy day exploring the capital of Germany. Pupils split into two groups to visit the Topography of Terror and Potsdammer Platz for a spot of souvenir shopping. At the former, pupils were guided round an informative exhibition on the central institutions of the SS and police in the Third Reich and the crimes they committed across Europe on the site which had previously been the headquarters for the Gestapo and SS, the Nazi secret police and security service. All the tour guides commented on the maturity displayed by our pupils as well as their engagement and participation.
After regrouping for lunch, pupils walked to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, aka Holocaust Memorial, where they impressed staff with their maturity and respect during this moving visit. Next, we visited the Ritter Sports Chocolate Shop and Checkpoint Charlie where we reflected on the tense Tank Stand-off on 27th October 1961 between American and Soviet tanks.
Following on the Cold-War theme, the final stop of the day was a visit to the German Spy Museum. During their self-guided tour around the German Spy Museum, pupils were able to explore the role of Berlin as the spy capital of the world. Case studies of famous spies and the history of espionage were all covered through the interactive museum, with the laser maze being a highlight!
On our final day of our tour of Berlin, we visited the DDR Museum. This was an opportunity for pupils to find out more about life in Communist East Germany during the Cold War. The former East Germany was known as the DDR, Deutsche Demokratische Republik. The group had free rein to enjoy the interactive displays, including a drive in a Trabant (car) simulator and the opportunity to see inside a typical apartment (including the rather terrifying lift journey), and even to dress up in typical East German outfits.
Following a final walk through the heart of Berlin (including visiting the Sinti-und-Roma Denkmal, memorial to the Roma and Sinti people) we visited the Reichstag where we admired the view of Berlin’s skyline from the Reichstag dome before enjoying an audio tour. The dome in the Reichstag, where the German Parliament sits, is an amazing architectural feature and represents the reunification of Germany and the importance of democracy and transparency in German politics today - the glass roof allows visitors a birds-eye view of the debating chamber of the Bundestag below. This allowed us the chance for some spectacular photographs before lunch at the Mall of Berlin and final souvenir shopping. Then we boarded our coach to the airport and began the journey home.
Throughout this whistle-stop tour, our pupils were fantastic and displayed exceptional levels of maturity. We cannot wait for our next trip to Berlin in November 2024.
Miss Perry, Teacher of History and trip leader, commented: "I was extremely proud of the pupils during our four days in Berlin. They showed outstanding maturity, independence and impressed me with their exceptional knowledge of History. It was a pleasure to lead the trip and to work with such outstanding young people. I would also like to thank the fantastic staff who accompanied us and made this trip so memorable for all pupils."
"Really enjoyable and informative trip. All the things we learnt in class shown in their real historic surroundings. My favourite part was the Spy Museum because it was very engaging." Max
"I enjoyed the walking tour as it allowed us to see Berlin's history and culture. The trip also allowed me to talk with people who I wouldn't have normally." Martha
"Berlin was really fun and has improved my understanding of Germany's recent history." Stan
"My favourite part was seeing the differences between Germany and England in general. Noticing the differences whilst walking through the streets." Bella
"Very interesting and also fun. Was also an amazing opportunity to be able to meet an actual ex-Stasi prisoner." Edward
"I enjoyed the whole trip. It gave me an insight into the history of Germany as well as being a fun trip." Innes