32 boys from Years 7, 8 & 9 set off early on Friday 24 May to the German capital for the annual MFL holiday.
We were blessed with fine weather on arrival and we headed to the Berlin Wall memorial at Bernauerstraße to see how the Wall carved up the city and disrupted public transport by creating so-called “Ghost Stations”. These were underground train stations, which had to be closed and patrolled by East German border patrol guards as the partition of the city was drawn up without taking consideration of the train lines, which, in some cases, started and finished in West Berlin, but passed partly under East Berlin and thus offered a chance to escape. Our next destination was the instantly recognisable Brandenburg Gate, which offered us some photo opportunities before we headed for the Sinti and Roma Memorial, which commemorates the 500,000 gypsies who were murdered during the Holocaust by the Nazis, the Soviet War Memorial and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. These were poignant, visible memorials to the suffering and loss caused by the brutal National Socialist regime of the 1930s and 1940s. Our evening visit was to the domed roof of the Reichstag building, which once again houses the Federal German parliament and was designed by British architect Norman Foster. Our audio guide of the roof was very informative and highlighted some of the landmarks, which could be seen from our vantage point above the city.
On Saturday, following a mix-up on the tram, we visited the former Stasi prison in Hohenschönhausen in the east of Berlin. Here, we were given a guided tour on the vast network of informants working for the East German government and saw the cruel conditions and learnt about the infamous interrogation techniques of the Stasi. After lunch, we headed to the East Side Gallery, which is a section of the Berlin Wall that has been turned into an art exhibition. Then we went to Checkpoint Charlie, the border crossing between the former American and Soviet sectors of Berlin, where we learnt more about the division of the city and some of the incredibly inventive escapes. Our final visit of the day was to the Ritter Sport Schokowelt, where boys bought gifts of chocolate for friends and family. After dinner, we headed to the local park, which has the remains of a flak tower from the 2nd World War and the boys ran off some of their energy from recent chocolate purchases.
On Sunday, we boarded a coach and headed for the Olympic Stadium, which had hosted the final of the German DFB Cup the day before. We were given a guided tour of the stadium and the VIP areas before heading for the changing rooms and pressroom, which bore all the signs of celebration by the victorious Bayern Munich team from the previous evening. We also learned about the famous Olympian Jesse Owens and the 4 gold medals he won during the 1936 Olympics and the friendship he struck up with German long jumper Luz Long during the competition. After purchasing some delicate souvenirs from the shop, we headed to the Allied Museum, which had a replica aeroplane from the Berlin Airlift of 1948-9. After lunch, we went to the Palace of Tears at the Friedrichstraße train station, where family members separated by the division of the city said goodbye without knowing if they would see each other again. We were also treated to an interesting talk about how the Stasi recruited informers and what life was like for ordinary people living in East Berlin. Our evening visit was to the TV tower, which dominates the Berlin skyline. We arrived early and took the opportunity to visit the Neptune fountain in front of the red town hall and the statues of the famous philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Eventually we were able to board the lift to the viewing platform of the TV tower, from where we had great views of the city as the sun set and the lights came on.
On our final day in Berlin, we went to the Topography of Terror, which is on the site of the former SS and Gestapo Headquarters of the 3rd Reich. We watched a short film before spending some time looking at the exhibition, which highlighted how the National Socialist party first gained power and then consolidated their grip on the nation by eliminating all opposition, including organising the mass murder of millions of Jews in the Holocaust. After all this brutality, we were in need of some retail therapy and so spent the remainder of the day in the Mall of Berlin spending our last few Euros before heading for the airport and home.
This was an immensely enjoyable and educational trip to the German capital and my thanks go to the boys for the way in which they engaged with the activities and to my colleagues Mr Entwistle, Mrs Howard and Mrs Rumboldt for their support and company.
Written by Mr Boyd