THURSDAY 9TH MARCH- ‘WILLKOMMEN IN DEUTSCHLAND’
With the joys of a 3:00am start, a coach took a surprisingly energetic twenty five of us to Luton airport, where after a one and half hour flight we arrived in the cultural and historical city of Berlin. Situated within a five minute walk of the Central Berlin Hauptbahnhof station, and the sites of the Brandenburg Gate and the impressive Reichstag, our hotel was in a prime location. Visiting these mentioned sites first instantly subjected us to the intricate detail and overwhelming beauty of the poignant structures, which was reflected throughout the architecture of the city. Our afternoon was spent at the House of the Wannsee Conference, the place in which the final solution was decided (the mass murder of Jews in German-occupied Europe). The villa, overlooking a reservoir, was far from the building many of us expected to see, hard to imagine that a structure with such grandeur could be the place in which was planned such tragedy. A local tour guide led us through the various rooms, informing us about the dreaded solution and the hour and a half conference that decided the fate of millions of innocent people. The evening was a time for us to first truly embrace the vibrant culture of the German city, with free time to experience the culinary delights, attempt the native language and reflect on the day.
FRIDAY 10TH MARCH- A LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCE
Day two saw us mentally prepare for what was only going to be an emotionally tasking day. Sachsenhausen concentration camp was our intended destination, although twenty miles outside of the capital Berlin, this camp was by no means hidden, situated at the end of what seemed like a typical German street, surrounded by houses, certainly not the expected area you would think such a horrific place would be. The walk to the entrance of the camp was one of almost silence, any previous chatter suppressed by the introductory talk we had before entering the grounds. We were told that the same walk we were doing was one done by hundreds of thousands of prisoners before us. It was at that point a numb feeling took over my body, enhanced by the crisp cold winds almost reflecting the sombre atmosphere of the camp. I will never forget the first steps through the gates of the camp with the words ‘Arbeit macht frei’ or ‘work sets you free’ looming over the gate. It was at this point a feeling of guilt set in due to the thought of us being able to leave the camp after the tour was over, knowing that many who had entered the same gates never did. I also realised that although we were walking in together, each of us was experiencing and reflecting on the camp alone.
Our tour guide, I imagine, having delivered many similar tours still spoke to us in a way that was full of emotion, still captivated by the effect the events that happened here still had on her. The horrors of Sachsenhausen stay with you, forever. The outside was empty almost conveying the loneliness of those who were brought there, each barrack that once would have stood marked by areas of stones, whereas the remaining buildings such as the medical room, barracks, crematorium and trench each gave a clearer view of the true horrors of the camp, showing the medical experiments, awful living conditions and stark reality of what happened to so many prisoners that were sent there. However, the rawest emotions came from the sight of the remaining belongings that were displayed including name tags and soles from shoes, which impacted me the most as it was unimaginable to think that a piece of material had lasted longer than its owner. It makes anyone question how something like this could ever be allowed to happen. The final room left a lasting message, it was filled with cloth that had the faces of prisoners upon them, printed on both sides. This stylised way of presenting the images meant that from each area of the room you were surrounded by faces, eyes always on you. I will find this hard to forget as it embodied the injustice of these people.
Evening came around, and we returned to the central station. The effects of what we had all experienced at Sachsenhausen still noticeably apparent. At this point we were once again allowed to discover more of the city we had all grown to love, and some friends and I went for dinner in a small themed restaurant, our waiter reinforcing the amicable nature of the people of Berlin. From this we all congregated in the hotel sharing our experiences of the day, each slightly different from the next, as everyone felt something unique. Overall, it was a day that can only be described as life changing.
SATURDAY 11TH MARCH- ‘IT HAPPENED THEREFORE IT CAN HAPPEN AGAIN’
On our last full day in Berlin, we visited the Holocaust memorial, the Berlin Wall or what was left of it and the Topography of Terror. The Holocaust memorial was a stylised tribute to those who had beenso tragically killed, without mercy. It was respectable and clearly poignant to those it was remembering but yet tasteful to those who live in the city and see the grey structures as part of their everyday lives. ‘It happened therefore it can happen again’ was written on the wall in the underneath museum of the memorial, this alongside a recording of all the stories of those that lost their lives during the Holocaust inflicted a sense of anger for many as it seems unfathomable that people could go ahead with an action so inhumane as this. Visiting the Berlin Wall gave us a clearer understanding of the divide that was created between the East and West sides of Berlin. Hearing the stories of those who tried to defy this oppression enabled us to get a sense of the hardships that people faced during this time. That evening we had been given the opportunity to go up the Reichstag building. The top, a canvas to the breath-taking view of Berlin at night, with mesmerizing images of this cultural place, definitely an uplifting experience to end the night compared to what we had seen the past few days.
SUNDAY 12TH MARCH- ‘AUF WIEDERSEHEN BERLIN’
The Olympic stadium of 1936 was the first place we visited on the last day. Incidentally it was also the first place that we had been to which we had evidence that Adolf Hitler had once visited and this realisation held great impact. We had to comprehend that the atrocities we had seen over the past three days had been planned and implemented by a man that once stood where we were right then and there. Following this we visited an underground bunker, the tour enabling us to experience what it would've been like for people when air raids occurred and the small areas that people would shelter to be protected. From this we returned one last time to our hotel and were given one last period of free time to immerse ourselves within this diverse city before heading home. The flight back although delayed by an hour went well and before we knew it the coach returned us back to Field Land and the normalities of our lives.
Over the trip we were educated and made to reflect each day, in a way that isnt possible in a classroom setting. Learning through people, their stories and the city itself, the memories that we had made there will be kept forever. With huge thanks to Mr Eaves, Mrs Higgins, Dr Burrows and of course Berlin itself.
By Gabriella Green