During the early hours of Thursday 7th March, 33 Students accompanied by three teachers and our excellent ‘tour guide’ Mr Eaves travelled to Berlin. While in the capital of Germany, we experienced a culture rich in History and a public enthusiasm for ‘Currywurst’ (which I did not share).
On our first day we visited ‘Checkpoint Charlie’, the former border crossing between East and West Berlin (1963-1991) where we learnt about the victims of the city’s division and had just begun to learn about the tragedy embedded in Berlin’s history. We then walked a short distance to the ‘Topography of terror’ which is situated where the old ‘Gestapo and SS headquarters’ was during the ‘Third Reich’. In its place stands a modern exhibit which explains the ‘terror tactics’ of the Nazi Government, the exhibit described the range of atrocities committed by the Nazis. That evening our tour guide ‘Herr Eaves’ gave us a nighttime tour of Berlin where we visited the Reichstag (the German Parliament building), the Brandenburg gate and the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial is a symbolic monument located in the centre of the city, which has no definite meaning, but in the dark it appeared like a graveyard; creating an atmosphere frightening enough to scare some members of our party…
The next day we visited the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, where we saw a different type of graveyard, as although Sachsenhausen was a concentration camp, tens of thousands of prisoners were either executed or worked to death within the compound. This was the most difficult visit, as it forced us to view the physical consequences of the Nazi regime; we were no longer talking about stories of hardship to question ‘how an omnibenevolent God could allow this’ for a Philosophy and Ethics exam or figures in textbooks for our History course, we had to remember these were real people who were forced into horrible conditions. Not fiction. In the afternoon, we visited the ‘Berlin Wall Documentation Centre’, where we received a tour of the Berlin Wall and discovered more about its evolution, its victims and why it was built.
On Saturday, we revisited the ‘Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe’ where our tour guide spoke about the possible meanings of the monument. Afterwards we went beneath the memorial where an exhibit dedicated to the Jews, details the horrors they suffered and provides names and faces to the collective group. In the afternoon we travelled to the ‘Wannsee Conference house’ where the Nazis decided how to deal with their biggest issue; the Jews. That evening, we revisited the Reichstag, however this time we went inside and climbed to the top of the building which holds a beautiful view of the city, especially at night.
On the Final day, we ventured to the 1936 ‘Olympic stadium’ and discussed how the whole world was misled by the Nazi ‘Theatre of politics’, as the Olympic games were a distraction for the construction of the sinister Sachsenhausen concentration camp. We also went beneath the city into a World War two bunker featuring antiques such as; board games, weapons and war related objects which had been adapted into household items (like a helmet made into a colander).
After four days crammed with history, philosophy and (lots of) walking we returned home completely exhausted Monday morning. Berlin has a tragic history but the modern city is even more admirable after you understand its past and what it has overcome. However, you may wonder why the country keeps so many constant reminders of the horrors of its past but these serve as moral reminders for people to consider their actions and to make sure to never repeat the past.