Berlin is a city that has loomed large in our history course, and of late modern history: the capital of Prussia and home to Frederick the Great’s palace; the Third Reich and the decisions which brought about the Holocaust, and the Cold War and the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall. So experiencing the city, and the history of it, over the October half-term trip, was both a fascinating and a hugely enjoyable experience.

Our visit started at the Reichstag, the German Parliament built just after German unification in 1871, after Germany had undergone a mass economic expansion. Perhaps that was the source of Germany’s problems that followed; it was too big for Europe and too small for the world. The fire set off there in 1933 was the trigger for Hitler’s dictatorship.

Then the Brandenburg gate: a symbol of Berlin’s historical turbulence. In the 1920s, it was the backdrop of the Academy of Arts, home to middle-class – often Jewish – intellectuals and then of Hitler’s torchlit procession the evening of his appointment as Chancellor in 1933. The gate then survived the bombings of the Second World War and the Berlin wall later ran next to it, where its 1989 fall was televised.

We visited where Hitler’s bunker lies, and cars are parked over where Hitler, his wife and the Third Reich fell.

Berlin exists with the past sitting amongst the present. We reflected on this by the River Spree, over a Currywurst, natürlich. Gabriel, our guide, remarked that “we are marinated in our history”. It was fascinating to see how what we saw of Berlin reacts to its past.

An example of this was a moving visit to Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp for political prisoners. In 1961, it became used for Soviet propaganda. In 2005, it became a memorial site, in accordance with the contemporary values of reunified Germany.

A personal highlight was seeing how the impact of the division of Germany – brought about through the Potsdam conference at Cecilienhof which we visited – can still be seen today. On the Glienicke bridge, crossing the border between West Berlin and East Germany and which became a famous site for spy exchanges during the Cold War, a difference in its paint colour can be seen where the border used to be. At Bernauer Strasse, there was a preserved watchtower and section of the Berlin Wall still standing, and where the wall once was can be traced further on in the street.

It is one thing to learn about Berlin in a classroom, but another to experience it, making the history visible and tangible. Thank you to Mr Simm for organising a brilliant few days in Berlin, as well as Mr Geering, Mr Bartlett and our incredible guide Gabriel Fawcett.


Written by Saul (10M1)