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History and Politics visit Berlin

We embarked on the #Berlin2014 trip on Sunday afternoon, full of energy and ready for the experience. Our first visit in Berlin, on the first day was the infamous Reichstag, which was instrumental in the unification of Germany in 1872. We also paid a visit to the Brandenburg Gate that used to mark the city limits, however no longer does it perform this function.

Berlin is one of the most fascinating cities I have ever been to. Its history ranges from the unification of Germany, through the First World War, the Great Depression and the rise of the National Socialist Party. And of course after the Second World War the city was on the front line of the Cold War. The core of the week was built up of visits to several famous museums such as the Jewish Museum by Daniel Libeskind, the Berlin Wall memorial which is the preserved stretch of the wall as it stood in 1989 on Bernauer Strasse and the mighty German Historical Museum. We also had the opportunity to pay a visit to one of the most famous Concentration camps, Sachsenhausen used by both the Nazi and East German regimes. The Camp is one of the most jaw-dropping experiences that I have ever had, the most impressionable aspect being the sign that was fitted to the gate that read; ‘Arbeit macht frei’. This, rather sinesterly, translates to English as ‘Work Sets You Free’ and was hung over many concentration camps, such as Dachau and Auschwitz , to name a few. We also paid a visit to the site of the Wansee Conference which was held in a beautiful manor house, the area’s beauty can be juxtaposed with the sinister decisions that were made in the house; the logistical planning which facilitated the deaths of over six million innocent. We also went to the memorials to the victims of the Death Camps that are located within central Berlin such as the Roma-Gypsies Memorial, the memorial to gay victims of the Nazis and the famous memorial for the Jewish victims of the Nazi Oppression. These memorials were immensely moving for us all and we spent a sombre hour or so in the early evening contemplating these different sites. Each was extremely effective despite being vastly different, as we begin to appreciate the scale and industrial nature of the murders of those that did not adhere to the unrealistic standards that the Nazis held. What is interesting about the position of these memorials is that they surround the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate, meaning they are as much part of everyday German life as basic land-marks or the Parliament building. And therefore symbolically represent the German peoples’ determination to come to terms with their past.

We were given opportunity to climb Norman Foster’s glass dome that sits atop theGerman parliament building and saw what I think is one of the most beautiful views that is possible to see of any European capital - the sprawling city which was the site of one hot war and one cold. At the front of the roof there is still a lasting presence of the eastern visitors ,who climbed upon it a mere 70 years earlier, in the form of a Russian name and a city scratched into the wall. A reminder that this is a city where history has been written and re-written and which continues to be such a driving force in 21st century Europe. On our final day were were able to leave the hubbub of Berlin behind to spend a morning at the beautiful Potsdam palaces, what happens when a powerful King has money and taste! Relaxing in Potsdam’s cafes amidst its cobbled streets was a wonderful finale to the visit.
The trip was not all History or Politics and there was considerable time for leisure and relaxation. We paid a visit to the Matrix nightclub in Berlin’s famous clubbing district out East, and had great fun. We also visited a typical German pub which brewed its own beer in the ultra-modern Sony Centre, a futuristic wonder, where we watched the England Vs Uruguay Game, which we all naturally came away disappointed with as we lost. Finally, the teachers gave us the chance to go swimming and play ball games at a lake in the Weissensee district. This was the scene of Bruce Springsteen’s famous concert in 1988 which helped bring down the wall reminding us that history is never far away in this amazing city!

All in all we thoroughly enjoyed the trip and would recommend it to anyone who was on the fence about going in 2015. I had a great time and am really looking forward to what the A2 trip to Krakow next year could hold as if it is anything similar then I am really excited about it. On a final note I would like to give my utmost thanks to Anthony Kirby for setting up and booking everything and for being a constant source of comedy with his loud German rants, which most likely left the native population rather confused as to who on earth we all were.  Also a huge thank-you to all the staff that came on the trip: Jon Carr, Jenny Hunter-Phillips and Kat Parker.

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