The venues were split between sites we could visit on foot and those that we took in by coach, so on Saturday we set off from the hostel, very close to the main train station, across the Mitte region of the City to follow our tour guide, Chloe, and her lively and illustrated walking tour. This took in the Soviet War Memorial, the Reichstag, the Tiergarten, the Air Ministry and the site of Hitler’s Reichsbunker where, to all effect, the Second World War ended with his suicide. Nothing more than a car park now (deliberately), this site provided some superb thinking about notorious historical sites and how they should be preserved, or not. On from there, we took in the ‘Topography of Terror’ museum (site of the Gestapo HQ) where cells and a section of the Berlin Wall provided an instant visualisation of Germany’s dramatic history of 1933-1989. Needing a bit of light relief and shopping , we headed off to Potsdamer Platz, then back to the hostel via the Brandenburg Gate & Holocaust Memorial. On Friday we had a quick trip to Netto and stumbled upon an ice hockey match at the Fritz Schloss park so Saturday evening was spent chilling, on the Roof Terrace and in our section of the hostel.
Our ‘out of town’ day took in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, where our Head Boy Charlie laid a Royal British Legion cross in the cell used to house British prisoners of war. Without exception, a sobering visit and characteristically, our students were both touched by the stories of some inmates but also incredibly respectful of such a powerful site. Often said, seeing a site first hand cannot be beaten for an impressionable experience and it genuinely seemed as if our pupils all grew up a little more at Sachsenhausen. Onwards to the Wannsee villa, where in 1942 the Holocaust was discussed, decided and planned in horrific and efficient detail: a beautiful site and building with really horrific connotations. Maisy and Daisy both laid crosses in the gardens, strewn with leaves and a calm lake at the end of the gardens: it was a lovely place to pay tribute to all victims of war on behalf of Shapwick School. Lastly (we were all flagging by now!) we headed to the Olympic Stadium which was, behind the 1936 façade, a very cool and hi-tech sports facility which Jenni was happy to show us: the team baths, massage tables, press room and changing rooms were strangely fascinating! The pitch, however, was very clearly ‘verboten’ but we were able to see some of the 1936 swimming centre, the iconic two pillars and the podium where Hitler spoke several times (now shortened and hardly recognisable, deliberately). A new addition to the trip, the Olympic Stadium was really great as it was a little lighter on the history!
Time really did fly but before returning home we had 2 more appointments: one at the British Embassy and the other as guests of the German government in the Bundestag (the Reichstag building) and, as if seeing inside wasn’t enough, we discovered that the very next day German democracy was in action as the 19th Bundestag held its opening session. Our rather dour guide even allowed some of our pupils to knock on Angela Merkel’s office door, literally! (She wasn’t in…) The British Embassy was fascinating for the very modern design and art displays around, although possibly our pupils will most remember sitting on the pavement outside the Embassy, waiting for the Foreign Office to find time for us – not something we wish our students to have to repeat at any point in their future lives! Then, courtesy of Frank the Driver, it was off to the airport and the long slog home. Berlin is a truly amazing city that has looked after Shapwick School twice now in 18 months; our students were great company and, be it 2 terms or 20 years ahead, I am sure they will remember their Berlin visit. Thank you to Ian Elliott of the Royal British Legion, to Andy at Broadway Tours, all the staff at Shapwick behind the scenes who helped make it happen and to all parents who supported this trip. The biggest thank you is for Mrs Baker & Mrs BIllany who were a superb trip team in every way: ich danke dir sehr!