Berlin, the site of German reunification in 1990 also witnessed a slightly different coming together this past weekend, as Arcadia students from England, Ireland, and Scotland joined up to explore the historic city.
On Friday morning, students braved sub-zero temperatures to embark on a walking tour of Berlin (note to self: avoid wearing porous trainers when it is Baltic outside). The group were immediately confronted by the legacy of the Cold War, as German Democratic Republic’s Fernsehturm (TV Tower) greeted them around the corner of hostel. The tour passed through further eras of Berlin’s history by entering Museum Island, a creation of the German Second Empire, before viewing the legacy of the Third Reich. This included a visit to Bebelplatz, which was the site of the infamous Nazi book burning on May 10, 1933.
After a temporary reprieve from the cold in Berlin’s legendary chocolate shop - Rausch Schokoladenhaus – the group visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, an intentionally ambiguous memorial that produced a range of emotions and interpretations among the Arcadians. A trip to the Cold War followed with visits to ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ and a section of the Berlin Wall where an East Berlin family zip lined over the wall! The walking tour concluded at the symbol of German reunification – the Brandenburg Gate. That said, you could say the tour finished at Hotel Adlon where Michael Jackson infamously held baby Blanket over the balcony, which is a historical mystery in itself. With this in mind, students explored their own interests for the rest of the afternoon. These ranged from visits to other sections of the Berlin Wall to sampling the delights of Schnitzel. Nonetheless, the group reformed at night for drinks to share experiences and celebrate an unforgettable day.
Saturday proved to be an emotional experience that is difficult to translate into words, as the group visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Students passed under the watchtower and through the gates that read “Arbeit Macht Frei.” They got a glimpse into life as a prisoner by walking through the barracks and imagining the hundreds of people housed in those cramped conditions. The group also saw a range of artefacts from the camp, such as prisoner uniforms and personal letters, before viewing the harrowing sights of the burial areas, crematorium, and gas chamber, where 30,000-40,000 people were murdered during the Second World War. The guides also discussed the death march of 1945, liberation of the camp, and subsequent takeover of the site by the Soviet Union where 12,000 people died from a combination of malnutrition and disease from 1945-50 before its closure. The sheer scale of death at Sachsenhausen is incomprehensible, but the group left with more knowledge of the extremities of humanity and how we should collectively ensure these crimes go unrepeated.
Although Scotland’s Arcadians departed for home on Sunday morning, England and Ireland’s students had the opportunity to discover other cultural sites of Berlin. One group spent more time exploring aspects of the Third Reich with a trip to the Topography of Terror – a museum on the site of the SS Reich Main Security Office, which houses a profound exhibit on the horrors of the SS and Gestapo, in addition to others. The other group embarked on a jovial trip to the Mauerpark Market and managed to purchase a number of bargains from vintage jackets to craft earrings. Emma also finally managed to sample currywurst!
Despite the group being sad to leave Berlin on Sunday afternoon (mainly because we did not see the David Hasselhoff Museum), the trip provided a wonderful opportunity for Arcadians from England, Ireland, and Scotland to collectively experience the eclectic history of Berlin and forge many new memories together!
“Prost” to a great trip!