Penryn College’s Trip to Berlin to Study Weimar and Nazi Germany

Penryn College Year 11 Historians are currently studying Edexcel’s ‘Weimar and Nazi Germany 1918-1939’ module for their GCSE’s and when Lucy Chapman, Head of History at Penryn, discovered that Anglia offered a Berlin itinerary designed specifically to cover this module, she decided to give it a try. So on 14 February 2019, 38 GCSE students, 4 teachers, Ian Coyne (Anglia Guide and Commercial Director) and I (Christie Parr, Anglia marketing) headed out to Berlin. Here’s what we got up to.

Day 1

As the school is based in Cornwall they’d travelled by coach to Bristol Airport before catching a flight to Berlin’s Schonefeld Airport, which is where we all met up just after 9pm. From the airport it was a short coach ride to our hotel in the city where, once we’d checked-in, the group were briefed both on the safety arrangements for the hotel and the plan for the following day. After which everyone headed off to bed ready for an early start the following day.

Day 2

After breakfast, we wrapped up warm and headed out the door.

The weather was bright, the sky was clear and the air was crisp which made for an extremely pleasant walk to Bellevue station.

The good news was that, although there was a public transport strike in Berlin, we were able to use S-Bahn to travel into the city.  We arrived at the station the train just as a train was pulling into the platform so we had to move pretty quickly to ensure the group all managed to jump on the train before the doors closed!!

Where it all began

Our first stop was on Museum Island where Ian gave an overview of the history of both Berlin and Germany, from Unification to the end of the Great War. This then lead us really nicely into  our visit to the German Historical Museum.

At the museum we enjoyed a guided tour which focused on the Foundation of Weimar Republic to the erection of the Nazi regime (1918-1934). This brought the curriculum to life for the students giving them the chance to look at key exhibits which they had only heard or read about.

When I asked Megan, aged 15, what she thought of the museum she replied” I loved the focus on  female empowerment of the German women in the 20’s. Seeing all the pictures of them when they shaved their hair and clothing they wore was really interesting.”

Luke, said it was great to visit the Museum and recap what they had learned in class. “I liked seeing all the propaganda posters and paintings. I also enjoyed the exhibits about the early stages of Weimar Germany”.  Something else Luke found fascinating about the tour was Berlin’s architecture. He said “I didn’t expect it to look the way it does”.

From the German Historical Museum it was just a short walk to both the Bebelplatz and Neue Wache where Ian talked to us about the book burning in May 1933 and the censorship and repression of artists and writers in Nazi Germany that followed.

“The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing”, by Edmund Burke.

For lunch we headed over to the Mall of Berlin where there was a large selection of food outlets for the groups to try. The teachers were pleased to see a lot of students staying away from McDonald’s and KFC, in fact most of them had the Currywurst and were pleasantly surprised!

As the day progressed, so did our journey through Nazi history. We strolled through the city, the sun still shining brightly down on us, to our next stop, the Topography of Terror. This exhibition is located on the grounds where the Headquarters of the Gestapo, the SS and the Reich Security Main Office once stood. Ian gave the group an overview of the site, before each student was tasked to go in, find particular sources and then share what the found out with the whole group afterwards.

We then made along Wilhelmstrasse, passing by the memorial to Georg Elser before arriving in front on the Brandenburg Gate, one of the most recognisable sites in Berlin. From here we walked first to the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism and then the Memorial to the Murdered members of the Reichstag before finally finding ourselves in front of the Reichstag building itself.

A great end to a great day

After around 20,000 steps taken during the day, the group were ready to sit down at a local restaurant where they enjoyed lasagne and chips and apple strudel for dessert. For a little fun we headed over to the bowling alley for a game of bowling and the students pulled out their dance moves to the ‘Cha Cha Slide’. On a high, after great day, we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep

Day 3

We were again graced with glorious sunshine and clear skies again and departed the hotel, after a hearty breakfast, for the Sachsenhausen Memorial. It was during the journey that one of the students, Isaac turned to Ian and asked “Where would you rather live?… In East Germany or Nazi Germany?”. It was a question which, albeit only for a brief moment, left Ian a little lost for words… (there’s a first). What it did show though was how the students were really engaging with the focus of the tour and what was to come.

At Gesunbrunnen station the students were amazed when the double decker train arrived as they’d never seen one before! There was a rush to get on the top deck before the train departed with all 44 of us using just one door. We hadn’t realised that another school group had decided to do the same which made for a very cosy journey to the next stop.

On our way to the Sachsenhausen Memorial we discussed the nature of the former Concentration Camp in order to make clear the differences between the various camps that had exisited across Nazi Germany. We talked about how the first camps were set us to deal with political opponents and served as a deterrent to others.

During the tour of the memorial site the students were full of questions around the experiences of those held in the camp, the conditions prisoners were held in and the function of areas like Station Z. Talking to Theo, he said he found the last building (the pathology lab) “very creepy” and we got into a discussion on how people could do such awful things. At which point he said, very honestly “I don’t know what I’d do in that situation”. Although most people would claim that they would not accept at regime like the Nazi’s what Theo said was right – would you stand by and turn a blind eye in order to protect yourself and your loved ones, or would you fight for what you believe is right? Once again the words of Edmund Burke sprang to mind:

“The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing”, by Edmund Burke.

From Sachsenhausen we made our way by coach (a welcome relief after a good few hours on foot) to the Resistance Memorial at Plotzensee Prison. Here  Ian spoke to the group about how many of those who resisted the Nazi regime were punished. The students were given a chance to read at the stories of some of those executed in Plotzensee and tell the rest of the group about one individual they found particularly interesting.

After a long day the group were ready for some free time and shopping followed by more Currywurst at a local restaurant. After the group finished eating, we headed over to the Reischtag to visit the Dome where we witnessed spectacular views of the city under the blanket of stars.

Day 4 (the last day)

“How is it the last day?” asked the students, “it’s gone too fast!”. None of them were ready to leave just yet. Luckily there was still time for a few more important visits before the plane home. In the morning Ian took the group first of all to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It was a visit which really got the group discussing both the experience of Europe’s Jewish population and the design of the helped to explore this.

 

Then it was a short walk to the location of the former New Reich Chancellery building and the Fuhrer Bunker, where we discussed the final days of the 3rd Reich.  Our next stop, after a train ride, was the Olympic Stadium which really made an impression on the students, who were all familiar with the story of the 1936 Games and in particular Jesse Owens.

Although it wasn’t the focus of their studies, the group were keen to have an opportunity to see the Berlin Wall. So, after lunch we headed to the excellent Berlin Wall Documentation Centre, where Ian explained the situation in post-War Berlin before describing why the Wall was built and telling the stories of some of those who lives were changed by it. Our final stop of the tour was at Checkpoint Charlie which, although now full of cafés, fast food outlets and souvenir stands, is still well worth a visit.  All that remained was to head to the hotel to collect our bags and then take the coach back to Schonefeld Airport.

Before saying our goodbyes, I had a chance to ask the students what they thought of the trip. It was Ruby who said she “enjoyed the German History Museum because started at the creation and went right through to the reunification.”  Luke said he found the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe really interesting. “As you walked around it just got deeper and deeper until you didn’t realise how deep you were in it” – a view which served to sum up the experience of those who lived  in Nazi Germany – and thought which most students will take away with them from the trip.

Post trip thoughts from the group leader.

We spoke to Lucy, the group leader, after the trip. Here’s what she had to say: “The students greatly enjoyed Ian and his stories. They brought a personal insight into the history and made students aware that it is people we have been learning about, not just facts and figures. The whole trip was very slick and incredibly well organised. Having led my own trips to Germany for years, having a knowledgeable guide made such a difference. I could actually relax and enjoy the trip and spend time talking to the students without worrying about the itinerary. My favourite sentence for the weekend was ‘ask Ian.’”

If you are interested in taking our Weimar and Nazi Germany tour you can find more information here https://angliatours.co.uk/tours/weirmar-and-nazi-germany/. For further information on our tours, to check availability or for a no-obligation quote please call +44 (0) 1376 574130.