Yesterday, we spent our first day in Berlin visiting some of its iconic sites.
In the morning, we took a self-guided tour through Charlottenberg Palace which was commissioned by Queen Sophie Charlotte during the reign of King Frederick I in the late 17th Century. The building was destroyed during WW2 but completely reconstructed and refurnished with original decor that was stored safely during the war.
From there, we travelled to the Reichstag – the German Parliament building – for a tour of the roof terrace. The modern glass and steel dome construction offers panoramic views of Berlin and gave us a better understanding of the size of the city and the close proximity of the wall that divided East and West Berlin.
In the afternoon, we visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Designed by Peter Eisenman, this memorial is an extensive yet sombre tribute to the approximately six million victims of the Nazi Holocaust. Students were given the opportunity to walk between some of the 2711 concrete tombs and reflect on the feeling the memorial evokes. Students identified a sense of isolation and confusion but some also thought that the monument offered a sense of hope in the midst of tragedy. The visitors centre documented the history of the Holocaust in a most informative and respectful way.
After taking a photo opportunity at the Brandenburg Gate, we returned to the hostel for dinner and then walked to the nearby Potsdamer Platz for an evening of shopping.
Interestingly, the construction of the Holocaust Memorial and the new shopping complex of Potsdamer Platz were only possible because they were built on the vacant land that separated East and West Berlin known as the Death Zone. Many East Berliners lost their lives trying to traverse the barrier separating them from the freedom offered in West Berlin.
Today, we continued our tour of Berlin with a guided tour of a number of sites, including the dividing line between East and West Berlin. The highlight of the morning was our stop at the East Gallery, a section of the Berlin Wall that has been preserved.
We then visited Berliner Dom, a very ornate Evangelical (Lutheran and Reformed) church constructed at the start of the 20th Century. The dome of the church offered more spectacular views over Berlin, especially the gallery precinct and site of the reconstruction of the City Palace. The crypt is of tremendous historical and cultural significance as it holds 94 tombs dating from the end of the 16th Century until the beginning of the 20th Century, including those of Frederick I and Sophie Charlotte.
Students had the opportunity to eat their lunch in the park and wander through the gallery precinct before our next stop at Checkpoint Charlie.
The third checkpoint separating East and West Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie is most renowned for the confrontation that took place between Soviet and US tanks in 1961. This history – and the history of international peace efforts – is documented extensively in the Checkpoint Charlie Museum.
Our last stop was Ka De We, one of the world’s largest shopping centres, second only to Harrods of London. Shopping is becoming quite an attraction. Parents, be afraid. Be very afraid!