St Thomas More history department leads fascinating study visit to the German capital

Thirty-six students from Year 8 to Year 11 recently returned from a four day study visit to Berlin. This is the fourth time the history department has organised such a visit, and this year’s was as successful as the previous three. Despite the heightened security following the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, the group was skilfully navigated around Berlin by Miss Vaughan, Mr Holmes and Miss Patterson.

The group visited numerous sites of great historical interest such as the Berlin Wall, the Stasi Museum (housed in a building which was once the headquarters of the East German Secret Police), the Holocaust Memorial, and the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Other highlights of the trip included evening visits to the Reichstag and the famous Berlin TV Tower.

Berlin Wall

At the Berlin Wall Museum the group saw remaining stretches of the wall (photographed below). The wall was built in 1961 by the German Democratic Republic in order to prevent the massive emigration and defection that had marked East Germany and communist Eastern Bloc during the post-World War II period.

Before finally coming down in 1989, around 5,000 people attempted to escape over the wall, with an estimated death toll ranging from 136 to 200 in and around Berlin.

Students visited an area which had previously been part of the “death strip” between the inner and outer walls (pictured right). The area would have been guarded by mines and barbed wire, and closely monitored by armed guards in watch towers every few hundred yards.

Reichstag

The Reichstag is a historical building in Berlin, Germany, constructed to house the Imperial Diet of the German Empire. It was opened in 1894 and housed the Diet until 1933, when it was severely damaged after it was set on fire.

The ruined building was made safe against the elements and partially refurbished in the 1960s, but no attempt at full restoration was made until after German reunification on 3 October 1990, when it underwent a reconstruction led by architect Norman Foster. After its completion in 1999, it once again became the meeting place of the German parliament: the modern Bundestag.

Close to this building students saw a sculpture in memory to individual German parliamentarians who lost their life under Hitler. Each piece of metal is embossed with the name of the person, the political party they belonged to e.g. KPD or SPD, and the name of the concentration camp they were sent to.

Jewish Quarter

This year, for the first time, we were taken on a tour of Berlin’s Jewish Quarter. We were shown parts of the largest memorial in the world, which is made up of individual brass tiles set in the ground marking the place where individual Jews were taken and sent to death camps.

This is clearly a very moving and personalised memorial, and can be found throughout Europe, wherever Jewish people were taken from their homes. It certainly brought home to the students the horrors of the holocaust.

The same can be said for “The Deserted Room”, a memorial which depicts a room in a house left after its Jewish inhabitants had been arrested and sent to the camps to an almost certain death. This was commissioned in 1988 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the infamous Reich Krystallnacht (Night of Broken Glass).

As ever our students’ behaviour was exemplary on the visit and they conducted themselves with reverence and respect at all times.

Next year we are hoping to organise a visit to Poland, and more details will be available shortly.