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CLS Sixth Form venture to Berlin

Friday, 13 October 2017

Head of German, Mr Pollard, has recently returned from a school trip to Berlin with the Sixth Form. Here he recounts the highs and lows of the weekend away.  

"It’s one of the requirements of the Pre-U languages syllabus that pupils study a cultural topic. As all Sixth Form Germanists are currently learning about the Berlin Wall, the sensible thing to do seemed to be to take them to Berlin to discover the fascinating legacy of this concrete monstrosity. There are eighteen boys studying Sixth Form German at CLS; all of them came on the trip. We are fortunate that our current German Assistant Stefan is a native Berliner, and a GDR citizen by birth (just). With his expert guidance, we were able to put together a hectic programme of visits and guided tours to enable us to get the most from our three days in this marvellous city.

The departure time and details of the journey are rarely the highlights of a school trip, and this is even truer when having to deal with the horrors of Berlin Schönefeld airport, which turns out not to be very schön at all. It did become somewhat farcical for one of our number who was about to board the plane, only to discover that he had brought his brother’s passport. He had to go home and return twelve hours later via Luton Airport (of Lorraine Chase and Campari fame). The rest of the group was already ensconced in the iconic Park Inn hotel on Alexanderplatz. According to Julius’ research, this is Europe’s second tallest hotel. It was certainly busy and popular with groups enjoying the purposeful fight to be first for the cold meats at the lavish breakfast buffet. A kräftiges Frühstück is an essential part of CLS German trips, especially if there is a süßes Element at the end of it.

Our first tour on Sunday was to the emergency refugee camp at Marienfelde to see the place through which East German citizens fleeing Communist oppression were processed in the final turbulent months of the GDR. It was enlightening to see the complex process through which they had to go and to consider parallels with Germany’s current policy of welcoming huge numbers of refugees from war-torn Syria. The food we ate is less interesting, although the Junior Sixth were delighted to return to their beloved Vapiano. We did a bike ride in the afternoon. Herr Emerson was delighted to be greeted by the lady who had been our guide back in March, although we didn’t recognise her initially, as she has changed her hair colour from red to a very potent blue colour not dissimilar to the bubble gum Eis from our beloved Eiscafe. Our guide took us along the course of the Wall, past the remnants at Bernauerstraße and through the former death strip. It was an excellent way to cover a large area quickly. Our final stop was Sir Norman Foster’s Reichstag Dome. Although many of us had been up there before, we caught it on a beautifully autumnal Berlin evening and the light was striking. We spent the evening in Friedrichshain in the now thriving Simon-Dach-Straße. Everyone was struck by how reasonably priced the food is.

Monday was all about the former GDR (DDR auf Deutsch, beginning at the DDR Museum. What was once a rather limited and kitsch experience has now been expanded into a terribly impressive explanation of everyday life in East Germany. It’s important to challenge the received wisdoms of life being one long round of drudgery. East German had its own way of making fun and it was fascinating to walk through the recreation of a Plattenbau flat. Some of the group needed much sugar to sustain them through the day and there were frequent stops for ice cream and Kuchen along the way. Perhaps the most important visit we did was our journey underground to learn about escape attempts at the Wall. We are studying the film Der Tunnel and despite the threat of the occasional East German rat, it was a thrill to hear about the bravery of those who planned and carried out daring escape attempts in the early 1960s.

What the Germans call das Highlight was our ninety minutes with Dr. Stefan Wolle of the DDR Museum. Dr. Wolle is a DDR expert whose short Frag Dr. Wolle videos have been a smash hit with the current Junior Sixth. The pupils learnt so much from his recollections and explanations, as well as from being able to ask him their own questions about the life and legacy of those citizens still coming to terms with the fact that the state in which they grew up with its fashion, customs, turns-of-phrase and music no longer exists. Our final group meal was together in a restaurant underneath the arches of the regenerated Hackescher Markt. This was once the centre of Jewish Berlin, and one of the more sobering reminders of Jewish life in Berlin are the Stolpersteine. These stumbling stones are on the pavement outside the houses of those who were deported and murdered by the National Socialists and they always provide a moving jolt into the city’s past.

It goes without saying that we aim to teach the boys to be as fluent as possible in German during the Pre-U course, but we also want them to realize just how special this city is and to teach them to love it as much as we do. Tuesday came around all too soon and we had time only for a final visit to the excellent Museum in der Kulturbrauerei and another tour (in German) of the new Alltag in der DDR exhibition. Once again the emphasis is on daily life and the separation between work and home. After a final Bratwurst and a lovely catch up with another red-haired lady at Flammen Grill in Alexanderplatz station, it was time to return to Schönefeld. It was also time for the plane to take us back to London, but that didn’t seem to bother easyjet, who made us wait three hours in this frightful place with only a Burger King for company.

To quote Marlene Dietrich: „ich hab’ noch einen Koffer in Berlin, deswegen muss ich nächstens wieder hin.“ Let’s hope so."


Our first tour was to the emergency refugee camp at Marienfelde.
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