Visiting Berlin: Our Part 2 Study Trip

by Ellie Chaston and Georgia Allistone

The study trip abroad module was a new module this year, offered to Part 2 History and European Studies students. We were lucky enough to spend week 6 of the autumn term in Berlin, where we explored Germany’s urban and national identity through its remaining historical material and visual culture. We got to see Berlin’s main tourist attractions like the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie and the National Art Gallery as well as many significant memorials commemorating events that took place within and in relation to Germany from the Romantic era (c.1800-1850) up to the Cold War (1947-1991).

This trip was not just a valuable educational experience, and a great way to meet people on our course, but a chance to delve deep into Berlin’s history. Having Paul Davies, Donna Yamani and Patrick Major teaching us meant that we could really understand Berlin and its physical history through their expert knowledge of the points of interest we were shown. The depth of research and knowledge the lecturers had on the city and its museums led to small crowds outside our trip clan gathering to hear what they had to say – it really was a unique learning experience!


Group photo in front of the Victory Column

Georgia’s highlights

I truly loved every aspect of the trip, even the short nights’ sleeps and long days of walking. Visiting Berlin in this way meant we could understand how it has evolved into its being in the present day. For example, all the current parliamentary buildings are glass-paned all the way through, to represent a new age of transparency and democracy within Germany after its controversial and testing past.

My favourite part of the trip was visiting the Jewish museum and memorial, mainly because its impact on the viewer is very subjective, depending on how much one knows and can contextualise it. It is known as the Eisenmann memorial, named after the architect who designed it called Peter Eisenmann; an American man with Jewish parents. The memorial is comprised of 2711 columns that vary in height, but are all 2.8 metres long and 0.5 metres wide. The memorial opened in 2005 and was initially unlabelled. The space around the monument was also not clearly defined as Eisenmann wanted people to connect with the monument in whatever way they felt was right. He was more interested in the embodied experience the monument caused within the individual. Instead of creating a monument that directly represented the Jews like some of the Soviet memorials around the city, Eisenmann created something personal and subjective to its spectator, making it an untraditional memorial. I was personally very moved by my experience at the Eisenmann memorial. I felt very confined and trapped, weak and insignificant compared to the towering concrete blocks. Within the memorial, you had to walk in single file and the unlevelled flooring and varying height of the blocks was enough to make you feel unsteady. It was nice afterwards to walk back onto the street, and once again become part of the German public. The memorial attempts to materialise and in turn begin to make an individual understand how Jewish people would have felt in concentration and death camps. Walking back onto a level pavement, without boundaries is meant to represent that Germans can connect with their nation’s past without the burden of guilt. The vast scope of the memorial and the amount left to one’s subjective experience of it is what made it the most valuable and memorable part of the trip for me.

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The Eisenmann Memorial

Ellie’s highlights

One particularly moving place we visited was the Jewish Museum. It was designed in 2001 by a Jewish architect, Daniel Libeskind, as both a memorial and a museum dedicated to the experiences of Jewish people during and after the Holocaust. The building was designed to attempt to emulate some of the experiences Jewish people would have had during this time. Perhaps the most emotive part was the room at the end of the ‘axis of holocaust’. It is impossible to adequately describe the experience, except to say that in that room you are as close as possible to understanding the realities of the Jewish experiences of the Holocaust. The architect designed the whole building to be an experience, an attempt to make people understand the horrific realities of the Jewish experience, and to set it into German culture and identity. Needless to say, we certainly felt its impact!


Outside view of the Jewish Museum

One part of the trip I personally enjoyed was the day trip I took to Potsdam. Our group was rather small on that day, as many others had chosen to visit Sachsenhausen, but it was thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. After a brief stop at another extremely moving Jewish memorial, Track 17, we made our way to Sanssouci, a ‘lusthaus’ built by Frederick the Great. The building itself was absolutely stunning, both inside and out, as were the surrounding gardens, filled with beautiful statues, a fountain, and even a tea house. Everything about it was extremely lavish and eccentric, and we felt that summed up its patron perfectly! Wandering around the gardens also provided many excellent photograph opportunities, as you can see!


Molly and Charlotte in a water feature in the Sanssouci grounds

Overall experience

Overall, it is safe to say that we all had a brilliant time. The trip provided us with the ability to immerse ourselves deeply into German culture. We visited a number of galleries, museums, and memorials in Berlin, and these were all made even more interesting with our professors there to give us a detailed understanding of what we were looking at, something we wouldn’t have had if we were visiting simply as tourists. Our days were well structured, allowing us to visit a number of notable sites, while our evenings were left free, giving us the freedom to explore Berlin for ourselves. By the end of the trip, we found ourselves with a far greater appreciation of Berlin, and a deeper understanding of the complex layers of history it contains. I have no doubt that many of us will go back there in the future – a week is simply not enough time to explore such a wonderful city as Berlin!

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