Notes from the Field: Berlin
This has been a terrific week, and it went by much too quickly. Some students are headed home tomorrow, but they wish they could be staying. I am fairly sure they are all hatching plans to return to Germany!
On our first day, after a lovely buffet breakfast at the hotel, we enjoyed a long bike tour with the Fat Tire Bike Tour Company that took us through former East Berlin along the Karl-Marx Allee, East Side Gallery, Treptower Park and finally Checkpoint Charlie. We enjoyed a delicious falafel lunch in the Kreuzberg borough before returning to our hotel just before a thunderstorm came through. That night, we caught Jurassic Park World in German!
On Sunday, we started the day at Museum Island, stopping on the way to take a picture with Marx and Engels. Mary introduced us to Nefertiti giving us all some background on the controversy surrounding rightful ownership.
We then gave the students 90 minutes to explore the museums on their own before heading down the famous Unter den Linden Boulevard to the Brandenburg Gate. Then on to The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, spending time at the underground information center before walking through the Field of Stelae (part of the Memorial). Very moving and emotional experience for many, if not all, of us.
A bit of free time in the afternoon for students to eat, buy chocolate at Rittersport Chocolate, explore Unter den Linden and return to hotel for a bit of a rest. We headed out again at 5:30 to visit the East German Museum followed by an hour-long cruise on the Spree river. Great to view the city and architecture from the water and perfect end to the day.
Monday, first up was the Museum at Checkpoint Charlie where we could view the multiple ways in which citizens of the former East Germany escaped over and under the wall. These included tunnels, ultralights, cars, personal submarines, and zip lines. We then visited the Topography of Terror nearby. We took our time viewing the permanent outdoor exhibition detailing Nazi repression.
At lunch time we split up into small groups with some heading to Potsdamer Platz (Berlin’s version of Times Square) and others wandering back via bakeries to a bookstore and back to the hotel for a short break. Stopping frequently for snacks is one of our favorite activities. After all, the students need to practice ordering food in German! The evening activity was a tour at the
German parliament, facilitated by Andover Charter Trustee Tammy Snyder Murphy ’83. The highlight was visiting the glass dome with the magnificent views of the city.
Later in the week, Tammy Murphy and husband Phil Murphy, former ambassador to Berlin, arranged a tour the U.S. embassy adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate. The highlight was meeting current Ambassador John Emerson, who generously spent more than 30 minutes with us, giving the kids a glimpse of a day in the life of a foreign diplomat and talking about the importance of the U.S-German relationship. Later in the day, the Murphys hosted us for a cookout at their beautiful home in Grünewald. On the way home we took an important detour to the memorial at the Berlin-Grünwald Train Station, which marks one of the major sites of deportation of the Berlin Jews. It was a difficult and moving memorial to view.
Thursday, was our last full day in Berlin, and it was filled with a trip just outside Berlin to the city of Potsdam. A walking tour through the Dutch quarter and city to the grounds of Sansoucci led us to the palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, where we enjoyed a private tour. Most of the tour was in German, and the students did an impressive job following the commentary and asking questions. Their brains were working overtime for sure. We learned, among many other things, that Frederick the Great was responsible for bringing potatoes to Germany.
On our return we hopped off the train at Ku’Damm, Berlin’s equivalent to New York’s 5th Avenue, and took in the imposing Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The damage to the spire, sustained during a 1943 bombing raid, is visible today and serves as a reminder of the war. Finally, this evening, a small group visited one of the few remaining sections (one which ran through Bernauer street) of the original Berlin wall. This was the scene of many dramatic escapes in 1961.
The students’ enthusiasm and interest in everything we have done–including the bike tour and museums; discussions about the Cold War, Holocaust, and Prussia; walking 5 to 10 miles each day; and learning how to order one scoop of vanilla ice cream or a curry sausage in German–have made this a fabulous week.