MFL visit to Berlin, 2019

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By Cara Mitchell

As a student studying German, it is impossible to ignore the essential role the city of Berlin plays both for Germany and the rest of Europe. Therefore, it was a privilege that both year 12 and 13 classes were able to visit such an iconic city and improve our cultural understanding of Germany and at the same time improve our language skills.

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Shortly after arriving in the city we went for lunch in the Hauptbahnhof, Berlin’s main train station, which served as an eye-opener to many people. The levels of devastating poverty still present in such a developed city, reflected in the presence of countless beggars demonstrated the darker side of Merkel’s ‘Migration Wave’. I was struck by how those portrayed as the perpetrators are often in reality the victims. Following this, we visited our first museum of the trip in the Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz which gave us an insight into how film and its production have developed through German history, from the experimental German expressionism of the Weimar period to the racially motivated propaganda films of the Nazi times.

The next day started early with a walking tour led by our guide Tatjana, who was able to share with us information collected from years living in the city. Perhaps the most poignant moments of the trip occurred whilst visiting the separate memorials dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust, with the ambiguity of the maze of grey stones commemorating the Jewish victims allowing you to determine yourself what it represents and what emotions it aims to provoke.

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During the afternoon we visited Berlin’s DDR (GDR) museum, which proved to be a highlight for many people. Its interactive nature meant that you truly felt immersed in GDR life, whilst its displays on topics such as nudism in the GDR created a sense of humanity in a world seen by many as completely foreign. The weather had gradually been deteriorating throughout the day, culminating that evening on our night-time visit of the Reichstag dome when the open roof left us exposed to the freezing winds and snow. However, the worsening weather could not detract from the spectacular views of Berlin’s nightlife or the atmosphere from being in a building that holds so much historical yet also present-day significance.

Our third day started at the popular tourist destination of Checkpoint Charlie, which whilst being a fun opportunity to get a picture, did come across as extremely commercialised and perhaps shows how Berlin has been forced to exploit its past in order to sustain future tourism. In order to expand our knowledge on the Berlin wall and the separation and subsequent reunification of Germany we visited the ‘Mauer Museum’, which housed authentic hot-air balloons and submarines used in desperate escape attempts as well as the first hand testimonies of the people who used them. The information learnt here will prove invaluable for our exams as ‘the making of modern Germany’ plays a crucial role in our course, with themes of the reunification also present in the film ‘Goodbye Lenin!’, which we study as part of the course.

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That afternoon we were allowed some free time to explore the city, however one thing many of us noted was how empty the city seemed compared to other capitals like London, yet perhaps this accentuates Berlins charm and helps make it the unique city that it is.

After what had only seemed like a relatively short period of time, our final day came around. It started with a visit to the top of the T.V. tower and its panoramic view of the city we had become so immersed in. The view emphasised the architectural divisions between the East and West but also revealed how they had blended to create a united city. A personal highlight was our final excursion of the trip to the East Side Gallery, as it was amazing to see how political oppression and separation is still able to breed art and even enrich creativity. This marked the end of our time in Berlin, and with great sadness we boarded our plane and returned home to Manchester.

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It is only upon returning home that many of us have realised how valuable even the smallest conversations with hotel staff are for our language skills and that any future work from now on can only be enhanced by the vast amount of information we collected whilst in Berlin. However, this trip was also bitter-sweet as in the coming months we are set to become isolated from all the amazing culture and language we experienced. As I watched the EU flag flying high above the Reichstag it really hit home in a way it hadn’t before the enormity of what we are set to lose.

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