January 15, 2020, by lzzeb
The 30th Anniversary of the fall of the Wall: Berlin Field Trip Blog 4th – 9th November 2019
A blog by Vicky Jolley
Berlin. Somewhere I have never visited, yet heard of consistently throughout GCSE History, Geography, in general news and more recently, as a popular city break destination. As a geography student, it was important for me to take the opportunity to visit a new place whilst completing my degree. Berlin doesn’t disappoint.
The trip began with an early rise in rainy Lenton. A small group of us caught the skylink and headed to East Midlands Airport. Upon arrival at East Midlands Airport I was struck by how much smaller the airport was than I’d anticipated, and we got there much earlier than originally expected (thanks Billy for making us get the bus before the early bus!). When the relatively short flight touched down in Berlin, our group was met by Shaun and Jake at Schonëfeld airport and together we caught the train towards the inner city neighbourhood of Kruezberg. Our first stop was our hostel which was located in blissfully close proximity to the U-bahn station. Bags were dropped off and we headed straight to the Jewish Museum. The Jewish Museum instantly set the tone for Berlin, old and new, large yet largely vacant. The museum addressed the absent presence created by the past tragedies in Berlin’s history. Walking through the museum is a disorientating and humbling experience, making you feel ill at ease with yourself. It’s filled with stories of those who lost their lives during the holocaust and is a moving experience. Once the group had finished walking around the museum, we were left to explore the city in search of dinner and then headed back to the hostel.
On the first full day, we set off early to visit the Reichstag, the German parliament. We saw the views over Berlin and the building’s modern glass dome, which replaces the original destroyed by fire, WWII bombing and the battle for Berlin in 1945. The cityscape below was fascinating, with lots of construction taking place and located close to the River Spree. On the grand steps in front of the Reichstag, we gathered and took a group photo. After finishing the trip, it’s odd to look back now on this photo – after an intensive 5 days the whole group became good friends, making it strange to see the beginning where lots of us were merely acquaintances.
Following the walk around the Reichstag, we split into our walking groups. With Shaun as our guide, we began what was a very, very long day (27,000 steps long). Our tour instantly showed the contested nature of the city, showing the ambitions of Berlin following its cold war and socialist past to become a global city boasting a strong creative economy.
From hearing about the city during lectures in the build-up to the trip, I was struck by how different my imaginations contrasted to its reality. The city is a kaleidoscope of old and new, capitalist and socialist, brand new and derelict buildings. The walking tour highlighted the importance of field work, of actually visiting and connecting feet to concrete geographies. I can’t express how different it is from reading journals to being physically a part of the city. In Berlin, there is a constant process of erasing and memorialising the past, with the added complication of the city’s recent attempts to capitalise upon this tortured history.
We walked literally through history, from the Soviet War Memorial in its grandeur and triumph, guarded by the first T-34s to storm the city, to the present-day battle against gentrification captured by the graffiti and squats. Following the tiring day, we rounded things off with a trip to the pub, where we were introduced and converted to dunkel beer – which quickly became a favourite for some. The culturally rich day was rounded off with a curry house with what seemed to be a permanent happy hour.
The following day, our team switched to Jake’s walking tour, where we explored urban spaces and places that remain haunted by their histories. We visited sites from the city’s pre-1945 landscape again up to the present day, reflecting on Berlin as a city of experimentation.
Both of the walking tours offered a great insight to the city, a chance to get to know the lecturers better and also each other. Being in third year, I thought I knew almost everyone, but finished the second walking tour with some great friends I’d never spoken to before.
In the group, we had a 21st birthday (shout out to my friend Bel) meaning an early night ahead of our group projects wasn’t on the cards. The entire group of students met to celebrate, and we had a wonderful time together, even if the U-Bahn wasn’t running and we had a 2 mile walk home.
The Thursday and Friday marked the group projects. We were split into smaller project groups of three, visiting specific sites to ground our existing knowledge. My group’s project theme was Neoliberalism and the Creative City, which gave us the opportunity to explore urban regeneration and the rapidly expanding media scene.
Despite being geographers, I found navigating the city much more difficult than many I’d been in before. It is one of the most fragmented places I have ever seen. Being a completely new city to me, it constantly seemed to shift from East to West Berlin, with the tell-tale sign of where we were being the cute little, East German Ampelmann traffic light symbol.
Left to our own devices, we surprisingly covered even further distances than on the walking tours. We visited museums, theatres, housing estates, estate agents and of course made a stop for an Italian (it’s a diverse city, you know!). We took hundreds of photos and dozens of leaflets to help supplement our ideas for the projects.
Whilst in Berlin, we were present for the preparations for the 30th anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Being 20-year olds, for many of us, it was quite shocking to see the remnants of the wall and the impact that remains upon the city, something that feels so much older than 10 years before we were born. Whilst visiting the Berlin Wall Memorial amongst many other sites, we saw camera crews everywhere. On Saturday, Alexanderplatz had live performers in celebration, along with a projected display onto the surrounding buildings. There is still a section of the Berlin Wall standing today, complete with a watch tower. Peering through the gap is an odd experience. As a young person who has only ever known freedom, looking at the wall leaves me at a loss for words, knowing many people lost their lives trying to reach the West in search of a better life. It has further impact knowing that in other areas of the world, people today are facing similar battles.
The wall is imposing, intimidating and bleak. It makes you feel uncomfortable, confused and sad. It’s certainly thought provoking.
The Berlin field trip was amazing from start to finish. A special mention needs to be made to Check Point Charlie, which became a common meeting point for the group throughout the trip. One of the highlights involved the whole group visiting a 100-year-old ballroom for a three-course dinner and dance with our lecturers: Shaun, Jake, Cordelia and Rob. Completed by a floss-off between Jake and Cordelia with some impressive efforts made on both sides, what was lacking in coordination was made up for in spirit. Although the local patrons might not have loved our renditions of, I Want It That Way and Sweet Caroline, we thoroughly enjoyed every second and made memories that will last a lifetime.