Last week, the students of the Senior History classes were lucky enough to go on a trip to Berlin, to see various landmarks of historical relevance with a view to better understanding the period of Nazi reign and the story of the Berlin Wall.
We left the school early on the morning of Wednesday 13th November, accompanied by Ms. Foley, Greg Ashe, and Denis, with much excitement over the very luxurious bus we were graced with, courtesy of Dublin Coach. When we arrived at the airport, enthusiasm spiked at the prospect of flying from the utopian Terminal 2, but was quickly crushed when it was realised that somebody had read the boarding cards wrong. We actually flew from the very ’70s Terminal 1, resplendent in all its Thatcher-esque glory.
The flight to Berlin was, as is the case with most Ryanair flights, cramped, hot, and aesthetically sickening to behold, a sea of multitudinous bright yellow and navy. Novelty served as a decent anaesthetic to the horror of it all, however, and before it became unbearable we were descending over the remarkably well preserved woods and forests that encircle Berlin.
The airport was less metropolitan than you might expect from the capital of such an economic powerhouse as Germany, but it was soon made clear to us that it was one of four airports in each of the four sectors of the city, this being the Soviet one, which effectively explained the unpainted granite walls and lack of windows.
Another, short bus journey later, and we had successfully made it to the hotel, a small travel hotel just across from the Hauptbanhof, the central train station, an absolute gargantuan building of glass and steel, an amalgamation of shopping centre and transport hub which was truly impressive. The hotel was small and comfortable, with a very cosmopolitan feel. It was also ridiculously packed, seeming to contain half of Europe all trying to squeeze into the elevator. The rooms were very small but again, very comfortable.
Soon after arriving we went out to collect some knowledge, our first port of call being the Reichstag. After being subjected to a very brutal and confusing security check, we toured around the Reichstag with a guide, taking in the vast history of the place and climbing to the top of the dome. After this,we met our other tour guide for a walking tour of Berlin. On this we saw Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, and pieces of the Berlin Wall, all very impressive, the gate in particular.
The next morning we left fairly early for Sachsenhausen concentration camp. We started off in pretty high spirits, I think we all remembered we were in Germany! We toured Sachsenhausen with our guide, and after the obligatory chortles and comparisons to Glenstal were exhausted, the mood settled into a more dignified silence. Sachsenhausen concentration camp is one of the darkest places I have ever been. It has a unique air of oppression and malice, the walls seeming to press in on you despite the sheer size of the place. The atrocities we were told of seemed at home in it, hinted at by the air of creepiness pervading all around. I don’t think anybody was sorry to see the back of it, and absolute kudos to Br. Denis for trying and managing to keep the mood light, else we all would have left teary wrecks.
That evening we went to the Topography of Terror, a museum dedicated to the rule of the Nazis. Photos of hangings sat alongside photos of SS higher-ups relaxing with their families. It was incredibly disconcerting to see the architects of a continent-wide genocide as normal people with children of their own, and it was an eye opening experience for me personally.
The next day it was time to fly home, by way of a much more comfortable Aer Lingus flight, and we were all returned safely to the familiarity of the school. Suffice it to say, the trip was a complete success and very much enjoyed by all of us. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Miss Foley for her absolute grade A organisation and planning, and for putting up with our unique Glenstal sense of humour for 2 days, a daunting prospect for even the veterans. Also thanks to Greg for his unrivalled pathfinding skills, and especially to Br. Denis, who supplied the trip with a much needed sense of humour and familiarity. It was an excellent outing and a convincing argument for anybody thinking of taking History for the Leaving Cert.
Photographs of the trip are in the Photo Section