3am was the call time to start the 4 day expedition to Berlin.
After our airlift to Berlin it was time to book in at our hostel, all transport for the 4 days was on public transport. We felt this was the only way to truly experience life in Berlin today, we didn't want to go everywhere by coach and feel detached from the locals.
Booking in done it was off to McDonalds for Lunch prior to a train ride to Sachsenhausen. Sachsenhausen is a flattened concentration camp on the outskirts of the city. It also housed the main SS HQ for all concentration camps in Europe. We paid our respects at the English and Commonwealth Memorial prior to having a guided tour.
LCpl Carey felt that this location will forever stick in his mind as it showed him that the Nazi Regime was supposedly superior to other races such as the Jewish and they wanted to help cease their existence in this camp, he questioned how anyone superior could do what they did.
This visit was organised as the first thing to witness of the 4 days on purpose, this set the tone of what Hitler and his regime were capable of and was a great start to discussions of was he a great leader or a feared leader.
Started with a trip to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. A large undulating area full of grey blocks where it is very easy to get lost within. Cpl Connor felt that this disorientation of moving around the memorial was thought provoking and really help emphasise the tragedies that occurred.
It was then time for a guided walking tour from Brandenburg Gate down the Unter den Linden and the roads surrounding it. So much was covered in the hour of the walk all in Eastern Berlin. One of the points covered was Bebelplabtz; this is the square where the Nazi book burning incident occurred.
No time to stop it was a short hop to the Victory Column. A column built to enable the Nazi Regime try to boost the morale of the Berlin People. The column is covered in gold including a number of gold plated cannons. Once all had been to the top we took a walk through Tiergarten.
Tiergarten is the largest open park space in Berlin and formed part of the UK sector when Berlin was split up. There are many areas of the park and we took a rest in the rose garden. It was a very peaceful and restful area where the team made the most of the short stop.
Continuing through the park we stopped off at the Russian Memorial to pay our respects prior to arriving at the Reichstag. We were booked to take a trip inside and up around the dome, unfortunately just prior to our arrival we received information the Reichstag was closed. We found out later that it was due to a debate on Latin America.
That evening we took a trip to a theatre, there is a separate write up about this trip to Vivid which gives a number of thoughts from the cadets.
Today we had a slight lay in then it was off to Templehof Airport for a guided tour.
This airport was in the American Sector and is most significantly remembered for the airlift to ensure West Berlin did not go without food and other supplies. The airport has a long history and was used for many German Army parades and was built to cope with 3 million passengers a year. It was built within 15 months and still shows scars of the action it has seen.
After the airport it was over to the Berlin Wall Memorial. This memorial has the largest sections of the walls still in place and shows many things such as where the lights were placed, the sand are that was raked daily so footprints could be seen if anyone tried to escape; this is in a secure arena now protected. Part of the memorial has pictures of those that died trying to cross the wall. Some were only children and we found out they drowned. Part of the wall was not really a wall as it traversed the river, as such if you fell in the river it was deemed you were crossing the wall. If a child had fallen in the parents could not go in to save them as they would be shot by the East German Guards, so the parent had the agonising time of watching their child drown knowing there was nothing they could do.
After the memorial it was short tram ride to the TV Tower. Many cadets stated this was one of the best visits, there is so much history around the tower and how it was used to ensue propaganda was sent out to the masses and how this was used to cover up some of what was occurring within their country and city. The views from the tower are also amazing and showed that despite us seeming spending a fair amount of time travelling actually everything is so close together. It also showed very clearly the difference in architecture from East to West.
After the TV tower we visited Potsdamer Platz, now a major shopping and entertainment area but was previously part of no-mans land and had you walked in that area during the time of the wall you would have been shot. We also visited the last remaining working watchtower. Whilst it has been moved slightly it is only just off point from where it originally stood looking over sections of the wall and no-mans land.
Finally after a long day it was back to the hostel for evening meal and some free time and time to pack ready for our last day.
After checking out we visited the Topography of Terror. This is another section of the Berlin Wall but in an area where there are part of buildings left. These sections show how and where some of the atrocities occurred, how prisoners political or otherwise were "tested" on how they would react to actions taken against them.
Our last place to visit prior to coming home was, what is left of, Checkpoint Charlie. The cadets were slightly disappointed at this last visit as it is now very commercialised and also an area full of pickpockets and fraudsters. It is a much smaller area that it was when it was a true checkpoint but the museum does show you what it used to be like so there is the ability to understand the significance of the checkpoint and how people used it to cross from East to West or West to East.
All the cadets commented on how they found the trip to be really exciting and how so much was done within such the short space of time, but nothing was rushed. So much was learnt and that fact that this was done through the ACF rather than school ensured that the correct military stance was placed on what was visited. They all realised that Berlin is now one of the most diverse and accepting city's they have visited, which is in complete contrast to how the Nazi Regime would have wanted it to be. We believed that this was a very conscious decision of the occupants of Berlin as they left the Nazi Regime behind.
It was a very busy 4 days and one that is likely to be repeated a a few years time.