From 6 to 9 May 2010 Prof Keith Jeffery and Dr Todd Weir took a combined group of third-year students of European History and MA students of Intelligence History to gain some first hand knowledge of Berlin. This field trip was generously sponsored by the Queen’s Annual Fund. What did the students learn? Have a read…
by Bartosz Boleslawski
As an Erasmus student from the University of Warsaw I participated in the module “Fascism and its legacy in Germany: 1918-2005” during Spring Semester of 2009/2010 academic year. My tutor Dr Todd Weir proposed to me at the beginning of our tutorial to join a trip to Berlin in May and I used such an opportunity. I would like to say something about my impressions during this field trip.
Firstly I should say, it is a little bit strange, that travel by train from Warsaw to Berlin lasts only few hours and is quite cheap, however, I had never been in Berlin before. So, my first time to Berlin was from Belfast with QUB students and I can say now, it was very good decision.
The programme of our trip was very interesting. On the first day (6th May) Berlin welcomed us with a big rain, however it did not disturb our plans. During this day we visited the city centre, especially the Isle of Museums. For me personally most impressive was the Pergamon Museum, where I admired fascinating pieces of buildings from very ancient times. We saw also the German History Museum and so-called Neue-Wache with monument of mother with child. This monument forced me to consider about all the perpetrations of violence throughout world history.
During the second day we visited museums with very professional German guides. I had never heard earlier about the spy tunnel under the border between East and West Berlin, which was built by the British. The story about this tunnel, described by a German historian, who also wrote a book about it, was very interesting and exciting for me. Afterwards we could see the small part of this tunnel in museum with all the original equipment inside. On Friday we also had a lunch with German professor of history and students from Humboldt University, who were Erasmus scholars at QUB last year.
On Saturday we were focused on the communist history of Berlin. We visited the Stasi Museum, established in old prison for political opponents. As a citizen of Poland, a country influenced for almost fifty years by the Soviet Union, I knew much about the abuse by communist officers of prisoners. However, our guide in Stasi Museum, Ms. Vera Lengsfeld, a member of German parliament, described tortures used by Stasi officers and it was really depressing. One thing is to hear about it, another is to see the tools of tortures with one’s own eyes. Mrs. Vera Lengsfeld spent six months in this prison, so she was very competent person to describe Stasi methods of investigations. That was a very good lesson of history.
Before trip I was a little bit afraid, because I did not know any of the participants of our trip apart from Maciej Skup, my friend from University of Warsaw, who was also on Erasmus scholarship in Belfast. I wondered how Irish students would receive strange students from this remote country Poland. My anxiety was deeply unnecessary.
Irish students from QUB are really polite and very helpful. They were very patient, when sometimes my English was not understandable and helped me with understanding special phrases characteristic for language from Northern Ireland, which they used. Every evening, after the compulsory programme of our trip we had a great time in pubs and bars. During last day on Sunday 9th May in our free time we walked together across Unter den Linden, visited Checkpoint Charlie and got to relax beside the Reichstag. We got very good relations between each other (Polish and Irish students) and now we continue our friendship and meet from time to time.
In my opinion, the idea of organizing trips to cities and countries, about which history we talk during our tutorials and lecturers is very good and such experience is a helpful complement for our work in classes and in library. At the and I can say without any objections, Berlin field trip with Prof Keith Jeffery, Dr Todd Weir and students of QUB was one of the best trips in my life.
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by Nuala McAdams and Lauren Clark
During our trip to Berlin we went on a walking tour of Unter den Linden to explore some of the memorials in the centre of the city. Our first stop was the Humboldt University, which was the leading university of Germany until 1945, when it became East Germany’s central university. The Humboldt University's stained glass windows revealed the East German obsession with science. The dominance of science over culture on the windows is reflective of the emphasis placed on training skilled workers and on education, with the traditional Soviet hammer and sickle being augmented with a compass.
Berlin is a city of memory, a city were memory of its past cannot be escaped, it is embraced; from Neue Wache to Bebelplatz, Berlin is immersed in culture. Although situated on one of the busiest streets in Berlin that leads to the triumphant Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, entering the Neue Wache is like walking into a parallel world. To come off this majestic street into a one roomed building is a complete change of pace. Upon entering a feeling of reverence encompasses you, the feeling of mourning is ever present as you approach the central figure and read the plaque which dedicates it "To the Victims of War and Tyranny". This memorial is for everyone who lived through the hard years of Germany. Again on the busy Linden we came across Bebelplatz book burning monument, a subtle tribute to a specific attack on culture, not people. Remembering a burning of academic literature that was seen as 'dissenting' by the Nazis demonstrates how the event was a prelude to the atrocities seen at end of the regime. The plaque in front of it poignantly reads, "Where they burn books they ultimately burn people." This memorial is out in the open, in a wide square, goes unnoticed until you are relatively close to it. Once noticed, all attention is drawn to the ground, forcing you to look deep into the glass cover and to contemplate all that happened there, and all that was to happen at the hands of the Nazi regime. While it is quite simple; empty white bookcases illuminated with bright light, its subtlety draws you in to contemplate the presence of absence that was to exist for more than a decade after the Nazi book burning.
For us going as students, with specific academic aims in mind, being exposed to the culture and the memory was incredibly beneficial. Not only did it aid our specific project on memory; but on a larger scale it brought history to the fore. Learning about the Nazi regime has become a staple in education for our generation, thus many approach it as a far off event, it takes a trip to where it all happened to put things in perspective, and truly engage with what you learn.
We're both really glad we went on this trip as, not only was it beneficial to our studies, but we met a lovely group of people. Since coming back we have met up a few times, and will again. We also met Hazel, a student on Erasmus, who came form Frankfurt to Berlin to join us on our trip. The trip was amazing, from the tours and museums to the nightlife (especially the ping pong bar!), probably one of the best things we've done during our time at QUB!
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by Barbara Craven
As a third year student at Queen’s I studied the module Second World War in Europe with Dr Daniel Kowalsky. The trip to the Stasi monument in Hohenschonhausen held the most interest for me. Our tour guide was Vera Langsfeld, a former internee of this prison and a prominent civil rights activist. There were four facts that intrigued me about this prison.
Firstly, the prison was run by the Soviet Union from 1945 to 1951. The German Democratic Republic, (Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR in German, informally called East Germany by the West), Police took over this establishment when the Soviet Union left.
Secondly, the prison was not on any map, where it was actually situated there was a blank spot on the map. This fact was only realised after German reunification.
Thirdly, our guide, Vera related stories from the prison and the most horrific were the torture cells. It is hard to believe that people were still tortured as late as the 1980s in Europe.
Lastly, Vera brought to our attention the ‘fancy houses’ outside the prison. She informed us that some prison/police guards still inhabited these houses. An atrocious fact as these guards can look out their windows and remember their reign of terror on this prison.
I believe the entire trip was a success and Todd was an excellent guide. The entire group was entertaining and it was an experience to enjoy the company of two Erasmus students from Poland, Bart and Maciej whose country suffered before, during and after the Second World War.
by Chris Busby
Now I am a man of simple pleasures - and having a good feed is one of them! On the Saturday night of our trip to Berlin Todd took us to a rather unusual, but unforgettable, pizzeria. As we approached the restaurant, we could see it was a hive of activity, inside and out. It sat what seemed over 300 people, and was near full to capacity shortly after we arrived. The walls were covered in graffiti and 'tags', along with the names of numerous punk rock bands and their posters.
Todd had informed us that he used to frequent the establishment when he was younger, and that originally it was set up by Italian anarchists and ran as a 'not-for-profit' restaurant. Todd kindly interpreted the Italian menu for us, from we which chose starters of the famous (and delicious) white asparagus with ham.
The pizza's spoke for themselves; fresh and tasty ingredients, a delicious base and well presented - just the way mama used to make (that's if my mum even knew how to make pizzas). Todd, most interestingly, opted for a horse flesh pizza, and seeing as I was sitting beside him, and mostly because I was his favourite student on the trip, gave me some. It certainly was different, and quite enjoyable!
Overall it was a brilliant trip, great sights, great food, great beer, and great company! Since returning, I have I've made a few great friends, as well as developing a blood lust for horse flesh... pony lovers beware!