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Berlin, where east met west

We have run many international trips here in Torbay to the US, Paris and Spain but Berlin was a new destination for us and one that the students were very excited about especially as the trip was led by our very own Berliner Nadiine Mohr.

Berlin’s combo of glamour and grit is bound to mesmerize anyone keen to explore its vibrant culture, cutting-edge architecture, fabulous food, intense parties and tangible history.

Is there any other city in the world that who’s modern history has captured the worlds imagination like Berlin with scenes of the wall coming down at the end of the 1980’s etched in the minds of people the world over.

We arrived late so after checking into our hotel and getting some dinner we went straight to bed so we would be fresh and ready to go the next day. First stop was a visit to the Reichstag Parliament building.

No building sums up recent German history more so than The Reichstag. Constructed to house the Imperial Diet of the German Empire. It was opened in 1894 and housed the Diet until 1933, when it was severely damaged after being set on fire. After World War II, the building fell into disuse; the parliament of the German Democratic Republic (the Volkskammer) met in the Palast der Republik in East Berlin, while the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany (the Bundestag) met in the Bundeshaus in Bonn.

The ruined building was made safe against the elements and partially refurbished in the 1960s, but no attempt at full restoration was made until after German reunification on 3 October 1990, when it underwent a reconstruction led by architect Norman Foster. After its completion in 1999, it once again became the meeting place of the German parliament: the modern Bundestag.

After lunch we visited the Holocaust Museum which was a truly moving and emotionally charged experience but one that will clearly stay with us forever because it allowed us to reflect on all that man is capable of.

After this we went for lunch in the city around Potsdamer Platz and then to the Brandenburg Gate both amazing sites and again both iconic.

We all got a good night sleep after dinner ready for another busy day starting with a trip up the TV Tower, probably the most visible buildings in Berlin with great views all across the city.

After lunch we made our way to the area of the city many had most been looking forward to, East Berlin. East Berlin existed from 1949 to 1990 and consisted of the Soviet sector of Berlin established in 1945. The American, British, and French sectors became West Berlin, strongly associated with West Germany, while East Berlin was the de facto capital of East Germany. From 13 August 1961 until 9 November 1989, East Berlin was separated from West Berlin by the Berlin Wall.

In East German official usage, it became widespread in the 1970’s to refer to the Western part of the city as “Westberlin”, whilst calling the Eastern part simply “Berlin”. Officially it was referred to as “Berlin, Hauptstadt der DDR” (“Berlin, Capital of the GDR”).

The wall was still very much present but now is a tourist attraction and little glimpse at the not so distant past. While in the East of the city we visited the East Side Gallery an open-air gallery in Berlin. It consists of a series of murals painted directly on a 1316 m long remnant of the Berlin Wall, located near the centre of Berlin, on Mühlenstraße in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. The gallery has official status as a Denkmal, or heritage-protected landmark. According to the Künstlerinitiative East Side Gallery is an association of the artists involved in the project, “The East Side Gallery is understood as a monument to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the peaceful negotiation of borders and conventions between societies and people”.

The end of another busy day but we have been lucky enough to have seen the major sights of this amazing city. In many ways Berlin is an inspiring place that feels really modern and current but at the same time it is a city where the past is all around you. What struck us most was how Berlin has learnt to live with its past and turn this to its advantage.

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