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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Educational Trip to Berlin: High School and College

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

You are planning an educational trip to Berlin for your college class. Your students, mostly young adults, are learning to debate, confront ideas, and assert themselves as individuals. They are capable of intellectual engagement. It will be your responsibility to adapt the stay by defining an appropriate program that meets both your expectations and those of your students. Allow me to guide you in organizing your educational stay in Berlin for college students.

The Basics of an Educational Trip for College Students

No longer should you fear historical complexity. Students can adapt to both themes and narrative patterns. These young adults are here to learn responsibility. The challenge will be to find formats that encourage active involvement during their leisure and reflection time. The aim of such a stay is also to foster open-mindedness: to familiarize the students with diversity and memorial and artistic themes.

Defining the Educational Objectives of an Educational Trip to Berlin

The trip to Berlin will primarily be an opportunity to reinforce knowledge. Class-studied themes are explored in-depth using different approaches. Students learn to contextualize historical events within broader processes.

The goal is to stimulate students to question the individual's place in political society. The trip follows the principles of civic education. This process reasserts the democratic ideal and encourages students to ponder individual and collective responsibilities during events.

Lastly, the educational trip can serve as a rite of passage. Through interaction with their peers and adult themes, students become more responsible. They should be provided opportunities to learn about themselves and assert their life learning skills.

Advice for Teachers

Fully engage in organizing your trip. Select the areas of approach and interest that you want to emphasize. Even if you use a travel agency for logistical matters, maintain control over the overall direction of your project.

I recommend that you focus more on memorial work rather than history. This allows you to frame the trip within civic education. Do not fear programs with strong emotional and reflective potential. Take the necessary time to delve into things and allow time for individual reflection.

Finally, remember that the trip you are organizing will be with young adults who understand the educational imperatives. Foster intellectual commitment. Avoid reproducing vertical hierarchies that often become necessary and see your role as that of a pedagogue, not just a teacher.

Practical Issues: Agency, Transport, and Accommodation

Should you use a travel agency?

Organizing your own stay is a challenge that demands significant personal investment. You will need to find accommodation, choose transport, and handle all reservations, including those for meals out. However, self-organization remains the favored model, particularly for college groups.

The agency will organize bus transport, accommodation, and a customized program for you, though you will have the chance to express your preferences. Usually, the agency will use its local service providers, most of whom are not museum or memorial staff. Despite the higher cost and occasionally disappointing services, the organization of the stay is simplified. It's thus an attractive option for groups coming from distant locations.

Transport: train, bus, or plane?

The bus is a cost-effective solution. You will be able to move around more easily on-site. However, you will likely travel overnight and arrive the next morning. Since you won't have access to your accommodation until the afternoon or evening, you will need to adjust your schedule to accommodate accumulated fatigue.

Flying is faster but more expensive, and the travel time to the airport means most students will have to wake up early in the morning, leading many to stay up all night. This mode of transport should only be preferred if your flight leaves from your city, or if the departure is scheduled after 10 a.m.

Finally, I strongly advise against using the train. The costs are higher than for a bus trip. There's always a risk concerning possible connections. However, it's a viable alternative if you live close to the German border and are traveling with a small group.

Accommodation: host family or youth hostel

Accommodation with a host family is not suitable for the needs and expectations of young adults. If you choose this option, you risk portraying your students as children. Moreover, you won't be able to go on any cultural outings in the evening.

Therefore, accommodation in a youth hostel should be favored. Generally, students stay in single-sex dormitories with communal bathrooms. Sometimes there's a common room for table football or billiards. Breakfast is included and is relatively satisfactory. However, the packed lunch is quite expensive and minimal, insufficient for young adults. I recommend arranging an outside meal, collectively or by group according to affinities.

For 17-18 year old students, consider accommodation in an attractive district but avoid overly lively locations, such as Kreuzberg. Choose a place that's close to transport links but also provides a pleasant living environment.

I recommend three good options. The AO Hostel Hauptbahnhof is a 10-minute walk from the main train station and offers an almost residential setting away from main roads. The Meiniger Hotel Mitte Humboldthaus is situated in a secluded spot on the station forecourt and is close to the New Synagogue. Finally, the DJH Jugendherberge Berlin International is a true German network youth hostel, a 15-minute walk from Potsdamer Platz.

The Content of an Educational Stay in Berlin with College Students

With this foundation, you can plan your educational stay, adhering to the 4-step rule: education, discovery, socialization, and freedom. Ideally, you should blend all four during the stay, prioritizing educational activities. Savings should be used for cultural activities, which are absolutely essential for high school students.

Educational Time

During visits to museums or memorials, trust the professionalism of the lecturers available to you. Keep in mind that you're not in the same profession, and the educational approaches are thus different. You should not provide the guidance yourself. Also, an audio guide or a questionnaire cannot replace human interaction and dialogue. Lastly, this is not a language stay, so opt for services in English.

Important note: you will have the choice of format, i.e., guided tours, conferences, and study days. For students aged 16, stick to the guided tour model. For 17 and 18-year-olds, plan 1 to 2 study days or seminars.

On the theme of the Cold War and German division, I recommend two excellent places: the Berlin Wall Memorial and the Stasi Prison Memorial.

On the theme of National Socialist Germany, I recommend, in order of preference: the Sachsenhausen Memorial (with a full-day seminar), the Jewish Museum, and the German Resistance Memorial Center (with a half-day seminar).

Discovery Time

These are city tours that should enlighten students on a thematic narrative. In other words, the tourist dimension should be excluded from the tour. The topics covered can be serious, but that doesn't prevent exploration of Berlin's urban space. Ideally, these tours take place before lunch or just after.

I highly recommend several accessible and enriching themes. First, a visit to memorials in Mitte to learn about public space memory. Second, a visit to the historic old Jewish quarter to discuss memories of the Shoah. Finally, address the issue of new German democracy during a lecture at the Reichstag, followed by a free visit on the terrace of the building.

Socializing Time

Social and cultural outings are vital, even if they aren't highly regarded by your management and some parents. Their purpose is to introduce young people to higher forms of art, ignite curiosity, initiate discussion, and foster critical opinions. A cultural outing isn't enough on its own; it aims to create a shared experience that allows each individual to express their stance and preferences.

Besides the clear advantage of building a group dynamic, these socialization moments reward students' participation in strictly educational activities and reinforce the trust with teachers. It's a significant investment with rewarding results.

Some examples of cultural activities: the Lunchkonzert at the Philharmonie, an opera at the Deutsche Oper or Komische Oper, a classical concert at the Konzerthaus, Sunday Karaoke in Mauerpark, or a jazz concert at the A-Trane.

Be mindful not to offer a too uniform program. Also, limit the number of evening cultural activities. Schedule a maximum of two.

Germany has a policy of tolerance regarding the consumption of alcoholic beverages, allowing regulation and monitoring of young people's behavior. A single, low-level consumption of alcohol may be tolerated exceptionally for students aged 17 and over at a party and should not become the norm.

Free Time

Students should have opportunities to socialize with each other during free time. This allows for a certain degree of privacy and distance. Free time enhances the collective experiences of the past and future. To maximize your chances, I recommend not leaving the hostel before 8:30 am, except in exceptional cases. If you're planning a cultural evening outing, always schedule at least an hour in the hostel before going. Lastly, plan at least two group meals in a restaurant catered for groups.

Also, consider cultural free times in art museums. For example, an introduction to modern art at the Neue Nationalgalerie and Berlinische Galerie, or an exploration of the ancient collections at the Altes Museum.

The Cultural Budget: What Should You Plan For?

For a stay of 5 days and 4 nights in Berlin for 26 students and 4 chaperones, I suggest a program including 11 activities of your choice: 5 educational activities (€100 = guided tours to a memorial), 2 discovery activities (€300 = guided city tours), 2 social activities (€240 = jazz concert and comic opera), and 2 cultural activities. So, a cultural budget of about €640, which equates to €4.50 per person per day.

Such a program is realistic because it doesn't aim to be exhaustive. The topics covered can be explored in depth, particularly during study days or seminars. The total cost is relatively reasonable, as most of the state memorials and museums in Berlin offer special rates or are even free for school groups. In the end, you can use the savings to treat your students to a classical music concert, a contemporary dance performance, or a meal in a brasserie.

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